Monday 31 July 2017

BRAPA - July Review / August Preview (2017)

The sun sets over an amazing BRAPA July in Cornwall

A RECORD BREAKING month of 56, yes 56, new pubs - easily eclipsing the previous record of 45 set in April 2016.  Will it ever be beaten?  If it is, call my liver consultant.  She's called Elly.

Even leading (and only) BRAPA strategist Tom Irvin will be pleasantly surprised, predicting I'd need 53 for the month to keep the 'dream' alive (the 'dream' is being not to drop back below 1125 - the quarter point - in the GBG - when the new edition is released late Aug/early Sept for Privilege Members like me).  

I'm currently on 1214 as I write this, and considering I lost 110 pubs last year, 90 the year before that, 75 the year before that, I'll probably lose about 130 pubs, meaning I'd need to be on 1255, a 41 pub month coming up??  Arrghh, probably not.  If I can beat the August average of 24.67 (so, 25 whole pubs then!), I might not be too far off.  Aim for 30?  Oooh go on then, but August is traditionally a tricky month as we'll see below.

So, pubs of the month?  How can I choose 3 from 56 - I'd say beer quality has been the highlight of the month, and the standard of pub has been very good.  We'll go for 6 ...... with lots of excellent near misses....

1.  Bhurtpore, Aston
2. Star Inn, St Just
3.  New Inn, Tywardreath
4. Old Town Hall Vaults, Whitchurch
5. Wenlock Arms, Hoxton'
6.  County, Gosforth

Star Inn, St Just
The month had a nice varied feel, the highlight was my first ever Cornwall tick, followed by 24 more in the best BRAPA holiday I've been on so far.

I made important Cheshire inroads, gave Buckinghamshire a little tickle, kept on with 'surprise' county Tyne & Wear, did a bit of Central London to irk the purists, and continued the resurgence of Tuesday nights in Greater Manchester, near where most of the pubby woodland folk live.

August Preview

If I could pick one month I find pub ticking a real psychological effort, it is August.  However, with all the above stats and projections whirring round my head, I'm a bit more focussed this year and will be getting off to a good start in the North West (Greater Manchester on 1st, Blackpool area from 2nd through the weekend in between punk rock bands).

Will the punk festival deliver, as in 2015, or will it be the 2016 no ale venue?

I'll try and keep on with Tuesday nights throughout - some 4pm finishes might help as places like Poynton, Disley and Bromley Cross really need that extra hour after work!

On the 12th, I'll be cracking on with Cheshire, who knows I might have finished the county by the winter.  There is no Buckinghamshire this month sadly, I've only got six pubs left there and allowing for new entries, Cambridgeshire should be in sight by Christmas.

The football season starts of course, scary bad if you are a Hull City fan, but 19th sees a first football/NFFD trip (TBA) with an away game at those Drama Queens Park Rangers, easily the easiest offended club in the football league.

Loyal Trooper, South Anston - Fun fact, I've visited pubs on 2nd August in every year of BRAPA history

And on the 26th, I'm back in Cheshire for more posho thrills n spills / down to earth proper pubs - it is really a strange pub county but I'm enjoying it, diverse is interesting for blog writing.  You can be annoyed and awe struck in equal measures.

Of course, if CAMRA's GBG distributors do their jobs better this year, privilege club members outside the south east may receive their GBG's on something like Fri 25th Aug (before the bank hol weekend as in 2015).  This could change my final Cheshire trip plan, literally overnight!

But the likelihood is it'll come more like early September, hopefully in time for my next Bucks trip on September 2nd but wouldn't even guarantee that.

I find August hard because I have one eye on the new GBG, suffer an inner crisis of confidence, where I find myself sat in pubs mid August thinking "waaaah this could be all pointless if it's not in the new GBG".  I know you could say that about any time of year, but I feel it most strongly in August.

When GBG pub scenes descend into this, you question whether they'll make the new edition come September

And once I have the new GBG and I've slashed out the brewery section (I'm a pro now, having practised on 2 past editions), I'll retreat into "two week reverse owl syndrome" which veteran readers know means I'm ticking the Guide behind closed York doors and can't leave the house.  We'll also have the new 'kit' released for the 2017/18 season, new highlighter pens, a new Ryman's pad, oh my lord, can you feel the excitement??  Course you can!


