It was 9:30am, I was supposed to have been on a tube out of Hounslow no later than 8:50am to make the connection at Marylebone to take me to High Wycombe to get a good 11am start on the new South Buckinghamshire pubs, arrgghhh! (Good job I was in a Travelodge and not a Premier Inn with it's Lenny Henry snooze-tastic beds, or it may have been lunchtime).
After dodging a few judgey chambermaids looking at their watches in a "BRAPA waits for no man" kind of way, I picked the sleep out of my eyes and managed to get to High Wycombe (a dreadfully dull place, let's be honest) for just after 11, from where I took a bus to somewhere rural near Penn Street called "Mop End" which I'm sure the bus driver made up just to confuse me.
Storm "Brian" (terrible storm name, what's next, Storm "Chris"?) had replaced Ophelia, and was swirling around my ears as I walked along the village green of this serene little place, which screamed "South Bucks" as much as any place could. The pub looked 'country dining central', but let's not judge before we've gone in......
1125 / 1871. Squirrel, Penn Street
So, the quarter of the GBG complete (again) but not quite the fanfare of the Red Lion in Marsworth this time. On the surface, this pub represented everything that was wrong with Buckinghamshire pubs. Almost every table reserved for diners, people looking like they have a stick up their backsides, no beermats, not even any pump clips (beers written on little chalkboards), no drinkers area to speak of, high chairs for incoming twilds, jam jars showing cloudy real ale samples. Yet, it won me round despite all this! A posh old man at the bar seems to be eyeing up the ales, he sees one called "Hoppit" and says to me "that's not a very friendly welcome is it?" I chuckle politely. I assume the Salopian Lemon Dream being pulled is for him, so when a young bar-lad asks who's next, I jump in, only to realise Posh Bloke isn't on the Salopian so I quickly apologise for pushing in. "Oh, it's quite alright!" he booms, "I'm waiting for my wife, she's bringing the dog, I have all the time in the world .... you look like you are in more of a hurry!" So I admit that's true as I'm trying to tick off every pub in the Good Beer Guide. This kinda kills the conversation, and I find the best seat in the house, this leather thing perched on the other side of the bar giving me a good vantage point for BRAPA observation. I hear my posh friend telling a barmaid his wife is bringing the dog in, "it might be wet & muddy, I hope that's not a problem!" She assures him that's fine. I'm meeting my 'Neighbours' friends later, the guy reminds me a bit of Hamish Roche, the new posh evil villain, I wonder if his wife will be more like 'Louise' or 'Sheila', I think vaguely. Storm Brian is pelting it down, blowing the door inwards, the rain is sideways. A little woman wanders in with a dog and a hood, so this is the wife ..... hang on, it's only MARY BERRY off the tele! Meanwhile, the sun comes out, a huge group of young Mums and twilds arrive. One bloke is a proper #PubMan noting how painful this incoming twildery is for me, smiling sympathetically. They all whisper "Mary Berry is sat around the corner if ya look!", but no one bothers her as everyone has such a high opinion of themselves, asking for a selfie in presumably her local whilst she's having soup would be uncouth. I need a taxi to speed me up to get back on track after sleeping in, but no phone signal. I wander out onto the village green, still no luck. Btw, I love how this pub has an old historic cricket theme despite all the gastro nonsense. I go to the bar to ask if they can book me a taxi, I feel a bit bad considering how rushed off their feet they are with twildery foody reservations, but the girl I speak to is first class and sorts it all out. However, Berry is staring at me opposite the bar with those glinting blue eyes, bloody Hubby has only gone n told her I pushed in at the bar (probably) so now she's looking at me like I've baked some pastry with a soggy bottom! Taxi driver wanders into the pub to ask for "Simon" just as I'm swigging my last dregs of the ale (SBS - a solid B). Crazy scenes in the world of BRAPA.
|See what I mean about the ales?|
|At my leather perching area, note Posh Hubbie Berry on other side of bar.|
|A couple enjoy some cricket bat lunch fun|
|A microcosm of evil twildery, but bloke holding twild was a classic #pubman in disguise.|
Anyway, we finally got to Loudwater, I sensed whatever I experienced was going to be a come down, so it may as well be proper shite. It was.
