Monday 28 August 2017

BRAPA - Keeping my Cards Close to my Chest(er)

One last hurrah for the battered and bruised 2017 GBG in Cheshire
I thought I was being very clever, as I escaped York on race day.  Not just any race day I might add, but the fourth and final day of the 'Ebor' festival, the craziest and busiest, affectionately known as "Dickhead Saturday" by the locals (well, me).

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.
After another jolly country walk back where I chatted to men with dogs and horses, I'd conclude Childer Thornton is a nice place and shouldn't be confused with it's evil twin town Twilder Thornton.

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? 
1235.  Telford's Warehouse, Chester

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!
So to all intents and purposes, that was Chester done.  But on the way back towards the station, I'd been tipped off by a shadowy figure about a couple of pubs which just MIGHT get in a future edition of the GBG.   One was less than a 5 minute walk in the studenty area of dodgy shops called Garden Lane.

Entrance looks like a disaster waiting to happen.
Goat & Munch, Chester

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 " 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.
Another pub I'd been recommended was a few minutes walk back towards the centre but I walked past it when I saw that it looked more like a health spa.  Were people teasing me to see if I'd really go anywhere I was told for a drink, or did this genuinely have BRAPA potential?  Only one way to find out ..... GO INSIDE!

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

Bonus Insect.
Back at BRAPA towers, my GBG was waiting for me!!!  Karma for saving the insect?  I had tea and ticked off Bedfordshire, Berkshire, waking at 4am to do Buckinghamshire.  At Mum and Dad's on Sunday afternoon, I did Cambridgeshire and Cornwall, and Cumbria, and started Derbyshire but got a bit carried away and highlighted a Chesterfield pub I've not actually been to.  Oops.  I've made a note in the margin.

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.


Friday 25 August 2017

BRAPA - Annual General Meeting 2017

The weather was like a proper old fashioned beer - dark and mild (and a bit windy), as we gathered in York for the third BRAPA AGM at 8:36pm on Friday 25th August.

The month has been moved from January to August to coincide with the impending doom (I mean 'release') of the new Good Beer Guide, the time that my world is shaken to the core......

Last year, the feedback on the corresponding blog was described as "strange", "pointless" and "didn't really understand it".  It's self indugent house keeping a lot of the below so you have been warned.

It should be pointed out from the start that Twilds and Twogs were banned from the premises.  Last year it was just "women", so I hope I'm becoming a bit more diverse.

 The food on offer consisted solely of mini cheddars and half a box of stale Pringles.  To drink was a choice between Rhubarb Tea, Rhubarb Ale, a couple of colourful cans, and a special Five Towns 9% bruiser donated by the "BRAPA friends from Silkstone Common fund":

After a brief delay because a baby spider crawled into the fusebox for no discernible reason, it was time to crack on with the various points.

1.  BRAPA Strategy for the 2017/18 Season

Concentrate, this was the boring science bit.  I explained to many glazed over expressions .....

"The key point to note here, is that any new pubs in the counties which I have completed in full will be treated as 'low priority' (i.e Bedfordshire, Berkshire, and the 4 Yorkshire counties).

In the case of the local Yorkshire ones, this is not to say I'll not try and visit them (a tick is a tick after all), and in the short term, it'll be a relief to have a break from Greater Manchester Tuesday night trips if I can say, pop down the road to something new in Bradford, Saltaire and the like.  Perhaps picking up GMR again in 2018.

But the true Saturday focus is on 'completing' Buckinghamshire & Cheshire.  How long this takes depends on how cruel or kind the 2018 GBG is to me post cross-ticking!  Bucks I only have 6 left currently, Cheshire just over 20.  These numbers will rise in the short term.

By the winter time, I should be able to substitute Bucks for Cambridgeshire, and Cheshire for Cumbria as my two key 2018 counties.  I'm looking forward to Cambs.  Cumbria terrifies me.

There will be another trip to Cornwall in Spring or Summer of 2018 to try and get another 25 or so done - it might be harder this time out.

Other counties will be chipped away at slowly as a result of football matches, NFFD's or random outings like an October holiday in Herefordshire for example.  Tyne & Wear is a county I can see myself completing before 2019 GBG comes around.

