Wednesday, 19 January 2022

BRAPA in ..... MOULIN RUGELEY / CANNOCK KNOCK JOKES (More Laughs from Staffs Pt 1/2)

I might be neglecting my southern counties of Herts and Hants in these early weeks of 2022, but on the plus side, North Yorkshire and Staffordshire are receiving much attention from the Green Stabilo.  

Although to be honest with you, I'm thinking of ditching Stabilo for Staedtler in the coming months as they continue to refuse to sponsor me, or even embrace the free publicity I'm bringing these ungrateful second rate Germans.  

So now I've burnt those bridges, let us tell you about my latest Staffs adventure on Saturday just gone.  

Birmingham New Street was the predictably depressing starting point.  My train from York pulled in on platform 12, my connection 6 minutes later was from Platform 2.  

At any normal station in the UK, that wouldn't present a problem.  But in BNS, it meant moving from one zone to another.  It was like the Crystal Maze.  But not a fun zone like Aztec or Medieval, more Ocean or Industrial.  It was only by dint of my connection being delayed that I made it, and it was only thanks to a helpful stranger that I didn't end up spending the day in Wolverhampton.

There was something vaguely apocalyptic on my arrival into Rugeley just before 11am.  I peer through the dense mist where groups of even denser looking Neanderthals huddle together on platform edges and street corners, supping cans of high strength low value lager, Man Utd and Aston Villa scarves pulled up around their jutting chins. Gorillas in the Mist 2022 reboot?

Could our first pub put me at my ease and help me view 'The Ruge' (as I'm sure the locals call it) as a softer, more cuddly place?  

I feel 'centred' when a BRAPA day begins in a Wetherspoons before 11am, it gives me a similar 'all is well with the world' feeling I get when I'm supping my ESB in Parcel Yard at 7pm after a South Eastern trip.  Plaza, Rugeley (2009 / 3572) accentuated that feeling by being a former 1930's Art Deco cinema, possibly the most rewarding type of 'Spoons.  Conscious of the woozy state I got myself into post Newcastle-under-Lyme, I scan the bar for a low percentage starter and make the classic schoolboy error of ordering a 'Coming Soon' beer (why do Spoons show these, whyyyy?  So damn annoying).  In the end, Betty Stoggs will have to do.  She's less buxom in the cleavage dept than last time I saw her in Piece, a rural Cornish outpost, which might either be to do with 'sexism in pumpclips', or a breast reduction due to back pains like a lady at my work was considering.  Whatever, #WokeSi2022 approved and doesn't forget to hand over his 50p Mudgie voucher.  The bar area is deservedly packed, so I take my ale up a spiral staircase which offers a better perspective of this grand place.  A large clear window to my right is where the cinema screen used to be.  Me and Col are sat in the sort of position Statler (not Staedtler) and Waldorf off the Muppets would be sat.  It is Colin's return after his quarterly wash, and apart from a brief 5 minutes, he remains concealed, terrified of the sheer volume of young men with neck tattoos and paint stained overalls treating their 11 year old lads with crew cuts to Full English Brekkies.   Photography isn't easy, there's not a lot of 30's art deco appreciation going elsewhere, but overall, this was a great way to start any pub day. 

A tough return for Col

I've made a faux-pas in the planning, realising one of my other Rugeley pubs doesn't open til 2pm.  As it is only 11:30am, and a train is imminent, I decide to shuffle off to Cannock now, get both 12 nooners done, and then come back up here later, fill in the time as best I can.

More big groups of men, without tickets, arguing with guards, talking about 'getting smashed', are littering up the place, and I'm relieved when I walk off at the noticeably more genteel Cannock and follow the other alighting passengers ten minutes into town, negotiating a subway with the kind of horrific daubed street art which I really should've photographed if I was a better pub blogger.

The two GBG ticks in Cannock this year are practically next door to each other, but still #BRAPARules that you do the furthest one away first.  Took a bit of finding, due to odd Google Map plotting.  

If you zoom in, you can see the chap in charge in the doorway ......

And he opens the door, and welcomes me in!  What a nice start at the New Hall Arms, Cannock (2010 / 3573) or Newhall Arms without a space depending which source you look at.  If it wasn't for the one customer at the bar, I'm convinced I'd have loitered and got into conversation with him.  Beer of the day is here, by Shiny of Derby.  Kept in immaculate condition, look at those lacings.  A brewery I've often coveted, but had forgotten existed until recently.  Perfect timing too, as I was wanting a brewery I'd not ordered from before for Daddy BRAPA's birthday ales, and providing he doesn't read this before 27th and I haven't spoilt the surprise, Shiny is the one.   The place itself left me a bit cold, literally not much heating or light, not helped by the lack of bodies, but it is fairly soon after opening time so we'll cut them some slack re 'circumstances' because I want to be kind to this place.  And if Colin had needed his nappy changing, it had one of the best baby changing stations I'd witnessed in recent BRAPA history.

