Thursday 30 November 2017

BRAPA - November Review / December Preview (2017)

You always get one massively weird month in the year, and for the first time ever, it fell in the usually reliable steady month of November.

Ready for a rubbish poem I've spent far too long writing to sum it all up?  Good.  We all have to suffer (and that is also the 'working title'):

It all started weirdly, micropubbing in Wibsey
Where doggy saliva, was glistening dribbly
Onto grey Sheffield, with the wonderful Welly
But Hull City shamed us, when defence turned to jelly
Post match was peculiar, but not very old
Portland's closing forever, or so we were told
Hartshead with Karl, on a Smirnoff Ice quest
But for GBG clubs, up there with the best
Got cracking on Rutland, but it came at a cost
In Stamford, me and Dad felt totally lost
Folk queued for food, in the lame Tobie Norris
So I had to push in, 'twas the only thing for it
If queuing in pubs becomes social norm
Then BRAPA is dead, cos I'll never conform
To the killing of culture and pub ettiquette
People say "progress", I say "not just yet"
I praised a young barmaid, for being a star
But she took issue that I said 'girl' and not 'woman', (and went to burn her bra)
Quizzed on Quattro and Quo, in the back of a taxi
Met Taylor & Couldwell, in the bowels of Wapentake
Had eight face injections, toffee-nosed Harrow-gate
It didn't stop BRAPA, to continue apace
Drunk London with Dave, a mod lager Miller
Royal Oak was a classic,  the new entries were fillers
Next day in MK, it was dining pub hell
But I kept my nerve, I kept my table as well
The Cannon a highlight, was herded like cattle
But it was more than alright, cos we had a meat raffle
Donny surprised me, green tiles in the Draughtsman
Has a station tap ever, been more classy than this one?
And just when I thought the month couldn't get stranger
I went down to Cheshire, and could soon sense the danger
A yank with a sword, steak and caffeine alert
Preston, polyester and paisley, all in the same shirt
Upside down Christmas tree handstands
Words like 'pong' and 'lout', I don't understand
I felt a bit like an imposter
So I became a Doom Bar tosser
Read that sexist beer names had to be a thing of the past
Remembered my Cornish Knocker comment from summer, would sure be my last
Ended the month on thirty, plus a good few pre-emptive ticks
It should've been 32, but right at the end I got man-flu (so felt very sick)
Before that I had a photo-shoot, for that funny magazine they call 'Beer'
Free drinks in York Tap, so at least the month ended with some good cheer
And that's where November thankfully ends
35 in December to achieve my yearly 1200 target?  If I do, it all depends
If people don't invite me to their Christmas party
So I can sit peacefully alone in the back of a pub with a pint of 'ale and hearty.


Pubs of the month .....

1. Wellington, Kelham Island, Sheffield
2. Royal Oak, Borough, South London
3. Cannon, Newport Pagnall

Honourable mentions .....

Draughtsman, Doncaster (cannot be nominated as not in GBG), Jolly Brewer, Stamford and Hare & Hounds, Manchester.  Hartshead Club in Hartshead was good too.

Dishonourable Mentions .....

1. Blue Bell, Belmesthorpe
2. Tobie Norris, Stamford
3. Butcher's Hook & Cleaver, Smithfield

Best Story .....

A landlady of a micropub in Redcar telling local CAMRA to f .off, even though she got banned from being in GBG as a result.

5 Pubs I have a desire to visit sooner rather than later .....

1. The above Micropub in Redcar
2. Ship, Acaster Malbis
3. Geese & Fountain, Croxton Kerrial
4. Winking Owl, Aviemore
5. Cronx, Croydon

5 Pubs I have no desire to visit before next September but will if they are in next edition of GBG (and in the words of Becki Bondage, "if you have to ask, you'll never know")

1. Real Ale Classrooom, Leicester
2. Station Hotel, Loftus
3. Cheshire Tap, Altrincham
4. Rock n Roll Tap House, Birmingham
5. Well, Mansfield Woodhouse

Thanks, I have nothing else to add and can't be bothered to tell you what I'm doing in December, but I'm sure you're not bothered or will see on Twitter or this blog soon enough.

Sleep tight, wrap up warm, careful of this snow.  Let's hope the weirdness vortex closes when the clock strikes midnight on December 1st.  Having said that, Tom is "in charge" of Saturday's outing.


