Monday, 2 October 2017

BRAPA - The Lucky Black Cat of Chesham

Twog v Twild, live from Harrow .... there can only be one winner.
Time to dust down (wipe clean?  no, that sounds wrong) the Good Beer Guide and head down to London as part of the monthly trip to Buckinghamshire, a county I think I will now finish in January as I need four more trips after today.

The journey down would have been tranquillity personified, if only we hadn't stopped at Doncaster to let on a merry band of middle aged Scroats to disrupt the peace of Coach F.  From King's Cross, I took the tube all the way to Chesham, where a man told his friend that a 2 year driving ban wasn't a bad thing, cos now he'd bought a bike, he was getting country air, and giving his dog more attention!  Every cloud .....

The first pub was a good trek from Chesham, actually being north of the centre up a hill in a surprisingly rural spot called Lye Green.  I tried the walk here back in January on a freezing cold night, got within 0.4 miles, only to find no pavement or even grass verge on a busy road.  I was so close.  But I didn't want to get killed so gave up on the idea.  I walked a different way this time.

Despite only having "no footpath" for the final 0.1 mile of my 35 minute walk, I still got beeped at by a man in an unmarked white van, one of those groups of society who always seem a bit dubious.   Still, it was great to finally reach this pub, sun was out, and all was well .....

So the GBG said the pub opened at 11am Saturday, but 9am midweek which seemed strange!  I waited patiently on a bench (it was only 10:45am) for 10 mins, witnessing a bit of coming and going, but I just assumed they were staff members off to buy frozen chips like they do in Whitchurch.

By 10:55am, it dawned on me the pub might actually be open, so I turned the handle and I was in!

1091 / 1843.  Black Cat, Chesham 

And the landlady's there waiting like "yeh, course we're open selling ale, the breakfast lot have just left"  so I pull myself together and order something supposedly from Chesham even though it said Berkhamstead on the pump.  Anyway, Elaine as she was called (a top 10 landlady name if ever I compiled a list), was very friendly, though unable to help with my "can I walk to pub two without being killed by cars?" query.  "The Green Green Grass of Home" was playing, which incidentally is on BRAPA's second album 'Born to be Twild'.  The pub was cosy, warm, homely, pretty much the perfect pub and it took the 'Black Cat' theme to the nth degree with decor everywhere.  When I told Elaine I liked black cats, she said they even had a real one somewhere, but sadly I couldn't see it, probably camouflaged in amongst all the fakers.  Husband Louis turned up and said hi, Louis being the kind of name that 50-80 year old bald men from the home counties are allowed to have, but if you were called that up north, you'd be deported to France.  I then overheard Elaine chatting with two local walkers, and telling them my 'pub two ' predicament.  So they helped me come up with a route, their attitude very much "even if you get killed, it'll be worth it as it's such a fine morning".  Wonderful pub this, and made me think today was going to be lucky.

A fine pub interior

Cats n Stuff

If you are the real black cat, give me a sign.
And it really was an easy walk, save for a slight bit of soggy grass verge walking on the manic B4505, though my decision to try and take a short cut through some farmers fields wasn't my wisest and I muddied by new red Adidas Gazelles (nooooo!) and had to give them a good clean outside the pub like some normal walker person.

1092 / 1844.  White Hart, Whelpley Hill

Some chef bloke had already said hello by the time I wandered in with clean(er) shoes and got a nice cheery hello off the blonde barmaid, and you could tell this pub was all about good customer service, cos even when twild-centric families were ordering food at the bar, she stopped to ask them about their days.  But this pub was properly traditional too, and was a rare example of one which manages to straddle that 'proper country inn' with 'gotta make concessions to food etc to survive'.  You could tell this from the healthy band of regulars at the bar, the most jovial with his dog on his knee, was indecipherable but he was laughing so I joined in in a slightly over the top way, just to be sure!  His fellow barflies were less welcoming, and glared at me regularly in a suspicious way, as I settled in the most 'drinkery' corner I could find.  I just smiled sweetly at them, which seemed to make matters worse.  Some walkers arrived and expected me to show them to a table, so I growled and went to the loo to clean my shoes further, where I saw a thrilling sign showing details of the pub's refurbishment, even trying to press-gang visitors into helping chop wood and stuff!  Cheeky.  A twild wandered into the pub on his own, with a flat cap on, and sat at the bar with the regulars.  "Alright little man, do you wanna a beer?"   said our blonde friend, as the locals roared with laughter.  "He wants a gin & tonic!" says our mad man with dog on knee.  The poor boy didn't get the joke.  Pubman of the future.  I'd HAD to ring for a taxi (the bus service in real life not as generous as it appeared on Friday night from the safety of BRAPA towers in York) and as I waited, I was TWICE asked if I wanted another pint bringing.  Class pub effort this.

