Whisper it softly, but I think that is a pub I spy on the horizon. Okay, so it may well be a vast Brunning & Price dining pub in rural Surrey, but at this point (fourth month of third lockdown), I quite frankly don't give two hoots.
|Forced outdoor ticking - happened all to often in 2020. Will 2021 been more indoorsy?|
BRAPA eh? How did it work again? 6am alarm beep beep beep. Long train journey. Shorter train journey. Bumpy bus. Mini Cheddars. Cauliflower mascot. Green highlighter pen. A pint in each of the six pubs. Taking astonishing photos. Making notes for an overly wordy blog. Mad dash to Kings Cross. More time than I realised. Fullers ESB in the Parcel Yard. Drunken selfie. Can't remember the journey home. Sleep a full day. Write blog. Plan next journey. Repeat.
Phew, sounds like hard work now I think about it. Do I really do that every week for 'fun'?
Don't worry, with the spring air in my nostrils and these lighter nights, I can feel my mojo stirring (ey up!) and a burning desire to plan my first trip since that December one we don't talk about.
I'm going to walk you through the SEVEN key planning steps, so you too, can become a pub ticker as brilliant as me. This example will be of a week long extravaganza relying on public transport.
1. Book the Time Off (n/a if you are one of these lucky 'retired' pub tickers, or 'completist' as I'm now going to start calling myself as per page 164 of CAMRA's wonderful 50th anniversary book - buy today, Amazon deliver speedily - I'm not on commission, honest).
If work reject your request, cite 'life event' reasons i.e. the reopening of pubs is YOUR wedding day if you are never planning on getting married. Your 2,500th tick is you giving birth, forceps needed. Your overnighter to Weymouth is having to stay in cos the man from Hotpoint is over to fix the washing machine. Kind of. You get the idea.
TOP TIP - Book your holidays across two weeks so you can get the benefit of 'staying down' for a weekend for any pubs with particularly limited hours. Skipping a day? Make it a Monday. A pointless day of the week, unless you are in Andover which has no concept of space or time.
|Book it! But don't Thomas Cook it.|
2. Accommodation/Staying Down
You need to commit and tie yourself in as soon as possible. What county is in your mind? Surrey? Are you sure? Now you need a city/town with good transport links, definitely rail, and a good bus service to take you north, east, south and west. Guildford works well. Placing yourself fairly centrally within the county is often a good plan of course. In Bucks, Aylesbury is a must. No one has ever said that before. In any context. Ever. Make sure your chosen place has accommodation options.
TOP TIP - Experience has taught me Travelodges and Premier Inns work much better than B&B's, which can be nosey, judgey, over friendly, standing over you while you eat breakfast, and have awkward key mechanisms / weird rules when you drunkenly arrive back and puke on the cat at 1am for the 7th day in a row. Save your 'being sociable' for chatting to pub oddballs, make your down time as anonymous and private as possible. Book it now, don't delay. Tie yourself in. Then you're committed.
|Farnborough Travelodge has an adjoining GBG Wetherspoons and Papa Johns. The holy trinity?|
Get those trains booked ASAP, or at least get alerts set on LNER website so you know as soon as your dates become available. You don't want to be paying through the nose, a seven day ticking extravaganza is a pricey enough affair as it is. Look up local bus services. Can you get day/weekly savers? Chat to bus drivers. Most will be massive twats, granted, but if one in the entire week offers a great deal with a smiley expression and 'can do' attitude, it has been worth it. You'll be needing to get the best deal for yourself in every respect. I saved a fortune in Cornwall in the days when they offered decent deals. Derbyshire similarly excellent re Wayfarers. TomIrvin.com should be a Martin Lewis style website to assist in this regard, but isn't.
|Me in rural Cumbria, Oct 2019, on my fourth hour waiting for a bus to appear|
4. Pub Opening Hours
Now the fun can really begin as we raise aloft that magic Good Beer Guide and say 'by the power of BRAPA' (optional step).
Open the Guide at the relevant county (Surrey? Are you sure you are sure?) What isn't highlighted already? Get a notepad and jot down the places and pub names you have left to do. Leave a couple of lines around each to add notes in. Why are there so many? You only went last year. You've 'lost' 17 of the 51 you visited in 2020? WHY SURREY CAMRA, WHY?! DO YOU WANT ME TO FAIL IN MY QUEST?
Whatpub.com is a good starting point. Unlike the modern GBG, it lists opening hours. This is more likely to be up to date than the GBG was anyway, but Facebook and pub official websites are even more likely to be updated, so if these are linked on Whatpub, pay more attention to these times.
Write these down in your little notepad. Closing times I wouldn't bother with unless particularly early (like Dorking where everything shuts by 6pm) and you plan to be particularly late! Beware though mid afternoon closures. We've all been to pubs with midweek hours like 12-2:30, 5:30-11 - don't be caught out! I was.