Monday 27 November 2017

BRAPA - Just Another Manic Manchester Saturday

Just to re-cap, it is Saturday evening in Manchester.  The chaos is intensified by a broken down tram, blocking the city centre.  The rain is pelting down in thick wet blobs, the type you only get on this side of the Pennines.  But the vibrant nature of the revellers means it is evaporating as soon as it has hit their golden skin (probably).  Today's hero, Nick (he of Erlangen fame) has gone to try and meet some mysterious chap known only as "The Tand" so I've scurried down a back alley, where my phone dies and I have to rely on memory of the GBG App I've just seen to navigate my way, stopping for a risky piss behind a wheelie bin.

I pass some huge glass windows with a few gossipy women and shivering boyfriends stood outside working out where to go next.  The doormen look uncomfortable.  I glance at a sign, amazingly, it is the 'pub' I was looking for, I thought it was a spa, leisure centre hotel complex.

1163 / 1909.  Cafe Beermoth, Manchester

As expected, the place is an echoey bright mass of people, mainly in their thirties, sat on the kind of benches you find in Pret a Manger or the back of York's Brewdog.  There are no handpumps, but just as I'm about to ask if they sell beer in here, I see a series of tiny blackboards, some have a 'cask' option so I order something with a name which sounds New Zealandy.  Probably a hop variety.  That's the most insightful 'beer' thing I'm going to say all night so if you don't like it, piss off now.  I go to find a seat, it's always going to be a case of propping myself on the end of a bench.  Out of courtesy, I ask the group anyway and am stunned when a man with a slight Scouse accent says I can't sit down.  He's joking and laughs.  I'm a bit animated after a long day I tell him, "Don't!  I don't like it when people do that!" I say half mockingly.  His female folk sympathise with me and slap him playfully on the arm for being horrible.  I pull my bobble hat down over my head, pull my collar up, and sup my pint balefully.  I must look like the tramp party pooper no-one wanted to invite to the party.  The group's friends (all a bit older) appear, nowhere to sit.  Scouse joker moves behind me, gives my ribs a squeeze, and says "you may have to move this time....", but again he tells me his joking.  I don't know if I like him.  I don't like moths either.  They chase me around my flat and terrorise me.  I used to wonder why.  Then I realised premier pub ticker Duncan MacKay is a moth enthusiast.  It all makes sense now, they are protecting their 'king of the moths' and trying to intimidate rival pub tickers.  I wonder if Martin Taylor gets chased by moths.  I wonder if a 'beer moth' is a real species.  I bet they are stupid if so and fly into walls.  I think I'd better leave, so I do. 

The scouse joker ready to terrorise me from behind (so to speak)

Typical demographic in here

Beermoth and bobble hat unity from some great person
I walked back onto the main road and up towards a place called Shudehill which I'd vaguely heard of.

Outside my next pub, an old man is smoking and pretending to be the bouncer, just so he can have a joke with poor unsuspecting visitors going in,  So I wait til he is distracted and slip in. 

1164 / 1910.  Hare & Hounds, Manchester

Ah, this is more my scene, a pub of extreme pubbiness.  And you know how I knew, well you could tell right from the off that one moment of hesitation and the locals would be right on ya!  And so it was as I deliberated what part of the bar to stand at, two friendly old blokes shoehorned me into the gap between them and spoke to me as though I was a timid waif who'd never been in a pub before.  They stared intently and summoned a barmaid over for me, I could only spy two ales (Dizzy Blonde, which I can't abide, and errrm Doom Bar) and couldn't afford another hesitation so I went Doom which to be fair, was quite a solid pint (almost literally haha) and came in the correct glassware and quality was good as could wish, and I didn't care a jot as I sat in the backroom amongst a load of grizzly jowled old pubsters.  Take that Beermoth!  One woman next to me did elbow me in the side and say "ey up, a know that group to our right are having a reet good time, but I wish they'd pack it in being so bloody noisy!"  She had a point, but I was too busy watching a sleeping old bloke get more and more clothes piled on him til he woke up.  As the main group dissolved into the Manchester night, I recognised a disconsolate looking figure slumped in the middle of the room.  It was only our hero of the day, Nick in Erlangen!  Had the caffeine tablets worn off, or had he been out-crazied by the crazy locals?   He told me he was on Holt's Bitter.  But where did he get hold of that, did he get his sword out and threaten the staff with it til they let him drink the private reserve?  Oh well, he was on his way out so I bid him goodnight, went for a slash, and headed to my final pub.

Locals being crazy

Yum yum, in a sense.

Sleepy time

Piling the clothes on

Feel the quality in this classic pub
And just a couple of minutes down the road, was my final pub.  I walked past it though, it was behind a reggae bus (whatever one of them is), and it looked and sounded like some crazed nightclub.  This was BRAPA outside the comfort zone!

