"Crazy Cloudwater, boy wonder!" exclaimed #PubMan, "the Joker has taken Golborne City .... quick, to the Mudge Mobile". And we ran out to the car park.
You may expect the Batman theme to play at this point, but instead it was some 70's guitar rock bloke from Ireland called Rory Gallagher. "It doesn't get more seventies than this" exhaled Mudgie, and then stared out wistfully into the middle distance, probably contemplating his old fondue set and hostess trolley. "My Dad actually likes Abba" I declared randomly. "Everyone gets to a certain age where they learn to appreciate Abba" replied Mudgie with a sincerity I've never heard associated with any Abba conversation before. This guy was GOOD, he made you think. ('Hopefully I'll die of liver disease before I get to this certain age', is what I was thinking).
We pulled into the pub car park. "Martin Taylor came here recently and quite liked it" warned Mudgie, as a crow cawed and a thunder cloud formed above.
|Me forgetting which direction to face|
And this was a nice pub, not too much of a departure from the previous one but with the added spice of a bit of community feel, making it a smidgen pubbier than the Travellers Rest perhaps, though we were out of reach of the 'separate dining area'. It even included a little girl sat at the bar who opened and closed the door for anyone going outside, which was above & beyond. I ordered a refreshing ale called Skylark cos I'd never heard of the Wily Fox brewery before, but Mudgie told me they got in a bit of trouble for having a fox on the pumpclip that was deemed 'too sexy'. My Skylark was fully feathered I'm pleased to report, showing just a bit of side-wing, phwoar. He also told me Wigan people were called 'Pie Eaters' because they were forced to eat humble pie, it's inhabitants returning first from the miners strike. And all these years I thought it was cos they were all fat bastards. When Mudgie declared he was leaving, we mentioned it would give me chance for more traditional BRAPA observation. And his departure opened a vortex to weirdness immediately, as the Man City fans I'd been slightly aware of started being stranger than I'd expected. It was a real annoying 'hail fellow well met' back slapping exercise, the blonde lass in particular finding this wired American dude at the bar (no, not him!) and being impressed he'd come all the way from Florida to watch 'her' team. Jeez, it's not like he's come to watch fucking Droylsden! And then an excitable guy asked if I was a 'City' fan. Oh, this was too easy. "Yes, HULL City, hah!" I replied. But his accidental comeback of "Are they a rugby team?" totally knocked the wind out of my sails, and I staggered off, dejected, to the nearest bus stop.
About 20 minutes later, the bus pulled into Wigan. I've been many times but can never quite manage to 'crack' the BRAPA clean sweep of GBG pubs.
It is a unique town. Mainly positive, friendly for sure, cheap, no nonsense, but as the light starts to fade on an evening, a terrifying undercurrent starts to creep to the surface that envelopes your soul like a Dementor lost in Doncaster.
I got a bit lost trying to find my first pub, hidden as it was down this cobbled little boutiquey side street which didn't feel very Wigan, but then again, this is the year 2018 and none of us are safe.
1302 / 2048. Tap 'n' Barrel, Wigan
As Micros go, I quite enjoyed this one. Maybe not quite matching the insanity of Wigan Central, but a friendly welcome and a beer called 'Lancashire Loom' which was surprisingly excellent and very local promised big things. I propped my beer on a ledge near the front door, and went to explore as it was quiet. How freezing outside though? Why is Wigan always cold or wet or both? An upstairs room was being inhabited by a Wigan version of Bill n Ted, who smiled bogusly at me as I used the loo and admired the interesting comic art work. Downstairs, I noticed an astroturfed little courtyard which seemed warmer than outside, so either covered or heated. I returned to my pint, with the plan to sit in either of these areas when a huge group of North Western middle agers came from nowhere, and piled into the pub, blocking the bar area, no way I could move now. What is worse, someone had left the door open letting all that freezing air in, so I gave it an almighty SLAM to prove a point and it nearly came off it's hinges. What I hadn't noticed was two old ladies, stragglers, bringing up the rear. One of the many Mr Potato Head's in the group pointed at me, and told the ladies "He's fucking freezing and he doesn't want you in here!" I looked away, ashamed that he'd read my mind! They all then bar blocked and pointed flabby fingers at the local ales, and the leading Potato Head bellowed "I think CAMRA are losing their way, they should be concentrating on ....." And just at that key moment, YMCA by Village People blared out so loudly, I couldn't hear the rest of the sentence. You couldn't make it up, I'm not. Maybe CAMRA need more gay cowboys and policemen? Who knows, it wouldn't be the silliest thing I've heard this year.
|The staff hide from impending potato heads|
|In the golden era, before the crowds came|
|My view from the window|
Firstly, I came to another modern looking frontaged silly named place......
