Sunday 10 October 2021

BRAPA in ..... YOU JUST CAN'T GET THE STAFFS (Part 4/4 Staffordshire Special)

After the chaotic eight pub day that had been my Saturday around the Leek & Stoke area, I was craving something a bit more structured on the Sunday, the final day of this fantastic mini-break. 

Staffordshire is rapidly becoming a new favourite pub county if it can continue the kind of form it has shown so far.   

I split today into three sets of two, these were:

1. Bus route out west
2. Penkridge area
3. Stafford mop-up

It was another glorious day weather wise, as I waited in the pretty Victoria park for a rare Sunday bus to arrive.

The bus went as far as Telford, but being on a train route and a place that Daddy BRAPA has expressed a desire to visit in the future, I decided not to go that far today.  My first pub did however, take me somewhat controversially into Shropshire.

And it felt as if the Staffordshire Pub Gods (SPG) were determined to punish me for shunning their county with one of the blandest, drabbest experiences of my extended weekend.  New Inn, Newport (1981 / 3410) must be one of the weaker Joule's pubs in the chain.  The young barman looked bored out of his tiny mind, and having spilled my Pale Ale whilst passing it over, and I had to tell him not once but TWICE that it needed a top up.  No apology, no smile, a poor performance.  Apart from a sullen young family enjoying coffee and walnut cake who may well have been linked to the pub anyway, the place was pretty deserted, the beer was fine but boring, and the decor/atmosphere, usually the selling point of a Joule's pub, was sparse, airy and dull.  A bloke sits across from me but when his wife coos "Paul, where are youuuu darling?   Oh, don't sit there!  There's is no one in here, it is a boring!" I decide I hate the customers too.  I suppose the guy in the red leather jacket with cauliflower on table are figments of your imagination then?  Couldn't wait to get back on the bus, and back into Staffordshire.

They ain't wrong

Paul darling has gone, back on our own once more

Terrible service

'Water closets' the most exciting thing on offer

I cannot deny the main purpose of this bus trip was to visit my one Staffordshire pub immediately West of Stafford.  (High Offley and Eccleshall were just out of reach this trip, but I've figured out how to do them in the future). 

Gnosall was the location in question, which had me singing "I'm a Gnu" by Flanders and Swann - but with NEW lyrics.  A pretty village of decent size, bit of an odd location for a Micropub I mused.  Could it achieve big?  First rule of how to be a great Micropub?  Don't look like a Micropub.  This one passed that test.

I'd heard whispers of how great Leek was going to be, I'd seen the heritage 'star' in the GBG for Hanley Coachmakers, I'd even been told what a good pub town Stafford was.  But it is when you are wowed by a pub previously unmentioned, that pub ticking is at its most gratifying.  George & the Dragon, Gnosall (1982 / 3411) a mid-afternoon closure on a Sunday, and a late opener most other days, I'd had to time this one right.  The place is busy without feeling uncomfortable, a Sunday lunchtime thrum of relaxed, happy folk having a laugh and a joke - men, women, oldies, well behaved kids, this was pretty much the perfect pub atmosphere.  Standing room only, unless I hid myself in that dark room near the loos, and I didn't want to do that.  Besides, the landlord was a great sport, chatting to me comfortably about what I'm actually doing here, as I enjoy a cracking Black Country Mild.  Opened in 2015 and in the GBG quicker than is normally the case, he tells me, the local CAMRA obviously recognised quality when they saw it.  I grab a homemade (by his wife) cheese & onion roll to take out, the pork scratching selection looks amazing too.  Not only is he happy to highlight the GBG, he signs it too.  "It'll be worth loads when I'm knighted" he jokes. I'm not joking.  Next time some negative bastard bemoans "the death of the pub", refer them to this little cracker. 

Our hero in action

Top snacks

Local gets a pint

Newcy Brown and this time it is serious

Showing off his awards

I wait for the bus on the entrance to some nature reserve.  Perfectly place to have my C&O roll, swig of OJ and a nice secluded piss.  I'm in heaven.  

But back to reality, by which I mean Stafford, and with Part 1 of the day complete, another standing room only situation (this time on the train) takes me one stop to Penkridge.