The reggae bus

Not the most classic GBG pub exterior I've ever seen.
1165 / 1910.  Terrace, Manchester

So the GBG says it "attracts an eclectic clientele".  Of course, it is important to define "eclectic" in CAMRA terms.  This is, (a) someone under the age of 50, (b) someone with a darker skin tone than white, and (c) someone with a vagina.  Now we've solved that mystery, you find me stood three deep at the bar wondering how the heck I can get served.  Luckily, everyone's coked up to the eyeballs so I dart into a gap just in front of the only handpump I can see on offer, no idea what it was, does it matter?  It was top quality though, I was surprised on the night, but being the only cask beer on, well, perhaps that explains it.  Still, after the Holts v Doom Bar incident, maybe they had 10 on and I didn't notice.  A lanky scary young man stands next to me.  He puts his arm around me.  "We'll get you served next mate!" he assures me.  (Errrm excuse me 'mate', I've stood at a lot more bars than you AND I was here before you, of course I'LL be served next!)  So imagine my chagrin when the barmaid turns to HIM.  He lets me go first, and smiles at me in a saccharine patronising way.  Utter uggghh.  His t-shirt said "Only The Great" on the back.  I misread it as "Only the Cunt" in the failing light.  Poor chap.  He was only trying to be nice, probably.  People were dancing.  A young West Indian lady prodded me and tried to get me to join in.  I pogo danced for two seconds.   Then my Mum randomly rang but the heavy handed bouncer (a real one) didn't let me even stand in the porch to take the call.  Then an intermediary bloke told me the girl he was with loved my rucksack and wanted it.  Where did I get it?  Errrm off Amazon about 5 years ago.  That didn't help.  Time to leave and I was prodded once more for not dancing by our West Indian friend.  

The guy who "helped me get served".

The girl who wants my rucksack (intermediary bloke stood on right)
I weaved my way back through Manchester, onto the next available train for York where I had a disagreement with a girl for getting on the train before people had finished getting off (a pet hate of mine, especially after a few pints when I'm a bit more vocal), and we had to sit side by side all the way to L**ds in those little flip up seats, before she 'alighted'.  I was back in York well after 11pm.  

A superb day, 7 GBG pubs, 2 pre-emptives, one more little midweek trip (Tue or Wed) before we call it a day for November 2017.  The "1,200 pubs by 11:59pm on New Year's Eve" dream is still alive.


Sunday 26 November 2017

BRAPA - A Cheshire Tale : BRAP in Erlangen

As the old BRAPA saying goes "one's company, two's a crowd" but when #PubMan extraordinaire 'Nick in Erlangen' expressed a desire to join a BRAPA day as part of his holiday to the UK, I was more than happy (you may say slightly overjoyed) for him to join in the festivities. 

We met on the Manchester Piccadilly - Crewe train, and I knew he was going to be a nice chap as soon as he presented me with an 'emergency beermat' from Erlangen, which is actually a real place and not one of these fictional kingdoms I'd read about like Narnia, Atlantis and Oldham.  Plus, he's actually American and not German.  How confusing is that?  He loves Kent and eating meat and looks a very young 52. This sounds like a dating ad.  We discussed how similar the Adidas/Puma and Theakstons / Black Sheep families were.  Soon, we were in Crewe.

In Crewe, we were joined by the polyester paisley shirted figure of Matthew Lawrenson, who was hiding rather unsuccessfully from Luton Town fans, as people tend to do, and we hopped in a taxi to pub one.

It soon became evident that Nick wasn't feeling 100%, a combination of a caffeine tablet and steak craving plus travel sickness made we wonder what kind of day we were in for!  Although we had to break it to him that Barthomley didn't have a branch of 'Boots', Matthew sorted him out with caffeine tablets at least.  We finally arrived in the rural village for pub one praying for steak:

