Tuesday 27 February 2018

BRAPA - February Review / March Preview (2018)

A mid month non-BRAPA pint, in the Phoenix in York - a superb pub.

"A new GBG pub a day keeps the doctor away", so goes the well known phrase which I've probably just invented, but as February began with 'man-flu' and ended with a swollen ankle, perhaps 38 pubs in 28 days was excessive.

Having said that, I'm disappointed in the total.  Only 7 BRAPA days out all month must be something of a record low, and 5 of them consecutively on the wonderful Isle of Man, not just the monthly highlight but probably the all-time BRAPA highlight.

38 is a Feb record though, easily eclipsing the 32 achieved in 2016, and it means I've now done 63 for the year, so cannot complain too much.

Dad at the Thomas Wolsey, Ipswich (Feb 2016)

It started with a fantastic day out in Preston with Matthew Lawrenson as the host, and then after a liver shattering 27/28 pubs in Isle of Man, plus a bonus one near Liverpool South Parkway, I was back over there for six more pubs a week later with the 'Heavy Woollen' gang from West Yorkshire.

Lawrenson & Irvin, at Preston's very good Guild Ale House

Choosing my top three is always tough, but the standard especially in Isle of Man was so high, it is difficult, but here goes:

1. Masonic, Garston
2. Rovers Return, Douglas
3. Ginger Hall, Sulby

Me at the Rovers Return, Douglas.  Uniquely brilliant.

I didn't visit a bad pub or have a bad pint all month, some may have been a bit irritating or boring, but honourable mentions must also go to Caledonia in Liverpool, Grapes also in Liverpool, Trafalgar Hotel in Ramsey, the White House Hotel in Peel, Mines Tavern in Laxey and Albert Hotel in Port St Mary but plenty others were above average too.

White House Hotel, Peel.  Understated genius.

I may as well just list 'em all hadn't I?!

March Preview

Siberia (pronounced Si-beery-yeh) is where the 'Beast from the East' is coming from, making BRAPA travel difficult as the UK gets the craziest amount of snow in like, ever.

But let's face it, the 'Beast from the East' has been more like the 'Kitten from Thames Ditton' so far.

Pathetic amounts, even in my Yorkshire epicentre.  Canadians are laughing at us.  So are Canadiens.  It's not good.

But whatever the weather for the beginning of March, I need to approach it with a new (old) mentality of 'get as many trips in as possible' as I won't have a beery holiday to get me out of jail this time.

That means getting back on the midweek (or should I say Friday night) pub horse, and cracking the whip in the direction of Greater Manchester again as what it left of North Yorkshire probably is more suitable for bonus summer Sundays.

Weekend-wise, we have more Hull City misery planned, this time in Ipswich.  I then may FINALLY get Bucks done, unless I sack Marlow off in favour for starting Cambridgeshire, but that one's up for discussion.  A week later Hull City again are on the agenda, with a trip to Birmingham - pub plan currently being negotiated with Tom Irvin who has a 'vision', not bad for a man who lives on Blackcurrant cordial.

As the month progresses, I've arranged a 'Secret' Dad day.  He has no idea where we are going even though I did tell him by accident.  Let's just say the plan is to 'finish' a county.  And being a FIVE SATURDAY MONTH (always the best), March ends with my first Cheshire trip of 2018, another county I'm desperate to put to bed in 2018 but keep getting distracted.  19 pubs still to do in Cheshire so the end isn't in sight yet.

The aim has to be 31 pubs, providing the ankle heals by Fri.

Gratuitous ankle shot

The future's bright and purple, the future's BRAP.


Saturday 24 February 2018

BRAPA - Heavy Woollen Scousers : A Return to Liverpool (Part 2/2)

Why am I sat here on a Saturday afternoon in the comfort of BRAPA towers, when this is my prime pub-ticking time of the week?  That is a question you may well ask.

Well, like an utter buffoon, on walking out of the KComm Stadium last night in Hull, I forgot I still had two steps to go, totally lost my footing, fell, and twisted my foot, as a steward tried to make a lame jokey comment.  Perhaps I'd been so shocked to see Hull City win a game?  Perhaps it was bad Karma for protesting against the evil owners for 90 mins (I didn't blow a whistle or throw a stress ball though)? 