By next summer when the football season subsides and Dad is bored and free, I might be able to get some tricky chauffeuring of Durham/North Yorks done again.  Especially if the A1(M) is finally properly functional again!  Middleton in Teesdale is the kind of place I'm thinking about."

(Point Number 2 was scrapped from the minutes after a fight broke out and some old CAMRA members who should know better had to be ejected for being annoying).

3. BRAPA Unchartered Territory

It's starting to play on my mind now, nearly 3.5 years into my official challenge, there are still a number of counties which I don't have ONE single tick in.  And that's something I'd like to rectify in the next 12 months.  It is playing on my mind, I find it unacceptable. It's like the need for a sailor to have a girl / fruity male companion in every port, if you think about it.......

Those counties/areas untouched so far are Warwickshire, Rutland, Isle of Man, Tayside, Channel Islands, Northern Ireland, Northern Isles, Loch Lomond Stirling & Trossachs, Kingdom of Fife, Dumfries & Galloway, Borders, Argyll & Isles, North East Wales & Gwent.

Therefore, plans are afoot to visit Warwickshire, Rutland, Isle of Man and one more before the end of August 2018.

4.  BRAPA Glossary

It has been brought to my attention that many 'new terms and phrases' have started appearing in the blog over the last twelve months and people occasionally struggle to keep up.  The afore mentioned Twogs and Twilds, 'Twildy' (as an adjective), P.I.S.S. barmaids, SCS and Jizzards are among them, plus more general terms like book work, NFFD's and post-emptives.

 I am currently writing a new glossary which will be posted shortly, and will be the 'featured post' on the blog for the next month.

5.  On This Day

Also attached to the blog, I want to reintroduce the 'On This Day' feature as I've been pub visiting for long enough now to suggest I may have visited a BRAPA pub almost every day of the calendar year.  But this is something I'm looking to test after I've finished cross-ticking the new GBG.  Problem is, it is hard to keep on top of something like this daily, even if you don't have a life!

6.  BRAPchat Podcast

I listen to a couple of excellent Podcasts (Neighbuzz and some Hull City schamozzle) so thought in the New Year, I might convert my month end review / preview blog into a Podcast - maybe getting the odd guest in - just a 15/20 minute slot, so bring BRAPA into the 21st century.  I can ask for the kit for Christmas and get tips on how to do it properly beforehand.  I'd call it BRAPchat like Snapchat, but with an older target audience who don't think it is hilarious to super impose dog ears and nose on your own face.  The youth of today eh? (Hang on, I'm just reaching for a shiny can of Beavertown something).

7. Overall GBG Figure and Historic GBG's

A few months back, I spent a fair bit of cash on getting every 'back issue' of the GBG - the only ones I am now missing are 1975 and 1979 so if you see either / don't want the myourself, give me a shout.  I've got a spreadsheet showing the total number of GBG pub I've ever visited, past and present, and though it is a bit of a work in progress, the number currently stands at 1796 which I'll keep working on.

8.  Worst BRAPA Pub Ever - Coming Soon

A year or two back, I tried to write an Orwellian style 'Moon Under Water' piece based on my ideal pub, which I named the Green Owl.  I was going to write a special feature called "25 Top BRAPA Grievances" but instead I'm probably going to write a kind of nightmarish vision of a pub which ticks all the boxes of what I hate in pubs and days out.  I could just visit an Ember Inn but where would the fun in that be?

BRAPA doesn't believe in the number 9 as a genuine number so this point was substituted for a quick Hull City score update as they are at home to Bolton as this blog is in progress.  It was surprisingly good news for once.

