Thursday 28 November 2019

BRAPA and ..... The Green Devil Makes Work for Idle Tickers

BRAPA was a mere baby Brapling when I was last in Greengates, on a hot summer's May afternoon in 2014 surrounded by scary old blokes drinking Tetley's, crossing my legs in case I walked the wrong way to the Gents.  The pub was called the Albion (all Albion pubs are scary), though the pub-weary modern day BRAPA would be less intimidated. 

I walked past the back of it tonight in fact, and in the cold November night, it looked more foreboding than ever.  Weird place is Greengates, mention it even in West Yorkshire circles and people squint at you like they are trying to visualise a luminous whippet, best thing to do is add " .... it is somewhere near Idle!" and scurry off before they ask a follow up question. 

Tonight, I was micropub bound, for the first of four debutants I'd be visiting .......

I tried to retake the blurred monstrosity you see above, but there was always an elf-like middle aged woman squatting on her haunches, smoking, smiling up peculiarly at me, so I gave up!  Abysmal photography (even compared to normal) would be a theme of this weekend.  Cracker Barrel, Greengates (1622 / 2839) , in my mind, had to have the prerequisite of complimentary cheese and biscuits on the bar or it was doomed to failure.  It didn't.  But Cracker Barrel cheddar was never good, was it?   Furthermore, everyone was smiling at me, and the lovely gaffer was positively beaming when I chose £2.50 Tetley's Cask ahead of unusual more expensive guests.  Have I ever sampled a better Tetley's?  Probably not, simply beautiful.  On a more sour note, two bar blockers were ignorant chumps but the third man described as 'our pub mascot' by the gaffer who had to push him out of the way to bring the beer to my hand, did a little dance.  He wore a 'Walking Dead' tee shirt and if he was a zombie, he was a very human one.   To remind us it was close to Remembrance Sunday, one old guy wore all his war medals and a suit - I love that generation of old northern #PubMen who get dressed up to come to the pub.  Less pleasing was the 'fake stone wall' wallpaper, perhaps even less appealing than the fake bookcase wallpaper I so despise.   But with a warm, jovial hubbub, smiling faces and great ale, I'd have to say the Cracker Barrel was a cracker - cheese n biscuits or not!

First Friday night pub since Denby Dale, this could've got very confusing (pub copy, not mine!)

As I remembered from that day back in May '14, it isn't a long walk to Idle, which is good, because I had a debutant micro there as well. 

My phone fell asleep for no reason, so I had to hover outside the pub whilst it 'woke up' again.  In the intervening couple of minutes, a group of three lades walked into the pub just ahead of me, which would prove vaguely significant ........

My phone is back up, and we're ready to go in!
You don't need to tell me about pub etiquette and how to conduct myself, I know the drill.  So as the three men pondered over their choice, I stood in the background waiting patiently.  The mistake I made, having made eye contact, was smiling at the barmaid.  "OKAY, I'LL BE WITH YOU IN A MINUTE!" she bellows over the loud music, and the three blokes, another group, the rest of the staff and an upright Myra Hindley type all turn to glare at this impatient interloper, who as far as they were concerned, was trying to 'push in'.  And that lit the blue touch paper for an unlucky time here at the Idle Draper (1623 / 2840)  Annoyed that I was now public enemy number one, I remembered how Saltaire's rebranding of Triple Chocaholic as 'Triple Choc' annoys me in a Mac 'n Cheese kinda way, so I made sure I enunciated 'A-HOLIC'.  It made me sound weird!  And with a darker, louder, chillier, more soulless atmosphere than in the Cracker Barrel, this really wasn't proving a pleasant time.  A new group of lairy gobshites ("is 'Ey Up' a Yorkshire phrase?" asked one), blocked the way to the loo.  When I did finally decide to go, one of their ranks was just returning. "Give it 5 minutes!" he shouts, but too late, I was in the pub's only loo and he'd managed to make it smell like Boothferry Park under the West Stand in 1995 which was quite an achievement.      I've not even mentioned the barmaid who squealed like a pig because one of the three blokes at the beginning was a long lost friend.  Solace came from an unlike source, as a drunk man staggers over and asks to shake me hand.  "Uh oh, here we go" I'm thinking, but 'Paul' (as we'll call him to protect his identity, even though it was his name)  was a really nice chap with plenty of local pub knowledge, and there was this unsaid 'Cracker Barrel is better than here but we'd better not say it out loud' understanding between us.  He won't remember talking to me, but he said if he sees someone new in a pub sat alone, he always makes the effort to introduce himself.  So thanks Paul for adding some late joy to a tough pub experience! 