Anyway, I thought I'd "walked it off" on the half an hour trek back to the car, but perhaps that was the anaesthetic offered by the 9% stout I accidentally ordered in the Whalebone pre-match, "Dark Ratanic Mills" by Rat Brewery.

Home of the 9% Rat, the wonderful Whalebone

Woke up 6:30am, ready for train to London, I couldn't really put any weight on it and it had swollen up like a golf ball.  So frustrating, today was the day I finished Bucks!  I hate Bucks,  I've decided.  It makes Bedfordshire seem like Stockport but with pink ale thirsty faeries skipping through a meadow.

So change of plan, 10th March will now be my Bucks completion date (unless Martin Taylor has got the bunting out and warned the residents of Abington Piggots I'm on my way).  That would make 7th April my official Cambs start date, but in Ashley, with Abington Piggots to be done hopefully with Martin 13th May, but I'll confirm.

For now, I'll leave you with the second part of last weeks trip to Liverpool......

Piper approaches the Pen

1263 / 2009.  Pen Factory, Liverpool

This was the kind of modern bullshittery that I always fear when I return to a big city I've visited before, which has new GBG entries to tick.  From the moment we stepped inside, Piper said "god, we don't belong here!"  I didn't have to say a word.  One eye-roll skywards at the shabby chic ceiling and weird air duct tubes put me in mind of 'Pleased to Meet You' in Newcastle, combined with a modern 'Spoons.  When the GBG says "not your average pub grub", you've gotta be afraid.  Not even that glorious sight of a well kept Titanic Plum Porter could raise my mood, or the hospitable well groomed staff with pearly teeth and the kind of tans you don't get in Liverpool on a February afternoon.  A rare British earthquake happened whilst we were in this pub, well it happened in South Wales but was apparently felt in Liverpool, but not here, the kind of place to neutralise any interesting geological quirks.  On the plus side, interest did occur when a lady groomed her dog on a customised doggy mat, and then got her female companion (mother?) to hold the dog still whilst she did a photoshoot with it.  It was a heartwarmingly fun moment, just not at all my kind of place.

Shabby chic mirror selfie

"Look how edgy we are"

Yes, I know.

Woman shocked that her dog has dressed the same as her
Onwards and back towards the station then.  I should probably admit I'd drawn a pub map, perhaps one of the worst ever but Piper and Jason were quite taken with it, and seemed to think I should be using it instead of my GBG App to find our way around.  I'll let you judge ......

Perhaps that was the reason it took us so long to find our next pub, Jason even had to angrily ask a poor bohemian cafe owner.  It was the tiniest most unlikely door on the whole street, though we had missed the blackboard outside .....

1264 / 2010.  Hard Times & Misery, Liverpool

Felt a bit like a micropub on two levels, though they might just call it a "bar", one of those where you have to breathe in to get to the bar where a genial young scouser had that kind of look in his eyes like "right, hit me with any question about the beers you want" but we denied him the opportunity.  Jason prodded me in the chest for the umpteenth time and said "Now look Simon, write nice things about this place in your blog because it is the best pub we've been in all day!"  Although I couldn't agree, I promised I'd try my best and granted, upstairs had a superb feel, the old cliche "it's like walking into someone's front room" sprung to mind, although a front room probably designed by new age hippies who have a love of artisan gin and vodka.  Very relaxing.  

Fruit on the bar, beer from the barrel 

It was carefully thought out strategy that saw us end at a Wetherspoons.  Firstly, it was very close to Crime Street station.  Secondly, my memories get a bit hazy this far into the day and I figured that 'Spoons can be a bit samey and hard to review at the best of times, so I'd not lose a lot here.  And thirdly, Heavy Woollen days traditional have a confusing messy end! 

