Wednesday, 16 August 2017

BRAPA - No Posers at the Grocers

When I stepped off the train at Irlam into the breezy warm evening air, something became immediately apparent.  I had to alter my expression from "wide-eyed happy pub tourist" to "commuter who is depressed beyond tablets" to fit in with the crowd.

Having said that, I did get stuck behind a wide chirpy cockney Del-Boy type in Adidas, who kept saying "somefink and anyfink" and  blocking my path.  It wasn't lovely or jubbly.

Irlam was reassuringly close to how I'd imagined outer Manchester in my mind's eye before I started this challenge.  A million miles from the ASSpirational betty swollocks of Chorlton (and more recently Altrincham, bits of Bury etc.), more like outer weeping Ashton-under-Lyne, the bowels of Dukinfield, Rochdale in the winter etc.  And you know what?  I feel a lot more easy and comfortable in places like this.

After all, where else will you see a closed down pet boutique called "Hair & Hounds"?  Beautiful.  I wanted a photo but a man looked at me funny.

Under a railway bridge and a reminder not to get too comfortable, I was now in Cadishead and the 'threat' level had been turned up a notch as a gang of screaming mutant tweenagers with roller blades for feet scooted across the road cackling, not in the least bit intimidated by oncoming cars.

The pub was in sight, and I tried to recover myself quickly to take the obligatory outdoor shot, where I was immediately photobombed accidentally by a man probably called Bob:

Probable Bob says "ow do, hope you didn't get mi beergut in!" (seems slimline to me)

1226.  Grocers, Cadishead

So I walk in to the little square micro pub, say hi to the assembled crowd of 2 or 3, but where is the bar?  Ahhh, it is one of those micropubs where the barman brings the beer from the kitchen area so I tried to hover in the hallway and not look too impatient.  Now, we all know beer blogging is boring (as I bravely announced to the pub, luckily they agreed), but this Wishbone ale from Keighley was stunning.  No sooner had I sat down when a kind blonde lady told the pub how a man from L**ds had arrived at her A&E with a chopstick up his arse!  "There's a joke in there somewhere, I dunno what it is", said a local - probably Probable Bob who'd returned with some takeaway chips to taunt poor lovable dog, George.  You know I'm not a dog fan, but this was no twog, and an unlikely candidate for BRAPA pub pet of the year.  Another punter was still thinking 'arse chopsticks', and said "probably a health professional from Yorkshire!"  As the pub laughed raucously, I tried to dissolve into a corner but that's impossible in a friendly Micro.  "Don't tell me you're from Yorkshire?!" says A&E lady, and soon I'm admitting not only that, but I'm a pub ticker.  "Aaaah, is it Simon?" says mine affable host who's now sat down.  Fame at last!   And what a lovely chap, soon we were chatting BRAPA, heritage pubs, Liverpool, and my burning question, is Cadishead really part of Salford?  The GBG said so, but if I was to walk from my fave Salford pub the Eagle, it'd take 3 hrs and 23 mins!  Conclusion, there will be a Salfordshire in the GBG soon - county sign "Twinned with nowhere : best bring a weapon with you".  Probable Bob admitted he was the vice chairman of the local CAMRA, two ladies who looked like slimline beetroots arrived and asked if there was a dress code as they'd been at a "Meta-fit" session, whatever that is.  There was no ice to put in their wine.  Good!  Another reason to like micropubs, and seriously, if they carry on being as good as this and the wonderful Chiverton Tap the other week, I'll have to start being properly nice about them!!  I left to handshakes and goodbyes, I even let A&E lady highlight the entry in the GBG, she had an A&E steady hand.  I was smiling as I left.  Then remembering where I was (on the mean streets again), I re-set my expression to fake-glum.  A must visit.

Top quality ale as I fail to hide in the corner

Mine host thumbs through the BRAPA GBG

Another friendly local and pub view.

So that was worth it.  Felt sorry for Dad watching the Taaaargers losing 2-3 at home to Wolves instead.  I had a snack at Manc Oxford Road, one of those stations you feel you need to breathe in at just to stay within it's confines.  And I was back in York approx 22:35 for a late tea, the only lowpoint when a load of L**ds fans got on heading to their NE homes when they could be supporting a nicer team like Northallerton or Darlington.  

