Tuesday 24 September 2019

BRAPA and .... There Ain't No Disputin', the Joys of Luton

Time for the monthly Hull City away day, and ever since the football fixtures came out in June, this was a 'definitely going to' match.  Partly because it is an old fashioned ground quite close to the town, we haven't played there for years, but mainly because I had three BRAPA ticks I'd strategically left alone so far this year.

An appealing fixture for all, we had quite a large group assembled, but in the early stages, it was just myself and the fit again Father BRAPA as an old couple barked instructions to get us through a multi-storey car park so we could find the best route to Wetherspoons, the traditional place to start any classic away day.

There I am, in the shade of Luton's only tree

Seemed quite an imposing modern building, White House (1550 / 2766) and by gum, did you see some life in here?  The Spooniest Spoonsy ever, every man in a stained white vest (blood?  gravy?  was like a Persil ad), a shopmobility scooter glimmered in the sunlight, and the area where the handpumps were was deserted, the lager and coffee 'station' about three deep.  A huge banner proudly displayed their inclusion in the 2019 GBG, but they can now stick the 2020 GBG one up, if the colours aren't too Oxford or Barnet or whoever their rivals are!  "Reminds me of Strictly!" said Dad as we climbed the spiral staircase to the more peaceful upstairs, where a REAL bookcase (yes micros and dining pubs, it CAN be done) displayed a nice selection of moth-eaten neglected tomes from the days of Ricky Hill and Steve Foster.  In fact, Dad and I may be the first people in this pub to hum the Strictly theme as we ascended the steps.  He was Tess Daly obvs, I'm very much Claudia, we have lots in common, using Head & Shoulders, talking a load of shite, getting abuse on Twitter despite being 'lovely' etc. etc.  Liquid Len of West Bromwich fame reckons this is Tommy Robinson's local, it might be but he (LL, not TR) is such a wag, you never know with him if it ain't just a 'White House' gag.   Despite choosing a seat carefully, a man runs up to the table next to us singing Amarillo at the top of his voice, incorporating '204' into the song (the table number) so when he gets back to the bar, he can order his brekkie and remember the number.  Ingenious or a lunatic?  We moved seats anyway.  Later I went to the loo.  Everyone was scary, but you don't visit 'Spoons to not enjoy some mild peril now do you?  Classic pubbing. 

Nice barman confused by £1.99 x2 minus two 50p vouchers


Get yer banner updated ya dinosaurs!

Dad and bookcase, before the Amarillo storm

Duh-duh-duh-duh, duh-duh-durrr, duh duh duh duh duh, woooo (etc etc)

Next up, the pub I'd most been looking forward to after favourable reviews from Twitter legends like M.Taylor and L.Foster.  It looked small and perfectly formed, the Kingsley Black or Danny Wilson of its day, perhaps, and a 'No Away Fans' sign actually reassured me.  I mean, I wouldn't DREAM of wearing your colours to Luton away, you'd have to be mad wouldn't you?  

You can tell it is gonna be good already

Great Northern (1551 / 2767) immediately lived up to expectations with beautiful green tiling, a lovely curved old bar, and plenty of ornate features for the pub purist to enjoy.  Plot twist though for the beer lover ..... just the one ale on, St Austell Tribute.  The 2014 BRAPA wouldn't have understood such a concept, but my beery forefathers have taught me 'less is more' when it comes to ale range.  And to get in the GBG with just one on seems a bigger achievement to me!  And as Dad noted, bar staff spent an age pulling through a Doom Bar that never materialised.  Ever seen Doom Bar as foreplay?  Nope, neither had I til today.  The Tribute was much cooler and crisper than I'd been expecting from recent reports, I had two and a half.  Our assembled Hull City group were soon all here, including legend Tom Irvin, BRAPA mainstay Ben Andrew, Tom's parents Chris and Bernie, another BRAPA legend of our past Chrissy A, Chrissy D, a nice lady who kept talking about Manchester for no reason, and her other half who attends home games and was wearing a Hull City shirt because, well, there's always one!  The barman told him "you are okay ...... FOR NOW...".  A few Luton fans in silly orange shirts even though they should wear white with a black trim and a Bedford logo blinked around the room morosely.  No one was wearing a David Oldfield wig though someone did cough in the Les Sealey style.   It was all very fun, I was encouraged to do my quiz early (Ben won, so he said) before the gang dispersed, though considering the one beer policy, which may have frustrated some of our group, it says a lot about the pub itself most seemed happy to stay.  The news that Tom had been getting free pints of blackcurrant cordial and tap water, even when he was only customer, is a mark of the class of the place.