The taxi driver didn't seem a fan of BRAPA, and dropped me in the middle of Chesham rather than the rail station which interestingly allowed the fare to be £2 more but I'm sure that's just a mere coincidence.  

Back on the tube (eventually, services aren't too frequent from Chesham) and I hopped out at Harrow-on-the-Hill, the first place on the Met Line with a walkable GBG pub I could see.

Harrow really was on a hill, and after some nice walking past dog walkers and joggers across some parks, and down a little ginnel (well, probably an alleyway in London), I saw the pub on the corner.  Idiots outside were blocking my entrance and I feared the worst.

En route to the pub

Time for pub number three
1093 / 1845.  Castle, Harrow

I guess I'd have to say in conclusion that I "respected" this pub, but with a slight sense of loathing too.  I walked in to find three handpumps, but three more through this tiny doorway, probably a really old throwback to when the pub folk of Harrow were only 4 foot tall.   The staff were functional, but a bit aloof, and the pub was nothing like the GBG description of "lively and friendly", more toffee-nosed snooty with an air of pretension.  It didn't help that my ale wasn't very good quality - not enough for me to return it, more like something tired you'd get in the heart of London City.  But you had to admit the pub itself was a gorgeous building, it even had a Clock room full of clocks and was actually a lot like a larger version of those ornate central London pubs, but more serene.  I'd already spied something weird, a man laying in his girlfriend's bosom whilst she stroked his hair.  Did they know each other? This lasted about 20 minutes, and everyone looked twice at it.  When she moved him, a Pomeranian dog appeared from under their chair and careered around the pub in a circle.  A young Twild from the clock room was fascinated with the twoggy little bastard, and his Mummy brought him in to play ball.  Pomeranian was more eager to play, leaving our twild terrified.  It was a funny scene, enough to melt even the blackest heart, and I know this because not only did the barmaid finally smile, but a moody old local (with the kind of ear size which only men over the age of 80 have) laughed too ..... but within 2 minutes, got sick of it and went to read his paper in peace in another room!  What I found most amusing was that boyfriend who'd been laying on girls knee, had a massive sulk when Pomeranian became the centre of attention!  Twild finally manned up and made friends with Twog, Mum & dog owner giggled happily, but I'd like to have seen the black cat from Chesham saunter in and twat both of them.  And that summed up my thoughts of this pub.

Back on the tube, I hopped off at a place called Preston Road for my next pub, a ten minute walk away.  It was now that those lucky Black Cat omens started to come true, first I passed an Ember Inn which i didn't have to go inside, and then Mum text me Hull City were 3-0 up before half time!  So when I reached the pub, I was in good spirits.....

I'm not going in and you can't make me!

Mum's telling the truth!

Time for pub 4
1094 / 1846.  Windermere, South Kenton

First thing I noticed was how imposing this pub seemed, in an unlikely location too with not much around it and quite a large Asian community.  All the curtains were drawn, and the pub was deliciously dark, and had that 'lived in for centuries' feel, though GBG says only opened in 1939 (what a silly year to build a beautiful pub like this!) so I guess it's pretty much unchanged.  Problem was, only one ale on.  Now I do think pubs put too many on a lot of the time, but surely two (outside of Sam Smith pubs) should be a minimum so there's a choice.  What if it goes off?  No real ale.  And bang, out of the guide.  And that'd be a crying shame for a pub like this.  Looks like there's usually two, but when Sir Quinno visited, none!  Anyway, the Irish barman had been on the phone when he turned around and apologised profusely for not serving me first.  But the phone had rang first.  So although I expect high standards from GBG staff,   I don't expect them to time travel.   I then made a fool of myself not being able to find the gents, so some Irish washerwomen (was everyone Irish in here?) guided me back to pretty much where I'd sat under the giant screen.  "My Life" by Billy Joel, incidentally on BRAPA's third album "Twog Chorus", played whilst Jeff Stelling rambled on about teams better than Hull City.  "You down 'ere for the NFL then?" asked the barman, not sure where he got that conclusion, "nah, just ticking off every pub in the Good Beer Guide" I casually replied.  "This pub is in that!" said an excitable local.  Errrm, yes, that's why I'm here.  I realised I'd enjoyed my pint aswell, even though it was that Seafarers gubbins from Fullers, and I'd got too relaxed and time was ticking on .....

