Friday 29 June 2018

BRAPA - Conquering Cambridgeshire Part II : Full-up on Fulbourn

Oh dear!  Dishevelled and kneeling before the three hand soaps, pub 1400, Six Bells, Fulbourn
I'd become a bit complacent after miles of walking in Cornwall down narrow lanes.  After all, boring flat Cambridgehire should be simple by comparison, right?  Ignore the Dubai-esque temperatures, and a trio of pubs south of the city would be easy.  Surely?

Buoyed by a promising start with RM at the Flying Pig, I checked in to the most expensive Travelodge in history (with the thinnest bed sheets) and marched to Grantchester, which although took me on a picturesque river walk, was blighted by thoughts of Robson Green and the sight of loud picnicking students, a dangerous combination if you are striving for robust mental health.

A little cut through near the river took me in through the back of the pub garden, which of course, is no good for BRAPA cos I had to walk round to the front of the pub for the 'official' photo:

1398 / 2144.  Green Man, Grantchester

And the abiding memory here was the full scale stand off between students and locals.  You could almost split it 50/50.  If the back garden was full of young ladies with ridiculous shades and floral prints not fashionable since Laura Ashley was a young whipperslapper, I almost wasn't allowed in the front by a selection of gurning beer guts whose attitude to me seemed to be "don't move for him, he ain't over the age of 60 or have a logo on his t-shirt saying something like 'real ale makes men like me proper sexy'".  At the bar, it was obvious they were going for the bar blocking intimidation tactics, but 2,144 pubs into the challenge, I'm too long in the tooth for such bullshit so dug my elbows in.  The barman sounded Irish, but could've been Canadian or American (it's all the same isn't it?) and was very lively.  So I was sat there, taking a few 'mood' photos to give you all a feel for the place, and noticed something was missing - I'd left my pint on the bar!  I'd been sat down about 5 minutes, how strong was that Flying Pig beer?  I went back and exclaimed "I've left my pint here!" and the locals and barman were all like "hahaha YES YOU HAVE", so I'd been sat just behind in the corner, which they knew full well, and no one thought to mention this to me?  Weirdos.  I smuggled a cucumber and cheese sandwich in protest from my bag, and although 'Combat Trousers Ray Wilkins' gave me a couple of highly judgey stares, I carried on regardless.  Bit of a murmur as some hot student girls (due to the weather I mean!) wandered in and tried queuing at the bar like people who'd never been in a pub before.  I then spied one of the blokes had been in Flying Pig, small world, but not one of the legends specifically mentioned in yesterday's blog.  When Waistcoated Roy Hodgson decided to leave, the whole pub started to disperse, but this was just after a bloke had started telling everyone about an Essex Minor Counties Cricket match he'd been to yesterday.  Coincidence?  Probably not.

Getting to the bar was not made easy

If you're not a local oldie or pub ticker, you'll have to sit outside

The moment I realised "hey, shouldn't my pint be in the foreground here?"

She's still queuing now
If it was a tricky walk out of Cambridge to Grantchester, I was absolutely cream crackered and red faced by the time I'd fought my way through a place amusingly called Trumpington which was a bit of a let down to be honest.  I then skirted perilously close to my sisters birthplace, Addenbrookes Hospital, for todays third pub, a "new build" in a shiny little estate ......