Onwards n upwards, well probably not as me, Tom and Dad return for football fun in West London on Saturday.  I'm on 8-4 next week so am gonna try and squeeze in TWO after work Greater Manchester pubs next Tuesday.  Watch this space.

Til Sunday, have a good rest of the week! 


Sunday, 13 August 2017

BRAPA - The Democratic Republic of Congleton

After a late decision to totally rearrange the order of today's pubs, I found myself in Congleton for about 11:30am, the home of bear cruelty and also family homestead of delightful work colleague and serial pouter, Katie B.

Although the GBG said both pubs only open at 12 noon, it's always worth checking out if you are early because as they (well, I) say, "no lookie, no gettie innie".  Especially as pub number one was just outside the railway station.  It was a swarming mass of activity outside, and I could see a few bald headed silhouettes in the window.  A promising sign.

But experiences such as Hambleden and Robin Hood's Bay mean that just because a pub looks very open, doesn't mean it is.  So I cowered outside like a scared stray dog, until a chirpy looking gent bounded down through the car park, so I asked if it was open.

"Yes, if you go through that main door, walk to the bar, and ask for a drink, they will serve you!" he said in the most unintentionally patronising way ever.  (Cheers mate, I know how pubs work).

1221.  Queen's Head Hotel, Congleton

And as I walked around the perimeter of the pub to the bar, I was aware that this pub probably hadn't shut from Friday night, full of raucous middle aged blokes - the kind who appreciate "top bantz" eating bacon sandwiches too enthusiastically, taunting a hungry barmaid "do you wanna bite?" with them as she served me a Moorhouses ale from a reassuringly standard selection of best bitters.  Behind me, a man picked up the pub acoustic guitar and played the Jaws theme, to a round of applause from all.  Under these circumstances, it was important I didn't stray too far from the bar in case of more excitement, so I wedged in between blokes and the one man who looked like he was having a thoroughly miserable time - he left when I photographed him in a "my wife doesn't know I'm here" kind of way.  The pub would have been big enough to sit in a quiet area away from the bar, but where's the fun in that?  As jaunty MOR tunes played and barstaff bopped up and down, one of the ringleader blokes started randomly shouting "Sports Mixture, Sports Mixture" and jumping around and shaking and pointing.  But then they all left, turns out this was the pre-cursor to some jolly boys outing to a football match.  And then, in the solitude, the old-skool pub veneer slips a bit, and you start noticing the odd specials board, and the fact that the hand dryers have a drip tray, and you start to wonder what Congleton is really all about?!

Entrance hall bric-a-brac

The kind of dudes I had to put up with early on in here.

Contemplative misery man knows he shouldn't be here

If you try this diet for a week, you'll be shitting fruity liquid.

Hand dryer drip tray - a BRAPA first (not counting those wrong Dyson things).
Like most railway stations in Cheshire, the town is nowhere nearby but a nice 20 minute walk in the sunshine was quite pleasant and I like a bit of exercise between pints.

Dad text to ask if Congleton was another poncey Cheshire town, but the further in I got, the more I'm convinced it's suffering from an identity crisis.  Part of it screams "I wanna be no nonsense, Stoke style" (it has an oatcake shop doing a roaring trade for heaven's sake) but the other part is a bit flouncy Nantwich twee.  An old man said good morning from across the road which was lovely.  The place is just confused, a view shared by a man I'd meet in Bollington's Vale later.

After all, what in the lord's name is this monstrosity they are advertising?

We gonna rock down to Ale Avenue (or not)
Around a corner past some weird florist with a poo fascination, our second pub appeared....

