Wednesday 30 November 2016

BRAPA - Whiston 2-1 Wickersley*

Using a BRAPA card as a beermat is always a last resort (Chequers, Pub 955)
* Wickersley wins on the away "good club" rule.

The heaving 16:48 from L**ds to Rotherham should have been more than a two carriage train, as it couldn't fit everyone on despite the "move down the carriage!" pleas.  By Wakefield, we were ten minutes late and as a consequence, I had to catch a bus that dropped me on a busy main road between the two pubs, instead of just outside (bus driver was new and didn't have a clue).

When is a bus twild not a twild?  When the parents are twarents.  With a Dad (played by a chav Frank Spencer "oooh Betty it won't stop crying"), and Mum (an unmotivated Rose West), what chance did this poor little bastard have?  Horrific earring or not, at the age of about 4.  Only in outer Rotherham.

Both Whiston pubs were, in Halifax tradition, not where the GBG App pushpin stated .......

Just like Croatia (or Leyton Orient)

955.  Chequers, Whiston

It was a seriously freezing evening and it must've been etched all over my face, for the old local who turned round said "cold enough for you out there, lad?!"  That was as "real" as the pub got in became quite a sterile experience, despite a wonderful pint of Moonshine.  Okay, so I located "the best seat in the house", in an armchair of relative comfort, between Christmas tree and tiny fake fire which was warming.  There were no beermats and I'd forgotten my emergency one!  The barmaid had "danger" written all over her (not literally, I don't think, well I don't know) but she was the type you'd want to elope with if you just sat there drinking and staring all night.  No time for that though today - I think the pub was incredibly proud (surprised?) of being in the Good Beer Guide as there were signs everywhere.  Another sign "we don't serve fast food, we serve good food fast!" kind of summed up it's limited charm.   To give the pub credit, the "foodie" area was very well hidden out to the right, to the extent where you could happily forget their meaningless existence.  A woman with a fat arse seemed to trying to feel heat from "my" fire, her boyfriend looked a dullard too, and the second I started buttoning my jacket to leave, she was STRAIGHT in my seat.  I even tried to make a joke out of it, but she wasn't the most quick witted creature, and that kinda summed up the pub.

Proud of being in the GBG

I skidded around the corner onto the main drag and 10 minutes later, I found myself seeing not the name of the pub, but that most worrying of signs .... "Ember Inn!" 

...because the Ember photo didn't come out very well

956.  Hind, Whiston

But after a bad experience in Redcar, I've learnt to cope by inventing "Ember Bingo".  And I ticked off the vast majority on my imaginary "card".  It was actually "above average" in that I got a great pint of something unusual (Bread & Butter by Vocation), there were no crumbs or food debris on floor or table, it was comfy, and the clientele didn't act like people who'd never been to a pub before.  I count that as 4 "fails".  But these are the things I did tick .....

  • Situated on busy and soulless main road drag in middle of nowhere
  • You see the Ember sign before the pub name
  • Full of middle aged women eating
  • Christmas tree with tacky blue lights (seasonal bonus)
  • Barman with irritating name (Charlie in this case) who doesn't give a shit
  • Roaring fire giving off absolutely zero heat
  • Empty glasses and plates cluttering tables, should've been cleared away hours ago
  • Mismatched furniture which doesn't belong in a pub
  • Inappropriate shitty lager beermat (Carling in this case)
So as you can imagine, I quite enjoyed the misery!

The scene so typically Ember
Despite the lateness of the hour, I was too near to Wickersley to ignore it, especially as alphabetically it was next on the list anyway, and I'm not sure I can face another visit to Rotherham this year.  A short bus ride (when it finally appeared), a swift left turn at a huge corner pub, past the cricket pitch, down a lane, and I was there.

I'm always anxious pre-club in the GBG.  You just don't know what type of reception you are going to get.  The GBG tells you to show your CAMRA card or the book itself, but what is the truth.  I've categorised clubs into three levels of welcome.

1.  Relaxed - "stop waving your card and book around like a ponce, come in, settle down and have a pint and stop making an exhibition of yourself" (see Bolton Ukranian Social Club)
2.  Firm but Fair - "we'll welcome you with open arms but here's the rules - you have to engage with us fully, you have to show us your card, you have to sign the guest book, you have to leave a nice comment - then everyone's happy!" (see Hungerford Club)
3.  Danger Danger "we've told your sort you're not welcome here you CAMRA scum" (Penistone).

