|Where Twilds go to get lost (see pub 1133)|
So a day after my rural Cheshire exploits, I dusted down the old liver and despite the horrible new ticket machines at York station, I found myself on a train to Newcastle, from where I caught the Metro to West Monkseaton right at the top of the county on the doorstep of Whitley Bay.
Last time I took the Metro, I was fined £40 at South Shields for getting the wrong ticket, and had my eye and hair colour taken down, so I was a bit nervous, but thankfully they've made getting tickets ultra simple - they had to, it'll be mainly used by Geordies. (Sorry, but three years an honorary Mackem means I have to get the odd gratuitous dig in at their neighbours expense).
What should have been an easy day was fraught with difficulties from the start when I began the supposedly straightforward 1.1 mile walk from West Monkseaton to Earsdon. My BRAPA "man-bag" strap snapped clean off - luckily I had a battered Sainsbury's carrier to transfer the 'BRAPA bag" contents for the day. Mindful of the heightened 'terror threat' in the UK at present, I didn't feel I could dump my old bag anywhere so found a rural bin to put it in. I wonder if the bomb squad were called? The last 0.6 miles was on a narrow country lane with no pavement, but after dodging a few irritable cars, I arrived at the pub, hoping for a calming first experience. Fat chance!
It would be a bit disingenuous of me to wander into a rural pub on a bank holiday Sunday lunchtime and complain about diners, so I'll just have to comment that it was a very small, low ceilinged place not really equipped for a spacious dining experience, more cheek to jowl - and there were plenty of cheeks and jowls munching unspecified delicacies. Pre-punched horse meat I assume. The bar area was little more than a hatch in the kitchen area, perhaps quaint on a wintry Tuesday night in November, but bloody inconvenient when you have a heavy Sainsbo's orange carrier bag swinging by your side. I could only see one ale on, "are you drinking in or out?" was the surprise question - errr outside obviously, so I was presented with a plastic glass - perhaps understandable at Claygate's Platform 3 but in the countryside with huge beer garden? Well, I found it a tad disappointing. I did a perimeter tour of the pub outside, finding a secret garden which Twilds were loving, some phantom goats, a few horses, plenty of cars making a meal of trying to park, and eventually a nice garden area where I got glared at by lots of snobby couples in shades. Signs like "do not feed the horses" and "do not consume your own food & drink on our premises" didn't help my mood in this place, I think this pub wishes it was in Northumberland and is sulking it's in the Tyne & Wear bracket. A Twild called Samuel wasn't heeding Mummy and Daddy's warning to "stay on the grass" and kept wandering into the busy carpark, so I gave him the odd nod of encouragement. Mummy said to him "Before you think of doing anything silly Samuel, don't!" Twarent of the year quote? I left my unopened bottle of Lilt on the table to lessen the weight of my carrier bag. But as BRAPA gestures go, it oddly felt like an armistice. Time to smile and move on.
|At the bar|
|Plaggy glass and background horses (no not her, don't be awful).|
The next pub, looming large on the main road also had a welcome looking beer garden, and as I crossed the grass, I had that conflicting "can I properly review a pub if I spend all my time sat outside?" worry that I get in summer BRAPA trips. It'd prove to be a futile thought......
