Sunday 30 September 2018

BRAPA - September Review / October Preview (2018)

North Star, Leytonstone
59 new pub ticks is, unsurprisingly, an all-time BRAPA record and as my liver gurgles away, admonishing me in Adrian Chiles & Frank Skinner accents, a period of calm is (probably) needed.  For one, I still have so many blogs to catch up on!

Don't get me wrong, I'm absolutely delighted to get the numbers in.   It might all look like a knee-jerk reaction to the drop in numbers after the GBG cross-ticking exercise (it was 14th Sept when I finally received the 2019 GBG due to the printing fiasco), but in truth, work sending me to London for days at a time was the main reason.

If you count Stourbridge as being in the south rather than the north (there's no Midlands in this scenario) then only SIX of my 59 ticks were achieved oop North!  Levenshulme, Hyde and Denton to be precise.

Not to mention 4 pre-emptives, the best beer being in this, the Three Guineas at Reading.

BRAPA in London with a new Good Beer Guide is, for me, very much 'kid in a sweet shop' territory, though I have to admit there's quite a few sweet jars I'm not too keen on sampling.  I'm not saying the sweet shop owner has waggled his dick in the midget gems, but you know.   I'm not sure why, but I always seem to find beer quality poorer in London than most other areas, strange as the turnover must be high as there's so many flippin' people flitting around constantly, they can't all be on red wine and Vedett.  Can they? 

And pub-wise, there's more than your fair share of Wetherspoons to tick off.  Some have been good of course (I enjoyed the Canary Wharf and Cannon St newbies), but three of my worst four pubs this month happened to be London 'Spoons.

Good Spooning in Cannon St station
My favourite pubs of the month were, in no particular order:

1. Cock Tavern, Hackney
2.  Commercial Tavern, Spitalfields
3.  Waggon & Horses, Stourbridge

Cock Tavern in Hackney was a stand out London tick
Others I also loved included Royal Exchange, Stourbridge, the Plume of Feathers in Greenwich, the Blue Bell in Maxey, the Ploughman in Werrington, Edgar Wallace at Temple and the Dog & Bell at Deptford.  Plenty more were above average.

On the less so good side, we had:

1. Henry Addington, Canary Wharf
2. Gate Clock, Greenwich
3. Liberty Bounds, Tower Hill.

There was an underlying unpleasant vibe at Liberty Bounds

The Willow Walk near Victoria Station deserves a special award for being one of the most boring pubs I've visited in BRAPA history, the Barbridge in Stourbridge wasn't 'bad' bad, just a chilly mis-match of contrived disappointment that made me want to cry, and some pretty poor ales were encountered at places like the New Rose in Islington, Fisherman's Cottage in Reading, the otherwise excellent Orange Tree in Winchmore Hill, and a fair few others I can't quite remember off the top of my head but will come back to me when I blog 'em.

October Preview

The new month starts officially after work on Tuesday, back in London til the weekend so plenty more after-work evenings to enjoy.  Will I finally get to Homerton?  Is Kentish Town going to be rewarding?   Is Elephant & Castle a good place to trial my new 'Antic' bingo card?

And as for Saturday, well I was supposed to be doing something Brummie with Dad & Tom.  Can I still get up there?  Will I have had any sleep on the all-night work Friday session?  Too many unanswered questions.

But then we have a ray of hopeful relaxation, as the BRAPA Autumn Holiday kicks in from Tues 9th right through to the following Saturday.  I'm going to a county I've only got one tick in.  It is English.  It is down south.  Can you tell what it is yet?  Typically, I've made life harder for myself than needs be by focusing on the 'west' of this county, the one with fewer rail and bus links.  Idiot Si.

On Sat 20th Oct, I'm back in Cambs.  Remember that county?  Martin Taylor is again unavailable for comradeship and taxi advantages, so am gonna stick to somewhere where I can get myself to and from quite easily.  Now just because you call your pub Blue Moon, doesn't mean you have to only open when the moon is in the sky.  Irritating.

And the month ends like all good months end on the 27th.  Now I'm becoming a Godfather (new official role) a day later, so cannot overdo it cos I take such duties seriously, but Tom is taking me and Dad to New Brighton which is somewhere over that weird bit of water near Liverpool.

In 1947, Hull City went to an away game at New Brighton on the coach and our then manager, the legendary Major Frank Buckley, made our inside left Frank McGorrighan stand up for the whole journey so his dog had a seat!  Frank was never the same again, and he signed for Blackburn a month later, the saddest end imaginable for any human being.


