Monday 30 May 2016

BRAPA - An Alternative Wembley (Pubbing in Buckinghamshire)

We were staying overnight in Aylesbury for the 'exciting' play off final against those horrid f'Owls, as it has good train links to Wembley, and more importantly, Bucks is a hot county in BRAPA terms with it coming next alphabetically after Berkshire.  All I know about Ayslesbury is that it is synonymous with ducks and paedophile rings, so I didn't have too many preconceptions.

The SatNav woman was on top form as drove down, hopelessly impatient when it came to any traffic congestion, at one point making us take a pointless detour to Crick Boat Show just to demonstrate how many losers would queue for miles just to look at some boring boats.  But on the other hand, she took us through the village of Wing and it was too good an opportunity not to get a pub tick in.

Trying to fathom the Saturday opening times.

 911.  Queen's Head, Wing

Two unhelpfully positioned traffic cones stopped us parking the pub car park, a shame because Wing as a village was obviously never designed for the huge influx of traffic it now has in 2016.  But after squeezing into a back street, the traffic cones had magically vanished so Dad went to bring the car round.  I lurked outside the pub door (my default position in life) and tried to fathom the strange opening times board, my GBG said 11:30am, it was 11:28am and a friendly barmaid appeared and I pleaded a bit too passionately that I wasn't desperate for a drink or anything.  She gave me that sympathetic A.A. meeting look, and led me to the bar and introduced me to a young barman like I was some VIP (very important pubber).  This is how BRAPA should always be!  I don't approve of 'try before you buy' usually, but being the only customer and knowing I'd have to pick Dad one, I took the opportunity and the Bombardier Brexit beer was good.  Dad appeared finally via the loo.  The pub was one of those delightful low beamed, creaky things, where all attempts to modernise hadn't made much difference to centuries of pub-life.  The ceiling looked a bit precarious, a dip in the middle made it look like a bath tub could fall through it at any minute.  An old man local called John appeared, and looked pained, for I'd broken his run of being the pub's first customer every day for the last 35 years.  Sorry John.

After checking in at our Aylesbury Premier Inn with attached Ember Inn (more on that later), we walked the 25 minutes into town and despite the lack of ducks and paedos, the town didn't really convince me it was very characterful, well not until we reached pub two.

912.  Farmers Bar at the King's Head, Aylesbury

This is the oldest courtyard inn in England, and with the weather surprisingly warm, we could appreciate it.  Firstly, we found the bar which was showcasing a load of Chiltern ales and rather than have those stupid jars to display the beer colour, the pump clips were the colour of the beer.  Revolutionary stuff!  And the pub also had a little Chiltern shop selling their bottles, key rings, branded loo roll, nutcrackers (I'm not sure on the last 3), not quite a brew pub but the next best thing.  Dad, being a gentleman, moved out of the way for an Angry Jeremy Corbyn (AJC) with a walking stick who snapped "I DON'T NEED THAT MUCH ROOM TO GET PAST YOU!"    In fact, everyone in Aylesbury seemed to have a "benefit" stick.  I wonder if it is Bucks answer to Maidenhead?  The ale was ace, the yellow-washed courtyard with old horse stables acting as a mini National Trust museum was even better, we sat in the darkest corner so we could smuggle a pork pie, no time for their pretentious fayre.  This is also the first pub in the country to become no smoking, quite ironic as about 90% of the courtyard were smoking or vaping.  The toilet was outside too, and had a code you needed to put it.  Before you could say "Doric Arch is shite", AJC was on hand to help me out (3-2-1 if you are interested in the secret combination) but got really angry when I didn't turn the handle correctly "TURN IT PROPERLY THEN!".  Why was he so angry?    Why?

Chiltern beers with helpful colour code.

Courtyard drinking

We departed Aylesbury town via two shopping centres and a "rock choir" of posh old women singing "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen.  Our first stop was Wendover, where a polite young lad declared he was a Derby County fan (never mind) but helped direct us to the next pub.

