Monday. The worst day of all for the humble pub ticker. Not even the town/city centre pubs can be relied upon to be open on a Monday these days. And as for ones open as early as 12 noon, well good luck with that!
No, you simply have to scrat around, looking for any area containing a pub that might just be open, you may even be better going rural. Or as we call it in the trade, 'The Eddie Fogden Littley Green Paradigm'.
Fareham made the most sense as the place to base myself early on, despite having already completed its one GBG tick, the West Street Alehouse, which must've been early November because I sat outside and a firework nearly landed in my pint!
I was soon on a bus out of Fareham, the village of Shedfield was in my sights ......
On an unassuming main road on an overcast grey chilly morning, the pub came into view, and didn't let me down with its 12 noon promise, possibly the kindest thing I can say about the place ......
Wheatsheaf Inn, Shedfield (2077 / 3640) is a pub I've thought about a lot since my return to York, but not for the right reasons. True, we got off to a promising start. A basic, proper sort of boozer. Okay so a group of old boys seemed to close ranks as I smiled and said hello, but no bother. Flowerpots direct from the barrel behind the bar was fresh and tasty and £3.70 a pint, served by a barmaid who gave me the oddest look when I asked if she had a preference re card or cash payment. It was all very Flowerpots Inn, Cheriton or Hampshire Bowman, Dundridge. Not just the beer set up, but the way the locals seemed very pally amongst themselves, but actively unfriendly to anyone they didn't recognise. I'm hard to ignore with Colin the Cauliflower, a GBG and highlighter pen on my table, even harder when both pub dogs decided they liked me! The giant thing that sat on my bench pawed me whenever I stopped stroking him. And the funny little fussy thing that ran around and looked at Col like he was a play thing. Staff reluctantly acknowledged my dog popularity, Colin got a few murmurs and sideways glances, but it was like everyone was doing all they could to keep me at arms length! Unnecessary and frankly a bit rude. A weird bunch too. When a man dropped his cheese & onion crisps on the floor, he picks them up painstakingly slowly (no 'five second rule' here), one at a time, sorting them by size, and then proceeding it eat them one by one over the course of the next 15 minutes. 'Yuck' was my reaction, everyone else seemed to treat it as normal behaviour. When I left, I've never been more convinced (since my early paranoid lone BRAPA days of 2014) that I was gonna be the subject of mean comments when I left! A very odd attitude, shame as it really had the makings of a good boozer.
Back to Fareham, quick wee in (not on) the station, then I raced back to the underpass and was lucky that the bus was delayed, meaning I easily caught it to another Wheatsheaf in another '...field'!
'Not more of the same' I feared as I stepped inside Wheatsheaf, Titchfield (2078 / 3641) but no danger of that, there wasn't really anyone around! Only the hum of local radio on a little too loud. True, the barmaid was friendliness personified when she did finally appear to serve me an okay pint of Goddard's (tasted of apples!), but she disappeared again after that. Call me old fashioned but I don't think it's a good look for the staff to never be behind the bar, or even visible. The pub was warm and cosy, the bar itself was old and woody with those fabulous little coat hooks, but on the whole it was a pretty 'nothing' experience. Titchfield itself seemed a twee village, and that had spilled over into the pub, the only other customer's were elderly, blousey pearl clutchers who were treating the place as a tourist information point / coffee shop rather than it's intended purpose. Had I been spoiled so far this holiday by Pompey and Gosport's classic friendly boozers? It was starting to look that way. Did I prefer rude Shedfield to boring Titchfield? Quite possibly!
If the new week had got off to a slow start, the situation didn't exactly improve in Park Gate which had two ticks. An Ember Inn and a Micropub. Could I contain my excitement? Yes.
The micro didn't want to open til 4pm so we tackle the Ember first ......