1399 / 2145.  Queen Edith, Cambridge

With my beetroot face and all the puffing and panting, I don't know if the friendly barmaid (a star from the start) knew whether to feel sorry for me or phone the sex offenders helpline as I walked in and ordered a pint of something Milton, so it obviously had a stupid unpronounceable name.  Ah, Milton pubs, only my third I believe but I'm already noticing a theme - huge empty spaces that they don't really know how to fill and board/card games too difficult for your average punter.  I'm a way off a 'Milton Pubs Bingo Card' but it is a start.  I went to rinse my face under the cold tap, and in the side room, a group of women were having a meeting for the village fete or something.  The meeting minutes taker (possibly called Joyce) was utterly hopeless.  "Is this happening in July?" she asked (probably about some jam making event), "NO, IT IS HAPPENING IN JUNE AND IT IS JUNE NOW!" scolded another (possibly called June and that's where the confusion lay .... I'm making these names up).  I then nearly collided into the pub chef, a kind of Cambs Kevin Bridges, without the 50 a day deep fried Mars Bar habit, who was impressed a man next to me had finished eating his fish & chips in very quick time.  "You were quick with that!" says CKB.  The man didn't reply, but placed an empty crisp packet carefully across the plate for added impressiveness!  It was a small moment, but a highlight of the day / year.  A builder came in, ordered his lager, then sneezed everywhere.  Used to happen to me in my 'Corrs Light' days that we don't discuss.  But then I noticed the amount of dust hanging from the bottom of every chair and table.  New build pub?  If you saw this in a National Inventory pub, they'd claim they were cobwebs from 1743.  So, quite a nice pub, lacked a bit of comfort (in the circs, I was crying out for some bench seating or a nice armchair), good pint, friendly staff, can't ask for too much more can you? 

If I was a photographer, I'd say something clever about the light

CKB through the gap to the room where the village fete meeting was happening

Pubs with fish tanks are 99.3% brilliant - A BRAPA FACT!

Some of the dust on offer
One more back breaking walk to go!  Out to a village called Fulbourn where Martin Taylor had written a positive blog about (clue - it didn't feature a micropub) a few weeks ago so I thought a nice way to bring up a landmark moment, my 1400th current GBG pub.

I needed a wee and was just to pop in a hedge when a woman with a fast walking twog started following me, ALL the way to the pub entrance so I had to hang on.  I was already sweating, aching legs, coughing up phlegmy Milton dregs.  I don't think I've ever been so dishevelled entering a pub ..... see pic at top of this blog!

Lovely thatched effort, but at the time, all I thought was "urrrrggghh, I need a piss"
1400 / 2146.  Six Bells, Fulbourn

Well, this was a very amusing lively pub, and could've perhaps been even more so if I'd joined the boisterous locals in the left hand bar, but perhaps I was right to sit in the slightly more foodie right for sheer comedy value.  A food snob (and I mean a RIDICULOUS food snob) was foodsplaining to a bored Andy Hamilton type when I walked in, and with lines like "you reduce the syrup, pan fry the chicken ..." to a bloke who looked like he'd just grasped using a microwave, well he'd have probably got a punch in the face if he'd said this in Barnsley 'Spoons.  Insane.  It sparked a 'Northern' reaction in me, for when our barman (Hugo, who I thought was the dog at first!) asked if I wanted anything else to accompany my pint of Oakham Citra, I barked "NOWT ELSE" and scared myself.  Eee by gum.  Two posh Judy Murrays edged along the bench to afford me more room to sit down, though looking back, the state of me and probably the smell had caused them to flee.  I read about 'Swift Awareness Week' on a beermat, and realised something was nuzzling my foot.  It was a dog, belonging to the young couple dining in the corner.  "Aaaah he likes you!" said the girl, not knowing I had a couple of dangerously warm sausage rolls in my bag I hadn't got round to eating, now harbouring all sorts of e-coli loveliness.  I did chuck them away later.  But even this nice couple were far from normal.  "Poached eggs go somewhere else entirely" blurted out the young bloke, pointing at his back end.  And at the bar, he asked for a gin and tonic with "an ice & a slice!"  As if a customer would say that with no irony.  Shameful.  "Gin & Tonic is a girls drink!" laughed Hugo, but I never got to see what carnage this comment caused as my bus was due to 30 seconds across the road so I made a run for it!

I hope you were aware of swifts in your area? 

Bored AH has to suffer some food snobbery chat

The couple with dog were good value the longer I stayed here

A photo to sum this pub up better than any words can, top knee action

I needn't have worried, the bus was delayed so I said a little prayer for my liver at the village shrine:

But I got myself back to the Travelodge in decent time, as I had an exciting 4 pub early morning planned.  Ugh.  I think I'd taken too much pubbing on over this 2 week break but no turning back now.


Wednesday 27 June 2018

BRAPA - Conquering Cornwall Part 8, Conquering Cambridge Part 1.

I guess it comes to all pub tickers at some point in their 'careers'.  The time you do Falmouth, followed by Sykehouse in South Yorkshire, and then Cambridge shortly after.  It makes more sense than VAR, and if you draw it on a map, it resembles Paul Daniels old yellow friend (not Debbie McGee, I mean Wizbit of course).