Ben's Tenacious D joke fell flat, but the 'Tribute' didn't

Happiest a home fan got all day

Look at its little face!

Quiz time (I'm probably deducting Tom 100 points as usual) - thanks to Ben for photo

But being a pub ticker, I couldn't relax for too long and an 11 minute walk took the majority of us to my third and final Luton tick, a 1pm opener so there'd been no need to rush.  I suspect they might open early on match days but there was no evidence of that online.  

Some of the gang at the Black Horse
So yes, the Black Horse (1552 / 2768) and I know with the big group, the warm sun and a bit of ale already inside me it was hard to tell, but this was a peculiar mish-mash of a pub.  I didn't dislike it, but then again, it didn't really convince, despite some fine ale.  Oakham Bishop's Farewell and Burton Bridge Bitter, both a big 'YES' from me in their own ways.  Staff were pretty dreadful, not all, some alert and quite smiley,  mainly this one barmaid who served Dad whilst texting without even looking at him - she may've been relieved of her duties whilst we were there ..... seems unlikely but I have a vague memory.  A trip to the loos told of the seedier side of the pub, the brightly coloured walls throughout already made you think you were gonna catch a weird tropical penis disease from a fruit fly, but the skeleton with 'cocaine' on his head, weird condom artwork, and 'no more than one person in a cubicle at a time' just made me feel the whole place was a bit of a sleaze bucket.  Maybe it was supposed to be funny and quirky, but just left me wanting a shower (on my own).    Worse was to come as me and Chris I witnessed the worst VAR decision to date, as 'poor' Spurs got shafted at Leicester, and I know I have a few Arsenal readers so am being sarky.  Still, some decent beers, a few Luton fans meant decent pre-match atmosphere, left for the ground in pretty good shape!

Errrm, what?

Just no


Luton fans and their silly orange shirts #BringBack1989

Nice bust

Who nicked 2015?
Then something strange happened because Hull City played quite okay in the second half and won 3-0, when did we last witness such away day joy?  Ben captured it below, and as he said, I'm somewhere behind Hull City's Rev Richard Coles......

After the game, the gang headed back to London and wisely overruled my ambitious Hoopy and Grapey plan in favour of the new Euston tick, a good call, and a bit of a walk had me feeling better than the dehydrated mess I'd felt stood up on the train ........

Let's go Exmouth
Smelt ridiculously of food in Exmouth Arms, Euston (1553 / 2769) so we were all happy to sit outside, wasn't a bad location in truth despite HS2 boardings next door, and let us take time to remember how amazing that pint of Titanic Plum Porter tasted.  Dad boasted he'd not drunk too much during the day so he could especially enjoy this, but I had and I still did, so boo sucks! GBG mentions 'Burger Craft' and 'Boutique Hostel' whatever that means but it sounds proper 2019 London Pub Bingo Card, and yeh, they may've gone slightly for the American diner style vibe, but a closer inspection shows you plenty of nice old features dotted about the outside here - I've been to many, many worse pubs in the Euston area, pretty much all of them to be honest.  Oh, and I know what you are gonna say, 'Bree Louise was the best pub that ever existed on god's earth waaah waah waaah', but I never really rated that either so call me a heathen if you like,  But just remember I know more about pubs than you.  That isn't me being arrogant, simply a #BrapaFact.  Oh, AND it has a 'beer wall'.  Do you have a beer wall?  Well do you?  Thought not.   Nice way to end a cracking away day.

Amazing pint and Ben safe now to put his colours on!

Bernie, Tom and Christine at the bar

Look, it is quite nice really!

