BRAPA BRUNETTE OF THE YEAR
The barmaid at the Tally Ho in Eversley wins the award this year. Jolly Hockeysticks she might have been, and it might have been 11am and I was the only customer, but her high breeding, high cheekboned ways were kind of charming, and the news her Grandad owned the pub back in 1765 or something (she wasn't that old) was nice to learn, and she tipped me off that her bezzie mate owned the pub in nearby Yateley, which made an otherwise incredibly dull pub more exciting. And her ability to straddle the Berkshire/Hampshire border was second to none. Phwoar!
BRAPA PUB-MAN OF THE YEAR
There really is only one Martin "RetiredMartin" Taylor and his unswerving support for BRAPA since he first 'liked' my photo of the pub in Whipsnade the other year has been truly fantastic. I sometimes wonder if BRAPA and the blogs would be done so whole-heartedly if I didn't know he existed, doing his own pub-ticking challenge. Thanks Martin. Love reading his adventures too, glad am not the only crazy one out there (I guess Duncan Mackay and Alan Winfield could also come under that category). Anyway, honourable mentions for other Twitterers I've met this year. The hospitality shown by Tim Thomas and Sir Quinno have made Berkshire into a great pub ticking county, great to meet Quosh in Stalybridge, and without making everyone sound like Pokemon Go characters, it'd be great to 'catch 'em all'. There should be an "I-Spy" book, where people like Pub Curmudgeon and that crazy Lager chap are like 500 points or something daft. Mark Crilley would have to be 1,000 points. Bring on 2017! I'd also like to give honourable mentions to the brilliant Bernard "Dad" Everitt and Thomas "Tom" Irvin, I don't take you for granted guys .... *starts to well up*.
BRAPA P.I.S.S. BARMAID OF THE YEAR
She's "Pretty if She Smiles" (but she never ever does), and this year it is the barmaid at the Hare & Hounds in Hindley. With her "Wigan Facelift" and 20 layers of foundation and fake tan, what is not to love? You work in a pub this good, come on luv, give us a smile. Having said that, when locals sit at the bar watching YouTube videos of men getting pinned to walls by forklift trucks, screaming until their last breath is expelled, whilst vaping in her face, maybe I wouldn't smile either.
BRAPA TWILD OF THE YEAR
As one excellent band once sang, "is your child hyperactive, or is he perhaps just a twat?" BRAPA can reveal he is definitely a twat. But it was the She-Twilds at crazy Wetherspoons Ralph Fitz Randall in the pretty North Yorkshire town of Richmond who win it this year. To be fair to the little shitbags, the parents are almost certainly 100% to blame and the fact that one girl commented she didn't know whether her Mum was "'avin' a fag or 'avin a piss" (almost a direct quote) told it's own story. I'd already been moved from a comfy seat by a couple of chavs into the middle of the pub, so 'Spoons Twildery I was NOT in the mood for.
BRAPA FOOTBALL DAY OF THE YEAR
N.F.F.D. (non football football days) have been one of the best BRAPA inventions of 2016. This means we (usually me, Dad and Tom) can't be arsed to pay £50 to watch Hull City lose at a soulless venue we've been to before, so instead more BRAPA pubs can be achieved by skipping the 1500-1654 bit out altogether. My favourite day this year was on 5th March when we went to Birmingham - the standard of pubs is usually good in West Midlands but places like Spotted Dog, Woodman, Prince of Wales and Mossley thingummyjig were wonderful pubs, even if the White Swan in Digbeth was a freezing cold huge space lacking any charm. A superb day, and a BRAPA debut for my pink jumper which always gets slagged off.
|One of my fave photos of the BRAPA year, on brilliant day in Brum
BRAPA PLACE OF THE YEAR
CAMRA tossers like me enjoy debating which town is best out of Derby, Norwich and York for real ale pubs. The answer is clear, it is Sheffield. I already knew Kelham Island and the City Centre had plenty to offer, but the West and South of the city have tonnes to offer. I couldn't pick a fave if I tried. Places like Blake Hotel, Shakespeare, University Arms, Mount Pleasant, White Lion, Brothers Arms etc etc have made my Tuesday night adventures so much fun. I'd like to give an honourable mention to Morecambe which gets a bit of stick of being a shithole, but it is a REAL shithole with proper folk (i.e. not bland and sterile) and there are a million worse places in the UK, trust me, I've been to Theale, Maidenhead AND Doncaster.
|Sheffield being good.
BRAPA COMEDY MOMENT OF THE YEAR
Good grief, the Victoria in Paddington almost blew my BRAPA mind - I was like "how the hell am I gonna write this one up in a long paragraph?" Most post-Berkshire London pub ticks have been pretty bland experiences, but this was superb. People remember Judgey Jesus, Olives and the Spanish/French girls but the barman having a meltdown whilst on his shift, and the incredible hidden upstairs room and weird closet where barstaff folded knives and forks into napkins made for one of the most entertaining and weirdest BRAPA experiences of all time. Beer was great too, I'd really recommend a visit here.