Dad is ready for pub three.
 913.  King & Queen, Wendover

Extensive gin menus on every table did not bode especially well for this pub, but it had kept a degree of proper pub decorum about it.  Finding bar staff was tricky too, when it did appear, it took the form of a Draco Malfoy youth, well if he'd left Slytherin, lost all his powers, and started working in the pub industry.  His manner and blondness we found a little bit creepy, and with Dad desperate for a sandwich, I shouted to young Draco for permission to eat our own food, in case he reacted in a "Briton's Protection" style way, but I'd disarmed him with the equivalent of a pubby "Expelliarmus" and there was no way back for him from this.  On a side note, I don't mind a bit of gentle country music in a pub to create atmosphere, but this felt like the still warm corpse of Merle Haggard was being pushed down my throat, it was so invasive.  Dad meanwhile found an old map of Wendover on the wall from about 500 years ago and it was great to see three pubs on the map were still standing with the same name.  Must be a rarity.  We had a bit of drama when a young girl desperate for a slash was carried in by her parents, but her older brother commandeered a scooter and whizzed off down the street screaming.  It was that kind of a pub experience.  I should mention the beer, high quality from Goddard's in Isle of Wight though spelling "Wight Squirrel" as "White Squirrel" on their blackboard was a bad error.

Pub looks more traditional than I remember from this angle

Anyone fancy a 'bathtub' of gin?
We decided (well Dad said and I reluctantly agreed) to err on the side of caution and just get to Wembley next without any further pubbing.  It was the right decision as it turned out, for we didn't have as long as I thought once we'd reached Harrow to change for the Met line to Wembley Park.

Wembley Stadium (pre-emptive)

After skirting around the masses of football tourists, we eventually found the 'Club Wembley' entrance where Dad had generously got the tickets for.  The staff applied much common sense, not confiscating any of our offensive weapons, were smiling and friendly, and we found a quietish bar called "The Long Bar" where we were convinced (because of the escalator entrance) that we'd at least find some 'craft' bottles if not cask Everards Tiger, Farmers Blonde, Merrie City and Arrogant Owl Scum Bitter.  Sadly, the ale range is the one thing still lacking and we had the choice of Carlsberg, Tetleys or Guinness.  We both went Tetley but a lovely barmaid told us it was currently off and a 10 minute wait.  I tried to imagine top Wembley cellarmen (perhaps Graham Kelly and Bert Millichip) under the pitch cleaning the lines, but opted for a Guinness whilst Dad went for Carlsberg like some lager lout.  Plenty of leg and elbow room meant we could stand in a corner and wonder why the KCom Stadium / Circle has such a terribly inadequate concourse.  Here was a 100,000 seater stadium with all the room in the world.  My Guinness was of a decent standard, better than the Pint of Soil you get in most gig venues, and with an atmosphere pubbier than the Clarence in Bury, and a rather limited pub choice in West London, I think that Wembley Stadium is one cask of Oakham Citra away from a place in the Good Beer Guide.  Plus we always win here (which is nice), unless you count the Arsenal cup final defeat which was a victory if you really think about it.

It's Guinness time!
Post match, we queued at Wembley Stadium train station where a lot of people had obviously had the same idea about getting north rather than back in to London.  We were soon crammed in a carriage with objectionable Wednesdayites, not good losers, but I got talking to one who pretended he was a Dundee Utd fan (sheer desperation) just there to support his best friend (hmmmmm) and he seemed to want me to thank him for Andy Robertson.  Instead, I blamed him for Jackie McNamara and thus, York City's relegation.  We got off at the first stop, Denham, thus ignoring the 'change at Princes Risborough' instructions. 

A huge walled park meant you had to walk the long way from Denham station to get to the village, but it was worth it, an absolutely beautiful place reminiscent of last week's South Bucks trip.

914.  Green Man, Denham

A warm welcome and congratulations followed from the young barman who revealed that his 'best friend' is a Hull City fan.  He himself, of course, was an Arsenal fan and like all young Gooners, I walked away from the bar 5 minutes later not quite sure whether I had just been severely patronised or whether he was just a well-wisher.  The barmaids were similarly friendly and lovely, but without the football chat.  We sat in a conservatory (well, it didn't have a roof so let us call it 'outdoors'), Dad found the impossibly hidden toilets, and we settled down with two ace pints of Rebellion Smuggler and ordered sausage and mash.  We got talking to an ultra-friendly local couple about the only things that matter in life, pubs and football, though I did have a rant about inaccurate weather forecasts just to mix things up a bit.  It's hard to do justice to how good a pub experience this was, obviously still on a post Wembley high, but this was the most classic village pub you could hope to find, the food was good, and we just had time to stride back to the train station to get the train to Aylesbury.  I  saw baby deer hiding in the bushes.