Can't resist a good Idle pun

Closest we got to warmth in here

I tracked down a bus stop, though I think I'd wandered into a place called Apperley Bridge now, and after wisely deciding against a wee in a graveyard, I took a bus for 10 minutes for Shipley, hopping off in the right place more through luck than judgement. 

Shipley for me, is a much ticked place, and I think busy roads with no pedestrian lights and a dodgy Wetherspoons which didn't even offer me a glass for my drink.  The boozers are less twee than in neighbouring Saltaire, but that is not to say I exactly had high hopes for this next one ......

Hullabaloo (1624 / 2841) did impress me quite a lot though, and I guess anything that has 'Hull' in the name has to be good, right?  Though I was a bit disappointed by the lack of life size cardboard cut out Grant McCann downing a pint of Guinness.  It was quirky though, we were well gone Hallowe'en but strange skeleton decor interspersed with leafy patterns and Crystal Maze final round vibe made a trip to the upstairs loos a strangely trippy experience.  If was to rate my own BRAPA efforts in 2019, my attempts at 'bar banter' will have to go down as a woeful 1/10 with the '1' for effort.  So I was glad to get it right here, when I saw an ale called 'Don't Mess With Yorkshire Ale' and declared 'you can't NOT have a beer with a name as good as that!'  (It wouldn't have worked in Lancashire, I admit).  Well, the silver haired old gent to my left (kind of the Eddie of Shipley) and the young guy to my right (a sort of former Emmerdale type fallen on hard times) both laughed.  Then the vivacious sparky barmaid with a new shorter haircut (according to one gossipy lady later on)  asked if I'd tried Northern Monk's Rhubarb and Custard beer and before I knew it, she was telling me that as good as BRAPA is, her guide to the areas 20 shittest pubs was better.  She's probably right.  She told one horror story about getting a glass of wine in a dirty pint glass or something, but wouldn't tell anyone the pub in question despite the local's thumbscrew efforts.  It unravelled a bit when Shipley Eddie said his wife had his tea on the table, and he left, he seemed to take the atmosphere of goodwill with him!  But it was great while it lasted.

Like Greengates to Idle, Shipley to Saltaire is nothing of a walk and although the clock was ticking on well into the night, it'd be wrong not to do a close-to-record-breaking 4th Friday night tick.  But hang about, what was all this?

I think was the 'surprise factor' that most endeared me to Salt Cellar, Saltaire (1625 / 2842) for as I mentioned earlier, recent Saltaire new entries have all been 'of a type' and not particularly a type I like, so to be confronted with a no-frills balls-to-the-wall boozer like this was quite unexpected.  Dangerous looking men with shaved eyebrows served me from a vast range of beers (the quality was decent, but not as good as some tonight) and ladies with foundation and day-glo lipgloss pouted into drip trays and flickered fake eyelashes so long, they nearly acted as venus fly traps for barflies.  The pub was busy, but always half empty, as most were chain smokers so spent half their time outside.  And that is where Haley Harrison comes in.  All the best headline acts keep us waiting endlessly before the set begins,  Metallica at Download, Greenday at Donnington, Ivor Biggun at Maidenhead Powerdrome, and now, Haley Harrison, with her soul, motown, pop, r&b, and fantastic vocals.  She fiddled the odd mic stand, swigged the odd drink, but was I going to witness any of this before I finished my pint?  I could only admire the stained glass uppers for so long, and I had a train to catch.  A middle aged couple shuffled into view, looking as anxious as anyone could, I tried to give them a reassuring smile, and they sat down a bit too close to me.  But it was no good, I had to run for the train, via the loo.  I was just washing my hands when I finally heard Haley start.  'Dreams' by Gabrielle, of course.  I stayed til the end of the song, behind a pillar.  "I'm here all night!"  she announces.  But sadly, I wasn't. 

