We have to rewind all the way back to Saturday 22nd September now where I'd finally finished cross-ticking. On a rainy morning in Berkshire, I was greeted at Reading station by the ghost of Chas Hodges, oh hang on, Tom Irvin, where Hull City were due to "entertain" us later on.
Tom grabbed my phone and took some pictures to capture the essence of the town I'd grown quite fond of when completing Berkshire in the 2015/16 season:
A walk along the Kennet took us to our first pub, perfect weather for fishermen, and ducks:
|The first 'numbered' tick of life in the 2019 GBG
Tom was annoyed the metal dude barman was chopping lemon & limes instead of serving, and after a moment of struggle with himself, instead of making a sarky comment, he simply said what a nice smell citrus was! It was like a behavioural scientist had inserted a few volts of electrodes up his bum to make him behave. Brilliant. The pub was a little bit of a lame duck (see above), featuring FOUR signs on one window encouraging you to pay by card. Christmas and Prosecco featured highly. I didn't dislike the pub in some way, it felt a fairly nice place to sit and have a pint, problem was, the ale was poor quality, even for a first of the day, had a name like "starting point" or "first of many" or something appropriate. I'd have a lot of pints today, they'd all be better than this one.
|A fisherman did arrive! Or was it Nigel Adkins having a bracing positive pre-match swim?
|It wasn't nice.
Onwards and upwards then, well slightly closer to the station, and our next pub was a nicer experience all round.
|More iconic photography from T.Irvin
1302 / 2275. Retreat, Reading
Felt like walking into a tiny working man's club, though it had a big room round the back which you'd never know about unless you went to the loo. Felt a bit guilty breaking the landlord off watching some boring football match on his iPad to serve us, but he briefly forgot Tom had handed over a £20 so lots of jokes about him trying to swindle us to break the ice. He was a good bloke, joining in with our conv about East London pubs which was my plan for tomorrow, so an old guy tried to join in but didn't know his St James from his St James Street so he probably shouldn't have bothered. My Butcombe was pretty good, and it was obvious we were Hull City fans too cos on the way out, landlord shouts 'enjoy the match' to which Tom replies "FOOTBALL ISN'T DESIGNED FOR ENJOYMENT!" said in the true words of a Hull City fan and one of best BRAPA exits of 2018.
|Landlord missing exciting football action and stapling and calculating as he serves us
There was time to squeeze one more in before the bus to the new Elm Park, so it was good it was right on the station. Not a GBG pub, but a voice in the back of my mind had said "the beer scores for this pub are such that it might make the 2020 Good Beer Guide". With ethereal knowledge like that, how could we resist?
Three Guineas, Reading
And it was true, the Dark Star Hophead was a really top quality pint, helps that it's a beer I like anyway. Otherwise, this huge Fullers effort was a bit echoey and soulless, the stone staircase up to the gents with the clocks the most characterful bit of it. Me and Tom noticed you couldn't get onto the platforms from here, but it didn't sell a moody looking lady having a stall half in the pub, half on the platform, so we judge it and her til she scowled at us because I'm all for pubs doubling up as village tuck shops etc. but I don't think that was what was going on here. Still, it felt a clean and smart pub on the whole and if it does make the next GBG ahead of the Fisherman's, then that is fair from my experience today!
|Barmaid with good skin ignores us again
|Not helpful when you are worried about kick off time
|Woman sells extortionate croissants from back of pub
Me and Tom then got the bus to the ground where we witnessed a performance so utterly dreadful, even a team as bad as Reading not playing too well themselves were able to beat us 3-0. We did have 3 goals chalked off, so not our day either!
I left two mins early, not cos we were rubbish (though it helped), but because I was staying down in London in Holborn as I was working on Project Calypso for a second week Mon-Wed and figured I may as well stay down and get some weekend pubs done before!
I had to rush back because I'd dumped by luggage at hotel reception but their baggage store closed at 6:30pm latest and I had to get back for it.
I made it for 6:10pm but the luggage store was already locked, but this surly bastard threw them at my head across reception desk, and passed me the key card to this room which was actually across a courtyard in a basement with views into an underground staff car park with an old mattress and shopping trolley! I've stayed in plenty Travelodges but this was the weirdest. No phone signal, the wi-fi wouldn't connect, oh well, I wasn't here to sit in a hotel room!
So with a bit of a headache and down turned expression, I set out into the London pea souper n search of pubs. The first needed to give me a pick me up, but it was a 'Spoons. I passed that horrid Draft House Seething, funny I always seem to have a headache when I'm at Tower Hill, was I executed here in a former life? Or just always dehydrated post Hull City?
1303 / 2276. The Liberty Bounds, Tower Hill
With a lamp above the door (usually a sign of a great pub) and two friendly bouncers (not dogs from Neighbours), I thought perhaps this could be the pub to help my heart rise again! But BRAPA doesn't work like that, and very much like Haymakers and Geldart in Cambridge, it thought it'd be much more amusing to kick me when I was down. The staff were crap, reminding me of the Arsenal subs bench at the time(!), the beer was expensive, and even though it wasn't bad, I'd ordered a porter which just tasted like a standard 'Spoons bitter. Worse was the atmosphere, it was mainly boring, but had a bit of an 'edge' I was surprised to find in a place I'd consider 'touristy'. Though I sat on my own down the quiet side of the bar, cockney blokes kept coming along and shouting things into mobile phones like "we woz robbed by the mugs" , it didn't feel very clean, and then people started chanting and the staff looked a bit scared but didn't do anything. Not the best 'Spoons in London.
