Tuesday 26 September 2017

BRAPA - At The Sign of the Bay Horse, Oxenhope

Last time I found myself on a Bronte Express leaving Keighley's bus station, I was off to Stanbury in the depths of January with only Kate Bush and Emily Bronte's ghost for company.  Today, it was choc-a-bloc and I'd had to tell a dithery old lady "Oi pal, get to the back of the queue" after she tried to use her advancing years, walking stick and poor eyesight to gain an unfair advantage.

The bus driver didn't seem to like me.  He was busy shovelling a Greggs pasty into his sallow face, and being the only customer under the age of 95, I was the only one who wanted to buy a ticket.

It wasn't long until we were shrouded in an ethereal mist, cloaking the hills around the pretty little village of Oxenhope, which added atmosphere and excitement to my impending pub trip.  I had been to Oxenhope before, summer 2012, to step off the train briefly during a Keighley-Oxenhope Heritage Railway day and ask a bloke from Hull where my plastic pint of stout had disappeared to.

Anyway, 30 mins of bussing later, I was there and the pub was staring at me with sad eyes:

1090.  Bay Horse, Oxenhope

What the photo doesn't show is a man and woman stood to the right peering towards me.  "Looks like you're on a mission!" says the bloke, so I briefly explain BRAPA and praise them on being a rural pub open on a Monday, bad mouthing a few new West Yorks micros in the process.  "Me and my husband are looking after the pub, the owners are away on holiday, he's behind the bar, tell him about your challenge!" says the woman, "you look like you need a drink!"  So I went inside but not my style to 'announce myself' unprompted, but the other bloke had followed me inside and obviously thought I needed special treatment,  and tells off the stand-in landlord.  "You've given him a cloudy pint ..... and it's in the wrong glass!" he says.  Poor stand-in landlord explains it is only cloudy because it is "cooling haze".  Hmmm, a new term on me.  But it did clear.  And I did get an apology for the Thwaites glass, tsk tsk (like I really cared).  The pub felt a bit of a work in progress, gents out of action, a room full of clutter, a backwards facing piano, like they're either about to have a refurb or are buggering off for good!  Tiny bit draughty too.  Yet it was very 'real' (my fave word for describing Joseph Holt pubs, amongst others) with locals under the sign of the Jolly Roger sadly being more Jeremy Clarkson than Captain Kidd.  They just played each others car YouTube videos on their phones, occasionally saying things like "phwoar, sounds like a Toyota".  Cars are so boring in my opinion (though I must remember, the blokes weren't there to entertain me!)  I read a Worth Valley magazine, duller than dull.  The temporary landlady temporarily came to sit with me, but I was too busy fielding twitter comments from demons like Taylor, Quosh and Mackay to chat to her.  And overall, as I went to catch my bus back to Keighley, can't help feeling it was a bit of a flat experience.

Pint with the "cooling haze"

View to the bar

Locals loving car related stuff

Not even as exciting as it looks!
So all in all, when I'm sat there in front of the fire in 2050 handing the Werthers Originals around to the GrandTwilds telling BRAPA tales of yore, I doubt I'll be exclaiming "let me tell you about the time I went to the Bay Horse at Oxenhope".

As a GBG entry, I couldn't say it didn't deserve it's place, like you could with a couple of Saturday's pubs, but if it slipped out of the 2019 edition, I won't be marching bare-footed to St Albans with a Bay Horse placard demanding the head of Pete Brown on a spike.

Another one down, SEVEN left in West Yorkshire.  Hopefully, we can get back to Tuesday normality (my hand was forced again this week) from early Oct which will give me a bit more scope with some of these pesky non Monday opening Micros etc.


Sunday 24 September 2017

BRAPA - Day Out With Thomas (East Lancs Diesel Special)

"Concessionary" - that's me!

It was the Birthday weekend of original BRAPA patron Tom Irvin, and it seemed only right to let him be in the driving seat (not literally, that would be terrifying) for this particular day out - to which he also invited Mummy and Daddy Irvin (Bernie and Chris), who don't get much chance to keep tabs on their son's crazy wayfaring lifestyle and use my blog as a source of 'comfort'.

Bury was the starting point, at the East Lancs railway where a diesel gala was going on.  I don't really get trains, or understand why I had to pay nearly £14 for the smallest bit of pink card ever, but it was all very jolly and the 'spotters' (a breed of their own) were far more photogenic than any engines:

We'd done a similar day back in the summer of 2012, and once again I was confused by the whole thing, but happy enough as we changed at Ramsbottom to get to Rawtenstall (pronounced Rotten Stall by most Lancs folk, but not a drunk woman who we'll meet later).

Chris and Bernie ready for a rare BRAPA outing

Me with some manky station teddies

Tom and his arse enjoy the diesel fumes
We were finally on a bus to Crawshawbooth called the Witches Way (but the witch was blonde and wore red heels which surely isn't right).  The bus had both Burnley and Huddersfield fans on it thirsty for 'Premier League Talent' like Robbie Brady and Tom Ince.  It had been a long morning and me and Chris especially were very ready for ale.

