Tuesday 28 May 2019

BRAPA : Dolly Peel and the Bank Holiday Ordeal (Part 1 of 2)

Bank Holiday Monday must be the hardest type of day in the year for the humble pub ticker. 

I'm not even talking transport, as you've got to expect buses not to run and trains to be on a 'Sunday Service' as we say i.e. unreliable and quite absent.

But you would be forgiven for thinking pubs would also operate a 'Sunday service' too, I did when I started this whole BRAPA business back in 2014.  It has since become clear however, that whilst a certain percentage of pubs indeed do go by their (usually generous) Sunday hours, a higher percentage go by the notoriously less generous Monday hours! 

I've queried pubs on it before.  "I thought you'd be open today?" I plead on social media.  "We don't open Mondays pal" they reply.  "But ...but ..... but .... it is a Bank Holiday!" I whine.  "Yeh, but it is still a Monday innit pal?!"  And quite frankly, you can't argue with such steadfast logic.

Just give me a fighting chance!

So when planning myself a little day trip on late May Bank Holiday Monday just gone, I needed somewhere with decent transport links AND pubs that open BOTH Sunday and Monday from about lunchtime, not closing mid afternoon either.

A scan of the GBG told me Derbyshire was out of the equation, North Yorkshire don't make me laugh, Notts looked shady, Lancs was shearing its sheep, hell even metrocentric Greater Manchester looked a bit flaky in parts.  Durham and Cumbria weren't worth entertaining.  So it fell on Tyne & Wear to potentially 'save the day'. 

Fourteen pubs required in the T&W region before the start of play, with the Sun Inn in Swalwell the only one I didn't manage to complete last year, joined by 13 'newbies' who hadn't been in the 2018 edition.   Some debutantes, some oldies from previous editions.

I identified a few brewpubs and micros which were immediately deemed non-starters for today (High Spen, Tynebank and Wylam), but I had enough to go at. 

I hopped aboard the ever reliable Metro at Newcastle Central Station, bound for Chichester (pronounced Chai-chester up here for some reason) which was lurking on the edge of South Shields, which has never been a lucky place for me despite some top pubs.  At least I got to see the best Metro station on the planet.......

Gonna open a 10 hr a week cider themed micro here called the Simonsider in 2025

Chichester was even greyer and drabber than 'Shields itself if that was possible, but I wasn't worried re opening times as the GBG and Whatpub both had 11am for Sunday or Monday.  Google knew better though, and screamed 12 NOON at me before I'd even started walking.  Buggeration!

It was inevitably as dead as a doornail and with the time only 11:10am, I sheltered under a tree from the rain and phoned my Mum to see if she could make it open.  Even she couldn't.  

But by 12:03, I was delighted to see a side door ajar.  

And good things do come to those who wait here at the Dolly Peel, South Shields (1627 / 2596) as it was my most enjoyable pub experience of the day.  You can sense the history of this small yet multi roomed old classic from the moment you enter.  I told the barmaid I'd been stood in the rain 50 minutes.  "Sorry" she replies, looking genuinely sad, so I feel immediately guilty, force a smile and say "its okay, i got to have a nice catch up with mi Mum, and then a French Bulldog scowled at me!"   The choice is simple, Hobgoblin with flashing LED eyes or Timmy Taylor Landlord, so I went for the latter.  A touch warm, being first customer of day, she couldda maybe pulled it through but nae bother, warming like a good horlicks, full of flavour!  Two locals are soon on the scene, one resplendent in double denim and the kind of accent that makes Phil Brown sound like Brian Sewell.  Barmaid is a gem, so friendly, telling me the Dolly Peel legend (she was an old fishwife and smuggler with a cracking sense of humour - Dolly, not the BM, though she does). One of the blokes tells me he loves the 'Taps' from Newcastle to York to Harrogate etc.  Barmaid apologises for only having 2 ales on but they aren't the Freehouse they once were.  I tell her less is sometimes more, and tell the gobsmacked trio of Martin Taylor's 41 handpumps in Bowland experience.  They all agree this is going too far.  "How do they shift that?" says the Tap lover, adding "even York Tap only has about 18!"  I nod sympathetically.  They love the BRAPA concept, BM highlights my GBG cos I can tell she's worthy(!)  They seem to know every pub in Tyne & Wear and give me plenty of advice I can't remember.  I bid them farewell, and leave with a beaming smile.  Today wouldn't actually get better than this! 