So, a highly successful ticking night.  Only one more West Yorkshire pub to do in the first half of the alphabet, that'll be a week on Friday and features not one, but two #pubman legendz. 

Oh, and if you were wondering where the Green Devil came into it, this was a term for my green highlighter, not the Oakham beer!


Sunday 24 November 2019

BRAPA and ..... Eddie's Teddington (Pt 2/2)

Halfway through our tour of South West/West London back on 2nd Nov and Dad's old (by which I mean 'young' of course) chum, Eddie, was ready to meet us for the final three pubs of the day.

I'd enjoyed Kingston so far, which was surprising to me, the 'Spoons was decent, Willoughby Arms great and the Albion had exceeded expectations.  It certainly hadn't been the rocky horror show I'd been expecting!

Could we make it four out of four in Kingston's oldest pub? 

Oi pal, BRAPA photobombing is not allowed!

I can't say I was exactly captivated by Druid's Head, Kingston (1619 / 2836) despite the historic Grade II listed status, nice flooring and a few decent features as you walk the length of the bar towards gents and surprise garden.  The ale I wanted spluttered to an immediate halt so something with a pumpkin on it from Twickenham on was a hasty replacement, and a decent drop it was.  Eddie was laying on some low flung settees to the front left like the Queen of Sheba (the cat version), and it was like greeting an old friend even though I'd only met him once before, briefly, on a dark South Kensington night three years ago.  Yes, the pub was generally populated with well heeled dining types, and the scene felt typically West London.  It reminded me, a bit, of some of York's more historic outlets - I'm thinking the likes of Golden Fleece, Black Swan and Ye Olde Starre Inne.  It seems the more history and ghosts you have, the less effort is put into creating a good experience for the humble customer, which I guess are mostly tourists, so not quite so discerning as the 'pub ticker', who after all, is born with 18.33% more 'good' genes than the rest of the population.  And that is a BRAPA fact. 

Eddie used his local knowledge to declare that it made much more sense to get a bus to Teddington than the train, and with Dad now the proud holder of a coffin dodgery free pass, no one was likely to complain .......

Me n Eddie ready for pub five
As regular readers will know, the fifth pub of the day is traditionally the one with most memory gaps, so on the rare occasions it is also the BEST pub of the day, it throws my brain in all sorts of turmoil!  And that was certainly true here at the joyous Masons Arms, Teddington (1620 / 2837), a low-key early contender for pub of the month.  A bustling atmosphere full of happy, jokey pub people, only the Willoughby so far had a hubbub approaching this.  A curtain made out of beer towels on the way to the gents, the Cresta polar bear, old skool beer trays, and a man prodding me to tell me he liked my jacket and was I a biker?  Shades of Isle of Man here, and you can't pay a much bigger pub compliment than that.  Drunk men sang 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' like the World Cup Final had never actually happened, though I couldn't relax for long when well-meaning Eddie committed the ultimate BRAPA act of treachery by bringing a bag of peanuts to the table.  So I had to explain my allergy, and no double dipping with the Golden Wonder!  Dad reacted to this shock development by returning to the bar and buying three more bags of Golden Wonder.  If the nuts weren't gonna kill me, the salt content probably would.  No wonder (excuse the pun) that when the lovely Mrs Eddie arrived for a green highlighting cameo, she looked confused by the huge snack content on the table.  Here's a '5th pub of the day' which really sticks in the mind .... the mark of a true great.  

Golden Wonder insanity

Bar blockers -  but nothing could annoy me here

'CRESTA!  What the f**k were we drinking? '
We then headed for the final pub of the day in the Strawberry Hill area of (T)Wickenham and I'll be blowed if I can remember whether we hopped aboard a bus or walked, though I suspect we did both!

