Sunday 11 February 2018

BRAPA - Thanx for the Manx (Part 1 of 7 - Arrival and Monday)

I felt a bit like Bono.  And that can't be a healthy sentence to start off any epic six part pub blog.

I was aboard the sparsely populated 14:20 Monday flight from Liverpool to the Isle of Man, and I could afford to give an entire row of seats to my Good Beer Guide 2018, very much like Bono did with his hat (though it actually had a flight to itself).

Seatbelt fastened please mate

Of course, the good folk of Twitter (aka Pub Curmudgeon) was more concerned with the model of aircraft than my then mystery destination.   It's all in the detail.  I had no idea.  Easyjet blah.

We 'touched down' (if that's the phrase) in a location irritatingly not near Douglas, where I was staying and 11 of my planned liver busting 28 pubs were situated.

Some kind words from the voice of reason Martin Taylor followed, "don't feel you have to visit all the pubs, you'll need to go back there at some stage in your life", and whilst he was right, I like to have a goal and this was something to roughly aim for.

After checking in to the excellent Ellan Vannin B&B/Hotel on the promenade, a nice sea view in my special "sad bastards single room" special deal, it was off to buy a 5 day Go Saver bus ticket.

£19, she told me, wow!  The old slightly disconnected lady thought I was buying a school bus pass.  "Oooh, I wish I was that young still!" I said hopefully, only be told "ACTUALLY, I thought it was for your children!" in a way which made it sound like I'd sired an entire flock of illegitimates and this was part of the child support that the courts had directed me to pay.

Undeterred, I hopped aboard bus 3 towards Laxey, despite the brochure in my B&B claiming the last bus was at 16:45.  What did travel expert Tom Irvin have to say about this back in his Grimsby slum?  "The brochure is talking absolute bollocks, Si" he helpfully confirmed.

Do you know what stressed me out more than anything on this holiday?  The usually 'on point' Google Maps didn't have the little blue bus stops marked like it does in England (a god send for BRAPA days out), leaving me panicking and pressing bells at random for the next few days whilst yokels, farmers and schoolkids alike looked at me like I should relax and get a grip.

I pressed correctly on this occasion.  In Laxey, I had two pubs to do plus one in Old Laxey I thought I'd leave for another day.  Down something called "Captain's Hill" past a giant  red wheel in the approaching dusk, to the nearest pub Mines Tavern, where I saw this blackboard .......

Ahhh, those famous 'Winter Opening Hours', the bane of pub tickers existence had struck before I'd even hit one pub!  You could barely make it up.  Closed Monday.  It was gone 4pm, any other day, I'd have been fine.  This did not bode well.  With Martin's reassuring words ringing in my head, I didn't panic and walked the few yards to the other Laxey pub.  Hurrah, it was open.....

1232 / 1978.  Bridge Inn, Laxey

"You Manx then?" says an old guy at the bar before I'd so much I'd ordered my pint, and I was desperate for a pint by this stage, believe me!  The six guys in the main bar all acknowledged me and said hello, so I hoped I wouldn't get kicked out for admitting I was English.  "Don't worry mate, neither are we.  I'm from sunny Pompey, and this guy is from York like you!"  He wasn't, he was from YORKshire.  Heckmondwike to be precise.  And in a theme that ran throughout my hols, they'd come over for TT races / holidays, fallen in love with the island, and never left.  Feeling I'd been taken under the wing of these rumbustious locals, my next move was brave/stupid as I admitted I thought Pompey was a shithole.  "I like you, you tell it how it is!" said Mr Portsmouth, but this led him to try and show me his 'party piece'.  I'm not making this up, he farted loudly, tried flipping a cigarette backwards into his mouth and moonwalking out of the door to this obscure song on the jukebox.  He tried 3 times, failed.  "Maybe I'm making you nervous" I ventured, but he told me I was talking crap cos he did it 9 times in a row at lunchtime.  "You married?" asked Mr Pompey, "No, only to this" I said indicating my Good Beer Guide!  We all laughed as I admitted how tragic that sounded.  "You not a poof are ya?" he asked.  "No".  It was like being in Doncaster.  (My GBG is strictly female, jeez, so glad I didn't say that out loud).  He then put on a Doris Day song, followed by his favourite, an obscure track by some country sounding woman from the 50's I'd never heard of.  "Is she from the Isle of Man?" I asked.  They laughed uproariously at my stupidity.  I decided it was time I left.    "Is Old Laxey walkable?" I asked, as I felt I needed that second pub whilst here.  It was, and one final word of warning. "Careful of the homebrew, you'll shit a kidney by midnight if you drink that shite!"  Wow, what an introduction to the IOM pub scene.