1126 / 1872. Derehams Inn, Loudwater
I walked in to the strains of a loud woman behind me congratulating her son on clearing his plate, and then raising a toast with the several other people in the group to Diwali, she was posh and white and before I'd left the bar, she'd managed to mention 21st century buzz words like 'inclusivity' and 'multiculturalism'. The bar was strange in that it was split into two down the middle, so I had to straddle the middle sections to order my limp and increasingly sulphury ale (SBS D+). Although the children conducted themselves with decorum and panache (as I wrote on the day!), the parents didn't so I sat in the quieter back bar. I was joined by one of the scariest couples in BRAPA history, man with face and neck tattoos and his spiky haired haggard wife, both looked like Crimewatch e-fits. The pub twog kept doing circular laps of the pub, getting locked out, scratching to come back in, so at least I could bond with Mr Tattoo Neck on ignoring the damn creature and not letting it back in. But Mrs Tattoo had other ideas and kept bending to the dogs needs, for which her hubbie called her "a fucking idiot" at 3 minutely intervals. I wouldn't have gone that far, even if I'd thought it. She accepted the assessment with good grace. But overall, I really wondered how this pub had got into the GBG.
|Keeping the Diwali gang at a safe distance|
|I'm not letting you in!|
|Mr Tattoo Neck pondering life (and death) behind my limp ale|
|Personalised toilet decor|
|I thought this was a West Berkshire beer magazine?|
|Old pound coins still accepted in these parts.|
I took a bus back to High Wycombe and I should really have gone to the bus station to catch a bus out Marlow way, but was a bit paranoid about storm Brian cancelling trains and being late to meet my 'Neighbours' gang so instead I hot-footed it back to Marylebone, and took an underground train half-heartedly towards South Ealing where we were meeting, stopping off at a few pubs on the way of course ....
1127 / 1873. Queen's Arms, Gloucester Road
A quiet location, a nice street corner local, but hectic inside, this was the Mitre in Richmond all over again but with even more amusing clientele. You could tell I was back in that area, as my lime green rain mac was being sneered at again, so spreading it across a vacant table of four when no one else could find a seat really rubbed salt into the poshos wounds. Ok, so the table was reserved by it was 3pm, and Jake had it reserved from 12 noon, Lucy had it reserved from 6pm, so I had made the most of a rare interlude of non-reservation. You could say a good pub knows it's clientele, and it must know how vain and vapid they are as the 'tip jar' reads "how attractive are you on a scale of 1-10?", signifying attractive people give £10 tips rather than £1. The jar, reassuringly though, was empty. A few blonde people stole my other seats because they were forming an Aryan race group behind me (allegedly), before a girl who'd bought a peacock feather for a ridiculous amount of money realised she'd been conned when you could just go to a park, find a peacock, and pluck one out (if that doesn't sound too wrong). Then a prototype Prince William and his girlfriend did duck impressions and wondered if I'd drink up so they could nab my seat, so I drank my final third ultra slowly and also did a duck impression. Funny pub for people watching, beer v.good (SBS B) and a very nice building too. Visit, but make sure you wear a lime green rain mac. They'll love you more.
I walked to the next pub because let's face it, Londoners are lazy and jump on and off tubes 'just because they can' when if this was say, rural North Yorkshire, I'd have about 500 required pubs within 'walking distance'. The walk took me from SW7 to W8, the GBG App made me walk into this weird courtyard where a woman was crouched down smoking, but turned out pub was on main road .....