From there, a nice bracing thirty minute stroll takes me to a place called Whiston, where Google Maps has me walking through a graveyard for shits n' giggles.

The pavement-less country lane which follows is probably at its busiest, I suspect a great deal of the traffic are full-up Sunday lunchers, driving home after a trip to this foodie pub I'm now heading to, making it a more precarious walk than I'd really wanted.

Relief then as the pub comes into view .......

But once inside the rather warm and stuffy Swan at Whiston, Whiston (1983 / 3412) , disaster strikes as I'm confronted by a snaking queue towards the narrow bar in this main room.  Nobody else just wants a drink of course, oh no, they are all paying for their Sunday lunch whilst ordering additional rounds of drinks!  I've so many questions.  Don't staff take payment at tables after you've eaten?  Don't the punters want their bill when they are LEAVING?  The set up is so wrong.  I feel sorry for those diners on tables around the bar.  My arse is practically on this blokes giant square Yorkshire Pudding at one point.  The army of staff are hard working, courteous, and (when I eventually get served) apologetic, but the set up is a disaster.  A lady turns round and rolls her eyes to me when this dweeb of a Dad and his mate hanging around getting in the way ask for extra drinks, and fanny about in the most annoying way possible.  Anyway, 15 minutes and several heartfelt apologies later, I take my pint outside to a bench at the side of the pub, sweating buckets, not a nice atmosphere within.  But then the plot twist.  I go in to find the loo, I spy a pool table so investigate further.  A games room!  I peer through.  Four old blokes, in their own secluded pubby little bar!  Why didn't I know about this?  Why didn't the staff send drinkers only around here?  Would it upset the blokes?  I don't have the heart to bring my drink back indoors now.  I sit outside cooling down, as a miserable local tells anyone who'll listen that this is the last day of decent weather we'll have all year.  Like everything about this pub, he's plain wrong.  And I'm too exhausted to do that walk again so ring a taxi.  Grrrrrrr.  

In da queue

One of many former diners lingering, getting in the way

Pool table leads to a portal of unexpected joy....

And there it is, bloody hell

Col tries to put a brave face on this experience

The driver drops me in Penkridge centre, doing the whole "am I ok to drop you anywhere here mate?" presuming I'm a local who knows his way around, I'm not.  The pub is quite obvious though, due to the boom boom boom of live music.  A mural that belongs in a RetiredMartin blog than a BRAPA one adorns one side of the pub .....

And so many people see me taking the following photo, it leads to lots of jeers and cheers in my direction as I walk inside!  Nice to see so many pissed up punters in the daytime, people are oft just that little bit too sober (AKA joyless) on your average BRAPA day out (with the exception of myself of course).  If Penkridge had a coat of arms with Latin motto, it would translate to 'let's get fucked up'.

I'm quite a fan of my Star, Penkridge (1984 / 3413) experience.  The action is almost all outdoors, as the live band bang out classics (well, standards) like 'Satisfaction' and 'Everybody Wants to Rule the World' with a surprisingly punky edge.  Punkridge?  Oi oi!  Staff and punters littered around the bar are jovial and easy going.  Someone mentions Ostrich eggs and a bag of Paxo. I don't know why.  Banksies Sunbeam used to be one of the favourite beers in a Marston's house, a bit more floral than most when you are in the mood for something lighter, but last couple of times I've had it, it seems to have changed into something less fun.  At the back of the room, I exchange nods with two #Pubmen and can really appreciate that classic Sunday afternoon pub lull.  I'd bottle it if I could.  Unique and certainly the best time to be in a pub. Am sure a Twitter follower is about to reveal himself.  Think Danny Baker but fluffier around the edges.  He's sat above me, peering from behind his newspaper.  Possibly a Col fan, CAMRA member too, he looks the type.  But he never says anything.  If you were that man, please comment below.  With an enormous sense of well being, it's time to say goodbye to Penk Life and get myself back to Stafford.  

Part 2 of 3 completed, and time now to mop up my remaining two Stafford ticks.  Whilst both are a long way out of centre, they do at least have the benefit of being in the direction of my Travelodge digs.