957.  Wickersley Old Village Cricket Club

Luckily, this was about a 1.5 on the scale.  She did allude to be being a club member, but when I said I was in CAMRA, her eyes flickered in recognition of such an organisation and she didn't even want to see my card, simply warning me my beer wasn't quite as cheap as it would've been.  It would've been cruel to chuck me out, I'd already had to ask three burly smokers where the entrance door was - it was a bit ski lodge from the outside, proper sweeping loungey pub on the inside.  And she'd already had a chat with me on (what else), the freezing night.  "I've turned mi heating off and am not sure it was a good idea!" she declared ruefully.  I sat adjacent to a large TV but started itching and coming out in a rash when I noticed those two most obnoxious of football teams, L**ds and Liverpool.  A group of men watched, two sat and three stood behind forming a kind of tiered stand which amused me.  There was a young family in and the two daughters were displaying over excitable Twild like behaviour, but like on the bus, I let it slide as they were bored shitless as any 8 year old girl would be forced to watch Mum and Dad drink Fosters in a place like this.  Though I loved it.  On the way out, everyone said bye, even people I didn't even know were in here, lurking in corners.  My faith in the GBG club is restored - for now at least!

Great pint of Chantry but is Martin Taylor right, is the man on the lower left crying?
After the bus back to Rotherham "Interchange" (sorry but it's just a lame bus station not even attached to the railway station) I had 35 mins before a train to L**ds so time to revisit the Bridge. 

And what a pub this is as me and Tom discovered last December.  People talk about Cutlers and New York Tavern a lot, but this is perhaps the best of three crackers.  Barman asked how I was and where I'd been, called everyone "luv" (male and female), was a proper burly guy and when he heard Billy Sharp had missed a penalty for Sheffield Utd and they'd lost at home to Walsall, his reaction and language re the Blades was worth the admission price alone!  A man came in because his wife was caught short needing a wee.  A beautiful exchange followed between barman and hubbie.  Hubbie saying etiquette states you should always buy a half in such a situation, barman telling him as a guy with a weak bladder, he wouldn't dream of enforcing this rule.  But hubbie was adamant he should behave in the correct manner.   Then Liverpool scored twice and all was well with the world.  Only downside, perhaps the worst pint glass I've seen this year outside Scottish Stores....

Back on the train, I half considered a "live" periscope update but didn't want the world to suffer anymore so just kept warm, got tea in L**ds, and was home 11:45pm.  Three down, two to go,


Sunday 27 November 2016

BRAPA - Winter Woollen Adventure in West Yorkshire

Feezing Frog at York Station
It was time for the half yearly BRAPA day out with those brave folk from work who are willing to trek from pub to pub to help me in my quest.  Regulars Rich Ellis (drinking lime and soda for alternate pints as part of a health drive) and Jason "Mr Angry" Garrett were with me, and we were joined by the reassuring presence of Piper, though four people were unable to attend which was disappointing but not unexpected! 

After meeting at L**ds and getting train to the wondrous town of Halifax (one of my favourite pub towns in the UK), my GBG app decided to make a fool of me in front of other people by having our first pub plotted in the wrong place, just as did with the Barum Top when I came here a year or two ago. Finally, I found it hidden behind a theatre.  

Caught in the rainbow vortex of Halifax
 950.  Victorian Craft Beer Cafe, Halifax

The scouse landlord was smoking outside when we went in, and having explained BRAPA, he gave us a run down of the highlights of this self-proclaimed "best pub in Halifax" which was obviously (a) a bar and (b) not quite as good as three other pubs in town I can think of.  Having said that, it was excellent and the line "you'll be impressed with our toilets" is one I'd like to hear more.  In this case, it was a reference to 1920's nudey lady pictures.  Very North Rigton or Phoenix in York.  "They are 90 years old but the girls still look great!" declared the bald customer who'd perhaps had one too many fizzy keg ales from the taps at the end.  I was excited to see Cloudwater cask "yes, your eyes do not deceive you" said the barman.  Cloudwater are a brewery I always unfairly slag off for being the face of "craft" so a bit ironic I first see it on cask in a bar with "craft" in the title.  It was beautiful and we took it up these mini stairs full of board games and weird instruments to a hidden side room, with tiling which made you feel you were in a chilly fish & chip shop.  Another point to the barman was that he gave us complimentary pub beermats as souvenirs.  CAMRA should enforce this as policy.  Though his slagging off Barum Top 'Spoons for getting in the GBG was something I couldn't fully agree with as I thought it was pretty decent.  What happened to pub unity?  However, all in all a cracking little place and a good start to the day.  