The day had pretty much caught up with us now, so after watching Diame's goal on a constant loop, we took the taxi back to our Premier Inn and decided to sample the delights of it's attached pub.

Horse & Jockey, Aylesbury (Pre-emptive)

If the last two years of pubbing have taught me anything about pub chains, it is that Ember Inns are one to avoid.  Identikit to the most depressing extreme, and that's just the good ones listed in the GBG!  How would I find a non-listed one?  Well, I fought my way to the bar past a load of people pretending to be interested in a football match between two teams from Madrid, I declared very loudly that it wasn't quite Hull City.  That didn't help me get served, because although an older version of Draco from Wendover appeared (and again congratulated us on our victory), he managed to try and serve someone else even though we'd been stood there about 5 minutes.  Plus there were 5 other staff doing nothing, though one camp guy got excited about a group of old women.  It was an incompetent staff effort.  Add to that tables with "reserved" signs on at 10:30pm, kids running around like maniacs or slumped across tables crying,  and the largest amount of food debris you've ever seen on a pub floor, then you can see that this was quite nightmarish.  The Ember Ale (brewed by Black Sheep, yawn) was the best beer of a woeful range of boring clarty ales, and even this was boring.  This pub won't be troubling the GBG compilers any time soon.

 And that was that, as we called it a night ready to make the train journey back north tomorrow. 


Wednesday 25 May 2016

BRAPA - Clubbing Woes in Penistone

"One of these days you'll come a cropper and get stranded" chimed the women at work, as I told them about my latest Tuesday night adventure planned for South Yorkshire. In truth, this trip seemed quite straightforward.  Train to Huddersfield from L**ds.  Train to Penistone.  Walk 1.5 miles to Thurlstone, pub, back to Penistone,  job done.

The highlight of the train journey was an old crone posing as a doddery old woman - "oooh I've lost mi ticket luv, I had it a second ago" she lied successfully, before making a swift exit at the next station Honley, remarkably nimble for an 80 year old. 

The highlight of my walk was seeing the leisure centre where I first learnt to swim as a 4 year old in 1983, I don't think it has had a refurb or the water been chlorinated since I weed in it back then.

Would you swim here?

"It's not Venice, it's not Rome, my only love is Penistone" to quote a popular rhyme (I've just made up), but there is something rather European about this part of the world.  No-one gets up until gone 4pm, and with my 'pubs' opening at 6pm and 7pm, it reminded me of Barcelona, but with better beer.  And with more string vests, crew cuts, hand me down toothbrushes and men carrying 24 packs of Skol.

Pub photo, ruined of course, by selfish car parked outside.
909.  The Huntsman, Thurlstone

6pm opener?  No way, it was just gone ten past and it looked full and 'well lived in'..  I was greeted by a wheezy, limping little mutt as I entered this wonderful old hostelry, very belt n braces, and that was just the decor hanging from the ceiling.  Poor dog, it didn't look like it had long left, and even legendary 3 legged London Pub Cat "Legs" is more mobile.  Maybe they'll stuff it.  Some ruddy faced local walkers were joking at the bar, one husband proudly declaring that his wife "only drinks pints" as though she's the first woman ever to do so.  In Thurlstone, maybe.  The barmaid was a friendly lady, but she suffered a strange affliction, she admitted, "delayed deafness".  So when I gave her a tenner for my £3.10 beer, I asked if she wanted the 10p like a good pub-man should, she ignored me until she'd passed me the £6.90 and then heard the question!  Very odd.  I sat on the far side where the ruddy walkers joined me, whilst an old colonel and Joyce Barnaby enjoyed some amazing looking pie & peas.  With book titles like "100 bad jokes" and "90 unusual dog breeds" not impressing me, I read an interesting blog about what pubs might look like in the year 2041.  It scared me so much, I buried my phone in the bottom of my bag and breathed in 2016 pub life in Thurlstone.   The May Fly ale from Phoenix was top drawer, and as usual, I was sad I couldn't stay for a second drink. 

I walked back into Penistone and prepared myself mentally for the fact that I was going to a 'club' with the whole CAMRA card / signing in / crazy locals potential.  Whatever the attitude, you can rarely be as anonymous in a club as you can in a pub. 

Arriving at t'club, doesn't look unwelcoming does it?