Again, the feel-good-factor of a Sunday afternoon pub session was in full force here at bod, Stafford (1985 / 3414).  My second bod of the weekend, the original, and the best?  The chain taking it's name from Bodmin Avenue, on which it is situated.  A few long haired lovers gargle at me and say 'awrite' as I enter, though you are just as likely to find a group of young Mum's drinking freshly ground coffee and eating avocado toast whilst breastfeeding as you are a bunch of old 70's rockers gurning over a Plum Porter, such are the vagaries of this colourful Titanic chain.  I was already kicking myself for not doing the Newport, Shrops one while I was there as a pre-emptive.  Evidently more GBG worthy than the New Inn I'd bet.  After walking past all the deli counter, the two lads behind the bar are top class.  They compliment my new red leather jacket, one has been trying to get one like this for years!  Five pints in, it is a struggle to remember where I bought it.  In fact, the whole pub seems to be smiling on me in here, the enormous sense of well being continues.  Bodlife.  I wouldn't normally perch on a posing table, but you're never gonna get plush bench seating in a bod, so I do, and survey the happy scene from a raised vantage point, even putting my headphones on, as I sup my strange Raspberry guest.   Music on may've seemed a weird move, but was partly because Pub Curmudgeon recommended a song by Peter Cetera that was better than Glory of Love.  Then I put 'Up Where we Belong' by Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes on.  Just because it felt right.

Trying to stymie my pub ticking since 2014!

I walked back in the direction of my Travelodge, down some steps off the main road to take me to my final pub of the weekend ......

And what a puzzler / head scratcher of a pub Spittal Brook, Stafford (1986 / 3415) was.  A third consecutive one where a larger than life local stood outside offers me a cheery welcome.  With elements of my first pub of the weekend, Stafford's Greyhound, for basic local boozery, tinged with a bit of that 'locals pub for local people' attitude I experienced at Milwich's Green Man.  Don't get me wrong, on the very surface, it is a very friendly place.  But.  There's always a but with BRAPA.  The young guy has served me a Landlord, pulled half of it, but gone AWOL.  Assuming I'm being neglected, bloke from outside comes in, presses the bell loudly, I tell him "no, I've been served, it is okay" so he runs off, and then the staff return, and I look like a bell ringing impatient interloper!  This is not the kind of pub  where you wanna appear the outsider that you are,  trust me.  A bloke of lads, including our Outside Bloke and a guy with the same laugh as Melanie from Neighbours, gets talking to a Mum, Dad and daughter.  Laughing Bloke's brother tries to set Laughing Bloke up with the daughter, or is it the Mum.  It is kind of cringe, but kind of fascinating.  Like a person desperate to confront their fear of spiders by holding a tarantula, the Mum goes to sit with Laughing Bloke, telling him he's always scared her, but now is the time to make friends.  Considering the small one room, and my close proximity, I'm amazed I'm not engaged in the chat at any point.  Even more so, when complimentary Sunday evening snacks are brought out.  The tray of snacks accompanied by a bowl of peanuts I am seriously allergic to.  I therefore swoop in on the sandwiches etc. first to prevent cross contamination from leading to my death.  Some oven sausage rolls are the piece de resistance, presented to us on a silver platter which is walked around the room like a pubby ambassador's reception Ferrero Rocher offering.  Pressure is off me by now, as another outsider, a Mad Wolves man, comes in and tells everyone he's a Wolves fan even though no one asked, like they tend to do.  He tries a lot harder to than me to get involved in the 'bantz' but I'm pleased to see he too is hardly welcomed into the Spittal bosom.  No one notices when I leave, and all I can think is what a fitting end to my first true taste of BRAPA in Staffordshire.

I've eaten off less hygienic surfaces!

A KFC on the way back, a 7am walk in torrential rain the following morning, an awful cold til Thursday, and a lack of midweek BRAPA as a result all followed.

Luckily, I was recovering by the Friday for another long weekend, this time back in Herts, which I'll tell you about in three parts, starting tomorrow.

Take care, Si 

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