My first pint of the hols was Hooded, everyone else was on lager.

More gentle local (left) talks to our Pompey legend (right) 

Mini glowing fire, Mr Pompey blamed the young chap for not keeping it going properly.

So after leaving the men a few BRAPA cards (I didn't explain blogs as I wasn't sure if Laxey did blogs or I'd sound like a English high-falutin nobhead), I found a dark hilly lane and set off for Old Laxey.  I was there sooner than I thought, only have to dodge one car.  The pub stood proud along the sea, though in the dark evening, probably hard to appreciate the true beauty of the location.

1233 / 1979.  Shore Hotel, Old Laxey

I received one of the coldest, brusquest pieces of service during my stay here, the Irish sounding barman almost behaving like he'd overheard the "shit a kidney" comment from a mile away as he served me the home brewed Bosun Bitter and slammed it down on the bar.  I gave exact change.  Mrs Shore Hotel kept smiling in background, like she knew she had to be the 'face' of the pub to overcompensate for him.  The three locals kept themselves to themselves, chatting with the barman in hushed tones like they were planning some sea-faring act of piracy by midnight.  Speaking of midnight (the time I'd be shitting a kidney), I kept my ass cheeks firmly clenched as I drank my pint.  Suddenly occurred to me, had I been quicker witted, I could have described this beer as a Laxey-tive to my old mates back at the Bridge!  Not sure I believed them anyway, they'd been extolling the virtues of Coors, Kronenberg and a cool Carling that 'holds the glass' as it goes down.  And I didn't have the promised midnight explosion just for the record, though didn't find the ale too enjoyable to taste.  The pub itself had a comfy nautical feel, the type of atmosphere in England you'd enthuse about in 'loungey' terms, but here on IOM, they describe as 'restauranty', such is the amount of old fashioned basic boozers that still exist.   

Not a Laxey-tive

View to the bar and three customers

The pub being a bit nautical

I'd have to be back in Laxey later this week of course if I wanted to visit the Mines Tavern, but for now, it was all about "how the hell do I catch a bus in this level of dark?" so after a steep climb back to the main road, I saw an old man lurking near a lamp, and amazingly, he was waiting for a bus from the same "Fairy Lane" stop!

We chatted on my visit to the island, he'd been here a while, but we didn't really have 'clickage' and he was delighted when I saw one of his mates on the bus and could ignore me.  I kept an eye on him though as I'd established he was getting off at the same stop as me, so didn't have to worry about pressing the bell at the right time......

It was snowing now, which gave us something to say during our awkward goodbye, like "ooh look, it's snowing now, good bye".  Top bantz.   I crossed the road straight into pub 3.

1234 / 1980.  Manx Arms, Onchan

And the revelations on this gift of an island just kept coming.  I'd just learnt Onchan was pronounced 'Onkan', now I handed the proper old school landlord the last of my English money (a £20 note) and my change contained Isle of Man coinage and notes, wow it's own currency ..... the Queen looked about 20 years old!  I bet she bloody loves the Isle of Man for that!   This pub didn't really pull up any trees, my Okells beer didn't grab me, but it had an understated quality that was hard to put your finger on, just very still, very steady, very nonjudgmental.  Customers were few and far between, a tough looking bloke with that blue puffy style jacket I've always wondered whether I should add to my collection of SEVENTEEN coats and jackets!  His good humoured blonde wife/partner was loving Wayne Rooney's ginger hair implants on the televised football, they matched the tan of her legs.  With the snow outside, I hoped they had a vehicle or a short walk home.  The landlord occasionally muttered stuff to me about cheating footballers and bad refs, but he was very Manx and I hadn't tuned in to the accent yet (did I ever?) so I smiled and nodded, as a very miserable old bloke sat near me and just stared  - was I in his regular seat?  A nice South African bloke perked things up a bit, he directed me to the loos, we had a brief snow chat but the landlord wanted to say something about Harry Kane I couldn't quite catch so I laughed manically and left.

