So when the ginger bearded figure of Thomas J. Irvin suggested we give the Sheffield Wednesday away game a miss in favour of a rare trip to this neglected BRAPA county, I was all ears. After all, Tom needed "required track", "shack ticks" and the like, so we were all winning.
On a chilly December Saturday morning, me and Dad ambled down to Kings Cross, changed at Liverpool Street, and found Tom on the train towards Billericay, a place I apparently was keen to go to, though am not too sure why. Perhaps because there's a girl on my 'Neighbours' Twitter called Kim from there who describes herself as a "muggy keyboard warrior". Whatever one of them is.
After realising the Coach & Horses wasn't open at 10am as the GBG reckoned, we at least still had one early opener and it was a funny little shed of a place .....
1166 / 1912. Billericay Brewing Co. Shop & Micropub
"You 'ere for the beer festival then?" asked mine host as we teetered in to the surprising warmth approx 10:30am and eyed up the Billericay beer barrels behind the bar. If I had a quid for every time I was asked this question on a BRAPA day out, I'd be a rich man by now (well, I'd have a tenner). After explaining BRAPA matter of factly, we were STILL charged a £5 deposit for each glass (in case we love the stemmed monstrosities so much, we decided to nick them), and with Tom only able to get half a sorry tap water, meaning an amusingly expensive first round. Common sense wouldn't have gone amiss in this instance. His right hand man came in, looking a bit bewildered by our presence, not helped by the fact that he'd lost three satsumas. Now he didn't accuse us, but 3 strange Northerners drinking at this time, 3 satsumas missing, it wasn't a difficult conclusion to draw "I need my citrus fix!" he declared, and scurried off around the back. Meanwhile, Essex's answer to Roy Orbison wandered in and shouted "HALF A DOZEN BILLERICAY BLONDES" and stood in the middle of the shop arms folded like he thought such a sexist diva attitude would cut it. His two female companions (both blondes) spent 10 minutes paying for something by card because they were old and hopeless. Another man came in 'Christmas shopping' but couldn't get what he wanted, then the satsumas reappeared and the bearded bloke started being nice to us. And the main chap was lovely, though I don't need to know how beer is brewed, I just drink the stuff and assume it happens by magic as I told him. I think he believed me. And after much nice chatting, we moved on.
|The colder other area is where the 'guest' beers go which the local CAMRA people will try.|
|Beers and a glass I had no intention of taking|
|Dad looks pensive, Tom enjoys his tap water|
I remembered to get my £10 deposit back, and on leaving the premises, Tom suddenly gave himself a sickening pat on the back for taking us to such a great place, as though he brewed all the ales and had built it himself. It's important to put him in his place at times like this, so we did!
With neither of the other Billericay pubs opening til 12 noon, we took the train to Burnham-on-Crouch now via a place called Wickford, which actually has houses n shops and isn't just a railway station. I enjoyed the train journey, there was something powerful and beautiful about the bleak marshland scenery, though vaguely reminiscent of Lincolnshire.
In Burnham, we had a meandering walk through the backstreets to my most favourite of pub locations, 'just another building in a row of terraced / semi detached houses'. You know the type, Foresters in Reading, Wellington in York, wonderful.
1167 / 1912. Queen's Head, Burnham-on-Crouch
You could tell from the second that you stepped inside that this was a bare-boarded classic. A pool table in a nice pub as we know, is a rarity, and it was soon occupied by a couple of paint-stained individuals who'd obviously dressed like this to make people think they'd spent the morning working. Our genial young host served us some sparkling ales and Tom managed to find a use for 'jam jars' for the first time in BRAPA history by using them to identify which of the IPA's was mine and which belonged to Dad. After chats on New Tricks and Ellie Harrison, I spied on the book case something written by Roger Protz. "I'll be having a drink with someone who's written a book up there", I proudly declared. My fellow travellers scanned the bookshelf asked me where it was I was meeting Frankie Boyle! Great pub this one, perfect for smuggling mini cornish pasties too, this was a better day out than Stamford already.
|The pool table in quieter times|
|Protz v Boyle at the Queen's Head|
1168 / 1913. Wibblers Brewery Taproom and Kitchen, Southminster
A warm welcome greeted us from yokels and barman alike here, the latter pushing some Harvest Hop ale on me with tales of it's freshness and wibblyness. Talking of wibblyness (if that's a word), I'd not been feeling 100% comfortable all day and the reason was simple, I needed a poo. Neither the Billericay Brew Co or the Queen's Head quite had enough levels of loo comfort, but this place with it's double lock and Airwick air freshener was just the ticket. I'd never had a poo in a micropub before, always slightly worried by irational fears over their plumbing limitations, and although you may argue this isn't a micropub, it ticked enough on the bingo card to easily qualify it. Refreshed and raring to go, Tom and Dad had perched at an end table and a local bloke asked us why we were here, where we were from, what our intentions were etc. in the kind of friendly nosiness that won it yet another micropub bingo point. He laughed and said he could tell we were local ("I've lived in Saffron Walden ya bastard!") but was most interested in Tom (who wouldn't be?) with his own Grimsby connections - his nan had been the post mistress in Keelby or something! With the news that Martin Taylor and Mrs RM were visiting this pub later, we did the honourable thing and got out of their way despite Tom saying he'd been intrigued to meet Mrs, but he did linger to buy some Christmas presents for the second time today, possibly the babygrow with Wibblers logo.
|Much needed air freshener|
|Tom drinks the closest looking thing to beer he ever has|
|Friendly locals and Grimsby links|
|Merch inc the famous babygrow|
Tom actually caught us up by the time we'd reached our next pub, one of those GBG regulars (25 years consecutive or something), so had high hopes .....