10.  BRAPA Kit 2017/18

As we reach the end of August and wait for the GBG to drop through our letterbox with the force of it's 1,000 plus pages, it is time to replenish the stocks.  Two new green highlighters (yes, this colour will be used for a 2nd year, don't gimme pink, pah!), a new Ryman's notepad (the other is in a more sorry state than the GBG), a brisk sharpen of the stanley knife ready for some more 'Brewery Ripping', and most importantly, a new home kit.  Red with a white trim this year, likely to make it's official debut in Buckinghamshire in early September.  There is also a BRAPA hoodie for Autumn/Spring which made it's pub debut in not the most salubrious of settings at Great Yarmouth's Brewers Fayre.  It made up for this with a full BRAPA debut at the Queen's Head Hotel in Congleton recently, it's first act seeing a man play the Jaws theme on acoustic guitar.

Happy Summer 'Home' kit

Moody Autumnal hoodie 'away' kit
11.  Social Media Plan

"Waaaaah you should go on Instagram and hashtag #pubs #beer #realale etc. and you'll soon get loads of followers of your blog", has been the cry from work colleagues recently, and although I'm on it, what with flippin' Twitter, flippin' Untappd and flippin' linking it to Facebook, do I really have the time?  Can I ditch something to make way?  I know a guy at work with 950 followers, just cos he walks his bike up hills of South Yorkshire cos peddling is tough, and occasionally stops to look at scenery or a stray dog.  Food for thought.

12.  Two Week Reverse Owl Syndrome

We saved the best til last.  Just like the official protocol for when her Maj dies, we have the same at BRAPA towers.  On the day of GBG 2018 arrival, I will send two brief tweets.  Firstly, expressing my dedication to adhering to the  'publicity ban' until mid September, probably slagging off Londoners in the process.  Secondly, I will include the "lock down" figure" (i.e. where I got up to in 2017 terms).  Those not on Twitter or Facebook will receive a text message with the code words "Mini Cheddar" so that they know serious business is afoot.   I will then draw the blinds in BRAPA towers and retreat from public life for the next two weeks, appearing only to go to work, buy bog roll and go on Saturday BRAPA trips.  There will be no live tweeting, no Tuesday nights and each blog in this period will follow a disclaimer along the lines of "any pub visited today should be treated as merely pre-emptive and if it does end up appearing in the 2018 GBG, this should be viewed as a happy coincidence."  At 6:15am on the 'official' GBG release date, I will send a Blog out detailing my numbers lost (hopefully less than 130), news on any pre-emptives that came good, any funny quirks I noticed, and of course the new overall figure.  I will then blink nervously into the new light of the 2017/18 pub season, all pale and haggard.  It's gonna be emosh, as the kids say, so stay tuned.

And that completed the Annual General Meeting.  Thanks for attending.  Onwards with more from Cheshire tomorrow.


Wednesday 23 August 2017

BRAPA - (Mini) Chadderton

I can't say I'm a fan of the L**ds to Manchester Victoria train.  Places that were once a picturesque novelty (Sowerby Bridge, Mytholmroyd etc) are now irritating Yorkshire towns delaying my Greater Manchester progress.  An hour and 51 minutes later, I was at Mills Hill, a station so named because presumably Chadderton is considered too embarrassing to have it's name assigned to anything.  Ouch!  Either that or Mills Hill actually exists.

Ah, Mini Cheddars.  I remember back to Didsbury's Fletcher Moss and hearing some animated discussion on this lovely little crisp (and don't start claiming they are 'baked snacks' etc cos it ruins the narrative, got it?)  It transpired they'd released 3 new flavours.  Perfect night to try them all - after all, I did take some Oral B mouthwash to the pub in Thoralby.  First up was Red Leicester, tangy, stronger than original, a nice bite to them:

After observing a lovely Pretty Hagrid-esque Rochdale girl falling out with her boyfriend on his insistence on getting a taxi instead of a bus, I found myself with a boring half an hour walk ahead of me along a depressing main road in the muggy evening air.

