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. 



  1. "It was an incompetent staff effort ". Poetry.
    I hope Ember read this and incorporate into their training manual.

    Why did you leave The Old Millwrights Arms ? 10 times as many beers as customers, like the Grenfell Arms. Will you be back in Aylesbury for pre-season ?

  2. Thanks Martin! Funnily enough, I have found staff usually friendly and helpful in the GBG Ember Inns I have been to if I think back to places like Edenthorpe, Selly Park but not outer Wolverhampton. Oh well, 2 out of 4, 50% success rate. Caversham, I was too drunk to remember but think he was nice, if it was a he.

    Well, strategically, I knew I'd not get both the Hop Pole and the Old Millwrights Arms done and I thought "if I'm leaving one, I may as well leave two!" - BRAPA logic.

    I am predicting my return will be sometime around November/December just looking at what I have left in Berkshire before I officially start Bucks.

    1. That's my sort of logic, hate just leaving the odd straggler, particularly in outer London or places like Aylesbury which require special effort.

      Just in case Ember read this, agree staff are friendly enough but attention to detail lacking, same thing that afflicts Spoons.

  3. Top Blog - Lol at the Doric Arch Code. Its that dark and dingy down there, I cannot even operate it when I know the number.

    1. Oh yes, don't get me started on Doric Arch. It was described to me as a bright shiny place where all fans of all 92 league football clubs come together over a pint of real ale from anywhere in the UK. The truth was a bit less exhilarating!

  4. The barmaid in Wing sounds impressive. Does she qualify for any awards?

    Benefit sticks are nothing. In this particular Lincolnshire shithole, a large proportion of the population have benefit electric wheelchairs. They act in a similar ungracious manner to benefit stick man, and when the arrive at their destination park up and walk normally.

    Colour coordinated pump clip depictions were used by Rich at the Welly, but only in a small corner such that many didn't notice. I think the Chiltern Brewery have executed this good idea far better.

    You may have inadvertently tempted me into a trip to the Isle of Wight. We shall see if things come off as the theoretically should, but almost certainly won't at work.

    Whilst I agree that football grounds have pre emptive potential, seeing as you had already been to the Empire Stadium must mean this wasn't a pre-emptive in this instance. The Code of Conduct does not make having a drink compulsory.

    Shouldn't you have thanked your marmalade munching friend for Mr McNamara's efforts at eradicating York City from the football league?

    I think Arsenal fans try to be well wishers without realising that they are all actually patronising cunts. Had I not been in deep shock after we won their a few years ago, I think I would have acted very differently to the polite applause.

    1. Tom, she was about 55 so whilst I wouldn't want to be ageist, probably not.

      I don't want to be too harsh but those Welly brews would need more than colour co-ordinating to convince me they were worth trying.

      Still need to revisit IOW but am waiting for them to build a second railway line down the west of the island first!

      Re the Wembley BRAPA review, I was coaxed into it by a world famous illustrator on Twitter so you can't blame me. Plus, you don't make the rules on what BRAPA deems pre-emptive.

      I think I've developed a soft spot for York City. I used to hate them circa 1995.

      I probably agree but still think Arsenal's fans are amongst the friendliest and most approachable from my experience of dealing with Premier league fans, though the bar hasn't been set very high.

    2. I make no comment on the standard of the beer, however I would say that the colour coordination itself was badly executed. I don't think it would be unfair to say that not many people noticed them.

      The IoW formerly had a rather extensive railway network, however that steadily eroded until complete closure in the 60s.

      I agree that I don't make the rules, however it is surely axiomatic that it wasn't a pre-emptive tick as it was a pre-emptive tick on the immortal day that was 24th May 2008.

      If you have developed a soft spot for York City I think you need Hull City to have a prolonged spell in the doldrums of the lower leagues to bring you to your senses.

      The Euston Head of Steam is one of those pubs that started at a high level and has since been on a steady decline, slightly accelerated by the takeover and amplified by the improvement in the local competition. I had forgotten about the keypad bog. I haven't been in in years. I don't really feel the loss. An early example of Chris Irvin syndrome, you were perhaps unfortunate to miss it at its peak.

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