|One last hurrah for the battered and bruised 2017 GBG in Cheshire
So it was something of a shock when on the Manchester - Chester leg of the train journey, a load of suited Carling and Prosecco drinkers crammed on at places as diverse as Warrington, Frodsham and Helsby, descending on Chester's own race day!
How unlucky was that? Remember I'd avoided York raceists when I went to Gosforth last month, only to find Gosforth Park races on. A year ago this weekend, I got stranded with the Redcar raceists in an Ember Inn. "FML", as the kids say.
The drama was only just beginning as word started filtering through that the 2018 GBG had been sighted around the country. I'd left too early to see Mr Postman. But my 'Outer York', 'North East Lincolnshire' and 'Proxy Glamorgan' correspondents all had sight of one!
Now, those of you who know me and this blog well might well ask "so Si, did you ask them what was in the new GBG in the Chester area so you weren't visiting any that had been de-guided?"
All I could say to that was "I'm carrying the 2017 GBG around with me, so for now, I stay fully committed to it's contents". You don't have to believe me, but you should at least pretend to. Besides, my York correspondent had been tasked with some serious gardening, and the Glamorgan-proxy one had sloped off to Reading Festival, presumably without his/her GBG as part of the camping equipment.
I changed for Hooton, a bit of respite from the Chester craziness, and about 20 mins of country lane walking later, I arrived at the first pub seriously in need of liquid refreshment.
1234. White Lion, Childer Thornton
Having tried a locked door through the gate you can see above, I discovered the 'main' entrance was around the back and the pub was in full swing, as an old lady with huge feet drank coffee and blocked one doorway, so I dodged a cash till in a narrow hallway to join an old man who was disconsolately eating peanuts and reading the newspaper in a darker more aley bar area. This pub had plenty of rooms, a great old layout, but a fair chunk of modernisation to appeal to posh old buggers who like eating and probably all suffer with deserved gout. As the barmaid struggled to pull my pint of Mordue "the beers fine, it is just very lively", she was distracted by a second barmaid. "Oooooh Vera (she wasn't called Vera), I've got so much gossip to tell you, but I best be careful what I say" looking at me like I might know the people being gossiped about. The gossiper finished topping up my pint whilst the other went off, "Has she charged you for this already?" I was asked. "Errrm, yes, you believe me don't you?" I said nervously. "Well, I'll find out if she hasn't!" she replied. I shuffled off like the criminal I felt (I had paid, honest) and sat in a typically Thwaitesies outdoor area, a bit too 'manicured' and greeted the stream of elderly lunchers with varicose veins who were a friendly lot. I must confess I was a bit distracted by all the 2018 GBG carry on, too much excitement meant I needed my first pub poo apart from a Wetherspoons since Littleworth Common, The cubicle had no lock, so I wedged the 2017 GBG against the door to stop anyone barging in. Multi-purpose. On the way out, gossiper, other lady, and a young waiter who liked talking about shoes all wished me farewell. Give it 5 minutes. A nice pub when all said and done.
|Paying for my pint, but only once.
|Peanut bloke looks sad as he scans the news
|Outdoors, acting as meeter and greeter.
The trains back to Chester were nice and regular, like my bowels, and amusing too after a bunch of Scottish lager drinkers were gently told off for drinking on Merseyrail, but told it didn't matter as long as they put their cans in the bins. "For those of you going to the races, have a fantastic day and hope you win lots of money!" he announced. No announcement for pub tickers. No one cares about poor BRAPA.
Next, I tried to get a bus as close as I could to Great Barrow, for pub two, but the bus driver lady hadn't heard of it and convinced me I was barking up the wrong tree - had I remembered to use the proper stop name "Cotton Lane", it might've been different.
Instead, I wandered down the canal for my next pub. Chester was one of my of first ever BRAPA trips in May 2014 and I did EIGHT pubs that day (seven still in GBG), drinking NINE pints and getting quite drunk - which led to the maximum six pub a day ruling still in place today. The only one I missed out was this, which I found a bit out of town lurking along the canal......
|Canal side walk towards the second pub
|The pub is in sight, now why didn't I pack my arm bands?