As I walked the 'mean streets' of Falmouth on Friday morning, it was hard to believe this was the same town where last year I visited three pubs, the Seven Stars, the 'Front and the Boathouse.  It just didn't quite feel like the same town!

Falmouth doesn't really leave an impression on me as a place, 'nice', 'lovely', 'gentle', 'scenic', not proper Cornish rugged like Helston and the like, yet not as gorgeous chocolate boxy as some places I've seen like Fowey and Mevagissey.

But I was excited about my pub, the last one down in Cornwall this year, as it doubles up as a bookshop, which must be fairly unique.  So how would it fare?

1395 / 2141.  Beerwolf Books, Falmouth

As you can see above, as I climbed the forboding wooden stairs and was confronted by books, I was getting 'bookshop' a lot more than 'bar' at this point and thought I might have to push a secret bookshelf to reveal the bar, or at least a toilet.  They've missed a trick there, for I turned right and saw the bar just behind me.  A selfish stripey woman and her Mum were ordering coffee and you could smell it and here the rumble of the machine.  I forgave them on the basis they both smiled, and being 10:48am, coffee probably seemed a more sensible choice than real ale at this time, well for novices like them!!  I was pleased to note a range of mainly Shiny beers from Derbyshire, a great brewery and I was sick to the back teeth of seeing the likes of Doom Bar, Tribute, Badgers Arsehole, Potion 9 and Trelawny by this stage.  The bloke serving kept pretending to read a book to keep the bookshop illusion alive, and had the hair and expression of a man who ran a relaxed set up, but still wanted to be considered something of a philosopher.  I paid him in exact change, and not wanting to be 'loaded' with it as I went through airport security later, he got some serious shrapnel.  He look quizzical from the moment I started paying with coinage at all, something that seems an increasing theme when I buy pints in pubs down south.  I went to browse the books, and was sad to not find a copy of the 1975 Good Beer Guide, which I am almost certain doesn't actually exist.  I then spotted some weird retro games machines (note - the Creature from the Black Lagoon says no to drugs, very much the Zammo of his day).  It didn't seem in keeping with the atmosphere created otherwise, so I can only assume they'd paid a trip to York Brewdog, thought "what a hilarious and quirky idea", and recreated it down here.  After all, the soothing hubbub that this place had was rather special, for reading, drinking a pint, or both.   A fitting way to end a serious week of Cornish pub ticking!

Our barman merges into a handpump

I won't bore you with the details of my flight back to L**ds Bradford or my weird taxi driver who tried to panic me by saying the 'Royal Cornwall Show' at Wadebridge might mean I'll miss my flight (yeah, okay hun, I DO watch BBC Breakfast News with Minchin and State and that Geordie bint).  I didn't ever come close to missing it, and for a 4th Newquay-L**ds Bradford journey in a row, the flight was delayed.

But no sooner had I got in and eaten and slept, but I was meeting Daddy BRAPA the following morning to finish South Yorkshire, in one of those "you'll need a car to get there" locations.
Nice to have some human company, and nice to breathe in some fresh Yorkshire air after that muggy Cornish stuff.  Eee by gum.  We pulled up to the pub about 11:50am and waited ......

1396 / 2142.  Old George, Sykehouse

But before 12 noon, an excitable group of Brummies (always the worst type) on bikes started hovering and eventually knocked on the car window and asked me if the pub is opening at 12.  "That's what mi book says!" I tell them, using my battered GBG to swat them away from our personal space like naughty flies trying to land on a dead animal carcass (that's how rough I felt by this stage of my hols!)  It got to 12 noon, and still no massive attempt at opening was made by our South Yorkshire patrons, so the Brummies started getting agitated and impatient and knocking on doors whilst we sat back and waited like seasoned campaigners.  And when the door was unbolted and flung open at 12:02, the Brummies surprisingly hung back, and let us go first.  They obviously didn't want first pint out of the barrel, very Tayloresque.  The pub was pretty large, so were the jolly staff, and I got a pint of something from Butcombe (proper Northern brewer, none of this Cornish muck!) and looked dubiously at the fish on the food blackboard (see below) and remembered my bowels weren't in the best of conditions.  Stock, Aitken and Waterman hits played, they are still "all the rage" in Sykehouse, the only place left on earth where Jason Donovan is still top of the "hit parade".  I could tell Dad was preferring a bit of Rick Astley, who gets far too many mentions in BRAPA blogs for a man who isn't dead yet.  Although you could say the pub was 'prepared' for diners, it wasn't 'geared' for it (subtle difference) with a subdued carpetted Yorkshire feel if you could ignore the many Carlsberg St George flags - yes we know the World Cup is nearly upon us!

