Monday, 16 July 2018

BRAPA - Castor Slugger - Part 1/2 (Back in the Cambs)

I'm not sure what I was thinking back in April when I'd booked these train tickets to get me into Peterborough as late as 11:36am.

I'll tell you one thing I definitely wasn't thinking, and that was 'England might have a World Cup Quarter Final, 3pm kick off'.  But I was now.  Reality can be real.  I won't say anything more profound all blog so you may as well stop reading now.

The upshot of this poor planning was that I'd missed the bus to Castor by one minute, and would have to wait a whole hour for the next one.  And today of all days, I couldn't afford to wait.  I HAD to be in Whittlesey for 3pm.  So a taxi it had to be.

Before this though, I'd already experienced further woes of travelling later than usual.  Two York twilds were waving at passers by from an upstairs window before I'd even got two minutes out of BRAPA Towers.  "Yoo-hoo" they shrieked.  Camp twilds, always the worst!

And on the train, a silly man behind me had got on the wrong train, and when the nice train guard lady said she'd only charge him the excess rather than a full fare ticket (not like Bedfordshire 6th April 2014 20:00 hrs, NEVER FORGET, very much my Hillsborough), he STILL kicked off for the next half an hour like a big baby, being really unpleasant to her.  His penance, a sympathetic trainspotter came to sit with him for the rest of the journey and talked at him about privatisation and other trainsplainery fave topics - sets and shunters, ballast and grice.  Karma.  Unless you're Tom.

Then the woman in front booked an online holiday on loudspeaker with a Skype travel agent.  She's staying 500 yards from the beach.  I won't tell you exactly where, but I could.

My taxi driver was a jolly bloke, bit scared I sat in the front but I like to be able to hear them, make sure they aren't swindling me, and show them the GBG at a glance.

Castor looked a lovely place, all the buildings were grey and thatched like you looking at some black and white photo, but with a very hot sun in it.  Pub one was imminent ......

1422 / 2168.  Prince of Wales Feathers, Castor

In a recurring theme of 2018 pub ticking (Delph being a key example), I'd barely stepped over the threshold when I was greeted by a gorgeous pub dog Charlie (nothing twoggy about him) who was then shouted to 'get away' from me by a lady who realised I wasn't one of her local fanboys.  She would redeem herself later though.   Charlie didn't really do much more of interest, so apologies to 'Cats' from San Jose for not writing the detailed dog review I promised her.  He simply existed in the pub space in a languid manner, a bit like Socrates playing for Brazil in the 1982 World Cup.  At the bar, I took my change out of my pocket and proceeded to order it so I could pay in the exact change.  The barman clocked me, so I gave him a big smile, but he then confounded me by shouting to a bloke sat on the left of the bar, reading a paper, minding his own business.  "Jim ..... JIM ..... JIMMMMMM .... WHAT YOU DRINKING?"  "Eh?" replied Jim, appearing from behind his broadsheet with a dazed look on his face, even looking between me and barman in a 'why've you not served someone who is actively seeking a drink?' kinda way.  Village pub life at its finest!    So more waiting, but not to be denied, I still joined in their weird England game preview.  "Shame Vardy is injured" says Jim, possibly the only person in the UK to utter this today.  Landlord started slagging off Jordan Henderson.  A wry smile passed over my face, though I chose not to agree, for I'd had quite an animated chat with my friend John Watson about him two days before, telling him I was trying to learn to love him after years of thinking he's a weak link.  "I might close mid afternoon so I can watch the game in peace" said the landlord, which was so par for the course in GBG ticking land, it surprised me less than Jim, who simply looked aghast.  "You .... you... wouldn't!" he burbled.  I managed to get in a Hull City/Harry Maguire mention, to make my mark!  Danny Rose played for Peterborough, the landlord told me, so he's the locals fave.  Talking of the Posh, someone asked why the pub was so quiet today.  "Peterborough are away to Bedford in a pre-season friendly" he replied.  "Or it might be the village fete."  Another old local mate of Jim's came in.  "Who will England play in the semi final if they win?  I just can't find ANY information about it ANYWHERE!" he whined, proving Castor really was cut off from civilisation.  I'd even ordered a World Cup beer from Castor themselves, the kind that modern beery types think gives CAMRA a bad name with its comedy logo and shit name.  I LOVE seeing beers like this, from a time before beer folk took themselves deadly serious.   Was a bit warm though!  But flavoursome.  In a refreshing change of topic, the Saddleworth Moors fire suddenly became a very hot topic (excuse the pun).  "If it spreads to Manchester, it'll be an improvement!" screams dog lady from the other room.  Redemption complete, it was time to trot to the next pub.  Amusing place.

