Wednesday 29 March 2017

BRAPA - March Review / April Preview (2017)

Good evening fellow ale fans, pub lovers, or people who have clicked on this by mistake,

March was a successful month with 27 new Good Beer Guide pubs visited, breaking the BRAPA record of 25 set in 2015.  The March monthly average is also 25, so my new BRAPA stats number crunchers tell me (I keep them locked in the basement away from sunlight).

The surprisingly productive month was mainly thanks to an early month binge of North Cheshire, only my second 'official' visit to the county, though with 24 ticks there, it is still my 12th most visited county as things stand.

That brings me onto another BRAPA record, I visited pubs in EIGHT different counties across the month.  One highlight was completing West Yorkshire again, the other one was getting all 5 of my outer Milton Keynes pubs done.  The standard of pub was, how shall we say it, "mixed".  I generally either loved or hated them.  But more love than hate.  Here are my three favourites:

1. Lower Angel, Warrington
2. Lamb, Stoke Goldington
3. King's Head, Leicester

Lower Angel, Warrington
I also discovered what a good town Southport is, how happy the folk around Milton Keynes are, and reassuringly, how depressing Leicester still is.

April Preview

Last year, I set a liver-busting record of 45 pubs in the month of April and though I don't expect to reach those heights again, I will be disappointed with anything less than a pub a day.  35 if I'm being really honest.

We kick off on the 1st of the month with my second official BRAPA tour of Buckinghamshire, this time we are going much further south than MK.  I better not overdo it as the BRAPA-parents are helping me finish North Yorkshire on Sunday lunchtime.

Tuesday 4th could see the first of my non-Yorkshire Tuesday nighters, but it all depends if work let me out at 4pm.  If so, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire or Greater Manchester are likely locations.

The following Saturday, it is NFFD (Non Football Football Day time).  After consultation with the brilliant enigma that is Thos. Irvin, it seems train strikes are a factor so we have devised a devilishly plan so simple, it'll confuse all.

A week later is Easter, and whilst I don't have any immediate Good Friday/Easter Monday BRAPA plans, I won't rule it out.  The Saturday has become 'Caturday', for the first time in BRAPA history, Ruby the Cat actually dictates when Dad can get away, and being a loyal son, I said I'd not leave him stranded in a rural York cattery at 12 noon so pubbing starts late.

Ruby looking wretched after putting Stoke in jeopardy 
I still haven't worked out where I'm going on 22nd April, the events of the previous week may have a bearing but as you know, I'm as keen to crack on with Cheshire as I am with Buckinghamshire.

It's at this point that BRAPA really hots up.  The day after, I'm in Derby for a punk gig and I still have two ticks to do, and I wouldn't mind getting out to a village or two aswell! 

And after the Monday to recover, we have our first of three BRAPA holidays of the year - "Ale in Aylesbury".  Has anyone been on holiday to Aylesbury before?  Who knows, it seemed a bit grim on my last visit, but I'm spending 4 nights there picking off random Central Bucks pubs like meat off a potentially gristly carcass, but beware those midweek opening hours in dodgy little villages! 

And I'm straight to Southampton from there to watch those soon to be/already relegated Tigers, by which time my liver will be pickled so I won't care.  And if I get chance to pop into Kentish Town on Sunday 30th, I might as there is a 'Neighbours' meet up in some non GBG pub and of course it is  the best TV programme ever!  Bank Holiday Monday 1st May?  Recovering with a cold compress to my head.  But hey, you've gotta live haven't you so if York's first micropub opens on that day, I'll drag myself to it in the evening! 


Monday 27 March 2017

BRAPA - The Frustrations of North Yorkshire

So this was the weekend when I would finally finish my home county of North Yorkshire (or so I thought), after almost three years of dedicated effort, missed buses, chauffering genius, Theakstons, Black Sheep and pubs masquerading as restaurants, or vice versa.

It'd all come full circle as my first designated NY day was in Aldbrough St John & Manfield, when I escaped Tour De Yorkshire scum in July '14, and I was back in the same area on Saturday.  To spice things up, we temporarily crossed the border into Co. Durham for an 11am opener ......