Cannon Street wasn't far away, where one of my few remaining central London ticks lay. I'd tried to get here last week, but if you remember, couldn't quite get across the bridge for some reason!
It was another 'Spoons! I was really treating myself this evening.....
1304 / 2277. Sir John Hawkshaw, Cannon Street
Well, don't let anyone ever tell you "all Wetherspoons are the same" as people tend to do. This was a literal breath of fresh air after the infected groin pit that was the Liberty Bounds. Being light, airy, breezy with hardworking staff keen to serve within seconds might not be things you associate (or necessarily want) from your 'Spoons, but this just what the doctor ordered. And the London Pride, which I ordered to follow in the footsteps of my forefathers, was top quality. At these prices, it needed to be (as Martin, Taylor, not Tim said on his recent visit). Especially as I'd just used my final 50p off Mudgie voucher and was now paying full sha-bang for my London muck. A camp Barry Chuckle seemed to be in charge, his 'pride' (not London) lanyard was very fetching, even if some of the customers had a relaxed attitude to dressing themselves. Then, a woman on gin just up from me started signing (guess she was Spanish) , encouraged by her sober boyfriend who might have been playing a practical joke on her.
|Drinking well, even at £4.05
|Button yet shirt up man!
|Does this mean the pub doesn't have loos or they just don't want non-customers using them?
|Taken when I fell off stool in a London Pride coma
I hopped back on the Tube, where there was a pub listed under South London which wasn't too far. Guess what? It was a 'Spoons. And I think this hat-trick was a BRAPA first.
1305 / 2278. Lord Moon of the Mall, Whitehall
As I tried to hone in on the pub sign depicting a 'youthful Tim Martin' as the GBG had mentioned, an angry Turkish man below it said "hey, no photo of me!" so I hurriedly explained I was zooming in the sign which is kind of ironic considering the number of folk who appear in my pub blog photos cos I actually want them to! Anyway, his girlfriend/wife told him in Turkish to stop being a nobhead (probably) and he half apologised and I shuffled into the pub. Phew! This was the chaotic touristy scene I'd expected from Liberty Bounds, but despite that, you could appreciate this as a nice building, so much craziness around me, my BRAPA senses didn't know what to do! Didn't help it was my barman's first day, what a time to get on the spot training, poor lad. I turned to try and find a seat but two sixty year olds had their tongues in each others mouths, I thought they were probably Brummies, not sure why, just seemed right. A table had come free, but I saw a couple eyeing it up so offered it to them and said I'd perch on the edge. Did they thank me? Not unless you count her smiling half an hour later. Delayed reaction? I guessed they were probably Brummies too. It just seemed likely. On the way back from a piss, me and a young Iranian chap both a bit disorientated by the way out joked 'strength in numbers' as we fought our way back through the maze back up the staircase to the bar, but when I got there, my chair had been nicked so I had to move again. Those around me found it amusing, even if I didn't. My pint, whatever it was, was nice n caramelly, so I made a point of taking glass back and thanking debut barman. All in all, a nice lively BRAPA scene.
|Every time Christmas is mentioned in pub before Dec 1st, Santa sacrifices an elf.
|Look, the pumps have little London Queen's Guard 'cosies' on them, how cute!
|A bald head floats back upstairs from the loo, probably a Brummie
|My declining mental state as chair nicked and I'm forced to move again
|This seemed quite old school to me!
It was getting on towards closing time, so I hopped on the tube for one final tick of the night.
This was classed under Central London again, and a lady was reading an interestingly posh menu to try and be impressive.
Greene King this time, oh well, it breaks the Wetherspoons run I suppose!
1306 / 2279. Marlborough Arms, Bloomsbury
And you could already sense the 'winding down towards last orders' when I got to the bar. The staff were young, friendly and zippy (not from Rainbow), and when my grapefruity Truman's ale was presented to me, it skidded back across the bar, crashing into the pumps! Well, this is what happens when you remove the bar towels, mats, etc and polish all the surfaces too early. But the barman was so taken by this 'ghostly' event, he treated the returning barmaid to a repeat performance. "Oi, you've cos me 10p of beer there!" I joked (I WASN'T JOKING) and there was lots of jolly chat about hauntings, last orders and expensive London ale before I finally sat down. Not often I find myself in a BRAPA pub around last orders, so fascinating to observe, as the bell tolled and a panicky guy ran to the bar and said "was that last orders bell or time?" "Last orders, you've got about 10 mins". "Phew, I'll be back!" That was at 10:54pm. But then, at 10:56pm, a different staff member rang the 'time at the bar' bell. I bet that guy was fuming, I never saw him again anyway. And when I returned from one of those typically steep vertical London pub staircases, I noticed all the students had cleared out, bright lights had been put on, doors opened, and the soothing pub atmosphere had been deliberately shattered in an attempt to get those stragglers (i.e. me) to leave. Pub life, you can't beat it.
I had a day in East London kind of forming in my mind for the Sunday, so it was off back to my prison cell (I mean Travelodge basement room) for some nice food & water & sleep so I could 'go again' tomorrow.