Charlie greets me

And yes, I did say the full name out loud!

Jim and landlord have amusing chat

A red wall and platey thing trying to be impressive
It really was boiling hot outside as I walked down the street, passing the scorched village fete, proving it really might be taking custom away from the pub. I snuck inside for a quick piccie, though a man who looked like an archery teacher scowled at me but didn't fire at me, which was nice.

The next pub was soon on the horizon, and it looked even more beautiful than the first, but could it do the business inside as well?

1423 / 2169.  Royal Oak, Castor

You are all aware by now of the 'threat' that all pubs called the Royal Oak carry, and here it seemed to be a rather impatient landlord, for when I ordered an Oakham Inferno (really good quality, much cooler than my previous one, Simey Beer Score - B) his eyes never left the screen opposite.  I'd been vaguely aware Formula One was on, fair enough, perhaps he's fan, it takes all sorts.  But when I turned to see why he'd made zero eye contact, he was simply watching an advert for 'Bake Off : The Professionals'.  Talk about how to make you customers feel devalued!  Mary Berry really does like haunting my BRAPA experiences.  A really nice old couple came in, and like me, looked around at the low beams, amazing cool backroom with a farmhouse feel, great corridor to almost outdoor loos, this pub had a special atmosphere.  They asked if the football was going to be on.  YES.  And are they doing food?  "No, we aren't doing food at all!" said Mr Impatient proudly.  They looked crestfallen.  Never before have I been on the side of the food wanting folk!  And what a shame about the loud piped music, interspersed with whizzing F1 cars.  I honestly think this pub could've been a year-end contender if had just got a few simple little things correct, but still very good.  Time had ticked on, I really had to down my ale, for my bus was almost due, just as a twild with a broken arm wandered in and started whining, and a barmaid who actually smiled had appeared.  Shame.

No food for these legends

My bus was a bit late, but I could still just about make my connecting bus to Whittlesey.  More on that next time, but for now, it is goodnight from me, and goodnight from him!


Sunday, 15 July 2018

BRAPA - Month End Review (June 2018) / Preview (July 2018)

Tinners Arms, Zennor.  In my Cornish Pubby Element

The fact that I'm sat here writing this on 10th July after the Belgians have fallen to the mighty French (and releasing it on 15th July after the buggers have won it!) just shows how behind I've become as a result of that two week pubbing extravaganza in Cornwall and Cambridge.

49 Good Beer Guide listed pubs plus 6 pre-emptives is my second highest total ever, and by gum, was I feeling it by 16th June, needing a full two weeks off to recover!

It all started soberly enough, wading around the Fens with my webbed toes in Ramsey, a place where phone reception doesn't exist, neither do taxis, and I ended up holding court in the front bar with the 'old boys'.  It ended in the Talbot Ale House, St Helens, drunkenly staggering around trying to find the toilets like a Thai twild lost down a mine.

The first of 49, Jolly Sailor in Ramsey

Cornwall was incredible.  Apart from Isle of Man and Doncaster, I don't think anywhere feels more 'foreign' and I had to work so hard for some of the ticks, the sense of achievement was great.  Cambs might've been a step too far but RM was the host with the most, and made life easier than I deserved.

