Friday, 15 October 2021

BRAPA in .... LET'S ALL MEET UP IN THE PUB 2000 : West Sussex Adventure (Part 1 of 2)

Ready for a singalong?  

I bought a book with 'Good Beer Guide' on the cover
And every year it is in a different colour
Your name is CAMRA, CAMRA
It kinda suited ya

They used to tell me that I should drink up
On football days, in all the Hull pubs
But I could never do it, though I always wanted to
Daddy BRAPA do you recall?

The micropub was very small
Fake bookcase on the wall
When I came in with Col
They didn't notice me at all

And I said "let's all meet up in the pub 2000
Won't it be strange when Colin's fully grown?
Be there 12 noon sharp in the Fountain drinking Toad
I always knew I'd not get married
I would be ticking Downham on my own
Or a damp and windy, Thursday in Balerno

I was the first lad at work to drink guests
Martin agrees that pints are the best
Even though it means that I'm ticking half less!
But those 25 mins in the pubs I feel blessed

I stagger home some nights after days ticking Kent
The Pubmen that I've met are all gents
And it means a great deal to me
Makes me feel kind of 'Brapular' 

Oh CAMRA, do you recall?
The micropub was very small
Fake bookcase on the wall
When I came round with Col
They didn't notice me at all

What are you doing Sunday, maybe
You could drive me to that tricky pub in Aby?
Maybe after that, we can tick off Raby?
Oooh ooh-ooh-ooh ooh-ooh-ooh
I've ordered this craft ale and it's very hazy
The atmosphere destroyed, by twilds and babies
Oooh ooh-ooh-ooh ooh-ooh-ooh


You can stop reading now, it won't get better.

On the eve of the pub 2000 then, and the great thing is, I had no idea where it was going to be.  Well, West Sussex probably.  But town, city, village, it all depended how it fell with trains,  having ordered a Southern Day Rover out of Victoria on the instructions of original BRAPA supporter Tom 'Clag Monster' Irvin.  "Hop on the first one that comes along" said he.

Daddy BRAPA is in tow as well, it is nice that the O.G. BRAPA Squad would be with me for the landmark moment.   Fitting.  

The day got off to a dreadful start with a half an hour delay out of York.  I was contorted in mental anguish the entire way to London as Dad would testify, which seems pretty silly now because there's nothing we could do about it.

The aim had been 'to get down to the coast' but with the trains on offer, and the Brighton's, Worthing's, Havant's of this world suddenly looking very far away, we jump off at Horsham, very much inland.

I won't lie, I was disappointed in Horsham.  I was expecting something a whole lot leafier, not sure why.  Instead, a grey urban sprawl of busy roads and roundabouts took us towards the town.  Like Stafford with less charisma.  

Even now, pub 2000 wasn't clear.  I said we should get out to the furthest point first, which would be mean the King's Arms, but as we waited at our 58th set of traffic lights, Tom points out that the pub we are currently facing is in the GBG and wide open for business, a few minutes shy of noon, surely it makes sense to go in.  Tom can intelligent on occasions, and this was one of those times I concurred.  Daddy BRAPA was easy-going, like "whateva babes hun" in the background.  

I made a little pub 2000 placard, but it was hardly "Allam Out" quality

Malt Shovel, Horsham (2000 / 3429) didn't know how lucky it was, and probably never will!  Where's my guard of honour?  I actually got one at my 500th pub in Appletreewick when I bumped into some young dudes out walking, but 1000, 1500 and now 2000 have passed without festivities.  I'm glad that this was a genuinely enjoyable pub to mark the occasion.  The barmaid is the first in a long line of quality bar staff today.  Very engaging, and errrm, understanding?  Would that be the word?  I'm shocked to see Tom doing contactless payment, seeing him always as a strictly cash kinda guy.  He makes a joke about robbing someone at gunpoint, and that's when our staff interaction fizzles out.  Can't think why.  So we join Daddy BRAPA in the corner.  Loving my Surrey Hills Ranmore, which Tom thought was cider, it might be the unsullied palette but beer of the day?   Getting a jug rather than a straight glass though without being asked?  That is a point off for me.  Never been a fan of the handles.  There's an old man walking around photographing skeletons above the bar, and it isn't even Martin Taylor.  Shame, I'd love it if Martin has popped up here though I presume he did this pub in 1985.  The bloke better have a  'Pub Skeletons' blog or really he shouldn't be allowed.  Anyway, good pub, much recommended.  Oh, and after all that transport moaning, we took our first sip of ale at exactly 12 noon.

