Monday 24 April 2017

BRAPA - Back on the Cheshire Trail.

Saturday was one of those up and down days where, for every positive, there seemed to be a negative just around the corner, followed by a positive again.  I wouldn't call it an emotional rollercoaster, but a very pubby rollercoaster, on this, day one of my "Spring Festival" week.

Spot the deliberate mistake!
I got myself to Sandbach on the train, well not quite, as the station was actually located 1.5 miles away in another town called Elgood or Ellways or ElWestBrom or something Ellish.  Poor research on my part, but the good news was that I was nearer Middlewich, and therefore had 5 minutes extra to get myself to a bus stop and wait for it.  Confused?  You will be!

Middlewich felt very "Cheshire", the men all smelt of success and smug satisfaction with tans and wavy hair, but a proportion of the women folk looked like something from a Victorian based Hammer Horror production, silently wailing and wondering where their teeth had gone.

Another good slice of fortune followed as I realised my bus was travelling straight past my first pub of the day, along a pretty canal location, where a man was opening a canal lock (71) with his arse (like they do).  "Open all day, every day!" screamed the pub sign in keeping with the GBG and WhatPub 11am official opening time.  So did it open at 11am?  Did it chuff!

11:08am so I strode across town to the other GBG pub, which was open.

1084.  White Bear, Middlewich

Being open on time was sadly, as good as it got for this pub in my experience.  I was served by a stodgy young Mark Robins of similar charisma, and looking helplessly around me for a 'pubby' seat / area of pub, I realised posing tables with horrid metallic chairs in the main bar was as good as it was going to get.  Much of the pub given up to dining, or those impossible low flung leather settees.  A moody looking tattooed Strongbow drinker had the right idea, so I sat near him and didn't make eye contact.  My ale was warm and a bit limp, suffering from "first pulled of the day" syndrome, all pubs should be made to put such pints in their steak & ale pies like the Fox Hole in Piercebridge, in my opinion.  With wicker baskets of random logs situated at my feet serving no purpose, I thought it's all very well housing your pub in a building from 1625 and boasting about it, but what's the point if you're going to be lame?   Needless to say, my emergency beermat was out already.  A smiley old man lightened the mood, and got a run through of the ales from a friendlier barman, "non Mark Robins".  Sadly, he didn't like stouts, porters, or beers that were at all hoppy so his good mood didn't last!  At least he got plenty of free tasters.  And then I did my obligatory "walk wrong way to toilet" but I found a secret cosy upstairs room, before NMR saved me!

I sauntered back to the canal, and what a beautiful sunny day it was.  I sat on the canal and waited for the pub to open, which it still wasn't, until 12 noon when the doors flung open - I gave it 2 extra mins for etiquette reasons, then walked in.

1085.  King's Lock, Middlewich

I was greeted by a very cheery cute barmaid with flowers in her hair, looking like she'd just walked out of the 1960's.  The pub doors had flowers on too, and it seemed only a matter of time before Dougal from Magic Roundabout walked in with Zebedee.  She made the mistake of asking why I was here, so after boring her with BRAPA for a bit, she spoke passionately on local ale and the Middlewich ale scene, which surprisingly took as long as 3 minutes to complete!  Just as I was about to quiz her on the 11am opening time fiasco, a bunch of canal-people came in.  It started with cider-lady, then a man who was mortified not to see a brand lager he recognised before asking for the most 'standard' one they had!  She gave him a Czech pilsner which he supped very tentatively, I tongue in cheek told him "he was very brave!"  He didn't get the irony.  Then some spirited local lads arrived, spoke about 'real' cider.  Turns out our flowery heroine knew one of them (Giles from Knutsford) but he gave zero shits about this revelation.  Then a stern man from Somerset demanded to know whereabouts in his home county Orchards brewery were based.  She found out for him, but he'd not heard of it and his wife consoled him by stroking his arm.  Classic pub this one, recommended.