Photo taken halfway through our session in here as my battery died on arrival

Sussex Arms, Twickenham (1621 / 2838) was another strong pub on which to end on, lacked something of the olde worlde boozery charm of the Masons, but it still felt traditional and cosy with the fire roaring.  Mrs Eddie had departed, and with a taste for pub snacks after the peanuts fiasco, Eddie went upmarket with some Calamari, which he let me have some of.  It was the best BRAPA 6th pub of the day food nicking since a Mr & Mrs Taylor let me nick half their burgers in the then shady preemptive, now brilliantly relevant Alexandra in Cambridge.  I didn't even do a Twitter check-in here which suggests I'd lost all discipline by now, but my subconscious is telling me to tell you that you should pay a visit here if you haven't already.  

The End of the Bar at the End of the Day

Cheer up mush, this is your chance to be part of pub history

My brain says I drank stout here, but the photo suggests otherwise!

So there we go, 'twas farewell to Eddie from us both at the end of a successful day, if you are South African or a lover of good new pubs in South West London.

Join me tomorrow night for a rare West Yorkshire quadruple.


Thursday 21 November 2019

BRAPA - England Saffer In Kingston Town (The Place I Long To Be) Pt 1/2

Hull City were at Fulham, but Father BRAPA and I had no intention of attending.  After all, I didn't want to end my lucky unbeaten run this season, and it wasn't like we'd go to Fulham and stuff 'em, was it?

Instead, it was a chance to get a full SIX pub Saturday in the name of BRAPA, and meet Dad's friend Eddie, who lives 'twixt Strawberry Hill and Teddington.  He's featured once before in BRAPA history, at the Anglesea Arms in South Kensington, which was quite a great pub.  Could he match this form today?

Because I'm a useless South London pub ticker, options were endless and I noted that Kingston had FOUR entries and was handy for both Teddington and Strawbz Hill.   The BRAPA experience of SW pubs so far, I have to admit, is 'expect them to be poncy dining rubbish but end up being generally positive experiences'.

But it was typical dumb BRAPA luck that we were almost Twickenham bound early on the morning of the Rugby Union World Cup Final between England and South Africa.  This COULD make things interesting.  Or very very bad.  In our best interests to pray for an S.A. win?  Dad thought so!   Not only is this game played by southern poshos and Geordies gone wrong, but the ball is an awful shape and I have terrible memories of Mr Lunn's P.E. lessons at school.  Gimme 'League' any day, or better still, gimme football, football, football, grrrraaah, grraaaah, grraaahhh!

After some smooth trains of minimal fuss resmebling a colonic irrigation (where IS the Northern Powerhouse?), we started as all good London pub days start in Wetherspoons:

Upstaged by background Shopmobility Scooter - how utterly 'Spoons

The first BRAPA tick of November then was the King's Tun, Kingston (1616 / 2833) but we got off to a spluttering start as our hardworking young hostess had to really go some to try and eek out two pints of award winning Surrey Hills, £1.89 a pint, can't go wrong.  Our almost round of applause and words of praise possibly sounded patronising but hey ho.

With a group of largely muted gammon faced blokes watching the 'rugger' to the left, it was evident things weren't going England's way.  How sad. We sat by a table and what a shame the fire wasn't in, but then again, have you ever seen a (deliberately lit, yet contained) fire in a 'Spoons house?  No, it just came across like a random pile of logs not doing anything.

A quick glance around the room showed some typical 'Spoons Saturday morning activity.  The shopmobility scooter had been driven off with the help of a 7 foot tall Boris Becker in leather, another man put some milk and eggs on the carpet for a rest, and a mystery rotund ginger bearded chap posing as a window cleaner in a hoodie scared us briefly.

The milk takes a breather

A man confirmed to his wife from behind an ineffective whispered hand that England were indeed losing, a fact I could verify on the way back from the loo where I'd discovered the mains which control every Wetherspoons in the country .....