Now you see it

Now you don't!

Perfect time for Col to try on Jane's old unlucky hat

A quick sprint around the corner like the Olympic sprinter Mr Christie (not the bloke who's done up Zetland in Middlesbrough), I reach my second 'Spoons of the day .....

This part of the world is seriously blessed with some well above average Wetherspoons, first the Plaza, now came this beauty, Linford Arms, Cannock (2011 / 3574) which had such a 'traditional pub shape' rather than your long sweeping floors , it not only confused me, but gave me a long forgotten flashback to a 'Spoons I visited in Barnet called the Railway Bell.  The nooks, crannies, and awkward tight edges meant I was constantly breathing in, as a procession of thirty stone Staffordshire Manatees lumbered past me looking for cutlery, cakes and coffee machines.   My eyes lit up at the sight of Titanic Plum Porter, right next to the Doom Bar, but I was never tempted to be contrary, and TTP in top condition for £1.49 a pint is a thing of joy, make no mistake.  Again, I found myself climbed a staircase to get away from the crowds, and again, my vantage point allowed me to appreciate the vaulted ceiling.  It was warm and secluded in my corner by the radiator, even if a bloke got his tattooed guns out and strutted around the pub to stop me forgetting it was 'Spoons completely, and yes, I know 90% of #BeerTwitter would choose the New Hall over this, and the Shiny was ace n all, but I preferred this pub experience ....  so shoot me (just not with a tattooed gun, cheers). 

This chap was told this coffee machine was broken, but a succession of people got coffee out of it later 

Bit disappointing for a 'Spoons carpet I thought

Choices, choices

So there we go, back off to Rugeley for pubs 4 and 5.  Then Great Wyrley (whatever that is) for pub 6, and a Brummie bonus to finish with late on.  

I'll tell you about them in part two. but no idea when that will be because for some bizarre reason, I've got Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun, Mon and Tue all booked up - three BRAPA's, three others!  Dunno how these people do Dryanuary, always seems to be too many good reasons to go to the pub to me.

Take care & finally #AllamOut, 




Tuesday, 18 January 2022

BRAPA in ..... THE MAGIC AYTON BALL (Thirsty Thursdays Pt 2/52)

Ain't Middlesbrough great?  I was here yet again in my ancestral home last Thursday, again using it as a handy transport interchange in my quest to complete North Yorkshire ticking for the first time since 2017.  

The town had served me well to date, helping me to get to Yarm, Egglescliffe, Ingleby Barbaric and Guisborough.  But Great Ayton was a more badly behaved animal.  Despite owning a train station and a few buses, it requires an earlier start than those others to get there and back to York in the same evening.

Talking of badly behaved animals, Keane Lewis Otter continued his recent run of form, helping with the pre-match research and a packet of Welsh 'Dragon's Breath' Mini Cheddars. 

Such a friendly town is 'Boro, on this sunny windy afternoon I stood in the shadow of the giant Virgin Money and was surprised, like in Wigan, at the number of strangers smiling back at me.   You don't get this in Shyteleafe. With plenty of time until the bus (the transport timings meant I had 59 minutes) I considered a pre-emptive in this lovely looking boozer .....

But it wasn't very open, so I retired to the cafe above Copeland's for a hot choc with the old dears, and when I was offered a Flake in it, I thought, well it ain't a pint of banked Cameron's Blackpool Jane style, but better than nothing.  I also noticed how small Flakes were these days.  An old one would've easily stood in the drink (despite the melting potential), this tiddler needed propping up!

Getting the bus was a familiarly arduous task.  Is there a colder more depressing road in all of Christendom than the Albert Road?  The usual collection of likely lads and lasses with wheezy lungs and bad eyesight asked me to help identify where their bus was using my 'gizmo' (I assume they meant my iPhone and not KLO). 

School chucking out time meant we were stuck in traffic for much of the 40 minute journey, as I listened to the music of Titus Andronicus which didn't really take the edge off hotspots like Nunthorpe and Marton.  

I was surprised to have to ring the bell and be the only passenger to hop off in the centre of GA, but here we were, and under the clear skies and afternoon sun, the first pub was across the road waving back at me like a long lost friend .....

