All aboard the 8:15 to Manchester (loved that show) and at this early stage of the day, I felt like everything was coming up roses.
A quick glance up at the York departures board showed me the carnage resulting from Storm Arwen overnight. And yet my train was the only one showing as on time. I thanked my lucky stars that I hadn't booked myself down to Hertfordshire as per my usual Saturday agenda, the London trains looked particularly cream crackered.
Even better, the train was starting from York rather than the usual North Eastern venues. With this year's perennial BRAPA stalkers, Hartlepool United, away at Port Vale, I'd feared a long noisy journey with them right through to Burslem. As it turned out, I had an entire carriage to myself.
The scene was still calm as we progressed on through L**ds, but it all went wrong when we reached Dewsbury. As life so often does. With wispy snow falling again, we were stuck for well over an hour, it could've been two. A signalling blackout. Tales of a trampoline having blown onto the line. Apologetic announcements every ten minutes, but little progress.
As we finally crawled over the Pennines, I could've probably high-fived Quosh from here, I revised my plan from Cheadle, Staffs to a less ambitious, more central Stoke area, where amazingly, I still have TWELVE GBG ticks to do.
The final insult as we are told we'll be terminating at Manchester Victoria, and NOT the Piccadilly I needed. The folk wanting the Airport looked apoplectic. I trudged across Manchester, weaving my through a heaving Christmas market.
You see what I was up against? This is why I've decided to write this blog as a two parter with hardly any pubs in this first part! This convoluted journey has to be remembered for posterity. Plus, you'll have suffered enough.
At Piccadilly, I was glad to see a Stoke train in early. Despite the empty carriages, I was warned sternly NOT to sit in any seat marked reserved and instead make my way down to one of four carriages without reservations. Two of these were already full, not a seat in sight.
The other two were First Class! So I decided to assume they'd been downgraded to standard class. A woman opposite told me she was thinking the same. She was off to Vauxhall for a party, so I probably shouldn't complain about travelling to the relatively local Stoke.
She tells me she's come from a place that no one has ever heard of before called Dukinfield, so I impress her by shouting "The Angel .... I've been to that pub!" and she did (possibly) looked thrilled.
The one genuine First Class customer, a man with a Rolex watch and designer puffer jacket, looks disgusted by the commoners invading HIS carriage, and storms off to the Classier First Class carriage doing an actually out loud literal huff!
Finally, I arrive. No pint in bod for me today, just a bus straight up to Hanley, from where I manage to take the connecting bus to an unlikely nothingness area called Etruria. I'd never heard of it, so do a bit of on-bus googling and learn :
"Poverty is rampant, and the severity of the war, compounded by the effects of drought, forced the migration of about 1 million people (1998 est.) to neighbouring
There, fixed that for you.
Finally, today's first pub comes into view, the time 13:32, a mere 92 minutes behind schedule. I'm thirsty.
Luckily, Holy Inadequate, Etruria (1955 / 3518) is the perfect tonic for a cold traumatic morning's travelling. Will Staffordshire ever stop surprising me with the quality of it's boozers? They do their own ales, and I'm given a brand new one, El Dorado Citra, possibly the first person to drink it from outside Stoke and I'm delighted to report it didn't poison me. I'm drawn to the flickering flames of a bubbling wood burner at the far end of the room, and two gents and a talking skinny dog called Pongo tell me I look like a chap in need of a warming fire. I don't bore them with the details of my morning, as you dear reader have had to suffer, but we agree it is a surprise that this the quietest area of the pub. It is quite busy after all, a rumbustious collection of jocular bald men dominate the landscape and with the rarity of both Stoke and Port Vale at home on the same day (which made the timing of my visit even more dodgy), I suspect some of these may be football bound. I refuse to relax too much though, I've got some catching up to do if I want to get my six pubs in, so I drink quickly to try and make the earlier bus back to Hanley.
|Bald 80%, men with hair 20% ratio in here|
|Could be in Brighton|
|Guinea Pig beer, not literally, in the HI|
I reach the bus stop, and soon see the bus change lane and with my arm out nice and early, I'm sure he's going to stop. But he doesn't! He finally sees me and does this 'turning around' gesture which, with hindsight, I think means he's going to stop around the next corner, so I can run and hop on. But I don't realise quickly enough, stand still like a lemon, and he drives off.
The wind is icier than ever, and with the next bus half an hour away, I decide to walk the 30 mins or so back to Hanley along the main road. I remember looking up at the sky and actually saying out loud "I can't catch a break today can I?" and not caring if passing cars saw me.
Now I'm not religious, but what happened next was one of the most fabulous BRAPA happenstances in history. I'm not too far from Hanley by now, and I see this very cold looking bloke coming towards me. I smile sympathetically in a kindred spirits way, I'm one of those people who invariably smiles at strangers.
He's just passed me, when he turns and says "you're BRAPA aren't you? I'm SixTownsMart and I follow you on Twitter!" I know SixTownsMart, liked loads of his pubby posts in the past!
I give him a potted history of what you've just read. "My car's just over here, so if you just wait while I put my shopping in the boot, I can give you a lift to your next pub!" he tells me, adding it is a good job I'm not afraid of doing the occasional selfie, otherwise he'd have never recognised me! He did well as it was, I'm wearing my winter hat, coat n scarf right up to my chin too.
Well, this must be the break I'd been crying out for. Thank goodness that bus didn't stop. You see, everything happens for a reason. Suddenly, the sun was smiling on me once more.
And you couldn't have wished for a better Stoke area pub tour guide, he soon identifies that I'd not enjoy doing Burslem until the football fans have cleared off for the match, so instead we carry on north for my furthest out pub of the day.
Mart tells me he's 'got to buy something in Kidsgrove' so gives me a generous 27.5 mins, and I go in.
Blue Bell, Kidsgrove (1956 / 3519) is a second consecutive gem, the friendliness was the stand-out factor for me as I order an unwise 4.8% stout from Sheffield, but the weather demands it. Unable to find a seat, I find myself wandering like a lost lamb. "You alroite there?" chirps a very chirpy lady, and I explain I'm just having a bit of a wander and trying to casually loiter in the absence of any seat and she makes a sympathetic noise from the back of her nose like "norrrrrrww". The customers seem an accomodating bunch too, so I ask a man and his young lad if I can perch on the edge of their table whilst they play cards, which is a nice wholesome scene to witness. The two #Pubmen looking men opposite smile kindly for the BRAPA lens, and it isn't a great surprise when Mart walks in and knows these guys. We all have a nice little chat, the card game has finished and the Dad says he'd follow me on Twitter here and now, if only he could get his phone off his son who is playing a less wholesome game than playing cards on it. Lovely experience, and seeing it has gone 3pm, Mart agrees it is safe for me to return to Burslem!
|Colin can't get a look in as Graeme Gandalf the pub mascot dominates the scene|
|Pub Christmas tree looked a bit sorry for itself!|
Because of that painful commute, I'll tell you about the other pubs in Part Two on Friday evening. But until then, thanks for reading and see you on Twitter for a bit of Thirsty Thursday, Storm Barra / Full Lockdowns allowing!