"Pub & Kitchen" - never a good sign, in more ways than one!
1066.  Fox Hole, Piercebridge

I should've really been in Hastings / Battle for pub tick 1066 but too late to worry about that, and in the warm sunshine, we found a side door marked "Welly entrance" which I'd like to think was a tribute to Hull's Wellington which also had a side entrance that opened five minutes before the front, alas I think it was for walkers with muddy boots.  The friendly barmaids knew we were waiting, but a staff conflab surrounding 'foody tactics' meant "The Fox Hole Kitchen (and vague pub)" would've been a worthier title.  We sat in an overly tight window seat for two to wait for them to organise themselves.  Our first ales pulled through were used for fish batter, so the most wired barmaid told Dad, which helped us get one of the most cracking quality BRAPA pints of the year so far.  Striking portraits of grimacing old locals, probably bemoaning their village pubs demise into restaurant territory, looked down on us, and we were glad we were in here bang on 11am as 'reserved' signs littered the tables.  A blackboard said "free beer" and got me excited but it wasn't forthcoming.  And piped reggae reminded me of Keighley's Lord Rodney Bar & Kitchen, and despite the lack of church bells today, I decided I shouldn't moan too much!

Side of the pub - note the Welly entrance

One of the locals wonders what's happened

Did someone say 4.9% Free Beer?  
If you were wondering the real motive behind a foray into County Durham, it was to demonstrate to Dad (BRAPA chauffeur extraordinaire) that his 'skills' are easily be transferable from North Yorkshire to Co Durham without much effort!  After all, with Yorkshire almost complete, we had to discuss "his future" and negotiate a new contract - he proved his Lincolnshire worth in Louth a couple of months back, and now he's proved his future is secure by agreeing to some south Durham requests.

However, the immediate challenge was not yet complete and a short drive south to another pretty North Yorkshire village, Melsonby, was about as frustrating as BRAPA gets.

We pulled up at 12:03pm to see a smiley raffle prize Easter Egg lady balancing 12 of the things, waiting on the pub doorstep looking confused.  I joked they'd surely never had THREE people waiting for opening before, and would wonder what's going on, when I noticed a blackboard clearly stating 5:30pm opener on a Saturday!  Which is rather anti-social isn't it?

Both the Good Beer Guide and Whatpub had said 12 noon opening, and even more damning, Mrs Easter Egg had been chatting to the landlady only last night and was sure she'd said she'd be open at noon.  We found a phone number and rang, straight to voicemail.  I peered in 3 windows, all very dark.  Oh well. "it is what it is" (Dad's favourite phrase) so we moved on.

It was time to adapt.  Special mention now goes to Mummy Everitt, her of Welsh Ankle fame.  She'd insisted on being present at my final Yorkshire tick - West Haddlesey the following day.  But now, it'd be Melsonby I'd finish in, so how would she feel about doing that instead on April 2nd and we do West Haddlesey today without her?  No problem.  Top Mum BRAPA work.

If all this seemed complicated and traumatic, the A1 up here was closed in about a million different places and by the time we found a route to Hunton (through Richmond), we'd been going over an hour to get about 8 miles and were thoroughly traumatised and in need of a pint!  It seemed a lovely rural setting.  You know when the GBG says "off the beaten track", it means "impossible to get to".

1067.  Countryman's Inn, Hunton

And this closes at 2:30pm apparently and was now gone 1:30pm so kind of just relieved to see it open under the circumstances!  I think I'd have ripped my GBG in two and run off crying.  But our Half Moon ales were seriously vinegary and after some debate (just to be sure, still a bit scarred from Droylsden!), we returned them.  The landlord's total lack of reaction and surprise seemed, errrm, surprising!  He changed them with good grace though, turned the pump clip straight round, but a bit of empathy wouldn't have gone amiss.  Didn't he want to smell/taste the beer for himself?  A jolly red faced one armed landlady appeared in what was 'BRAPA cameo of the day', shame she didn't stick around, she must be the charisma behind the pub.    Meanwhile, he helped a tourist book a taxi to a golf club, and talked him through the beers noting "those two gents said the Half Moon is off, so I'll need to investigate that" which I really hope wasn't code for "I'm turning the pump clip back round as soon as these dimwits drive off".  It all felt a bit Llansillin York Guzzler.  Golf club man got a shock when he turned around to see his wife had vanished, but she'd gone outside to escape.  We enjoyed our replacement ales, and no longer had any qualms about smuggling our cheese n onion pasties.  Then the landlord went outside to spy on us through the window, pretending to tend to his window boxes, see if I'd wired the pub to a listening device etc.  It was that kind of a pub.

Golf club man's wife considers a quick getaway.

A fine replacement ale.
After a bladder busting drive back down the A1 towards Selby, we finally reached West Haddlesey.  It's fair to say it had been a weird day (even by BRAPA standards), could it get weirder?  Yes it could!

I need the pub defibrillator on a day like this!

