Saturday, 18 January 2020

BRAPA is ...... MICRO MANAGING WITH THE MILLERS - A NIGHT IN ROTHERHAM

I have a real soft spot for Rotherham.  It was the first place I had a drink in a pub.  On the 25th March 1995, Dad shoved me behind the front door on a curved bench and ordered me a cheeky half of Fosters.  I have no idea what the pub was called, it was very close to Millmoor, not too big, and assume it got demolished when they moved grounds.  I drank my half in extreme fear, Dad's nervous expression didn't help, and then we watched us lose 2-0 and I remember we'd just signed Gary Lund on loan for a second time.  Two seasons before, we'd come here and he'd scored the winner but today, he headed it into the ground from two yards out and it bounced over the bar!  "They say you should always head it down" squeaked the 15 year old me to Dad, and he laughed.  See, I've always been funny.  I was probably pissed.

These days, I love a football trip to the Millers, and despite having flu on 3rd Jan, I was still allowed to enjoy one of my fave pubs in the UK, Cutlers, even if my energy levels meant I decided not to do my BRAPA pubs after the exciting 3-2 cup win. 




Our players huddle around half a pint of Fosters out of respect to BRAPA
So what with my lethargic start to the New Year, I knew I had unfinished business in South Yorkshire and needed a boost to my January pub numbers.

Is Thursday the new Friday?  Friday was the new Tuesday, but is now the old Thursday.  Saturday remains the same Saturday. 

What I'm trying to say is, I'm experimenting with doing my 'midweek' BRAPA on a Thurs in 2020.  A few reasons for this -  I'm always knackered on a Friday evening, always have a busy Saturday the next day, Thursday BRAPA allows me chance to write about it on the Fri, therefore leaving me less to do on the Sunday, and there's the double-edged sword of pubs often being heaving on a Fri evening, especially micropubs, which can make them uncomfortable and I often have to secrete myself in the coats by the front door (bit like back in 1995!)

Tonight's ambitious after-work trio were all self-styled micros, and if you aren't a fan of the micropub concept, these are probably unlikely to sway your opinion too dramatically. 

A bit of top local knowledge from Dave B at work told me to hop off the train at Swinton and catch a bus to Rawmarsh from there, to save me time.  It made sense coming from a White Shiterley direction.

Swinton, Rawmarsh and Parkgate seemed to be teeming with solid looking old traditional pubs, turning the bus journey into a kind of "look what you could've won", (flat roofers, WMC's, gurning men in windows), still, no guarantee they sell any ale I suppose, not that I'm averse to a cheeky pint of Stones occasionally!  Alan Winfield would've done it justice.


And now for the immediate flip side of choosing Thursday rather than Friday to do your pub ticking, as I entered the Something Brew Inn, Rawmarsh (1687 / 2904) , surprised to find myself the only customer, in what was a decent sized venue.  Under these circs, you are looking to the staff  to help 'guide' you through your pub experience, and after some brief weather chat (she had a creaky old tree in her back garden and was worried it was going to fall on her house in these strong winds), she went to wrestle the toilet door, where the wedge to prop it open had actually jammed it shut.  I made a few sympathetic noises like "oooh", "aaah" and "eeee" and worried about my impending loo trip, but whatever she did seemed to work, and I didn't get stuck.  With a giant Magic Radio plasma now my only company, playing some of the worst 80's classics imaginable, I admired the pub for not going the full 'Hillier' on the micro concept of zero electronic devices (it'd actually have been a more depressing experience without it!)  My ale, Sleck Dust by Great Newsome, a nice steady one I'm well versed in thanks to my many Hull trips, was decent but not the best, felt like it needed turning over a bit more.  But that's difficult when you have no customers! 

Failed attempt at action shot of toilet door wrestling incident

The pub home kit, and a Magic reflection

View t'bar

Not locked in the loo

Thanks to Matthew Lawrenson for the comparison pic!

It wasn't a long walk into Parkgate for pub two, though the wind and rain was really whipping up a storm by now and with my new coat having a double zip (worst invention ever!) , it was hard to do it up and stay dry so I was sauntering behind this poor old man tugging at it furiously, and I think wondered what I was doing, poor bloke! 

Oh well, shall we go into pub two?  Yes, let's.