1265 / 2011.  Richard John Blackler, Liverpool

And it was your large rambling traditional Wetherspoons (more so than Grapes)  as we walked in and I somehow remembered I had 'Mudgie' vouchers to use still to save 50p, always a bonus.  I tried to tell Piper and Jason, reading from the GBG, that it used to be a famous department store, and George Harrison from the Beatles did an Electrician's apprenticeship here, but they were about as underwhelmed by that fact as me, proof not everyone gets starry eyed over the nations favourite mop top scallies.  And here's the key really, had say Sid Vicious served an electricians apprenticeship here, this Spoons would probably have been edgier, more exciting and colourful, though he'd probably have electrocuted himself on day one.  

Jason wanted to get Chinese food (from Chinatown), but I was never properly onboard with the idea due to missing train potential, so after a reluctant 5 mins sat in a taxi not really going anywhere, he admitted defeat, we came back in here, but he still needed food so I told him and Piper to go, and I (slowest drinker) would nurse my pint.  He prodded me in the chest again "if you miss this train, there'll be trouble" he said, so I promised it was the last thing that'd happen.  After 10 very pleasant minutes alone, I found Piper looking lost, Jason had vanished.  We got the train, he missed it.  Ha! 

A typically messy end to a Heavy Woollen day, as we planned an East London trip for July's next outing.  


Wednesday 21 February 2018

BRAPA - Heavy Woollen Scousers : A Return to Liverpool (Part 1/2)

It was time for the bi-annual 'Heavy Woollen' BRAPA trip, where after months of planning and last minute cancellations, a small group of work friends join me for some pub-ticking.

This time, we had a record low turn out of three (myself, ever present Jason Garrett, sometimes known as 'Mr Angry' though he's got a heart of gold really, usually, and Piper Corday, my half Irish Tranmere fan, cat loving 'North Bar' drinking buddy, making her fourth BRAPA appearance).

After a large breakfast (Jason managed six extra sausages!) and pain-staking journey across the Pennines, we arrived at Crime Street Railway Station at 10:58am, our first pub a short walk down a Peaky Blindersy cobbled street.  It had opened at 9am.

1260 / 2006.  Lime Kiln, Liverpool

And despite the 9am opening time and large modern frontage, I was still surprised to find it was a Wetherspoons, or a Lloyds No 1 bar to be precise.  Not sure what the difference is, it is probably boring, Piper wondered if these were the ones converted from former banks but doubt it.  All I can see is, if I compare it to say the often dreadful Beckett's Bank in L**ds, they have an upstairs section and a more modern interior.  The GBG entry, reading between the lines, said "you'll think this is bullshit but stick with it cos beer is decent" and a quality Oakham JHB was a nice light starter (these Heavy Woollen folk are heavier drinkers than me).  The place also felt like an aircraft hanger for Hens (not the birds, well kind of, as in 'Stags and Hens') and lots of loud Prosecco ladies dressed like 1997 Mel B before noon felt a bit disconcerting.  We sat at a window seat, the pub fairly dark otherwise but not in the good atmospheric way.  It was okay, but can't see it worrying the 'classics' (most of which I think I've already done) for best pub in this excellent pub city.

Queuing at the bar with my hen friends

Jason tries not to look too angry, I'm scared.
After navigating a few side streets, the Liver Bird Clock (if it exists) chimed 12 noon, we passed pretty Chinatown, and the next pub was in sight.

It was time for me to say the only thing I can in a Scouse accent "Why don't the government just admit that they got it wrong?" but Jase and Pipes reckoned I was going to get us lynched.  I simply thought I'd be accepted into their bosom as a local.  It didn't happen. 

Ready for pub two
1261 / 2007.  Grapes, Liverpool

And it was one of those were you climb a couple of steps, push the unlikely door and are propelled inside, head first, towards the bar!  I'd not been looking forward to this as last year, I came here on a Stag do only to find it heaving, smelling of paint, sparsely decorated, it was it's first day re-open after a refurbishment.  We walked straight back out.  But what a difference six months has made!  A very cool modern place, some cracking bits of local artwork for sale - quite often, I think the quality is poor when pubs do this not that I'm any Brian Sewell (only in pub terms!)  A very friendly helpful barman was determined to make sure Jason chose the 'right ale for him' (probably heard about his reputation) from a top local selection.  Great atmosphere, music that actually helped the ambience (how often can you say that, not very often?!) and we all agreed it was a good step up from Lime Kiln, Piper declaring it her pub of the day.   Before I could blink, Jason returned with a second pint - something non cask!  Duh-duh-duh!  Well, this was a BRAPA rarity too, as he let me have a few swigs of the cold fizzy 'goodness'.  I reflected it's good practice for when CAMRA put pubs in the GBG which just sell keg filth and tell me I have to be more modern and open minded.  Can't wait.