A few minutes walk away, I accidentally navigated to the back of the next pub which was almost traumatic as a Dad was teaching his 6 year old boy to drive, almost with disastrous consequences for BRAPA as we had the inaugural pub photo.  It all looked a bit seedy and industrially estatey.  

951.  Gundog, Halifax

I got the barman to confirm that we hadn't used the main entrance, but not to worry as this pub was a rival to the likes of Big Six and Three Pigeons for pure Halifax pub joy.  The central corridor area where we were served, rooms off left and right.  I briefly tried to explain bar billiards to the gang - none of them had even seen a table before (I may have to send them to Reading for a lesson), though I refused to sit in here on account of the bookcase wallpaper!  Rich checked in on Facebook, which also must have been confused by the pubs gloriousness, as it asked him "is it good for dancing?"  I suppose at this time, with no customers, you could pirouette from room to room.  I was meanwhile like a pub tourist, snapping away like David Bailey (if that is a real person) for you don't get pubs as photogenic as this very often.   We sat in perhaps the nicest room off to the right, where some unconvincing but admirable local artwork was on sale, and almost regrettably, nothing weird or upsetting happened until we left, possibly because I wasn't concentrating.

I managed to flag us down a taxi and despite the friendly taxi driver not seeming very confident where Scholes was, he took us there pretty directly, missed the turning, and ditched us in a lay-by.  It was rural up here, and the mist had returned. 

 952. Stafford Arms, Scholes

Proper crazy pub full of mad staff and locals, this is exactly why I'd say (so far) that West Yorkshire is the strongest county I've been to in BRAPA so far.  The barmaid had strange glint in her eye, and when she told us "it was a cold day to be walking around these parts", I admitted we'd cheated and got a taxi.  "Oooh hoh, cheating is allowed in here" she replied with an exaggerated wink at several of the chaps propping up the bar, who suddenly looked a bit sheepish.  The buzz word of the pub was "black" though, hard to tell why they found the word so funny, but they did.  Whether they were doing impressions of the artist in the Fast Show who paints in black, or the never-ending discussion about local liquorice which sounded like some kind of euphemism I couldn't quite get.  We sat round the corner in a cosy lounge of this Tim Taylor's pub and Rich decided everyone was probably swingers.  I went to get her to phone a taxi which was another strange but funny foray into their lair, but a communication breakdown meant the others didn't know I'd booked it, so when it arrived sharpish, we had to neck our beers and run off, which is a good way to leave this classic pub.

Another short taxi ride found us in Cleckheaton, to a pub I'd been 'warned' might get in the GBG soon but I kind of took it with a pinch of salt because Cleckheaton isn't the kind of place you'd come to for a pre-emptive.  

I've all gone a bit Dr Who at the Rose & Crown.
953.  Rose & Crown, Cleckheaton

Warm and close-knit with a bustling throng of couples who seemed to be combining speed-dating with eating meals, for during the 35 minutes or so we were there, THREE different couples/groups started and finished a meal on the table next to us, each one consisting of beef, gravy and stewed veg.  Talk about faces in the nosebags, but how romantic such a rushed meal can be is unclear.  One thing was clear, this must be a candidate for the happiest pub in the UK.  Everything provoked uproarious laughter, with a jolly little baldie man at the bar the main ring leader, like some hyperactive West Yorkshire Dalai Lama.  If you ordered three pints of "Old Tosser" in York and said "three old tossers because we're three old tossers", people would roll their eyes in a "ugh, CAMRA twats are so unfunny" kind of a way.  But here, they almost had to get paper bags out to control their breathing they were laughing so hard.  One middle aged woman who I'd suspected hadn't appreciated some of our more colourful language, turned to us, and said "I hope you enjoy the rest of ya pints lads (and lass)", whilst a hi-vis new arrival swarmed the bar and seemed to be doing a constant jig, or he may have had a nervous twitch,  What everyone was on, I couldn't say.  