At the 'Five Miles from Anywhere No Hurry Inn' in Upware

A Fathers day in Birmingham and finishing South Yorkshire for a second time in BRAPA history were other highlights, oh and not forgetting vegan fish n chips with my sister 5 years on!

Giving Dad an Abba mug for Fathers Day

Hard to pick out three overall, but here we go ......

1. Blue Anchor, Helston
2. Tinner Arms, Zennor
3. Turk's Head, St Helens

Plenty of other classics, but a few lame ducks as well - my biggest gripe of the month being poor beer quality.  Now, I'm pleased to say, I probably only have two or three instances per year of beer that is bad enough to take back, but I had several instances this month.  I know it has been unseasonably hot, and I'm not even sure that is a good excuse, but I expect better from the GBG.  Beers at Towans Cross x2, the Geldart in Cambridge and the Red Cat in Crank were all vinegar to an extent, whilst other tired pints in Mousehole, the Haymarket in Cambridge and Trevaunance Cove were certainly not up to GBG standard.

A pretty dodgy pint in Moueshole
I should therefore mention the pubs where the quality stood out, so well done to West Wratting's Chestnut Tree, Palmerston Arms in Peterborough, John Francis Basset in Cambourne, Beerwolf Books Falmouth, Royal Oak in St Ives, Cambs and all 5 in St Helens for serving top pints.

A great pint at Royal Oak in Cambs St Ives

I always say (slightly tongue in cheek) that it is all about the pubs and not the beer for me, but this month I realised that when you are drinking poor quality ale, the twilds are that bit more annoying, the bar blockers are that bit more wankerous, the sleeping drooling doggie is that bit more twoggish, and the barmaid with the tribal midriff tattoo brandishing a food menu is that little bit more judgey.

July 2018

If June was a veritable feast of pubby activity, July signals a slump.  I know that because I can already tell you that by the 15th, I'll have only ticked off 9 Good Beer Guide pubs.

Boring reasons for this include a lack of cash, hot weather, trains being idiots, work being horrible and sapping all my energy and enjoying the World Cup (the lamest excuse of the lot).

Like a student doing last minute cramming for an exam, there might be a late flurry of activity in the final ten days of June to bring my figures up to a respectable 20-25 mark.

Castor, Whittlesey, Walthamstow, Cleethorpes, Washington .... I'll try and be there at some point if I haven't already!

County Progress Report

Cambridgeshire is bubbling away just nicely, like a pot of deep red soup in the Queen's Head at Newton.  Even with the 2019 GBG on the horizon, I honestly think I could be looking at completion by the end of the year.  New Year's Day in Andrewsfield Bar, on a rural Essex airfield anyone?

Cornwall is still in need of much attention.  Next summer, I'll do a more mid-county trip taking in places like Bodmin.

Where to go for my October 'Autumn Special' holiday?  Channel Islands?  Northern Ireland?  Dumfries & Galloway?  Bristol?  London?  Cumbria, would that be weird?  I've considered them all but I'm edging away from all of them and towards Dorset.  It doesn't look easy to the west of the country, but it is an area I have neglected almost entirely.

Tyne & Wear might be finished this month, that'd be canny wouldn't it?

Greater Manchester and Merseyside will live to fight another year, but that doesn't mean I won't chip away at it in the meantime.  I still even have a few North and East Yorkshire pubs that need a visit before that most magical book in the world plops through my letter box.

Derbyshire will officially 'take off' from mid August but rail engineering problems mean it might not be til mid October that I can get down to the likes of Derby and Matlock and Ashbourne.

See you tomorrow for my latest Cambs write-up.


Friday, 13 July 2018

BRAPA - Excelling in St Helens (Part 2 of 2)

'Well, nothing will beat the Turk's Head today will it?', I'd normally have been thinking, as myself, Tom and Dad walked to our 4th pub of the day.  But in this case, I was all too aware that I was approaching the current CAMRA national pub of the year.  I wish I'd not known, and I wish I hadn't told the other two.  But then again, they were hardly hiding their light under a hoppy bushel were they?