And long time readers of BRAPA will know how I feel about this chain. Less characterful, less full of characters, less good value than a 'Spoons. Less well done poshness than a Brunning & Price. Less quirky than an Antic. Less lively than a Greene King. Less quality than a Fullers or a Marstons. Ember Inns truly are the worst of all worlds in terms of identikit chain pubs, full of old snobs half way to death who think their shit stinks better than yours. 'But Si, tell us what you REALLY think about Ember Inns?' I hear you say. We'd already established that this Pompey - So'ton corridor of uncertainty isn't the friendliest part of Hants, so no surprise this was a drab experience made drabber. How can a pub so carpetted be so crap? Village Inn, Park Gate (2079 / 3642) if you ever are unlucky enough to have half an hour to spare near Swanwick station and are desperate for a pint. The long blonde haired lad is decent in a 'nice to see Tom Eaves being given a day off football' kinda way, the ale is drinkable, there's a CAMRA discount which I can't be bothered to ask about, and a few elderly folks on laptops with coffees wasting the pub's electricity. I don't see a soul until a final three minute flurry of activity, when a bloke decides to fix the fruit machine next to me. He opens it and wanders off. 'Oooh look at those inner workings?!' Good job I'm not a master criminal isn't it?
It was now 4pm, Micropub o'clock, and just to give you an idea of what a narrow unassuming entrance it has, I managed to walk past it twice, even though I was following the little blue dot on Google Maps.
I wondered if things were finally looking up once inside the Gate, Park Gate (2080 / 3643) when I spy, to my right, with my little eye, something beginning with 'S'. Sandwiches! Egg n cress, cut into tiny triangles, thousands of them. Could we recreate the joyful scene from yesterday's Four Ale Taproom? Two bar blockers stood blocking the view of the handpumps. They acknowledge me, but fail to move. Rude! I stand as closely to their backs as possible, breathing gently on the back of their necks. BRAPA erotic fiction at it's finest. Finally, they succumb to my charms and part. A long way to come for a new Abbeydale, but it is a good pint. "You with the ATC?" barman asks. "Huh?" I stupidly reply. He means 'Air Traffic Control'. I'd have got a free pint if I'd been a bit more 'alive' to it (dishonest), says Bar Blocker B. "I suppose the sandwiches are for them too?" I grumble. They are. Bar Blocker A asks a moody musician how come his band have split up. Covid. When in doubt, blame Covid. He means to say every band member has since gone their separate ways, but his unfortunate phrasing makes it sound like they have all died! When I point this out, no one laughs. But when they joke the ATC are responsible for Russian planes, the pub loves it! Grrr. Hants humour, I'm just not edgy enough. Things get worse when I sit down, a grizzling Twild is seated directly behind me. His Mum does so much huffing and puffing, she's even more distracting than the Twild! The ATC meanwhile are expanding, possibly as a result of too many sandwiches, mushrooming out to like a nuclear explosion, blocking the entire floor space despite plenty of seats available. Spatial awareness seems a real issue for the punters in here. From promising beginnings, I was delighted when I'd finished my drink and I could move on.
|ATC and background egg & cress|
A short train ride from nearby Swanwick station took me to Netley, and a 10 minute walk (15 if you make a wrong turning) took me to today's fifth pub. Surely I was going to enjoy a pub at some point today? Would this be it? There was a bit of rain in the air now just to add to my increasingly dampened spirits, and over confident from the beautiful sunshine yesterday, I'd left the famous Blackpool Jane hat in my hotel room and had no hood either. Grrrr.
Roll Call, Butlocks Heath (2081 / 3644) suffered a bit from 'fifth pub of the day syndrome' (i.e. when my mind isn't at its brightest, which I'm sure, is in no way linked to ale consumption). It was a definite step up from Park Gate's duo, it had a warmth and homeliness and you can't go wrong with a full range of Flowerpots ales. But at the same time, it was another slightly dull middle of the road effort from this awkward 'corridor of uncertainty' between Portsmouth & Southampton. The saving grace were two couples, who weren't friends, but recognised each other as locals, the red haired lady especially charismatic on a day of beige individuals. They amused me with recollections of a day out in Portland, which was very much in tune with mine and Martin Taylor's experiences of the place. Crab cake anecdotes followed as they went the full nautical. 'Catching crabs in Weymouth' had an altogether more innocent meaning than the direction my mind was going in! The chat culminates in 'trying oysters for the first time'. 'Horribly slimy but now I love them', was the overall conclusion. The beer was on top form here too.