Quirky entrance hall.
1068.  George & Dragon, West Haddlesey

So if we hark back to late January, I was fuming about this place when we left Hull City v Man Utd early, so we could get here at 10:20pm, with their advertised closing hours of midnight, and the pub was lit but plunged into darkness as soon as our car pulled up.  Coincidence, no it wasn't! So my face was set to "disapproving", but annoyingly, the pub was brilliant from the outset with it's bric-a-brac, two jolly old duffers, wheezing landlord, wood-smoke smell, not a food menu in sight.  Perfect.  And a little beer garden (well, benches in a car park!) to enjoy the first outdoor pint of the year - flippin 18 degrees by now, it'd been blizzarding in L**ds on Tuesday!!  BEEP.  We ate our sandwiches and noted the bench tribute to Bruno 2016-12, presumably the pub goldfish, who'd passed away but was still remembered.  BEEP.  Our calm was disturbed in a series of novel ways.  BEEP.  Firstly, two scruffy scroats brought FOUR dogs of various species to another outdoor table, and all decided to fight with each other intermittently.   BEEP!  Secondly, what kind of Twild wears a t-shirt bearing the slogan "Mick Parrott Plant Services" with the company phone number on the back?  One that burps coke in everyone's face and then riles the 4 dogs into a further frenzy, that's who!  BEEP.  And then a docile dog appeared and the 4 evil ones ganged up on it.  BEEP!  And all the time, a flippin pub alarm sensor which I thought was a sophisticated Starling and Dad thought was his mobile phone (by dint of him being rubbish with it) BEEPING every few seconds!!  I'll wait a bit longer for a relaxing 2017 outdoor drinking experience.  Crazy stuff.

Now I'm not saying that I then told Dad what a good pub the Wheatsheaf at Burn was and that we should pop in, but had we have done, we'd have probably found a thoroughly brilliant airbase themed pub, friendly barmaid, great beer, but I'd probably still ban it from the GBG for one incident I noticed - see photo below and see if you can guess what my problem was?

What do I disapprove of here? 

Well, no-one said North Yorkshire was going to be easy, and I'll be praying at 12 noon next Sunday then when I arrive with Mum and Dad, the Melsonby pub door is open and I can celebrate having completed another county.  I'm taking an axe and flamethrower with me just in case.

On Sunday, I was able to revisit my 2015 BRAPA pub of the year, the Boot & Shoe in Ellerton.  An absolute classic, would be in my top 100, and quite why East Yorkshire CAMRA have forsaken it in favour of the likes of Market Weighton's Carpenters Arms, Pollington's King's Head and South Dalton's Pipe & Glass, only they can tell you.  My sister's new local pub since she moved, she did well.

The Fam enjoying some Dark Horse ales and lemonade.
No midweek BRAPA this week but I'm doing plenty of "bookwork" to document every GBG pub I visited from 2001-2013 as a result of Hull City away games and other random trips as I still need a definitive total as well as the "current" GBG total.

And I'll be back in Bucks on April Fools' Day so don't wait up. 


Wednesday 22 March 2017

BRAPA - Putting West Yorkshire to Bed! Sandbeds. And Keighley.

After a traumatic day at work where I first walked through a blizzard, and then found out in a nerve-wracking redundancy meeting that I WILL be keeping my job after all (almost a shame as Tom had worked out I needed to move to Stoke Gifford), I was ready for a pint, or two (or seven).

And so it got to 4pm and I was ready for the final trip to West Yorkshire (well, until September) and chance to try out a new railway station, at a place called Crossflatts which I'd always thought was called Crossflapps.

After a stroll along the menacing B6265, I was (eventually) confronted by a huge cow made of wire and I'd knew I'd arrived:

1064.  Airedale Heifer, Sandbeds

Although confronted by one of my pub pet hates, those piles of logs which are always for show and never EVER put on an actual fire, the pub had a warmth and friendliness about it despite being vast and suspiciously foodie.  The barmaid was one of those characters, I broke her off in mid sentence as she was about to ask me "what style of beer I liked" but undaunted, she told me the new five pound notes "will never be the same".  I laughed, a bit confused, noted the cosiest pub areas near limp fake fires were taken, so sat on a huge table with a fine array of Amstel beermats in the shadow of a poor cow, that had been force-fed til it was 312 stone by an evil man of the cloth.  I almost collided with three school teenagers, too old to be twilds, but they loved running from one door to the other, opening them, giving weather reports to 'Mum' (barmaid), and then running to the next door to cause a chilly through draught.  "No it isn't snowing, but it might be sleet!" was the general theme.  The one local at the bar nodded sagely, and made a vague presentiment that spring was not quite here yet.  No one cared so he left the building.  As I noted piped Bryan Adams and a specials board offering Rosemary Jus, I suspected this'd be an easy pub to criticise, but the warm feeling and great pint of Bridgehouse left me feeling pretty contented about the place.