Mrs Cider knocks back something cidery.

Better pint here, but corked display bottles were a turn off.

Spirited local lads featuring the enigma, Giles, from Knutsford
I walked down the canal, avoided getting my arm broken by a huge swan, but the bus stop had red tape up and 10 mins later with no bus in sight, I'd convinced myself it wasn't stopping here when I saw it on the horizon.  Hooray.  A few mins later, I was in Sandbach 'proper' though a road was closed so the bus driver told everyone he had to stop outside town on a roundabout.  

A 10 minute walk later, the pub appeared and there was no mistaking it .....

1086.  Old Hall, Sandbach

The pub may well have screamed Brunning & Price from the outside, but I think I'd entered through the correct door as I found myself at a basic quiet back bar, which felt anything but,  and was greeted by a fantastic Asian barmaid who chatted to me about the weather (obviously) and such a gaggle of barmaids (if that's the right collective noun), who all seemed happy and genuinely enjoying working there, which sadly seems rare in such pubs.  Pint of the day was had here too, Merlins Gold or something.  I sat down facing the bar, and listened to the staff chatter, classics ranged from "I've told my boyfriend Kieran I'm not kissing him anymore unless he gives up smoking", to "I went to London and didn't understand how Underground ticket machines operated and I was like, soooo embarrassed!"  The scintillating chat was cut short by unfolding drama in the sky, a police helicopter had been circling for ages and the blonde barmaid (who looked more cutthroat and ruthless than the others) peered out of the window to inform us all there'd been an "incident".  An exceedingly jolly friendly couple, blonde and tanned like an 80's "after they were famous" pop duo, explained a man had been run over and the locals were filming it on their mobiles rather than helping!  Meanwhile, an old bugger who was possibly a Mason drank tea out of this elaborate china tea set, just to remind us all this was a Brunning & Price after all.  But my favourite one yet.

Masonic tea set man.
I thought there's no way I'll get a bus back to Sandbach railway station due to all this transport road closure chaos, so was up for the 30 minute walk, when a bus appeared out of nowhere, scooped me up, I asked are you going to THAT railway station, he said "the errrm errrm Sandbach one?" just to prove no-one had heard of this place, and a few mins later, I ate my lunch in the sun on the platform.

Changing at Crewe (no pubs there today, I've got other plans for that town), I found myself FINALLY in Alsager as I've been promising to visit this pub for about a year now,

1087.  The Lodge, Alsager

I don't think I've been in a BRAPA pub yet where the first line I hear is "don't worry mate, she's just gone to change the Becks".  Becks Vier that is.  I think the man (one of three customers including me) just wanted an excuse to talk to someone.  Problem is, this pub was so deliciously basic, it was pure genius and almost impossible to write about.  Just three people, sat in a room, drinking and reading with background sexy jazz music.  The third customer, an elderly gent with an air of the Italian plumber about him, was like a kid in a sweetshop - "oooh oooh, I'm loving this VPA, give me another, oooh oohh and a bag of those other mini cheddars while you are there!  Aaah haha lovely"  Had he escaped his wife or something?  Anyway, the 'other' mini cheddars were crinkle cut cheese & onion if you care.  Becks man pulled his blue cap down over his eyes and went outside to smoke, three Chinese youths came in, wanted some real cider (theme of the day?) and I decided that nothing of note was going to happen, so I headed off.

8 ales were on 4 pumps!  

The wood in wicker basket didn't annoy me in here!
I'd given myself plenty of time for the train, and wasn't even concerned when a doddery old lady stopped me to tell me I was walking on the wrong side of the pavement!  Apparently, she should be on the outside because she could see what was coming towards her.  I humoured the old cow, but just then, I noticed the level crossings coming down and I needed to be on the other side, and there was no railway bridge - a Euston train had been delayed!  Arrrghh.  So all I could do was stand and watch as my train then arrived and left again, barriers still down, so frustrating!  