I won't tell you about any more pubs tonight as I've rabbited on long enough so will do a two parter, but my next nearest stop was Felling.  "YA DON'T WANNA BE GETTIN' OFF THERE!" shocked Sunderland AFC fans told me a couple of seasons back after a Hull City game.  The blokes in the Dolly Peel said the same just now.  

But where there's a pub to be ticked, there's a need to 'brave' these sorts of areas.  

This was actually my 'riskiest' planned pub tick of the day, as despite opening 12 noon on Sundays, it is 4pm Mondays.  

And sure enough, despite being well gone 1pm, totally closed .......

Old Fox, Felling, Gateshead.  Very closed.

History had repeated itself in a way.  On a previous Bank Holiday, I tried to get to the Wheat Sheaf next door to this pub, and had the exact same problem!  I later remedied that tick, and hope to be back to the Old Fox before August is out.

Oh yes, today was proving to be a struggle!  2.5 hours in and only one pub done.  At least Google Maps was telling me my next tick was only a 21 minute walk, so no need to hop back on the Metro.

More on that later in the week.   Cheers for reading marras.  


Sunday 26 May 2019

BRAPA - Dogs v Bread & Dripping - Tales from Dronfield & Hoyland Common

You can never judge a pub by its cover.  I should've learned this by now but sometimes, you can't help but have a prejudiced view of which pub you think you are going to prefer before you set out.

On Thursday, we had Dronfield Arms, Dronfield (1625 / 2594), a solid stodgy attractive building protruding from the main road a bit like your old history teacher a bit too pleased to see you.....

Is that you Mr Bentley?

But once inside, it was underwhleming  Not rubbish, just dull.  Couldn't help feel the pub was stuck in purgatory, somewhere between a bar, an old pub and an basic micropub.  The narrow squeeze past seven old blokes down the side of the bar to get to the hand pumps feels like a journey I've made several hundred times in the last five years.  At least the barman was personable, we even had a 'joke' about the change I was giving him, but it was rubbish, so I won't repeat it here.  What's more, I thought I'd have to go for a 'Hopjacker' (according to the GBG, this is a brewpub and it is etiquette to drink the local brew in a place) but of the seven pumps, none were on so I had the ale my Dad can most not handle, Abbeydale Moonshine (a definite B+ from Mr Bentley).  No sooner had I sat at a rare swath of bench seating when the doggie domination kicked in.  A Perkins type and then a Biggins type who may well have been professional doggers (trainers I mean) wowed the locals with their hounds inability to behave.  The locals were excited, perhaps a bit turned on, saying things to the dogs like "no snogging you two!" and "oi, no sex here please!"  and I'm always suspicious of a pub where the dogs are the 100% focus of attention and amusement.  I'd rather having blaring TV's and music.  And of course, they were all the types who think nothing of pouting and nuzzling the dogs who then lick their lips.  Gross!  There was a haven in this pub, a slight raised area at the far end with settees, Bass Mirror, acoustic guitar and pinball machine of the past, though it felt like a token gesture to try and please the traditionalist.  Still, another Derbys tick off the list - only 29 to go now before 1st Sept!   We ended on something of a high, as the dog with the Dukes of Hazard neckerchief sniffed my feet and a Scottish lady laughed silently. 

The good bit

They know it

I took the L**ds train back as far as Barnsley, where I sat near a man wearing a toga, he had a flower shoulder tattoo, tan, well groomed black n grey hair and a small dog in a hold all.  Even by Barnsley standards, this was quite a stretch but I respected his individuality, putting me in mind of 'Friend of the BRAPA' Nick Bruels if he had a shock vegan realisation and was appointed Roman Emperor by dint of some crazy admin error.   

