Halfway through last Friday's bonus trip to Tyne & Wear then, I'd booked the day off work having expected to need it for cross-ticking the new GBG, but I'd finished it in record time so could treat myself to a day of pubbing instead.
With Whickham, Swalwell and Felling all safely under my belt, I made a snap decision to catch the Metro the other way which took me to South Shields. Fitting, for in 2014 and 2017, it was the first place I visited after receiving the new GBG.
I'm still scarred by the 2014 visit, when I was fined £40 for having bought a Metro ticket which didn't cover all zones. "An honest mistake guv" didn't work as my defence, and soon I was having to give details like the colour of my eyes to a stern officer! I wouldn't care, I was the most respectable member of society in Shields in a town of dossers, Greggs addicts and smackheads. Today, the station staff joked and smiled as they helped everyone through the barriers, I couldn't help but scowl.
Oh well, let's get to the pub!
The Cask Lounge, South Shields is the most un-Shieldsie GBG outlet you could imagine, which is perhaps the point. 'Offering something different' and all that, but gimme a Steamboat, Marine, Alum Out House or Stag's Head Bass any day! Didn't help that I wandered into the adjoining record shop, but his reaction suggested I wasn't the first (or indeed will be the last) to do this. And when I told the friendly Cask Lounge owner, he says I'm free to take my pint through and browse the vinyl. Which was decent of him, for the record shop had a pubbier atmosphere than this gentle cushioned fluffy lounge. You could sit on a dead Persian cat and you'd never know. Two pairs of people here represented the first time today I'd been in the presence of fellow customers. A record for fourth pub in? The ale was on form, and with likes of Kylie, Jason, Gary Glitter and an 80's compilation I used to dance around the kitchen to in Saffron Walden whilst recreating Falkirk v Dundee Utd 88/89 with a sponge football (my childhood!) this experience grew into something approaching enjoyment, ultimately falling short like The Bairns survival attempts.
Back in the Toon, I should probably have changed for Haymarket, but gave myself a 15 minute walk from Central which wasn't a great idea as I was now against the clock to get two more ticks done before the train back to York - I was on a fixed ticket.
In addition to the growing 'weekend is here' celebratory feel in the City Centre, a few O2 sponsored shirts, non Geordie accents, programme and scarf sellers made me realise something else was afoot. I assumed Newcastle Utd had an evening Premier League game at home to Arsenal - 'just my BRAPA luck, pubs'll probably be packed now' I thought ......
Looking a bit like a beach side hut in Eastbourne combined with a fairground gypsy fortune tellers, Mean-Eyed Cat hadn't quite been what I was expecting! The Mean-Eyed Cat in L**ds is an unusual, very dark, supposedly Johnny Cash themed (though heard every other artists music apart from his) keg only bar, where you roll a dice when you order your drink, and if you do well, you get free slice of pizza! But I'm pretty sure this wasn't linked in anyway. Heaving with people, I shouted across a group of blokes who looked like Perry Groves for a pint of 'The Cramps' themed ale, a delicious pale like a young Poison Ivy. I made a quick getaway to the benches out the front, and asked two young beardos (not men in Peter Beardsley masks, probably more Craft Phillipe Albert and a vasectomied Brian Kilcline) if I could share their table. Soon, all eyes weren't on my new GBG, but on my ale. 'Cooo, which one is that?' people kept asking, like I was some beer expert who instinctively knew the best hoppy pale to choose. Got chatting to a couple pinned against the pub, and the guy tells me I'm not the first person to think he's an Arsenal fan here for football! In fact, he is here for a rugby union match, and is from Leicestershire. Well, well, well, I never knew Leics folk had markedly more southern accents than their Notts n Derbys counterparts, but then again, it is a county I've not really been to. Nice chat anyway, ale went down well, even if wind was a bit chilly, and with the folk dispersing for Sid James Park, I headed back towards the station ......
Another march back so I could squeeze in my 6th and final pub of the day, and being one of the many railway themed arch pubs, it confused Google Maps a bit which in turn confused me, but here it was, pretty much next door to Box Social I'd done earlier this year ......
Beer Street remember, sister pub of Old Fox in Felling, and they couldn't be more different. But whilst service was with a smile, the masses of murk guzzling twenty and thirty somethings were loving life and disappointingly unthreatening, and ale quality spot on, I couldn't help feeling I'd been here before. I hadn't. But it felt so much like Box Social, but with a more atmospheric graffitied curved upstairs area, it was a bit hard in my six pint state to feel anything other than 'what is the point of this existing?' True, maybe I wasn't sober enough to pick up subtle nuances of the place (if they exist), but after the success of the wonderful Split Chimp, it just feels so many places are eager to jump on the bandwagon, but not doing it quite as well. Station East in Gateshead a similarly unconvincing railway arch attempt. Still, everyone here was having a good time, and if it celebrates 30 consecutive GBG editions in 2050, I'm willing to eat my words!
So there we have it! Six pubs to the good. Had to look after myself, get a coffee, bottle of water, swerve York Tap and get to bed quite early as Father BRAPA was driving me around some east/south Yorkshire the following day.
Except best laid plans and all that ..... well, I'll tell you all about that tomorrow!