Holy Cow!  A great pint.

Appreciating the Amstel beermat domino effect

Quiz : which of these three locals foretells of winter being here to stay?

You fat bastard, who ate all the rosemary jus? 
I got the (obviously delayed) Shuttle bus into Keighley, where each passenger smelt of either wee or weed and had tea cosies or hoodies pulled up over their heads, and a five minute walk down the road from the bus station greeted me with one of Keighley's more picturesque landscapes:

1065.  Lord Rodney Bar & Kitchen, Keighley

So I had a great feeling about this place before I entered, and being confronted with a healthy range of Timothy Taylor beers also added to my sense of Keighley wellbeing, as I was served by a friendly young moon-faced blonde who said "do you want anyfink ewse?" and looked generally happy but vacant.  As I looked around me though, I suddenly realised why it had that horrid "bar and kitchen" tagline - half the "pub" was diners only, and they seemed to be afforded more traditional snug pub seating than the drinkers area - as I witnessed when a group of oddball twenty somethings lurked in the doorway as though they didn't know how pubs operate, before nervously saying they had a table booked.  The place was near on empty.  Then a disturbing ginger slob resembling the Airedale Heifer waddled to the bar, bought a shot for his girlfriend in an obnoxious way, then waved two menus around like he was landing an aeroplane, before ordering food.  Girlfriend looked embarrassed, Miss Moonface remained pleasant and professional.  The church bells next door tolled, but couldn't drown out the piped reggae, but at least a trip to the loo made me realise an almost snug area facing the ale pumps was a bit cosier.  But on the whole, finishing West Yorkshire here isn't to be recommended, and when you think how good Brown Cow and Cricketers are, what is the point of all this?

Trying Tim Taylor's new beer, Knowle Spring - quite springy.

Relocated to my "snug" area, facing the pumps.
I wandered back to the station, half tempted to pop into the Self Publicist Arms and ask for a pint of BEST BITTER to see if I got thrown out / corrected / beaten up, but alas my train was due very soon.

And there we have it, West Yorkshire complete for a second time, and only 3 pubs left in the whole of Yorkshire which I hope to mop up on Saturday (x2) and Sunday (x1).  So see you then.

And what of the future of my Tuesday night after work BRAPA trips, I hear you ask (or is that just the voices in my head)??  Well, I've identified an achievable one in Notts, possibly Lincs, a good few in Greater Manchester, and I'll take another look at Lancs too but suspect they are too rural.  It'll more likely be once or twice a month now, until September where we'll no doubt have new Yorkshire challenges to look at.


Sunday 19 March 2017

BRAPA - Half of Southport

The NFFD (Non Football Football Day) took us further than ever before, Southport, despite the national weather forecast telling me that it'd only be horrendous if you went to a north western seaside town with at least two GBG Wetherspoons.

Whatever, it was preferable than a trip to Liverpool Crime Street station (thanks Tom!) being surrounded by thousands of baying Scousers in a dilapidated stand with a terrible view, watching Hull City concede their usual shed load of goals here.

Dad prepares to board the train at Southport
We changed at Manchester Piccalilli and Southport for an 11am opener I needed in a place that sounded like a "discount Supermarket chain", Freshfield (quote B G Everitt).  I was determined to cross a road I didn't need to, when the hooded wraith-like character of Tom Irvin appeared, and soon we found the pub.  It didn't look very open at 11:03am but Tom found a side door.

Arriving at our first pub of the day.
1059.  The Freshfield, Freshfield

This was a vast building, with a huge restuaranty area to the left and a relatively (but not quite) pubby area to the right.  It's big pulling point is obviously the beer, with 14 ales to choose from, blackboards explaining beer styles, those taster trays, and serious but friendly staff proving they are "ale men" with t-shirts that said #realaledrinker and "can you see my red squirrel?" (okay, so I may have made one of them up).  The ale was good considering the number on, but due to elaborately sized menus, I could not see my fellow drinkers or the levels of beer to see if I was keeping up / drinking too fast!  In fact, the whole pub seemed to be having some internal crisis, caught between a modern restaurant and a traditional pub with nice features such as air vents in the gents which hadn't been cleaned in 100 years, and a blue acoustic guitar next to a fruit machine,  Yet, in the same breath, a menu offering horrific stuff like kale and pomegranate.  It all reminded me of the Crooke Hall Inn, a pub I'd been told was a classic, almost willed to love, yet still felt all too 'vast restaurant in disguise'.  Quantity never trumps quality when it comes to pubs and ale.  Though I suspect it does for many, York's Rook & Gaskill springs to mind.  So, a pleasant place with great beer, nice staff, clean, but not really my cup of ale.   All that remained was to laugh at Sheffield Wednesday, before heading back to the station.