|Can you tell what it is yet?|
1134. Beacon Hotel, West Monkseaton
I'm not even kidding you, as soon as I crossed the threshold, it twigged - EMBER INN, NOOOOO! I'd not read it before, I hadn't got to the bar and seen Ember Pale was on, there wasn't even the huge "Ember" sign outside the pub which you can see for miles around. To think I wasn't even aware of this chain three years ago. Wow. But the colour scheme, unused logs, mismatched furniture, smug oldies, and smell of stewed veg, well, it had to be. So much for feeling alive again. So much for being worried I wouldn't do the pub justice if I sat outside. Fuck all of that. I was off out with my pint of Durham White Gold and no one could stop me! But not so fast Si, I heard the battleaxe barmaid say .... I'd recovered myself enough to ask for the 20p CAMRA discount that those kindly Ember overlords offer. Now normally, just SAYING you're a CAMRA member is enough as you half-heartedly grasp at your wallet. Quite often, you'll find your card and generally wave it front of their eyes for a split second. But this lady? "WELL, CAN I SEE IT PROPERLY THEN?!" and she scans every detail on card, glancing at me, like I'm at passport control. Was it the Sainsbury's bag making me look shifty? Presumably, they get a lot of people pulling the CAMRA discount trick in West Monkseaton. No, not convincing is it? Especially as everyone appeared to be on Carling or Prosecco apart from me. This isn't ale drinker country! Outside in the sun, my mood improved. I was sat across from a group of young Mum's with buggies, I'd been watching this depressing BBC student drama called Clique the night before and they reminded me of the girls from that "in ten years time". Especially as the brunette kept flashing her knickers, not that I was looking, but it probably was the best thing that's ever happened in an Ember Inn.
|The Clique, the Twilds, the wrong angle.|
|Fizzy Summer Lightning - £10 a bottle (probably not)|
|Upsetting glass, and view towards the main road.|
I got a bit lost trying to take a shortcut through a park, but found my bearings and the next pub on the corner of a busy road.
|Approaching the pub from the back, never the best view!|
And what a peculiar cavernous mish-mash of pub styles this was. Probably the ultimate in "trying to please every walk of life". I could see a hint of York's Pivni, a dose of a Greene King local hero pub, with perhaps a touch of Aylesbury's Hop Pole or even Blackpool's Gillespies. All pub life was here. A barman called me "dude" as he bopped to piped reggae, whilst wearing his Motorhead shirt and stroking his sweaty beard. Huge ale range of well kept, trendy stuff like Magic Rock, Arbor and Bad Seed were on, I'd never have guessed this was a Sonnet 43 pub if my Sunderland mate hadn't said after the event. A student attention-seeker came in "oh don't talk to me about Old Rosie!" (no-one had), "it's a killer, I was on it all of yesterday!" "So, do you want a pint?" asked the confused barman. "Better not, I'm working in 2 hours!" he replied, and I never did find out the purpose of his visit. Although the pub had a very studenty feel, it also had three different dogs roaming around, an unhealthy selection of twilds, some dining families, a few old duffers with no teeth, it really was an odd crowd. Despite the crowdedness, I found a raised seating area totally deserted, and sat on a low leather red sofa, Back to the Future 2 was being screened on a giant screen right behind me. But no-one was watching it. The three dogs all came over independently to prove they were nice / see if I had food in my Sainsbo's pikey carrier. There was huge grey bloodhoundy thing, a Beagley Bugger and a little Puggy Bastard. The Beagle won. It was time to walk down the road for pub 4.
|Pint of Stout|
|Huge hound and owner 'Trendy Voldemort' invade my space|
1136. Millstone, South Gosforth
Well this was all about to get a bit bizarre. Everything seemed a bit bland on the surface here, one of those fairly characterless modern carpetted pubs with the kind of furniture / seating arrangement where you know you won't be able to get comfy no matter how few people are in, At least walking around to the rear was a bit more pleasant, and I found a local ale drinker enjoying the Bass which the pub is apparently famous for, so I ordered something local and was punished by the hideous hoppiness, which no doubt Martin Taylor would say serves me right! I was served by a young balding chap, looked kindly enough, every inch the archetypal barman. It was £3.10 a pint, so I gave him the extra 10p with a fiver so I could get £2 back. He seemed appreciative. But then he disappeared, not only did my pint need a massive top up (like half a pints worth!) but where was my £2. A switched on dark beardie barman called me "dude" again (must be a South Gosforth thing) and said it looked like my pint needed a top up. I was like "yeh, and the other guy hasn't brought me my £2 change!" So dark beardie grabs him and says in slightly accusatory tones to him "did you serve this dude? What did you NOT do?" so he slams £2 into my hand without even looking at me, We glowered at each other for rest of my visit, from the safety of my posing table - I reckon he was trying it on, he had the air of John Higgins with his hand caught in an Arabic till and when it came to food orders, he had all the bottle of Jordan Rhodes in a penalty shootout. The tension was palpable, so imagine my surprise when three priests walked in to calm the mood! A BRAPA first. Recovered, a man behind me enquired at the bar "Do you do a larger portion of cheese n bacon ..... it's errrm .... for my mate!" But when I looked, HE DIDN'T HAVE A MATE! And then, as an encore, an elderly Robin Asquith arrived and ordered the latest roast beef lunch ever, it must've been 4pm by now!