1169 / 1914. Station Arms, Southminster
A pretty unassuming looking building, with it's tiny old school lamp displaying the name, you could kind of tell it was another classic of today. That's 4 great pubs in a row, 2 very modern, 2 old school boozers, this is the reason I enjoy the variety of the Good Beer Guide. Gimme a Wetherspoons, Ember and Greene King Local Hero pub to finish and I can die happy - well, okay I'm going a bit too far now! The landlord was one of those old school cockney mafia types who spoke out of the side of his mouth and twitched an eyebrow as if to say "if I rip you off, it's all for the good of the pub industry" so this is what I had to tell poor Dad when he was chinged £10.50 for 2 pints and a blackcurrant cordial. Why he didn't query it, well, a certain amount of subterfuge had been going on whereby he'd told us that the locals couldn't get to grips with Thornbridge Jaipur, declaring it too strong with too many weird flavours for their soft southern palettes, so we were too busy regaling him with our hardcore Jaipur sessions in places like Sheffield and North Derbyshire to immediately notice we'd been conned. The pub itself was beautiful, simple is always best, one room, railway memorabilia, a sort of outdoor loo too hostile for pooing, and although Tom is convinced it won't be in next year's GBG, I'll remain positive.
|I had the Porter|
|A mirror in recognition of a nearby man|
|It's the greatest cockney rip off|
We took the train back to Billericay now, for the final 2 pubs that hadn't been open earlier. Dad had made a GBG green highlighting faux-pas and highlighted the word "Billericay" prematurely, meaning if either pub weren't open, we'd have to camp outside til tomorrow morning or such time as they re-open, so the pressure was on!
1170 / 1915. Coach & Horses, Billericay
So many people had said positive things about the 'Coach' (despite their failure to open at GBG advertised time) that I was almost a bit suspicious. My round (ooh doesn't it come round quickly?) so I went for an Oakham ale I'd never heard of, best beer quality of the day (SBS A-) but as we carried them through to a table that Dad had commandeered at the end - it was very busy - you could tell this slightly foodie environment, with dried flowers on the tables and menus, BT Sport etc , that this perhaps wasn't quite going to be as enjoyable as our previous four. Tom was most critical and although me and Dad told him not to be too harsh and it was warm and cosy, I can see what he meant in the cold light of day. After all, I didn't take one photo in here which may be forgetful semi-drunkeness, or could also be that there wasn't a lot to see, but it's quite rare these days for me!
So onwards and upwards back towards the station, time for the last one ... or was it?
1171 / 1916. Railway, Billericay
It couldn't have been a more typical 'station pub, sixth pub of the day', bustling with locals, Dad on t'coffee, friendly barmaids trying their best but from memory being a bit unconvincing, but you could maybe blame the bald bar blockers (bald ones are always worst). Wibblers IPA must've been in nearly every pub we went to today, and with the news Hull City had thrown away a 1-0 lead to be 2-1 down surprised nobody, not even gummy men from Billericay. An irritating sign told us "jovial banter from your home to ours". It wasn't the catchiest of slogans, I hate the word "banter" since the kids got hold of it, and it just didn't really work anyway. Oh, and the other slogan "number one on the high street" meaning literally, the address. If such amusement wasn't enough, I checked my phone one final time .... Hull City 95th minute equaliser, 2-2! Best pub ever! For a few seconds anyway, but seriously, good atmosphere and you could do a lot worse.
We took the train back to Liverpool Street, said a fond farewell to Tom Irvin / burnt off the excess baggage (delete as appropriate) , and found ourselves on the Central line as planned earlier in the day cos Dad wanted to show me one of his favourite London pubs.
1172 / 1917. Seven Stars, Chancery Lane
Apart from slightly suffering from the old "central London Saturday night syndrome", this was a delightfully squashy old creaky place which felt like a step back in time despite the Adnams glasses doing their best to bring pub-life into disrepute, apparently a brewery the landlady favours and i wouldn't be brave enough to argue against that - whatever Adnams guest it was, I enjoyed it immensely. Dad did something no-one else in the pub had thought to do, and see if the snug around to the left was free, amazingly it was and we were sat down, whilst others floundered like pub tourist sheep. That's why he is a "hashtag pubman". Downside was sharing a room with a group of loud Irish people, you know the ones Graham Norton's character shares a caravan with in Father Ted. Because they had Irish accents, they obviously thought they were super amusing. Bit like scousers. And men over the age of 50 from West Yorkshire. And Americans and Canadians. Now I've isolated almost my entire readership, I started telling Dad that the GBG said there was a pub cat here, and I was just debating the likelihood of him making an appearance when a furry paw stretched out on a seat opposite us. Because we weren't in East Lancs, I correctly assumed this wasn't a human furry paw but in fact feline. And by jove, he was wearing a ruff - the poor sleeping thing! Then the Irish group spotted him and said he was pissed and sleeping off the effects of the booze. Apparantly, he's called Peabody as the one from last year called Ray Brown died. And before that, an even more famous one called Tom Paine who also wore a ruff! Crazy times and a great way to end a superb day's pubbing.
|Adnams glasses take the piss out of a wonderful old pub|
|Sleeping cat in ruff|
|Atmospheric bar scene|
|A bald man does some quality staring into nowhere|
The train back was full of Geordies who'd stayed in London all day to get legless, and it showed. They were a bit slow witted. I'm off to watch the FA Cup draw so must go, let us hope it is (a) away and (b) BRAPA freindly.
Good night, Si