1222.  Barley Hops, Congleton

And pub number two was symptomatic of the town, feeling like a bottle shop micropub, but actually preferring the title of Beer & Gin Cafe which you'd simply not be able to get away with in South Yorkshire.  I was the first customer today, about 25 minutes after opening time, and the flustered female half of this couple run 'cafe' was apologising for not being better organised as they'd had an incredibly busy Friday night - as she pulled beers through and disinfected surfaces in an impressive display of multi tasking.  "I owe you a fiver", she says as I paid for my beer, but in a top example of teamwork, hubbie appears on the scene and hands me it out of his back pocket.  You don't get that in Wetherspoons.  I'd envisaged one of those situations where I stand at the bar, and we chat on BRAPA, gin, bottled beer and the like, but as they seemed busy, I took a seat near the door and tried to act like the pub flag bearer for unsuspecting interlopers.  And people did arrive.  And they chatted.  And they sampled pub gin.  Waaaah, why was I the loser in the corner no one wanted to dance with??  Well, that's how it goes.  When I said hi to one highly strung baldster, he said "HELLO MATE I DIDN'T SEE YA THERE!"  Errrm, you don't know me mate, I was just being friendly.  The pub turned to look, and they confirmed this with a sterile glare, the type their ancestors used on dying bears, writhing in agony, having just been tortured.     My ale was a bit warm.  I left, early for the bus.

Own beermat was a plus point

A couple arrive and get chatty

Gordon's (gin) alive!!

Nice view of this bottle shop gin micro style thing.
It was raining now at 'Bay 2' of Congelton's loosely termed "bus station" so I sheltered and ate sausage rolls along with the other people ridiculously too early for the 38 bus towards Macclesfield.  A Macclesfield town junior was the star man, smiling with a warmth in his eyes that the other inhabitants lacked.  (I hope Congleton doesn't have a new pub in 2018 GBG, I'll never be allowed back in).

The bus driver floored it towards Macc, I was getting off before at a place called Gawsworth which unbeknownst to me was just a bend in the road so I pressed the bell a bit too late, and an old man's shopping went flying.  Ooops.  But no one minded, silly place to stop a bus on a crazy grass verge.

The pub was a minute down the road opposite, sun was out again .....

1223.  Harrington Arms, Gawsworth

"Ahhh, a heritage pub - feel the quality and that unchanged centuries old feel..." I told myself for about the first 5 seconds on entering the long thin hallway, only to have my dreams shattered as a wedding party oozed out of the cracks, making the bar area an awkward  experience.  A girl apologised and moved "I'm not in the queue", (well it's not a queue cos we are at a bar in a pub, I almost said), but they had plenty of staff on to ensure I was served in surprisingly quick time.  Good, cos an awkward silence has ensued, a stand off between locals propped on stools, and crazy wedding goers.  I bellowed "Pint of Unicorn" in my best Cheshire accent and everyone breathed a sigh of relief, am sure one farmery looking chap from the 1860's had tears in his eyes and was ready to shake my hand.  I had a quick nosy in each of the beautiful side rooms, but all full so I looked wistfully like "what might've been" and headed outside into the sun.  My table was soon shared by scousers with bad teeth, but a funny blonde lady joined me and loved the idea of BRAPA despite branding me a "total pisshead".  Nice.  We had a wasp invasion, so I watched them all cower in fear and got out the GBG.  Sadly, removing the breweries section means it doesn't quite carry the same heft for wasp extermination these days!  I told my new friend I thought having an afternoon wedding was weird but she thought morning ones were weirder cos you can't get drunk before.  I managed to kill an elderly wasp that landed on me, although my "I blew it off" comment didn't turn out like I'd hoped.  As if to illustrate the similarities between dangerous irritating pests and errrrm ...wasps(!), the wedding party hopped into taxis and left me in peace.  Too late to go back inside.  Great pub and my experience hadn't been spoiled by the circs.

Chaos at the bar

The groom says goodbye to pub freedom as he steps into the scary outdoor light forever

The pub being good from the outside too

Drink with wedding lady

Take that wasp, not a bad place to die. 
Without wanting to sound arrogant, I'd decided that bus stop was ridiculous so made my own rules and stood further along at a clearing.  Unfortunately, this wasn't the bus stop, so again, the bus driver had to break suddenly and I had to run along the grass verge to catch it up.  He told me off.  Well, praying we never get a micropub at Gawsworth, don't wanna use this bus stop EVER again!

Back at Macclesfield bus station, a dull and dingy affair which makes Doncaster look like some kind of fun factory, I didn't have time to breathe (but did have time to pee) before I was off on the number 10 towards Bollington.  Phew.  I went all the way to the termination point, as this seemed closest to pub 4 and I found it just down the road .....