|The good barman hard at work, note priest 1 in background at the bar|
|Priest 3 contemplates a BRAPA exorcism.|
1137. Tyneside Cinema Bar Cafe, Newcastle
Having visited York's equivalent "City Screen Bar" only three days before and witnessed the warmest pint of real ale in my life (yes. even including Tap on the Line in Kew), it was a timely reminder that cinema bars can be good quality. I walked in to an almost Melbournian-Sycophantic welcome from the barstaff, and ordered a dark ale with "owl" in the name cos you know I love owls by now. And guess what? DUDE HATTRICK!! I sat at the far end near a giant screen (like in Brandling Villa) which was advertising events and menus but strangely not showing any film snippets or anything. I went to the loo, but it was bad timing for when I came back, the young Asian mailorder bride, with young Geordie hubbie, was being remonstrated with by a barman - who ended up being a bit terrified of her and giving it up, but no idea what it was about. When he left, her accent changed from broken English to fluent South Wales, her fave phrase being "it's massive innit?" but soon she got very agitated, rang her sister/Mum and was SCREAMING down the phone that she needed her passport number urgently. I was chuckling along with a couple on another nearby table, but hubbie saw us and told her in polite terms to stop making a tit of herself. But she just screamed in his face and stormed off. The crowd generally looked like an intellectual student gathering, the type who could do some complex algorithm but wouldn't be able to buy a pint of milk from another human being. Ok, the place lacked a bit of character for me (it's not a pub) but you can see why it's in the GBG on ale.
|Wheres my passport number.|
|These two laughed along with me|
|Headless man with shorts struggles to order pint of milk in public|
Time for one last pub, and with my mind now hazy, I wanted to go somewhere (a) nearer the station and (b) where I wouldn't mind not being able to remember it too much. Wetherspoons seemed like a decent bet.
1138. Union Rooms, Newcastle
And I made the classic mistake of thinking that just because a bouncer is on the door and the place is teeming with Geordie pre-night-out drinking scum, that this place had little to offer. I walked into the main hall, an echoey place reminiscent solely of the Archibald Simpson Wetherspoons in Aberdeen, I didn't get called a dude by the attractive yet dead-eyed barmaid, and soon I was drinking something called Rhubarb and Custard from, I think, Tyne Bank, which was possibly the sweetest (and therefore most vile) beer I've sampled all year (which was well kept). I made a manful effort to drink it from my pillar adjacent to the bar area, occasionally moving like a shark to stop myself from drowning in a Geordie sea. I noticed a few other men in my position, but generally kept my head down and watched classic clips of Everton FC from the 1988/89 season on YouTube. Before you could say "Sheedy and his trusty left foot that never lets Everton down", I had wandered beyond the main room and there were side rooms, upstairs, and I realised what a glorious place I was in, Sadly, I'd left the last quarter of my beer at the bar and had nowhere else to go. I'd like to come here on a quiet morning, A 'Spoons of some distinction, shame about the clientele tonight.
Train back was unmemorable, could've been the six pints, and it was time to take stock and see what June had to offer us. A pleasing end to a difficult month!