|Possibly the most Berkshire quote I've ever seen (on the Leopard Number 3)|
An annoying Polish man from Doncaster who was travelling to London to support South African rugby managed to make the journey down to Kings Cross seem twice as long as it should have done (laugh like a blocked gutter at his own jokes), and then Italian students with terrible catarrh did likewise on the Paddington to Reading leg. It wasn't a great morning for BRAPA's Euro race-relations. It rarely ever is.
At least the reassuring presence of taxi-driver Tara (the second male Tara I've met this year) helped me make up for lost time - I really needed to be at the first pub for 11am opening to achieve what I needed today, so the dent in my wallet was sort of worth it.
In the murk and teeming Berkshire rain, Tara looked less than confident the pub was open but his attitude was very much "I've done my job so see ya later Simey" so I was forced to tentatively push at the door like a limp tortoise until it thankfully swung open ......
940. Swan, Three Mile Cross
And here I was, standing at the bar like a sack of spuds for the next ten minutes as the new barmaid twatted around with bottles in fridges. No, I wasn't going to shout, or cough, or rustle my change, how will she learn otherwise? Eventually, a mother-hen style character who might be the landlady appeared, for she had a friendly demeanour, saw me photographing their chef (a wooden statue thing before you worry) and told me he'd been carved specially for the pub. I then witnessed the introduction of the new barmaid to another one, Dee & Fern, Fern & Dee to be precise, the start of a beautiful friendship, perhaps. The pub had a slight "early morning so don't expect us to be organised" feel with washing baskets and cleaning products, menacingly lurking in the background, but this was no Bar in Chorlton as it was an exceedingly cosy farmhouse style pub with some great decor, and bit of "off-beat out of place" stuff, possibly an attempt to appeal to visiting football fans. You know what I mean, a heart warming cute kitten picture directly next to a harsh quote about women faking orgasms and men being shitbags. We were almost in the shadow of the Madjeski, I say "almost" as the sun was not creating much shadow, the Madjeski isn't tall enough to be the Maracana, and Reading isn't Rio. A posh gent came in for 5 seconds, announcing "I thought I recognised that bum!" (he wasn't talking to me), before leaving. Top cameo. I sang along on my own to a horrific Grease Medley which was "fun", and wondered if as BRAPA king, I too could have a plaque in the toilets like other luminaries who've visited. Well, if Keith Curle can have one .....
|The Swan chef recommends Chicken & Mushroom Pie|
|Loved my pint of Loddon, and only 3.5% to keep me sober.|
|Biggest Fosters sign on a GBG pub in living memory.|
941. Bell & Bottle, Shinfield
The pub instantly threatened to be the more Berkshire brand of twee, with it's lack of carpet, brickwork, dim lighting etc, but I'd like to think it was a place of hidden depths. The barmaid was ultra friendly with her weather chat, try-before-you-buy failed attempt, and telling me how there are these old locals who come in once a week and sample as many as THREE different real ales on one night! Could I suspend my disbelief? She encouraged me to warm myself in front of their roaring fire from the leather sofa but one problem with that, no table nearby to rest pint! I had to improvise once I realised the kindling wasn't very stable, and dragged a stool from bar to sofa to balance my pint - I've not had to put such imagination into drink placement since I was in Stockport's Boar's Head. Anyway, I failed to get into trouble, even when her burly other half appeared, a rugby shirted twirly mustachioed chap who you'd not mess with, but looked more Victorian weightlifter than Phil Mitchell. All the while, the only other customer, a gloomy desparado, was on this extravagant Vegas triple gaming machine and was totally "in the zone". The back of the pub surprisingly opened out into bigger rooms with pool table and board games, though the furniture and decor didn't do it many favours in this humble pub bloggers opinion.
|You could almost be in Las Vegas|
|Fire was the highlight|
|Improvising with the seating arrangements|
I had a bus to catch and the sight of a driver of correct bus number parked up, eyes glued to newspaper, stuffing his sandwich into his fat gob surely meant he'd be opening the door to let me on shortly. But I was wrong, as a huge eyed young Asian lady told me, this was a farce she had to suffer every Saturday until a delayed bus finally pulls up behind, ten minutes late. Which it did.
|Pub Men unite at The Bull|
942. Bull, Barkham
After a painfully convoluted bus trip around every housing estate and country road going, I was finally at the "key" pub of the day - hurrah, "page eight" of the GBG complete (BRAPA page renumbering rules). My initial thoughts, "urrgh! food food food, and families eating it!" An old chap at the bar, who was to become a candidate for BRAPA man of the year (we'll call him Stan for that was his name) apologised for swearing under his breath as he didn't know I was stood behind. He then made an obscure reference to Budgie smugglers. Amidst all the food, I decided proper pub man unity was required, so we made friends - I'd also decided I disliked the barman as he asked me if I was waiting to be served or if I'd just come in for a chat! Oh yes, I travel hundreds of miles in the rain to come to rural pubs and chat to strangers at the bar(!) Then he asked if I was on my own. What was this? Not Saturday night in Melbourne mate. Luckily for him, the Rebellion Smuggler was one of the best quality pints I've had all year. And it's not even my fave beer. Stan impressed upon me, how despite drinking in here since the 70's, the pub needed food to survive and I should've seen the state of it before the current owners came in, on it's knees, no ales, and how he'd be forced to drink alone at home otherwise. So here's to food in pubs! (well, sort of! not really!) It wasn't quite a restaurant as in the building felt like a pub still. Another nice chap called Andy joined us - PUB MAN UNITY! His favourite pub was the Craven Arms in Appletreewick, and amidst much HSB, whisky and water, tales of dodgy diaphragms and accidentally racist Hounslow pub landlord's from the 1960's called Frank, plus obligatory BRAPA stories, this was a heartwarming little session.