1224. Poachers Inn, Bollington

Make no mistake about it, today wasn't really about Congleton or Gawsworth, it was Bollington that brought me to this part of the world as it was next alphabetically in the GBG for Cheshire.  From the stained glass entrance door to the old lady faced down on the first table I saw, this was always going to be pub of the day.  It took me a while to locate a member of staff, but I could breathe in the calm carpetted cosiness of this amazing pub.  I ordered a pint of Storm Beaufort, the young friendly barman with element of Prince William if he gave up on the royal life and decided to do something useful, telling me the beer was a new barrel and was very lively, which probably helps explain why this was such a good quality ale too.  The only other customers were a friendly young couple over to the right, wrestling for some strange reason with two dogs bigger than them - not Twogs, but the fact that one of them was called 'Andy' seemed pretty peculiar.  At one point, the girl almost rode on the back of the non-Andy dog just to keep it under control.  After they left, I heard voices and Mrs Faceplant had woken from her slumber and was now chatting amiably with P.William like she'd been fully coherent all day.  WHATEVER luv, I saw ya.  On the way out, I said bye and thanks but made sure I looked at the old lady as if to say "I KNOW" but she looked blankly like "You must be confusing me with my drunken twin sister".  Hmmm.  Classic pub.

The entrance door impressed me

Almost totally out of it.  Even brave enough to take a piccie.

View to the bar

My pint and great beermat slogans

Across town, if you can call Bollington a town it felt like a sprawling village, was the next pub.  But not before I'd realised I couldn't get a bus to Poynton for pub six cos they stop running about 2pm or something stupid.  A second aborted Poynton attempt!  Am going to leave well alone now til I see whether it is in the 2018 GBG.

Boring BRAPA stat of the day ..... This next pub was key in that it was number 1225, 100 above the quarter (1125) mark, which makes me feel psychologically like I do have a chance of staying above the 1125 come with cross-ticking in early September.  It was also my final tick on page '35' (not counting the closed when I visited Sandstone in Broxton) so finally feel like progress is being made in this tricky but not ridiculously difficult county.

1225. Vale Inn, Bollington

As I crossed the road and heard the excitable strains of Jeff Stelling (he wasn't on the loo) coming through the window, you knew the football season was back.  But as I walked into the pub, there was no screen so must've been coming from a neighbouring house.  The interior felt like a bit of an anti climax, I'd imagined a 'pubbier pub' and having been to the Bollington owned pub in Macclesfield, am sure that was more cosy and lounge-like (though I was rather drunk at the time).  It was all a bit too high wooden stools, bare boarded clinical, and it was saved in the main by a healthy band of happy jovial locals, all choosing to stand in the vicinity of the bar area rather than space out and use the full room - why people do this, I don't know but it must be some weird social thing, body warmth, pack mentality, who knows?  The old boys at the bar were a particularly chirpy bunch, helpfully advising that their favourite ale "Long Hop" had just gone back on, and although the pump was still turned around, I should go for it anyway.  I did, and best quality pint of the day.  Cheers chaps!  I got talking to one guy in particular, nice man but a bit "my views on pubs and ales are definitely correct even though I probably spend 95% of my life in the same seat in the same pub".  His 5 all times faves were this pub, York Tap, plus Waters Green, Wharf and Park Tavern - all in Macclesfield which is convenient.  The Poachers is "okay depending on the beer" and Bollington and RedWillow are the 2 best brewers.  Poynton has nothing worth visiting (though I later read Bollington own the GBG pub in Poynton so comments seem even more bizarre). I feigned a loo/phone call scenario as our conversation had gone on long enough, and perched behind him hearing lots of people talking about Burnley in an excitable way.  An decent pub, but no way anywhere near the Poachers for best pub in Bollington.

Even though it was only 5pm and I felt relatively well and focused, I had so many ideas floating around in my mind (mainly Stockport based) about where I could go to for my sixth and final pub, I ended up doing nothing and was back in Piccadilly by 6pm with a coffee on the train back to York - ooops, how did that happen?  

The highlight had probably been seeing the Bromley football squad get a respectful round of applause from Macclesfield's station guards, presumably for working out how to cross a bridge. 

Another step in the right direction for Cheshire, I'll be back in the county in a fortnight, and I'll be back in Greater Manchester on Tuesday night for the latest leg of that.  I've been put on 9-5 so again it'll need to be something not too taxing.