A great reflection of the cosy little front room and my stout

Jason admires some art

The great barman and a local I couldn't understand talk tactics
On the way to the next pub, Jason asked me if I was ever tempted to go into pubs that aren't in the GBG.  "WHAT KIND OF MONSTER ARE YOU?" I replied, before admitting pre-emptives were 'a thing'. 

It was a relevant question in that I must have walked past this pub a few times, as I'd been to things like the excellent Peter Kavanagh's and the Belvedere down here, avoiding one called the 'Blackburne Pub and Eatery' hoping it'd be removed from the Guide.  It was.  But I'd been blind to this pub.

Pipes and Me, time for pub 3.

1262 / 2008.  Caledonia, Liverpool

And this was my personal favourite pub of the six we visited today.  Despite a bit of evidence of vegan students with their sallow faces in the tofu troughs, it felt like a down to earth scouse boozer in many ways.  Jason's beer had just gone, but a good 7/8 of it had been pulled.  "We'll only charge you for a half, that's how nice we are!" he says, "fine" I say, trying to take charge "as long as it tastes ok" and the poor guy behind the bar looked offended, but I had to ask, didn't I?  Anyway, it was fine, I ordered something called Blond Moment, nervously looking around to make sure I wasn't offending any millennial blondes,  and we sat in the middle of the room where a little dog (certainly no twog) called Marshall was running around and getting much affection from all, such a cute characterful thing, BRAPA pub pet of the year so far.  Who said a dog would never win it?  (Tom Irvin actually).  Come on pub cats, up yer games yer lazy buggers!  Marshall's owner nipped out to the shops, leaving the confused creature under the general care of the pub.  Bad mistake.  Marshall escapes.  Jason shot out of his seat, ran into the road, and saved Marshall from being roadkill on a Chinatown menu later that night.  (I'm joking of course .... not enough meat on the bone).  Phew!  Jason went to the loo.   Owner returns.  Barmaid tells story of escape & rescue.  Owner thanks the staff.  Jason, yet again, the unsung hero, misunderstood.  Wonderful pub this, please visit.

A pint of Blond Moment

Marshall plots his escape

The door of almost death
 Join me on Friday as I review the other three pubs visited.  Would it get messy?  How many of them would be good?  Who'd miss the train home?  

See you then, Si 

Monday 19 February 2018

BRAPA - Thanx for the Manx (Part 7 of 7 : Leaving to Liverpool)

My final night then in Douglas, that now familiar feeling of arriving back on the bus in need of a pee, cold aching bones, a bit tipsy but not drunk, and half wanting to just get some food and go back to the Ellan Vannin and watch TV, but knowing if was to get my remaining FOUR GBG pubs done by 3pm tomorrow, I had to crack on. 

The first pub was, as you could see from the photo in yesterday's blog, inches from the bus stop. It looked more sinister after dark.

1256 / 2002.  Albert Hotel, Douglas

In many ways, it had all the hallmarks of what I could now class as a traditional Isle of Man boozer.  It had a pool table.  It had locals with accents you couldn't understand.  It had a man in hi-vis.  It had bench seating.  I had beer just under £3 a pint.  It had a dartboard.  It had old photos.  It had lots of nice brightly polished wood.  It had horse racing on TV.  But the one thing, above all, I'd enjoyed in the pubs this week was missing.  And that was a happy atmosphere full of jolly crazy people.  Everyone seemed so depressed!  They gave me nothing to go on at all, maybe they'd heard I was in the area.  I even thought about doing something controversial beer wise to spice things up.  This was a rare pub selling both Okells and Bushys.  What if I invented a drink called BMH 'Bastard Manx Hybrid' and asked for a half of each in the same glass?  I wasn't brave enough obviously, probably sacrilege, I'd certainly not be allowed in Rovers Return again.  Probably banished from the island. So I just drank in silence, and, unlike their cats, I left with my tail between my legs. 