South Kenton had it's own tube station just behind the pub, which was a bonus, and time for one last photo of the superb pub.

Now, I was on the Bakerloo line and after a painstaking trip all the way to Piccadilly Circus, I changed for the Piccadilly line for Russell Square.  Problem was, Piccadilly Circus was like Piccadilly Circus and the trains were rammed - and after declaring everyone on the platform "BRAPA Crappers" I eventually muscled my way onto the THIRD one that came along.  

I started walking until I came to one of the three pubs listed under Bloomsbury.  These seem to be GBG regulars, so the type I really need to be ticking off this year ahead of Craft Kitchens and closing down Wetherspoons.  

1095 / 1847.  Swan, Bloomsbury

So I'm stepping up to take this above photo when a man with 'druggie' eyes stops to ask me for money.  "Just any change at all" he pleads pathetically, as if I was worried I'd have to give him a ten pound note, but I've already hurdled a huge menu and picnic bench and I'm inside.   Ah, central London pubs on a Saturday evening, I should do a bingo card to match my Ember and Micropub ones.  Lots of nice shiny wood, mirrors, hop bines, obviously old, yet still somehow lame at the same time.  Caused mainly by slow moping staff.  A depressed looking female blonde Marilyn Manson (pre stage scenery fall) was so unhappy the posh man before me had ordered 4 pints of handpulled beer, she told him (with no humour, or just very deadpan) "If you don't drink every last drop of these, I'll be charging you extra for the effort!"  Wow.  "Don't worry, I've worked behind a bar, I know how difficult this is for you" he replies, trying the old charm offensive.  It worked, soon she was putty in his hand sharing pub stories of old.  Not sure his wife was that happy.  Always a sucker for a gimmick, I ordered a pint of Starry Night complete with flashing LED pumpclip.  Amazingly, it was top quality.  The man who served me called me sir about 10 times.  I didn't have time to relax, time had marched on, but pubs like this are perfect for people watching.  The scene was dominated by a bald man who looked like a tough cockney, but spoke with the voice of a Welsh Steve Bruce.  No one looked happy in the entire place, you have to go back to the Star & Garter nr Oxford Street to find a clientele this depressed.  One woman did smile, a haggard looking Nigella Lawson, so perhaps the real one.   Two female kids TV presenters looked nervous and spoke about degrees.  I had to go.

Starry Night, not flashing on this photo.

The scene so typically London

It's ok trying to be hard, but you've got the voice of a Welsh Steve Bruce
The good news was that just down the road was Holborn station and a pub right next to it.  Grrr, I should've just got off the tube here instead.  Oh well, it seemed a lot quieter and easy to get back into than Russell Square which would bode well for getting back to Kings Cross, but first I had about 30 mins to get this final pub done.

1096 / 1848.  Holborn Whippet, Holborn

One of my Dad's "go to" pubs when he's down here for pension stuff, I've always fancied giving it a try, even if it was always likely to be a bit of a young beardo haven, (and no, I don't mean full of young Peter Beardsley's, that'd be just terrifying), Dad is far more hipster than me (he probably has a back tattoo of a Jackson Pollock painting).  First thing was locating the 'pump clips' one of those 'taps on the back of the walls, jet stream flows beer up from cellar, but CAMRA still approve if anyone cares' type set ups.  Next challenge was finding a member of staff to think someone might be at this right hand cask side, frustrating when you are against the clock.  Amazingly, I found a spare bench all to myself, with dramatic Americans in front acting like being in London was having a profound emotional impact on them, and Dutch people behind doing impressions of  Steve McLaren.  Two girls came along to enquire if they could sit opposite, I said yes but one beckoned her friend over to the wall and she dragged both stools over there, apologising for ditching me.  Yes I felt rejected.  Same thing as a member of staff  with the air of Kid Creole asked about my seat with bag on, and he took it away and propped it against a wall and ate his dinner.  Just when all hope was lost, a Brighton couple, Damian and a girl with a name beginning with M probably, took the vacant yankee seats and sat with me.  I was almost sobbing.  And drinking a pint of Dark Star APA, it made sense.  Nice couple, though after 5 pints, it is hard to remember Brighton pubs which aren't the Evening Star.  They must exist.  I also shattered their illusions of being in the Premier League, before quickly apologising, and we chatted BRAPA and football before I realised I had a train in a few mins! 