1419 / 2165.  Cricketers Arms, St Helens

Usually, when I enter a pub anywhere in any part of the world, there is a least a vague air of 'what brings you here?' but as I was presented with a ridiculously impressive range of ales, the staff attitude seemed to be 'ahhh yes, more latecomers to the best pub of the year party' which almost made me want to stand in the centre of the room, hold my GBG aloft, and scream "YOU ARE NO MORE VALUABLE TO ME THAN A GBG LISTED 'SPOONS IN MAIDENHEAD'.  Then they gave me a pub 'loyalty' card, but it was exactly the same design as MY BRAPA CALLING CARDS.  Get yer own design losers!  So am I going to write a contrary piece about how I dislike the current Twamra favourite?  Well, sadly not, because it was quite magnificent.  The beer from Rat in 'Uddersfield, oh my word, well if I thought the beer in both the Sefton and Turk's Head was excellent, well this was of the standard of quality you rarely find.  Tom could read the time on my watch through it, the ultimate test, though perhaps not if you're on the murky murk.  It was Dad's final pint of the day, he'd move to soft drinks/coffee after this because either (a) he knew it wouldn't be beaten (b) he is very responsible and sensible.  The answer is ''b" if Mum is reading this.  A man opened a window to let a gentle but much needed draught through, the mural detailing previous winners was 'fascinating' in that it made me realise how many rather average pubs have been CAMRA faves of the past.  And whilst it's hard to call, I'd still opt for Turk's Head just because I felt it was more of an ornate calming gem, where this is 'just' an excellent boozer.  St Helens, you are spoilt for choice!

My Twild & Twog Throwing Competition with free Lemon Hooch is yet to be approved

People getting excited by France v Argentina

Dad in his element as Tom eyeballs the mural with disdain

Trying not to wake up snoozing bloke as I get the beers in
But we were done yet as we trotted up the road which something that sounded suspiciously Micro.

Dad looks dubious, I look 'happy' (drunk)
1420 / 2166.  News Room, St Helens

Like all good North Western micros (or do I mean Lancs?), a friendly greeting from the barmaid was the cornerstone for yet another excellent ale / pub experience in the town that just kept giving.  Pubs with newspaper decor eh, how do you rate them?  I've often found them problematic, a bit headache inducing as you don't know where to squint next.  Editorial in Hull used to always confound me and Dad before Hull City evening games, but alas it is no more.  And who can forget the Newshouse in Nottingham where Dad had the longest BRAPA poo (time away from the table, not length, I don't think, he does flush) in history of the competition.  Yes, pubs like this can be distracting.   And this one also had 80's music videos, and what with Tom able to get a Blackcurrant, and two toilets, and no dog blocking the floor, no etch-a-sketch, good beer from a brewery I'd heard of, this pub fell well short of your traditional micro.  Dad was even able to get a crafty J20, rather than having to buy some £5 Fentimans or Fevertree offering.  My highlight was the mirror picture I took below, featuring all of us and our hostess.  I remember being thoroughly proud of it at the time, and Dad agreeing it was up there with the best, but in the cold light of day, it looked erm, a bit more dubious!  Still, at least it reminded me what beer I'd drunk!

Whether it was the J20 or a restlessness brought on by this pub, Dad was up and away long before me & Tom had even had time to finish our drinks, and I found him hovering outside our final pub of the day, practically next door.  "I don't think it's this one", I said, looking up at a sign saying Sportsmans Inn, but as we squinted more closely into the afternoon sun, it actually did say 'Talbot' on two other signs,  how confusing!

