Sunday 2 April 2017

BRAPA - Buckinghamshire Part II : South Bucks Fizz

I was breathing in Slough air for the first time in my life as I waited for a bus to take me to the village of Hedgerley, despite the GBG claiming it was a busless location in the 'pre-match build up'.

The problem was, Google told me to wait a Stop D (which didn't exist), the sign on the bus stop said Stop A, but the electronic display said Stop C.  A bus driver going to Britwell couldn't help, neither could a toothless old man, and after a brush with 3 lager drinking Poles at an unknown numbered stop, I crossed the road and found the bus at Stop F.  Obviously(!)

20 minutes later and the grey building site of Slough seemed another world away in the green and flowery village of Hedgerley, with it's woodland footpath to the pub saving me from road-walking.

It was still 10:50am so I sat in the sun praying for prompt 11am opening.  A vacuum cleaner nozzle made a brief appearance, hoovering the doormat, which I took as a good sign and although I suspect the pub was technically open, I waited until 11:02am to observe polite pub etiquette though it was a lovely pub to sit outside .....

1069.  White Horse, Hedgerley

So nice it was, I almost expected to be disappointed inside but not a bit of it - for once, the left hand bar was the place to be, a proper no frills boozers bar and a jolly man with fair amount of ginger facial hair was the first victim of my new response to the "what type of beer are you after?" question, which is "something which is local and I've never tried before."  This'll panic 'em, how can they possibly know what I've had before?  As it was, this man looked like a psychic and probably was and I was soon drinking a 'straight from the barrel' foaming nut brown ale from a dimpled jug, things I normally find tacky and forced were actually perfect in a pub like this.  He told me the sun had blinded him as he was used to this dark interior, and the whole family appeared one-by-one and a stream of locals arrived - I've never said "Morning" to so many folk in one pub.  One of them took the probably imaginary dog "Troops" for a walk, such was it's silence.  But there was still enough reason to remind yourself you were in South Bucks as one young female was given a lecture about Vegan Thai Curry next to a huge deli counter serving quiche.  Young barmaid Sam asked crazy local Mark (not John as I put on Twitter) why he was indoors in a thick woollen cardigan on such a beautiful summer's day?  "Because I am Dracula" was his reply, delivered perfectly deadpan, does Dracula wear a cardigan?  Mark was a fan of whatever football team played Kings Lynn yesterday, and he was soon exchanging Peter Stringfellow (who'd been spotted nearby) anecdotes with Mr & Mrs Gold Label, so called cos they kept carrying cans of it around the pub.  "Once I saw him in his massive black Jaguar, it was a windy day, his hair was flapping in the wind and went in my mouth!" complained either Mark or Mr GL.  A local rang through and made Sam go through all the ales on offer or coming soon, but sounded like he'd had them all!  Sam was rightly pulled up on her pronunciation of Deuchers (Deutsch-hers) by Mark who then asked why a great pub like THIS would be getting a beer like THAT!  I'd seen enough, a quick cheerio to Mark and Mr and Mrs GL and I was on my way.  Magnificent pub.

Mr GL, cans of GL, and Mark.
It wasn't a long walk to Farnham Common, probably a mile and a bit though I did go through a place called Egypt which seemed strange.  What would Tom do in this situation, I wondered?  Probably raise his arms aloft and chant "Allam Out!" and other songs in accidental mock East Yorkshire tones.  I'm more self conscious so just murmured it under my breath.   The pub was in sight .....

1070.  Stag & Hounds, Farnham Common

I was hit by the full force of Greene King from outside, so imagine my relief to find a quite traditional pub with an interesting range of ales, which I had ages to decide between - because there was not a single person in sight.  As I went to the loo, I wondered if I'd have a Saltburn-esque moment and find them all drinking coffee and reading the paper in a side room.  It was 12:03 after all, and finally a man with slightly less ginger beard growth than Hedgerley man arrived and served me an IPA from some new random Berkshire brewer, keeping my "local and different" theme going.  I felt sorry for the guy as he seemed to be embroiled in a phone argument with a woman (girlfriend?) and I could hear her distorted nagging from across the pub!  I decided that if Hedgerley's White Horse was heroin, this pub was probably Methadone. A 'customer' arrived but only to ask if they'd be showing Wasps v Leinster (whoever they are) at 3pm.  "It's a massive match it is!" he mumbled as he left to a general ghostly chorus of "youfuckingwhatmate?" from nobody in particular.  Union scum.  The bain of the south east TV pub.   Before I could blink, the pub had filled up with a series of 'rugged' pub men watching the Merseyside derby, the most entertaining of which ate the tiniest gourmet burger ever (which didn't suit him) and seemed wholly unimpressed with anything scouse or football related.  The obligatory minute's silence, colourful boots, topless Everton fans, huge banners - they all got the "treatment" so I nodded politely as he juggled a pepper pot like it was on fire.  Time to move on but I did quite enjoy this one.

Wrong glass, no beermat (again), but still a decent pub.
 Another short walk took me to the outskirts of Farnham Royal off the main road in a peaceful picturesque area .....