Thursday, 10 August 2017

BRAPA - A Washout at the Washington (plus bonus Lytham)

Optimism marks the beginning of another punk fest in Blackpool
Thursday morning dawned with the inevitable hangover, not helped by the Travelodge breakfast queue snaking back to reception and crawling with twilds.  "Sod that for a game of soldiers", I thought, and went for a meat and potato pie at "Alison's Quid Bakery" - punx gotta eat!  I've had better.

It was a first time in 17 consecutive Punk Festivals of being able to say "I was there" for the first band, and they were Cydernide on the new improved Casbah stage, handing out free scrumpy from boxes under the merch stalls.  Very dry, just how I like it.

After a few more bands (including a punk George Formby - tagline "Turned out shite again"), I was hungry again and still waiting for my festival buddy Lee "Jigalo" Johnstone to check in and join me.  Perfect time to check out my remaining Blackpool 'tick' right in the heart of town, how had I not been here before?

Boggy Formby and his little pink ukulele 

1218.  Washington, Blackpool

So it was Greene King, that much was obvious, so I was expecting another Gillespies style place and wasn't a million miles wrong, it was just a little bit better but with weirder clientele.  A grumpy man at the bar was being told there was no steak on the menu - he didn't want it, but still reacted like he'd been told his mother had been strangled.  The barman was a friendly acceptable version of Johnny Vegas, and he seemed silently delighted I was ordering ale (everyone else was on lager) though he had no idea what was on what pump!  I sat in a far window beyond two ladies who I couldn't tell whether they were punks or locals, which is Blackpool all over to be honest.  They eventually smiled after I'd photographed the babes.  An excitable old man stared at his mobile phone for an hour.  It eventually rang and he answered it like a man who'd never received a phone call before - almost tears in his eyes.  The Greene King "middle of the road" Best Of Album started puking out of the pub speakers - we had Phil Collins, Glumford & Sons and Snow Patrol in succession so it was time to order a Cherry Stout and a jacket potato (the Macaroni cheese was off like the steak) before I slit my wrists.  A point off for no beermat but I'd brought a festival one I'd picked up with my wristband so all was well that ended well.

I brought Jig in here twice more over the weekend, once when he was feeling a bit peaky, and on our final day, it was surrounded by L**ds scum (I mean fans) watching their team win at Bolton with their arrogant "champions of Europe" expressions.  It was busy partly due to this, partly due to the incessant rain, so we realised the hugeness of the pub and sat over to the right.  We saw the most heartwarming festival moment ever as a drunk punk passed out in the rain under a newsagents:

So I laughed and took the photo above (note comedy sunglasses around his neck).  But then, the lovely barmaid who'd served us sampled the Nottingham Pale Ale and approved greatly to prove she was a #PubGirl, ran across the road and rested her umbrella over him to help him stay dry - he was still fast asleep:

'Twas a lovely moment, and when it blew away from him, a local girl in pink shoes carefully retrieved the brolly.

No wonder we awarded this "2nd best pub" in Blackpool after the amazing Pump & Truncheon, which seems to get better each year at the moment.  Special mentions too for Wetherspoons Layton Rakes and the former 'Spoons Auctioneer - both good pubs.  We didn't get to Rose & Crown or Churchill's this year, the Cricket Club and Saddle were not considered, the Hop was as dreadful as always despite Hull City's good second half display, and Gillespies had been turned into the local MI6......

I don't think it can cope with the competition from the rejuvenated Washington if I'm being honest!

Onto Saturday then, we pinpointed this as our "BRAPA" trip having done St Annes last year, Lytham made sense.  Only two to go at, and after a painfully long wait at Blackpool South's busy platform in the nicest sun of the festival, we were soon in the town.