Trying to work out if I want this jacket

The good news from here, was that this Onchan pub was close enough to the more northern Douglas pubs to save me any more bus torment, so I wrapped the legendary orange scarf tight around my neck and trudged down 10 minutes or so towards the next pub, the snow thankfully ceasing for now .......

1235 / 1981.  Terminus Tavern, Douglas

With the initial clatter of knives and forks, and middle aged couples wiping gravy from their chins (their own chins, not each others, sadly) with serviettes whiter than the snow that had been threatening to settle, I had reservations about what type of pub I'd walked into.  The answer was a 'Heron and Brearley' pub, a local chain which always make me think of cricket captaincy being explained to a rather startled heron who has no interest in the sport whatsoever.  My mind works like that.  To call H&B pubs 'really good Ember Inns' is too simplistic really, but I will.  When I sat down with my pint of a much nicer Okells (IPA), one of the best quality pints this holiday, I opened my eyes properly and realised this chain care about maintaining the true spirit of pubs.  Separate rooms for diners, drinkers, pool players and some beautiful decor.  The dining was over, but the people stayed for another pint or seven, content they were in a great spot.  The atmosphere was relaxed, sleepy even.  An exuberant Brummie tried to bring his other half out of her slumber with a series of random gesticulations, but she wasn't having it.  Lack of beermat meant I used newspapers to try and prove a point, no one cared, and why should they?  Good place, a real grower.

A slightly further walk (about 20 minutes, but I may not have been going in a straight line!) took me to my final pub of the night, probably the one that is hardest to recollect of all I visited during my stay.

1236 / 1982.  Queens Hotel, Douglas

My third Okells in a row, what had I done to deserve that?  Only joking, nowt wrong with these ales so this time I went for the MPA to compliment the IPA and Bitter, and another really top quality pint which surprised me, as I never trust seafront bars as a rule, even when they are in the GBG!  But it was rapidly becoming obvious that Isle of Man was a step up from the mainland, I mean England,  don't say mainland or you'll get laughed at I was later told.  Always sounds a bit Father Tedish anyway.  Anyway, as I sat in another comfy seat and worried the armrests, Father Jack Hackett style, an animated man at the bar shouts "whatever happened to the Sugarbabes, did they all get pregnant or something?"  As everyone looked away nervously, another bloke pipes up "dude, why is the Carling so expensive here?"  Again, nobody really knew how to address the issue raised.  After a young Kellie Bright smiled  in this general direction, I went to the loo where I exchanged pleasantries with the young lads playing pool - of course this pub has a pool table, it's an IOM rule.  In England, outside of Herefordshire & Worcs, hardly any GOOD pubs have pool tables.  As I was about to sit down, it looked like the score said Watford were beating Chelsea 4-1.  What?  I walked up to the screen to see if my eyes were deceiving me.  Behind me, I turned to see a kind faced young gentleman who reminded me of #PubMan legend Sir Quinno smiling at me.  "What the fuck is going on with that score?" he asked me, probably rhetorically, but in a pub now famed for it's unanswerable questions, I told him I couldn't answer that one and left.

It had been a solid start to pub ticking, despite the closed Mines Tavern.  I did pass the Samuel Webbs which is in the GBG, but it was nearly 11pm (my curfew!) and besides, a mean looking man in a tracksuit playing pool looked at me evilly.

I was looking forward to day 2 already, but now back to Ellan Vannin for some late night food and plenty of water.  Apparently Isle of Man water is the best in Europe.  Course it bloody is, everything in Isle of Man is brilliant, I was learning this fast.