Again, what seemed to be the obvious pub frontage was totally closed off, locked and dark, and I had to wander down the steps to a cobbled courtyard at the back to find the actual entrance. Back up some steps, and into a light and airy place with good atmosphere, a bit like if you took the Wharf in Manchester, made it a bit less clinical, by adding a bit of Kean's Head Nottingham, with even a tiny bit of Smithfield Derby thrown in for good measure. And when I saw a young barman chatting passionately about Purple Moose (a Welsh brewery, not an animal) with two old skool geezers who looked like they'd stepped off a fishing vessel, I had high hopes. But my barman, bearded I might add, was moody, disinterested, despite giving exact change, I got no please, no thank you, no smile. Three further staff failed to smile as I took my legendary Salopian Oracle out to the canal side. Only one bench left, I ended up facing a young Mum with boy Twild, and "Grandma" who only looked about 5 years older than me. She did most of the work, we'll call her Mary. Mary's Boy Twild. A friendly old man and wife on the table behind them received their food order, Twild was immediately captivated by the man's chips, and was soon eating them by the handful. Nice of the old dude (we'll call him Mr Chips, he wasn't a robot), but perhaps Mary and daughter should've told Twild 'no more'. 15 years time and he'll be at Chester Races being anti-social. No discipline. At least it made for a scene of goodwill, though despite by continued smiling attempts (I probably looked like a madman by now), they weren't reciprocated. Soon, Mary's Boy Twild were replaced by a gloomy young lady in a Manchester Marathon top. She had the air of Keeley Hawes if she'd been locked in a car boot for 5 days. Surprise surprise, she only smiled when boyfriend turned up and made jokes that wouldn't be out of place on a Penguin wrapper. A man-bunned barista arrived brandishing a Scotch Egg for someone on the table behind me. Now he could've just said "here's your Scotch Egg, enjoy". So it was no surprise when he theatrically announced, "Incoming Scotch Egg .... I hope you had it pencilled in!" Jeez, the bottom of that canal was looking helluva lot of inviting. Time to leave.
|A bit of young Mum and Mr Chips in front (of the back) of the pub
|Focus on nice pint and everything will be ok!
|Entrance looks like a disaster waiting to happen.
With a name as ridiculous as this, it could only be a micropub. So after skillfully avoiding both walking underneath the ladder and stepping in the bucket, I breathed in and eased my way into the bar area with the air of someone who's done this in over 1750 different venues across the UK. The barman was a Micropub stereotype, amusing and full of crap jokes - he reminded me of Lee from Snuff (obscure punk reference) and was telling a bald guy off for something I can't remember but I laughed hysterically cos I was (a) nervous and (b) pleased to find people with personality in Chester at long last. "This beer pump splutters but it is fine!" he told me in a throwback to Childer Thornton. Everything smelt strangely citrussy, first I thought it was the beer, then the locals, then me, then I realised it was in the air outside. It was busy enough to plonk myself slap bang in the middle of the pub and make notes and take photos whilst still remaining fairly inconspicuous, a micropub first. An irritating American student who knew everything about everything gave his take on some boring boxing match happening later. He even tried an Irish accent. Toe curling. Everyone called each other "mate", I know it happens a lot but this was a world record attempt. It was getting a very warm "...you could grow yer tomatoes and runner beans in 'ere, mate" commented someone bald and unfunny. A nervous sweaty man downed his pint, went outside, climbed the ladder with the bucket, and disappeared from view. Suspicious. Or window cleaner. A taxi went the wrong way down a one way street. Pure entertainment for the locals. The American left, he'd made an impression on a local called Terry. "Manners cost nothing, people should come in 'ere, chat, make eye contact, it's what life's all about etc etc" he ranted, reminding me why micropubs can be a curse aswell as a blessing. A barmaid he loved arrived. She wanted to start work. He wanted to stroke her arm. Amusing place. I can see it getting in the GBG one day.
|Pub oblivious to man disappearing up ladder to do burgling.
|The scene so reassuringly Micro.
|Doesn't look like your typical pub does it?
Mill Hotel, Chester
So as I walked through the automatic doors (you don't get them at the Anchor Anchor), skirting around the front desk where a receptionist was probably about to say "free back, sack and crack wax for all pub tickers", I spotted a bar in the distance, breathed in some chlorine fumes, walked past a 'wall of water' and slid between some exfoliated Prosecco babes to survey the ales. Yes, I could see a few hand pumps, perhaps this wasn't a practical joke after all. The staff looked shocked and confused when I ordered a pint of real ale, a ruddy man with a gnarly nose shook his head and said "alroight mate", and turned to his wife who seemed to be in a bath robe and flip flops. I sat on a leather posing table, and surveyed the peculiar scene. Two students tried to blend in. No one could, especially not them. There was a clamour as some girls piled around the 'Flamingo Cocktail Bar'. I decided if this place was going to bring real ale pubs into disrepute, I'd may as well have some fun so I went to photograph the wall of water, which meant a European barmaid with the eyes of Emma Willis had to patiently wait with a plate of deep fried calamari until I'd finished. I turned on my heels to see a man (half asleep but reading a menu) under a suit of armour. Amusing. I took another photo. He was oblivious, but his wife looked a bit cross with me. My ale, it has to be said, was best quality of the day, and I guess that is why strange places like this can compete to be in the GBG. Errrm, not to say this will be, but it must have a chance for the future.......perhaps.