The legends themselves

View t'bar

Background Daddy B gets settled, Tom gets a straw, and dog biscuits

Of course, the salient point that may have occurred to you in all this 2000th BRAPA pub fanfare is that with the new Good Beer Guide on the horizon, I will surely drop below the 2000 mark, and have to do it again in a few months time, and that second time will probably mean more than this because it SHOULD be for good.

So has all this landmark chat and Pulp sing-a-longs been worth it?  Probably not!

See you on Sunday/Monday to hear about the other four pubs we did, plus a shut pub alert.


Wednesday, 13 October 2021

BRAPA in ..... COXY BINGO : BEST OF SIX OUT IN THE STICKS (Return to Herts Pt. 3/3)

The rains of Saturday cleared to give us bright sunshine, a hopeful sign that the BRAPA gods were shining on me for an important day of pub ticking with Pub Twitter royalty, Coxy AKA Stephen Pie.

I'd like to say the birds were twittering in the trees, but this being Hatfield, the grey desolate sprawl that it is, I'm confident the last bit of nature died out last century.  I used to go to Hatfield Forest as a child, but I assume that is elsewhere.

Today had first been mooted by Coxy as long ago as 2017, volunteering to drive me around the more awkward outliers in that outer Stevenage area.  At that time, Hertfordshire was not really on the BRAPA radar.  But in the 2021/22 season, Herts is flashing like Bob Holness on a gold run.  Sounds like me in Newark.

Perfect preparation prevents piss poor performance.  The 6 p's BRAPA lives by.  Even applicable when being chauffeured.

My quandry?  Being on this freebie Grand Central, the last train of the day goes from Kings Cross at 18:22, meaning I really need to get the 17:03 out of Hatfield.  This meant about 25-30 minutes per pub strictly, allowing about 15 mins driving between each as a general rule.

A lesser quandry, but still a quandry, food.  Harder to smuggle snacks in pubs on a Sunday, eating in Coxy's car might be anti-social, eating when you are with a new BRAPEE also anti-social, so I ordered from a local cafe, squashing down this breakfast roll jam packed with black pudding, sausages and even hash browns.  Ooof, it'll be worth it, I tell myself, sustenance for the day ahead.

Last minute planning in the Hatfield nerve centre

Coxy texts to say he's on the way, with an 11th hour curveball which would help make the day extra memorable.  "Do you mind if I bring my small dog along?" he asks.  Well of course not, instructive for me, so often on the receiving end of dogs in pubs, to be part of the 'entourage' walking in with one.   How would it change my perspective?

He is here early, Travelodge car park.  I pass my key back to the receptionist and lie about what a beautiful stay it has been.  Nice to get off to a good start, all my 'pub timing' issues would be resolved if somewhere let's us in before noon.

I get acquainted with the dog of the hour, Lulu, a gorgeous little Cockapoo.  "Don't stroke her, she doesn't like it, she's more like a cat" Coxy tells me.  I can tell me and Lulu are going to get along just fine in that case, being more of a cat lover myself.  She shares the front seat with me, up on my knee one minute, down the next!  That bonus hash brown gurgling around as she steps on my stomach.

Coxy is trying his best to get me a pre-noon opener, knowing the gaffer of the pub most likely to let us.

Note the horse walking past for added rural joy, this was a tough photo for Coxy to take on grass verge with Lulu on a lead!

We intercept the gaffer in the car park at Strathmore Arms, St Pauls Walden (1994 / 3423) it is only 11:30am, and although Coxy explains the BRAPA concept, the guy obviously has no intention of opening before 12.  Instead, we toddle off for a very nice rural walk along a track behind the pub garden.  Good exercise for Lulu, and both of us need the fresh air, Coxy admitting he 'caned it' the day before.  I of course, did my regular Saturday six.  The scenery is tranquil, only the proximity to Luton bastard airport keeps you grounded, in an airborne kind of way.    

Back on a bench waiting for the pub to open, as so often happens when you are early, two wily old locals still manage to beat us to the chase!  