 1421 / 2167.  Talbot Ale House, St Helens

It was like the day had come full circle, this had a serious 'Sefton' vibe about it.  Old blokes dotted around a cheap n cheerful proper boozer full of large screens showing the World Cup, dartboards, pool table, drinks offers, comfy seating areas and the like.  I even got a pint of the George Wright just as I had done to start the day.  Bit of drama though as no J20 for Dad, noooooooo!  But it was okay, he's discovered a new favourite soft drink in the Ship at Acaster Malbis.  Fresh OJ in a pint glass then topped up to the top with lemonade.  I like it when he orders it, because it's still an exciting new thing, and his voice rises with a sense of urgency.  I was drunk though, and I knew that mainly because of two things, firstly I walked twice in a circle of the pub to find the gents even though I knew in my heart of hearts it was a little door just through to the right, and also when Dad asked what ale I was on, I said "same as you!" totally forgetting his exciting order.  So there you go.  I think there were lots of Frenchmen in St Helens, for they were getting very excited by the football, and every time I glanced up, there was a goal.  France scored the second we walked in, Argentina the second we left, there was a nice kind of symmetry about today.  A great day out!

I'll be back for the June round up on Sunday (finally!), what a month it was,  49 pubs, and that doesn't include pre-emptives.


Tuesday, 10 July 2018

BRAPA - Excelling in St Helens : Part 1 of 2

With toilet signs like this, who needs jam jars on the bar?  (Red Cat, Crank, Pub 1417)

After a successful trip to Chorley last Christmas, pub blogger extraordinaire Martin "RM" Taylor told me "if you enjoyed Chorley, you might also like to try St Helens", like he was some beery Amazon recommendations feature at the bottom of my page.

So, with a high sense of anticipation, me and Father BRAPA stepped into the town made famous by the Lancashire Hotpots when they were the coolest band in the world for all of two minutes.  The GBG lists it under Merseyside, just to annoy everyone.

We'd made good time, and with a distant Tom Irvin hovering on a nearby train and directing operations like a bearded ginger puppet master, we followed his advice and squeezed in a pub before our 'difficult village bus tick'. 

It wasn't far from the bus station and had opened at 10am like all good pubs should.

1416 / 2162.  Sefton, St Helens

And this was exactly the type of cheap and cheerful boozer I seem to enjoy the older I get.  Flashing fruit machines, World Cup flags everywhere, drink & food offers, nothing pretentious, just totally at ease with itself.  The barmaid immediately asks if I'm a Twamra chap, as I'm excitedly eyeing up a range of George Wright beers, which no one had obviously done in here before, and she gave my card a proper good scrutinise, squinting at my signature on the back as though she'd know if I was a fraudster.  Nearly every St Helens pub today would ask the same question, but when I asked if I needed to show my card, their attitude was more "hahaha, no, AS IF anyone would actually LIE about being in CAMRA!"  So I admired this pubs diligence.   We took our pints (very good quality I may add) to a raised area where an old man was trying desperately to be a parody of a St Helens man, with his flat cap, stick, yet slightly bohemian air making me think he was a 25 year old disguised as an 80 year old.  He sat under the Senegal flag, like he was clinging to their now extinct World Cup hopes.   Dad seemed suddenly obsessed with the town of Market Harborough (wherever that is!), is this a symptom of being in St Helens?  Tom arrived, looking slimmer and weller than I'd seen him for a while, which I'm not just saying because his parents use this blog to spy on him.  He may have even taken an apple from his bag and started munching on it, before helping a little blind lady across the road and rescuing a kitten from a tree.  In reality, he told us about a dream he'd had involving Teresa May and Chris Grayling, and then kept saying 'scrota'.  So it was time to leave.

Wanted to tell him Senegal were out but worried he'd bite me

Dad looks for Market Harborough

After some debate about where to get the bus from, Tom said 'bus station' which made some kind of sense at the time, but for the second time in BRAPA history, I was faced with oncoming brass banders.  This was the cheap n cheerful Saints version (am seeing a theme devloping here) with shit kids and colourful people on stilts.  The good folk of Delph/Saddleworth would be turning in their graves.

The St Helens tribute to their hero Ronald McDonald
The DELAYED bus journey didn't take long, but soon got surprisingly rural, and a really nice location, place name and pub name greeted us as we arrived outside at 11:59am, poised for 12 noon opening.