But then I realised I only had half an hour wait, and Hull City scored two goals with ten men, and all was well with the world again.  And how good was this weather anyway?  

Back in Crewe, Leyton Orient fans were on their way back from Port Vale doing what they do best, acting weirdly.  And after some teenagers got in trouble for stopping the train departing on time by holding the doors open for their mate, I was relieved when I was finally in Holmes Chapel on the way back up to Manc.  

Accidentally quite a good photo
1088.  Old Red Lion, Holmes Chapel

But less relieved when I saw the Ember Inns sign sticking out a mile!  Firstly a Brunning & Price, now an Ember, jeez, I was treating myself today(!)   But if the B&P was very strong, this was one of the most Embery Embers I've ever been in.  The barman was of the sycophantic variety, presumably he'd been injected through the skull with the Ember drug just minutes before.  He excitedly remembered a humourless bald bloke next to me.  "You were at my easter quiz weren't you?"  Baldie reluctantly admitted the charge, and gingerly told him "We couldn't use our usual team name of 'the Bald Eagles' because we had ladies in our group'.  Delivered so dead-pan, I stifled a chuckle.  I wasn't chuckling soon as, having been proud to remember the CAMRA discount, I was still charged £3.80 for a pint of Proper Job, nowhere near the quality of same drink I had in Seven Red Roses, Lower Early.  The pub had a vague whiff of vinegar, mixed with cheap perfume from the kitchen staff.  I sat on a comfy(ish) stool but with the amount of wall partitions, a low hanging lampshade, and a swathe of Magnolia walls, I've never felt so stifled and claustrophobic in such a quiet area of a pub in BRAPA history.  It was soul sapping.  Baldie had relaxed by now and tried a joke based on his hatred of music rounds in pub quizzes "if you tested me on music on my own iPod, I'd get them all wrong!"  It went down like a lead balloon.  Then I got cramp in my leg due to the weird chair/table juxtaposition, and all that remained was to play my Ember bingo game to stop my crying!! 

(Oh, and if anyone else mentions the effin' Sam Smiths pub in Holmes Chapel being better, that's a spot fine of £3.80!)

A very Ember range, but who nicked the Doom Bar clip?

Thoroughly claustrophobic

Only scored 5 on the Ember Bingo though!
The next train to Piccadilly didn't stop at Chelford, which was kind of on my list, so I took that as a sign to be disciplined, have an early night, as I had a big day in Derby on the horizon.  More on that later.


Tuesday 18 April 2017

BRAPA - Memories of Pontcanna Trauma

Welcome to my most pointless post of the year, only read if you are very bored.

18th April, and this is the first time "on this day" since BRAPA records began that I haven't been pub ticking.  In fact, a year ago this very minute, I was being terrified in Wokingham, probably in the Crispin wondering if I'd ever feel clean again.

Tonight's substitute is finally having finished 'ticking off' all pubs in previous guides since 2002 which I know I've been to, in the name of real ale.  It comes to a modest 1,640 - and though some memories are hazy and I cannot pinpoint certain pubs (a nice one on the outskirts of Leicester with funny Muslims, a Wetherspoons in Wrexham with idiot Charity Collecting babes, a jolly backstreet local in Walsall with local youths with funny accents, something in a field in rural Kent near a bull behind a wood, a couple of drunken Barbican-esque ones in Plymouth etc etc, I've had a decent go at it!)

As it is, I've managed to identify one more that actually is in the current GBG to give my numbers a boost before our "BRAPA Spring Festival" starting Saturday which I'll unleash on you all in due course, betcha can't wait.

But let me take you back, way back, to Tuesday 13th March 2012.  I arrived in Cardiff about lunchtime, it was sunny, and I immediately walked quickly towards whatever the new Ninian Park is called because Hull City ticket office had ballsed-up sending me my match ticket and I had to collect it from some shady man in a booth in a woolly coat at the ground.  Oh dear!