Hi-vis man struggling to stay still 

Rich used his "local knowledge" to locate a taxi rank in the middle of town, and soon we were Norristhorpe bound, a place I assumed had been made up by the GBG compilers as a practical joke to send pub tickers on a wild goose chase, but just like Kirkheaton and Altofts, it is actually real! 

Jason, me and Pipes, at the final tick of the day
954.  Rising Sun, Norristhorpe

With the sun setting over outer Dewsbury, it seemed a fitting time to go to a Rising Sun pub, and in true Heavy Woollen tradition, there has to be one pub of which my memories are slightly hazy, just as in the the Taproom Batley (2014), Reindeer at Overton (summer 2015) or the King William IV in Greenfield (summer 2016).  However, we had some early controversy as my Hawkshead Brodie's Prime (I was the only one on the dark ale still, cos I'm, hardcore obviously) was pinched by a woman who sped off to an elevated crowded drinking area.  When I finally tracked her down, she said "that's your pint isn't it?" in a very weary voice, which made me think she has a habit of doing this.  I think "grrr gimme gimme" was my slightly sozzled reply.  Despite the pub having been refurbished over a year ago now, the paint smell was in evidence and although my buddies commented on how nice the pub was, I couldn't help but feel it wasn't quite in the same league as the others today, though come here on a hot summer's day with the amazing views and location, and I bet it's a cracking outdoor drinking experience.  The music was notable in it's wonderful 80's shitness, so bad that it was good, I'd never even heard of Climie Fisher until today! 

A beer that is about to cause much controversy.
Back in Dewsbury, it wouldn't be right not to finish at the West Riding Refreshment Rooms - and anyone who had the misfortune to witness by "Periscope Debut" via Twitter will know I was rather drunk at the time!  When I get back up to 1,000 pubs, I'm going to do a "Top Twenty BRAPA Pubs so far" (unless Martin Taylor sues me as he has a famous top 100 feature) and it is fair to say the WRRR must have a great chance of making the final cut.

Me and Piper left AFTER Richard and Jason (a first for any work-based day or night out, anywhere ever) and after a dreadful KFC, I was in bed by 9pm!!  Superb day, and I'll see you all in South Yorkshire on Tuesday night for more outer Rotherham based fun beginning with a W.  And that's not a sentence you hear every day.  


Friday 25 November 2016

BRAPA - Friday Frenzy in Harrogate

With a Friends of Ham catch-up night cancelled, I thought it wise to fill-in a rare drinking space in my diary with an easy BRAPA tick to keep me chugging along in this productive month of November.

The "Black Friday" pedestrians were limping home sour faced and empty handed to their Horsforth and Hornbeam Park hovels, and I managed to just keep my eyes open long enough to hop off at North Yorkshire's favourite snooty twee-fest town, Harrowgayte.

The pub was t'other (nice) side of town so after a (probably) needless walk around the backstreets, I saw my pub looming large across a busy main road, at which point I got excited, forgot about personal safety, and stopped the traffic with some questionable road crossing which Tom Irvin would have approved.

Almost the last photo I  ever took......
What kind of pub names itself simply as it's address?  One that thinks names like Red Lion and the Fox & Grapes are too common and passe. that's what!  So typically sneery Harrogate.  Imagine if York's Bluebell was called 53 Fossgate, if Stockport's Crown was called 154 Heaton Lane, Preston's Moorbrook was called 37 North Road ..... you get the picture, life would be just that tiny bit shitter wouldn't it?