1084.  Masons Arms, Crawshawbooth

Bernie told me to run her through the three ales which were on, as she (a) was stood at the back (b) is little and (c) said she couldn't read them, so I did my best, only for the helpful barman (the most Lancashire accented man ever) to re-pronounce everything I said to make it more Lancastrian, so words like "Burnley", "Clitheroe" and "Rawtenstall" (where the ales were from) suddenly had 5 r's and 3 u's in them.  I felt like I'd been gently admonished.  The pub itself had multi-areas, that dark Lancs brickwork, felt old, yet if you squinted and looked really closely, I think you'd have to say "modern concessions" had been made in a subtle way - though there wasn't much subtle about the blackboard offering Prosecco with a TFIF "Thank Fuck It's Friday" signature .  "Practical minimalist", described Bernie, accurate enough, but if you were feeling brave and un P.C., you could say "trying to appeal to all, and a bit female friendly providing the females in question were from the wrong side of the Pennines".  Loved the stone flagged floors, and the ale (from Northern Whisper) was spot on (the Reedley Hallows even better), the gents toilets were a throwback to perhaps how the pub really was 30 years ago, and the Old Firm derby was switched for what I thought was Scunthorpe Utd but Tom was tricking me and it was actually West Ham.  Nice enough pub, but left me feeling it could've been a bit more.

"A watched bus never materialises" as the phrase goes, and ours was delayed by about 20 minutes or something ridiculous, we may as well have walked back to Rawtenstall.

Tom used a bit of his genius to get us on the next bus to Haslingden immediately and despite losing my bearings totally, I managed to march us up a hill by a country lane with some incredible views below to pub two.  And what a pub it was ......

1085.  Griffin, Haslingden

It was now that the day had properly begun.  I led us to the bar in a bit of flap cos it was my round, I had phone wires wrapped around me, desperate for the loo, and no wonder I pronounced the word "halo" as "hard" and a local old bloke at the bar offered his glasses so I could see properly, the cheeky beggar!  To be fair to me, Rossendale Brewery font is like something from a 1980's space invaders game, the O's look like D's, so there.  We found out the ales were brewed in a basement below the pub, and I tell you what else should've been in a basement, a twild boy who whined and cried and carried on the entire time we were there.  But he couldn't spoil a pub this good.  It was a friendly crowd at the bar, the barmaid dropping my money and exclaiming "these new slippery tenners, these slippery fivers, what's next?!" (slippery twenties I assume).  We went to a large sweeping (but still cosy) room to the side offering superb views out onto whatever Pendley Witchy country we could see (the Irvin parents did great here in getting the huge table by the window).   Ales were incredible, about £2.50 pint at most, the walk here is definitely worth it.

The views were better than this but I couldn't crane my neck enough to get full glory!

Content at last!

Tom looks philosophical behind my Halo Pale

Bernie points out shopmobility scooter, which as we know, means very good pub!

A 15 minute downhill stride took us to another Haslingden one, could it too be splendid? 

Trouble is just around the corner (literally)
1086.  Rose & Crown, Haslingden

No it couldn't.  Before we'd even got inside, a woman who was already as 'tight as an owl' (it was only 3pm) staggered out of the door asking me and Chris why we were photographing the pub.  Chris tried to get onto her level with a "big balls" joke but it didn't quell her for long, and when I told her about BRAPA, she exclaimed "you sad bastard!" which I'm amazed I don't get more often to be honest.  Next 5 minutes were painstaking as she drunkenly tried to recall each pub I'd just mentioned to her, with the help of her frustrated but patient fellow drinkers at the bar.  "Well, this wasn't quite the reception I was hoping for!" I bravely told her, which sobered her up for 30 seconds so she apologised and said she was only joking, so I escaped with the drinks to find the others who'd wisely gone to a side room - by which point drunk woman was shouting again.  The beer choice was Doom Bar or some Pendle Witch Blonde thing.  It was ok.  People kept opening the back door to go for a smoke.  It kept drifting in.  Some might like that.  I didn't.  We focussed on Gillette Soccer Saturday above us.  Hull City took the lead. "Don't get excited, it's the hope that kills us" I warned the others.  I appreciated the proper rough and ready local crowd (this would be the perfect tonic if you'd had a day pub ticking in London or Bucks), but ultimately, this didn't feel like a GBG pub.  Oh, and the artwork was horrific.  I waved to drunk woman on way out, but she didn't recognise me!

The nice upper stained glass bar bit was best thing here.

Bernie looks pensive

Chris 'really enjoying' his ale.
We managed to hop on our final bus of the day towards Newchurch (going east of Rawtenstall) for pub 4, this time I knew exactly where we needed to hop off.

Bernie, me, Tom and mascot about to go in!
1087.  Boars Head, Newchurch

Well, well, well, how good was this?  We walked in to this busy, cosy, intimate bar area excited again by the great ale prices, and to see a pint of 'mixed' on the blackboard (their Lancaster Black and bitter half and half), led to much conversation between me and Chris, ending in him getting one partly by mistake, in what proved the most confusing drinks order of the day!  But here were the friendliest locals I think in a pub all year, I'd been concerned about a "dress code" sign on the door but a bloke in a red t-shirt and combat shirts told me not to worry!  And this time when I found myself explaining BRAPA, I didn't even get called a sad bastard.  We sat in the back room, where we were closed in by a group of female cyclists.  One yelped as the pub dog Bo (named after the 9th best Hull City goalkeeper of all time) brushed past her leg, and I thought it was the dog that had yelped.  "At least it wasn't a cat!" exclaimed one of her cycling buddies.  "Haha, yeh" they agreed.  I didn't like them after that comment.  I span around to take an internal pub photo of the bar area, but was beckoned over by an old bloke.  'Uh oh, I've gone too far with my photos this time' I thought, but he just wanted to tell me about a great pub called the Crown in Bacup (pronounced Bake-up).  Maybe next time.  "I think it's wonderful thing you are doing" Mr and Mrs Bacup told me, how lovely.  This was such a superb pub, I think Chris preferred the Griffin but me and Bernie voted for here, because the people were just so good, and pub experiences are 90% people as far as I'm concerned.  Hull City conceded a late equaliser.  They'd dominated.  But we were too happy to be upset.  