I finally managed to cross the road that I didn't need to, oh and we never did see a red squirrel.  Can I have my money back?   It was time to see what Southport had to offer.

Grey skies, wind and rain couldn't disguise the fact that Southport was a pretty classy Victorian seaside town, much nicer than I'd imagined though I judge all seaside towns on a Blackpool/Bridlington combination, so my expectations are generally low.  

1060.  Willow Grove, Southport

Though I didn't do us any favours by starting here.  I used to believe a visit to a Wetherspoons could give you a microcosm of life in a given town.  Or, as Dad suggested, it could just be where all the down & outs go.  Whatever, I'd been determined to prove to him after the Leicester debacle a fortnight ago that 'Spoons in the GBG can be very good.  Sadly, this wasn't the place to prove my point.  It was heaving, and the ales were being turned around at an alarming rate.  One lady (hag) was upset to hear a St Patrick's Day 'Irish Red' ale had gone, she panicked, surveyed the remaining ales, and went for a ..... pint of Stella!  The staff did well to get us served to quickly, and as I handed Dad my penultimate 'Mudgie Voucher' for this period, I found a table - moved some disgusting food plates, swept away the crumbs in an angry manner, and tentatively picked up a soiled tissue packed with the finest Southport D.N.A.  Upstairs had it's own bar, and would have been calmer had it not been for a terrifying hen party and twild learning to walk up and downstairs, whilst Tom was nearly mowed down by a buggy.  However, it was a friendly place and the beer was good quality, so it wins 'Spoons of the month so far.  We poured scorn on the new breakfast menu (Tom wrote his own "specials" on the back), the "NEW!  Beans on Toast" made us laugh out loud, and a jolly man who was far too enthusiastic about Wetherspoons food excitedly told us what the 'specials' were and that he was working his way through the menu!  It takes all sorts.

Possibly the most 'Spoons photo I have ever taken.

Fart arsed ponce burger?  Tripple cooked chps?   Half a tomato and chps?  Tom at work.

Dad and Tom fight there way back from the bar.
 The day then really could start improving, and after walking past Southport's answer to the ghost of Chuck Berry, busking, under some lovely old awnings, we hesitated outside the Scarisbrick Hotel complex looking confused until a kind man told us Barons Bar was first door on the left.

Is this the way in?

Dad and Tom tentatively step inside
1061.  Barons Bar, Southport

It all felt a bit clubby, almost like I needed to show my CAMRA card, with plush red carpet and happy old duffers sat on leather chairs chewing the fat, drinking coffee and wine.  Oh, and don't forget the legendary Tetley's which that nice Lizards man had already warned me/told me about.  And now to meet our 'character' of the day, a strange southerner in a knitted jumper - one of those nervous types who couldn't keep still and flitted from table to table interrupting everyone.  He told us he preferred the keg Tetley's (£1.85 a pint or something) to the £2.20 Cask as it was less gassy!  And then like an eager schoolboy, he told me you could take your drink to a different part of the hotel complex to check on the Arsenal score on a big screen!  Although my inner response to him would be "WHY, JUST WHY?" it is BRAPA policy to humour crazy locals so I let him give me a guided tour of the place, he knew everyone, and took me to a low-key Las Vegas type room but it was half time anyway.  It was a bit like an 11 year old Essex schoolboy in 1990 finding the keys to the staff room whilst England play Cameroon in the World Cup.  This tour made me realise the main area of Barons Bar was quite a baronial themed room with mood lighting, a proper bar and the loos - more like the third door on the left, but we (especially Dad) enjoyed the light clubby-esque room we were in.  As our friend appeared to puke on a plant (too much keg Tetleys), and the weird smell of egg turned to burnt plastic, and my 'Top Totty' started to turn a bit sulphury, it was time to go whilst I was still semi-enjoying it.

Our new friend is taken ill at the lamp

View from bar hatch to main baronial style bar.
We carried on in the same direction down Lord Street with the rain teeming down again, and though I didn't have the heart to take Dad in another Wetherspoons, there was another pub across the road ....