949.  10 Devonshire Place, Harrogate

So I entered with something of a negative mind set, and it says a lot that I'd warmed to the place even before I'd been served, and this was with a pregnant barmaid smiling hopefully as though she'd serve me any second without quite managing it (just like in Wath on Tuesday).  The look the pub was going for was dimly candlelit, middle class, middle age, warm and homely, a hint of pretension but nothing you couldn't suck up with a smile.  Speaking of which, don't venture into the "purple room" on the third floor or you may never be the same again.  The beer was healthy, and the punters, the most friendly I've known on this, my 7th trip to the town.  I fought may way through a series of posey couples leanings on posing tables ("look at me, look at me, I'm here, in public, enjoying myself!") to a backroom where surprise, surprise, there was a fair amount of bench seating available.  Three mature ladies were cackling and on the gin, their make-up done in a way which made them all look like fortune tellers.  Two "butch" men with two tiny greedy dogs were encouraging the ladies to get on the 'doubles'.  "We want some fun in the back room tonight!" they declared.  I refused to make eye contact, wanting to be a mere observer after a hideous working week.  However, it's when you are at your least sociable that some 'character' comes to sit next to you, and it did in the form of Christopher, an older chap with the air of a well-to-do Yorkshire playwright.  "Don't mind if I vape?" he said, "it's pretty inoffensive" as he practically sat on my left leg.  I couldn't be anti-social and told him I'd never understood vaping and it smelt of cloves, but this turned out to be pain relief for a tooth problem and soon I was chatting teeth and dentists, he had a wet finger which spent half the night in the back of his mouth.  But the chat progressed and he shared my views on Harrogate and York folk, the culture of North Yorkshire, he also used to work for Yorkshire Bank like me, and enjoyed the chat so got him on the BRAPA/Twitter mailing list (which doesn't really exist).  I left him to his tooth woes, in this quite interesting pub.

Greedy dogs and a pint of porter
The less smart-arsed direct walk back to the station was unsurprisingly quicker, I suppose 10 Devonshire Place wasn't too different from Hales Bar, but with a slab of York's Guy Fawkes and a hint of Hull's Wm Hawkes thrown in.  

Had time to pop in Harrogate Tap for a swift half of an Arbor beer called something about a tree, whilst I stood near a premature but not yet decorated tree .....

Better get a good night's sleep before we get cracking on West Yorkshire tomorrow!  I'll be back on Sunday for a review.  Sweet pubby dreams.


Wednesday 23 November 2016

BRAPA - Wath-Upon-Dearne : On Trend

Two of the top pub types of "this time in our history" are Wetherspoons, and Micro Pubs.  Like 'em or loathe 'em, they form the basis of the "Wath Upon Dearne Real Ale Scene" (WUDRAS) , proof that the small town is "on trend" which isn't something anyone's ever said about South Yorkshire before, ever.

After a needlessly long and boring bus ride from Barnsley (I should have done Swinton and short bus, said my new work buddy who went to school here), I realised there was a very pretty pedestrianised centre called the Market Cross.  Just the odd bus occasionally skulked in and out. An edgy atmosphere was created by drinking, smoking, shouting and swearing "Yoofs", I counted four pockets of the shitbags in the otherwise peaceful dark gloom.

In summary, Wath-upon-Dearne is Newbury with menace.

Wath Tap, Wath-Upon-Dearne

On the recommendation of a local Twitterer, I decided this place, "Rotherham District's First Micro" had great pre-emptive potential, and whoever he was, by gum he wasn't wrong!  I entered to see that classic staff combination of bawdy mother and easily embarrassed daughter, who was serving.  As I scanned the six ales on offer, mother winked and said to me "she'll let you taste 'em if you are good!" to which I should've used my stock answer "I like to be brave and dive straight in!"  On this occasion though, I was tongue-tied as daughter explained "can you tell she's my Mum?"  "It's my job to embarrass her" replied Mum.  The only other customer, who I later discovered was a deaf man called Dave, was eating takeaway fish & chips at a side table, using the pub's own cutlery.  He helpfully tried to show his gratitude by going behind the bar and putting knife and fork in dishwasher but he managed to jam it so it wouldn't close!  It wasn't a good night for Dave, a car alarm sounded and the four new customers had to shout "DAVE, DAVE, DAVE - IS THAT YOUR CAR ALARM?" three times.  He eventually went to check on it, for Shitbag Group III had been causing mayhem right outside the pub.  I was sat on the back window nearest the door and it was JUST like that "Shaun of the Dead" scene where the zombies can't quite get into the pub.  A new customer was raving about the Stancil Movember Stout (which I was drinking and loving) so I joined in, although his wife told him "he wouldn't want a whole pint" which was wife speak for "I don't want you drinking a whole pint".  A former butchers this place, had some nice tiling, and was a great hilarious pub experience.