Time for a bus to Hoyland Common, and I don't know what it is with the Hoyland, H.Common, Elsecar and Hoylandswaine area but local TWAMRA seem to love sticking a couple of new pubs in every edition of the Good Beer Guide.  I feel like I've been to this area about 50 times in the last five years!

And not far from previous (inferior) ticks 'Keys' and 'Saville Square' came this impressive debut Micro.

Again, my first impressions were inaccurate for it looked like the kind of place that, if the three little pigs (probably Sheffield Wednesday fans) lived here, it could be blown down by one lame puff.  But that's enough of about my homosexual wolf friend, time to go in .......

Front door is open - a pet hate of mine in pubs

Look, it hardly looks like its gonna be amazing .... but we'll see
But I should probably have realised that any micropub that 'opens 8am for breakfast' (surely unique and quite incredible) was going to be a bit different.  This is one of the friendliest parts of the country from previous experience, and no sooner was I in when landlady and locals at the bar greeted me like an old friend.  Plates of food (chips in a polystyrene tray), bread & dripping, sausage rolls, pork pies and some pickles for one of your five a day were all in evidence.  And it wasn't just being told to 'help myself', it was being passed a paper plate and encouraged to tuck in.  Not about the food itself, but the people!  Still, I joined in.  Oh, and the lovely owner lady tells me off cos my rucksack is stopping her getting back behind the bar.  "You won't get a drink at all if I can't get past you!"  You wouldn't get that in a Central London Nicholsons.   Something in her dry humourous no nonsense manner and delivery that properly reminded me of Jo Brand. She'd been born and raised in pubs, and you could tell this was her domain.  As a local pretended he was on a reboot of Tomorrow's World and told the others about a Date Rape watch that was about to be invented, another bloke sneered at the bread & dripping.  I'd have barred him.  As I returned my glass (another top quality ale), they gave me a bonus bit of pork pie to take to the bus.  Lovely experience, and the place itself, despite being very micro and having that door open, still managed to feel cosy. 

Landlady trying to avoid the evil BRAPA lens despite my efforts at encouragement

I wonder if the candle is made out of lard?

A happy bar scene

So that was that, a couple of bonus pubs to keep me going in the absence of BRAPA ticks, but I'll be up in the North East soon to see if I can offer Wearside any consoling words, or whether I should just go to Tyneside with my red & white trainers on in a stoic defiant act, which, if anyone questions it, are because I'm a Charlton fan!

See you tomorrow, Si

Wednesday 22 May 2019

BRAPA - 'I Saw the Crescent, Martin Drank a Pint of Half Moon'

The Waterboys eh?  Not really punk.  Not really snarling Poguesy Irish style stuff.  Well, not in this one song I know by them (they're probably speedcore Shane McGowan on acid normally), but every time they play it in 'The Light' Shopping Centre in L**ds on a lunchtime, I do hum along in a semi appreciative way, a bit like when Dire Straits comes on in a Peterborough backstreet boozer, or you're trying to enjoy a cloudy Jennings Cumberland on the outskirts of Hull.

On Monday night, it became evident that fellow pub ticker of some repute, Martin 'RM' Taylor, was in my hometown of York, pub ticking.  This was mainly a few York pre-emptives and two dodgy Harrogate newbies.  It'd be wrong not to meet up with him, right?

By 9:30pm, my Sainsbury's Delivery driver had dropped off my weekly supplies, commenting he prefers delivering 'out in the sticks' (well SOR-RY buddy!), and Martin was lurking around a dark corner ready for probably his 23rd pint of the day.  The ghost of Alan Winfield nodding away up there, somewhat appreciatively. 

And the great Mr W would surely have been a fan of my local, Trafalgar Bay,  a one time GBG semi-regular back in a time before beer was precious and Sam Smith pubs got in without it being a noteworthy event (the wonderful Ebor at Bishopthorpe, a couple of miles away, actually still does).  York TWAMRA would rather champion the Rook & Gaskill cos it serves about 12 guest ales, even if they all taste like vinegar and the place is a cold unfriendly shithole. 