Such was the (superior, atmospheric) 'mood' lighting at the Little Haven, Parkgate (1688 / 2905) , I had a brief moment of panic as I wondered if we had a 'shut pub alert' on our hands.  I needn't have worried, I peered into the gloom and a healthy gaggle of locals were smiling up at me, a couple even said hello.  The lady behind the bar moved the two pumpclips so I could see them and asked me how I was on this fine evening!  With an Elvis mural and statue too, a typically well behaved greyhound, and some gents from Chantry talking about a new 'open to the public once a month' brewpub venture (definitely 'connoisseurs' if you know what I mean, cough cough St Helens, cough cough, just stolen a recent Martin Taylor joke cough cough), this was EASILY the best pub of the night.  What's more, she even kept me at the bar asking what I'd been up to today etc.  This is HOW micropubs should be.  Sadly though, when I mentioned GBG pub ticking, she basically told me we were ten a penny and she'd loads of 'tickers' in the last few months!  "Waaaah, I like to think I'm special and unique!" I protested.  "No" she replied.  Brutal.  Well, she'd been such a star, only BRAPA etiquette to let her do the green highlighting sponsored by Stabilo.  "How many other pub tickers have let you do this?" I asked her, mid-greening.  She told me none.  I felt vindicated, still the 'Special One'.  Then I spent ages wondering what a Cheese Beard was and why it cost £6.  And it took me ages to realise the entire menu was a joke!  Shame as a bottle of Slags for the train ride home seemed to be free of charge ......


Top highlight in difficult circumstances, impeded by the pumps.  Top effort.



It was quite easy to pick up a bus back into 'The Interchange' which felt strangely cathedral-esque in the calming, near deserted Rotherham Thursday evening.


After a brief exchange with a hi-vis toilet attendant who was fuming because "THEY" were coming to expect the toilets but hadn't given him any notice, I managed to catch a bus to the 'Stag Roundabout' , home of BRAPA pub tick 'The Stag' just over two years ago.

Nowadays, they've shoehorned in a micropub into the tiny shopping precinct next door, which gave it both a 'Frotherblowers, Peterborough' outlook, and a 'South East London What Was the Point in That Then?' additional feeling ......

 
There was nothing wrong with the Dragon's Tap, Rotherham (1689 / 2906) as such, it just felt a bit clinical and lacking pzazz, and that was despite two happy groups of blokes, those at the door even said 'alreet' as I both entered and departed.  The barmaid seemed nice with all her 'luvs' and whatnot, but even then there was a sense of 'going through the motions' about the whole experience.  It seemed far too bright after the Little Haven.  But I actually spent a good ten minutes searching for my return bus ticket I thought I'd lost!  Let us blame the double zipper for also being quadruple pocketed.  My pub highlight was probably the mildly perilous unlockable single toilet, and the strange exotic 'sea-mist' effect generated by the tap.  Give it a try when you go, you are unlikely to be disappointed!   Good pint of Kaldo from the always reliable Chantry though, beer of the night, so there was that at least.




Drama next as I headed for the bus stop and it whizzed past me, a full FOUR minutes ahead of the schedule Google Maps reckoned.  I walked on to the next stop and a nervy but nice lady tells me the times aren't exact due to some strange time shift continuum thing that only exists in the Rotherham area.  Then she got me nervy by telling me it'd be a race against time to make my train connection, which was utter bullshit as we were back at the Interchange in about eight minutes, and I even had time for a half of ale in another low-key fave of mine, the Bridge Inn, with its budgie, crazy old leaky toilets, old men playing dominoes, friendly staff and football scarves galore.  A good tonic after three consecutive modern ones.





Despite nothing going really wrong transport wise, I still wasn't back home til 23:42 so it just shows how long everything takes, and after a quick MaccyD's and glass of juice, it was time for six hours sleep before work on Fri.  Phew!  

Big Cumbrian weekend coming up with Father BRAPA playing a key role.  K/O 4pm Sat going right into Sunday.  So keep observing my progress on Twitter, and I'll be blogging about that early next week in two or three parts.

Si






Wednesday, 15 January 2020

BRAPA in ...... OH BANKY, BANKY .... BANKY, BANKY, BANKY BANKY LANCASTER

'Twas that semi-annual time of the BRAPA calendar where a group of work friends from the bank join me for some pub ticks in a hopefully not too demanding town, city or area of the UK. 

After my Newark 'exploits' last summer, which believe it or not, I'm quite ashamed of despite constant references to it, I was determined NOT to drink to excess this time around, no matter what banking peer pressure was put on me.  No, I'd go at my own pace and if others wanted an extra pint or so, that was up to them.

We've had some great days since the first ones of 2014, where you could go to places like Dewsbury, Mirfield, Horbury etc. and think you were being exotic and out there.  We've had to widen the net in recent years.  Halifax, Newcastle, Liverpool, Walthamstow all stand out as classics.  They just have a bit of a habit of ending messily.

It was the same staring five who were on that faithful Newark day.  Club captain Richard, ever present Jason (who had ruled himself out on Friday but strode purposefully up the platform on Saturday morning), Piper and relative newbie, Lewis , who'd made his debut at Newark.  Lewis no longer works for the bank, but now has a job which allows him to enjoy Adnams in Southwold and spend the night at the Jamaica Inn near Bodmin.  I think he's winning!