Sunday 30 July 2017

BRAPA - Gosforth and Multiply

My decision to seat myself and Daddy 'Chauffeur' BRAPA in the flip up seats at the end of the First Class section of the train spectacularly backfired when a young Mum and Ginger Twild (the original, and still the worst) joined us at Northallerton to cause mayhem all the way to Newcastle.  He'd shout "A Carrot!" as he was flipped upside down, we had to respond, and Dad even had to pretend to be a ticket inspector.

Things didn't improve at Newcastle station, when a scary swarm and green and white hoops started gurgling in Scottish, and we ran for the Metro, as one Geordie local lifted up a stray Sunderland fan and attempted to use the poor young man as a human shield.  Although Celtic were playing Sunderland, they seemed more intent on upsetting the Black & White striped ones.

So after those traumas, you could safely say that despite the pre 11am hour, we were ready for a pint as we landed in the "Marlow of the North East". As so often happens, that first pint would take place in a Wetherspoons.

1210.  Job Bulman, Gosforth

I thought nothing of it to see the pub full of dressed up raucous Tyneside folk, I just thought this was par for the course before 11am on a Saturday morning.  I'd apologised to Dad, it seems he's borne the brunt of some rather questionable 'Spoons GBG entries over the last 12 months, Leicester and Louth both springing to mind as pretty awful experiences.  The GBG entry for this was brief, and using terms like "they strive to offer a range of ales" suggests even the local CAMRA had misgivings about this entry.  They needn't have worried, this was a timely reminder of how good Wetherspoons can be when they are done well.  Dad didn't even get his famous "Pint of Wetherspoons", the Mordue something something was easily one of the nicest 'Spoons pints ever.  And this, despite a functional stodgy baldie barman trying to scare me by only pulling a frothy quarter of each pint, before turning the pump clip round, ripping off the price tag, and frowning at the world.  "Is it off?" I enquired.  "Errr no" he replies, as though I'd be mad to think it(!)   Dad moved us outside into the overcast and imposingly high walled courtyard, where we were joined by some bulbous nosed local drinkers and two suited dudes, one with terrible ponytail and earring and one with terrible beard and habit of talking into the base of his iPhone.  "The stables .... are full .... of hay" enunciated Mr Ponytail carefully.  Was this a drugs drop?  Then it started raining.  We all got up to go inside.  Mr Ponytail turns to me and says "Why aye, is this going to last all day?  I'm devastated like!"  Errrm , do I look like a weatherman?  Inside, we got to see the pub was clean, polished, and there weren't even any of the now famous Wetherspoon queues.  A good way to start the day.

Eventually getting the final three quarters of my pint.

Dad, before the rains came.

Some locals, pre-Ponytail and Suit man.
Just around the corner was pub two.  It helped us reminisce about our brief time as semi-regulars at the County in Hull (the only other County pub I could think of) where the old couple had our pints ready when we got to the bar, as they'd seen us walking down the street.  Shame in a way, we always wondered what the keg Mansfield Dark Mild was like, but never got chance to tell them we wanted a change from the Banksies Bitter.  Oh well!  How would this County compare?

1211.  County, Gosforth

Walking in through a tiled corridor past stained glass windows and locals nodding in a "Ho'way Bonnie lads" kind of way is always an encouraging start.  The bar looked shiny, the staff were nice and the ales looked riveting (Rivet Catcher to be precise, ha ha ha, and amazing quality again) as long as you ignore the jam jars.  I'm sure pub jam jars are getting bigger.  The right hand side of the pub looked cosier, benchier and superior and we sat near a canny group of locals - one with excellent bright socks - and a strange knack of managing to use the term "trousers snake" in most conversations, and then nodding sagely like they'd just split the atom.  We watched the cricket, exciting moment as England tried to get the wicket so South Africa followed on.  Two seconds later, they hit a 4 and the anti-climax was complete.  Two more strange suited guys in shades loitered outside, eventually coming in, and the penny finally dropped there was horse racing at Gosforth Park (which I thought was a film), which explained a sign saying "the Premier and Prosecco package has sold out", trying to throw this wonderful pub into disrepute.  Not just any race day, the Collingwood Insurance Beeswing Raceday!  Ignore that though, this is a truly excellent pub.

Good ales, ignore the jam jars.

