Sunday 7 May 2017

BRAPA - Walking Trauma in Central Bucks

Day 4 of my BRAPA Spring Festival (two Wednesdays ago) dawned with the traumatic sight of two Welsh men in hi-vis drinking cans of Boddingtons in my Travelodge during the 9am breakfast rush.  It was made more amusing by the barman pretending to go down to the cellar to change the barrel, then ducking under the counter and coughing as he pulled the ring pull and the widget exploded into life - probably.  It all felt very 1996 in any case.

Aylesbury Bus Station surpassed the Doncaster, Barnsley and Rotherham equivalents by managing to be the most depressing place on earth, more like god's waiting room although it was nice to see the 12 year old manual labourer from Little Kimble powering through at one point.  I almost missed my bus as it went from the wrong stop, but was soon in the village of Quainton, as quaint as you might expect.

1097.  George & Dragon, Quainton

I headed to the left side of the pub as per BRAPA 2017 protocol (you know I'm not joking) where I was greeted by a cheerful buxom young barmaid, presiding over an equally buxom range of real ales.  I ordered something very 'local' looking called 'Rob's Bitter' without a proper pump clip, but she wasn't sure where the pump was, so a ruddy faced local told her "if it's at the top, it's at the bottom!" as if this would clarify things.  It kind of did.  But you had to be there.  This local turned out to be Colin, a friendly chap, the sort who seems to be single-handedly keeping the village pub alive whilst also knowing the inner workings of the pub better than the staff!  He was on the gin at 12 noon, but still wanted to tell me how some of these 5% plus real ciders blow your socks off and I should avoid!  I had to hover awkwardly around the bar as a group of lunching old duffers came in and couldn't work out which of the thousand empty tables they wished to reserve!  A female equally as vocal and friendly as Colin joined us, this was Gaynor.  Her modus operandi was to slag off Rugby Union, love Chelsea F.C., and say "I'm just off outside for a gasper" at 5 minute intervals.   Colin got the fire lit, which was really welcome but shouldn't be necessary late April.   A third local came in, he sat with his back to me and apologised for it but we had some nice chat without looking at each other!  My Rob's Bitter had caused much intrigue to all, so I offered it round for a taste.  Our friendly hostess looked scandalised, and then confidentially whispered "4th day!" in my ear.  I was just about to say "yes that's correct, are you a BRAPA follower then?" when she explained it was only her 4th day of working, I told her she was doing a great job, Colin called me a "crawler".  It was time to leave, but i finally felt I'd found a great Bucks pub and the holiday could properly begin after yesterday's disappointments.

"If it's at the top (pump clip), it's at the bottom (bar)" Confusing!

Waiting for Colin to get the fire going
  I wasn't prepared for what came next.  The most traumatic walk of 2017 pub ticking so far.  The road to Oving (pronounced Ooooh-ving so the locals in Quainton told me), was longer than expected.  One minute, I was being peppered with huge hailstones, next it was warm and sunny.  The roads were winding, thin, busy, full of fast cars.  Not pedestrian friendly.  I walked 48.6 miles during my 4 days in Bucks, and most of them were done today!

And then I had the added stress of my third pub, in North Marston, closing at 3pm, another mile from Oving, so I couldn't even relax when I got to pub two.  But what a relief when I finally arrived in the pretty little village of Oooooh-ving!

1098.  Black Boy, Oving

I was exhausted when I arrived, and when the young bruntette barmaid (who I later learned was Abby/Abigail and this was her last week at the pub before going to study or something) innocently commented to me "cold out there innit?", the last hour of walking overcame me and I replied "NOT WHEN YOU'VE BEEN WALKING ALL THE WAY FROM QUAINTON ON BUSY ROADS, HAILSTONES ONE MINUTE, SUNSHINE THE NEXT, SWEATING BUCKETS, CARS WHIZZING PAST AT A THOUSAND MILES AN HOUR".  Then I realised the whole pub was looking curiously at this weird interloper and I apologised and said, "sorry, I mean I'll have a pint of the XT Amber please!"  It's funny looking back.  I went to the loo, and sure enough, I was a blotchy sunburnt windswept mess.  I sat on a table for one in the middle of pub, staff and clientele kept glancing at me, half scared of the red blotchy northerner, half sympathetic.  It was a cracking pub too, even more trad village local than Quainton, yet I couldn't stay long enough to appreciate it was the North Marston time issue was on my mind.  I was aware of a quiet young blonde lad called Ben doing his first shift "don't bully him, he's a North Marston!" said two proper local pubmen at the bar.  I also learnt "Helen's knee is really swollen after driving back from France".  It sounded important, but not sure why.  I left with a sheepish 'thanks', just as the two pubmen were hopping into a car.  I wonder if they are off to North Marston, they could give me a lift!" I half-heartedly thought,