Nice old pubby bits
Though it wasn't QUITE at an end as I got myself and Dad halves in the Parcel Yard whilst he bought food, then we had an amusing train journey back and then I popped in to York Tap for a half cos I though Chris and Bernie who'd been on same train might be in there, but they didn't arrive, so must've got a bus home to their weird village.  I said farewell to Dad, then a drunk lady pinned me to a wall but it wasn't too scary, and I was back home for a bag of Snack a Jacks and an episode of vintage Sooty.  Job done. 


Monday 23 September 2019

BRAPA is ..... Slock, Slock, Slocken on Kevin's Door

My new L**ds debut pub tick should perhaps have been my easiest one to get done of the new 2020 GBG entries.  After all, I do work in the City of Random Shouting, and it felt like I could nip down at any time and get it ticked off.

But I hadn't accounted for opening times not matching those showing in the GBG .....

So after one foiled lunchtime attempt, Friday seemed my only real option if I wanted to do that first ever 'during work' tick.  Although I had to take a detour due to Climate Change Protesters (sorry Greta Thunderbug, but BRAPA stops for no melting polar bears), I made it down in ten minutes. 

I was greeted warmly by Kevin (probably not his real name but it works with the blog title, no one who ever achieved anything is called Kevin are they?) at Slocken (1548 / 2764) and as the only other customers wisely got up to leave, he chatted to me on his pride at them being voted at least second best pub in the city, beating same owned but local rivals Wapentake, and asked me to reel off the L**ds 2020 GBG entries which I'm ashamed to say I really struggled on!  He told me his friend worked as Humphrey Smith's P.A. or something (he declined the chance to become his 'driver'), and thought GBG pubs needed FOUR cask lines on to be considered for GBG inclusion, which I told him definitely was an old wives tale.  Eventually, he went to make some phone calls, exactly the kind of thing you'd expect from a Kevin, so I basked in the one sunny seat, with my pint of ultra-murk going down well, reggae and northern soul creating what pub experts like me call a 'bouncy bouncy' atmosphere, even as the sole (or is it soul?) customer.  Shame I had to go back to work really, I was by now more relaxed than Bob Marley's sphincter after a sesh on the poppers.

Murk in the shade

Murk in the sun

Rubbish band, decent bench

The pub at large

Perhaps inevitably, karma decreed that I must be punished for my lunchtime frivolities.  And Banking mayhem blighted my afternoon, I eventually left 1 hr 40 mins later than I should've done due to some dormant account/Calypso issue you don't need to know about.

At one stage that afternoon, I'd vowed that I'd no longer do my after work BRAPA tick, but I didn't want to let the Bank beat me, so I set off in hot pursuit of my next alphabetical West Yorkshire tick. 

A 50 minute bus journey from L**ds allowed me at least to shut my eyes and get a bit of energy back, as I arrived in Birstall for the first and only time since a drunken 2014 tick at the Horse & Jockey.

The new entry was a bit off the town centre, down a peaceful country lane, a lake on one side, the pub was around the bend (like most Birstall folk from the behaviour I witnessed in the market square).

A smattering of Autumn leaves noticeable for the first time this year in the fading light.

Black Bull (1549 / 2765) was a spacious dimly lit atmospheric pub of many rooms, a long building with a tuned-in barmaid serving a good (once it settled) Saltaire Blonde, which I think is probably the beer I've most ordered on BRAPA after work Tue/Fri West Yorkshire excursions.  It is almost everywhere.  And is generally reliable.  Peering around each darkened corner made me realise that whilst each room looked intriguing, most were hard to access.  A huge twog sprawled across the doorway in the room to the right, the main bar was made up of old men laid near on horizontal with clown feet sticking out, and the end snug contained a twild pair, eating their dinner in a separate room to their parents.  They looked like a young version of the Proclaimers, which unnerved me, so I perched in the middle room with the parents, two blokes playing pool and fake bookcase wallpaper, all by candlelight.  Watching pool in a pub stresses me out.  I don't mean to stare, I can't help it.  If the players are better than me, it upsets me.  If they are useless, it sets my teeth on edge.  I just need them all to be very average.  And if the older dude here could get his 'cushion game' going, he could've been a contender, yet he fell quite short of the required level of BRAPA pool mediocrity.   Drama from the snug.  "Mum, Dad, we've spilt the water!" screams a young Proclaimer running through.  Mum didn't have to walk 500 miles to get a cloth.  They later returned for a food summary, the garlic bread had impressed, the sauce on the chicken less so.  Soon, they swing their scooters dangerously around the pool table, put their hoodies up, and race off.  "Careful of the main road" squeaks Mum, but I later saw them loitering close to the lake edge, so I guess they were technically heeding the warning. 