TOP TIP - What if contradictory hours are listed on Whatpub, Facebook and the pub website and you can't ascertain the most up to date? It happens. Go 'worst case scenario' i.e. go with the most limited. And if all three sources say they are open 2pm on a Saturday, visit then, cos they will be open. Probably. Maybe. If you're lucky. No social media presence anywhere to be seen? Wing it, it'll be fun (if you get in).
|My Surrey 2020 GBG completion effort. Only Caterham I didn't attempt|
|.... and the 'revised position' after 2021 cross-ticking|
5. Local Geography
With pub opening times pencilled in, now time to jot a few notes on how to actually get to the place, better still if you can make an additional mental map of each required location. 'Broadham Green 11:30 Mon - Sat, 12 Sun' is all well and good, but much better you also know you can walk it from Hurst Green station in 20 minutes (take that total lack of bus or train symbol in GBG! Ha!), and will most likely involve a bit of jiggery-pokery around East Croydon. Best to pair with other required pubs in area, Titsey? Caterham? Whyteleafe? You may as well, best opportunity you will get if you live up north. Choose a day and time all are open together. Couple of South London ticks on the way back in? I hear Selsdon is nice at this time of year.
TOP TIP - Google Maps is an invaluable resource. Apart from the obvious benefit of being a map (yes I told you this guide was good!), zoom in enough and it shows bus stops which you can click on for times and routes. Use this in conjunction with the wonderful bustimes.org and exciting upstart busatlas.uk and you too will be slurring to the old men smoking outside your 5th pub that you've got to dash cos the 595 to Oxted is the last one of the day. Locals love that kinda shit and will accept you as 'one of them' in no time.
|Locals often respond well to an 'adventure' in their locality. Especially in Tring.|
6. The Final Touches
Now you know what is open when, and where everything is, and hopefully, what pubs 'pair' best with other pubs. Best now to jot out a little schedule of what you want to achieve (roughly) each day. Of course, you have to be adaptable and think on your feet in this game, but it's a rough outline. 27 pubs to do? Give yourself six days if drinking pints. The full six pubs a day might not always be achievable even if you are up early, trust me. And if you are making good progress, you can always look across the borders at the likes of Hants, Berkshire, West Sussex and London. I might not have mentioned it before but Selsdon is very nice at this time of year.
It's all in the planning, and believe me, once you are in the swing of a weeks ticking, it is seriously hectic and the last thing you want is waking up with a banging head, knowing you've got to work out today's agenda. Keeping yourself fed, watered and well rested is really all you have time for during your 'down-time' between being in the pubs and the travelling itself
TOP TIP - Try and be done for 7pm, 8pm latest if you are also ticking the following day. Then you are fresh as a daisy ready to start drinking again as soon as that 8am 'Spoons opens in Epsom.
TOP TOP TIP - If a pubman / pubwoman / Twitter follower offers to help you transport wise, definitely take them up on it, even if you already had 'plans' to get to a certain place. Someone with a car who is happy to drink halves/lemonade is the pub tickers friend. Especially if it has a built in loo. Plus you may feel the need for a bit of quality human company once you get so many days in! No offence Colin. Do NOT confuse this with 'inviting' someone along though, you need to remain as independent and single-minded as possible.
To prove your dedication to the organisational aspect of this (what you might now be realising is a highly scientific procedure and not just a case of opening the GBG at a random page and going "WANT THAT ONE") , your master ticking spreadsheet/database/csv file should have an 'overnight' checklist.
Fluffy Cauliflower, check. GBG, check. Notepad with all your jotted down workings out, check. Pen, and back up pen. Check. Highlighter pen of green. Check. Mini Cheddars for the week. Check. Spare underpants (because we all remember homebrews like the laxative of Laxey). CHECK! And plenty more of course. You just don't want to miss anything. Earphones essential. Twildery on public transport, there's nothing worse. No point taking your new novel. You've got the GBG anyway (a cracking read), and you won't have time to get lost in a crime ridden Victorian underbelly when you're really in 2021 Reigate. You'll only miss your stop. Oh phone chargers, back up phone chargers, and back up back up phone chargers. Don't forget. Don't forget your smartphone. It'd be like ticking blind (as I found when I went to Darton with a disposable cam'ra).
TOP TIP - Squash everything for the week into a huge hold all / giant rucksack, but with a mini canvas bag concealed within to separate out and swing over your shoulder for your daily jaunts. Less luggage means the more productive your ticking will be, and less like a tourist you will look. I call this 'The Biggleswade Realisation'. You can buy food and mini toiletries when you are down there and checked in. Newport Isle of Wight has a wonderful Superdrug I hear.
|Squash it all down. Sit on it if needs be. Don't be shy.|
So there we have it! Did that put you off ever attempting such a thing, or make you want to give it a go? And if you are a fellow ticker (sorry, completist) reading this, what did I miss?
I could even do a volume 2 re 'ticking' strategy, but I won't. I'll be blogging about real life pubs in a few weeks anyway! Hurray. I might even do a Yorkshire pub gardens special if you're lucky.
Yesterday was BRAPA's 7th anniversary and for a second year running, I could not spend it in (or even outside) a pub. Frustrating times indeed, but at least the future is finally, hopefully, looking a bit brighter for all us folk who love the pub.
Thank you for reading, Si