The deeper I got into the bowels of Chadderton, the more of a sense of foreboding I got about my first pub, tucked away off the road close to several housing estates full of dangerous dogs and evil twilds enjoying their summer holidays with toothless uncles.  The pub entrance didn't let me down:


Time to cross the threshold
1232.  Crown Inn, Chadderton

"Hello!" I tried to feign confidence as a mean looking bald landlord and three old locals turned to look at their first unknown visitor for half a century.  Sadly, my voice didn't come out properly, and I received a slight nod of head and flicker of eyes from the assembled crowd.  I hastily ordered the first handpulled beer (of two) I could see, and paid in exact change in an attempt to ingratiate myself.  Luckily, the four of them were glued to 'Eggheads' and the most responsive man (a Geordie with ginger beard but white hair) knew where Shaun the Sheep lived.  This calmed me down, and as I walked off to a table with my pint, I congratulated him on his expert knowledge.  Sadly, I got a bit too confident and when a contestant thought Loftus Road was near Holbeck instead of Bellend Road, I told him I was fuming.  But he hadn't known either, so I had to remind him of Shaun the Sheep again to keep in the good books, especially as he'd lost his lighter and was getting a bit fidgetty.  The pub was a vast sprawling wild westy style thing, very estatey GMR pub if you had to imagine one.  I liked it's basic total lack of pretension.  A dying breed.  My beer was going down 'okay', not pulling up any trees but drinkable and fine.  So imagine my surprise when the so far watchful and relatively stern landlord comes up to me with a fresh pint of Millstone Tiger Rut, new barrel, to drink instead! I was moved.  I asked if he thought what I was drinking was off, he just murmured something this being new on and better, I reassured him there was nothing wrong with the other.  So what had motivated this sudden kindness?  I had no BRAPA paraphernalia on display (not that this'd have made any impact here) so I can only assume that in my sly "take photos of pub n locals, disguising it as photographing pint" ritual, that they decided I was some harsh beer inspector.  I guess they could've just been offering great customer service, but it felt like something more.  Five mins into my new pint (stunning quality btw), I shouted across pub this was amazing, not that there'd been anything wrong with other (which incidentally now tasted a bit dodgy by comparison) and he and our Geordie mate exchanged knowing smiles.  Hmmmm.  I drank both, by which time both these characters had left.  Strange but ultimately pleasing experience, and I hope, for my efforts alone, this is still in 2018 GBG!

Me and my two pints!

Locals getting into Eggheads

Our Shaun the Sheep lover goes for smoke behind me
 So another fairly drab 30 minute walk back towards the station, where my other pub for tonight lay, just around the corner.  Plenty of time to build it up in my mind, it was JW Lees so I was obviously picturing the likes of Blue Pits at Castleton.

But as it came into view, I was struck by a slightly modern look, not helped as some cackling women were sat at the end of a plasticy garden area drinking Prosecco (I assume) and looking at a canal as if it made them in some way better than your average Chadderton resident.

1233.  Rose of Lancaster, Chadderton

And the scene I'd half been dreading came to fruition inside as a gaggle of giggly barmaids flapped around in uniforms trying to look useful.  One was even behind a desk answering a phone, awkwardly taking a booking, it was her first time on this job and it reminded another barmaid of her first time on the phones, where something embarrassing happened which she wouldn't repeat until all the customers were out of earshot.  Not even my BRAPA listening device could pick it up, so we'll just have to assume it involved a whisk and a stick of celery.   At least there was interest on the ale front as I saw a red ale 'collaboration' (shit beer terminology) between JW Lees and Cloudwater.  Wow!  I joke about a Sam Smith / Brewdog link up, so I had to have this, though I'll probably get in trouble for comparing Brewdog to Cloudwater as people get a bit precious about the latter, mainly cos they are from Manchester and not Camden Town.  Annoyingly, the beer was amazing.  (You see how dull this pub is I'm padding out the blog with beer talk).  A porn star version of David Seaman looked lost, 2 girls hovered in the corridor looking scared.  Saviour came in the form of "The Vault" (which I hear from someone curmudgeonly is a Manc term for a good pub room), a back room with 4 middle aged men who said "ow do" and talked in proper Lancs accents (they way they pronounced Barcelona was beautiful), as I looked for the loo, so I did a circular tour of the pub, grabbed my ale, and hid in the darkest depths of the "Vault".  This was partly so I didn't have to watch the "Caribou" Cup (as one bloke called it), and secondly so I could sneak my Stilton Mini Cheddars as there was much food going on.  Incidentally, mini 'Cheddar' Evans was making 'his second Sheff Utd debut' to add to the theme.  The Vault was a damn sight better than the front room, but I didn't really 'feel' this pub.  Did I enjoy the Crown Inn more?  Well yes I did, despite it's fair share of short comings.  You'd not get a free pint brought to you in here, and that's a BRAPA promise.  Pub ticking is a weird business.