It was a first time visit for RM (proved as he checks his spreadsheet online in the pub .... #PubMan) but unlike me, he doesn't believe in post-emptives so didn't record it in a gross tally as per BRAPA rules.

As we both argued over who'd buy the round, the jovial barman saw straight through us.  "You both just want to buy the cheap round don't you?"  We admitted it, and unbeknownst to me, I'd 'won' and was paying.

We sat to the right, the loud rattle of old blokes with dominoes and two other men chatting was quite high intensity!  This pub is really improved in the last year or two, as they found an old 19th century plan of the pub and 'put the walls back in'.  We all know multi-roomed pubs are the bees knees, shame they are so rare.

The OBB wasn't on top form, sad to say, as it has been better on my last few visits than it was tonight. 

"It's a bit quiet around innit?" observed Martin, as we walked to our next venue.  Jeez, off-centre York, after 10pm on a Monday night, what was he expecting?  Las Vegas?  You ain't in throbbing sexy Cambridge now mate.

The intention of tonight was never to treat it as a 'BRAPA' event, just to have a couple of quiet drinks with a friend.  Hence my lack of photos to this point.  But all that was about to change ......

Yes, despite being 2-3 minutes walk from my front door, the Crescent Community Venue (was 'club', but I guess 'venue' is more likely to get nervous outsiders to come in) is not a place I'd been to before despite rave reviews about the place and sometimes the ale.  Kind of place people like Martin and myself like to see in the GBG, so I walked in with a beaming smile, and more local old domino players turned, but simply scowled in return.  #YorkLife.  The barman and his characterful eye was a hospitable bloke, telling us his brother does the cask, he does the keg.  He tried to talk to us about the beers on, we didn't give a shit but smiled and nodded, I ordered something I can't remember (possibly a BAD), and Martin got a 'Half Moon' which is always a solid brewery up here.  I wondered if Crescent and Half Moon was a coincidence or not.  We wandered off, bloke shouts "Pool table and all the machines are free if we want a game of anything!"  Martin trips over a table, and spills a pint of lager belonging to a bloke who's temporarily 'away', so we ran off to the raised area and tried to look innocent.  Barman and a very nervy guy in a hat and tracksuit follow us up to play pool.  They can't decide who is going to break, so they play rock. paper, scissors to decide.  They drew FIVE times, meaning the rock, paper, scissors lasted longer than the actual pool game.  Wow.   Nervy bloke keeps turning round and asking us "did you SEE that shot?" when he did something good or odd.  For a few minutes, I was no longer in York two mins from my flat.  I was in Ramsey or Chatteris or March.  Proper weird!  A bloke with an ape drape walks past to the loo singing in the club style, but high pitched.  York is usually so fucking boring, unfeeling, uncaring.  Yet a BRAPA pre-emptive can bring out the classic weirdness I find across the whole country.  Magical.  We may've swapped pints accidentally too.  And as for the beer, it looked like murky soup, and partly was unconvincing, but partly tasted absolutely wonderful.  Just couldn't decide.  But I'll look forward to coming back here with my York pals.  As Bobby Vinton's Blue Velvet played for what felt like the 15th time running, we noticed the 80's arcade machines were not here in an ironic sense like they would be in say, the local BrewDog, but in a 'they've been here since the 80's anyway' way, it was sadly time to leave.

If drinking on a Monday wasn't bad and rare enough, Tuesday had been SUCH a bad day at work that when no nonsense Rotherham Utd Liam Gallagher enthusiast Dave said "ey up pal, fancy a pint after work?" I couldn't say no.  We went to something of a pre-emptive for me, White Swan, L**ds, a Leeds Brewery pub built onto the side of the wonderful City Varieties venue. 

