Sunday 24 April 2016

BRAPA - Berking Mad - Day Three (Maidenhead, Waltham St Lawrence, Wargrave & Wokingham)

Despite the brilliance of day two, I woke on Monday morning with a grey cloud hanging over my head.  It followed me all the way to Maidenhead, a town I had been warned about by every single person who'd offered an opinion.  I was hoping I could prove them wrong and write about a beautiful town, sadly, I couldn't.  Though it wasn't all bad .....

Time for a Monday morning pint

871.  Grenfell Arms, Maidenhead

10am openers which aren't Nicholson's or 'Spoons often seem too good to be true, so when I found the door slightly ajar with a Henry Hoover smiling back at me, cleaning buckets on each side, I had flashbacks of Robin Hood Bay's Dolphin pub.  Luckily, I spied a jaded looking older couple smoking in the garden so asked if the pub was open.  "It is if YOU want it to be!" came the reply from the kind lady, and soon I was perched by the bar as the landlord took me through the beers (lowhanging fruit by Paradigm was one of the best of my weekend), and told me about upcoming "Meet the Brewer" events, where I stifled a yawn and pretended I gave a shit.  Anywho, our cosy chat was disrupted when it transpired the floor polish had run out and our friendly landlord was a bit slow on the uptake about where his secret stash was, infuriating Mrs Grenfell.  Now was the time to sit in the corner, trying not to get in the way, though I did have to lift my legs for 'Henry' and a squirt of cleaning spray did seem to end up in my pint, only adding to the flavour.  The landlord's son looked surprised to see a customer, and then conducted the most casual job interview ever with a random chancer who'd wandered in off the streets.  "We might be in touch" suggested it hadn't gone so well!  So a weird experience in a weird town, but the efforts of the staff didn't go unnoticed.

Monday morning pub cleaning at the Grenfell
872.  Bear, Maidenhead

Back in the centre of town, for I'd had to walk about 10 minutes out, was this rather grand looking old coaching inn, now masquerading as a 'Spoons.  The clientele in these establishments is often varied and interesting, but it was ramped up a notch in Maidenhead.  Firstly, a young barman looked shocked as a former Major in a tweed suit barked his breakfast order in the most regimental way imaginable.  I was cowering under the bar, but still chose to sit next to him!  Then, a group of loud chav lesbians who all had colds were either sniffing, blowing their noses or talking with their mouths full, one in particular reminded me of the ghost of Jade Goody and scared me as much as the Major.  The staff looked emotional throughout, the younger men on the verge of tears, though I nearly made a connection with a tanned blonde girl who cleaned my table, only for her to see my descriptive 'Jeremy Kyle' twitter check-in, and like all blondes, she soon became sulky and uncommunicative when I went to return my glass by way of apology.  There was time to have a poo (it seemed fitting) before catching the no 4 bus (at least it wasn't the number 2 haha).

The Bear - a nice Spoons to look at from the outside.
I sat at the bus stop where, out of the freezing cold wind, I had a captive audience and chatted happily of BRAPA to the locals who were surprisingly generous and giving souls.  Maidenhead may well be a shithole of the highest order, but the people seemed nice and perhaps a bit quirky.

873.  Bell, Waltham St Lawrence

Waltham St Lawrence was your quintessential old English village, the Bell looked like the picture postcard perfect pub, and pretty much was.  Best of the long weekend?  It'd be hard to argue against it.  The ancient interior had such a profound effect on me, I was happy for the barman to recommend me a beer and I never do that, far too dangerous.  He had an honest face, and the red Hampshire concotion went down well.  Ok, so there were a couple of groups of diners in but because they'd not really made much attempt to modernise the pub in hundreds of years, it didn't matter.  And the pub was split into two small rooms so I could chill with the old locals near the bar.  I'd have got an even nicer window seat if a young chap hadn't been fiddling around with candles.  Listening to the conversation, every single one had the running theme of Jackdaws nesting in chimneys, or at least, had it as a tagline, even if they'd started off on the U.S Presidential election or West Ham's new stadium.  It was all a bit bizarre, as I stood outside and struggled to get through to what turned out to be the dodgiest taxi company ever (all heavy breathing, fake fares, unmarked vehicles).  I had considered a walk to Knowl Hill but had to pace myself for the 'evening session' and called it quits for now.

The Bell - a fantastic village pub.
Fast forward to 7pm and I met Hull City supporting supremo Christine Andrew for a trip out to Wargrave, and what a fantastically posh and beautiful village/upmarket suburb of Reading this was.  Finding the Snooker club was an effort, even when we located the building, it was a case of pushing every door until one opened and to reveal the best club since, errm Hungerford yesterday! 

Me arriving at Woodclyffe Hostel, housing a hidden snooker club.
874.  Wargrave & District Snooker Club, Wargrave

Make no mistake, this was a valuable 'tick' for me to get with it's restricted opening hours 7-11 weeknights only.  Being a club, I tentatively asked if we could ("CAMRA members travelling in peace!"  no, i didn't say that) come in for a drink, and we were guided around a corner where a personable young bar lad served us superbly well kept Otter Bitter and more randomly, Nine Standards No 4 ale all the way from Settle!   Best Otter I'd in ages, then half a Settle as we waited for the train back to Twyford.  We chatted BRAPA and Hull City and turned out that like all good Wargrave club stewards, he had family from Hull.  One very niche pub complaint I'd like to raise here cos it's the 4th time it has affected me - I have a serious peanut allergy and sometimes, staff can be eating nuts or even serving them to customers, then grab a fresh glass by the rim to serve me, I take drink, lips/mouth start to swell.  Education needed, though I guess it isn't even in their thoughts!  Luckily, my Settle was served in a wanky half glass with a handle so I poured it into the original anyway.  It did nothing to detract a good experience, behind a door all 3 tables were by now in use, they have 104 members, future is bright, and they don't want to advertise too widely cos frankly they don't have the room for all-comers so one of those "best kept secrets!" 