Ales and a pint of mixed for £2.75 on the blackboard

Local sat to the left is about to beckon me over for Bacup chat.  Red t-shirt was a legend too.

Bernie and Bo have a chat about why Matt Duke was actually better.
"It's just round t'corner" said the locals in the Boar's Head about our next pub.  I hope they won't forgive me for saying this, but they didn't look like the most mobile of citizens.  So when it turned into a 15-20 minute march back towards Rawtenstall, you could say I felt skeptical about how many of them did this walk on a regular basis.  

Time for pub 5 as the light fades in lovely Lancs
1088.  Red Lion, Rawtenstall

So we wander in and are confronted by women asking us if we want the chance to win a signed shirt by Ashley Barnes or Sam Vokes, Burnley players of some repute.  We say no, they look incredulous.  The round comes to easily the most expensive of the day, and when Chris "innocently" decides to question it in case we are being ripped off, the barmaid (a little bit overly defensive) directs the response to me - so I'm the bad guy now!  (and Chris was looking at me like "Si, you are so unreasonable!") (perhaps).  The bar is a busy circular thing, so I wander in a circle looking for seats that don't exist - a woman appears with balloons sticking out of her every orifice ".... you lot Man City fans then?" she asks accusingly, trying to sell us something blue and white.  Errrm, no we're not, but just cos we aren't Burnley fans, why must we be Man City fans?  Aren't there 90 other clubs in the football league?  Then, a weird man with daughter and tiger facepaint appears, looking just like the guy from Phoenix Nights who can't get it off.  "He'll be 43 when he dies!" announces Chris, which sounds harsh and specific, though I can't remember the context.  Didn't really enjoy this pub, chaotic, chilly, uncomfy, and passed us by.

The barmaid reaches for a weapon after I criticise beer price (by proxy)

Not the best picture I've ever taken.
Back at the East Lancs railway with plastic halves of black beer from Buffer Stops (which we went to on the day it opened back in 2012 and were "served" by Pete Waterman), we made the painful decision not to 'alight' at Ramsbottom for the Major Hotel because it was nearly the last train of the day and we didn't want to get stranded.  

It was okay for me, living central York, but Tom had to get back to his Grimsby slum, and Chris and Bernie needed to get their last bus to Wilberfoss, a little village near York with silly bus service.

So I bid them farewell a couple of stops into the Metro journey to hop off at Whitefield, so I could fulfil my "six a day" pubs I now demand on a Saturday.  

1089.  Eagle & Child, Whitefield

"Boom boom boom" went the noise from within (not that the Outhere Brothers were here, it was far scarier), and it was hard not to be put in mind of that other sweeping basic Joseph Holt's Saturday night pub, the Park Inn in Swinton.  I know the drill now, it's all very simple - you just have to bark "Bitter", "Mild" or (if you are bit continental) "Two Hoots" and hand over about 6p.  The man in front of me hadn't read the script, and was having a meltdown at the bar, causing much eye-rolling from the redoubtable barmaid, who looked like she'd been built by Joseph Holt to run his pubs.  "I've bought a mild for mi mate, but he wanted a bitter!" he wailed, she wasn't budging, so it was decided his friend would just have to make do with what he had.  5 pints in, I wasn't feeling self-conscious at all, so I went through to where a bloke called Chris was having his 40th birthday celebrations, hosted by the kind of DJ you'd expect, and plonked myself in the middle of the 'party'.  No one was up for Karaoke, but our host got himself a bit excited over Kylie Minogue 'I'm Spinning Around' and then failed three times to pronounce Ariana Grande, "she's a bit of a mouthful, waheyyyy" he concluded.    I just sat there, nodded my head to the tunes, did some people watching and enjoyed my pint of bitter as much as anyone can in these circs.  Amusing stuff.

The DJ doing DJ stuff

"Not another BRAPA photo!" says irritated babe.

The most Joseph Holt pub photo ever

Knitted cardigan bloke on phone wonders how life ended up like this.

Back in Manchester, I had time to get wired on coffee before home for some fish n chips (and scraps).  It had been a superb day, Lancashire keeps up it's reputation for being a very friendly place, two excellent pubs, two decent ones, and two slightly poor ones.  You can't ask for more than that(!) 

Oh dear, wired on coffee again
It's proving a productive month, it's not over yet, and I'll be back sooner than you think!


Friday 22 September 2017

BRAPA Special - The Archives Part One (399-405)

Well, who'd ha' thought it? (as a Rochester pub once said to me).

All my moaning about the cross-ticking of the Good Beer Guide leaving me in a bad position, and yet I've still managed to find eleven pubs in the 2018 GBG which I have visited either before BRAPA became "a thing", or because I visited them not even aware of their BRAPA potential.

So pour yourself a nice can of bubbly bitter beer, and read on as I try desperately to delve into the recesses of my pubby mind in years gone by .......