Finally allowed in, through the back door, not just the ladies loos honest

It is a glorious pub, first pub being pub of the day, which is a bit of a trend of late.  The New River Upstream is as good a quality as anything I'll drink, and we sit round to the far side, in the sun, occasionally exchanging words with the two blokes and guv'nor.  One staff member is late, making him late to go darn to London for the football.  Spurs I think.  This is a gorgeous building standing alone in the countryside, feels as much like an old farmhouse as it does a pub, a uniqueness that adds to the charm.  Regular in the GBG since 1981?  Hook it to my veins.  Behind me, an impressive selection of GBG's.  The current GBG says they date back to 1976, but I can only see back to 1981.  Have they hidden the other five as they are rare (I found 1979 a right bugger to get) or has someone already purloined them?  Coxy doesn't want to do the inaugural Green Stabiloing (I tell him I'll ask him in every pub until he cracks .... he never does) and he doesn't want a photo of himself either, but does set Lulu up for one as a compromise.  Towards the end, a couple of tiny yappy dogs run over, threatening to disturb the peace.  Lulu remains pretty well behaved considering.  Cracking pub this one, a must visit if you haven't.

Not far off, situated around a few winding bends (Coxy is used to cycling these routes so doing it by car feels very different for him) , we arrive in the village of Preston, posher than its Lancashire namesake though that might be the least surprising thing you hear today.

Amazing how that despite a very short mileage distance, a place can feel so utterly different in terms of atmosphere from the Strathmore.  Red Lion, Preston (1995 / 3424) is famous for being the first community owned pub in the country.  The skeptic in me tells me that probably gives it pretty much a free pass into the Good Beer Guide every year, it is certainly a regular, though I mustn't be unkind because the beer quality on this Wolf Golden Jackal is once again very good.  The pub atmosphere is pleasant enough, though burgeoning slightly under the weight of Sunday lunchers and a slight element of 'stick up the arse' on behalf of one or two customers is evident.  Retiring to the garden is a no brainer under the circs.  The indoors is squashed, the weather is great, the garden is extensive, and most importantly,  Lulu demands it having briefly trotted unknowingly into a dog infested side room, and in her better judgement, decides this is no place for her!   Lovely to get a few 'rays' this late in the year, Coxy bemoans the fact the dove box is no longer around.  Maybe they flew off?  Decent little pub this, I'd rank it 4th out of 6 but closer to 3rd than 5th!

I notice we are ten minutes behind my 'split time agenda' so I need to ramp up my drinking speed a notch if I am to achieve my six pubs.

If only we can find a pub or two so irritating, I feel the need to drink up a quick and get the hell outta there?  Oh look, we're in luck!

From one Red Lion to another, a plane from Luton airport nearly skims my head as we step out of the car for pub three.  Greene King and Cask Marque?   What's not to love I hear you say.

A cacophony of chaos greets us at Red Lion, Breachwood Green (1996 / 3425) ,  a few blousy poshos scowl at Lulu despite having their own twildlife running amok (the hypocrite monsters), and after a tight awkward squeeze in at the bar to get my Side Pocket, regularly becoming my most regular ale of Herts BRAPA, we retired to a back shattering low leather settee.  Perched rather ominously on the other side is a spooky doll.  A little girl runs around an old lady, who chants "Poppy goes round in a circle".  I expect she's a witch.  Yes, Hallowe'en is approaching.  I sort of welcome it, a nice distraction from the dining mayhem.  I glance to my right.  Coxy is enjoying the experience even less than me it is etched on his face.  He tells me the tinny acoustics do nothing for a man suffering a bad hangover.  I try to increase my drinking speed.  Take one for the team and all that.  As I get towards the dregs (the Side Pocket is decent, but not kept quite as well as the previous two), I've never seen a man jump so quickly up and away from a pub.  Onto the next!

Onto pub 4 and I'm delighted to note that I've clawed back some of the time I'd lost around Preston.  The six pubs are still on!  And this next pub is very close to the last, even more perilously close to Luton Airport, this one even has an 'LU' postcode, gulp!