Socks, trousers snakes and cricket.
 Going back towards the Metro station was the third of our Gosforth trilogy, and having passed it on the other side of the road, I'd seen a very nice looking old pub sign and was feeling optimistic.  On closer inspection, I could see some large glass windows saying things like "craft cider", "stone baked pizzas", and "cocktails".

1212.  Gosforth Hotel, Gosforth

So this was funny, trying to be airy, modern and cool, but inhabited by tiny-headed 80 year old hardened drinkers, standing in resolute defiance as if to say "this was our pub in 1950, and it's still our pub today".  The barmaid was a chirpy young thing, and offering me a CAMRA discount was both a superb touch, and slightly insulting.  I hadn't shaved, but I certainly wasn't wearing my white socks and sandals combination so not sure how she identified me.  T-shirt saying "British Real Ale Pub Adventure?"  Hmmm, surely not.  We smiled sympathetically at the unwavering locals, and sat down in front of the cricket again where England were now batting and this hopelessly nervous character called Jennings (with all the substance of a pint of Cumberland) stayed on the back foot, terrified he'd get like a 4th consecutive duck, so more tensions for about a minute, til he got a run from an overthrow and even he had a chuckle.  I did too, at the Viz cartoons in the bog, and as another man with a small head sat on the seat just along from us looking determinedly at insect graffiti on a wall , deliberately avoiding eye contact (weird bunch in here), it was time to get back to the Metro.

Workie Ticket - another Geordie classic superbly kept!

Man tries not to be brought into disrepute by the creature behind him.

Another local of stoic, unswerving qualities.
To get to our next pub, a 15 min walk from Chillingham Road, we had to go all the way back into Newcastle and change at Monument.

Just outside the Metro station was The Chillingham a great pub I went to in 2003 to watch the Groovie Ghoulies in an upstairs room, where female guitarist Roach failed to 'get' my deadpan English humour, and thought I was really upset about the merchandise on offer.  Little did I know that 14.5 years later, I'd be walking past it saying "that was a great BRAPA pub to get done!"

The pub was a bit of a walk, Dad was dawdling like a 70 year old, but soon we were there and the sun was out again .....

1213.  Northumberland Hussar, Heaton

Large pub this, as I soon discovered when looking for the loos and doing the usual "it's in the last place you look, to the amusement of the locals".   Despite this, Dad still hadn't seen a member of staff to serve him by the time I'd returned, and when a spindly young man with long hair did appear (reminiscent of a Pirates of the Caribbean extra), he appeased me by telling me "good choice!" for the beer I selected.  Though it's warmness suggested he'd said that because no one else was drinking it!  We sat to the right, it was comfy, but to be brutally honest, more than a bit bland.  No pub characters, beermats hidden under huge menus, but "nice" enough.  That is to say, if this was your local, you'd be rather pleased I think.  You could happily come and here, sit in a quiet corner and read a book.  Or come in here with a group of mates, have a bit of "bantz",  wax lyrical on "La Liga" and accumulators, even though if asked,  you claim to be a die-hard Newcastle Utd and Blyth Spartans fan despite having not seen either in 5 years.    But as a pub for pub lovers, not really.  The Hussar on the ceiling was noteworthy, smuggling our own snacks was delicious, and it's better than the Brewers Fayre in Great Yarmouth.

The beer they WANT you to drink.

Not much going on here

A rotated hussar!

Getting warmer.
A couple of stops down the line was Byker, where I'd done Cluny plenty of times and the excellent Cumberland Arms once, but this one had always evaded me.  It's become one of those "Oh My God Si, How Have You Never Been 'Ere Before?" pub which everyone in the UK has visited apart from me.  In that situation, I normally respond with "Bedford Arms, Souldrop" and that shuts them up.