Dad and Tom in 'crushed to death by inn sign' possibility. 

1062.  Phoenix, Southport

With gaudy purple frontage and a Carling inn sign bigger than most micropubs, I felt like we'd finally hit the cheap n cheerful seaside jackpot here.  In some ways, it was the first traditional pub we'd been in all day, a massive place full of lager drinkers, twilds playing on the floor (though strangely, I found it more of a charming scene than an irritating one!), really well kept ale, watchful but friendly staff and huge screens showing pretty much every sporting event taking place at this time across the globe!  Or so it felt.  Dad and Tom described it as "a Wetherspoons that hadn't been ruined by being Wetherspooned".  They spied a Mother's Day menu,  "Mum Eats for Free!" it screamed, and Tom wondered whether you could just book a table for your Mum and leave her here alone, in the staff's capable hands?!  It was an intriguing loophole which I hope a Southport resident will trial.   This was the kind of pub where anything goes, so relaxed, like you could put your pyjamas on and sleep undisturbed for weeks, the kind of place you can eat your own sandwiches which we did.  The acoustics were crazy too, the further down into the Gents you got, the louder the sound from the Hawthorns was despite the TV being very much upstairs.  Hearing 'Wenger Out' cries at such decibels whilst draining your bladder is somewhat off-putting.   But why I did enjoy this pub a lot more than, say, the Freshfield, can only be down to it's total lack of pretension.  

I spent ages lining up this shot, though you'd never know!

Table for one please!
There was time for another one, back towards the station on the opposite side of the road, though what surprised us was that Cambridge Walk seems to be a shopping arcade.  Never been too sure whether to trust pubs in Shopping Centres, apart from Southend's wonderful Cork and Cheese, especially ones calling themselves micropubs.

1063.  Tap & Bottles, Southport

But I'm glad to report that I was wrong, as what followed was easily our favourite pub of the day.  I'd not call it a micropub though, felt more like a cosy Euro style cafe bar, plus it failed my two main micropub requirements.  These are - it had blackcurrant cordial for Tom, and it had TWO toilets.  So there you go.  The staff were young and eager, though perhaps not quite all there as when Dad tried to get a half of "Anarachy Sublime Chaos", he ended up with a "Slimline Chaos" which presumably had been diluted with tonic water.  My pint of Kashmir was stunning, but when you have beers of percentages like these, offering seating that creaks, is flimsy and could snap at any moment probably isn't the kindest thing the pub has done.   Oh and then I spotted an upstairs area too just to clinch the 'probably not a micropub really' theory.  The clientele should be grateful I was increasingly "not at my most observant" so could not pick up any conversational bits, not that I can remember anyway!

So that was that, and we'd made great time so managed to avoid too much football traffic on the train back to York.  I'll look forward to part 2 of Southport (really good day out), in the coming months/years but for now, I'm planning another NFFD trip for April, and I'm all booked for three BRAPA holidays later this year.

In the short term, next week should see me complete the last five pub ticks in Yorkshire which is very exciting!  To me anyway.  I'll be in touch, don't wait up. 


Sunday 12 March 2017

BRAPA - Bucks Part 1 : Outer MK? Yes Way!

Classic train toilet humour
Having completed Berkshire last month, it was time to get cracking on the next alphabetical county in the Good Beer Guide, Buckinghamshire.  I'd already made a solid start with 11 pubs previously, so I'm hopeful I can be done by this time next year.

Obviously, it wouldn't be BRAPA if we didn't have some early morning drama on the trains, and somwhere near Marsden / Greenfield, a 'fire bottle' (whatever one of them is, please DON'T tell me) got dislodged and the inhabitants of Coach B were evacuated.  This had the pleasing result of meaning a stressed out German girl sat next to me, worried she'd miss her flight to Cologne for a funeral.  We eventually started moving again.  "Don't worry" I told with usual BRAPA tact as I handed her a card, "read my blog after the funeral to cheer you up".

Amazingly, I made my connection at Piccadilly and was soon on my way to MK, tempting as it was to jump out at more ale-friendly towns like Stockport and errrm Stoke.  And after being driven mad by an avenger/dinosaur loving twild, I was soon stood at MK's bus rank ready for Emberton.

Milton Keynes gets a lot of (unfair, in my opinion) criticism, but whilst it might not have the 'historic' feel of most British places (I felt a bit like I was in L.A. or Melbourne when waiting for the bus), it doesn't have the miseryguts locals and everyone was so happy, by Newport Pagnall, I felt like I was in a Victorian Christmas scene, on acid.  York for one could learn a thing or two.