BRAPA - Highlighting Green in Bethnal Green

Debutant, the 2019 GBG on the train down to London
So, Sunday 16th September, the BRAPA parents had flown off to Toronto (that has no bearing on this blog), my sister was doing the kind of things vegans do, and I was down in t'London, where I'd be working Mon-Wed in Piccadilly Circus on the 'Calypso Project' which I'm sure you're all fans of.

It made sense to me to come down a day earlier, whip in six daytime pub ticks, get back to my hotel, and get all rested and sober and get up a hell of a lot later than if I was setting off from York on Monday morning on the 7:01 train.

My first outing with the physical copy of the 2019 GBG, my new best friend (sorry 2018, you're back on the shelf with those other losers, 1982, 1999, 2007, 2014 and the like) and my first pub to be highlighted 'live' was a GBG debutant which seemed fitting.

I should point out at this stage, I hadn't finished the 'cross ticking' of course, so still no numbers.

Temple Brew House, Temple

Down some steps into a cosy modern bar, where an attentive barmaid on a laptop doing important barmaid stuff jumped up to race behind the bar and serve me.  I ordered a 'Very Pale Ale' by Essex Street brewery, an easy starter I thought, but it didn't need a GBG brewery section to tell me the tasting notes should read 'wishy washy'.  Not particularly well kept, I thought, and over £4, welcome back to London!  Still, a nice place though I did need an emergency beermat, and an Aussie bloke (we were next to their embassy) dominated the atmosphere with his chat.  He told a story about a friend who'd been bitten by a tick, not a pub tick, haha, he then used the term "uber academics", reminded us he'd done a gap year in Japan .... "it was the best time of my life, very hard, but I made it work" he told his friends.  Even though burgers came for them that were taller than pint glasses, it still didn't simmer him down, and it was a rant about the mental health of students after that.  I took my glass back and said thanks through gritted teeth, had a wee in bogs that smelt like East Asian tea leaves, and on my way out, barmaid says "thanks for that!" and i'm like 'huh, what?  Having a piss?'  Upstairs, I nearly collided with the cyclists of 'Bob's Bikes Beer Crawl' and wondered if these were rival pub tickers, after all, Duncan Mackay had already beaten me to this place!

I ended up leaving my emergency beermat behind!

How beer is made, if you are interested, involves a farting Pegasus.

Just across Holborn around the corner from my Travelodge (I had to pay for my accommodation tonight, boo!) was another tick I needed in the Centre of London.  I'd timed it nicely, 2:20pm, and I could check in at 3pm. 

An American tourist couple looked scandalised as they saw me taking the below pic as if to say 'there are better sights in London you know' or 'gee whizz, it's one of those gosh darn pub tickerrrs the Southworth bros tell us about'....... Best reaction since I took the 'Spoons shot in St Ives, or every time I go to Stalybridge.

Craft Beer Co, Holborn

I've been to a few Craft Beer Co's before, Brighton, Farringdon, Pentonville, to name three, and I can't say it's a chain that has me wetting my knickers with excitement but I was impressed with this place in a low-key way.  As I paid for a Lancastrian red ale with actual cash, the bearded barman looked at me like I was some mutant, even asking me what strength the ale was so he knew what to charge me!  Do I lie?  I didn't, I wasn't in Hyde now.   But he had bigger fish to fry as a demanding little Spaniard in a  baseball cap at the bar (a common theme of my London pub ticking).  Best quality pint of the day?  It was up there.  Downstairs, there was a surprising quiet long dark cool sweeping room, a shame as I'd been perched at a stool in the window like a Yorkshire gargoyle.   Two young sockless hipsters sat beside me .... "You can get protein that is non dairy" said one to the other. "Woah, really?"  Now that's the kind of pub chat you don't get in Burnley.  

My back up emergency beermat ... guess what, I left this one behind too!

K D Productions unloading some equipment for something potentially exciting.
After checking in at my gin soaked Drury Lane lodgings, I got the Central line out to East London, Bethnal Green to be precise, where I had 3 pubs to tick off.  

Bethnal Green seemed a peaceful trendy kind of a place on a Sunday afternoon, not the skinhead mean streets Green Street type area I'd been expecting.  All three pubs had been in the 2018 GBG so I hoped they were good solid ticks to get.