1159 / 1905.  White Lion, Barthomley

A sign told us to use the "other door", a door then told us "I am the other door", and after fathoming out a weird old fashioned latch, we were in.  This was one of those listed buildings, beautifully traditional yet not allowed to be anything other than single-glazed, so on this most coldest of days of the autumn/winter, we had to rely on the pub fire to keep us warm.  Although mine and Matthew's approach to entering a pub is "try and be as inconspicuous as possible" (despite our at times, questionable dress sense), Nick had a different outlook, as he said "I may as well act like an American tourist, it's what they expect from me!" and was soon challenging our mardy faced (but ultimately good) barmaid with a barrage of questions - "can I have 2 blue cheese steaks, no ciabatta?", "do you have jugs?" (she both did and didn't), "what's the WiFi password?" "can I put coal on the fire?", "is this the pub dog?" "who am I?" "where am I?" The grey ancient locals lining the pubs looked at us in the kind of judgey way that I normally look at people when on BRAPA duty.  It was like the tables had been turned!  Our Marstons ales were dull and well below the temperature you'd hope from real ale, Nick's thermometer device told us that.  But the steak report was excellent and wannabe pub dog Dexter was a gem.  "He's no Twog!" said Nick, much to his owner's relief I'm sure.  By the time I asked the barmaid to ring us a taxi, her patience seemed to be wearing thin.  I hated myself for moaning about the cold, this is how pubs were in t'good ole' days!  The loo was outside, another great feature of a very characterful start to today's pubbing.

The pub waits patiently as Nick (front of queue) asks some q's.

Much needed fire

Dexter : not a twog

Blue cheese steaks going down very well

Sooty brings miserable red wine git into disrepute
 After another jolly taxi ride where Nick asked our Iraqi driver his thoughts on Saddam Hussein and George W Bush whilst me and Matthew sat in the back trying to be invisible , we were soon at our other village pub of the day, and Nick said rural pubbing was just the tonic after feeling a bit strangulated by the hustle and bustle of central Manchester the previous night.

1160 / 1906.  Badger, Church Minshull

Warmth, festive decorations and wonderful locals set the scene here for a really positive experience right from the off.  Okay, so the pub lacked something of the olde worlde charm of the White Lion, but it "had enough in the locker" to make up for it.  A pouty barmaid again had to confess to Nick that jugs weren't on offer, so he settled for a three thirds taster tray (first time I've seen one of these up close!) whilst my pint of something local and golden was one of the best of today, a day where I must say beer quality was at times a bit lacking.  No problem for the group of oldsters to our right, the local CAMRA gang getting their drinks for free supposedly.  Before you could say the word 'bribery', our attentions were drawn to an upside down Christmas tree.  A very bizarre creation, but it captured Nick's imagination enough to perform a hand stand next to it whilst Matthew held his legs ("I could've done it unaided if it wasn't for the two steaks!") and I took the photo.  This was no ordinary BRAPA day of sitting in the corner with a pint being judgey!  The local CAMRA lot asked why we were here, and were absolutely amazed and astonished when I told them about BRAPA - most people are quite interested, these were gushing with curiosity and it was great.  There was a village bus racing past the window, but as we were behind schedule and there were three of us, it was another taxi back to Crewe. 

Santa hats on handpumps obviously a sure sign of beer quality

Upside down Christmas tree

Nick is upside down behind the reception desk. 
 After a short taxi ride, of which I cannot remember any details or conversation, we were back in Crewe for a pub a little bit out of the way, 22 minutes from the railway station......

1161 / 1907.  Hop Pole, Crewe

"It's owned by Poles" the CAMRA locals in Church Minshull had told us.  "Oh, is that why it's called the Hop Pole?" I reasonably surmised, but was just laughed at.  "Haha, a mere coincidence young man!"  Anyway, no Polish signs here, a proper little side street gem in my opinion, I was very impressed, very characterful bar area and a great welcome from the landlord, who extended it by telling us where the loos were, what events were on, etc etc.  Nick was impressed by the little bell pusher things in the lounge area, of course they didn't work but always nice to see.  As are bowling greens in pubs, how had I not been here before?  Why wasn't it in the last GBG? 

Matthew minds the bags

A bald man watches horses.

A bell-push thing
We had a bit of a march on our hands, in the icy rain, to make the 16:08 to Nantwich for pub 4, but we did it with time to spare, just as well cos Nick needed a ticket, and we passed a teenager biking on the pavement which Nick correctly called out as a Tweenage Twiker.  By jove, I think he's getting the hang on this BRAPA lark!

1162 / 1908.  Vine Inn, Nantwich

No sooner had the above photo been taken than a bearded figure shuffled out of the gloom to greet us.  Hurrah, Tom Irvin was here.  The pub was a heaving mass of scallywags and chavs, all jostling me for a place at the bar, and neither Matthew or Nick were very forthcoming with telling me what beer they wanted to order so I went for a beer called Old Indie cos I could see it and something else had just gone off, but it was a bit dull (SBS C), I'd definitely had a better pint of this in Salford last April.  I'm not saying I was a huge fan of either the Black Lion or Crown, the 2017 GBG entrants, but to deguide both for this one didn't feel quite right to me.  I was in a kind of good mood though, the day was going well, company was great, Hull City were 2-0 up, the scores were coming in, so I could cope with a few digs in the ribs from local youths boasting about the time they did lots of cocaine and how they should've been arrested a lot more than they had over the last few years.  So we sat down, people roared as some rugby men did something interesting, and the older pub folk were actually friendly, but it was all a bit chaotic.  The 'Lowry' beer came back on (so a Hydes pub then?) , much better, had halves, as Hull City conspired to lose 2-3 in the last minute.  Me and Tom didn't know whether to laugh or cry, so we laughed.