Despite a slight panic, I had got my train in decent time and it was only spoilt by, in the words of the conductor lady, "Hartlepool fans acting obnoxious".  She told our carriage she was a Poolie herself, and it's only since they've gone into non-league that they've started behaving badly, which I'd have to take exception to.  She ended up then getting a load of verbals from middle aged Pools fans in  my carriage for daring to suggest such a thing!  Poor lass.

It'd been another really productive day with some strong pubs. I reckon I can finish Buckinghamshire in four more visits now (one MK area, one Wycombey/Marlow area, one outer Aylesbury, and one which is very much 'on it's own') so Cambs by Feb?



  1. Great post aside from the Birmingham City score reference!

    1. Haha, I should've known you'd (dis)approve of that Ian, but we won't get much to shout about this season so I need these little victories!

  2. "Louis being the kind of name that 50-80 year old bald men from the home counties are allowed to have, but if you were called that up north, you'd be deported to France."
    Was just thinking a similar thought as I read that. :)

    "I then overheard Elaine chatting with two local walkers"
    Sigh... I read that as two "wankers".

    And I take it that After Liff photo is a photoshop of some sort. You don't have a book out do you?


    PS - Was poking around Google Maps as I read this. I love the fact you can get around by tube, bus and foot as need be. Don't take that for granted.

    1. Deportation to France would be too great a strain on the taxpayer unless we can somehow get the French to pay. The catapult would be a far more appropriate means of dealing with the matter.

      I regularly board stealth bomber propelled trains at Doncaster. More trains should stop. I'm one of the scroats. If there are dickheads you don't like, just move or play fun games with them.

      Trains are every 30 minutes on the Chesham branch, in my view an excellent service for a rural branch line. I'd have been tempted to consider Hemel or Berko instead but then I suppose you have the expense of being outside of Zone 9.

      The Picc is always rammed at the weekend and in the week - tourists seem to like it. There are a lot of cancellations as well. In the centre, it is easily avoidable at the more touristificated shacks, walks up top are achievable. It is a little better in the small hours.

      Please can I go to Milton Keynes to fulfil a promise I made on another website?

    2. Tom what did you promise about MK? I don't want you slagging off one of my fave Bucks towns (well, I prefer it to Aylesbury) and getting me banned from the pubs.

      Every 30 mins for Chesham, wow it never feels like that! But Russ, I promise I don't take it for granted, I know from past experience not all counties are so easy to get around.

      Tom, you might be a Grimsby scroat but that is a better class of scroat than even a Donny scroat in my Scroat book.

    3. I enclose a copy of the promise below:
      "I should really have an open mind and if they ever admit a pub back in the guide ask to go on a BRAPA trip with an open mindset of the place. Despite this olive branch however, I shall never, ever set foot in the football ground short of the bastardised excuse of a football club going bust and end up being replaced by a club that has started at the bottom in the honest way."

      I want to hate the place, but can't unless I go. I have been wrong before. I am willing to be proved wrong again. I only slag off when it is deserved. I also believe in giving credit when it is deserved.

      One of my friends from the local corner shop is a charming young student girl from Aylesbury I'll have you know.

  3. Haha, one of your best yet - laugh-out-loud funny!

    "with the kind of ear size which only men over the age of 80 have" - that brings to mind at least two sketches from Harry & Paul ;-)

    1. Glad you enjoyed, and yes, those old guys who say everyone is "quair" did come to mind when I was admiring that chaps ears.

    2. And the two hospital consultants discussing their skiing holidays.