1214.  Free Trade Inn, Byker

And once inside, you could feel the quality straight away with the old interior, and it was even busier outside with most people wanting to stare at the million bridges crossing the River Tyne amidst this surprise mini heatwave.  Perfect for us, more space inside as Dad went down some steps to locate a seat.  At the bar, a young man with Rory Delap's nose and arms was trying to tell his girlfriend a story about his mate who told a taxi driver he'd bought a round, but then kept forgetting to buy his own drink, and ended up drinking 2 pints all night.  As you can see, a truly awful anecdote but girlfriend just walked off mid sentence!  This knocked the poor blokes confidence to the extent that he started to "fade out" so I looked at him encouragingly and nodded, and he wound the story up to me.  "2 pints?  That's crazy!" I replied, though it really wasn't.  I took our amazing pints of something Northumbrian (quality of ale incredible today) over to Dad, who was closely inspecting the nicotine stained wall - "carefully manufactured" was his skeptical conclusion, and he was right.  The pub also had chipped paint on the banisters, not to mention humourous toilet graffiti, and for all the shabby basic feel, you felt this pub knew exactly what it was doing.  A twild looking startled asked if I'd seen his sister, 'errm there's a girl behind you with the same monobrow' was about to be my reply, but thankfully he turned around and saw her.  Dad worked out the jukebox was free, but nothing was played, so how bad was the record choice?  Coldplay or Rod Stewart only?  Certainly no Dire Straits or I guarantee I'd have been up there!  Punk rock.  And that sums it up.  If you have already visited, well done, give yourself a pat on the back, now go to Souldrop and stop bleating.

Bearded lumberjack in 'confused by handpumps' possibility.

Dad and his nicotine wall

Dad worked out it made sense to walk from here into Newcastle along the Quayside, it was 'move' of the day, a really lovely walk.

Time was on our side, but not on the right side of town for my final city centre tick so I took him to the pub that most impressed me on my summer day out, the Split Chimp.  The barman who reverse psychologicalled me into ordering a Titanic Chocolate and Vanilla Stout was lurking menacingly, so I had to order the Titanic Cappuccino, if that sounds logical.   Now Mother BRAPA has been using my blog to spy on Dad's drinking so she can tell him off, so here is proof of him "enjoying" an Orange Juice instead and being a good boy:

"Oh, where art thou, Cappuccino Stout!"

Anyway, this was still as great as I remembered it, and time ticked on so we got back to the station, got an actual coffee, and sauntered back to York without much fuss, avoiding York's more evil racegoers at the other end.  Another solid day.

Will I BRAP pre-punk festival?  I said I would, but depends how organised I am with my packing etc.
Stay tuned, Si

Friday 28 July 2017

BRAPA - Disappoynton' .... but Craftbrew to the Rescue!

The most noteworthy moment of the 17:09 train journey between Leeds and Manchester Piccadilly occurred when a blotchy faced student girl hopped on at Huddersfield with a cello, and proceeded to blub her way through to Manchester surrounded by unsympathetic jokey businessmen.

She still managed to recover herself enough to proudly tell a mischievous  Asian twild "it's a Cello, like a big guitar!" and the same to the businessmen, with added "...I've just graduated" so why so upset?  It wasn't her student debt, £60,000 she reckoned (WHATTTT?)  in one of her cheerier moments, but it's okay said the businessmen, "if you vote Corbyn, he'll wipe it our for you!"  She looked skeptical and started sobbing again and went to the loo, we'd only reached Marsden by this point.  Longest journey ever!

Maybe it was an omen, for once I landed in Manchester, rail chaos reigned as we heard about someone 'throwing themselves under a train at Bramhall' as the guard delicately put it.  Sad times, perhaps he/she mistook it for Bramall Lane, perhaps he/she realised there weren't any GBG pubs in Bramhall.

Upshot of it was the train wasn't going any further than Stockport, I'd need a replacement bus.  Well, it was already going to be a very late do, so I abandoned the whole idea.  Luckily, I have a contingency plan for such Manchester moments ("always expect to be let down in Manchester, you might be pleasantly surprised" is a decent life motto), and this plan B means getting something done on the Metro.

So before long, I was back in sunny Media City, where I'd lurked at 10:30am in April 2016 only to be told rather abruptly that they weren't opening til after 12 noon due to a party the night before, and I then offended the Mum of the party boy (trying to recover his fave scarf no less, what kinda party was this ?!) by asking whether Lymm was in Greater Manchester.  She walked off with her nose in the air, no scarf, but a better understanding of BRAPA.