Not sure I thought Lytham was quite as exciting as St Annes, but it seemed nice enough, definitely not Blackpool.  And after this piccie session made it looked like we were fare evading, we bit the bullet and walked to a pub which, surprise, surprise, was a Wetherspoons:

With mi' shopmobility scooter
1219.  Railway Hotel, Lytham

Not near the station particularly, not named after a local person, this was the most confusing 'Spoons ever and the scene didn't get any clearer inside.  It just didn't feel Spoonsie.  Light and airy, and you'd only have known it was a Wetherspoons from the slow service and constant stream of coffee twats ("can i have another refill please?") slowing down valuable drinking time.  We'd settled on an ale only to be told "it's not available yet" which was even more annoying than if it had actually had the "coming soon" sign it should've done.  We sat in the "locals" box room to the right, presided over by a judgey prosecco old lady from a posing table, reminiscent of Jig's dead but still senile Grandma, making occasionally commentaries on what was happening around her.  This included offended a man in green shirt by telling him she used to have a car the same colour, which seemed tame to me, but was enough to ostracise her from the entire male drinking group at the bar.  It was thanks to Jig's observation that we witnessed the best moment.  It all started when a man with twild behind me complained his chicken was cold.  "Oh I'll reheat it!" says the scrawny blonde barmaid.  "No, you bluddy won't, I don't want food poisoning!" says Twaddy running off to find the manager.  Barmaid is apologetic "sorry I'm vegetarian, I'd forgotten you can't just reheat chicken!"  Classic.  After an excruciating wait, Twaddy and Twild go for a piss just a moment the new chicken arrives, so judgey lady tells alarmed looking veggie barmaid.  So it's sat there going cold again!  Twaddy and Twild reappear.  "Daddy?  What if it is cold again?" asks young twild, the question we'd all been asking.  "Well, if it is, they'll get it thrown back in their face!" says Dad angrily (this last quote may be inaccurate but was similar, Jig might know if he's reading this). Sadly, it was fine so we left.

The coffee machine takes a hammering as I'm finally served

Did she really have a car in this exact colour? p.s. I want those trousers
Across town, we found our other pub .....

1220.  Taps, Lytham

If it hadn't been for the massive sign outside saying "We're a Greene King pub and we are here to lessen the enjoyment of any given pub experience", I suspect you'd never have known as we walked into this mood lit, wood floored, beamed pub offering a huge range of ales like you never see in this part of the world.  "Why are the staff glass cleaning when there's folk waiting to be served?" said one irritable old dude next to us, he had a point.  Problem was, the pub was HEAVING.  It wasn't a small pub by any means, every table packed, bar area packed, outside packed, we just about did enough to find the one table in the shade.  Problem was, a chilly breeze (I had dressed for summer) and being wedged between kitchen and a big store cupboard where large bags of value frozen chips and the like were transported regularly.  I never felt comfy here.  Their apparent insistence on catering for canines was another irritating factor, with their own fake "cask ale", the place was crawling with twoggies and their owners (twoners).  One woman even shrieked "this place is very dog friendly!" like she read my mind.  The locals were reassuringly weird.  An old man with different coloured specs on sticks was obviously pissed as he staggered off, seemed like he was using disability as an excuse to get wrecked.  I've seen that a few times.  No one would dare challenge such behaviour.  Possibly even stranger, a man just stood in the road stock still, for ages, occasionally signalling over the horizon like a general marshalling his troops.  How he never got mowed down was a miracle, his party finally arrived.  A grunge sixth form girl stood and sulkily drank a pint of something cidery and black, popping pimples and listening to Nirvana at the same time (possibly).  This might be a good, perhaps very good pub on a quiet Tuesday night in winter, but I'd have to take someone's word for that.

Back in Blackpool, it was time for lunch in Auctioneer.  Then we watched Darlo' legends Gimp Fist.  Then it was off to the horrific Hop for the second half where the Tigers dominated Villa, well until we equalised and then settled for draw!  "We love our slut" is not something you should sing too loudly in this pub.  Landlord said "sorry, the cask is off" for about the 10th year in a row so it was fizzy Ruddles, like drinking battery acid, avoid eye contact with locals, and ignore the fight happening in a toilet cubicle.

The rest of the festival (especially Sunday in the rain) was fantastic, and I've been recovering ever since.  Lancs moves above Derbys into 11th place in the BRAPA league table on 36 pubs.

I'm raring to go for Saturday's trip to Cheshire, that lucky dip of pub counties.  Gastro hell or heritage bliss, who knows what is next?!   More Warrington Lower Angel, Bunbury Nag's Head and Crewe Borough Arms, and less Chelford Egerton Arms, Thelwell Little Manor and Wilmslow Coach and Four.  You can do it Cheshire, believe!

5 more gets me a hundred ahead of the quarter 1125 mark I want to stay above come the "cross ticking" in early September.