Chester was temporarily calm, with most people now actually at the racecourse. The busses to weird rural areas like Great Barrow had all but stopped running, so I hopped in a taxi, thinking that if I'd done Chester city in full (not saying I have), it'd be a crying shame to have to return JUST to get to the one nearby village tick......
The taxi bloke wasn't going to win any BRAPA awards for person of the year, and when we pulled up at the pub (I had to give directions, he thought I worked there), he refused to wait for 27.5 mins which was perhaps understandable due to raceday, though very annoying. He gave me a card which I rang the number for the second I stepped out of the car, but they hesitated and told me to ring back in half an hour. 'Piss off' I thought, races will be chucking out by then and I'll have no hope, so I went into the pub.
1236. White Horse, Great Barrow
I was still in "I need a taxi, how the hell will I get out of here?" mode before I'd even decided what I wanted to drink. The young bar lad had trustworthy eyes, and unlike certain Childer Thornton barmaids, he must've trusted me too cos he rang me a number and let me disappear with his phone. Okay, he kept my pint at the bar, but not sure if this was a fair swap. Fourth time of asking, I got through to some squeaky scouse lady (possibly the ghost of Cilla Black) who told me she'd send a car NOW. "Errrm, I've just ordered a pint, can we say about 25 minutes?" "NO, HE'S IN THE AREA AND HE'S COMING NOW, IT'S RACEDAY" she barked. So I proceeded to stand at the front of the pub patio necking my pint, waiting for the sound of a black Mondeo roaring into the peaceful village. I told the pub but they were pre-occupied with getting it ready for Annie's 50th birthday celebrations - which explains why all I can remember about the interior was pink sparkles. I'm pretty sure it wasn't normally like that. Outside, the pub had a nice stained glass pub sign. Which was unusual. My beer was dark brown and relatively drinkable. Two short haired ladies came outside to smoke. I told them my predicament. "And I'd love to enjoy this pub properly and tell you all about BRAPA but I don't have bloody time!" I whined to them (yes, I did actually say this embarrassing line). Am sure they were gutted. Taxi arrived. I swigged off the last third in one go, ugh, I hate beer. Pubbing shouldn't be like this! The meter was ticking, I had to go.
The taxi driver back was lovely, charged me £5 less than the other joker, and was horrified at prospect of who he might pick up later! Back at Chester Station, I had a whole 50 minute wait so did what anyone sensible would do and ate BBQ Mini Cheddars and drank coffee.
I'd been planning on changing at Warrington to get a bus for Daresbury, but I felt like I'd done enough so got back to Manc where I made friends with some excitable Blackpool fans who lived in Stalybridge and had won a week's wage off an Oldham fan. I didn't ask if Oldham fans earn enough to make that worthwhile, deeming it rude. In the next carriage, Pompey fans had decked out the whole thing in their colours and wore their usual smug "we are the greatest fans in the country because we travel hours to support a shit team" expression which got irritating by Huddersfield. The man opposite me drank about ten cans of Carlsberg, he had a big tummy, burped, and got off at L**ds. A weird old lady tried to kidnap a nice Chinese girl's dog and freaked her out.
York Tap was surprisingly quiet, and was offering Titanic Plum Porter, so I settled down as I was a bit scared to go home, what if my GBG hadn't arrived and the rest of York's had? A weird insect attacked me so I rescued it, took it outside, and showed a bouncer who seemed impressed by the specimen and agreed a racegoer would've murdered it.
|Bonus Plum Porter
As of tonight, I'm up to Hertfordshire. I've lost a total of 56 pubs so far. Cruelest is Berkshire (13 down - let's blame Quinno and T. Thomas ha ha), best is Essex (two up, despite no visit in ages!)
|Draft House Seething is featured on front cover, pah hah hah!
So, we are locked down at 1,236 pubs. I will continue to BRAP sporadically and am now under embargo re discussing specifics of the GBG so any pubs I do between now and 14th September should be treated merely as pre-emptive ticks and won't be given a number. Thanks to CAMRA books for getting their act together after the 2016 farce, and hopefully Cambridgeshire will receive their copies tomorrow.
Take care, don't tick too hard.