Carpenters Arms, Bethnal Green

A pub so 'woke' (or awake), the theme here was my failure to get decent sly photographs of pubby happenings without everyone being highly suspicious of me.  It all started when our ginger barmaid, with a pleasant wide-eyed expression (think a gecko with better skin, wearing a retro Tintin t-shirt .... 'Red Sea Sharks' if you want the title) pulled a pint of 'okay' Tim Taylor Landlord whilst soft piano jazzy music played in the background.  With her rhythmic thrusts of the handpump (Madonna never made TT Landlord this sensual), I felt like I was David Duchovny in an episode of Ch 5 classic Red Shoe Diaries, which sounds a bit like Red Sea Sharks with less Nazi leanings (he had a little dog too).  (What am I waffling for?  I've got about 30 London pub reviews to write for heaven's sake!)  As two hipsters drank murky beer, framed by the outside graffiti, I thought this was peak East London, but they saw my photography and I had to give them the thumbs up and leave a blog card.  Two old blokes came in and I thought 'ah, PubMen' but they ordered a glass of red wine and a pint of Vedett.  It doesn't happen in Pontefract.  I read the Kray twins once ran this pub, hard to believe in 2018!

All out of emergency beermats, and a THIRD pub in a row without them

No food!  Hurrah.

Just down the road back past the tube station and beyond, I came to my second of three Bethnal Green pubs in the 2019 GBG.  

King's Arms, Bethnal Green

I'd seen plenty of signs advertising London fashion week back in the city, so all these loose hanging dungarees, flowery vintage patchwork quilt dresses and chunky chequered shirts worn with flat caps should perhaps not have come as such a surprise, but it meant I had to wear my camouflage new BRAPA shirt (making it's debut today) with a bluff swagger as if to say 'I'll be 'on trend' in 2019, believe me'.  Where were the handpumps?  That was a bigger concern.  But this place was too cool to follow fusty old pub convention like this, so a beer menu on a woodchip clipboard was presented to me (even though there was a sign on the wall) and soon I was drinking a warm Ikley Mary Jane, which although under £4 a pint rarely during my London spree, tasted more like Harry Kane's undies, I wrote at the time.  Still, my THIRD Northern ale in a row, had I become one of these twats who go to Malaga and head straight for the British Pub where they ordered Sausage, Beans and Chips?  The loos were down a steep narrow staircase.  A transgender person walked into the pub.  A lady with a headscarf said something about 'art', then I was trapped into my seat by a buggy..  "This pub was so modern day London", I wrote on Twitter on the day, "it was like a 2018 Chas n Dave with just as much rabbit".  Six days later, Chas was dead and the BRAPA curse had struck again, just as it did for Leslie Grantham in Cornwall back in July.  Gertcha.  

If Bethnal Green had been lacking a bit of life on this sleepy Sunday afternoon, then it all to be found in my last pub in town, and as we know, a street corner location and 'amusing' blackboard often signify that interesting times lay ahead .....

Camel, Bethnal Green

Oh yes, all life was here, well young people and tourists anyway, as I squeezed into the busy one roomed bar and for some stupid reason, stood behind a pillar next to some complimentary water jugs (we must be responsible and keep ourselves hydrated, right?) so even a three foot tall Japanese girl managed to muscle me out of the 'being served' scene.  There was so much going on, I actually didn't mind the wait.  I'd already witnessed a man strangling a twild (see above photo) and left a  'BRAPA' card in front of the Brewdog one cos I think we all know who is the true pub punk.  A cool Lancastrian dude ponced around in a funny t-shirt, and a couple ordered pie n peas with an air of pretension which made them look ridiculous.  Pie & Peas is fun food, not something to order with a stick up yer ass.   The pub smelt more appetising than any BRAPA tick I can remember since I went to the Central in Gateshead.  So hungry.  My ale, when it FINALLY came my way, was an amazing quality Adnams guest, Two Bays, my tasting notes at the time 'holy fuck, what a beer, shame about the adnams glass ffs'.  What insight!  I'm basically half man, half beer cicerone.  A randy old bloke asked a barmaid how old she was.  '19, going on 20' she replied.  Jeez, I'd have said 35 easy.  Still, a frenetic pub bound to put years on you, but easily the best of the three visited today.

In much better spirits by the time I left Bethnal Green, I could still afford myself one final 'tick' on the way back to Holborn, and there was an E1 entry I'd not seen in the Guide before, and as soon as I saw it, I just knew it was going to be amazing. 

Just look at it's little face!
Commercial Tavern, Spitalfields

I've read so many books about the Jack the Ripper case, I always love the thrill of pub ticking in this part of the world.  True, it is usually a let down, the terminal borefest which is the Frown and Shittle (Crown & Shuttle) springs to mind and you can never get a sense of the history, of that not so golden age, but here, you could imagine rubbing shoulders (or something more!) with those poor women.  The bar top was beautifully green tiled, it had floor mosaics, wooden floors, stained glass and the like.  My ale was good, and granted, the clientele were exactly what you'd expect from E1 in these modern times, but no one had a brown leather bag of surgical implements that I could fathom out, and in the dim candlelight and six pint glow, I just relaxed into my pint and didn't feel the need to make any notes, be too adventurous with photos, almost like a normal no pressure pub situation! 