399.  Fat Cat, Colchester

Wearing no jacket on one of the wettest mornings in football match away day history was a silly thing to do, and it was no surprise when a stray Hull City fan popped his head around the door of the nearby Fox & Fiddler (another 'not been seen in the GBG since') and told us the game was off.  Dad and I had been content enough, but thought we'd better be sociable and join our "Welly gang" friends in the Fat Cat.  Of course, beer range = better pub, doesn't it?  Well no, but that was very much the view of the majority (not me or Dad) in 2008.  Fat Cat's had been tried and tested in places like Ipswich and Sheffield so no surprise the likes of Chris Irvin and Ben Andrew would want to make this pub of the day.  It lacked the cosiness of the F&F with it's bare-boarded decor and slight draught, but good quality ale from memory, and for some reason, I got sat at a table chatting to two local radio presenters (a couple) about all manner of quirky things.  We swapped numbers and kept in touch for a while, especially when Hull City played their team Ipswich (on our rise through the leagues, though Colchester were arguably better at the time anyway) but I never did quite meet up with them again!  The date was 19th January 2008 and as we left, some controversy about whether pitch was actually playable.  But it was totally sodden in one corner (I had a DVD of Brian Horton bouncing a ball on it - thrilling stuff) and on the way out, 'sun tan' Phil Brown was in a car and one of our group stopped to say something to him like "game's off then!"  Tom may be able to enlighten us further in the comments section.

400.  Globe, Leicester

My 'early days in Leicester' pub of choice, Dad and I picked this out on our first ever away day here on 4th March 2006 where some nice gothic barmaids brought us sausage and chips in wicker baskets and looked like they were going to use the 'empties' to make a huge wicker effigy of Nigel Pearson (if he existed then), climb into it, and burn themselves.  Or that could've just been me.  There was quite a lunchtime family crowd and we sat in a fairly light modern airy area behind the bar.  All the beers were Everards which was exciting for about three seconds.  It did enough to make us return here on our next trip 22nd March 2008.  Tom joined us this time and it snowed - a lot!  But the game went on, and with quality like Dean Marney and Caleb Folan in your team, you're always gonna win 2-0.  We also popped in here briefly a season or two later as part of a bigger group.  It was here where I really appreciated how ornate and nicely multi-roomed the pub was, though we got chatting to some Leicester fans who were doing what they do best and acting like arrogant wankers because they thought Sven Goran Eriksson was the bees knees and Nigel Pearson was yesterday's fish and chip wrappers, or is that sausage and chip basket?  Oh, but things swung again a few years later, and they ended up doing quite well.  Bet this pub still serves a steady Everards Beacon though.  Glad to see it back in the GBG, as Leicester hasn't done much for me since outside the Ale Wagon & King's Head.

401.  Brudenell Social Club, Hyde Park,  Leeds

Well, well, well, you're probably looking 2009, possibly a lot earlier for my first visit here.  There was a gig on some of us wanted to see.  No idea who it was.  It may even have been some "Battle of the Bands" style thing for someone I vaguely knew.  The beer was shite (John Smith's Smooth), and the main lounge room to the right was full of miserable old men, and stained settees with stuffing popping out.  Yet I sat in here until someone beckoned me to the left room "this is where the action is" and I paid my cash and watched something in a room really not designed for gigs, in my opinion, yet it always manages to work.  I came here with a guy I used to work with called Dan about a year later, same thing.  I wasn't in the mood at all.  Just wanted to go home.  But then, in the last 5 years, I went again and by jove, they only had Kirkstall Three Swords superbly kept on!  And with each visit, a couple more top quality ales appeared.  I saw the Rezillos with my sister (not very good on the night, too much angst with drunk idiots in crowd), OFF! with my friend Jig (amazing), Hot Club of Cowtown (also amazing) and some folk singer from York (really good night but he was a perv).  There's been more.  Now, it's a kind of 'knowing' shabby chic Working Man's club for students into rock music, the stuffing coming out of the stained seats is a bit too 'knowing', but a great venue nonetheless.  Since BRAPA began, I had started thinking in vague thoughts "this is GBG worthy beer you know" but never in a million years expected it to make it.  Well done Brudenell!

John, Lisa and Me (and a new CD)

Hot Club of Cowtown being great

402.  Lass O'Gowrie, Manchester

11th September 2008 and I travelled over to Manchester excited to see Stray Cats.  Even more excited was my friend, John Watson, on the train behind.  I'd used the GBG to pick a pub out near Oxford Road where I arrived at because the gig was at the Student Union thing down the road.  I chose this pub just off to the left on Charles Street, someone told me it was Johnny Vegas's local which scared me, but I turned left and found this curved bar, the bar staff were ultra friendly, ales were good, and I sat in this wonderful old room full of bric-a-brac.  Proper old school.  But John couldn't find me, and when he sent me a panicky text including the "F" word, it jolted me into action and I left my pint with two shady looking blokes in rain macs and ran down Oxford Road to find him and bring him to pub.  Hurrah!  He loved it too, and my drink hadn't even been drugged by these monobrowed brothers (probably).  Infuriatingly, the gig was cancelled cos the drummer broke his arm stage diving at Brixton the previous night.  We were GUTTED!   But in getting lost, John had stumbled upon 3 other GBG pubs, all on Great Bridgewater Street, so we had a great little pub crawl to cheer us up.  I've been a Manchester pub fan ever since this night!  As for the LoG, I returned with Dad briefly before a football match a couple of years later, but it felt a bit shiny and modernised even though he liked it.  Not sure I was a fan.  Popped in with Ben Andrew on 6/5/14, similar, and even more so last year at the end of Manc Punk Festival with my sister and boyf Andy Dunn.  The karaoke was amusing though, yet a bit surprised to see it in GBG as nothing matches the magic of that first visit.