That task over, I was totally on the wrong side of town for checking into my Travelodge so with that BRAPA-brain whirring 2 years early, I tried to mop up some GBG pubs on the way back.  First was a very peculiar thing called Chapter Arts Centre which I've earlier reviewed.  But I'd only just got my new iPhone and to show off to Sunderland's finest John Watson, I tried to send him a photo of the bar area which failed and started draining my battery.

Never mind, I edged back east of town where I noticed a few GBG pubs listed under an area of town called Pontcanna.  It seemed nice enough.   I went to one called Half Way and one called New Conway (the latter currently still in the GBG).  I remember being disappointed one had only Brains on, the other lots of Greene King, there was a man decorating outside whistling with a ladder, local radio played, they were a bit foody and the locals were of that "mid afternoon Welsh drinkers" vibe.  Think I found both quite boring and merged them together in my mind.

Final pub before check in was due to be the Mochyn Du, which means "annoying Welsh pig" or something similar but before I could reach it, my phone died and not realising it was the battery (very much like Saturday just gone), I just thought life had ended!

I popped into first pub I saw, a rough big imposing thing on a main road crossroads, my plan was to ask for a paperclip or pin to open the SIM Card cover, see if that helped.  Well, the staff were very cagey as I sat down with a pint of Guinness and I went to the loo to realise this pub had serious drug user problems.  They thought I was an addict!  So I went to explain I was from York so I was posher than their regular scum, so they forgave me and gave me a pushpin off the notice board!

It didn't help though, and neither did plugging my phone into the pub wall on the sly.  I then walked for an hour (in totally the wrong direction), and trauamtised, eventually got a bus back to the Millenium Stadium where I'd not been far from!  The bus driver made me pay in exact change into this bucket, and the whole bus was mad with me for delaying them as it was rush hour, and I was almost in tears!!  Waaaah.

I found the Travelodge to check in, but it wasn't mine!  I was staying in the Queen St one, and the directions the girl gave me were awful.  So I got lost again walking up and down Queen St for ages, before I realised it was hidden down a side street.  It was 7:20pm.  I phoned home to tell everyone I wasn't dead, but no-one had missed me, I went to loo, plugged my phone in just in case, dumped my bag, jumped in nearest taxi to ground, got in just as ref blew whistle for kick off.

Amazing atmosphere stood with the Gooligans, we won 3-0 against the odds, I somehow found my way back, phone was working again, went for last orders at Goat Major, and drank 3 very quick pints of Brains washed down with a couple of Amoxycillin for an infected leg I'd probably picked up in Blackpool 2 weeks earlier cos where better place to get an infected leg?


Sunday 16 April 2017

BRAPA - Ooh, Ahh, Just A Little Bit (of Stoke & Stockport)

Tom Irvin in BRAPA pub number 1082
Catastrophe struck somewhere between Manchester Piccadilly and Stoke-on-Trent when my phone inexplicable broke down ("it is like losing a limb") , leaving me in a state of turmoil.  Working theory : let's blame Stockport  (I had my Good Beer Guide App open, it realised how much I still had to do there, and it simply couldn't cope with the prospect).

Stoke was reassuringly Stoke, grey leaden skies with a biting wind and lots of fat Mum's with multiple buggies & twilds joining us on the bus to Hanley, confusingly Stoke's bus station, which kind of makes Hanley the official Stoke, and Stoke-on-Trent just some random suburb with a railway station and some pubs.  The bus driver sneered at Dad for trying to buy a 'return', a teenager ate a greasy sausage roll in two bites, and everyone else looked thoroughly depressed.

With no way of locating the pubs, I was delighted to spy the first one opposite the bus station on the inappropriately named "Adventure Place", and when Dad said "let's check opening hours", even more amazed to see it open 9:55am!!  Did we dare see if they were serving ale?