On entrance 


And back in my Travelodge for 7:30pm with some grub, all ready to get myself rested for the start of Calypso project mayhem the following day!



Thursday 27 September 2018

BRAPA - Whimsy Denton (my pubby line of duty)

It is a good 35 minute yomp from Guide Bridge station straight down the main road into the GBG friendly outpost of Denton, nestling somewhere in that outer Manchester sprawl which gives you the chills.

Certainly, in the dead of night, the walk was an experience, as a series of weirdos jumped out at me, one bloke going so far as pretending to walk into me, shouting "rarrrr", waiting til I flinched, and then chuckling and dissolving into a petrol station forecourt.  I've been in a less scary horror houses in fairgrounds and theme parks. 

And unexpected sights like this did nothing for my dickie ticker:

Finally, I was rewarded for my efforts when the first of two pubs came into sight.  I didn't notice the karaoke blackboard until my photo was 'developed' the next day:

Carters Arms, Denton

In the true spirit of 2018 BRAPA ticking, I took the left hand room which happened to be the lounge.  This was probably a good decision as it transpired, a huge empty floor space and a series of curious characters lining the bench seating wondering what my game was.  One of those where you only have to take out your mobile phone and they start staring at it as though they've not seen the like before!  After taking yonks to be served by a sympathetic barmaid who seemed to think I'd been forced to come in here, I took my pint and refusing to be intimidated, squeezed between two of the most expressionless blokes in the room.  To my right, a bloke with an element of the Danny John-Jules who told his mate he'd nicknamed a local building "Cell Block H".  "You know, from t'Aussie drama series!"  Prisoner Cell Block H is my favourite all time programme, and this was perhaps a first BRAPA reference to it.  I knew I was somewhere special.  My pint of Box Steam something or other was no better than average, but no matter.  The even more miserable bloke to my left suddenly burst into life and started fiddling with the music equipment, hang on, he can't be the DJ can he?  At that moment, two nervous tanned teen girls ran through to the bogs, giggled, and ran the other way again.  Was the right hand side where the vibrant youth was?  No time to dwell on that, as our unlikely DJ hero, Steve James, started belting out 'the Glory of Love' impressively.  He was like a good Jerry St Clair and until he murdered 'Wonderwall', I felt obliged to stay and watch the set!  The highlight was when he said "ladies and gentlemen, it is 1983".  In a pub like this, hard not to take him at face value.  

Steve belts out some classics

The Steve James fandom

Bloke necks pint dramatically .... he knows what's coming up!

Building up for a debut Cell Block H comment

Another tick in the out of date book.
I crossed the road back to where I'd come from and found myself in this little square near the huge junction.  The pub outlook evoked memories of Frothblowers in Werrington, surrounded by boarded up shops:

Crown Point Tavern, Denton

I know you are thinking 'micropub' but that'd kind of do this place a disservice.  It was such 'peak Friday night atmosphere', that it could be mistaken for just a 'small pub'.  Well well well.  I ordered this strange lemon and lime beer (very well kept, just too citrussy for me even though I was fully aware what I was getting myself into!)  The pub atmosphere was so wired that despite getting a good corner seat, when people came up to me and asked if they could have my spare chairs, I was "yes .... yes.... please, take them away, far away from me!" they were like a pack of hyenas.  Especially the Jeanette Krankie woman, terrifying, I'd not leave my bag and coat on my seat if I went for a pee in here!  "I rub people up the wrong way because I have high standards of myself, and expect the same of other people" she leaned over the table and shouted in a blonde ladies face.  Here's an excerpt of a more typical conversation .... "I name all my appliances .... I've got a cooker called Julie, I've got a microwave called Pete...."  And then a bloke leant over and said "Well I've got a bigger dick than anyone else!"   I assume the inference was that it was called Dick?  It was hard to say (so to speak) but I couldn't hang around any longer, I had a frightening walk to Guide Bridge, it was well gone 10pm by now. 

"I'll have a pint of limelight, the citrus pale .... and then moan it was too limey and citrussy for me!"

So, always good to get a Greater Manchester place in the 'early alphabet' ticked off, especially safe in the knowledge both of these pubs had made it to the 2019 GBG, which I'm delighted to say was waiting on my door step when I finally got home at 1:30am.  The decision to have a rare Saturday off, and get myself geared up for London had been a good one, and the Saturday was spent 'cross ticking'.

More on my London adventures soon, I've been there more than here, hence the lack of blogs!  But my numbers of new ticks for September are going through the roof, which is great news.

See you soon, Si