BRAPA PRE-EMPTIVE PUB OF THE YEAR
You know me, if I hear about a pub that is almost certain to be in a future edition of the GBG whilst I'm in town, I'll try and squeeze it in to my agenda. The likes of Wath Tap (Wath Upon Dearne), Cow & Cask (Newbury) and Gallaghers (Cross Hills) were all well worthy of the admission price alone (well, so to speak) but my ultimate winner and one I'm hoping will get in the 2018 GBG is Scottish Stores at Kings Cross in London. Parcel Yard is so hit n miss, it is brilliant to find somewhere this good so close to the station before the long trip back to York. Staff are great, beer is great, building is great - okay so it also won "worst pint glass of the year" award for that Budvar monstrosity (I was drinking a session ale from rural Essex!) but wow, I love this place. Where else would you get asked "are you part of this 1960's Hippie themed event?" when you walk into the pub in a 2007/08 Hull City top a pair of jeans?
|Shit glass, great pub. Man tries to clash with flooring.
BRAPA QUOTE OF THE YEAR
Bernard Everitt in the Clarence, Bury, 30/01/16. "Enjoy your fart-arse ponce burger" (To a poor unsuspecting man who had made the unwise decision to eat in this poor excuse for a pub). Runner up, also Bernard Everitt - to a young barman at Ivy House in Sunderland "Please could you de-ice me?"
BRAPA PET OF THE YEAR
Purdie at the cat in the incredibly strange Wombell Arms in Wass. Possibly the most vocal cat I have ever met, and she was so friendly. Why don't more pubs do cats? It really annoys me. Okay, I haven't had dogs shoved down my face this year compared to 2015, but I do believe a good pub pet, whatever it is, even a dog, can improve a pub by 3.4% and that is scientific fact. I know Tom is still hopeful I will meet a parrot that squawks "Brian Laws is a Wanker" at half hourly intervals.
BRAPA CLIENTELE OF THE YEAR
Hungerford Club, down in West Berkshire was the undisputed champion of 2016 when I visited back on a sunny Sunday in late April. I'd walked miles, London Pride was the only ale, I'd had to go through the motions of the club and sign in etc but once I sat down, I was made to feel part of the "family" by the barmaid and all the wonderful locals - even allowed to join in the barbecue and buffet. Such a heart-warming moment, especially as I was spending 4 days alone in a Reading Premier Inn, enough to make anyone feel a bit like they were going insane!
BRAPA NIGHTMARE DAY OF THE YEAR
It is fair to say you baaarstards like to see me suffer. Why else was my blog "A pub blog with no pubs" (where I tried in vain to visit the Cock Inn in Birdwell) my MOST READ BLOG for the best part of the year?? Thanks! But my ultimate worst day was 27th August when I went up to North North Yorkshire, already pissed off my new GBG hadn't yet arrived. Saltburn Cricket Club was closed. I then wasted best part of £6 on a winding bus route to Loftus. PUB CLOSED! Bus back delayed by 30 mins. Redcar East was not only an Ember Inn, but it was race day - I spent about 20 min waiting to get served, my pint was vinegar but too busy to return it. Then to top things off, Eaglescliffe pubs were nowhere near the station despite what the GBG claimed, and then Hull City conceded a 90th minute goal when I was back in York Tap. Awful day!
BRAPA "THIS IS THE BEST TRIP, I'VE EVER BEEN ON" AWARD
And if you can hear Phil Brown singing in your head about now, I apologise. I'm tempted to say Australia as personally, it was an amazing unexpected experience, but the lack of BRAPA pub ticks was concerning (though I tried to make the best of it with ARAPA and even got a pint of cask ale in the Penny Blue). Instead, it is a joint award for my 4 day Berkshire trip back in April, and my Scottish jaunt to Ayrshire in June. Both really fun and rewarding experiences, where I ended up with a pickled liver but over 20 pub ticks in a short few days.
|Abbotsford in Ayr, a classic BRAPA trip.
BRAPA "WORST CLIENTELE" AWARD
Wokingham at 10pm on a Monday night is a scary place to be, make no mistake, However, the first pub I went in, the Queen's Head, was an absolute cracker of a 15th century cruck framed timber inn (so the GBG says anyway). Barmaid was ultra friendly, and most of the locals were engaged in happy relaxed conversation. BUT. One man. Paint stained overalls. A stand-up comic he said. I had no direct interaction with him but he made my skin crawl. It was his erratic behaviour - one minute, he'd pretend he was the devil with horns, next thing, he'd run the length of the pub on imaginary horse singing Black Beauty shouting something about highwaymen and making weird sexual references. I was terrified. And he has ruined a probably decent town for me, forever. I returned to Wokingham recently, popped into Costa Coffee to use the bogs. He was obviously in my mind cos when I opened the door on way out, I jumped out of my skin thinking he was in front of me. It was actually a 5 foot 2 Chinese tourist girl. See, I'm scarred for life.