1209.  Craftbrew, Salford Quays

It was a novel feeling to walk inside, not something you take for granted when you've waited outside for 45 minutes with no happy outcome.  A proper barman of some integrity, for such a suspect looking establishment, served me some very nice Brightside bitter, though he must've rang Hambleden's Stag & Huntsman and said "Si's here, what glassware do you recommend to annoy him?" because I ended up with something scarily similar, hard to hold and horrid.  A beermat appeared, but it was an "under the counter" one, used merely for mopping the spillage, almost as though drip trays have never seen the light of day in Media City.  I sat in a comfy green armchair (hopelessly non pubby) by the door under an L.S. Lowry mural.  I didn't need Fiona Bruce, Philip Mould or potential #pubman Bendor Grosvenor to tell me this was 'fake' not 'fortune' but was still nice.  Across from me were a group of about 15 young media types you may expect in such a place, "airbrushed cyber pricks" if you'll allow me to use a "The Thick of It" expression.  At least those directly opposite seemed a bit more human,  the white topped blonde girl even smiled, and one cool dude did his best to clash with the wall behind him, on account of hairstyle and shirt.   The nervy intense"genius" bloke kept putting his hands over his ears whenever one of the girls spoke.  I couldn't hear what was happening sadly, poor acoustics due to high ceiling, but his reaction suggested it wasn't worth the bother.  Despite myself, I actually relaxed into enjoying this place, helped by the ale and comfort, and yes, easy for BRAPA idiots (i.e. me)  to sneer but this is a place I could get on board with if someone castrated me and confiscated my Good Beer Guide.

Clashing, Smiley, Beardie and Hear No Evil - the four wise monkeys of Craftbrew

A beer I'd recommend (if kept well like here)

Glass on loan from Hambleden, almost as irritating.
 Train journey back was a ball-ache but I'd taken satisfaction from 'thinking on my feet' when I needed to.  Initial thought had been "go to Stockport" but I feel like with such pub royalty there, I kind of have to announce it 24 hrs in advance (well, apart from when I did Armoury and Old Vic off the cuff).
Where to next midweek then? (Which might actually be Monday due to Punk Festival packing, a dangerous day to pub tick, gulp).  Well, yesterday taught me that if finishing at 5pm rather than 4pm, further flung Cheshire-esque ticks are unwise so try and think more "outer Manchester".  That'll be in my mind.  Perhaps something beginning with a C, D or E.

Exciting BRAPA Times Coming soon!

Exciting times on the horizon anyway.  The BRAPA 2017/18 kits will be revealed soon which I'm happy about even if no one else cares.

Saturday is going to be fun, again Dad's chauffeur skills have been put on hold (taking pity on him after all that Great Yarmouth back n forth) as we go to a mystery train location.  I have 5 or 6 pubs in mind, as we really look to smash this record breaking month.  Tom said I needed 53 to stay "on track", I will actually pass that barring something unforeseen.

I'll say cheerio now, til then,


Boring Bonus Feature

And in a controversial move that felt a bit wrong and I'll probably get some stick for,  I've mutilated my GBG with a large Stanley Knife as a kind of experiment with only one month left on the current Guide.  Let us just say it weighs a lot less, is therefore more manageable and has 300 pointless pages missing from near the back.  Controversial, not saying I'll do it with the NEW edition, but this was a trial to see if the book still held together from the spine, and it does!  And it has the back cover in tact.  Poor Isle of Man final page looks a bit ragged but I'm not off there before September, and when opening it, the pubs on the inner part of the right hand pages are a bit trickier to highlight as they are a bit more 'raised' where i didn't quite get the full page out.  There you go, that was a paragraph for the purists.

Monday 24 July 2017

BRAPA - An Amble Down to Hambleden

"Errrm, I think you MIGHT have gone past the stop...." I said to the nice but totally incompetent bus driver (he'd already not known the price for a single to Hambleden / Mill End, or any other stop off points for that matter) as he raced along the main road.  I had pressed the bell in good time with some ferocity just to be sure (I had a bad experience in Wintersett once).

"Ohhh, I'm so sorry" he says collapsing with embarrassment into his steering wheel, then braking suddenly on a sharp country road bend, almost causing a six pile car up behind him .....

It was too amusing to make me angry, plus the nice Euro blonde (possibly Whigfield's niece) had exchanged smiles with me as a result, the sun was shining, and the pub didn't open til noon and it was only 11:20am.  Shame the six cars behind looked angrily at me, thinking I'd made some late decision to hop off.  If only they knew.

After a fairly fraught road walk to Hambleden, I was chased down into the village by a dog with bald ears.  "Is he yours?" says some posh lady straight out of Midsomer Murders.  "No, I hoped he was yours!"  I replied.  "I've brought him a biscuit" she replies randomly, chucking what looked like a Bella Vita breakfast thing in his general direction.  Then a whistle from the hills, and dog bolts off like a thing possessed.