|The Wigan Athletic cup run is over, but no-one's told the locals.|
1303 / 2049. Doc's Symposium, Wigan
Well, this place surprised me ..... it was about as kitchen canteen with real ale as you could get, even making the Pi chain feel distinctly cosy olde worlde pube (well, pub anyway). Well, that was my initial view. Respect to the four hardy souls who sat outside, for they probably thought there was little alternative as every seat was taken in this one roomed echo chamber,and after ordering something called Abbey Original which could have been 3 or 13%, I sidled in front of the deli counter where a full range of Pipers crisps and weirder pub snacks were laying horizontal like your Nanna in a tanning salon. Downside of my situation, I must have set a BRAPA record for number of times asked if I'd been served by the ultra keen staff who were acting like they had 'something to play for'. This included fan favourite 'Dennis' who seemed to be adored by all. It all made a bit more sense when the blonde landlady emerged, leaving for the day, but not before hugging each of her staff on the way out, whilst nibbling on their shoulder and whispering a motivating / passive aggressive "be good" in their earholes. There was something Paulo Di Canio-esque in her style of woman management. It says a lot for this place and the folk of Wigan that I remained comfortable and amused throughout, despite my precarious 'standing at the deli' position. Well done Doc!
|"Trying to keep it real" at the Symposium|
|People filling up space|
|Crisps on glass|
|My main view for the 30 mins spent in here|
Still feeling strangely sober and positive about the world in general, but especially Wigan, I noted the lightness of the evening and the fact that I'd done well for time mainly thanks to Mudgie's car manoeuvres earlier on. Six pub limit? Pah. I could probably do about five more!
I'd start with the other pub in that slightly 'out of town' part of Wigan centre ..... I mean what could possibly go wrong?
1304 / 2050. Royal Oak, Wigan
As I took the above photo from across the road, I was faintly aware of the pubs sinister sloping almost gothic exterior, looming down on me and blocking out what was left of the sun as I crossed the road. But due to my happy spirits, I managed to quell such fears. Even when two gnarly skinheads with three teeth and ten tattoos between them appeared to be fighting over the carcass of a dead dog outside, I didn't think much of it, but I think it is safe to say that my memories of this pub have scarred me, emotions heightened, I cannot really remember how 'real' anything was. I walked inside and any doubts I had soon subsided, this felt like your standard slightly raucous early Saturday evening boozer. I was pleased to be in a 'real' pub after the last two, and it seemed like a smaller scale Berkeley in the town centre which I visited in similar circumstances a couple of years ago. Bright lights, blackboards, special offers, thumping music, laughter, bad perfume, steak and chips. I could not see any handpumps though, just many glittering fonts, and the young staff looked eager to serve me but they'd have to wait for now whilst I edged around the bar. And then I came to an area where the music seemed a bit more muffled, the lights a bit duller, the customers seemed to be giving this area a wide berth, the staff seemed reluctant to venture over. I may have even heard a wolf howl. It was so weird, a bit like being in a forest! I know handpumps aren't universally popular but this seemed peculiar. Not Old Peculiar. I was aware of one lone man, perfectly still, crouched over the ales, unshaven, a bit unkempt, a face much older than his years. A wide eyed blonde barmaid scurried over and served me, I whispered 'Moorhouses' and she nodded hurriedly. "Tut tut tut", sounded the figure next to me, "A poor choice!" like he thought he was the Dungeon Master, Yoda or Treguard from Knightmare or something. I conceded Moorhouses have been a bit hit & miss for me over recent years too. I shaped to take a photo of the pumps, with some of the back bar behind it. He scowled at my phone. I put it back down on the counter. He told me most beers were rubbish and brewers didn't know what they were doing, CAMRA were stupid, then he told me about his mental health issues. I explained that I was currently raising money for Mind UK by taking a selfie with a different person each day. I bravely asked if he'd participate. After telling me Mind UK were swindlers of the highest order who didn't care about people like him, he confessed that the last person who did that had to be carried out of the pub. So I said I might just take some general pub shots for my blog, but he told me that if I didn't put my camera away NOW (it's a phone actually) he might rip my insides out. He even laughed for the only time! He made it sound like he wasn't in control of his own actions, so I went to the loo, wondering if I should really leave my pint with him! When I came back, the aim was to down my ale and leave, especially when he grabbed my shoulder and spat in my ear for the next 10 minutes. But I started getting these terrible stomach cramps and I could not drink quickly? Moorhouses or Russian nerve agent? And that's a gameshow we're all trying to get commissioned. What was worse, the staff and locals seemed very aware of this bloke and what was happening. I tried to look at people with pleading eyes, but they were all like "you're on your own, son". I think it's no exaggeration to say I now knew how Jozef Fritzl's daughter must've felt. I finally escaped, well we even shook hands, Stockholm Syndrome had kicked in. "I'm Simon" I told him. "I'm not telling you my name!" he replied, he was probably wise to be fair. The stomach pains lasted into Tuesday, but the mental scars remain for longer!! This should have been a generic cheap n cheerful pub experience, Wigan or not, but it somehow became a horror story.
I staggered home via Manchester, my remaining Wigan pub the Raven sounded like a horror film too, I'm in no rush to go back!