With an early start to Luton tomorrow, it was a case of get home as quickly as possible, which i did (much quicker bus, no train problems) and I was back in Yoik for a nice restful evening.


Sunday 22 September 2019

BRAPA is ...... Twice Brewed, Thrice Pickled (Northumbrian Adventures)

The huge sunglasses of the taxi driver gave nothing away ..... did she think I was crazy as I explained exactly what pitfalls BRAPA entailed (for example, paying huge taxi fares in the absence of public transport when you are against the clock?)

But one thing was for sure, just because my next pub was listed under Haltwhistle, it doesn't mean it was an easy one to get to.  No, a thirty minute uphill climb north towards Hadrian's Wall.  The taxi option was the right one!

The terrain and scenery changed once more to a savage wilderness, probably because the Scots weren't far away.  "Are you telling me that is the Wall we can see, I didn't know we were THAT close?!" I ask as I pay the fare.  "You can go up there and touch it if you want!" she replies.  Is she charging extra for that?  Are we still talking taxi fares?

Anyway, I've fallen for the common misconception that Hadrian's Wall separates England from Scotland.  It doesn't, you've got another big chunk of Northumberland to get through.  How has it taken me 40 years on this planet to learn this fact?   Time to get in the pub .......

'Delightfully surprising' is how us Yorkshire Bankers would describe Milecastle Inn (1545 / 2761), just north of Haltwhistle on the Military Road which runs parallel to Hadrian's Wall.  You might expect some dining tourist trap in such a location, but for the most part, this is a tight-knit cosy pub of a pub!  At the bar, a Southerner is demanding the lunch menu be made available on a Sunday evening with an aura of self-righteousness only someone who lives south of Loughborough can muster.  Some Dutch walkers are blinking in a startled fashion at the olde worlde surroundings, whilst wiping dribble off a baby's chin.  And a local is bonding 'bikes, cars and racetracks' with a Colonel Mustard lookalike from New South Wales with the voice of Jason Donovan. "I've just had my tiger lowered", he says erotically.  He also keeps using the word 'romantical'.  THREE times he says it.  Oi Mustard, it ain't a word! With my BRAPA brain about to explode, I'm glad a wall (not Hadrian's) acts as a partition through the pub, so I can sit in my own private area by the bogs, still fully able to hear, if not see, all.  My Big Lamp ale which I first ever had in Crown Posada in 2002 is going down well, and someone asks a lady to explain where she's from.  "I've been from Middlesbrough to Turkey and back again .... it is complicated" she explains.  Inspired by all, a brainwave hits me.  Another pub which was only a 'maybe' for today is on this same road a bit further down - woah, can I walk it?!  Top pub this, ignore the cushions, full of character.

I'd underestimated the distance of the walk, and lack of pavement on the road, luckily traffic was understandable, respectful, I did more waving than the her Majesty as the motorists happily swerved into the centre of the road for me.  At times, the pub didn't seem to be getting any closer but I finally saw the sign I'd been hoping for ......

But if you approach from the East, the place is called Once Brewed (fun fact), as is the next pub ......