910.  Royal British Legion Club, Penistone

It was just gone 7pm so glad to see it open and a kind old woman at a desk ready to greet me.  Problem is, she hadn't even heard of CAMRA when I showed her my card.  A large shadow loomed behind - the club president!  "He says he's CAMRA!" she explained.  "We've written to YOUR people about this!" he barked.  Uh-oh, seems CAMRA are persona non-grata in Penistone circles so I explained I'd come from York especially, and he begrudgingly signed me in "as long as you only stay for one drink!"  Good grief, I told you clubs were an unknown quantity.  Once inside the main room, the atmosphere was luckily convivial.  No-one even looked up, the two snooker tables were fully occupied, three men were deep in conversation, and their wives sat against a wall looking obedient but gossipy.  A smiling tanned barmaid served me a £2.18 (take that Huntsman!) pint of a Little Valley beer I'd not seen before,  and I set out my stall to display all my BRAPA paraphernalia and drink my pint as slowly as possible if I was only allowed one.  I went to chat to the nice woman on the desk about the 'incident' and she told me something had "gone off" between CAMRA and the club (not bad for someone who hasn't heard of CAMRA) so I apologised if MY people have been misbehavin'.  It was a lovely club room and despite being unwelcome, I felt very at home!  An amusing twist then happened when an old man made eye contact, I said hi and he asked "are you here for the interview?"  Huh?  Could I go from banned from the club to working for them?  I didn't react quickly enough and a man cut across to reveal he was the real interviewee.  They later returned from behind a door bearing the inscription "the office" (possibly an office) looking stern and glum.  The club president briefly returned to glare at me from the doorway.  Time to go.

Lovely club, lovely beer, best to sup up and say nowt.
Opening times a lot more generous than those listed in the GBG!
As I stood on the chilly platform, I wondered if perhaps clubs shouldn't be listed in the GBG at all.  But then I thought, no.  They are, to pub tickers like myself and Martin Taylor, what jumping off a cliff with an ironing board is to an extreme sports enthusiast.  High octane balls to the wall action. 

I recovered in Huddersfield's wonderful King's Head with a swift half before the train to York.

I like it more than York Tap, the King's Head.

In some ways, tonight had been a 'reccy' for my trip to Hazlehead's ultra rural Dog & Partridge where Penistone is as good a staging post as any.  Tricky but not impossible on a midweek night is the verdict,  so that is one for June I think.

See you at Wembley!  Si

Wednesday 18 May 2016

BRAPA - Harthill, South Yorkshire

The strains of "you're so southern, you're practically Derbys" could be heard echoing off Kiveton Water as I made my way to another Tuesday night South Yorkshire pub, and it doesn't get any more 'south' South Yorkshire than this. 

I'd been expecting a traumatic walk between Kiveton Bridge and the little village of Harthill, after other recent traumatic roadwalks, but the Google Map gods were on my side and I was walking across beautiful fields and lakes, where at one point, a heron almost landed on my head.

A heron is up there somewhere
 The whole area seemed to be a dog walkers haven, I was the only dog-less person in the area and it was hard to know who the master-race was at times, with one man panting enthusiastically as he tried to keep up, and a middle aged woman chasing a stick and whining like a bitch.  It was like my recent comment "a good dog is either asleep or stuffed" was coming back to haunt me.

Then came the main crux of the journey, the ominously named "Hard Lane".  I was imagining the usual "no pavement, no grass verge, awful traffic, strewn with hazards" but it was in fact very pleasant and should be renamed "Easy Meander".   Soon I was in Harthill.

808.  Beehive, Harthill

I finally broke ranks with my 2016 trend of entering the left hand room by going to the right (when presented with a 50/50 choice).  This was because five old duffers with their wizened faces wedged in the nosebag looked ready to ruin any pubby atmosphere.  I chose well, the right was much more a drinkers bar and I was presented with a huge range ales from Harthill itself, or Welbeck Abbey so I went for a Yorkshire Hart by the former and was very impressed.  The barman was a friendly, softly spoken baby faced Ned from Neighbours with the kind of gravity defying hairstyle that you would never see north of Sheffield.  Even my phone thought I was in the East Midlands which surely has to be vaguely insulting to Harthill.  They were not shy of pushing the 'pub food' envelope, having "...and kitchen" tagged on to the pub name.  This was the only annoying factor, but anywhere that wins an award for 'Best Sunday Roast in the Rotherham area" cannot be ignored.  It's also won the pub of the year award for about the last 1,000 years (when William the Conqueror was the local CAMRA officer) and you could see why.  A back room had a full sized snooker table, sadly covered, as I went to explore i.e. go to the loo and be nosy.  Some 'Ale Men' looking visitors came in and made an exhibition of themselves attempting the simple task of ordering three pints, so I shook my head like a disgusted local.  I meanwhile struggled to work out what 'fiery popcorn shrimp' might be on the giant blackboard next to me.  I only had 28 mins here before the trek back to Kiveton for the train to York (via Sheffield via L**ds) and it took huge will power to leave!