Hideous fox mural first sign something was afoot

Our mid-afternoon malaise continued here at Fox, Darley Hall (1997 / 3426), a pub somehow weaker than the last, for at least in Breachwood Green, you could say that the vast amount of people meant it was doing a roaring trade.  Here was the worst of both worlds.  A bland, bare-boarded country dining pub,  more awful acoustics, a random pile of logs not doing anything.  The pub contains zero customers when we arrive, culminating in a small semi-circle of locals gathered around the bar by the time we've left.  You could tell even Lulu was struggling with it, and as for Col, don't even ask!  Another pint of Side Pocket, I cannot remember how the quality compared.  Talking on the recent petrol crisis in a booming voice, the ring-leader bloke boasts loudly he filled up his Range Rover even though he didn't need to, drove home, hopped in his Mercedes, drove back and did the same thing.  I'm glad Coxy has overheard the same thing.  We turn to each other in unison and say "what a wanker!"  In fact, if Coxy's first name was Sara and the BRAPA was renamed 'The Girlie Show', we definitely would have our candidate for 'Wanker of the Week'.  His mates find it hilarious though.  The redeeming factor for balance and fairness?   Piped 'The Offspring'?  But I'm really clutching at straws.  

Again, I can console myself that we are making great time as we head to our furthest point west.  

Coxy deserves full credit for this next one.  I'd have never even thought to look over the border into Bedfordshire!  Top lateral thinking.

But after two pretty lame pub experiences, we needed something to help us turn the corner.  And what is the world coming to when you are looking to Bedfordshire to be your saviour from Hertfordshire misery?  "It's a funny old game, pub ticking" as Greavesie nearly said (not now obviously cos he's dead).

And despite the slightly unconvincing entrance, Rising Sun, Slip End (1998 / 3427) was a vast improvement on our last two.  It all comes down to atmosphere and attitude, a smiley welcome, a bubbly Sunday afternoon throng full of happy drinkers who I reported at the time as 'being cheeky and like to have a joke' (the details of which I can't remember, but Beds humour is up there with the best I've witnessed on my BRAPA travels, key is, they don't even know they are funny), and a lot of love for Lulu.  They have lots of beers from a place called Farr which I'd not heard of til Coxy mentioned it back in St Pauls Walden, and the Pale is drinking superbly well.  It is a lovely old wooden room with dark blue walls, those pointless little dry hop things hanging above the bar, and it all just makes for a more pleasant experience than we've had since pub number one.  Coxy needs a wee, this throws Lulu into a spin and soon she is whimpering and walks towards the toilet door to wait.  I try to call her back and reassure her he'll be back soon, ooof it is the longest two minutes of my life.  Cracking little pub this.

Struggling to bond!

The longest drive of the day (29 minutes) takes us to our final pub and I'm amazed my bladder is holding up better than usual.  The good news is, the pub is within spitting distance of Hatfield from where I have to get my train back to Kings Cross.

The even better news is, once you've got past the circa 12th April 2021 vintage sheltered outdoor area engulfing this lovely old building, it is another strong pub on which to end ......

Woodman, Wildhill (1999 / 3428) is the name, and having a 'wild' feel is it's game.  I order a well kept pint of Squadron Scramble (a beer which will forever remind me of my first decent pint of cask in Watford in 10 years), Coxy is def sick of the various soft drink offerings by now and orders a well deserved half, and we scurry down the narrow passages into the adjoining rooms, which give this pub a sort of Hobbity atmosphere.  Peculiar in a nice way.  That could describe the locals too, a bit overly familiar with Lulu, but a friendly well meaning bunch who like to quiz outsiders, and have a tendency to be quite awful to each other  Why do the father n son combo keep being so mean to each other?  I cannot work it out.  But then again I am drunk, and most of my other memories here are hazy.   At least it redeemed Hertfordshire after that mid-afternoon wobble, I didn't really want to go away from today with ideas of turning my back on Herts and completing Beds.  That'd just be wrong!  

Interesting set up

Thanks to Coxy for a wonderful day, really appreciate his efforts, especially as he was probably struggling with the hangover more than he let on.  And lovely to meet Lulu too.  I think next time I see someone walk a dog into a pub I'm in, I'll be that less bit judgey.  Well, give it a month!

Finishing on pub 1999, I did joke to Coxy "don't you be forcing me into a 7th just so you can be around for pub 2000!" but it was pretty evident he never had any such thoughts.

We've made such good time, I end up on a train back from Hatfield even earlier than the 17:03.  How is that for progress?   And all that means I can reward myself in the best way possible ...... 

Looks like coke from this angle!

See you on Friday when I'll tell you about pub 2000!  Tomorrow, I'm going to give myself (and you dear reader) a well deserved break.

Thanks for reading this epic, or even skimming it and looking at the lovely pics.  Si