Stilton Time!

View towards some brilliant locals in the Vault

Some old Man City players and JW Lees beermats
The train back was absolutely packed, most got off at Rochdale so there must've been some event on but no idea what it could've been.  All that was left to do was to tuck into my final pack of Mini Cheddars - "smoked applewood", very tasty, and they were gone quicker than someone escaping down the fire exit of a Rhyl Travelodge.

Anyway ....... I had to run for the connection to York in L**ds but made it, but still wasn't home having tea til 11pm despite having left at 4pm.  I think I overstretched myself really, and will try and be more sensible in the future, perhaps.

It's the BRAPA AGM on Friday so stay tuned for that self-indulgent write up, then back off on our travels to Cheshire on Saturday.  Could the GBG arrive as soon as this Friday?  Surely not.



Monday 21 August 2017

BRAPA - Sexual Ealing

When first dates go wrong ..... "wing it" mate!  (See pub 1230)
Irlam seemed a lot further away than four days and a few hundred miles as me and the good ole' father strode alongside the leafy allotments of West Ealing in search of our first pub of the day.

Yes, the football season has returned and I'd made the bold decision to combine BRAPA with an away trip to see the Taaaargers at dQPR (Drama-Queens Park Rangers, the most sensitive emotional supporters in the football league, but a nice old stadium if you ignore Mr Sombrero).

I was feeling a bit dodgy, in need of 'hair of the dog', after one too many 6% ales on Friday night in the very good but suspiciously name changey beer outlet  "Mr Foley-Okell-Baroque-Slightly-Change-Our-Name-Every-Year-Tap-Cask-Ale-House".

It had just gone 11am and our first pub of the day stood there looking nice and pretty.  It was on a corner in the sun with hanging baskets and the promise of "heritage" awaiting us ......

1227.  Forester, West Ealing

But what is heritage without humanity?  Much like a pretty girl with no personality, a P.I.S.S. barmaid in pub form, you can spend two minutes admiring Edwardian mahogany, gabled porches, stained glass and bell pushes, but when the two barmaids scowl, shiver, and one pulls her hood up over her head and closes the door as she pours your non-descript Fullers summer guest ale and charges you £3.90, you're not going to "feel the love".  True, there were other nice features in the other bar but this was a 'restaurant' area, but why would you go in there as a drinker?  Ben (who came up with the winning title of this blog) and Tom were already perched on a posing table in the sun.  The only customers were a mute man with a strangely shaped dog blocking the floor watching some foreign egg-chasing.   Tom saved the situation by amusingly revealing the details of his 1p football bet - he stood to win £1,000,000 if he won, sadly Sheff Utd beat Barnsley before we even got to 3pm and the rest was history.  I almost unwittingly had two 'Neighbours' fans joining us for a pint, but the details of how this occurred are too convoluted to repeat here.

A weird shaped dog

Tom and Ben living the heritage dream

My view of the pub

Tom's bet.  "Good luck!" it says.

A pint of West London

After a decent stride out back into "Ealing Proper", pub two was looking particularly impressive across the road with a red lion on the roof and a lovely exterior.  Once those horrid cars finally let us cross the road, a couple with a buggy and some horrific twilds were trying to get in before us.......