"Hard" Lane was marginally more difficult uphill, and the dogs were suddenly multiplying, as they seemed to have opened their own home in the intervening 28 minutes:

But despite a long and frustrating journey back to York by 21:30ish for the sake of 28 minutes in one pub, I still would consider it a worthwhile evening out.

No BRAPA this weekend due to a local beer festival in Stillingfleet so I'll see you next midweek where we'll see if Hazlehead/Flouch really is as tricky as it looks.  Mapplewell is the back up.  And then Hull City have annoyingly got to Wembley so the Yorkshire Dales trip is postponed in favour of a bit of 'out of the box' Aylesbury & beyond fun!

Oh, and if you haven't done my blog survey about what time you most enjoy going to the pub, do so, it might be part of an important social historical document in 500 years.  Or not.


Sunday 15 May 2016

BRAPA - Slipping into South Buckinghamshire

I felt a bit guilty on Saturday morning, as I am supposed to be focussing on ticking off every pub in Berkshire, but spent most of the day tooling around the South Bucks countryside, imagining the disapproving looks of Berkshire luminaries like Sir Quinno and Tim Thomas. 

I'd stupidly booked myself on the 07:01 to London but had only had 4 hours sleep because my Friday Huddersfield gig had been delayed due to Snuff taking five songs to tune up and didn't finish til 1am!  All pubs today opened 12 noon so had I possessed a brain, I'd have been asleep rather than in Paddington nursing hot chocolate for two hours. 

Anywho, my second problem came when my 'alighting' station of Burnham wasn't in Burnham, but a total scroat-hole called Cippenham where everyone smokes Cannabis, drinks Dry Blackthorn and wears Thundercats t-shirts and not much else.

The walk was therefore a lot longer to my first pub, a good 3.5 miles to blow away the cobwebs.  Squint at above photo and you can see archers practicing, I was terrified one stray arrow would stray off to the right and put a swift end to BRAPA.  It was all equestrian centres and private driveways otherwise, and Burnham itself was lovely except for an odd pub policy, only regulars allowed after 11pm!  Not seen that before.  Littleworth Common also seemed a nice village, very remote by now, and I had to ask a friendly posh lady and her daughter where the pub was but they were going themselves and spoke very highly of it.

902.  Blackwood Arms, Littleworth Common

And they were right, this was a cracking little old inn and probably the quirkiest of the day, unless I was just sober and noticed more.  The pub was a warren of small rooms and partitioned areas, and seemed to run on an army of staff including about 10 chefs piled into a tiny kitchen, all of whom wanted to smile, I just don't have that many face muscles.    Woman and daughter arrived soon after, and met two upwardly mobile middle aged Harry Kane's, who all declared in hearty posh tones that whatever they ordered food-wise, they'd definitely be wanting some chips (this would be a theme of the day).  I went to sit outside on a weird table made from warped timbers, and the most South African looking man you've ever seen (except he wasn't), was painting a toilet in the middle of the lawn.  Double standards next as I note that if you are a visiting horse, you get free hay.  But visiting humans like me have to pay for their beer, plus my Cottage Duchess was a bit cloudy but tasted okay.  I learnt the posho kids were all called things like Sebastian, Elena and Mika and when two buzzards circled the garden very low down, I feared for their young lives.  A miserable old man then complained to a bar girl that as he was eating outside, his food should have been served on a hot plate.  Not sure who made him the rule maker, but she gritted her teeth and thanked him for the constructive feedback.  This whole pub experience reminded me of Chequers in Ledsham, not sure how many people will have been to both so you'll have to trust me but this was a pub of the day contender.

Note the fake S.A. toilet painter behind my cloudy Cottage.