After that melancholy experience, I went to the Co-op which was like a nightclub by comparison, for some late snacks, and then had to summon up the last few traces of enthusiasm left in my being to walk south of my hotel, to my final Douglas pub.  I think the week was catching up with me!

1257 / 2003.  Samuel Webbs, Douglas

A much livelier atmosphere with a real kind of old fashioned seafront style bar greeted me, a final excellent pint of Okell's MPA, though by the time I settled down, everyone started to disperse which makes me think maybe Thursday is everyone's 'night off' in Isle of Man.  A punk rock barman even started cleaning tables, it was barely 9pm, and with no chance to make bastardised drinks (all Okells here), some food 'pairing' was all I could do to keep myself occupied, with Mini Babybels and mango chunks going quite well with the MPA, though I'm not being serious obviously cos it's all a load of bollocks when it comes down to it.  Probably.  There wasn't even an angry man playing pool like I'd seen through the window of here on Monday night, suggesting I should've gone in there and given myself something to write about.  Alas, it wasn't to be. 

It worked, in an ironic way only

Douglas complete, hurrah! 

Don't you be getting cleaning fluid in my pint

After a good final night's sleep, I did something stupid and forgot to charge either my phone or my charger, and left low on battery!  As if today wasn't going to be long and tricky enough.  

I took the bus down to Port St Mary again, for the first of my final two pubs.  Remember, 12 noon opener on a Friday for this one ..... it was sunny but cold, and I stopped to admire the local humour.

I said hi to a few shivering old duffers who should really have been indoors with a blanket, and made my way north of the 'town' to the pub, which as you'd expect, was right on the railway line.  11:57am when I arrived, no signs of life.  So I waited.  And waited.  I'd have more chance of a train turning up, and the next one ain't due til March .....

12:05, still nothing happening so I tried to ring.  Straight to voicemail.  The website didn't help:

I decided to wait til 12:30, not that many pubs open then!  But I was desperate.  That meant I missed the hourly bus back to Castletown and the airport.  If it wasn't for a blackboard outside saying there was a gig on Saturday, I'd have thought it was properly shutdown. 

I perched on an old railway shed, out of the wind and in the sun with a good view of the pub.  A seagull nesting on the roof laughed at me.  A jackdaw with the face of Chris Sutton hopped over, and seemed to say "stop wasting your time dude".  Occasionally, a passing vehicle would make the pub door shimmer with a flash of sunlight, and I'd mistakenly think the pub was opening.  

13:15 I finally accepted defeat and headed back to the bus stop, even shorter on phone battery.  At least I got talking to a nice man with no teeth who cheered me up with the line "You've been stood there waiting for the pub to open for nearly an hour and a half?  I'm an alcoholic and even I've never done that!" 

We wished each other well in our pursuits, and a quick message from Martin Taylor reminded me it's not like I'd never have to go back to Isle of Man, and when I do circa Spring 2039, I'll be able to do this one with the new wave of Hooded Ram micropubs in the 2040 GBG.  Heart warming.

Feeling more philosophical,   I let the locals press the bell for me and wandered through Castletown to find my other pub, and this one was open! 