I worked out that if North Marston was to say, ring last orders at 2:40pm, I had 20 minutes exactly to make the 1.1M walk to the pub.  So delighted was I that the road was a rural, traffic free affair, and that it was downhill, I jogged down it singing the theme tune to Black Beauty.  I think perhaps I'd lost my mind slightly.  It was 2:39pm, and the pub still looked open.  They WERE going to serve me, whatever!

1099.  Pilgrim, North Marston

Not that there was any question I wouldn't be served as I ordered my Chiltern Beechwood ale (a real Bucks staple beer) off a jolly landlady, but when I realised two of the three guys at the bar were saying 'hello' to me, I realised it was the Oving guys!  I told them I wished I'd asked for a lift, mentioned that I'd remembered their "don't bully him, he's a North Marston" comment, and was praised for pronouncing Oving properly!  They seemed quite taken with the BRAPA concept, especially the traumatic walking aspect of my day and my plans to go 3.2 miles further north to Winslow.  The third Aussie bloke seemed more concerned about the fact that this village had never been a Midsomer Murders setting like so many others.  But he then complained that the programme wasn't very realistic(!) and the landlady tried to appease him by saying at least Rosemary & Thyme had been filmed here, but that was no consolation to anyone.  As the hailstones came down heavier than ever, one of the pubmen went to catch his bus and I wondered whether this 3pm closure was actually going to happen, everyone seemed so relaxed, and it was another proper no-frills village pub the way village pubs should be.  At least that was some reward for the exertions of the day as I set off walking again, for a final time today!

Barmaid, two pubmen and the Aussie, enjoying life!

So another hour on foot came and went, I was immune to traffic and my legs were almost numb now.  I didn't feel like I'd drunk one pint, never mind three.  Initial panic when I reached Winslow as the door seemed locked, noooo, but I was approaching it from the side by mistake and it had quite a pretty facade.

1100.  George, Winslow

Occasionally in BRAPA, you go into a pub and it actually feels like the people within are putting on a kind of amateur dramatic play for you, just to make the blog write up even easier - Victoria in Paddington was a prime example, and this was another.  There was a weirdness about this town/village and the inhabitants which I couldn't quite put my finger on, a tiny bit like when I went to Tregaron in Wales, some places are just bizarre.  Almost like you aren't there, from the outside looking in.  A friendly little dog (not quite a Twog) greeted me on arrival, "You a dog person?" asked the pub landlady with a glint in her eyes which seemed to say "I know you are Cat Scum!" even though I tried to blag it.  "He's called Geoffrey, and he's very friendly!" she told me.  And repeated the "friendly" bit so many times during the next half hour, I started to suspect this dog was a hired assassin.   A student aged couple came in and perched on a barrel shaped table, this was quite a photogenic pub in truth, though lacked something of the charm of our earlier pubs.  A middle aged man with grey hair who seemed to know the pub inside out appeared.  Student girl seemed to flirt with him - "I liked you with your beard, but you still look nice without it" she shouted across to him.  He seemed chuffed, her boyfriend wished he could grow one.  A little girl appeared with her Dad, she'd just finished school and was too entertaining to be given "Twild" status.  "Where's Jessica?" she said referring to a dog too old to come to the pub anymore.   But she was adaptable enough to embrace Geoffrey, but not fully believing the "he's friendly" story anymore than me!  Though did later feed him a bag of pork scratchings,   She interrogated anyone who knew Geoffrey, including our now beardless middle aged friend.  Then an old man came in, Geoffrey rushes over, "hello Johnny!" says the old man.  "HE'S NOT CALLED JOHNNY, HE'S CALLED GEOFFREY!" admonishes the little girl.  "STOP CALLING HIM JOHNNY"  And just when it couldn't get any more confusing, a dog called "Jessie" appears, and a friendly under the table Twog scuffle breaks out.  And just as I'm leaving, a man walks in and both dogs start barking and growling madly.  "I'm from Stoke-on-Trent" he explains at the bar, which perhaps explains everything.