View of the pub from the back garden.
The next leg of my walk was a bit more hair raising along a busy road with no pavement and a very overgrown grass verge.  I heard Hull City were amazingly 2-0 up and in a kind of trance, walked into a farm style caravan park by mistake but a kind man showed me the way to pub two.

Arriving at the Royal Standard with it's own phone box
903.  Royal Standard, Wooburn Common

Most people were sat outside eating lunches, plus there were a few kids running around like maniacs so I decided to stay inside for this pint.  Still in my Hull City induced trance, I didn't even see the barman trying to serve me from a wonderful selection that included beers from Leeds and Barnsley, but I went for a local Rebellion Blonde which was superb, and can see why this pub has won a local CAMRA award.  A very excitable woman came to the bar and declared she was very excited about the prospect of some chips, and I started to wonder if there'd been a potato famine that had recently subsided or whether "chips" is code for some kind of drug.  Then, three pervy men chuckled to themselves that they were going to order the pub speciality stew, "stiffy stew".  I positioned myself in a sunny window seat (well, it was a window with a cushion on it!) and debated eating the free snacks in a bucket on the wall.  Then a man grabbed a handful and gave them to his dog.  Now I see!  An irritating midwitch cuckoo girl kept tapping on the window so I showed her two fingers in case she wanted to know the Hull City score.  Staff seemed a bit less happy and on edge here, like they couldn't quite handle the lunchtime rush, and it made for an edgier pub experience than the first, but you could see it was a quality establishment.

All quiet in the "drinkers" main bar.

A bit like the Spurs sign, can be brilliant but chokes under pressure.
Luckily, turning onto Windsor Hill took me off the main busy stretch (not quite sure where the common was in Wooburn Common as it seemed to be one main road) and after a peaceful downhill sprint, I was at Wooburn Green which definitely did have a green!

904.  Queen and Albert, Wooburn Green

The interior though, was easily the weakest of my six pubs today - it looked like it had been refurbished by somebody who had never been in a pub before, but had watched a couple of house makeover programmes and thought "that'll do".  Though my heart sank, it was a light and friendly place and the landlady was like a sexy Pam Ayres, saying things like "mi lovely".  Two foreign student girls were eating Yorkshire Puddings, their bulldog sleeping blissfully, covering pretty much the whole pub space (a trick it later repeated outside).  When is a pub dog a good pub dog?  When it is asleep (or stuffed on the wall).  Now how can you have an IPA which is 3.7% and like a dark bitter, you'd need to ask Rebellion brewery though they were doing pretty well by me today.  And then it happened.  A very nervous looking man came in, made an inquiry on the food, then he declared how he absolutely loved the chips in here.  WHAT WAS GOING ON?  The pub garden was perhaps even nicer than that at Littleworth Common, so I was able to enjoy yet more sun and finally get a phone reception, nervously wondering why the ref was allowing so much injury time, only to then see we'd scored a third in the 98th minute!  I phoned home for a match report just as the local Wooburn youths arrived but this wasn't Elsecar so they just talked science and politics, yawn.

Pub signs from when it was a proper old man's pub probably
My first two pub ticks on "page 22" - hurray!
There's nowt more frustrating in BRAPA than being able to see your pub and not get to it.  This happened next as this huge wide river (I think they call it the "Thames"?) was in the way.  I thought about the swim, but some speedboats were looking menacing and I didn't want to become the next Kirsty MacColl.   Shane McGowan, I'm half way there!

I asked a man what the best way to cross was, he told me I needed to be on the river path to get to the bridge (well duh, I knew that!) but he kindly allowed me through his back garden which had a gate directly onto the path, hurrah! 

Crossing the river

905.  Bounty, Cookham

It didn't look like a pub, more like one of those seaside bars you see in places like Southend, the Isle of Wight and probably not Blackpool.  It was extremely quirky inside, all nautical netting and an ice cream freezer and a pool table in a raised area.  I'd spied a secluded table in the far garden under a tree away from the riff-raff, though just my luck a group of students (like the Wooburn Green ones but with an Irish Red Setter, not stuffed or asleep sadly) sat on the next table but were quite well behaved and kept science talk to a minimum.  My ale was called something "Cow" but it wasn't 'lazy', 'moody' or 'silly' so if you can think of a similar prefix, let me know so I can do a search.  It was a bit chillier here on the river but great vantage point, and I wish I'd spent more time inside too but space was at a premium.  The advantage of having to cross a bridge to get here meant no traffic, just the peace and hubbub of chatter.  On the way back over the bridge, I saw 'garden-man' and we chatted on what a great pub it was, but he didn't offer to let me back through his garden, utter bastard!