Royal Oak Hotel, Great Ayton (2007 / 3570) immediately strikes me as quite a serious, well-to-do sort of place, where you find yourself tip-toeing to the bar so as not to cause any geriatric heart attacks.  A couple of off season tourists blink at me from a window seat, as if to say 'I wonder what his game is?' whilst Stern Annette Crosbie pours a cup from an elaborate teapot for a husband who looks on his last legs.  Tim Taylor Landlord is one of two ales on, and with one of those 'Champions of keeping TTL in top condition' awards next to it, it's a no brainer.  Shame I have to ask her for a top up, second time this has happened of late with TTL, such an expensive beer (£4.10 here), I love a head on my ale but there are limits!  The atmosphere threatens to liven up when 'Local Ron' arrives.  "Waheyyy, Ron!" says every member of staff, and I'm convinced he's going to 'bring the banter' when he asks who has the longer hair out of both staff members - Mr Twizzle Beard's beard, or the barmaid who failed to top me up.  Ron's early promise as a potential #PubMan fails to garner any real traction, as he soon asks for a Latte and a Cappuccino 'to go' like we're in bloody Central Perk, not Great Ayton.  In the back room, by a handsome grandfather clock with an actual face, a lady with a clipboard is looking business-like and discussing CO2.  I feel like this pub/hotel had more in the locker, but was reluctant to reveal its hand.

Ron asks TB to compare hair lengths, whilst Elaborate Teapot watches on

The TTL that didn't settle

KLO gets a taste for the ale

Handsome clock chimed at five to the hour, weirdly

Edible fungus, NOT Eddie Fogden as I originally read it out of the corner of my eye!

One bar of signal in the town wasn't ideal when you are trying to use Google Maps to navigate between pubs.   But I just had enough to find the unlikely micropub that'd allow me to green off Great Ayton in full.  If it initially looked more like it specialised in gassing Jews than serving brews, it soon became a bit more hospitable looking as I rounded the corner. 

Whilst sat in the Royal Oak, I'd decided that there was a certainly a gap in the local market for a beer focussed place such as the Tannery, Great Ayton (2008 / 3571) and I definitely saw the evidence to support that this afternoon.  Opening at 4pm, it was 3:58pm when I arrived but two blokes were already having their pints pulled through.  Closed Mon-Wed, you could sense the locals were chomping at the bit for their Thirsty Thursday.  The barman less so, first day back after a long break, one local mentioned, he looked like he was fighting his inner tiredness to get 'back in the zone'!   Before I'd finished being served, a smiley lady (a rarer thing in Great Ayton than other Teesside towns I'd been to, perhaps a bit higher class and close to pretty Stokesley?) had already commandeered the cosy seat in the corner I was eyeing up.  As it was, I sat at a table designed for eight.  And was feeling slightly guilty when, by 16:10, a tenth person wandered in.  Oh yes, they love their unusual well kept ales in GA.  And when an 11th (John Bishop's face beneath Ryan Sidebottom's hair) arrived shortly after, I contemplated moving to free up room for bigger groups.  But I couldn't, because this nosy but well meaning dog had penned me in on all sides.  Considering the pub 'theme' seemed to be a William Morris jungle-scape commissioned by Elton John and Ru Paul, I could've felt a bit suffocated, but no, it sort of worked, even if I did have to shuffle a pile of 'fabulous' cushions on my bench.  Deservedly popular boozer though, and a cracking pint.

Although I'd bused it in, I walked 15 minutes to the railway station.  The timings were better, a shorter journey, and more pissing opportunities if I so desired, which of course, I would.

With the moon facing me, a glorious sunset behind, and some very rural stretches on congealed compacted wet slippy leaves, it was quite an atmospheric walk back! 

With 45 minutes until my train to York, an idea was forming in my mind based on a recently refurbished pub I'd read about in my pub heritage book.  A quick check on WhatPub showed it did serve ale, and it didn't require you to dine, so I thought I'd give it a stab and treat it as my first preemptive since Goodworth Clatford back at the beginning of November ......