In the village, two old ladies are chatting across the road whilst gardening.  "Have you been to the new Aldi?" "No, there's an even newer Waitrose in town!"  They may have been talking about Marlow.

11:40am now and pub door open, gotta give it a try .....

There was a barmaid stood at the bar, chopping lemons.  She looked up at me expectantly. "Are you open early then?"  "NAWWWW hahaha" she replied, as if I'd asked the most ridiculous question ever.  I tell ya what luv, how about not have the door wide open then.

So I hung around on this kind of parky cricket pitch area for 20 mins, typical the heavens opened when it had been sunny only minutes before.   I even gave it the complimentary 2 minutes extra, walking in at 12:02.

1203.  Stag & Huntsman, Hambleden

There was already at least 10 people in the pub - typical!  It seemed to be part of a bigger complex and may well have been residential.  And due to the narrowness of the bar, getting served was a challenge.  Staff were ultra friendly, whilst an Eastern European girl misheard what I wanted, I just went with the ale she thought anyway (they all looked the same to me!) two other members of staff asked how I was today?  One of those where you almost say "it's okay, i've already been served" before realising they are actually just being nice.  Shocking.  I realised I was sat in amongst the 'regulars' who'd closed ranks, trying to keep their own section of the pub to themselves, away from tourist chit chat.  I was included in a conversation about getting a barbecue imported from Spain for £35 and tried to look impressed.  Then the ringleader told me my ale looked cloudy.  He was right but it tasted fine, later on it didn't!  I really must be more discerning in this situation.  A friendly young wedding Phil Mitchell and wife (from Essex) appeared from behind the curtain, and joined the local chat.  He ascertained the locals love Hambleden, but hate the constant changes to this pub!  Phil then told a pointless tale about his daughter struggling to get her passport renewed after a DX delivery mix up.  Hats off to him for having the gall to tell a room of locals a story so dull.  The two later arrival locals were amusing, 'Brett' and an old man with a neckerchief.  He came in to talk about his recent health problems but was told he was looking bronzed and well.  "Must be all the blood transfusions" he concluded.  I randomly said "sex, drugs and rock n roll" (they'd been talking Mick Jagger's longevity) but my contributions were limited.  The ringleader told a story about how he'd been chatting to a "delicious Swedish girl" at a party in the 80's, but she stole his unique 'Rush' lighter.  I'd put my GBG on the table to see if it generated any conversation, it didn't.  Time to leave.

Ringleader thinks "what's my next anecdote going to be?"

My murky beer, close up view.  Awful glass too.
I walked back to the bus stop, and after a six minute delay and argument about ticket validity (I really wasn't having good bus experiences today), I found myself back in Marlow from where I'd arrived early on.

The town felt like it was grabbing you by the lapels and pleading "I'm posh, honestly, you HAVE to believe me!!" with an array of flimsy high street eateries, boutiques, bars and restaurants and shoppers who've forgotten how to smile cos they know in their heart of hearts, the Marlow dream they were sold 30 years ago was built on wafer thin promises.  It made Wokingham look like Rochdale.  And you can't say any fairer than that.

Luckily, looks like I was off to the realest place in town!

1204.  Royal British Legion, Marlow

Apologies for lack of outdoor shot, phone died on my at the vital moment.  So, a GBG Club.  It's been a while, always a bit of a hornet's nest to be honest, knowing how they'll react, so after getting little change out of the two 'practical jokers' (Simon and a postman) smoking outside, I walked in where the barman and two old blokes were sat.  "Am I okay to come in for a drink?" "CAMRA are ya?" "Yeh, do you wanna see my card?" "Naaaah."  Nice and relaxed then, so I drank a pint of 'Slapstick' that the locals in Hambleden had been raving about.  It was okay.  Much better quality.  I got chatting to one of the old chaps, a scousers with a hearing aid and a hatred of most things.  He liked York, which was good, but laughed when I said I grew up in Saffron Walden (we'd been talking about not losing native accents, not that I speak Essex, just not very Yorkshire, he'd been in Marlow 40 years).  First person I've met who said Saffron Walden was shit, he also said L**ds was a shithole, Hull old town was nice but most of it was shit, he rolled his eyes when I said I worked in a bank, oh and he really likes Reading, unless you have to pay for a coffee in a shopping centre,  hmmmm.  He wanted to give me a guided tour, but as he had a scooter, he just commentated whilst I walked around the room admiring the medals, gun collection etc.  Really good place.  Not much else to say, but I was impressed with this little club.  Our scouse friend was a bit concerned Simon and the postman would hide his scooter again like they did last week, but when I left, it was still in it's rightful place!