Poo and Peas?

Dad completes South Yorkshire!
We then returned to our safe haven, the Fox in York, possibly the best pub not in the GBG.  I was knackered, drank a Cornish ale, wondered why there's a factually incorrect Dick Turpin v Guy Fawkes poster (what's next, Dick Turpin & The Grenfell Disaster?  Thanks Dad for that one!)  Oh yes, it was all very much a classic York session though I wasn't perhaps on top form.

I HAD to have this one!

I only had 24 hours to unpack from Cornwall, pack again, and plan my strategy for the second part of my holiday in Cambridgeshire.  Ugh!  If it hadn't been for the hospitality, taxi service and fine company of Martin Taylor (oh plus the fact I'd spent a fortune on hotel and train travel), I'd simply spend my second week in York with a cold compress to the head catching up on Neighbours and these now criminally overdue blogs!

But by the time I sent RM my rough agenda (see below), my appetite for Cambs pub ticking was back.

Because of the cold Monday morning in York contrasting with the hot summer lunchtime in Cambridge, Martin had the air of an Ibizan holiday rep when he met me just outside the station, and walked me to my nearest pub to kick things off ......

1397 / 2143.  Flying Pig, Cambridge

Quite a 'cute' little pub for starters, I couldn't quite pick what kind of style it was going for.  On one hand, it felt like a European cafe, on the other, a giggy music studenty bar, and judging by the odd assortment of folk dotted about the room, a miserable old man's pub.  The best outcome of the three of course, the latter.  With me and Martin both at a bar at the same time, our approachable barkeep wasn't going to have an easy ride, and after Martin made him sweat with some "give me your best beer or else you are OUT of the GBG" style questions (not a direct quote), I asked nicely how the effin' hell a pub could open 12-11 on weekdays but only 7-11 on Sat & Sun?  He gave me some gubbins about the owners liking to 'do stuff with their twilds on weekends' so I nodded in a 'you have passed the test' kind of way, and we went to sit down.  "I have no concept of space in pubs" says Martin, as we almost sat on a blokes knee in the window.  The bloke didn't mind the invasion though, for when we moved to another seat also near him, he blatantly eavesdropped for the next hour.   We were only talking 'shop' (i.e. intricacies of GBG entries in Cambs and Cornwall) but he rubbed his knees in that way Vic Reeves did whenever Ulrika appeared, whenever we said something like 'Trengilly Wartha', 'Chorley is ace' or 'Great editing by Protz'.  Bet he was a CAMRA spy.  An old bloke opposite got smiled at by me, immediately crumbled and left, and then a young man with a guitar on his back (no need for that) kept walking around as though people might be impressed.  He was in the wrong place, which says a lot for this pub, it lacked the pretentious air I first feared when we came in.  A good start then, beer was just about above average.
(Si Beer Score : B- = Pleasant but needs a bit more life, poor glassware).

Note the little piggy heads on the pumps to make the beer taste like bacon

Bloke spots the hidden BRAPA CCTV on the ceiling

Bloke who had to leave when I smiled politely at him, but he was just drinking condiments.

Just never quite convinced, glass didn't help, Adnams!

You enjoying our conversation mate?  

I'm sure you're a cool dude but you're impressing no-one here

Well, good to get the first one under my belt.  I said farewell to Martin until Wednesday morning, I had plenty of pubbing to do before the sun set over Cambridgeshire......

Join me for tales from Grantchester, Fulbourn and co. next time.


Tuesday 26 June 2018

BRAPA - Conquering Cornwall Part 7 : Pre-Emptive Pick Me Ups?