Don't let Tim know I've seen this
In fact, I forgot to look at the rugby, too busy admiring the lovely carpet, in what I'm sure Dad would agree was one of the more slightly above average London' Spoons we've done in BRAPA history .....

Made sense to get the 'furthest Kingston outlier' done next, though a big part of the reason was the 10:30am opening time meaning we really could get off to a great start.   Hallowe'en was over, and the pumpkins were looking somewhat hungover ......

The 'me in Newark' of Pumpkins (jobsworth's 1 and 2 look shocked from the bin)

More drama before we reached the pub as Dad nearly stepped on a dog so small, he declared it was "a bit of Kleenex on four legs".  I hope the owner heard, for Dad was correct.  Boutique twogs.  UGH!

The pub was finally upon us, you should really reap what you sow in this BRAPA game so perhaps no surprise that in my humble opinion, Willoughby Arms (1617 / 2834) was the best of a surprisingly decent Kingston quartet.  

A delicious back street local, full of atmosphere at the bar and in the side room (there was also a games room by the bogs dividing it into three).  And we encountered the best of both worlds, England had just lost so the atmosphere was gallows humour / sombre / fake apathy (a winning combo!) and free bar snacks laid on remained uneaten (possibly cos everyone had lost their appetite) so I quickly snaffled us the last few.  Scanning the ales, served by another barmaid of distinction, the bar blockers 'helpfully' told us they had a beer festival on and with a vague wave of the hand over to the right "plenty more ales to choose from in there!"  

These sausage rolls have our names on them (not literally) 
But I told them there were three handpumps on, which was more than enough choice for us.  Like they couldn't compute my words, they tried again, and again, I told them thanks but we are fine with the choice on the bar.  They raised eyebrows like I was mad.  Painful.  What is people's obsession with having 50 beers to choose from? 

We sat in the side room, all gorgeous decor and TV postmortems as England saffer (geddit?) and the folk around us can't decide whether to crawl back to bed or power on through with an all day drinking session.  Most departed, though at least one farted.  The loos, I think, had mini-plasmas to watch the sport on.

But we knew Eddie, currently doing important things men do in South West London when they aren't in pubs or watching rugby, could ring us at any moment to say he was ready to meet so it was vital we got back to the more central Kingston establishments.

The barmaid who'd served us finished her shift as we left so we accidentally had to follow her down the road back to the centre!   We saw a school of significance .......

Dad is always saying "I've brought a bit of Tiffin" when he brings a snack to football / pub trip and I say "no, Tiffin is a choc bar" but in his old worlde mind, Tiffin is slang for any snack! 

Well, that was interesting!  Next pub was made to sound a bit of a lame duck from the Google descriptions and when faced with the exterior, I wasn't holding up much hope, but it is nice to be wrong sometimes .......

IT just screamed 'LONDON PUB' at the Albion, Kingston (1618 / 2835) with its bare boards, board games, twee ginny menus, local ales, twilds and twogs on leads and smart young staff.  A group of England fans were literally clinging to the bar with a real sense of 'we can't accept it's all over and time to go home' desperation on their doubting faces.  You've lost lads, admit it!  One man even had a Japanese head band on and he looked saddest of all.

And it probably took us about ten minutes, but sat away from the bar area, helped immensely by quality pint of the day 'Big Smoke Solaris', really good staff (southern stuff?), and a warm quiet hubbub, we turned to each other and said "this is actually a really good pub innit?" 

Good ale you are my daaaaarlin'  

Men in the mirror (but is Eddie okay, is he okay Eddie?) (rare BRAPA MJ references)
The peace was eventually shattered as Dad's mobile (turned up to full ringtone, full vibrate) on account of deafness paranoia, or just actual deafness, suddenly leapt across the room, glowing a weird red colour.  Yes, Eddie was ready to meet us.   I waited for Dad to say "Ooooh, I could bring yer mother 'ere for Christmas" but it never quite happened ......

Time for our fourth and final pub.  For tales of that, and two more, join me in part two on Sunday if I have the energy.