The guv'nor sees me taking the outdoor photo, so I give him a big wave as if to say 'don't worry, I'm not just a photographer, I'm a pub ticker, I'll be with you in a second' and jog into the pub and enter the bar area, a door to the left.  Welcome to Christie's Brasserie - The Zetland to give it its new full name.  One local in the bar, chatting with the main man, who I'm assuming was Mr Christie himself.  I peer across, one ale on, but it is one of my all time favourite's, Rivet Catcher.  I was very very sad when Jarrow went under, but delighted it is as good as ever and kept superbly here.  I'd like to think this pub could get in the GBG on one perfectly kept ale, but it'd take a CAMRA branch with some serious stones to put a one ale pub forward in 2022.  I find they normally rather 15 middling quality ales, than one great one, but that's a different story!  The other customer leaves, the main man goes off do other vital pub work, so I'm left in the bar with only Prince Andrew for company (dominating the news on the little TV screen).  I don't need the loo (for once) but I use the walkway to the toilet as an excuse to explore as I'm sure this pub has hidden delights.  And it does!  I enter the restauranty back room.  Fabulous old smell, and a quartet enjoying what looks like some very highly quality scran.  I try to be invisible, skirting around them as I take photos whilst they eat, but they engage me in conversation, so we have a quick chat about how lovely it is.  I retire back to the bar, ask our main man if the football fans have found this place yet.  He says yes.  Conversation is a bit stilted, not sure he entirely feels comfortable chatting to me (maybe KLO bit him under the table, maybe I gave off 'pub spy' vibes?) but so glad I popped in, and would definitely recommend it to those of you visiting the town, tickers or not!

A quick 3 minute jog across the road to the station, and back in York for a reasonable hour.  Two more North Yorkshire ticks chalked off, and I'll continue on this Yorkshire Thirsty Thursday quest until the spring when we might start moving into Durham/Lancs/ GMR.

See you all tomorrow, when I'll try and tell you about the first half of my epic day in Rugeley, Cannock and surrounds. 


Monday, 17 January 2022

BRAPA in ..... PARTNERS IN KRYME IN NEWCASTLE UNDER LYME (Turtley Brilliant Stoke Part 2 of 2)


Now living in the sewers beneath Stoke town centre

Today was going pretty well after a slow start.  Wellers and the Boat & Horses had earned their BRAPA gold stars, and it was time for pub #3.

Time to negotiate one of the most upsetting underpasses I've ever witnessed.  How we came up in the right place, I'll never know!  Too busy looking at my phone, Daddy BRAPA exclaims "Cowabunga!" or words to that effect, because he has seen this lovely looking building, the Holy Trinity Catholic Church and some time vaccination centre for the insane ......

Our next pub was the key one geographically, a bit of a walk, but still classed as Newcastle-under-Lyme though it must have been bordering Hartshill, where our 4th and 5th pubs would be found.  We passed the sort of disturbing street art that makes up 30% of RetiredMartin's blogs ......

When we see the pub, it is the most quintessentially micro backdrop.  My bingo card would be flashing if I'd brought it.  Set back off the road, next to a tattoo parlour and funeral services .....

It didn't exactly fill you with the joys of spring, but Daddy BRAPA was looking chipper enough with his trademark smile .....

Another BRAPA day, another GBG entry called Cask , this one Newcastle-under-Lyme (2003 / 3566) and at this point in history, I'm assuming there are now more Casks than Red Lions.  In spite of ourselves, we are pleasantly surprised as we take our pints of Thirst Class Oatmeal Stout, served by a very nice bloke, around a corner, perfect for a bit of 'own food smuggling'.  Although Dad is disappointed at the pub's missed business opportunity of having a guest ale on named 'Kevin Lownds Embalming Fluid' he is inspired enough to observe that he feels the standard of micropubs has improved since our early days of visiting them circa 2012.  Ones like this and Wellers, and those we observed on New Year's Day in Blackpool, have warmth, depth and comfortable seating.  This one even has horse racing on the TV.  Maybe micropubs are merging into pubs, and the term will soon be obsolete, the founding father Mr Hillier can be knighted for his services to the pub industry, and we can move on.  Hard as it is for me to watch any horse race without thinking of the Peter Cook / Dudley Moore Derek & Clive horse racing sketch, I'm so convinced the horse called Indy Five is going to win, I refuse to let Dad leave until we've seen the race.  Of course, it finishes nowhere.  And there we go, this pub representing one of the most thrilling aspects of pub ticking -  'expecting it to be shite, turns out (more than) alright'.  

We crossed the invisible border into Hartshill, where the first of two pubs were found on the same road.  The second of which doesn't open til 4pm, so no rush, being only 3:17pm.  