It all sounds superbly beery anyway, Twice Brewed, Once Brewed (1546 / 2762) though it was immediately apparent that the pub itself was much more what I'd been expecting at the Milecastle, very much a dining led tourist family spot.  A helpful barmaid pulls me a candidate for pint of the day in Luna, which seems to be made in their own brewery out the back.  But she asks twice if I'm really seriously honestly just having this pint, and I'm not going to spring some extravagant food order out of my back pocket at the last minute!  A quick scan of the premises and the tinny acoustics of dining families galore, I decide the deserted patio area round the back is the place for me, though a few scandalised looks as I open the door to go outside, but unlike these jokers, I'm boiling hot from a long, pacey walk.  With time ticking on, I ring for a taxi as another hour walk down to Bardon Mill  doesn't seem a good idea.  Eventually, I'm invaded by some German tourists, wrestling with rucksacks, draping beach towels everywhere, and generally making a scene which is needless.  I'd been alone so long, it feels like they've walked into MY garden.  I'm chilly now so go back in, and have the dregs of my pint on a low leather settee, smiling at some scared guy, before the taxi arrives.

Luna needs to settle

I don't get it

Funny if you've never seen a sign like this before

There's a Tap Room?  Oh, don't tell me I have to go back!
I ask taxi woman if she minds actually taking me through to Hexham as I work out I'd have a 50 minute wait at Bardon Mill or Haltwhistle, and it'd be nice to squeeze an extra pub in.   OF course she doesn't mind, more money for her innit?!

You wouldn't think between being dropped outside the pub, and walking through the front door, there'd be time for a pubby exchange, but a posh tourist couple ask me "do you know where we can find a PROPER pub ..... not that one!"  says the man, thumbing dismissively at my intended venue!  "Well, good luck if you are going in there, too many people, not our kind of place - we walked straight back out" he says, and they walk off, me apologising for not being clued up on Hexham.

Our heroes depart ......

Heart of Northumberland, Hexham (1547 / 2763) then, with that 'endorsement' still ringing in my ears, could it really be that bad?  Funny thing is, a couple like that are probably EXACTLY the type of people this pub is hoping to attract, so it is reassuring to me that even well-spoken, well-dressed tourists sometimes just want to cut the bullshit, and find a good old honest boozer.  True as well, it was about three-deep at the bar though most people were preening, puffed up Prosecco patrons with no real need to be stood there, so craning my neck over the top, I was glad the staff were alert and getting served wasn't the nightmare I'd envisaged. And true also, the 'pub' was little more than a restaurant, there seemed little or zero concession to the drinker, and being quite busy, I had to perch on a stool 'twixt bar area and main restaurant.  'Focus on the Bass mirror!' was about all I could tell myself, the narrow nature of this presumably once old pub just adding to the overwhelming suffocation I endured.  The ale was good from memory, and whilst I'm normally forced to admit "well, it is a good BEER guide, not a PUB guide" I think there has to be a line drawn, and for me at least, the inclusion of this place crosses it.

Happily, we'd end on an unexpected high.  I was getting increasingly 'worse for wear', but not to the Newark extent where I forgot how to use the Hexham station loos!  And in doing so, I spied this place ....

"We've only been open 6 weeks" declares the friendly couple at the Platform Bar, Hexham, surely a great preemptive candidate for shoehorning the 'Heart' out of the GBG in the coming year or two.    As the only customer, I explain BRAPA, preemptives, and my day so far and what a lovely couple they are, talking me into having a full pint of the Matfen (which tastes a bit like a strong, malty homebrew) rather than a half!  Plus, I have that rare 'superior' feeling of perhaps having not only beaten Taylor and MacKay here, but other mystery pub tickers, perhaps even that Tarstairs gang on their motorbikes, though who knows!  I calculate I can afford to miss 'one' train, but not two, so they pour my beer into a plastic cup, telling me 'it probably isn't a dry train'.  

Am sure the train isn't dry, the people certainly aren't.  Someone throws a bit of cling film at me by accident, so he says, and then a man bursts into 'Wild Rover' and gets the whole carriage, including me, singing a long.  He even knew all the verses, and it went on so long, I think it might've made up a few of his own!  

Oh dear!

So that was all very good, annoyingly once in Newcastle my train to York was cancelled so I wandered around Toon for a bit, finally settling on a quick half in Newcastle Tap for my one previous visit had been standing up in extreme busyness.  A much more mellow feel today, really nice staff, most customers quite old and hadn't been expecting that!

Back home for 11am, job done, nice to offically get the 2020 GBG ticking on the road!  More from me tomorrow night as get back to a bit of West Yorkshire.