After some big breakfasts, I met the gang at L**ds and we trained it as far as Skipton before the conductor bellowed (the intercom had broken) that we had to get off this train and change for stations on to Lancaster. Typical, but no harm done.

The sky became increasingly dark, near black, as we crossed those dark hills past places like Giggleswick, Long Preston and Hellifield.  One passenger kept shouting "AYE!" for no reason, coinciding with me 'rolling out' today's pub agenda, which was kinda of nice affirmation.

Landing in Lancaster, first impressions were 'trying to be a bit like York', 'quaint' and 'twee'.  As the day went on, it became obvious it was trying to edge itself into South Lakes poshness, but an occasional bit of Preston would jump out unexpectedly (not necessarily a bad thing), a bit like your naked Uncle Willie in a 1970's Shopping Precinct (always a bad thing). 

My previous experiences of Lancaster had been limited to two pubs.  Merchants and Tap House.  Little did I know until today what a perfect contrast of the two very different sides of Lancaster you'd expect to encounter.


And our first pub today, Sun, Lancaster (1682 / 2899) was also quite symptomatic of more highbrow side of things, all Lancaster Brewery which I have to admit I've never been a huge fan of in the past, but this Snowdrop guest was some good shizz.  The Sun was quite popular with our gang, managing to achieve quite a nice balance between the 'twee' and 'atmospheric historic original'. Staff were attentive, place was warm and plenty of space to spread ourselves out, but one thing about Lancaster pubs I didn't rate today, the near total lack of beermats.  And being quite a non-standard BRAPA day, I was ill equipped and had no emergency beermats in my possession! #BRAPAFail  Okay, so our conversations centring around the east Asian community and potential business ventures involving sex dolls with drip trays perhaps didn't strike the tone the pub was hoping to achieve, but this is why I like the vagaries of these days out with my work buddies!

Waiting at the bar (not my round already, I'd decided!)

Piper does the highlighting

A fake sun or something

The pub being quite posh, but also quite good
Onto the next then, and Richard had been Googling the pubs on Friday (slow work day, probably) and decided he'd probably enjoy this one the best with homemade pork pies and such.  It'd get off to a slow start, but I think he was right .......


The fact Lewis couldn't pronounce 'Mariners' (has he never heard of Grimsby Town?  Marine Errrs) was an early stumbling block here, but as we explained the fishing thing, the fish smell of dining hit us on arrival and we were probably unlucky we'd come to Three Mariners (1683 / 2900)  at peak lunch time.  A motivated lady dressed like something from the Good Life (or any 70's sitcom) served me n Piper some top quality Oakham Citra and we'd decided to stay in a round of two so we could drink a bit less than the others if we wanted!  Try as we might though, we just could not find a seat, and for all the atmospheric old wordly nautical atmosphere, it was rather foodie.  After much debate, we (I) decided an early 2020 outdoor drinking experience was the best plan ..... easy for me to say in my giant new winter coat.  I didn't mind it out amongst the leaves etc. but was great when the guys spied some duffers vacating a prime seat indoors so we got to experience what a quality pub this was for the second half of our visit.  Shame I didn't see the Matthew Lawrenson parents marriage plaque, but you can't have it all!   

One of the more stylish condom machines you'll see in a pub
Enjoying a rare January outdoor drinking experience

Any pub selling Titanic, Hawkshead and Oakham is fine by me!
I'm going to crack on and write the whole Lancaster day in one big blog, so maybe now is a good time to take a deep breath, pour yourself a drink and cast a wary glance over your shoulder.

As someone in the world of gravity once said, what goes up must come down, so after two enjoyable pubs, it was perhaps inevitable that we were going to hit one that wasn't exactly loved by all!

Ready for pub three!

Jason's photography.  Arty or drunk already?  You decide. 

We hadn't even reached the bar at the Bobbin, Lancaster (1684 / 2901) when Jason jabbed me between the shoulder blades and said "oi Simon, I don't like this one!"  as though I'm responsible for every GBG pub in the country.  "Eeeeee, we offer a CAMRA discount, any of yous lot a member?" asked the rugged barmaid so I stepped forward, and got discounts on not just my round, but the others as well.  I could've perched at the bar all day, saving people money!  I encouraged Piper to go for the Westmoreland brewed beer, but it reminded her of a lady we used to work with so she wasn't keen, though it was a new Cumbrian brewery to tick off my list.  It was quite a vast, rather dingy and slightly unfeeling Sports Bar, with Brentford v QPR failing to whet anyone's appetites.  Two pool tables too, and although Richard wrote "Bobbin is bobbins" on Facebook, I thought the best quality beer of the day was found in here, so you have to say, a deserved GBG entry.  