Nice tiles and clocks

Amazing stouts and Derby beermats

Mum embarrasses daughter but deaf Dave is out of shot to the left.
I dodged shitbag groups I and II whilst IV were stood next to a police car which tried to scare them by driving up and putting it's sirens on briefly.  But a screechy young lad just laughed and said "I know how to nick those things so you can just fuck off" to which the police car obliged, making an embarrassingly hasty retreat.  I felt like I was missing something .....who's in charge?  The kids?

Grand old frontage, a bit like an old, errrm, Church House??!
947.  Church House, Wath-Upon-Dearne

So could this be the brilliant Spoons equivalent of the excellent micro pub?  Well, no because that was in Maltby.  Not that early signs here were too bad.  The bar area seemed cosy, intimate and warm and was lined by moody old locals who weren't gonna move to let me in.  One middle-aged barmaid did keep smiling sympathetically at me, but she didn't bloody serve me and about ten minutes later, I'd changed my drink choice about 5 times before a man with unusual earring finally appeared.  Most of the beers were from Little Critters who I believe are the only Sheffield brewery who don't specialise in pale ales so there's some fake trivia to tell your friends.  I wish I'd perched in the bar area because further back, the pub became more classic Spoons.  Draughty and foody, one old man was wearing a dirty vest and not much else which in a weird way, was quite heartwarming.  Most of the clientele were quite old and had to walk past me to leave the pub - interestingly, they all smelt like old library books.  Yes, I had to make my own entertainment as it was all a bit boring.  I was next to the condiments counter - FIVE bottles of mayo, all with less than one squirt left in them.  Upsetting times, and don't get me started on the lone mango chutney.  There was some extra seating upstairs, but who should be up there with the cool kids but Bawdy Mum?!  We nodded to each other and she inexplicably said "I'm here for a ...meeting!" before two women who looked suspiciously like her mates walked upstairs with an ice bucket of Prosecco.  I'm not judging you luv.   My new work buddy Dave tells  me he spent most of his sixth form in here - it is that kind of a pub ........

View to the bar where the old locals won't move for you.

The right side of the condiments (Mayo out of shot to the left, gap where brown sauce should be)

Bus 222 was delayed, and the bus driver was one of those maniacs determined to make up the time even if he killed all his passengers.  Not that it stopped him stopping parallel to a car with it's lights right up, to open his door and tell the young female driver THREE TIMES "you're dazzling me you muppet!"

That summed up the whole evening.  Loved it.  A return to SY form after the Wales disappointment last week.

Bonus Archive BRAPA News (might be a bit boring unless you are hardcore).

And better news today when I realised I'd forgotten to tick off George Hotel, Easingwold, North Yorkshire (we'll call it pub number 948) and I'll archive it now .....

"Me and John Watson decided to have a car-trip out of York for Hallowe'en one year to do something special as we'd booked the day off and you can't really do anything spooky til late at night.  I think it was a Friday so that'd probably put the year at 2008 (I guess it could've been 2003, I really have no idea!)  Anyway, we parked up with the intention of having lunch and was quite a nice carpetted old Georgian pub.  I actually remember having Pendle Witches Brew by Moorhouses and though it was a beer I was aware of, I'd hardly ever had it or seen it before so it was quite exciting(!) honest.  Food wise, I had this incredible pork cracking sandwich/baguette thing where they made a big deal about "locally sourced pork" so I made a very Dad-esque joke about them going to strangle a pig at the back of the pub as we speak.  It wasn't funny then, and my vegan sister didn't approve when I told her either."

Additionally, I honestly thought I could finally nail the "middle" pub I went to in Worcester on 10th May 2007 but am still struggling.  No guarantee it was even in GBG as a weird man who "adopted" me chose it.  I'll try and describe it and you can try and help.  It must be a short walk from Cardinals Hat, it isn't the Dragon or that as they were pubs 1 and 3.  I think it was near Cathedral too.  It may well have had a tudorish frontage (if not, old looking) and it was wonderfully old inside too.  Lots of beer mats on ceiling and walls - wooden and basic, not carpetted.  Lots of ales on offer.  Did have, I think multi-rooms, or at least dividing partitions and wasn't tiny, but ceiling I think was quite low.  I saw some recent Worcester pub pics on RM's excellent blog but not quite ringing any bells (don't think it's the Bell).