906.  Garibaldi, Bourne End

As I made my way back gradually towards Cookham station, I realised though I had been back in Berkshire (Cookham was the key focus of the day), I'd crossed back into Bucks for this pub down (what I thought was) a quiet country road to a village called Bourne End.  The "warm welcome" promised by the GBG wasn't totally forthcoming, not that it was bad, but a man sat near the loo with his son looking like two property developers on the fiddle, eyeballed me like I was not a local.  I'm not a local, I'm never a local, not even in York.  The Wellington in Hull is closest I ever came to being a local and it had to shut, presumably for that very reason.  Back to the Garibaldi then and the Chiltern Columbian Coffee Porter was the perfect night cap, if it hadn't been a sunny afternoon, so again I went outside scared of our property developer.  Apparently it has a nice rear (wa-hey!)  but I sat at the front and noticed the problem.  Thin street, parked cars, lots of people trying to get through - traffic chaos, and it has to be said it needs the "Bounty" approach i.e. make Bourne End into Venice so cars can't get through.  Well, that's what I thought after 5 pints anyway. 

One street, you've only got one street.
907.  Old Swan Uppers, Cookham

As if to remind me that Berkshire was still the heart of all that is great in 2016 BRAPA, this final pub was a return to form after a nice walk along a village green in yet another beautiful part of the world, though you do kind of get the impression that the folk of South Bucks and North East Berks dream about living in Keighley on a nightly basis.  Proper low roofed stone floored pub, friendly staff and jolly locals, it did feel a bit West Yorkshire in truth.  I saw a menu showing they sell chips,  though the excitable chip theme of the day had been broken.  I even felt comfortable enough to have a bit of an explore, finding a restaurant in the back to turn my nose up to, but saw a nice old pub sign and brunette who seemed to be glad I was acting like a tourist piece of scum!  With the hustle and bustle of locals, I made my way outside and three tanned Alan Pardews got out of a sports car, met some overly made-up women, and went inside for food, but even these all said hi to me. 

And that should have been that but for a bit of late drama, I had to change trains at Maidenhead (spit!) and my connection back to Paddington was delayed meaning I didn't make my 8pm connection.  However, train expert Tom was on-call like a late night maverick GP to advise and offer support.  An older version of Tom at Kings X allowed me on the 9pm at no extra cost under the circs, but felt I should have left 45 mins to cross London and not 39.  Oh well, you live and learn.

I had a celebratory Upper Crust sandwich, half a Redwood in Parcel Yard, and watched a bit of Eurovision on iPlayer when I realised the brunette Geordie wasn't going to be friendly!

This was a classic BRAPA day.  The setting, scenery, fact I could walk between places but was still very rural, good weather, good quality of pub, my own company so I could take detailed notes, I wasn't even bothered I'd missed the playoff game.  And a return to East Berkshire next month.


Wednesday 11 May 2016

BRAPA - Harley (undiluted South Yorkshireness) / Survey Results

In the driving rain late on Tuesday evening, I stepped off the train at Elsecar to make the two mile walk south to the little village of Harley.  The bus and train connections hadn't been kind, and were such that I decided to do it like this.

Elsecar is a great little place.  Four cracking pubs and a heritage museum, I felt like I was saying hello to all my old friends - Fitzwilliam, Crown, Milton, even the crazy Market one, probably the best.  Imagine if Chorlton (just to pick a place totally at random!) had people who were over 60, it was on a hill, and had real pubs.

Two miles walking isn't much for hardcore pubbers like you and me, but it had all the ingredients of a nightmare-ish route, leaving me reasoning that 900 (20%) had been quite a nice round number to die on.  Heavy rain?  Check!  No pavement?  Check!  Cars going way too fast?  Check!  Flooded roads? Check! No grass verge to step on to?  Check! 

   Elsecar Reservoir, as if I hadn't seen enough water
To be honest, when I joined up with the B-road, a path did appear much to my relief,  my foot (which I don't like to talk about) was hurting for the first time since before my Berkshire 4 dayer).  Ok, so it was no Aldworth-Streatley walk, no Cullingworth-Harecroft, but it was bad enough!