BRAPA OUTDOOR PUB EXPERIENCE
One thing I struggle to get my head around in BRAPA is the whole "taking your pint outside on a lovely summers day". My worry of course, how can I review a pub properly if I spend 95% of my time here in the garden rather than in the pub? But I guess it's all part of the pub if you really think about it! This year, the award goes to the Admiral Rodney Inn at Criggion near the Welsh border. I was with Dad, and the whole experience was utterly magical. Nervy but genius barman, perfect Salopian Oracle, amazing Fish n Chips in a basket, and most of all, the serene and silent outdoor experience with background mountains - not a main road or any traffic noise anywhere near. Sublime. Honourable mention too for the Baxter Arms in Fenwick, where I drank 3 pints in about 20 mins (exaggeration) and didn't feel a thing. Chilly wind? I didn't feel that either.
|Heaven in Criggion (once the tour bus scum departed obviously ;)
BRAPA "MOMENT OF CONTENTMENT" OF THE YEAR
I'm never happier than when I'm in a great pub and this year, the whole "is it or isn't it going to be open?" scenario on the crazy remote drive to the Anchor, Anchor had me a bag of nerves. To find this ramshackle old building with "Open 7-11" daubed on the wall and to realise, yes it is open, and walk in and find the barman leaning behind the bar with an air of the "what-of-it" was just wonderful. A very different experience came at the Newbury, Newbury - a gastro hell-hole downstairs but to find this hidden deserted bar upstairs was amazing, especially when staff started coming up offering me snacks and re-fills like I was some kind of VIP. Hats of to them. Must be something about pubs named after the place they are in.
I could do a separate blog, obviously! On the face of it, it should be Butchers Arms in Sunderland - the only pub that hasn't served real ale in BRAPA history (on the basis we hadn't yet reached Thursday in the week!) But as a pub, I liked it, especially pissing in a broom cupboard, And the guy himself was more hapless than awful. Another contender would be Penistone's unwelcoming Royal British Legion Club where I was told in no uncertain terms "we've told YOUR lot, you are not welcome here!" Being collateral damage in a local CAMRA dispute is not something that felt very fair, yet I did enjoy my pint, was made welcome in the main room, and got mistaken for a guy having a job interview, so I wouldn't vote for this either. What about the Bull in Theale, a pub symptomatic of everything wrong with pubs in the south east of the UK. Yet, it was so bland, it was almost hard to get angry with. And I could apply that to Soho's depressive Star & Garter. The consolation here being that the rest of the customers looked even more depressed than me - which actually cheered me up a bit! I want to mention a few more - Crown & Shuttle (Spitalfields), Tap on the Line (Kew), Bar (Chorlton cum Hardy), JG Sharps (Largs), Turner's Mill (Redcar), Rhinoceros (Rotherham), Punchbowl (Sheffield : West) and Jack in the Box (Altrincham). All of these made me want to puke in my own mouth and choke on my vomit. But the ultimate winner has to be Clarence in Bury. Words cannot describe the true shitfest. The most jarring factor looking back was that they were celebrating a 110 year anniversary and wanted people's memories of the pub from yesteryear. "I remember the days when a pint of blackcurrant didn't cost £2.80" "I remember a time when drinkers didn't have to stand up for people eating fart arse ponce burgers". Being in a town like Bury where I'd expect things to be down to earth, working class, and "real" just made it all the worse.
BRAPA PUB EXPERIENCE OF THE YEAR
I'm glad that I have even more contenders in this category than in the "worst" pub category. I've got it down to about 20, I loved all of these experiences massively. Swan Inn, Dobcross. Bell Inn, Aldworth. Sip Club, Stretford. Guildford Arms, Edinburgh. Shakespeare, Kelham Island. Masons Arms, Billinge. Queen's Hotel, Maltby. Wortley Men's Club. Mallard, Worksop. Cover Bridge Inn, East Witton. Crown, Lofthouse. Falstaff, Derby. Hopleaf, Reading. Eagle, Salford. Old Vic, Darlington. Admiral Rodney, Criggion. Major Tom's, Harrogate. Gundog, Halifax. Clarence, Marske. Ebor, Bishopthorpe. Spotted Cow, Malton. Rose & Crown, Hoylandswaine. A winner? I will let you pick.
And that concludes the awards, bring on the 2017 pub ticking!