Dave being cool in his shades

Just as amazing as the CCV in that I'd never been here before, but a lot less excitement to report, Dave downed two very 'crisp' looking pints of Amstel (was almost jealous!) whilst I had an American Pale (v.nice) and a Leeds Pale (way too warm, bit like a human organ in a glass, not sure which one).  Pretty chilled out place to drink, nothing really going on, friendly staff, bit expensive and like so many Leeds Brewery establishments, you kind of feel it started out a bit more pubby than it currently is, and has made more concessions to dining as time has gone on, something which I feel has blighted York's Eagle & Child and Duke of York, both of which have been in recent GBG's.  So if this one does every get in a future edition, there we go, ticked off in advance! 

Now time to rest my liver, though hmmm, I can feel a tick or two coming on Thursday, so keep your eyes peeled for those ones ahead of the weekend.  I might go to the North East on Monday as no Saturday BRAPA, but as yet undecided.


Tuesday 21 May 2019

BRAPA - Mansfield Peers : Baldies, Dogs & Delayed Trains (Part 2)

Halfway through our Notts day and having completed lovely Mansfield, it was time to spread our wings to brave new lands. 

Those brave new lands' were Sutton-in-Ashfield, and Krzb, today's chief organiser, realised that as we were crossing Mansfield bus station, it made sense to hop on a bus here down the main road.

As we hopped off on a typically barren Notts main road, an angry Jig exclaimed "if we'd have been on that bus a minute longer, I'd have turned around and smacked those little shits!"  The other three of us were blissfully unaware, but Jig claimed the two chav lads behind us had been chanting 'baldie' at him for the duration.  "Perhaps they were just big fans of Garibaldi biscuits?" I hazarded, but Jig was unconvinced.  Oh well, time to go in pub number 4. 

On the face of it, Speed the Plough (1622 / 2591) had everything in place to be a pub of the day contender, and it came close.  But it was just a little bit TOO miserable.  'How is this possible?' I hear you ask, and don't get me wrong, I'm as curmudgeonly as the next man (well okay, not HIM) but I often thrive in that mean moody old fashioned atmosphere.  We walked in, and the barman had been sitting on the wrong side of the bar with his mates, had to heave himself up and with some effort, pulled four pints of Blue Monkey.  Was it that we were a group of 4 lads?  Would it have been different if I'd been on my own, in my default BRAPA setting?  But those quirky signs on the walls near the bar that you often see about grumpy barmen and idiot customers just rang a little too true in here.  It was a classic stand alone road side pub, as we sat under a TV as the build up to some football match began.   But as much as I loved the old atmosphere, I couldn't quite shake the feeling there was just that something 'missing'. 

Deadly serious.  Note the peppermint cordial, sign of a classic pub so they tell me.

A good stoic arm does the pouring

My classic 'pretend I'm focusing on the beer' shot of the pub locals

Our most complex walk of the day took us south towards Sutton in Ashfield station.  Through a little gap in a fence by some industrial units and over a railway line, came pub 5.  Unassuming, I was expecting more of the same as Speed the Plough, but if there is one thing M.Lawrenson has 'learned' me is never trust a pub with dodgy font scrawled onto a pub wall coming into sight before the pub sign.......

'Smell' is perhaps the most important unconscious way in which we judge pubs, and this was where the problem lay here at the Scruffy Dog (1623 / 2592) where an onsite brewery dominated the air, occasionally interspersed with the smell of wet dog, I counted 4 or 5 of the things scattered around the floorspace. It made for a heady, unpleasant mix.  The brewery must be a recent add-on, not present when Martin Taylor came here a year or two back, and history tells me they never 'add' anything to improve a pub, viewing area or not.  Let's face it, beer and the brewing process just doesn't excite unless you're really special.  Krzb did report though that the home brewed stout was decent.  It was busy too, the entire back room full of people watching this boring football match between a functional light blue shirted team and a pretty rubbish yellow and black striped team, strange as the football season is over so it must have been a pre-season friendly or something.   Nothing happened, and the mood got glummer as Krzb noticed our train was delayed, meaning we'd miss our connections at both Worksop AND Retford and get home a lot later.  Bugger!