1258 / 2004.  Sidings, Castletown

This pub had been the 'most recommended' on my travels this week, so hopefully a good one to save til last, and I was impressed with the railway feel (though not quite Mines Tavern) and surprised by a huge array of handpumps, easily the most I'd seen, mainly dark brown bitters.  It was feeding time at the zoo, so am thinking 'where the heck can I sit?' when the waves part and the most fantastic little seat becomes available by the door just at the right moment.  I deserved some luck after the last pub fail, so this was just desserts.  It wasn't lost on a Lancs man who came over to say "you struck lucky thurrrr, you couldn't have boooooked a better table!" and he was right.  Okay, so my Brains glassware was pretty shoddy, but time was on my side, I thought "I'll have 2 or 3 here before t'plane home".  My battery charger just had enough juice to get my through the afternoon, my mood was picking up.  I glanced over to see some old buggers with their faces in the trough, and I got a shock, was that Butthead from yesterday's Mitre in Ramsey??  I had an overwhleming urge to stand up, point and shout "BUTTHEAD!" but to do that to a very frail old man eating sausage egg n chips with his mates, two walking sticks and two hearing aids, may seem wrong out of context.  Most diners were to the right, leaving this part of the pub very pubby.  I could see the attraction though best pub on the island, hmmm, not for me.  Think some people get way too starry eyed over 'beer range' as a category for deciding their fave pubs.  I'd been told by Laura in Sulby to look out for her friend "Mad Jenny" who worked here, but when I asked a local, she'd recently left.  As I hummed along to such early afternoon classics as "Down Under" and "You Can Call Me Al" , I went back to the bar and got chatting to a weird old dude who insisted on giving me a guided tour of the pub.  He stunk of booze and fags of centuries past, and showed me his fave part of the pub, the Ballasalla Talliban Corner, which I didn't really understand though he claimed it was 'classic wordplay'(!)  He didn't have a great grasp on personal space and prodded me in the chest or grabbed my arm if he thought I wasn't concentrating 100% on him, which was hard when his friend with the most sentient nose ever (it had it's own gravitational pull) appeared for a chat. I decided it wasn't Butthead over yonder, far too smiley and nice.  And I left to usual handshake and cheery bye.  Fitting end to pubbing on IOM.

Plenty of ales to choose from

Butthead in orange?  No, far too smiley.

Sooty and the Talliban
 Back at the airport, and the flight was OBVIOUSLY delayed but I found a nice strong bottle of Okells I'd not seen on cask to pass the time, watched a bit of Bargain Hunt, Homes under the Hammer, and seriously, Isle of Man airport is comfier than most English business class lounges. 

The plane then got undelayed, and the flight was just as smooth back as it was going, AND we made up the time we lost.  The kid next to me was no twild, in fact he behaved better than me.

After a VERY expensive bus back from John Lennon airport to Liverpool South Parkway, I realised I had just over an hour to kill.

Now, I'd be a pretty poor pub ticker if I wasn't looking for a cheeky late one, and I found one!  Question was, could my battery hold out, was now down to 10% zig zagging my way through these Garston backstreets, trying to make mental note where'd I'd come from.  I was like Theseus in a maze with a very scouse Minotaur. 

The pub looked very dark from across the road, not at all lit up, nooooooo, but amazingly, it was very open!

1259 / 2005.  Masonic, Garston, Liverpool

I'd been thinking Isle of Man had been so good and friendly, this was England's chance to show it wasn't second best.  And it took the opportunity with both hands.  Proper homely community hive of activity, two men playing cards in the corner, and a lovely landlady took one look at me and decided she'd pull me a pint of the only ale on, from the local Big Bog brewery.  The pub was busy, and as I keep saying, my phone was almost dead.  So what would have been ideal would be a comfy seat with perhaps a table and a phone extension lead on it.  I turned around.  It was perfect.  I seriously couldn't have written it any better.  I think this was still yin and yang working in my favour after the bad luck at the Railway Station Hotel earlier.  I got chatting to the man sharing the table, he had about three devices plugged in, a lovely chap called Tony.  He told me the slightly rowdy nature of the pub was that everyone had just returned from a 'Big Bog' brewery tour and were still going strong!  A younger chap called Roger arrived, so we chatted Isle Of Man, Pub Ticking, Big Bogs, York and stuff.  I felt properly welcomed into the fray.  Time dangerously sped on.  I could've easily missed my train, so I handed around the BRAPA cards, and said goodbye to almost all the people.  This was Rovers Return-esque and will long live in the memory, if I had a 'top 100 pubs' this could well be in it.  A gem.  They even, unprompted, slagged off Altrincham and Chorlton.  Superb.

The highlight of the day! 

Tony and some of the 'back wall' gang

Card playing gents
Well, what a superb end to the holiday.  Having to change at Manchester Piccadilly was slightly annoying, and back home for 11pm, it was time to say "I'm never drinking again" and sleep for 24 hours.  The best BRAPA trip I've ever been on.  So where's my next holiday?  I already know, so don't try and guess!

Thanks for reading,