We had more than hour to wait for the next train, so seemed sensible to look at WhatPub and try and pick out a slightly decent 'pre-emptive' or two.  The first, called the White Horse appeared promising on the surface, what with it's Salopian ales, lovely pub interior etc but a weird drunken woman and some seriously vinegar beer was a good reminder as to why the GBG is good quality control most of the time!  Eating Cheese Strings was the highlight.

Nick gauges the beer temperature, shame it doesn't have a vinegar setting

As Tom said "you only have to clear the plate, says nothing about eating everything!" 

We even had time to pop into another pub, this looked even more unpromising but despite the blue lighting, choice of Theakstons or Theakstons, and hardly any customers, it was much better than the White Horse.  Friendly too. I think it was called either the Railway or Station.  Something train themed anyway.  And actually a really nice half a Theakstons, and you can't always say that!

There was some debate as to whether to hop off the delayed train at Stockport or stay on til Manc.  We'd said goodbye to Matthew, and Tom, who'd originally thought he may be able to come for a drink if we opted for Manc, then decided he didn't really have time.

So just me and Nick, and we soon realised the Metro was bust, so we went to hop in a taxi despite my walking protestations, as he wanted to see if his buddy Tandleman was still at the Crown & Kettle.  He did amazing to flag down a taxi, but it was pretty much gridlock so we hopped out almost straight away and said farewell as I went to get some crazy Saturday evening Manchester pub ticks done.

The rain was hammering down by now, my phone died, I pissed in an alley, but amazingly, the pub (cafe) I'd been looking for was within sight.  And I'll write about that one in the coming days cos I wanna egg n soldiers before bed!



Friday 24 November 2017

BRAPA - Me and My Donny Matrix

When your face is a mass of healing scabs, it is important to go to a town where you can blend in, rather than stand out.  So imagine my 'joy' when I realised I had a Doncaster pub to tick off for what felt like the millionth time in the three and a half years of my BRAPA existence.

About 30 seconds after leaving the railway station, a heroin junkie version of Barrington from Maid Marian and Her Merry Men asked me for money.  Then a man lay down in the street.  Then a woman with no teeth went to Crawshaws to ask for some cut price meat.  Not sure how she'll chew it.

Hull City were in action down at Millwall, so I thought it a good omen when I heard "Tiger Feet" by Mud blaring out of a very real looking pub.  Soon I was in the spooky abandoned market place, almost certainly used as a real filming location for Scooby Doo.

"Zoiks", I thought, as I realised my pub was the third in a row of previous GBG entries, with the Marketplace Deli Ali thing on the left, and the rather wonderful Masons Arms in the centre.  This was on the corner, I couldn't take a close up pub photo as a topless man in an upstairs window was gesticulating angrily at nothing in particular.  Nothing surprises me in Donny.

Three little pubs, all in a row.

1158 / 1904.  Queen (Crafthouse & Kitchen), Doncaster

Crafthouse and kitchen?  Steady on lads and lasses, this is Donny not Kew Bridge.  But the pub building felt sturdy and old, even if the interior was very Mexican 'Day of the Dead' themed with skulls everywhere and the kind of U.S. punk, rock n roll music I could appreciate.  Electric Frankenstein, Zeke, New Bomb Turks, you all know the bands.  No Dire Straits in here.  There were only 4 customers, a trio of young bar flies with bandanas, who bemoaned the fact that they "had nowhere else to go in town until this place opened".  And a peculiar bag-lady in front of me.  She wanted to pay by card, £5 minimum limit, so she spent ages painstakingly choosing two bags of Pipers crisps to break the limit.  Just when I thought she was done, she asked "so, is this a real lambic then?"  No-one had a clue what she was talking about so she was politely sent packing.  More problems ahead for me, 4 ales on, one a raspberry blonde (a style I cannot cope with) and 2 had nuts in, and as you may know, I have a serious nut allergy.  So I'm not going to order a beer called Snickers, or one strangely called Farraro Rocher which was either an in-joke or terrible spelling.  So I pint of Hitch Cock it was (SBS B+, very good).  Why can't they make beer out of beery ingredients like they used to?  It wasn't until I was leaving that customer number 6 arrived, a beardo who strode past the handpumps eyeing them with the disdain of a Victorian Landowner seeing his West Indian slave relaxing in the field, before settling by some silver fonts  and stroking himself.  Time to leave.