Dad channels his inner 'Waterloo Tap' and is fuming at '12pm' sign.  He's right of course.

1417 / 2163.  Red Cat, Crank

And at exactly 12 NOON, the blonde bar stewardess opened the door and got the shock of her life to see us three perched on her doorstep, something I guess they probably aren't used to up here, though we were by no means the only customers by the time we left.  She was a friendly lady, though I never felt quite fully engaged.  BRAPA came into conversation (as it so often 'just happens' to do) and when I mentioned the Good Beer Guide, she said "oh, we're in that are we?" which didn't seem a good sign.  I then said "I'm no beer expert, I prefer pubs!" and Dad shot me a sideways glance like "Whatever Siiiii" but IT IS TRUE.  It proved prophetic anyway because despite her obvious attempts to 'helpfully point us in the direction' of the Proper Job, I insisted on Marstons dreadful World Cup beer, Fever Pitch, which I was giving a second chance after a poor pint in L**ds.  It was vinegar by the end, and I didn't feel I could take it back cos I'd virtually admitted I knew nothing about beer.   Tom accused Dad of 'being like his Mother' when Dad tried, due to the ongoing hot weather, to get Tom to dispense with his fleecey 'Monkey World' jacket!    Quite a cute little pub, with a corridor, some nice windows and the odd side room, but not an experience that's going to live long in the memory when you compare it to what St Helens has to offer.  

Tom about to muck out the monkeys

Fair play for Tom for standing us at the right bus stop and the right time to get us back to St Helens.  Google Maps would've advised me something totally incorrect, and I'd probably now be living in Crank telling you all the Red Cat is the greatest pub on earth.

After a lethargic 15 minute trundle back into town and a little trot around the corner, we came to one of those pubs that you suspect is going to be amazing, before you've even crossed the threshold.  Here were some of the reasons why .....

Errrrm, nicely watered hanging baskets?!

Tetley lamp, YES!

Great lounge door and choice of rooms

Mosaic welcome
1418 / 2164.  Turk's Head, St Helens

Oh yes, my 'pub of the day' was this calming and ornate classic, though I suspect many of you will, as Dad did, slightly edge towards my 4th pub of the day which I will review tomorrow.   This place had a stillness you felt guilty for disturb, so I crept towards the bar with Tom (who hasn't done anything quietly in his life) and extracted a couple of bar blockers to one side with my BRAPA shaped elbows and was in.  Our brunette hostess had a watery nose & eyes and was slightly unconvincing, but me forgetting how to order Tom a "pint of blackcurrant and tap water ..... NO ICE" didn't help.  The ice comment reminded an old bloke next to us what a warm day it was, and asked her to put some ice in his Erdinger.  Ice in beer, surely unacceptable.  I know a 'dinger enthusiast (DON'T RUSS!), and I can't imagine him condoning such abhorrent behaviour, though it doesn't match the time I saw a young lady getting ice in her Deuchars in the backstreets of Sheffield. And that isn't a euphemism, okay?!  We sat in a raised area facing this amazing whisky cabinet, and Dad continued one of his ongoing themes of the day "waaaaah as long as I can sit on the shady side" like he was some kind of Vampire Pension Expert.  Every bus ride, train journey, pub, walk along a street, he said the same thing.  Top consistency.  But Dad had other issues, just as I had in Trevaunance Cove, he had inherited an old pound coin.  But even worse, a FAKE old pound coin.  After that exciting interlude, we remembered we did have a PURPOSE to our visit, BRAPA isn't all just shits and giggles you know.  No, we had to go through Hull City's fixtures for next season and work out what we wanted to do - this usually ends up with Tom getting us drunk and getting us to agree to do 6 pubs in Kent before Ipswich away and still getting to Portman Road for 3pm.  But we were ready for him this time.  We got as far as December, before deciding this could go on all afternoon and we had three more pubs to get to! 

Icy Erdinger

See you all for a hazy part two on Thursday!  I'll give you a day off tmw cos you might be watching the match.  I'm thoughtful like that.