Boring BRAPA Stat of the Day .... This was my 46th pub tick of the month, a new BRAPA record.  It also means I only have 6 pub ticks left in Bucks.  But will the 2018 GBG ruin all that?  Last year, I'd done 10 Bucks pubs before the GBG came out, it went all the way down to 4.  

That was all I could do in Buckinghamshire today, and probably, until I have the 2018 GBG, depending when it comes through the post this year (I'm back in Bucks on 2nd Sept so it's touch & go) so it was time to get back into London and get some 'ticking' done before the 18:30 train back.

I had the inevitable change at Maidenhead, where I'm still waiting for the town to open their debut micropub 'The Maidenhead Mutant' (a tribute the the locals) and then crossed London from Paddington to Moorgate cos i don't like getting onto the Northern Line at Kings Cross.  One stop took me to Old Street, where suddenly I was hit by a young, cool, hipstery vibe quite different from South Bucks I can tell ya!

Once, I got my bearings in the now incessant rain, I found the pub easily looking very nice ....

1205.  Old Fountain, Old Street

I'd wanted to come here for a while as I keep seeing it in the GBG, and built up this image in my head of it being some rare untouched London boozer full of straggly old blokes and crones straight off skid row.  Sadly not, but good news was the real ales appeared straight in front of me at the lower bar.  But why wasn't the beardo barman not looking up from his modern day cash register?  Well, because it wasn't the handpumps, just the pub's unique 'blackboard' style way of showing what was on.  Utterly confusing, and a bit annoying.  Luckily, a nervy Andrex puppy version of Cesc Fabregas and spied me, and called me to the top.  One of those young men who set you on edge, a bit all over the place.  Trying to do too much at once.  In contrast, his colleagues did nothing and stared dead eyed, through their long curly locks / beards.  The main feature of the pub seemed to be a few illuminated fish tanks being passed off as an aquarium.  The majority of the punters were watching the fish silently, like you might watch a football match, not sure what they thought the fish were going to do but the sense of anticipation was very real.  Oh, and not much else happened as I sat under some stained glass windows imagining this pub 100 years ago!

Most dishonest way of asking for tips ever!

The big match is on!

Nervy Cesc tries to get young Billy Joel/Stephen Mangan to do something.

It's half time, time to look away from the 'aquarium'.

I'd noticed on my GBG App that a pub was only 0.4 miles away, AND in the right direction for walking back towards Kings Cross.  Thing was, it was classed under North London so I'd not really thought about it.  Glad I did .....

This would be Pub of the Day, hooray!
1206.  Wenlock Arms, Hoxton

And the lack of any expectations was a good thing.  I guess you could say the "exciting for my blog" bit all happened in the first 5 minutes at the bar.  But firstly, the key to this pub was not being too central as to be full of passing trade, tourists etc.  I've often commented on what lovely buildings many London pubs are, only to be ruined by a hectic atmosphere, oh and shit beer!  But this was calm with nice beer but as I stood at the corner of the bar, the only customer wanting to be served I may add, that old affliction of "invisibility" struck, and a loud cockney Frankie Boyle in a huge leary group of about ten swivelled round on his chair, reached a long arm up to the bar, and ordered a round that just went on and on and on.  You know the sort, "ohhh mate, I'll 'ave 4 red wines too for the layydeez .... ooh yeh, what crisps do you have, errrm errrm two salt n vinegar, two cheese n onion, errrr did you say prawn cocktail, oooh hang on, what's that Jools, you want a pickled egg but only if it comes in a Fullers bun case on a bed of rocket leaves?"  Okay, I exaggerate the last bit, but you get the gist.  Annoying twat.  Anyway, a man at the bar could see my pain, and moved a stool slightly to quote him "part the waves" to help me get served.  A nice gesture but thought he looked a bit "fruity" so I avoided eye contact, but then a tall leggy blonde appeared from the bogs and they left together with the words "are we off then hun?"  So I got that wrong.  But I sat down with my pint in peace, soaked up the special chilled out afternoon atmosphere, a few odd characters like sockless Beethoven appeared but this is North London after all so even the old dudes are hipsters aren't they?  Top pub.