Victoria Lounge Bar a.k.a. the Reardon
1081.  Victoria Lounge Bar, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent

Of course we did!  And of course they were, this is no Glasgow Wetherspoons forbidding alcohol pre 11am, this is rugged Stoke, and it felt like luck had evened itself out a bit.  The landlady was an excellent chatty soul, interested what brought us here at this time and told us about how she'd fought and fought to rename this place from The Reardon, as people just thought it was a Snooker Club, but as we know from Darlington last week, there's nothing wrong with that!  The place had a main (superior) lounge bar, and lining the walls, thin restauranty areas, with a snooker table or two hidden behind a 'members only door', it was a cracking place.  And with a perfect pint of Salopian Oracle, I could almost forget about my broken phone, well not quite as me and Dad spent the next hour trying to be phone technicians - shame circumstances weren't different as I couldn't relax!  I saw it all as a sign that I shouldn't attempt an outlandish BRAPA day and stick to the simple Stoke v Hull City option, after all I had a feeling in my bones we were going to play well and win.  And then Tom appeared with Ben Andrew, who fixed my phone immediately!  It just needed a reset.  Oops.  Ben has gone from 2014 BRAPA Crapper of the Year to 2017 N.E. Lincolnshire Spring Regional BRAPA award winner.  Well done Ben.  After a few more pints and some of Tom's "hilarious quizzing" (including "what did the pretty girl on the train say to me?" which we are still guessing I think, the answer wasn't "put it away Tom"), it was time to move on ......

Dad looks like he's at the most relaxed business meeting ever

A glimpse of the green baize and a pint of Oracle

Victoria Lounge being impressive
And just when you think all is well with the world, BRAPA kicks you in the knackers again.  Typical.  This time, Hanley's other GBG pub (opens 4pm weekdays but 12 noon weekends so the previous landlady confirmed), looked VERY shut at 12:30pm.  

The sign suggested to me that Martin Taylor has taken over the pub, and had kept it shut to force me back to Hanley in the future because he's a sadist, but that is mere speculation on my part.

As it was, a short bus ride back into "Stoke" allowed another smug bus driver chance to tell me "no, we're not going into town, we're going to the railway station" which I bloody knew, idiot.

We popped into The Glebe, which I discovered on my last visit here was an excellent Joule's pub (I fell asleep in one in Chester once) so I had the pale ale which wasn't very pale, but very nice, as Stoke Blokes lined every wall with expressions ranging from mild apprehension to suicidal.  Very much the norm.  It put paid to the theory that this was an 'away fans pub' too ....

I'm the first person to smile in this pub since 1973.
Seriously though, a lovely pub and good staff and it got even better on the way back from the loo as, leaning on the same counter as us, just behind me, was Twitter legend Matthew "See the Lizards" Lawrenson, with trademark Paisley shirt and facial hair, with a nonchalant air of a chap who was propping up every pub between Newcastle-under-Lyme and Preston, effortlessly.  

I see this sign and then a different Twitter legend appears!

We had a good chat and then headed to my former Stoke fave White Star, with it's typically unnecessary doormen and "no away fans policy", we reflected that Stoke is an impossible accent to do, and it's hard to look like a Stoke fan, though I could have squinted and brought prosthetic fingers to stick on each hand.  Anyway, Plum Porter has to be done in Stoke,  as did Iceberg, and we walked to the ground to burn off the ale.

Less said about the next couple of hours the better, and back on the train, I was encouraged (not that I needed it) to get some extra ticks in as one in the day was pretty pathetic.  So Stockport seemed the logical solution!  Tom joined me for moral support but the others went home.

The evening sun was finally out (probably not in Stoke) and the pub I seemed to walking towards was the Armoury.