1128 / 1874. Elephant & Castle, Kensington
For an M&B Nicholsons pub, this seemed very small and intimate but all the cosier for it, a judgey man with a blue coat was sitting outside pretending it was summer and scowled at me as I took the pub photo as though he wanted a fee for being involved. So I ended up taking a better one (above) without him in. The staff were a tiny bit snooty and stand offish, the guy serving me looked like he stepped off a boat in Howard's Way, he screamed late eighties and probably had a wife with shoulder pads and frizzy hair locked in the back. Every seat was taken around the perimeter so I had no choice but to perch on a posing table with my Adnams Herbalist (a beer, not a man - SBS C+, better in York's Cross Keys last year and that doesn't reflect too well on this pub!) I felt a bit like the centrepiece, especially in my lime green rain mac so no wonder a bald Chris Moyles and his botoxed girlfriend, who appeared to hate each others guts. He kept staring over at me (she fell asleep). Taking photos didn't help. I went to the loo but went the wrong way, a common theme you veterans will know, but ended up walking towards the barstaff, who told me "well it's not over here!" didn't actually then tell me where it WAS. A BRAPA first in unhelpful staff. I've written "strong candle wax" in my notes, but no idea what that means.
|Go on then .... judgey blue coat man.|
|A French woman pours tonic into her gin - the most London pub thing ever.|
|Basically my view for 90% of time spent in the pub|
Although I was well early, I thought it best to get to the South Ealing pub in good time, so after getting cash out and some food, I was walking in almost an hour early......
1129 / 1875. Ealing Park Tavern, South Ealing
The pub had that 'gearing up for a big Saturday night' feel about it, the staff were wide-eyed, friendly and on the whole, a bit manic, and a group of red and white football fans stood up en masse at half hourly intervals, clapped and went "ooo, ooo, la la la" like some weird version of the Hakka and the pub went silent and 'appreciated them' like they were a rare prehistoric species of fish. People speculated that they must be Brentford fans, but it all seemed a bit too European to me. Only one of the 5 real ale handpumps had anything on, and that was a 5.5% Long Arm stout which was very nice (SBS B+) but not what I needed at this time of day, and after 3 of these, I went onto a colourful 330ml can for about £7 and ended on a shot of vodka bought for me by the Neighbours lads without my knowledge. They were a jolly gang, Daniel, Ben and Rob P, I learnt a lot of Neighbours off screen gossip I've now forgotten (though I can't un-remember Cody and Pam Willis having a fling in real life ewwwwww!) Before they arrived, I made it my aim to try and get us a good table, I had to stand at the bar for 15 mins, upgraded to a barrel shaped thing which seated 2 or 3, and somehow commandeered a table for about 12 and held onto it. The pub was nice, obviously recently refurbished and gastro'd up, but a good place to meet your fellow Neighbours fans!
|Time for a weird ritual chant?|
|One ale, you've only got one ale (and this wasn't rectified between 6-11pm!)|
|Barman about to be eaten by a moose.|
So that was that!
The plan was to steadily work my way back through London on the Sunday morning hopping off for a few early openers, and despite a splitting headache, I tried to rouse myself at Piccadilly Circus, only to find the Crown at Soho very shut (it was supposed to open 10am, it was now 11am), it wasn't just me as 2 lads, a group of Chinese tourists, and a maintenance man were all looking as confused as me! Plus the wind was freezing and my lime green mac wasn't very insulating.
After helping direct a woman who's phone had died to Jermyn Street, I wandered to Covent Garden where I'd spied another 11am Sunday opener called the Cross Keys, but this looked even shutter than the Crown (11:25am) so I decided fate was telling me to give up, rest my liver, and go home! So I did.
|The Crown, Soho. Lights are on, but they aren't letting us in!|
In the most boring stat I'll ever tell you, 22nd October is one of 42 days in the calendar year where I have NEVER ticked off a pub that has contributed towards BRAPA, past or present. And that trend continues when it really should've been broken.
The 12 noon Kings Cross to York was chaos, and I had to get a "woMAN-spreader" from Aviemore to move her bags, which she didn't want to do. I didn't like her. Shame, cos I want to know if the "Winking Owl" is as good a pub as I am imagining, cos I like the name!