403.  Smithfield, Manchester

Staying in Manc, it was 7th September 2011 and I was on an impossible two day 'tour' to see one of my favourite bands, the Swingin' Utters who'd played in Newcastle the night before, and despite no time off work, I now followed them to Manchester.  I stayed at a Travelodge on Ancoats Street, and on a sunny evening, went to a couple of nice pubs called Crown & Kettle and a little bar called Bar Fringe and just across the road, I found this one, then called Smithfield "Hotel and Bar" and it was quite a culture shock after the last place, pretty busy, full of old local characters, bit dark and perhaps a bit dingy if I'm being brutally honest.  I remember sitting there trying to be inconspicuous, but this was pre-BRAPA so I was not quite as comfy in weird pubs - I'd revel in it now.  It had a fair few interesting ales on and I seem to remember having a Durham one, funny what you remember.  Anyway, I can't say it made an impression on me and I'd virtually forgotten of the whole visit and it's existence until I saw it in this year's GBG, no longer "Hotel and Bar", but "Market Tavern" (how 2017!)  and it talks about recent chequered past so perhaps I was seeing it just entering a decline!

404.  King & Castle, Kidderminster

Transporting you all the way back to 3rd April 2004, me and Dad had already 'nailed' the ale scene in one of those towns which (a) Hull City always made fools of themselves in by failing to turn up, and (b) Police and locals overreacted when we were in town like we were some bastardised mutant version of Brum, West Brom and Wolves if you can imagine something quite so horrific.  Since our first couple of visits, we'd made friends with another Hull City father & son combo, Chris and Tom Irvin, from our time in Spring Bank's then wonderful, now quite terrible, Hole in the Wall.  They like trains and stuff, so encouraged us to come along and join them at this pub at the Severn Valley Railway terminus.  Dad even brought his childhood steam train book to tick off the Ottery St Mary, what a moment!  The pub itself had a really nice atmospheric railway tavern feel, but my food took ages to come, I eventually plucked up courage to complain, but at that moment, it was coming through the door and the barmaid was like "IT'S HERE NOW!" and I didn't like her attitude.  Ale-wise, lots of classics like Bathams and those "Piddle" beers you used to see and giggle at the names but never see anymore, well I don't.  Chris made fun of me struggling to get through all my chips, so I sent them out to look at the trains and caught them up a few seconds later!

405.  Tap & Spile, Scarborough

And now for the contentious one I just can't fathom out in my mind.  Suffice to say, I know I've been, I can picture sitting kind of back to the left, being pleased with the amount of ales on (it was early enough in my real ale days to be impressed by an array of handpumps), and being with Dad on an evening, think it was fairly bare-boarded but could be wrong.  I even remember the address 'Falsgrave Road', and seem to remember planning it using the Autoroute map and picking it out because it was nearer to the McCain Stadium than the others in the GBG.  But that's where it all falls down, cos from what I can see, Hull City's last trip to Scarborough was Oct 17th 1998, and on an evening, Oct 15th 1997 and even though I was there, I didn't own a GBG til December 2001!  So unless it was some reserve or youth team game, or some senior cup thing, I'm at a total loss to know why we'd have been in Scarborough in a pub.  My spreadsheet randomly says 1st October 2002 was the date of visit, which actually is a Tuesday.  We did come and sit in the away end as Exeter fans when our game was postponed once, but even that was Jan 16th 1999 (note, the real Exeter fans didn't like our "ooo arrrr we're from Exetarrrr" chant).    Think I need to ask Dad about this one, and perhaps revisit even if it's just for my own sanity!



Tuesday 19 September 2017

BRAPA - The Exchange of Shakey Wakey

Wakefield is one of those towns which you only get the full atmospheric benefit of in driving rain on a grim September Monday evening, where 99.9% of commuters just want to get back through their front door as quickly as possible, leaving the 0.1% of dripping wet idiot pub tickers following the little blue dot on their phone as the next pub draws gradually nearer.

The 15 minute train journey had been notable for two things.  Firstly, the Wakefield citizens standing in the vestibule blocking anyone from getting on the train, despite the fact there were swathes of empty red bays of four up and down the train.  I understood the rationale, but still selfish and a bit "I'm not worthy of a seat" downtrodden.   And secondly, the announcement surely said "can those passengers in the quiet coach please switch their phones to violent mode?".  That's how I heard it.

Anyway, 38 minutes from leaving the bank to having my pint pulled must be a new Tuesday (Monday) evening record outside of L**ds.

1083.  Wakefield Beer Exchange, Wakefield

Predictably, three customers including me made for one of the quietest pub sessions of the calendar year.  On the way in, I said hi to a friendly nervous looking guy.  But he later stared around the room "observing" with the air of a junior pub ticker so I looked at him like "oi pal, geroff my territory!"  Customer two was an older moustachiod man.  Probably an elder pub ticker.  If you opened up his long raincoat, Taylor, Winfield and Mackay would tumble out, foiled again.  An elaborate joke gone wrong.  (I'm feeling paranoid of late, can you tell?).   My reception from ponytailed bar-lad, like my Great Heck ale, was a bit lukewarm but not bad.  What I thought were customers 3 and 4 were staff members on a break / finished their shift, drinking here.  I never understand that, I tell you if Yorkshire Bank did real ale, I'd still go next door to Stick or Twist.  So yeah, the lack of friendliness surprised me, what with all this "exchange", vinyl records, hang the DJ (huh?), local fish & chips.  A blackboard sheltering in the doorway promised "drip coffee", "loose leaf teas", "organic wines" and "quality gins".  This isn't Altrincham-cum-Hardy, and I'm not sure Wakefield is quite ready for such bullshittery.  The pub reminded me a bit of a cosier North Bar in Leeds, a bit wider too, but come in here in the death of winter and you may need to re-evaluate.   Music was decent as Frank Sinatra effortlessly merged into The Undertones, and then the underrated "Eighteen With a Bullet" by Pete Wingfield (a man who looks and sounds suspiciously pub tickery) finished things off nicely.  I did find two weird bite-marks just below my neck which weren't there before and went soon after I left the pub, so not sure if this is normal.    If you visit, let me know if this happens to you.