1082.  Armoury, Stockport

We walked into the left hand side called 'the Vault' cos I imagined something from a horror film, plus we all know in 2017 the left hand side is always the better room unless you are in Dukinfield.  Immediately you could feel that delicious no-frills atmosphere of a multi-roomed Robinson's pub - if I'd been kidnapped and brought here, it'd have been obvious I was in Stockport.  An enthusiastic young bar-babe served me this new 'Game of Thrones' style ale and I wish more young females were more excited by Robinsons Guest Ales.  Though my "it's all boobs and dragons" comment fell on deaf ears.  We settled in the Hatters room but not before Tom had deducted the pub a point for winning a Lancashire darts league rather than a Cheshire one.  Still, he'd lost his voice from too many Marco Silva chants, making him sound very much like a huskier Elly Conway, the alcoholic teacher in Neighbours.  This allowed me chance to listen to the local chatter from the main bar, they seemed to be trying to out-do each other in a 'I've had a rougher upbringing' contest.  Lots of "I was brought up on a council estate" though middle-class oozed out of them, however many pints of Unicorn they might drink out of their flat caps.  The barmaid settled it by commenting "I have a Grandma who lives in the Edgeley" which caused a respectful silence to descend upon the pub, which I didn't understand.  Cracking street corner local. 

Me about to settle down in the Hatters room in the evening sun

Table decor and glad I was wearing my Stockport County shoes

Very much Tom Irvin after 90 minutes of football chanting
We passed two Chunky Chickens on opposite sides of the road which seemed like overkill, then we went down York Street which led to Tom re-flexing his vocal chords with a rendition of "Are You Boston in Disguise?" before we saw our 'bonus' pub.  It didn't look very open but the good news is it was, you just had to turn the handle! 

Getting ready for the final pub of the day.
1083.  Ye Olde Vic, Stockport

You know when you walk into a pub and 'Cuddly Toy' by Rochford is playing that it is going to be a good experience, something any #PubMan has learnt over the years.  Another good sign is a chatty Scottish interloper leaning on the bar.  Me having gently reminded Tom that it was his round, I then moaned that I had far too much change weighing me down, so the whole pub ganged up on me and suggested I should perhaps buy the round then - charming!  This was an amazing pub though, only Stockport could produce something even better than Armoury so soon after, it was like a bric-a-brac nick-nack curiousity shop with a pubby smell, so photogenic I didn't know where to point my camera next.  Well, I did, when Stockport's answer to the Easter Bunny appeared bearing carrier bags of chocolate gifts.  Seconds later, Stockport Twitter CAMRA legend John Clarke appeared for a chat and what a jolly nice chap.  I can't repeat some conversations even in THIS blog but it was amusing so trust me, plus I'd drunk a ridiculous amount of ale by this stage but he insisted on buying me a pint, as Tom left to catch a train back to his Lincolnshire slum.  I was hardly gonna say no to a pint with ale of this quality, and spookily, just like when I met Martin Taylor and Quosh, that Squawk beer was on - it should be the official Twitter meeter and greeter ale.  Oh yes, Tom had earlier spotted one negative - the pub had it's Christmas decorations in a box.  "It is halfway to having them up!" he huskily growled a la Miss Conway.  I jogged up a hill and caught a train back to York via Manc at the end of an epic day.

Stockport's Easter Bunny in action.
It has been a steady (i.e. unproductive) month so far in BRAPA but from next Saturday, that will all change with a week of extreme pubbing, mainly in central Buckinghamshire, but also with a bit of Derbyshire, Cheshire and Hampshire thrown in for good measure.

For now, I need a break from the ale so will continue with the bookwork to try and identify EVERY GBG pub from previous editions I've spent 27.5 minutes in and drank probably almost certainly a pint.


Sunday 9 April 2017

BRAPA - Darlington - what a place!

What with the rail strike and the prospect of defeat at Man City not particularly enticing, it was always going to be  a case of "keep it as simple as possible today", and with Yorkshire of course complete, it doesn't get any simpler than Darlington (that's not a reflection on it's inhabitants).  7 minute walk to York station from my front door, 30 mins on the train, bing bong, we've arrived!