Barmaid serves a customer who has recently had his beard removed

Little girl fails to fully trust Geoffrey

Boyfriend wishes he could grow beard after gf comment,
Probably no surprise then that on the bus back to Aylesbury, a girl behind me was trying to explain away her friend's violent conduct towards a college tutor, "he was being wound up, he tried to ignore, but he just snapped, and he's only just been released so we're worried what'll happen now".  I was worried too and relieved to be back in Aylesbury, as no one has ever said, ever!

After a quick trip to Waitrose for some snacks, and a quick clean up, I noticed the sun was out so headed the short walk along Aylesbury's poor excuse for a High Street to my final "town tick".  Martin Taylor's not so favourable review (to put it politely!) was running through my head, so I was a bit skeptical on arrival.

1101.  Bricklayers Arms, Aylesbury

It didn't look very open at all, but once I'd figured out that occasionally in pub-land, you have to actually turn a door handle, I was in to find a bustling after work crowd.  Think I'd been lucky to enter at the lower bar, which seemed a lot more pubby (though I wasn't brave enough to wander up and look for the loo!), the young bar boy had a sickly sycophantic expression of someone who'd had a dosage of that 'Ember Inn drug' injected to his skull (not that this was an Ember Inn or anything so upsetting), but how else do you explain him being perfectly happy that I paid for my over-priced pint of London Pride exclusively in twenty pence coins?!  He was loving it.  As I sat in the creaky low roofed beamed old bar under the TV drinking perhaps the best pint of Pride I'd ever had, I suspected I'd had a much luckier experience than Martin.  But you can only judge these things on face value.  A father/son combo were sat at the bar, the Dad was a bit of an oddball I thought and in a move reminiscent of Winslow, he started slagging off another young barman - "have you started shaving yet?" and "you are never 18!".  Weird as he was with his teenage tracksuited pepsi drinking son, and this barman had dark panda eyes which made him look like either a boxer, an insomniac, or a drug addict.  But not a underager!  Dad then asked for the Spanish football to be put on the TV, which to me is the sign of someone who is a bit wrong.  And to top it off, when Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn" played over the speakers, they actually did a kind of impromptu duet, the highlight/lowlight being when Dad sang the line "cold and I am shamed, lying naked on the floor".  To his son!  In a high pitched voice!  After everything that'd gone before.  I'm not kidding.  I stuck my face in my Pride, drank up, and left.

Pride is drinking well!

Father/Son, pre-duet and Spanish football.
So that was day two, a bit of a classic BRAPA day out and though I needed an early night and a lot of rest, it had me in the mood for some top Chilterns ticking on day 5, which I will review shortly.



  1. I originally read that as "lurching old duffers" - which they probably were as well ;-)

    The extreme difficulty in choosing which table to sit at is a characteristic of the older pubgoer.

  2. The level of depression emanating from an omnibus station varies depending on the time of day. In the morning when you are heading towards a pub, so long as you comply with the local authority's morning peak restriction, you will find the place filled with people awaiting their ever closer death. In the evening you are more likely to come across the more frightening people a town has to offer, which is how I suspect you find the Yorkshire bus stations.

    The railway stations of Winslow Road and Quainton Road were very early closures and were formally part of the Metropolitan Railway. I thought that would cheer you up.

    Geoffrey sounds like a superb candidate for pub pet of the year. Far better than any cat.

    1. Geoffrey did a job but ultimately, if we are going down the dog route, look no further than Waterloo Arms dogs in Southampton. Though I'm still hoping a cat can come along and sweep to glory, we saw one fleetingly on Sat didn't we?

      So re bus stations, the conclusion is I prefer the frightening people than the close to death ones? What does this say about me?

      That middle paragraph, I'm glad I didn't know during WORST WALK EVER.

  3. The frightening people in bus stations are generally more interesting than the old gimmers. Something amusing will often happen to compensate for the terror. There will even sometimes be some totty on display.

    The stations at Winslow Road and Quainton Road, like a lot of village shacks, were still a stride from the village they purported to serve.

    1. That's why the Victorians gave stations the suffix "Road", to indicate that they were on the road to a place but actually nowhere near it.

  4. Yes indeed Mudge, it was a practice particularly used by the Met and the Great Western. The only examples still open that come to mind are Morchard Road and Llanibister Road, as Bodmin Road has now been renamed to reflect the fact that it has a big car park. Edgware Road of the Metropolitan Railway is named after the road nearby and at no stage was intended to serve the settlement of Edgware.

    Several railway stations of other companies were situated nowhere particularly close to the settlement that they purport to serve but the name does not indicate this.

    I suppose it makes sense that a great number of such stations have ceased to be given that they served nobody in particular.