As I sat on the sand dunes above Gwithian and Phillack eating a bargain bin chicken tikka sandwich as the waves crashed in and twurfers (you guessed it, twat surfers) ran around in tight costumes like a cross between David Hasselhoff and Mr Blobby, I had to reflect it had been a difficult Thursday so far.

Four different beers tried, two in Driftwood Spars and two in the Victory Inn, all poor.  Consolation, both pubs had plenty of quirky behaviour to keep me entertained.  To make matters worse, I'd had to hop off the 20 minute delayed bus early due to urgent need for a toilet break!

But this was ok because unbeknownst to me,  my next pub didn't re-open til 5:30pm anyway.  After a few wrong turnings across the dunes, across caravan parks and main roads, it was 5:28pm when I arrived.

It was bucketing it down by now as I stood in the car park scaring the locals like a shadowy hooded  drug dealer, but the 'dealer' on the other end of my phone was actually my Mum telling me about our cat Ruby and her chest infection.  So take that judgey Phillack locals!

5:32pm when a back door of the pub was 'finally' unlocked (tsk!) and to my amazement, an oldish couple of droogs edged in front of me and got in first - how had this happened?  Daresbury all over again!

Twitter told me it used to have a better more graphic pub sign, evidence it is losing its way?

Waiting in the rain

Bucket of Blood, Phillack

Ah yes, another one of those highly anticipated pub ticks, due to the pub name and associated gory legend relating to a pub ticker of old who wrote a bad review of the place and got pushed down a well never to blog again.  Am I about to learn those lessons?  Well no, not really.  The second warning sign (after gentler pub sign) was 'how come it isn't in the GBG this year?'  After all, with at least 33 appearances dating back to 1978, breaking an unbeaten run going back to 1995, there MUST be a reason.  Early signs were good, I even said 'hello' to a plastic bat hanging from the ceiling, and in the main bar, you could feel the electric old atmosphere, helped immensely by the ridiculously low ceiling.  I'm only 5 foot 7 but even I had to duck in places!  The couple, both rather statuesque (but very miserable and had been married so long, they'd morphed into each other, having the same short grey back and sides) found it impossible to stand in any kind of comfortable position.  BUT, and it's a bigger but than Beyonce's, apart from ONE seat facing the bar, every other table with chair attached to it was kitted out for dining with a 'reserved' sign on it.  EVERY ONE.  Try as I might to find a seat, and perch my pint on warped bits of adjoining wood, I couldn't get 'stable' so I ended up ignoring the signs and sitting in a reserved booth, just HOPING they DARED to try and move me.  They didn't.  What's worse, the landlord was a right old grump, and wheezy like a cat called Ruby with a chest infection.  I'd like to see someone try and force 2 tablets down his throat twice a day!  I drank the local 'Bucket of Blood' ale, probably something rebadged, it was better than what I'd drunk so far today.  But even so, you could see why if local CAMRA had come in here and witnessed what I did, why it might be de-guided after all these years.  I stole a sachet of tartar sauce in protest.  That's why I'm a punk.  They had the 'specials' board on a plasma screen FFS.  Talk about trying to kill a classic old pub!  Cornwall's already proved you can add food to the mix without going to these lengths.  Even a twild found his way into the booth in front of me.  His Dad had the voice of Paul McCartney.  That was the final straw.  It was time to leave.  Sad, such an anti-climax.

But not to worry, because my intense GBG research had made me notice somewhere else not far from my hotel which I could walk to.  Yes, a sign at Loggans Moor said a place called Angarrack was only half a mile walk, and with 12 appearances between 1989-2009, perhaps it had something to offer?

It is pronounced Anne Garrack rather than Anger Rack, just in case you ever go, a beautiful little place with a railway viaduct which apparently it is tradition to piss against if you see one on a pub mission, so says Cooking Lager, so it must be true.

Pissy wissy let's get bissy

I can't say my expectations (or arc of urine) were too high, what with no GBG appearance since 2009, a rather battered looking old building, and two men having to restrain their Rottweilers from eating me as I tried to get inside.