Myself and Father Bernard (not a priest, more on that later) were joined not only by Tom, but by his Mum (Bernie) and Dad (Chris) for this adventure, still 4 pubs to do despite the fact I've been visiting pubs in Darlo on and off since 1997.

Tom never smiles in photos but his expression said it all as we noticed the door well and truly padlocked on the Snooker Club, and nothing doing around the cobwebby back door where a very dishevelled Christmas tree was receiving it's last rites.  Everything pointed to an 11am opener, it was 11:30am and nothing doing.

This was where Chris Irvin came to the fore and thought that a trip to the steam railway museum could tide us over til after 12, and it was a good move under the circumstances, a quite interesting place, most interesting to me the two model pubs on the model railway:

Leaving my feedback (guess which is mine)
Unable to shrink myself down to visit these two pubs, we returned to where we'd come from and I noticed two lights about the main door were now on.  Closer inspection revealed, yes, it was now open gone 12 noon and we climbed the stairs ......

1076.  Darlington Snooker Club, Darlington

We said hi to a few jolly drinkers raving about some ale from Morpeth, and although I told Chris I wouldn't ask about their opening time, it was about the first thing I did.  Still, the licensee was a Mr Everett so he was almost a BRAPA honorary member and he bit his lip in a guilty manner and kind of admitted that he should have been open at 11am but a lack of customers at that time, plus something about a fortnightly "man in a van" which I didn't understand, meant it was 12 noon.  Anyway, all was forgiven due to the wonderful cheap ales ("We've not put the prices up in ten years"), his obvious pride in being an independent place, and told us about their beer festivals which sounded more enticing than most.  The huge room had 10 full sized snooker tables, though everyone was more concerned with drinking, and we went to this delightfully snug side room where a serious version of Allo Allo was being screened on 'Drama'.  There was a side bar in this room which Mr Everett had bought off eBay, Dad reminisced on his love of Jan Francis (whoever she was)  and Tom's "I got confused between gin and the grand national" was an unlikely contender for quote of the day.  As two Lincoln City fans arrived (a depressingly common recent theme in BRAPA) and Chris flaunted BRAPA rules by ordering a second pint, no wonder Dad made his usual declaration "I could settle here all day!"  For once, I was in agreement but the other pubs were calling.

Dad and Billy 2 (the tiger) look content

The additional bar.
Just a few minutes walk down the road but on the same side of the ring road was pub two ....

I'm ready for pub 1077

A hazy Dad, Tom, Chris and some weird army chap
1077.  Half Moon, Darlington

Another jewel in the crown of Darlo's wonderful ale scene, you knew this was a proper old fashioned boozer from the second you walked in, and the expectant landlord listened patiently to my new pound coin woe story from Farnham Royal last week, and then offered to sell me a bag of twenty of them for £30, which I nearly took him up on before the others advised me it made no business sense, well apart from Tom who was trying to convince me he was actually less trustworthy than anyone else.  We then spotted a Bass pump acting more as pub decor than serving a practical use, and we wondered how cruel it would be to take a photo and send it to Martin Taylor, with the caption "this is the best place for it!"  But I wouldn't be so awful.  Of course the pub had outdoor gents, always the sign of a quality place, though the "P" sign confused me greatly.  The pub played some of the most horrific music I'd ever heard, Age UK Radio possibly, and by the time someone called Lynne Anderson had merged into Englebert Humperdink, my ears were practically bleeding and I've never before realised how much the advent of Punk was needed.  And that summed it up.

"If you need to Park??"  What?? 
We crossed the ring road into the sunny town centre where market stalls were up, locals bustled about blocking you from getting to the next pub, and at a tropical 15 degrees, most men were shirtless.  Dad looked with horror when he realised our next place was not the pub he could see, but the modern cafe style bar next to it.  It was as close to Chorlton cum Hardy as Darlo gets .....I told Dad not to judge it before we'd gone in so he produced the most sarcastic BRAPA expression ever.