These eyes freaked me out for a good half an hour

Getting served at last

Miss Lambic sent away to think about her behaviour

The local outcasts find a home at the Queen
 After a traditionally scary walk across town back to the station, where I did my yearly "get lost in the Frenchgate" centre, I had a pre-emptive tick on the agenda that a Donny lad at work had told me about, and I think Tom had mentioned it too.  It was actually on one of the platforms.

Draughtsman, Doncaster

If I'd been expecting something cut from the same cloth as York, Harrogate and Sheffield Taps, I was delighted to see something a lot more intimate, personable and classy.  Green tiling, is there a better brand of pub decor?  Green ceiling too, and a young suited barman with elfin ears and a strange shaped head calling me "sir" , being polite, and making the customer feel valued.  No, not at all what I'd been expecting from a Donny station pub!  I like nice surprises.  Okay, so "are you drinking in or taking out?" seemed a slightly odd question, as I was tempted to reply"oh yes, I'll be retiring to your huge beer garden overlooking the stream, sheep and meadow just out the back".  The pub felt full with about 5 or 6 people in, which seemed about as busy as it got tonight at any one time.    After a pair of bananarama loving gay blokes sat across from me, a loud tattooed Hull KR fan stood in the middle of the pub and slagged off York Tap for having "too many obscure beers".  Tut, you'll never fit in on beer twitter with that attitude mate(!)  Seriously though, he was an domineering kiss-arse of a bloke otherwise, constantly letting everyone know he was from Hull and probably countered the "Tiger Feet" omen with his shitness, hence why we drew 0-0.  Embarrassing, I avoided eye contact and hummed along to "Everlong" my Foo Fighters, changing the chorus to "Everitt" obviously cos I'm cool like that.  But overall, surely this has to be a shoo in for a GBG either next year or 2019.  Classy.  

The post-work crowd hits Donny

Man wears green suit so he can camouflage from his wife in the Draughtsman

Vintage (and quite random) publication, pre-pub existence. 
So that was all very lovely.  No more Donny for another year!  I always say that.  But I always return.  Train back was nice n quick.  And you can't say anymore than that.  

Wish me luck on Saturday's Cheshire trip, looks like I'm going to need it! ;)


Tuesday 21 November 2017

BRAPA - From Dining Hell to Meat Raffle : A Bucks Story

There's an ancient adage in the world of pub-ticking which you may or may not be familiar with - "if you can survive eight injections in your face, you can survive a Buckinghamshire Dining Pub Experience".  

So after a session at Harrogate's Skin Surgery left me looking like this on the Thursday:

 .... I was at least a bit less numb to "enjoy" the three remaining pubs in North Buckinghamshire, bringing my tally down to only 4 required before I move on to Cambridgeshire, probably in March.

I stayed overnight in Milton Keynes, one of the best Travelodge sleeps I have ever had in what felt like the oldest building in MK I'd ever been to.  I was full of praise at reception desk the following morning.

In the pouring rain, MK was awash with people.  "It's all the Arsenal fans, they are playing Spurs today!" said an old hag loudly as though MK residents being Arsenal FC supporters was the most natural thing in the world. 

After a Gregg's Steak & Cheese bake and Pain Au Chocolat, and a half an hour bus journey, I arrived in Stoke Hammond at 11:30am.  Bus was due back 12:50 and I didn't want more than one pint so went on a canal-side wander in the rain and admired the "Three Locks" that give the pub it's name.

As "Little Owl" carefully negotiated the locks, I wondered if canal lovers get excited by these three locks in close succession or view them as a hindrance to their progress?  Who knows?

Anyway, it was 12 noon so I thought time to go inside.