And the pub in Royton I went to before Oldham away on 28th March 2005 that I was hoping was the Bull's Head Hotel definitely wasn't, but most likely the Dog & Partridge and it had one of the most miserable bunches of customer I've ever witnessed, despite being a proper classic JW Lees boozer.  The only other option could have been the Puckersley Inn but I think we'd have chosen the nearer one and this looks a bit rural anyway.

Saturday sees me kick off West Yorkshire pubbing again with the winter woollen crawl.  Three have pulled out, one isn't drinking for health reasons and one gets scared whenever she has to get a train anywhere - so it is gearing up for a classic already!


Sunday 20 November 2016

BRAPA - Chesters & Ivy House, Sunderland

Sunderland was set to it's default temperature of "bloody freezing" as us southern softies arrived on Saturday morning, with the biggest Hull City gang of the season.  Not only me, Dad and Tom, but Ben and Christine had also joined us.

It was just like old times as I led them on a tour of my old university haunts, past classic pubs like The Borough and The Royalty (now given the cheesy moniker of the Stumble Inn for some stupid reason), and my old Uni accommodation on Chester Road.  Don't forget Billy Singh's corner shop.  And further down the road, a pub I didn't even know existed circa 1997-2000, though it did.

I'll always have a soft spot for the town (some may say city but it doesn't feel like one it's better than that), even 16 years on I won't let people slag it off!

19 minutes walking later, we were at our first pub .....

946.  Chesters, Sunderland

Just to clarify, I won't let the town be slagged off BUT I didn't say anything about pubs that don't come up to scratch.  As we walked underneath a roadside arched sign "CHESTERS" and down an autumnal path to this huge 'happy harvester' style building, I turned to the assembled gang and said "this is going to be shite isn't it?" to which they all agreed.  It looked like the kind of place that chavs (or 'charvers' to be more North Eastern) would have a wedding reception.  Once inside, I was at least pleasantly surprised by the warm and friendly welcome we received from landlord and landlady, sympathetic of the weather, Mr landlord told us he'd been watching his 9 year old son play football at 9:15am so he knew how cold it was.  He also told us Anarchy brewery are from the North East.  York Tap veterans would know this already, but our Lincolnshire friends tend to get confused by anything which isn't Batemans or Tom Wood's.  Much to Dad's displeasure, Ben and his long legs seated themselves at a large posing table and the full enormity of the decor horror was unleashed in the form of another fake bookcase.  The early Christmas decor actually took the edge off the horror, though Tom spotted a "dustweb" attached to a garland, which Christine suggested was left over from Hallowe'en decor rather than bad cleaning.  You've heard of 'straight', 'handled' and 'nonic' glasses, but for the first time, we were treated to round bottomed ones.  Any idea if these have an official name?   Very strange, but the beer was top quality.  Food was served in the form of "Pick n' Mix Planks".  Whatever they are. Tom picked up a 2p coin on the way out, every pub has a silver lining.

We then walked to the Ivy House to meet John Watson (his current home pub of choice), retracing my steps of November 1998 on my only other visit here, down the back of Chester Oval .... very nostalgic.  Well, Google Maps has replaced Jane Taylor, we weren't trying to avoid a pervert called Graeme, and it wasn't pitch black, but otherwise, exactly the same (apart from the Metro hadn't been built then).

Ivy House, Sunderland 

The door swung open at the reassuringly early time of 11:55am as we'd been waiting outside with some of the gentler Hull City Southern Supporters who'd made this their designated pub.  The youngish barstaff were a jolly bunch but I have to say "if I'd not known I'd been here before, I wouldn't have known." (I assume that makes no sense at all).  Last time, I drank Fosters in a cosy corner to the right and played pool, now it seems to have an extended bar and is pretty geared up for dining.  The Titanic Plum Porter, the comfy raised corner seating and interesting ceiling art made me feel all was well, but Tom, influenced by Martin Taylor's blogging, quickly noticed Prosecco signs and those horrid jam jars showing the beer colour.  What was worse, I then realised "no beermats!".  Truly unforgivable, caught off guard I hadn't brought an emergency one as I didn't think Sunderland would let me down in this manner.  The beers were great, staff very efficient and the place was big enough and off the beaten track enough to mean it never felt crowded or uncomfy, not bad on a football day (and remember the S.S. were present!)  But as a pub taken on face value, not a patch on the likes of Ship Isis, Kings Arms, Museum Vaults and Dun Cow.  Yet it was a superb session and winning Ben's "21st century Hull City Goalkeepers" quiz (Tony Warner and Nicky Culkin were the top answers) was a particular highlight!  Another was Dad accidentally getting ice in Tom's blackcurrant cordial and having to say "excuse me barman, will you de-ice me?" which he assures me is a direct quote.