  1. As good as Matthew was it is good to have you back. Great post.

    1. I'm not typically a "travelogue" kind of blogger dude, and as such leave such things to professionals such as Si and Martin. I've done a couple in the past here and here detailing 'sensible times' in Newcastle Under Lyme. But others are better at it than me, and more importantly can deal with the travel involved.

    2. Cheers Dave! Am glad, it is my blog after all :)

      Top stuff from you Matthew, Newcastle Under Lyme will have to be done BRAPA style with you there too.

    3. If it recovers from John Clarke and friends being there last night.

    4. We need Matthews and Simons (and Ians and Mudgies) in our blogging world, I love them all.

      Glad you've already picked up on the number of proper boozers and beer quality (on a wet Monday in Feb as well).

    5. And the pubs generally had quite a few people in them too, some even busy! Now that wouldn't happen in rural Bucks in chilly midweek Feb - well, if they were open at all!

  2. Your posts are good Matthew. I consider "Being a Dick" an all time classic. Love the closing line. Simon, I am still laughing at your line "even I'm not sure what I mean." Great stuff.

  3. On my ill-fated visit to the IoM in 2009 I had some Draught Bass in the Queen's Hotel. Just thought I'd mention it.

    1. Bass very rare over here. Ballasalla & Glue Pot used to stock it for several years, but I have not seen any for four years now on island!

    2. Yes, in terms of English beers, I didn't see Bass (sea bass, haha) but plenty of Robinsons Trooper, a few JW Lees, Jennings and the odd York Rudgate which you might have mentioned.

  4. Great post ....some belting pubs - and characters - there👍 loved the newspaper for beermats routine!

    1. Thanks Ian, so good to do the local characters justice, I'd forgotten how good that first day was. It is like regression therapy when you start writing up the events of a pub day!

  5. Twenty minutes from the Terminus Tavern to the Queens! Probably for the best it was your last stop of the night.

    1. Haha, yeh looking at a map I think considering I'm a quick walker, something went wrong. Probably had a paddle in the sea on the way.

  6. "(My GBG is strictly female, jeez, so glad I didn't say that out loud)."

    I'm at a loss for words (a first!). :)

    "you'll shit a kidney by midnight if you drink that shite!"

    Shit a spleen, surely. It's crap a kidney; or don't they do alliteration on these backward isles? ;)

    "had I been quicker witted, I could have described this beer as a Laxey-tive to my old mates back at the Bridge!"

    I was going to go there but you beat me to it.

    "The pub being a bit nautical"

    You should have tilted your photo a bit then. :)

    " This pub didn't really pull up any trees,"

    Sigh. I know I've seen that before but the bloody hell does that mean?

    "with that blue puffy style jacket I've always wondered whether I should add to my collection of SEVENTEEN coats and jackets! "

    Only if you can get it in ORANGE! (LOL)

    " so I wrapped the legendary orange scarf tight around my neck"

    AHA! :)

    "and middle aged couples wiping gravy from their chins (their own chins, not each others, sadly)"

    Each others only happens on Valentine's Day. ;)

    "Separate rooms for diners, drinkers, pool players "

    Says it all really.

    "(about 20 minutes, but I may not have been going in a straight line!)"

    Subtle!* (heh)

    "I went to the loo where I exchanged pleasantries with the young lads playing pool "

    That's a bloody big loo if it has a pool table!


    * - considering Google Maps says it's a 6 minute walk I'd take the 'not in a straight line' as a given. (LOL)

    1. Not pulling up any trees is like it didn't do anything particularly spectacular.

      How orange do I really want to be? Amber maybe, as Hull City play in black & amber hence Tigers.

      Sad I won't be BRAPPing on Valentine's Day, always one of the most fun.

      Haha re the pool table in the toilets, if anywhere would, it'd be Isle of Man!

      Thx Russ.

    2. "Not pulling up any trees is like it didn't do anything particularly spectacular. "

      Argh, pretty sure it was you who explained that to me before. (blush)

      In my defense I am over 60. :)