1228.  Red Lion, Ealing

Luckily, Dad repeated a trick he I remember him learning in Whitechapel in Jan '16 and somehow elbowed and trod on enough posho and twild interlopers to get himself to the bar first.  Our joy was short lived as the barmaid who put in a particularly below par performance topped up Ben's Castle Rock Pilsner with the ale I was having.  He didn't tell her, and she looked totally unaware.  Now, was it controversial to say I preferred this pub to the last one?  Well no, in spite of the shaky start, it had a lovely old fashioned curved London pub feel, like the ones you find more central, nice Ealing studio photos up, and we all agreed.  If hearing the boy twild was called Hugo, Dad then heard his younger sister was called Jocasta.  Ugh, Twaddy was even worse with his voice that goes through you.  Still, with one morose local and suicidal barmaid the only people in our side of the pub, we started to dominate and after Ben confused Tom by telling him "Brucie's dead!" (Tom quite reasonably thought he meant the Aston Villa manager), I added another layer by mentioning Fiona Bruce.  This was so I could explain the premise of my SECOND favourite programme 'Fake or Fortune'.  That lead to Tom's accidental quote of the day "Does Fiona Bruce ever fake anything?"  Comedy gold, and any pub with people of warmth and humour (let's use Rose & Crown in Hoylandswaine as an example) would've been joining in.  Not here.  By the way, this pub is 50% proud of it's Red Lion heritage, and the other half wants to be a pizza place called Santa Maria.

A Meyler-esque performance from our barmaid

This pub was almost very good, almost.
A bit further into Ealing was our third pub of the day.  On the face of it, it looked like it'd be worse than the last two with it's harsh and cynical terracey gastro feel but could it surprise us on the inside?

1229.  Grove, Ealing

And as we walked in, came the overwhelming smell of mashed potato.  So I had the Bodger and Badger theme in my head before I'd even chosen a beer, so I hope it was filmed at the Ealing Studios across the road because it deserved to be.  It was after all, very much the Passport to Pimlico of kids TV when I was growing up.  I then saw a BRAPA first, a 'jam jar' taster thing, for a beer that was not only "coming soon", but also had no pumpclip or label!  What the rationale behind this was I've no idea.  But the friendly kindness of the barmaid (especially after the last two pubs), plus by the far the best quality beer yet - went a long way to making up for the pub's various gastro shortcomings.  The magic eye wallpaper, a sign in the toilets championing things like twilds and a "social media jukebox" (yes, I know), and even labelling the loos up with a simple "G" for "Gents" and L for "Ladies" was slightly jarring at my BRAPA spidey senses.   Tom again saved the day with hilarious tales of being a "mystery shopper", but occasionally going in and telling the staff "today I'm not here in my mystery shopper capacity".  And on Hull City games at the old Boothferry Park, "do you remember Helen Chamberlain banging that drum?"  No wonder we stayed here for another, deciding to do the Wheatsheaf another day.  I need Questors too due to it's silly opening hours.

Coming soon taster

Upsetting sign apart from point number 2

Just why?
There was then a break between approx 2:30pm - 5pm which was akin to torture and made you realise why NFFD's (Non Football Football Days) are such a relaxing experience.

After the match, there weren't really any queues at Shepherd's Bush station because dQPR aren't really a proper football club (what?  I'm not bitter!) so it was nice to get on the tube, even if we were joined by the kind of local toothbrush brandishing folk who hop on at Notting Hill to go drinking in E1.  

After an interesting backstreet walk through the city from Bank to Tower Hill, and a bit of getting lost, I found the pub I'd decided we should do (I sometimes have to remember I'm in charge of BRAPA when Tom is around!) because it was my last one on the first page of Central London.

"Fish and Chips" sign brings Tom into disrepute
1230.  Draft House Seething, Tower Hill

Of course, another bonus of coming here was that I could do an easy 'seething' about Hull City joke even if I do look delighted in the above picture in my 07/08 top, oh when Frazier Campbell could play football ..... sorry, I digress.  This place was SO modern, I had to check about 4 times I was in the right place, Ben who'd travelled on his own was already here, and soon we were at the bar where despite some chirpy young friendly staff and a relative lack of punters, service was a struggle.  Ben tried for a cider, it spluttered and both of us knew it had run out about 10 mins before the staff.  It all felt a bit 'Spoons re service.  I'd enjoyed the pre-emptive Draft House in MK in a strange sort of way, but this had ramped what I believe is referred to as "Utilitarian Modernity" up to 11.   11 being code for "quite shit".  Luminous signs saying "Yolk, Smoke,Poke" and "Wing It" just felt upsetting.  It made Drygate in Glasgow seem down to earth.  My London Crate Ale was limp and lacking much life.  A couple appeared to be having an awkward first date here - he face-planted his palm as he realised she was probably day-dreaming about the Boar's Head in Stockport (see top photo on this blog).  No wonder Dad went for one of his legendary post-match walks.  This was not an easy place to debrief of subjects like the mental state of Ehab Allam and I had a headache.  On the other hand, it was quite appropriate.