1153 / 1900.  Three Locks, Stoke Hammond

The dull exterior wasn't helped by a shamefully modern dining interior, and my immediate progress to the bar was impeded by two old dears, who despite having been served and shown a table were dithering around like a couple of people who know that if they were honest, their time on earth is up and they are surplus to requirements.  Of course, I didn't quite say this out loud, I just said it with my eyes.  The older lady and two young blokes who'd earlier been smoking in the rain were serving now, and the beer range, for once, caused me consternation.  Tim Taylor's Golden Best is a beer I really can't abide, and that left either Tring's Death or Glory (7.2%) or Jaipur (5.9%).  I'd messed up a chance to have Death or Glory in the similarly named Stoke Goldington a few months back, so had to have it here, but a pint of 7.2% ale this early after a night in London?  Ugh.  So I got half this and half Jaipur - no NOT in the same glass Mr Latham, give me some credit!  Then it was all about how long I could keep this 'most desirable' of tables to myself.  Some classic man-spreading ensued, and despite the constant groups of people coming in, looking for somewhere to 'dine' and saying very loudly and unsubtly in my direction "OH, IF ONLY THERE WAS SOMEWHERE TO SIT, I GUESS WE'LL HAVE TO LEAVE & GO ELSEWHERE!", I stood firm.  Not cos I'm an arsehole, I just wanted to test the pub staff .... do they see drinkers as second class citizens and ask me to move a la Arden Arms Stockport or Clarence Bury, or would they value the drinking customer, a la Plough Bolnhurst or Gerrard Arms, Aspull?  A social experiment if you like.  They passed with flying colours.  Well done Three Locks,  and as I left, two men were delighted to jump into my grave before I'd even finished fastening my coat!

'Death or Glory' actually sums up my whole pub experience here

More 'Death' than 'Glory' at the table next to me.
I crossed the road and soaked my feet on the grass verge.  I had 4 minutes until the bus was due, but an old boy (and I mean OLD) pulled up and told me to hop in his car.  "Oh, I can't take you to Milton Keynes but I can drop you in Bletchley".  He said it like he was giving me a choice, but pretty sure I'd been kidnapped.  He told me how he and his wife moved to Bletchley in 1956 and the changes he'd seen to the area since, he seemed to find BRAPA frightening but he survived the journey and dropped me at the bus station.

No clue what I was doing, so to see a bus to MK was wonderful.  I hopped on, but soon realised it was going to take 52 minutes - it was stopping on every estate between here and there.  Arrrggghh.

A bit of classic rethinking followed, as I realised MK hospital was only a 10 minute walk from the pub I was going to go to third, Woughton on the Green.  Could mi bladder hold on?  Only just, and I had to pee in the staff carpark but with my scabby face, the staff just looked kindly at me.  One young lass smoking even said 'ow do' (well, the southern equivalent) but I'd finished peeing by then. 

Pretty much "On the Green"
This was classic BRAPA, turning a bizarre situation into a recovery.  Soon, my phone confirmed I was in Woughton (pronounced Woofton, rather than Wowton):

A nice church in Woughton

Oooh this pub looks nice, will it be?

1154 / 1901.  Olde Swan, Woughton on the Green

Good grief!  The only entrance was right around the car park around the back, no way through on the main road.  The walk around the pub seemed to take longer than the walk from hospital to Woughton.  Inside, I was greeted by what can only be described as a restaurant.  Okay, so a restaurant in the building of an ancient pub with creaky low beams (padded of course so the precious little diners don't hurt their delicate little heads), I passed a Christmas Tree too and found a bar offering Abbot Ale, Speckled Hen, Greene King IPA or something called Black Bess.  I took a chance on the Black Bess, and it tasted like a combination of the other three.  Chewy.  I found a table for two not far from the bar with a festive menu, knife and fork, candles and placemats so plonked my pint in the middle and sat down with a big sigh.  Surely I'd be moved this time?  Not a bit of it, although I got some strange looks from Cheryl and the young kitchen staff, Mr Energetic Waistcoat even offered to bring me a second pint - so give them a bonus point for good staffing.  Even the worst pubs on the surface can have some first class behaviours.  It was fairly dull otherwise.  The table behind me all ordered scampi with MUSHY peas (wrong, wrong, wrong - garden peas with scampi, mushy peas with normal fish).  A woman accusingly asked another woman why she'd never tried to make her own stuffing, which could have led to a fight, but the husbands defused the situation by chatting about a programme they watched with John Fashanu and Bobby George. 

My table.

Was this the drinkers area?

Beers of ill repute

Cushioned beams
I'd timed my departure well and a timid little mouse girl at the bus stop with giant headphones assured me the bus to MK was due soon, which it was, and soon we were back in the centre. 

After redressing my scabs in Costa Coffee, I reappeared all shiny faced and got a bus up to Newport Pagnall, "Paggers" as everyone should call it, a place I once described as the 'happiest in the UK'.  A big claim.

And I was wavering from this claim as I bought snacks in the first of THREE co-ops I saw in the town.  Then the pub looked grey and pretty unattractive, and the heaving interior made my heart sank......