Customer one - pub ticking on my territory?

Customer two - veteran pub tickers in disguise (overcoat out of view cos doesn't actually exist)

If fish 'n chips fail and this becomes a micropub, the sign is already made!
I popped into Old Printworks (once I found the damn thing in the rain) which I had been to in Jan 2014 but am soon to review in my "archives" blog I keep promising to do, so I needed to refresh my memory (I was rather very drunk at the time).  I'll save some humorous overheard convo for then.

Of course, it didn't help that my Mum and Dad seem to have turned their anniversary holiday into a Dorset/Somerset BRAPA special.  Mum has written a BRAPA style blog from Wells she is going to send me (how cute!), and Dad keeps popping up in places like Spettisbury, or sending me pictures like this:

Because he's drinking cider in Worth Matravers like this:

I tell ya, BRAPA is yesterday's news and there's a new generation taking over!  York Beer Fest tomorrow, but I'll be back soon with archives before Saturday's 'Tom Birthday extravaganza' of somewhere exotic.

Bye, Si

Sunday 17 September 2017

BRAPA - The Chain Gang

The embargo shackles were off, as I headed back to Chester for the second time in under a month.  It was raceday again.  I do know how to pick 'em!  

There was a certain symmetry here, not just due to 9am lager and prosecco drinking suits, ridiculous heels and tiny dresses, but also the fact that it was here where 'word of the new GBG' first started sweeping the nation on 26th Aug (if you can call Glamorgan, Poppleton and North Lincolnshire 'the nation').

Earlier in the journey, a young Wakefield lad called Dan spied my GBG and quizzed me on it.  He was off to a physics convention.  Our chat consisted of moon landings and micropubs, so expect to see our first intergalactic micro ("the Lunar Goat") in the 2019 edition.  It won't open Mondays.

From Chester's new shiny bus station, I took the C56 to a little village over a bridge called Aldford.  I wish i'd known about this pub back on 26th August but never mind.  The bus driver looked at me like "no one ever asks to stop here", so we had the traditional BRAPA-esque sudden grind to a halt and dislodge all the old folk's pacemakers.

1077.  Grosvenor Arms, Aldford

I had to shelve the realisation that my original "1077" tick had been achieved in Darlington back on April 8th, and crack on regardless.  The pub's mock tudory exterior and general inside feel put me in mind of something familiar, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.  Yet.  A load of old blokes were lining the bar, and I to squint at the ales and yell over their heads to get served by the enthusiastic bar-babes - there was no moving these blokes, and the "wet floor" sign at their feet (probably) bore this out.  Before I could come up with a leek-leak pun (Wales was on the agenda), I'd perched myself near a couple of old dears (well one was a dear, the other was like an evil version of everyone from Acorn Antiques mixed together).  They read newspapers, occasionally breaking off to say something like "Are you going for your hair doing?" which led to raucous laughter for no reason.  They'd ordered two plates of some posh looking scran ("oooh isn't it beautifully presented Joyce?") whilst I sipped my slightly sharp and metallic Flintshire Bitter which settled into a decent pint, surprisingly!  The landlord, one of those switched on eagle eyed individuals who seem interested in his customers, especially visitors, spied my GBG and got excited. "Oooh are we in?" and I broke him the good news, he was genuinely overjoyed telling me they are lucky due to strong competition in the area (if you say so).  He asked to read the GBG description ('steady on mate' I thought, 'not even I do that!') and then he went off on a rambling praise of Brunning & Price (OF COURSE!  that's why I recognised the pub style) making other pubs in the area raise their game.  Now as chains go, am quite happy with B&P even if you slightly get the feel that at times you are being beaten over the head and forced to love them in a "we spent a fortune on making this place look like what Henry VIII would've wanted if he was a pubman so don't be ungrateful!" kind of way.  This was certainly a 'pubbier' version than most.   Buses were only every 2 hours, I couldn't dilly-dally as I had too much to do, so blew my entire taxi fund on a trip to Wrexham which was amusing in that signal was so poor, I had to climb on picnic bench,crane my neck and shout just to get through to someone!

My taxi driver was a nice guy, if a bit edgy, a bit like a Welsh Rodney Marsh / Derek Acorah / Paul Hollywood hybrid who, the more he learnt about BRAPA, the more un P.C and less professional he became in his language, which I often find BRAPA brings out in people!

After much additional 'Wrexham pub landscape' chatter (you're not getting a tip mate so stop trying so hard), I was allowed to leave the vehicle where an imposing former bank screaming Wetherspoons awaited my arrival.....