I didn't make it to the Port Of Call, partly due to the comfort of what was turning into a great session, and partly due to the fact that John's Dad, Ken, arrived quite late and it would've been anti-social to move on so soon as to be also able to make it to the ground on time.

(To be honest, whether we play Sunderland next season or not, it is nice to have an option left over as places like West Herrington, East & West Boldon and Washington all need doing and likelihood is I'd be in Sunderland at some point on a day like this).

Then there was a football game which we won't talk about (highlight, lights going out, lowlight, lights coming back on) and it was back to York to meet Tom's parents in York Tap for a nightcap before fish & chips and home, and I'd conclude, a very enjoyable day all things considered!

Tuesday night sees more "W" action from South Yorkshire, before we get our Winter Woolies on next Saturday for the start of West Yorkshire's GBG 2017 entries.


Wednesday 16 November 2016

BRAPA - Duke of Leeds, Wales, South Yorkshire

A mad old lady had already refused to take my seat on the train "aah've been stood up all bluddy day luvvie!" by the time a group of wide-eyed ghouls hopped off in front of me at Kiveton Bridge station.  The worst offender was a swaying man with huge headphones.  Soon, behind me all I could hear was "LA LA LA, DUM DUM DUM, DEE DEE DEE" - it must have been a 12 minute instrumental, but he followed me almost all the way to Wales.  Freaks come out at night?  Correction, 'Freaks come out at BRAPA'.  With reassuring regularity.  

I finally lost him only to encounter some crazed pot smoking teens on the corner of the road down to Wales, one of which was freaked out by "a crazy clown lurking in the shadows" near a disused petrol station.  I didn't witness this, but it allowed me distraction enough to get passed them.

The pub looked grand, and was in a suitably quiet village location .....

Duke, Duke, Duke - Duke of Leeds, Duke Duke.

Rushed photo before the teenage terrors caught me up!
945.  Duke of Leeds, Wales

I'd conclude that a 2015 refurbishment of this ancient pub hasn't been particularly sympathetic, not that I knew what it was like before.  However, I can't imagine bookcase wallpaper, placemats and cutlery, magnolia colour scheme and those cheesy "funny quotes" on the walls featured in yesteryear.  In fact, I could have still been in the arse-end of East Berkshire, had it not been for four curmudgeonly old blokes knocking back pint after pint of keg Stones - and even they were reduced to a posing table, grudgingly concluding "Ched Evans is a decent footballer you have to admit".  The barmaid served me a Theakston Green Hop and a pretty lame half of the usually glorious Farmers Blonde, and though she looked impressed with my ability to produce exact change on each occasion, her lack of 'people' skills seemed at one with the majority of the sour faced clientele,  The main barmaid (landlady) seemed a right character so I was sad she didn't serve me.  I'd used my BRAPA honing device to locate the least foody room (and the nearest I could find to bench seating) but this contained both the (constantly revolving) kitchen door and the popular draughty door to the car park, suggesting drinkers are given short shrift here.  And all the while, I was eyed with that "S.Y. Village Suspicion" ala Harley and Mapplewell (though these were both highly traditional pubs).

So many highlights in my Tuesday night South Yorkshire adventures this year, but Wales fell short.  Fans of the Dog & Partridge in Yateley, Hants would approve.

It's Headache Towers at Wales

One of the  'Stones' gang (taken from my dungeon)
The walk back to Kiveton Bridge took a lot longer when you weren't being followed by a humming nutter, though the super moon was still very full in the sky.  The journey back, with a lovely half of something in Sheffield Tap, was stress-free, and I'm still on course to finish South Yorkshire by the end of 2016.  And wouldn't that be a good achievement?

Saturday sees me finish off Sunderland's remaining two pubs, and make my real ale debut at Ivy House, my first visit there in 18 years!  And I'm only young, honest.