After a pain-staking wait, we finally wound our way back to Worksop in the hope of a taxi to make up the time of our connection from Retford to York.  Sadly, nothing doing.  I rang three, one didn't answer, the other two couldn't get to us til 8:15, nearly an hour later.  Rubbish!  Whoever told me 'Worksop is a one horse shit town full of lazy mutants' back in the hard winter of '16 wasn't kidding. 

But where there's lazy mutants, you oft find good boozers.  Krzb, as chief organiser of today's travels, seemed most despondent by this transport malaise, but two fave BRAPA phrases to remember.  "It is what it is" and "Every cloud has a silver lining unless you are in Maidenhead".   After all, I was gonna miss Eurovision, and you didn't see me miserable!

And the silver lining to this cloud is the Mallard, a gorgeous little pub built onto the station.  If I ever do a top 100 BRAPA pubs (which I will when I reach 2000), this is a contender.  Great I could show my friends.  

Cannot imagine a scenario where all 3 urinals are used at same time!

The mood is improving as the Plum Porter goes down......

Exactly the same atmosphere as my New Year's Eve visit in 2016, the landlady wowed me and Jig with great chat and meticulously topping up of Titanic Plum Porter, pint of the day of course.  Locals chatted amiably, strangers were made welcome, including a camp Eurovision couple - the young lady wanting a drink .... "I know nothing about real ale!" she admitted, as every drink she seemed to suggest just wasn't available.  I thought about my work colleague Karl, and whether he'd get his regulatory Smirnoff Ice in here.  Anyway, upshot was, pub of the day, shame it was ineligible for voting on the basis it wasn't a BRAPA tick.  Sad face.  :(

Onwards and upwards, our Retford train was due and once back at the station, we had 40 minutes.  10 mins walk to the nearest BRAPA tick, which'd mean 20 mins in the pub only.  Oh well, my rules are there to be broken and was determined to get in number SIX, as the boys went in search of food. 

In a week which had already included a) the Brown Cow, Mansfield b) Scruffy Dog, Sutton in Ashfield and of course c) Oscars Bar,  Morley, it was something of a mark of respect that I saw the Idle Brewery Tap, Retford (1624 / 2593) as a serious contender for most boring Good Beer Guide entry of the week.  At the bar, a big jolly ginger lad was accommodating and welcoming, but the 5 barflies were rough as fuck and the old man in blue sneered at me behind my back.  Retford was totally dead to say it was, what, 8:30pm ish on a Saturday evening, and apart from a mean game of pool at the back, and a bloke who seemed to have brought in a mannequin / sex doll possibly based on Jig / late Freddie Mercury to keep him company, there wasn't much doing.  Walkway to the toilets probably the most characterful thing, revealing as it did the pub's original name.  Krzb, who'd earlier given me my return ticket (probably in case I got waylaid BRAPPING and missed train) came in to retrieve me, so my stay was 18 mins in total, but it was Jig n JW2 he'd been better off rounding up who'd spent a little too long in Tesco so we had to run for train.  But thankfully, we got it fine! 

Barman apron and beard and beer clashed a bit

Feel like I'm in a low budget remake of Grease or Happy Days

Bloke (right) already bored of his mannequin

Wonder if it was good when it was the Anchor Inn?

Back on the train home, time for a bit of grub (I of course, had my BRAPA snacks secreted in my bag) and back in York, me and Jig grabbed a swift half in York Tap, always reliable.  Jig chatted for too long, nearly missed his bus, so I had to drink his half too.  I was up to 8 pints now, and still somehow relatively sober!  You get odd days like this, but mostly I'm pissed by 3.  As the light started to fade, a bloke tried to make a 'house' out of beermats to excite his girlfriend of impressive facial bone structure who looked thoroughly unimpressed.  I was on his side though, and gave him all but one of the beermats on the tables near me.  The whole thing collapsed, and it was she who apologised to me!  Even in York, pub folk can't be normal......

And we'll have more tales about that coming up in a blog soon.

Great day in all though with the lads, Railway Inn, Mansfield won, Speed the Plough, Sutton in Ashfield Runner Up.