1078.  North & South Wales Bank, Wrexham

If I hadn't picked the 'Brunning & Price' chain correctly last pub, this place was so undeniably Wetherspoons even a blind person would've been able to tell.  If I'd been a bit disappointed how 'nice and tame' Keighley's version had been on Tuesday evening, this more than made up for it.  One of those where my pictures below do a lot more justice than words ever can.  The barmaid was a nice wirey lass, calling me 'lovely' at every turn which might be a North Wales thing, £1.45 for a pint of Welsh Pride with my 50p off Mudgie Voucher and it was better quality than my last ale too.   My new 'red and white BRAPA kit' was undoubtedly affording me a certain acceptance amongst the locals that may not have been the case otherwise (Wrexham were at home, I blended in).  Anyone familiar with 'Spoons knows long walks to toilets are one of their many joyous features, but rarely have I ever climbed so many stairs to get to them.  No wonder dithery frail old locals walked around with huge sets of keys unlocking downstairs doors marked 'private', obviously a series of hidden loos.  And rarely have I taken my bag and coat with me, I did not trust leaving them at my table!     A huge majestic stained glass rooflight was obviously the main feature (apart from the pub scroats) and I had to stare at it occasionally just to 'take myself out of the zone'.  In the zone, a Carling Chav gang leaned across 10 seats and tried to look threatening but they were about 12.  Two wonderful old Steptoe blokes played cards together.  A slim ear-ringed guy with spiky hair kept staring at me, until his Spanish mate arrived who looked like a backing dancer from a Wham video.  And everyone else had moustaches and bulbous noses - and that included the women folk.  Fashions were very 1985, this place will live long in my memory.

I remembered my crazy taxi driver's instructions to get to my next pub, also a Wetherspoons which I might well have visited with Dad on 30th October 2004 as a sort of pre-emptive cos Wrexham didn't really have pubs in the GBG back then, but that felt a lighter pub and some charity box women who'd been following us around all day were banned from the premises which amused me greatly.

Onto today, and Guiseley are obviously a bigger draw in 2017 than Hull City were in 2004 because the place was heaving - I could barely get in!

You can hear the Welsh accents can't you?
 1079.  Elihu Yale, Wrexham

It was about three deep at the bar and I had to use my elbows to get myself into position, just behind an sweaty obese dude but just in front of a nervy shaky horse racing guy who proudly told me he'd won on a 14/1 shot and was confident about the next race.  His luck got even better as he was served before both of us despite arriving last, the staff not even trying to see who's next.  Hard for them I know.  Well, this led to an outburst from our obese friend, "I must be fucking invisible" he wails in my ear ('errrrm, not much chance of that mate!' is what I didn't say that out loud).  I reassured him I'd made sure he got served next, was he grateful, not at all.  "Well, make it TWO pints of Carling, I've been stood 'ere this long!" he moaned to the hapless barmaid.  It was 2:20pm and finding a seat was always going to be a challenge, but the BRAPA red & white was working again, I got some friendly nods from home fans.  I really hoped they didn't engage me in conversation, am pretty sure Kevin Russell doesn't still play for them and I don't know anyone else who might!  In the loo, a Guiseley father and son looked terrified of me.  I tried to look at them with "Yorkshire Unity' eyes but they misread it and bolted for the door.  I perched on the edge of some bearded 20 somethings table, it smelt of Brewdog and curry.  They stood up.  Why exactly, I'll never understand.  But even more bizarre, before I found this table when I was 'touring' the pub, our obese friend emerged from behind a fruit machine and burped loudly.  Yes, HE HAD FINISHED HIS FIRST PINT BEFORE I'D EVEN SAT DOWN!  I thought he was football bound, but when the crowds finally dispersed about 2:59pm, he was one of the remaining few, joined by one of Derby's woodland folk from the Brunswick and a crazy shop-mobility lady - another amusing 'Spoons effort.

'Craft' blokes standing up to make the pub football experience more real?

Two of our fave characters, in one shot

The crowds start to leave for the football, the Welsh dragon's feet visible only.
Next, I walked north through Wrexham to find my next pub, which both Martin Taylor and my taxi driver had seemed very unenthusiastic about......

But what they didn't tell me, was that it was an Ember Inn!  Obvious from miles away due to the huge sign and fact that it's on a nondescript main drag of road.

The scene so typically Ember

Looks alright, maybe this'll be the best Ember ever?
1080.  Acton Park, Wrexham

And the early signs were encouraging as a bubbly bouncing barmaid said 'hi' to me on arrival (though she was heading for the exit), and I saw Dark Star Hophead which is easily the most exciting beer I've seen in an Ember since Abbeydale Moonshine.  I remembered I could get CAMRA discount too.  But then it unravelled.  A less good barmaid served me, £3.45 after discount, and she sloshed half my ale on floor carrying it far end of the bar to me.  I came in a Brains glass, on a Carling beermat.  I sat in some unmistakably Ember mismatched garish furniture which neither Wetherspoons or B&P would deem suitable for a pub.  I spied the token pile of logs.  Where was my Ember bingo card, this was approaching a "full house".  I spied on this couple, a pregnant lass with what appeared to be a toy boy.  "Do you remember our first date, actually in this same pub!" she declared.  He remembered.  You always remember an Ember.  Sorry.  "Yeh" she continued "...it was here where you accidentally took that photograph of your hand!"  Oh what memories.  Romantic isn't the word.  They ordered food.  A barperson mentioned Salsa.  Our pregnant friend looked confused, probably thinking "why are they mentioning a dance off Strictly?"  And then, in earshot but slightly obscured, a guy shouts across the room "Hi Mum!  Did you have a phone call with Wynn Thomas earlier?"  Ember Inns ladies and gentlemen.