Finally sat down with pint, notice white shirted sitting down round buyer.

A nice entrance mosaic doormat thing

Hipster Beethoven and a couple of other locals
I had a feeling my last pub(s) might be a bit less interesting having read the GBG description (always a mistake) so I spiced it up by wondering if I could actually squeeze two in between here and Kings Cross and still get the 18:30?   Not long before I arrived at the next one .....

1207.  Brewhouse & Kitchen, Angel

I don't know why I was surprised to see their own ales on, after all it did say "Brewhouse" but I just find words meaningless now in pub titles.  After all, as for the "kitchen" bit, I didn't see one old housewife bleaching the floor, washing the dishes or chopping veg for a stew.  It was more like a gaudy school canteen with some failed attempts at mood lighting.  Barmaid's were of the P.I.S.S. variety (I don't think my bright green rain mack was acceptable to the pub ethos), plenty of Robert Palmer backing dancer about them, lots of pouting, side glances and unnecessary swishing of hair and hips (not that I was captivated by them or anything).  In fact, the whole female to male ratio was an eye opener, but when I wondered why my posing table had such a surprisingly calm atmosphere around,  I realised I was next to a large group of deaf Greek hipsters, frantically signing to each other!  A middle aged woman behind me was finding her man friend far more amusing than should've been the case, if her laugh wasn't bad enough, she CLAPPED when she found something really funny.  Utterly hideous.  She reminded me of a seal.  If seals were dickheads.  Awkward moment in loo as I made eye contact with a man of impressive sculptured facial hair, he said "hi" and then held the door open for me even when I had barely got to handwashing stage, never mind bloody drying them! I told him not to bother.  Anyway, no time to loiter, the sixth pub was still on - just!  

This Black IPA was as good as any pint as I had all day

My view from probably Table 13.

Another view, excuse the slight thumb

The distant "kitchen".
Anyway, I was glad to get that one done because it is the "first" London pub listed in the GBG 2017 and I like the order.  Last pub was again classed under North London, and despite crossing a road I didn't need to, I was in enough time to have 27.5 minutes there and still get back to KX in time for the 18:30.  Phew, I'll thank that Black IPA for being very drinkable. 

1208.  Craft Beer Co, Pentonville

I've been to Craft Beer Co pubs in Farringdon and Brighton before now, and really enjoyed them both, but this one left me a bit uninspired by comparison.  It didn't help that when I got to the bar, I realised they were having a "takeover" (annoying trendy pub thing where they get lots of ales on from a brewery, usually as trendy as themselves so they can all wallow in smug satisfaction together).  Sadly for me, the brewery in question was Bad Seed - a good if slightly trendy brewery from Malton near York, a bit like Brass Castle's more frumpy sister who still gets her fair share of cock.  Anyway.  One sip of my ale and I noticed it was approaching full-on vinegar, and after my ineptitude in Hambleden, I was determined to call it out early.  Barman pulls himself some.  Takes a sip.  Looks confused.  Looks at me like I've got two heads.  Frowns.  Takes another sip.  Jeez, this was nerve-wracking (plus I had limited time in here as it was!)  Asks his colleague for a second opinion.  Colleague takes one sniff and goes "ugh, definitely on the turn!" Scary how some staff can't tell.  Perhaps he's not an ale drinker.  But shouldn't he know anyway?  Excitement over, I tried to find a seat in the depths of this limited establishment.  All I found was a huge reserved area "Sarah - 6pm", it was approaching 6 so I left.  On my way out of the room, a floppy haired lad from a large group opposite said "haha but imagine if he had been Sarah, how funny that'd have been!"  Yes it would.  London humour?  Amazing.    I had to sit at the piano, the only seat in the house.  At least third time this has happened in BRAPA history!  It was locked so I couldn't play the pub my three stock tunes - jingle bells, tuna fish and 'there was an old man with a beard', the latter of which i could've changed to "young man with a beard" to make it 21st century relevant.  

Chucklehead is OFF!

I got the 18:30 without much a fuss, a 34 minute delay didn't help but ker-chinggggg, compensation time.  At the York end, I popped into York Tap where I had a very pleasant Oakham Inferno and nobody weird tried to talk to me, which was weird in itself for York Tap on a Saturday night.  Great day out, and the record breaking month of July 2017 continues apace.

See you Tuesday night for fun after work frolics from somewhere in the "North West".