Snooker in action, quiet please!
Christine had work the next day so sensibly didn't join me on the late night train to Wokingham, though it all felt a bit eerie embarking on a BRAPA trip in an unknown town on such a quiet, dark Monday evening......

Even in pitch blackness, you could Wokingham was a nice looking town, though the people were every bit as peculiar as their Maidenhead counterparts. 

Arriving at the Queens Head
875.  Queens Head, Wokingham

Seeing this was an award winner, I was hopeful of big things coming here first and I was initially very impressed.  a smiley barmaid offered me tasters (which I obviously declined with my usual "I am going to be brave" gambit) and a nice pink trousered man at the bar joked I could have a taster of all and leave - which I incidentally know someone who got barred from a local 'Spoons for doing.  Interestingly, the pub had those little jam jars to show the colour of the beer, but the pub was so dark, it rendered the exercise even more pointless than usual.  The pub was small, bare boarded and felt delightfully ancient, with the smell of wood smoke from a fire that was on it's way out.  So it all felt very heavenly, and then we hit a snag, the local joker arrived in paint stained overalls.  Now if one type of person puts me on edge, it's someone who is unpredictable.  One minute, he was pretending to be gay to unnerve the quiet new trainee barman, then he was riding around the pub on an imaginary ostrich saying giddy-up.  He does stand-up comedy apparently, I'd advise 'avoid at all costs'.  He scared me to death, and I was on edge for the whole of my time there despite the greatness of the pub.

Focussing on my Railway Porter, ignoring the madman. 
876.  Crispin, Wokingham

I couldn't wait to leave the last place, and felt like a nervous kitten skulking in the shadows as I tentatively made my way to the final pub of the night.  I pawed nervously at the door, entered silently, the barman had his back to me and for about 5 minutes, was totally oblivious to my arrival!  How odd.  He was apologetic and a nice young chap when he turned round, but his line "to be honest, I wasn't expecting any customers" was to probably sum up everything that was wrong with the Crispin.  It smelt of rotten fish, it had 2 old men apart from me, the red carpet had holes in, the toilets looked like they could have been magnificent pub loos of old but they were so rusty and unkempt, the whole pub just felt a bit of a sleazy decaying mess.  I'm all for "real and old", but a damp cloth doesn't go a miss.  It wasn't even shabby chic, just shabby.  With the red carpets, old beer guides and pub games, it should have been a match for Reading's Hop Leaf but fell a long way short.  Even my pint of Surrey Nirvana (a beer I absolutely loved in London's Dispensary pub last year) tasted a bit lacking in life.

Arriving at the Crispin, 10:20 on a Monday night
Lone drinking, but no wankers in paint stained overalls, at the Crispin.
So there you have it, day three complete.  Liver & bones aching by now but one final push on the Tuesday and then it'd be home time for Sime. 




  1. I can see why you got past Doncaster before posting this. Those nice people you met in Maidenhead were almost certainly prostitutes by the way.

    It's good to see a consistent line on "Meet the Brewer" (no - dull as death) and handled jugs.

    Queens Head was good but caught it on Six Nations day last year (rare return visit), rugby fans scare me.

    Glad the Grenfell was decent, it was a young enthusiastic chap I thought had an over-ambitious range one, thought it was a Local Hero ?

  2. Do prostitutes masquerade as chav lesbians on their day off? In any case, be careful you don't incur the wrath of the PC Police.

    Also you're perhaps verging into TMI territory on your lavatorial habits :-)

  3. That makes sense now Martin, they could well have been, prostitutes have been a bit of a BRAPA theme in 2016. In any case, I hope no-one too P.C. has had the misfortune to encounter by Blog yet!

    Can't decide if Wokingham would have been lovely on a sunny Saturday daytime drinking session, maybe I was harsh.

    Wargrave barman seemed very surprised when I criticised handled jugs. W m Hawkes in Hull get very touchy about it too, as do some York pubs that think they are 16th century despite being built 5 years ago (the Guy 'Fakes' Inn for example). I may choose the handle ahead of one of those Adnams monstrosities though.

    Rugby fans, very scary. If Grenfell was Local Hero (and it may explain 10am opening), it had an ambitious range.

    Something about that basic stripped back primeval feel of being in pub which seems interlinked with basic 'bodily functions', I can't quite put it into words but there's a crossover somewhere! ;)

  4. Handles jugs remind me of the St. Jude's Brewery Tap, where they lost one dedicated to one of the locals when one of the locals arrived for a pint. Enough said.

    Mudge, I wonder whether the converse is true. Do chav lesbians work as prostitutes in Maidenhead? Either way seems plausible. I hope the politically correct loonies are reading. Something is needed to finish them off.

    You weren't harsh on Wokingham. Whilst 22:20 on a Monday may not be its strong card, you can only judge based on the evidence provided. It is a fine line between risking giving out that experience or not bothering opening at likely quiet times like the bloke in Haigh.

    Dagger for Duncan