1155 / 1902.  Cannon, Newport Pagnall

And I spent about the first three minutes on the raised step at the entrance photographing these above, totally unfazed dominoes players, wondering how the hell to get to the bar.  Crowd-surfing seemed a good bet, but a woman with backless dress on a charity drive finally moved, and I snuck in to order a pint of the first thing I saw.  Don't ask me to remember, but it was best quality pint of the day.  Where to sit?  Well, nothing really but in the relative calm of the room to the right was one seat propped against a table of 4, so I sat at it and rested my pint on my leg!  And then something magical started to happen, or at least I started to realise this was a much better pub than you'd think on first glance.  A trip to the bog helped, several friendly chaps telling me this was 'easily the best pub in Newport, and cheap'.  You mean Paggers mate, I wanted to tell him.  Back at my seat, a lost looking daughter ate Roast Beef Monster Munch disconsolately, her Mum (a gypsy version of Kellie Bright) finally returning from an outdoor smoke to apologise , but then ditched her for a frail old man, so Miss Munch stormed out in a huff.  Backless dress lady (Candice) walked into our room and asked the 4 visiting scousers if they wanted raffle tickets.  I got my money ready.  "What's the prize?" they asked her, "ME!" she replied.  She repeated it three times.  I was confused.  The guy next to me looked excited.  The scousers couldn't believe their luck.  But hang on, she said "MEAT!"  Panic over.  But we'd all heard 'ME'.  Candice never asked anyone else in our room, and minutes later, a gong sounded and she shrieked "LET US START THE RAFFLE DRAW".  "NOOO, CANDICE, NOOOO" replied a man of local standing, "YOU FORGOT ME!" he'd been sat behind the scousers, but too late, the gong was final.  The scousers had bought 5 tickets, there were 5 winning tickets, they won FOUR of them.  They donated two prizes back, not because they were kind, they just didn't want to be weighted down on their pub crawl.  But they still got a round of applause from the pub for their perceived generosity.    How Scouse can a situation be?  They kept the joint of gammon and some joint of meat with a bottle of alcohol in it.  Then they told Candice it's a shame she hadn't said "ME" after all.  Bit pervy you Scouse bastards.  It was time to go.

Monster Munch girl is abandoned

Scousers contemplating too much meat

A big bag of meat
Well, that was amusing.

Less amusing, the bus took ages to turn up, Hull City conceded a last minute equaliser, and my phone died.

I was back at Euston before too much longer and had enough time to get a pub tick in, but with no Oyster or Travelcard, I'd have to go on foot so discovered a nice revelation.  Bloomsbury is only about 10 mins walk from Kings Cross!  Furthermore, I still had 2 of the 3 to do so headed to the most direct one:

Trying to do this pub exterior justice was hard in the dark
1156 / 1903.  Calthorpe Arms, Bloomsbury

I'm conscious that my 'rushed Saturday evening London post-Bucks' pub ticks are rarely positive experiences, and I make allowances for the time and circumstances of my visits, but in the back of my mind, I know a really good pub will shine through.  And despite the odd smell of 30 year old cheese on arrival, this pub fits the bill as one that you'd love to relax in.  More Royal Oak, Borough than Pelt Trader, Cannon Street, if you know what I mean.  A barmaid with reluctant midriff on display smiled in a peculiar way and gave me some straw coloured pint with rugby theme which tasted drinkable, as I noted the draped red curtains, tartan carpets and the like, making this almost like a 19th century Wetherspoons, and that is not supposed to be an insult, but a compliment.  The cosy warmth was everything.  It wasn't at all busy, but one of those where individuals lined the pub, so no tables were actually free apart from one under the TV where some very loud egg-chasing was occurring.  I noted next to me, some Scandinavian Arsenal fans, jolly but well behaved.  But you felt they had the ability to turn as long as they didn't have a trigger factor.  So how idiotic of a Spurs fan on the opposite side of the pub to fall off his stool for no apparent reason, and then his friend tried and cover his embarrassment by singing a song about Harry Kane.  Oh dear.  The pub was suddenly raucous, and I'd gone from totally relaxed to cowering.  Cheers mate! 

A carpet of much repute as reluctant midriff takes a break


If you squint behind young Petit, Spurs fan is still on the floor!
The journey back to York was long and arduous, the Lincoln diversion we had last week at Stamford still in place, but after a nice chat with a posh man who'd come down to win a court case about some land he sort of owned, I dodged the pissed up Geordie scum trying to bully their way onto the train north and headed back home, for a well earned break after a couple of crazy days away!

Time to rest my face before Tuesday in delightful Donny.