Hurray!  I've made it to Harley
 901.  Horseshoe, Harley

This was without doubt the most South Yorkshirey pub on my BRAPA midweek challenge so far.  It was quiet when I entered and friendly barmaid, Georgia(?) mentioned the weather so I told her I'd walked from Elsecar station.  She looked at me as if to say "people do that all the time you idiot, I am not impressed" - typical blonde!  No, she was good and kept the locals tamed.  The pub was actually quiet at this stage as I sat in an empty room to the left surrounded by horsie type paraphernalia.  It was laid on pretty thick.  Then the first of an influx of Harley locals arrived, an old chap who I'm sure has appeared in every BRAPA Yorkshire pub I've ever been in, he was immediately perplexed as to where his eggs had gone!  Turned out he was talking about real eggs, Georgia couldn't help, they weren't in the cupboard, had someone moved them, he was in trouble with the wife in any case.  Don't look at me, I didn't steal them.  The White Rose Blonde (enjoyed in Conisbrough's Hilltop, and just as much here) was on top form.  A man with paint stained overalls came in and I had flashbacks to the Wokingham Wanker, before another man who'd had a bad day at work stormed in and ordered a "bucketful of Kronenberg".  I wondered if it was that crazy cooking lager chap off Twitter.  He didn't get his wish granted.  Soon, there was about 8 villagers lining the bar, chatting happily and whilst I felt it was a friendly pub, there were times I felt they were closing ranks a bit - even perhaps psyching me out as they discussed bad mobile phone etiquette!  Conversations included Barbara Windsor dying, which turned out to be untrue and someone confidentially whispered that a letter needed posting, strange.  Was this code to "do me in"?  And on my way out, the eggs had reappeared, 3 boxes of them, no idea where they had been.  A happy ending to a happy pub!

You may well think it strange that I then walked the mile to Wentworth (where there are two pubs I need), didn't go in one, but simply got a bus back to Elsecar from outside one of them.  Again, logistics, you'll have to trust me on that one.

Still, Wentworth looked a beautiful village and a man with an element of George Formby on acid called me "bud" so lots to look forward to later this year!

Wentworth in bloom.
Back in Elsecar, even the local train station teenage scumbags were nice enough to move so I could get past, but the bespectacled train conductor wasn't so lucky, getting called a "24 eyed gay bastard" which was a new one on me, but he was silly for stopping to talk to them and the resultant delay (as he decided whether or not to hunt them down) nearly cost me my connection at Barnsley.

Back in Elsecar avoided the teenage scum.
Oh well, all's well that ended well and I was home for 9:15pm, one pub richer!

Survey Results

I recently asked the question on my blog "who is most likely to talk to you in a pub?"

The results were far from illuminating, it was quite a bollocks question I set as (a) I missed out that pub staple,  "the nutter" (thanks to Mudgie for pointing that out) and (b) I realised it depends what kind of pub you are in.

Let me explain.  If you are in a trendy modern style real ale bar in a place like say, Chorlton (just to pick a random example) it's most likely a young hipstery barperson trying to impress you.  However, in your village local or Sam Smith's doss house, you have a much greater likelihood of some old locals, or the nutter, chatting to you.  And in a city centre touristy pub or heritage place, you might encounter a wide-eyed tourist/visitor so drunk on the splendour, they'll start waxing lyrical before you have chance to escape.  And in your local 'Spoons, it might be a couple having a meal who are most likely to chat, asking if they can borrow your menu or the sauces, but beware, they might be swingers looking for a route into you (so to speak).

Anyway, 75% of you thought 'regulars' were most likely to talk to you.  Staff were runners up, the landlord/landlady (62%) a bit more likely than a younger member of staff (50%) to engage you in conversation.  Worryingly, 50% also felt the pub pet was the most likely to 'talk' to you.

Tourists/Visitors and Old People didn't fare too badly either, younger people did, but at the bottom with no votes at all were Families and Couples, the latter surprising to me as I often find them up for a chat on "what I am doing here" usually the nosey wife.  Or perhaps they really are swingers.

Thanks for voting, I'll add it to the PPD (perfect pub database) (which doesn't actually exist outside of my mind).  Next time, we'll look at your favourite drinking times.

See you down south on Saturday, Si