Yolk, Smoke and Poke
Dad goes for "some air" (even though pub doesn't have a front door)
Ben wondered if we could squeeze in another pub before my 8pm train home, the kind of BRAPA challenge I like, and after a few seconds research, I found one just up the road in East London.  

The walk there was weird, there were lots of young dudes pulling wheelies on BMX's, flipping skateboards, wearing double denim.  It was a bit 1980's and a bit Mad Max, in a Hipster way.  Could I really expect much from our 5th and final pub? 

Time for the last tick of the day!

1231.  King's Stores, Spitalfields

I quite like pub ticking in this part of the world as I've read so many Jack the Ripper books, but I guess that for your slightly deranged lunatic Londoner, Greene King Metropolitan pubs are a likely tipping point.   This pub was buzzing with the evening 'double screen event' of Stoke v Arsenal, a fixture that had drawn in plastic Gooners from all over E1 and apart from one strange guy with a top hat who no-one could see apart from me, faces were glued to screens as far as the eye could see.  At the bar, I'd ordered first and then pushed the others forward, which confused a young Asian bar fellow who then forgot to pull my pint altogether.  I brandished my BRAPA logo and eyeballed him sternly.  He cowered apologetically, waved, and pull me his best ever pint.  Or so it seemed at the time.  Under the circs, we did well to find a table and standing space for 4 people towards the rear of the building, though Ben had been accosted by two men who weren't watching the game either.  Tom ate cake through his beard and looked content with his own thoughts (insert joke here), so me and Dad, realising there was nothing exciting about the pub, controversially took our pints slightly outside onto the not very wide Widegate Street, where we saw an old 1890's picture of the area and a plaque which didn't add up "out of 95,000 Londoners in the 1890's, 250,000 of them lived in Whitechapel".  A tramp slimed up to us and complimented my shirt on the proper Tiger badge before our current owners ruined it.  I was thinking "cut to the chase, mate" so his voice went all quiet and pathetic and he did his "I'm a poor cockney wastrel" routine.  Having already declined the offer of giving him cash, we looked down and saw he was brandishing a huge KFC box meal!  "You've got more food than us!" exclaimed  Dad, and we snuck back inside.  Ah, the homeless of E1 in the 21st century.  Back inside, a huge roar as Arsenal scored.  DISALLOWED!  The 5% of us non Gooners cheered wildly, a posh woman looked suitably cowed so I gave her a friendly thumbs up, the poor plastic bint.  Quite a funny experience, cos Londoners are funny without realising, but not a pub I'd necessarily bring my ripper victims to if I was Jack.  

"We're gonna score in a minute!" think the "Arsenal fans"

Can you see the ghostly guy in top hat who looked other wordly?
Just time for me and Ben to sneak in a quick half of ESB in Parcel Yard back in Kings Cross.  Three QPR fans leaned over their pints looking emotional.  4 Hull City fans with no shame chanted "Slutsky" at me but looked aggressive.  I went to the loo.  A Sheffield Wednesday fan "booed" me and said "bluddy Hull City innit?!",  his friends laughed and I was too scared to dry my hands.  Then, a Walsall fan leaned a long neck around a dark doorway and eyeballed me.  He had about six eyes and a forked tongue.  Finally, two bald Barnet fans appeared at the bar and looked at me and Ben like they were embarrassed on our behalf.  The beer was warm.  I'm going to Scottish Stores next time.

So that was fun.  Depending on your definition of fun.  My first 5 southern pubs of the month, and first in West London in the 2016/17 pub ticking year.  Better late than never.  A productive day.

Back in GMR on Tuesday evening for one or two ticks in another probably odd place.  I won't spoil the surprise.  See you Wed night for that write up.