|I think it's time we talked BRAPA.|
|The barman probably took this toilet sign a bit too seriously.|
After another ten minute bus delay, I was hopping off in Wokingham and what a mellow, unthreatening town it feels during the day. Compare it to my terrifying Monday night here back in April, and it's like two different places. I almost liked it. Twenty minutes march south of the centre and a close shave with a railway crossing, and I was in my fourth pub of the day .....
943. White Horse, Wokingham Without
It was an eerily quiet entrance - and unlike the Swan at Three Mile Cross, this time my voice echoed as I shouted for service, or just any human being really. Finally, an apologetic chef stepped out of the shadows and mumbled "she must've gone outside" as I ordered Tawny Owl, the one none Greene King beer on offer. The pub was pretty vast and sweeping, one roomed estatey lounge style, I suppose a bit Mr Bumble at Blackwater and a bit Cannie Man at Bracknell, only less fun. But before I could contemplate which of the many dark corners to hide in and smuggle my Scotch Eggs, two bounding hounds were unleashed - a man chasing one shouting "THAT IS NOT AN INDOOR TOY, BRAMLEY!" They were trying a bit too hard to win BRAPA Pets of the Year in any case, I gave them an obligatory stroke and ear scratch (I don't dislike dogs but they ain't cats) but still they persisted, which is where a better pub would step in and tell the dogs to "leave the poor man alone!" but instead, I had to sit it out for a good 20 minutes until they collapsed into sullen doggie masses on the carpet, beaten by the boredom. Which could be the tagline for the pub really .....
|The dogs are finally beaten! Nice carpet btw.|
|My feelings on the whole experience, during a rare break from the mutts.|
I made a concerted effort to get back to Paddington in ultra-quick time in the hope of one or two final pubs. Not quite sure why I booked myself as early off as 19:11 when I'd only got down for 10am. Really must give myself longer days in future! (I always say that).
And this is why it pays to give yourself plenty of time as Tom Irvin would tell you, as problems on the Hammersmith & City / Circle lines meant I was told (in helpful but patronising terms) to take the 'brown one' which I think (hope!) meant Bakerloo line. This had me scrabbling for my GBG seeing what stop I could get off at to visit a new pub. BRAPA on the hoof, I like it!
Oxford Circus was a seething mass of tourist zombie despair as it so often is, and after squashing through the gaps of some nighmare-esque Alfie Bowe theatre queue, I did indeed find myself on the outer reaches of Soho......
|A man with a beard is outside because this is London|
944. Star & Garter, Soho
London needs to cut down it's allowance to about fifty GBG entries because seriously, so many of their pubs are so boring and forgettable. And I'm not too sure why because architecturally a lot of them seem old, unspoilt, beautiful. But bored staff, transient clientele, crap beer range and quality, lack of warmth, comfort and atmosphere, all create a clusterfuck of pub despondency. This was the perfect example. Three handpumps - couldn't see any of the beers as they were being covered up by a gigantic crisp round, stacked high. I had to tell both crisp buyer and barman why I was struglging / being hesitant. My Spitfire, when I got it, not generally a bad beer from experience, was both warm and fizzy, and murky, how is this pub in the GBG? Remember the Victoria in Paddington, when Boak and/or Bailey helped me escape from a Judgey Jesus H. Christ by telling me about beautiful secret upstairs rooms. I convinced myself this pub had the same, but despite searching high and low and pushing about ten doors, the downstairs warren led nowhere. I couldn't even sit down. Looking around, the pub was busy but no one looked to be enjoying themselves apart from a girl with a nice tartan arse with her deadbeat father. And they sat in the one seat I did have earmarked. I've got loads of London still to do, and on this evidence, it'll only be fun if I try to steal olives off Spanish ladies again.
|The expressions say it all|
|Tartan Arse and Deadbeat Dad try to brighten the mood|
I popped into Parcel Yard for a swift half, though it was incredibly busy. Although there'd been no football on in the higher leagues, the train home was awash with drunken men of North Eastern persuasion though they were mainly a canny bunch, unlike the inevitable swarm getting on at York having to be restrained by police so I could get off first!
A good day in that I achieved what I'd set out to, plus a bonus London tick, though the pub quality declined from the excellent Swan as the day progressed - still, I probably love these monthly long distance days more than any other BRAPA day out.
Tomorrow night, I'm in Wales (no, not that one) so I'll see you Wednesday for a write up. I'm off to try and see this really big moon!