1071.  Emporer, Farnham Royal

However, I wasn't quite so impressed with this one.  Full of people looking confused about how to order food at a bar, and young fathers with babies attached to them trying to force brown baby much down their throats with a plastic spoon, or women wondering whether the pub was too traditional to 'get em out' and start breastfeeding.  It was a bit of a quandry, this place, £4 a pint now and Ringwood the most exciting brewery of the three on show, perhaps fitting that this is the first place I should receive my first new pound coin!  Which I later squandered on the bus out of here.  There was a fire in but looking at the surroundings, an outside pint on the nice grassy front area seemed a good idea, even if it had clouded over.  The toilets were a gaudy purple, even by my standards, and the soap sounded more like a modern fangled 'craft' thing than an actual soap! It was a nice location to have an outdoor drink, I just was aware I wasn't really living the Emporer dream in terms of 'pub observation'!  At least a traumatised young lad on a bike appeared, rang his friend to say he was at the Emporer and generally seeming more and more distressed.  If this was the 1850's, I'd have sat the poor lad down with a lemonade til he recovered but you can't do that sort of thing without getting arrested nowadays, so I waited til his friend rescued him and then I ran for my bus, as I'd got too comfy imagining myself body-boarding off the mossy old pub roof for some BRAPA video special! 

Pint of the no 77 Savon Liquide De Marseille

Nice little fire, but I'm off out.

Pint in the almost sun.
I hopped on the obviously delayed X74 bus towards High Wycombe, jumping out at Loudwater which I almost went to back in Jan if it hadn't been for mid afternoon midweek closure.  I crossed a park with a spongy play area, passed a shed which was probably the inspiration for a Fast Show sketch, and the pub was peering out from behind the trees.

"This week, I've been mostly drinking London Pride".
East Yorkshire CAMRA man, Ellerton Boot n Shoe denier, and all round nice chap Mark Bainton once told me that a good BRAPA strategy idea would be to focus on the pubs that are in the GBG year on year, and be a bit more skeptical of those new entrants.  It is good thinking, not so easy to achieve in practice, but this pub, 27 years in the GBG, must surely be a "valuable" tick.

1072.  The General Havelock, Loudwater

Fullers pubs, like Greene King pubs, aren't always my favourite though there are at least some good examples, but this was up there with the very best.  From the moment I entered, the locals turned round to greet me, reassuringly oddball-ish and when the barman found out I'd travelled from York, he proclaimed that this pub is "halfway to France!"  Not quite sure about the geography, or what the context was (if there was any), but I nodded sagely.  A curious chap with hearing aid who'd seemingly pinned himself to the bar so he could remain there in perpetuity started chatting to me about the weather, but couldn't hear me, so I took my pint to a table quite faraway.  As I drank my pint of Heathcliff and tried to get Kate Bush out of my head, some strange 1970's French Cinema style music started playing.  But what I'll really remember about this place was how gleaming, polished and shiny all the wooden surfaces were, like someone with terrible OCD works here - it's hard not be impressed by this place.

First sighting of a beermat today, well done Loudwater!

I jumped back on one of the thousands of buses that went to High Wycombe, not a town I know at all well so where I was dropped off I had no idea but once I'd got my bearings, I still had a mile walk down the backstreets to the next pub.

1073.  Belle Vue, High Wycombe

There's something delightful about a proper backstreet boozer and this was as perfect an example as you could hope for.  There aren't enough crazy Asian ladies working in pubs, and there should be more like this one, mad as a box of frogs, in a good way.  I couldn't tell whether she was putting on a show, or whether it was her personality - all my beers so far had been approx 4.9% and my powers of observation were waning all ready though I had smuggled a sausage roll in the last pub!  She was telling some punter, if he was coming back later in the day, she'd start a tab for him and keep it open.  Trusting!  He vaguely agreed, as he was off to do some painting.  Perhaps he was confused between pub and DIY Q&A session, for he then asked her "will my roller I've wrapped in cling-film be dry yet?" It all sounded a bit innuendo laden to me, not to mention very random, but the pub tried to assist like a good community local would.  Barmaid poured him a shot and put it on the never ending tab, and the conundrum seemed to be solved.  The general mood though was so laid back, it was glorious.  Soft blues music played.  Locals in combat shorts and sandals snoozed or read books.  Dogs dozed under tables, someone brought one in, there was a minor skirmish, but both dogs yawned and went back to sleeping.  West Haddlesey would not have understood such a scene.  Classy in the most understated way imaginable.  I left as I was feeling my eyes shutting.

Me freaking out the locals in the so called C*cktail Bar.

Hardly a beermat all day then three come along at once.

A mood shot of life in the Belle Vue.
I was back in Marylebone before I could blink, and onto Kings Cross via Paddington though I did go to Warwick Avenue for no apparent reason, but am sure it is a lovely place.  Popped into Scottish Stores for first time in ages, and unlike many people I know, found a great range of well kept ales, I think it is a lucky pub for me and virtually empty in my favourite corner to sup some red ale from Mad Squirrel.  I did get told off by a stern member of staff for leaving my bag and jacket (and phone!) unattended whilst I went to pay a call, but I trust those cheeky central Londoners implicitly.  Perhaps.  And I was home for MOTD, bit unsure how come I'd not seen ONE Sunderland fan on the way back from Watford when the train is usually teeming with them.  

I'll be back tomorrow / Tuesday to write up my Yorkshire solution.  Goodnight!


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