He's not happy, though you'd never know it.
1078.  Old Yard Tapas Bar, Darlington

But I think we all knew in our heart of hearts that this was unlikely to be our favourite place of the day, yet cracking quality ale and friendly staff - especially the Spanish-Darlo hybrid lad who asked if Bernie's half was "for a lady".  "Well, it's for my wife!" said Chris, and hey presto, beer was served in this tiny stemmed monstrosity.  Me and Bernie had to explain to Dad that Tapas isn't a food type like a meat or a cheese, more a way of serving it.  Back on a beery note, great to see Rivet Catcher back after Jarrow went bust, shame we had to drink at a posing table but it was probably inevitable, in a room with an additional bar which just sold John Smith's and London Pride.   I went upstairs to the impossible to find Gents and unsure if I'd walk in the right door, I saw 4 identical bearded young men with ankle socks and skinny jeans.  One burped garlic on me, the other chorizo.  I took a deep breath, and a piss, then left.  Funny place.  

Good grief.

The "other" bar.
Out in the street, I realised my phone was definitely broken and although nearby, we were unsure where pub four was.  So we asked the most Darlington-esque local we could find .....

And as you can see, he pointed us in the right direction and after negotiating another mini-subway thing and walking up a ramp, we were in .....

1079.  Brittania, Darlington

Another one of those where the second you step through the door, you know it's a classic.  Hard to put into words but it won't stop me trying, obviously, the bar was lined with happy "hen" style women, but probably locals, you know, all shoulder tattoos and strappy tops, whilst old men in thick grey raincoats preside over a pint of something fizzy, altering their caps so the world can't see their faces.  The barmaid/landlady was immediately impressive, imagine Yazz if she'd been around in 1977, the white top & pink bra combo is one that York's barmaid's just haven't caught onto yet.  Chris had spied some actual Draught Bass and commented "you don't see it much these days".  Well this led to an impassioned response, to the point where I thought she was going to grab him by the throat and pour the pint down his neck, free of charge.  It made me feel stupid for having ordered anything else (something decent from Wessex)  As it was, she brought our pints to the table, now that is service.  The loo was in a thin corrdior behind the bar, titled Total Washroom Services. No Pistols and Dolls here!    The pub smelt like it hadn't had any fresh air pumped into it since 1st July 2007, it was quite an achievement and left the rare but nostalgic smell you get in pubs like Warrington's Lower Angel and absolutely anything in Leigh or Atherton.  Absolute classic.  On the way out, our barmaid/landlady friend was outside speaking of good ale and proper pubs, barmaid of the year?  You should visit here if you've not already done so.

I had enough time before the train to show the gang the Old Vic, a pub which made a lasting impression on me last year and although just time for a half, the landlady's crazy hound was on top barking form, I just can never remember his name cos I've always been drinking!  Anyway, the others loved it too and it has to be said, those Darlington publicans who care about their ale are as passionate as anyone out there it seems, okay so the town might have it's fair share of scroats but it's friendly, cheap and has a certain class about it which you just don't find too often.

On the train journey back, Dad upset a priest for talking too loudly so went to sit with him in his unoccupied bay of four, just to intimidate him.  Classic.

We were due back for tea, so I'm not saying we made a spur of the moment decision to pop into the Golden Ball.  But if we had have done, I'd probably have had to ask York's wonderful pub and premier comminity rip-off merchants to top up my ale on the 80p worth of froth they'd given me, before we'd sit outside and a weird couple would describe in minute detail the perfect omelette they had on a foreign holiday.  Possibly the most boring thing I've ever heard.

But what a great day it was, Dad said it had restored his faith in the GBG producing quality places after Leicester a few weeks ago., and you can't say any fairer than that!