Arriving at my first "official" Bucks pub.
1054. Bell & Bear, Emberton

It didn't look very open, but that was probably because I was entering through the post-office esque left hand bar, which looked a bit foody and sterile so imagine my relief when I found a proper pub room to the right, with a fire and one of those Northamptonshire Skittles tables, ah brought back memories of good ole' Bedfordshire!  A lady who might've been called Toni served me some ale so unusual and local it didn't have a pump clip, and I sat down in the window and surveyed the scene which was basically lots of hilarious staff and one other customer who was wearing a Lincoln City top which seemed highly convenient considering their "big day" v Arsenal.  Even more so when the jovial landlord left a voicemail on somebody's phone simply shouting "come on your Gooners HAHAHA".  Maybe supporting Lincoln is an Emberton thing?  Anyway, he soon made himself useful by putting the fire in, singing Prodigy's "Firestarter" in an unsettling operatic style at the same time, and then boasted about how multi-skilled he was by bringing some chopped wood in from outside.  A man in full motorcycle gear appeared including helmet, making pint drinking difficult.  He was referred to simply as "the Stig" but soon removed the mask and looked very much like Lincoln City man - brothers?    He kept telling funny stories about a bloke called "Shaggy", no one had proper names here.  I'd put my Good Beer Guide on the table in a subtle attempt at making my intentions known, too subtle perhaps and I suspect rather like Beds, Bucks folk will need conversation coaxing out of them, though the scene amongst locals and staff was "classic pub bantz".  I was a bit on edge as I needed a taxi, but I finally got a signal, hurrah, and was on my way.  If all Bucks pubs are this good, I'll be in for a very good next year of pub ticking.

Lincoln City man sits at the bar trying to remember the club's nickname.

Drink Good Prosecco with Good Friends

Emergency beer mat needed already, uh oh!
After a nice taxi ride with a jolly man who spoke little English but loved the pub-ticking concept, I was soon at Chicheley and as I breathed in the fresh country air, all seemed well in the world of outer MK pub ticking ....

1055.  Chester Arms, Chicheley

Sadly, my feeling didn't last and I was still outside the pub when I heard the shrieking of the dining twild within.  2 twild.  Awful.  At the bar, there was no getting a smile out of the miserable local man propping it up, maybe he knew something I didn't.  He did keep asking for more ice in his drink, which if it was ale, was very strange.  The 2 barmaids, "brunette sauce grabber" and "occasionally Scottish elder teenage boy moustache" both had the decency to tell me I'd be served in a minute, but were too busy serving diners (mainly taking them sauce!) to actually do so, and I had a good 5 minute wait in a fairly quiet pub.  The pub house beer, when it came, was poorly kept and rapidly on the turn.  75% of the pub was a restaurant, but the left hand side with it's carpet and fire and a bit more homeliness, the fish & chip eating oldies opposite me had chosen to eat in here too, and who could blame them?  A sign did tell me to wait to be seated, but I was never going to observe that.  And following on from the Prodigy incident, one of the barmaids (not sure which) sang Queen's Radio Gaga in the club style, which was a real feast for the ears!  And I realised I suddenly smelt strangely like Sorachi beer (which I dislike) , how random is that, and it didn't last beyond this pub.  And I had to nurse my drink as the bus wasn't for ages, but when I left, the strains of Jimmy Nail's "looking back, over your shoulder" were piped into the pub garden, but I was never going to do that.  If this gets in the 2018 GBG, I'll be thoroughly amazed! 

Sinister rabbit and easter chick

Drinking up the dregs pre-bus.  Beer mats were an unlikely plus.
There's not much of a bus service to Stoke Goldington, but I managed to get one and I really felt I was cooking on gas now, and what a pretty little village it was as I skipped down the road like a spring lamb to the Lamb for pub three .....