Ale of the day!




Not a Shopmobility Scooter but as close as you're gonna get!

The longest walk of the day followed, Richard & Jason picking up the pace at the prospect of a potential Ku-Klax-Klan gathering due to the name of our next pub, just over a ccanal down a treacherous cobbled bank which had us all shimmying slowly down towards the entrance .......


Looks like I'm looking for some sort of sign from above!

I'm going to just say it, I had quite a soft spot for the White Cross, Lancaster (1685 / 2902) .  It wasn't universally popular with our group, quite light and airy and a very shallow bar, plus a few foodie concessions and obviously, no beermats, we've gotta appear 'posh' haven't we?  In fact, I think the White Cross offered the most accurate cross-section of Lancaster people.  A few moody old farmers, curious day trippers, the odd American hippy and a few self satisfied couples with dogs.  In fact, our fave pub 'guest character' of the day, 'Silent Disco Man' but in a brilliant cameo here to delight the masses (well, us).  Patio doors showed it'd be a 'nice' place to sit out in summer, but the canal seemed to be surrounded by dark satanic mills and I couldn't shake the same feeling I'd had at that dreadful Nicholson's in Canary Wharf, 'it'd be a good canal to dump a dead body in'.  Jason went to play with a dog, the lads joined in but me and Piper stood in the door sneering in a 'pro-cat' kind of way.  Like I say though, I liked this pub.  

I don't like ordering beer names that are questions cos you don't know whether to use the intonation or not and sound like a shit Aussie!

Good place for a knocked off corpse

Never really trust a bar where you can see below waist down on the staff

Decent GBG selection and a map I could approve of

Piper and Jason try to keep straight face as Silent Disco Man returns

Jason goes in for the stroke

The lads loving the dogs, I'm hiding in a doorway
The heaven's opened as we ran towards our fifth and final GBG tick of the day, I still tried to get a decent photo op in but being a 'Spoons, well, they nearly all look the same anyway don't they? 

Action shot as Jason and Piper make a run for it

So here was me thinking Sir Richard Owen (1686 / 2903) was a former West Bromwich Albion midfielder of the 80's and as we waited to be served, I was Googling frantically to see if he'd played for Lancaster or scored a 50 yard volley in an FA Cup first round match, the best the town has ever seen?  Alas no, and perhaps this is why I inadvertently deleted all the indoor photos I took in here #BRAPAFail   Turns out Richard Owen was a 'villain' (Aston Villa player?) who hated Charles Darwin's views which is why you will NEVER find the Salopian ale Darwin's Origin on the bar here, as a mark of respect - #BRAPAFact .  I'd been thinking of a footballer called Sir Gary Owen, and you have to go to his birthplace, St Helens, to find the 'Spoons dedicated to him (Sir Gary Owen Connoisseur Tasting Spoons - opening hours 15:00-16:45 Saturday's only).   I'm talking shit cos I can't remember anything about this place apart from having to sort of walk both upstairs and downstairs to get to the bogs, and the ale (really good quality) was about £1.50 with a voucher I forgot to use!

Drives a Ford Capri, likes a Full English Breakfast and a can of Vimto.  

The day was getting stereotypically hazy by now.  After stocking up on snacks for the journey home (Jason bought a bottle of Jack Daniels for the train, hmmm not sure that's a good idea!) I took us in a very loose 'pre-emptive' cos it had ale and was very near by, the Ring O' Bells.  


It wasn't a classic, not terrible, but just lacked something which all the other 5 pubs seemed to have - easy for me to say, knowing it's the non-GBG one, but if hadn't have known, and someone had said "you have to guess which of these six isn't in the GBG" I like to think I'd have got it right!

Then, our train was cancelled!  We laughed bitterly, and Richard had to get us this little ticket so we could change at Preston without any fuss.  

With time to kill, I took us down to a pub that always seems to be busy, but at least has been fairly GBG regular over the years, Olde Vic.  'Twas bustling and on good form, even if a topless man was drying himself off in the Gents.  The most Preston thing you're likely to see.  Oh, and I had to do TWO laps of the pub to remember where we were sat!  



Time to get on the train then, I was giving myself a pat on the back for feeling the most sober I'd ever felt on a day with the work gang ever - no need to wee on any platforms I can happily declare.
  
But as fate would decree on such a day out, it ended in a bit of mayhem which I might write about in my memoirs in years to come, but not now.  

It had been a cracking day out nevertheless, so gotta try and focus on the positives as they say, and get back on the Cumbrian trail this weekend with Father BRAPA.  

Si