I quite like the look of the Old House at Home next door actually, with its smoking, gurning men in dirty vests scowling at me from the doorway, but the GBG has spoken, and Artisan Tap, Hartshill (2004 / 3567) it is.  A flowery sparkly camp little place, seemingly appealing to the Hartshill Hipster Massive (HHM) which I didn't think existed until today.  If this was the Artisan, the Old House at Home was the Partizan (Belgrade).  Despite having a very different atmosphere from Cask and Wellers, it has an ambience, even if I can't really work out what the tiny birdcages, pink poodles and jokey blackboards are all about.  Not sure the barmaid looks at us once, never mind speaks as she pulls our Oakham Infernos, preferring to be sat at a table on her laptop.  Not exactly April O'Neil.  Call me old fashioned, but I never think its a good look for a pub or bar when the staff are never behind them.  The upstairs loos interest me, I can't quite remember why, I don't suppose it was just the 60p bleach, but it helped.  Paired well with the Inferno anyway, which was my favourite pint of the day.

Top lacings

A couple of minutes down the road, we reach our fifth pub of the day.  A 4pm opener apparently, 4:02pm when we arrive, wonder if it is open yet?  

"Oi mate, eyes on the prize, camera is this way!"

Pretty sure it has been open long before 4pm, considering the amount of folk nicely settled down with pints and various lesser beverages at Sanctuary, Hartshill (2005 / 3568) .  Daddy BRAPA was totally in his element, instructing me to get him a Bailey's Hot Chocolate with cream and marshmallows, and when I turn around to bring the drinks over, he is already making friends with a group of locals, encouraging me to give them a BRAPA beermat/card/badge/sticker/bottle opener (you know, just the usual type of 'merch' I bring along if I remember!)  He even enlists the closest lady to do the highlighting, we'll call her Donna Tello for the benefit of this narrative.  Dad has also suggested that when I complete a page of the GBG, I put a little green mark in the top right hand corner, but then quickly adds "you probably feel you have enough to do!" when he sees my pained expression.  The Fun Sponge is drinking well, but I do feel like a bit of a fun sponge myself compared to Dad's attempts to 'bring the party!'  Sanctuary is an interesting one, it has so much tat in little cases around the walls, plus weird throes and carpets, it could be quite irritating if I wasn't numbed by the '5th pub of the day syndrome', almost like the world's worst museum.  But the atmosphere is light and easy going, everyone is very jolly, and when Donna Tello and her fellow turtles crawl off, I'm not too surprised to see the HHM from Artisan take their seats.  Nice pub this, in a whirlwind, other wordly kind of way.  I even thought I could see a celestial body in my pint!

Jesus in my Fun Sponge

We bus it back to Stoke proper, we've made really good time despite the dreadful start, so one last look at London Road Ale House (2006 / 3569) and we're relieved to see it now open!

I quiz the staff re the 12 noon opening no-show, and the guv'nor sat at a table behind overhears and turns around to apologise, saying it is now 4pm winter hours but "I haven't had time to update my social media!" Still, the satisfaction of finally getting that final part of the Stoke area greened up after what has taken a massive effort over the past half year is reward enough for any other shortcomings. 

Can't lie, he's looked happier today! 

Not sure what I ordered but wasn't SeaCider

On the train to Manchester, I come over all woozy, and I can only think I'm having a bit of an off day combined with drinking beers in the 4.7%-5.2% bracket rather than the usual 3.8%-4.3% beers (specific!) I aim for on a BRAPA day.  Can make all the difference.

Still, my ongoing ticketing fiasco means we have to cross Manchester on foot to Victoria, so a nice cold bottle of orange squash on a wintry, bracing 20 minute walk, and then a coffee, Christmas cake and lump of red leicester at my favourite little place, Cigar something, and I feel like a new man by the time we get on the train back to York.

Victoria recovery

Lovely surprise waiting for me when I get home too, as Jane Stuart has sent me her 'unlucky but still good enough to beat Hull City' Blackpool hat, and got herself  a new one, and sent a lovely little letter with it.  Look out for it on my forthcoming winter travels.  SO comfy too, it hugs your head, and I actually fell asleep in it whilst drinking a Glitterberry J20 and watching some Channel 5 countdown programme, Best 100 animated turtle films or something.

Had been a surprisingly high quality day, massive thanks to Daddy BRAPA, the folk of Stoke and surround, plus some comfortable nicely furnished micros for making all the difference.

I'll be back tomorrow night at a similar time tomorrow to give you all the gen on a Thirsty Thursday in Great Ayton.  Got a bonkers spell of pubby activity from Thu-Tue coming up so am trying to keep on top of the blogs whilst I can!  

Til then, goodnight, Si