Nice tail!  
1056.  Lamb, Stoke Goldington

I entered the pub to find barmaid Alice being laughed at for trying to turn the TV on with her mobile phone, so I joined in obviously to try and fit in, but she soon got her own back on me when I tripped over a step going to the loo.  The pub had a beer range like Swan & Rushes last week, with two classic Oakham's tasting like nectar after that last pint of shite!  What I should've ordered though was what the locals refer to as "half and half", half a Tring Death or Glory with a half of standard bitter.  But no one told me this until it was too late!  I had it in Saltburn once so not to worry and described it as tasting like a Cockney Rejects album, hmmm.  I sat at some low flung table / low flung leather settee combo (who needs beermats when you have this many newspapers?) and noticed the burning embers on another warming fire, and was just wistfully thinking of a joke I could make if an Ember Inn ever burnt down, when the smiley landlord spied my GBG.  My challenge created some interest within the pub, especially from Mrs Lamb, but they'd had those 'Tairstairs' chumps in not that long ago - but I won't dream of criticising them as (a) they do it for 'Charideeee' and (b) they are from the West Midlands which in pubbing terms, makes them almost as uncriticisable as a pub in the north west.   I also defended Wetherspoons against locals criticism which didn't go down well, but I can't see them opening one in Stoke Goldington any time soon.  Was a nice chat though, and I thought the pub dog was coming over to say hello as well, but I was just sat in his seat!  I took the opportunity to ask the pub to ring me a taxi (I had no phone signal, and a 4 mile walk to Hanslope didn't appeal along these roads.  A real cracker of a pub this, my favourite of the day.

My pint of Oakham was a truly wonderful thing.

Alice finally works out how to turn the TV on.

Me and dog compromise, and decide to share.
Eezicabs are a much better taxi company than the name might suggest, and after another top BRAPA chat with a man who'd apparently been waiting ten minutes for me, oops, we set off down some hair raising country lanes in vaguely the right direction cos we had no signal to put in the post code - it was almost like a North Yorkshire chauffeur day, and we made it in the end! 

1057.  Cock, Hanslope

Another great village, and another friendly pub welcome.  I must admit, I hadn't expected to find such characterful places and this one was dominated by tree branches hanging from the ceiling.  I've seen them put tonnes of hopbines up, which can look a bit tacky, but this kind of worked a lot better.  I was served by a jolly man, very dapper in his flat cap, reminding me of if Harry Enfield did a sketch where he was a stereotypical Yorkshireman.  Nice lad anyway, and the loungey feel and old corridor to the loos made me realise I was in a proper old pub.  Seriously, I don't know who writes the GBG summaries for the pubs in this area, but they do not do justice at all, made this sound like some kind of Greene King Sky Sports lager lovers boozer, when it had lots of class.  Hanslope's answer to Dee from Neighbours came in with a puppy that kept biting everything, and she was chatted up by the ghost of Abraham Lincoln in one of those moments which make you wonder if your earlier drink had been spiked with Death or Glory after all!

Dee from Neighbours gets shoe chewed by dog under the branches

Pub men deep in conversation

The ghost of Abraham Lincoln tries his "nice puppies" chat up line.
I hopped on a bus back towards MK but I still had time to do the pub I came here for, being in Bradwell village it is next in the alphabet after Aylesbury (which I'm doing in April) - you gotta have a strategy haven't you?

Ready for the 5th and final pub tick of the day.
1058.  Victoria Inn, Bradwell Village

Not sure how I manage it, but whenever I'm on a Beds, Berks and now Bucks day, I manage to co-incide it with the Six Nations rugby catastrophe.  Absolute cat-nip to the folk of the South East, but posh boredom for most northerners.  And it was England v Scotland, and it's hard to imagine hearing more anti-Scottish sentiment in any BRAPA pub, sadly I was too hazy by now to remember any of the classic quotes, but what you must say, this pub was extremely 'spirited', everyone bar me was on the Stella, and ordered at as "a pint o' wife beater" without flinching.  And that included the women folk.  Another strange quirk, everyone sounded like farmers.  Like I'd stepped into a weird Suffolk or Devon dimension, when this really was the least rural of the five pubs today.  However, when England scored a try, the applause was polite like in cricket, very odd.  No wonder I sat in a dark lower down area away from TV screens. I hope they didn't think I was Scottish.  Whenever a scrum happened, a loud bloke shouted "they are having a bromance on the floor".  But no one laughed.  The toilets were very ornate in here, and it was another nice pub not done justice by the GBG write up.  And just as I was leaving, a large (in every way) family decided to start a burping contest!

I like a pub that arranges it's beermats with a degree of symmetry. 

After another bus, I was back at MK railway station for a sobering hot chocolate and bag of crisps!  The train seemed to take an age to get back to Manchester, and then on to York where West Yorkshire people did what West Yorkshire people do, and displayed a total lack of train etiquette, I will make a 'drinking' game out of train commuter behaviour one day!

But that was a great day, expensive at times, but to get 5 villages done like that bodes well and I'll be back in Bucks on April Fools' Day for part two, further south this time.  And then the "big Aylesbury holiday" later in the month.

The future's bright, the future is BRAPA.