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".




  1. I really don't want to be a spelling Nazi, but it's "braking", not "breaking" :-(

  2. You never want to let the truth get in the way in the telling of a good fish story.