The second I open the door, two excitable dogs sniff the evening air and strain on their leads to escape, I have to hold the door open and help shoehorn them back inside. Phew! Welcome to Olaf's Tun, Southampton (2082 / 3645) and despite that little incident, it is immediately apparent that this is a cut above all that has gone before it today. The reason why is quite simple, it is a happy place full of happy folk run by happy people. I've never seen so many smiling Southampton faces in one place since Adam Lallana beat 58 Hull City players twice before scoring a wonder goal in 2013. What's more, I'm delighted to see an 'under 3%' table beer on and tell the barmaid that with a day like I'm having, lower percentages are most welcome. She confirms it is full of flavour too, and she ain't wrong. It might've felt busy here, but there are only six customers present. The doggie lads by the door, a young couple who I don't think have been here before, and two blokes who must be locals, one drunker than me, very rosy cheeked and full of loud opinion! With no obvious seating solution, I take myself round the corner to a cushioned bench, facing a Viking longboat mural. It means I'm a bit 'out of it' (in more ways than one) but those six had a nice amiable chat going on and I didn't wanna rock the boat (so to speak). Not sure why my phone decides to lose all signal, maybe a Viking ghost blocked it to recreate those technology free days of yore? But a top place, just shows you don't have to be involved in the chat yourself to appreciate a good pub atmosphere.
With a temporarily broken phone, I head back to Woolston station and decide to put my next move in the lap of the gods (or the train companies).
I'll hop aboard the next train that arrives. If that is in the direction of Pompey, that means I'm done for the night. But if it is the direction of Southampton, I'll squeeze in a 7th tick.
Of course, with the rain now coming down sideways, it was a Southampton train that appears first. A hard reset of my phone sorts out my connection issues, and I hop off at Bitterne, which interestingly is an anagram of 'en bitter', so must be a top pub place.
Then I realise my pub is a 25 minute walk, ugh! I look in vain for passing busses to take us towards the pub, but nothing is timed well. Why was today so difficult?
Finally, and now resembling a drowned rat, the pub lurches out of the shadows like your Uncle Abraham at your little cousin's bar mitzvah.
Finally, a pub in the mould of Pompey's backstreet classics, proof that persistence does pay off, and as they used to say on the gravy advert, I'd saved the best til last. Fox & Hounds, Southampton (2083 / 3646) had such an olde worlde understated calm about it, I was actually almost sad that more people hadn't come out tonight, but then again, a Monday night in Feb in this weather, well it is only to be expected. I shook a tiny but troublesome stone out of my shoe, drained the bladder with a sigh of relief, and wiped my wet hair with a bit of paper towel, and went to find a member of staff. The landlady is exactly the kind sort of motherly sympathetic ear that you find yourself unburdening your tricky pubby day onto, and I was struck that despite being 15 years since the smoking ban, the pub smelt exactly like my grandparents house of old, a mixture of stale tobacco and sweets. Really transported me back, and what with the Goodens Gold on top Widley-esque form, and then a bloke coming in late on who really seemed to bond with Colin, it really was the perfect end to what a times had been a bit of a rubbish day. There was even a perfectly timed bus to take me back to the station just to put the cherry atop the icing atop the cake of pubby joy.
So there we had it, best thing we can say about that day was it was seven pubs nearer Hants completion.
Sadly, it was about to get worse before it got better , Tuesday 1st March would be my lowest ebb of the holiday! Join me on Thursday for Part 5 where I'll tell you all about it, I know you enjoy reading about the bits where I suffer.