Now I'm sure my fellow pub tickers will agree but it's always great to tick off a pub which doesn't have a bus or train symbol in the GBG, which didn't require a 20 mile walk or cheating with some other mode of transport.

So I continued my journey North of Wrexham, through some housing estate, over a bridge crossing a dual carriageway, down a country lane, and winding around to the right, pub number five!

There's a pub around here some place!

Nice shape

"Life revolves around the bar" (sign starts well anyway)
1081.  Pant-yr-Ochain, Gresford

So my opening gambit here was going to be that this was the first pub of the day which wasn't a chain pub, even though it had the word 'chain' in it's title.  But then Malcolm Nicholls said on Twitter that it was a Brunning and Price, and I'm wondering how I didn't pick it!  4 pints in, less observant, but with hindsight, the clues were there.  Plenty of dining, nice old features, multi rooms, real fire, Weetwood Eastgate is always a give away in amongst the many ales with little blackboard descriptions, patio and big garden, even a lake.  Yes, I need a bingo card for these pubs too!  I headed with gusto for the centre of the bar ("seeing as this is where life revolves around!" but a lady with a delicately poised Sainsburys bag who'd arrived after me was served first because (a) she wanted a table for tonight and (b) I was ONLY buying a pint.  In fact, when I paid for my Purple Moose ale 'upfront' and declined to open a tab, the barman looked very put out.  I slunk over to the far room, with nice smells of the fire giving the first glimpses of Autumn pubbing - my favourite time of year.  An excessively OTT 'joint' family group were enjoying a post-meal wind down, a man who may or may not have been Michael French was telling tales of derring-do to some wide-eyed twilds, whose own Dad (a kind of even more sculptured Robbie Savage) was doing a weird kind of jig to try and win back some of the attention.  Another twild carrying the tiniest twog you've ever seen outside of Paris Hilton's handbag took it to the exit, and launched it into the huge garden!  I didn't see it again after that, but the wide-eyed twilds had ditched both French and Savage to go outside to get a glimpse of this peculiar little creature (the twog, not me).  A man ran in to the bar "WREXHAM HAVE SCORED A 97TH MINUTE EQUALISER!" but I think he'd misjudged the situation, no one cared, one woman yawned and forced another piece of breaded calamari down her entitled gullet.

This is actually 'Dad', not a waiter.
Back out onto the country lane, I kept walking north to reach Gresford itself and just on the outskirts to the left of centre I saw my last pub of the day.  I'd usually start at the furthest point, but this doesn't open til 4pm even on a Saturday hence why I ended up finishing here.  And it didn't look too lively from the outside so was relieved to see a door ajar .....

1082.  Griffin Inn, Gresford

But looks can be deceiving as I walked in to find a hive of local activity, busy friendly smiling people - one and all.  Pub of the day, before I'd even been served.  You can just tell sometimes, when the quality shines through.  And really, the first pub not obviously part of a chain as well.  No coincidence there.  Great layout too, hardly changed since 1947, and I was served by a lovely old lady who used her 44 years of service to immediately work out I was on a crazy pub crawl and was knackered from a long walk (or it may have been obvious, the glazed expression, bits of twig in my hair etc!)  I told her I'd just come from Pant-yr-Ochain, she seemed impressed, we both scrunched our faces up simultaneously and said "nice but a bit of a dining pub!"  #PubLady.  Her father had run it for 40 years before her too.  I sat down and got talking to this lovely old couple (he went to grab me a local CAMRA mag to takeaway) and I was just explaining how my blog was more about the quirky side of pubs rather than a textbook description, when a loud alarm reverberated around the whole pub.  Everyone looked in pain, covered there ears, as our PubLady went to investigate the root cause - turned out her hubbie was having a sly puff on his E-Cig out the back, and had set off the smoke alarm.  "And that" I said to the couple next to me "is EXACTLY the kind of thing I write about!"  They told me about a time the electricity went out, and the landlady got on the piano and everyone had a sing-song in the dark.  Sounded amazing.  There was still time to make a fool of myself in the loo, blocking the door, getting squashed, trying to laugh it off, going the wrong way, bloke I was chatting to looked at me like you'd look at a sparrow with an injured wing.  Oh dear.  Time to go.

Our CAMRA mag grabbing friend

I managed to flag down a bus to Wrexham, but then I found out it was a "rail replacement service" and I already had 40 mins to wait til it was due.

That was painful, but I made friends with a trainee 'engineer' who wasn't quite as endearing as our Wakefield physician, but he had these occasional flashes of humour, and taught me a bit of Welsh which I've forgotten already.  

The Chester-Manchester train was blighted by dickheads out on t'piss, embarrassingly trying to chat up the pretty young ladies on the train - most of whom got out at Stockport presumably just to get away from the creeps (not that I'm saying they might not have been off to Boar's Head for a few jugs of OBB).

Even though my train got into Manc after the York connection had left, I managed to travel back in time, jumped on it, and was back in York more like 10:15 than 10:45 which was a bonus.

Phew!  6 pubs, really amusing day.  Very enjoyable.  And my first 5 ticks under North East Wales, and I told you I wanted to get some new counties in.

I'll be midweek BRAPping on the slightly earlier day of Monday due to York Beer Fest on Wednesday, so I can have a day's recovery.  Only thing is, of my remaining 9 West Yorks ticks, only 5 of them open at all on a Monday. Guess why that might be.