Angarrack Inn, Angarrack

But what a surprise to find a lively bustling community local upholstered in green (green tiling, always a winner!) with plenty of smiling faces and friendly staff.  I'd generally say the GBG can be trusted to take you to the best places, but 'eckie thump, how can this not be in ahead of the other pubs I'd been to today?  Well, I'll tell you why I reckon it was - it only had two ales on.  And as better pub and beer bloggers than me have mentioned in the past, too many CAMRA folk think 'beer range' is a valuable decision making factor, you only have to note Rook & Gaskill winning York's Pub of the Year with depressing regularity to know that it happens in place more ale focused than Cornwall.  So, Lancaster Bomber or Dartmoor Legend?  I went for the latter, to the chagrin of the bloke next to me who was just swigging off his dregs.  "Don't sell him too much of it!" he says to the barmaid as he leaves.   As I sat in the corner, one of those 'moments of contentment' swept over me, for it'd been a trying day up til now.  People kept smiling, some actively leaning in to try to get in my pub photos and that never happens!  Eventually, the barmaid who was absolute first class came over to ask why I'd choose to come here, so I explained BRAPA and my geeky research of past editions, and added I thought this pub was better than a lot I'd been to this holiday and "I'm not just saying that!"  She whispers confidentially "go on then, what is the WORST pub you've been in so far this holiday!" which was a great variation on the usual boring question of 'what is the best one you've been in?'.  In my notes, I wrote she was like Angie Watts from Eastenders without the Dirty Den marriage traumas.  A few days after, Leslie Grantham carked it.  A BRAPA mention often gets too much for people.  Classic pub this, better get in next GBG or I'm going to live in a mud hut in Grimsby.

Buoyed by this experience, I thought it might be quite 'amusing' to pop into the pub joined onto my Premier Inn, a Brewers Fayre no less!  After all, it says on Whatpub it sells real ale, and can't be any worse than the Great Yarmouth version, nothing can.  Ever.

I'd make it Grade II listed and slap an ACV on it now if I was in charge.

Brewers Fayre, Loggans Moor

The chaos of food ordering in the midst of the most disorganised set up in recent BRAPA history went unnoticed at first, I was simply focused on getting served and getting the hell out of the bar area.  Not sure if I go more Yorkshire when I'm drunk, but I must've said "ey up lad, pint o' t'Proper Job for me, and an 'alf for t'whippet" because I've never seen a guy put the sparkler back on so quickly.  A nice touch.  What's more, the beer quality was better than any of the four previous pubs I'd been to today, wow!  I'd never have believed it, but it was first class.  As two Irish navvies started whining about the amount of food at the self service buffet running out, a woman on my other side kicked off at her boyfriend over similar unsubstantiated vague promises of plentiful food.  "Well, I'll go with it but I won't be happy if it runs out!" she concluded.  The staff looked decidedly edgy, blinking like rabbits caught in headlights, apart from my dude who was still fiddling with the sparkler in a relaxed manner.  Had I asked to do the "balancing a coin on the lemon" thing advertised at the bar, I don't think it'd have ended well for me, the coin or the lemon.  I walked through the curry-centric buffet area to a raised dining seat I had no right to sit at, but such was the confusion, the staff thought I was another man and tried to bring me 'my' prawn starter.  "Not me" I said, but when the real Prawn Man turned up (he was deaf so I interpreted buffet instructions for him on the premise he let me remain at his table, which he was happy with), I helped him retrieve the starter which had gone back to the kitchen 5 minutes ago.  A young couple on one of the least romantic first dates ordered dessert, but the boyfriend said 'pudding' which made her laugh uncontrollably.  Hope he binned her off next day.  "No idea what I'm supposed to do next!" said deaf guy when prawn starter had been completed.  "Just go down there and help yourself!" I told him with extreme patience but still a degree of irritability in my voice.  Why do so many people in life lack any kind of initiative?  Deafness is no excuse.  But this was an amusing end to the night, and a lesson to myself not to be snobby about Brewers Fayres in the future.  Who knows, they could be CAMRA's new Micropubs by 2020?

Sparkler dude having a fiddle

No time for the lemon game

First date couple under green plasma that looks like a football match but isn't

Backwards view to the buffet area

So that was that.  Could I squeeze in one last pub before my flight back tomorrow afternoon?  You know it'd make sense.  Join me for tales of that and more, coming soon!