Monday 13 July 2020


Halfway through this 'Return to BRAPA' and after three pints, I was already feeling the pace, very much like a footballer who has missed pre-season with injury or had just been on the booze, chips and pies all summer.  But in reverse obviously.

As I dragged my weary corpse through the back streets of East Ham (think Higher Broughton near Manchester with slightly less peril) in search of my fourth pub, I wondered if the maximum six quota was pushing myself a bit too hard.  We'll see.  

A third Wetherspoons of the day, flippin' eck, never mind all this Neverspoons stuff, let's get #Everspoons trending!  Here it was, looking all Spoonsie in the sunshine ......

It was a lively intro at Miller's Well, East Ham (1756 / 2973) as I had to queue for the first time in this shall we say, more 'intimate' Spoons layout.  I missed the barmaid calling me, so a woman behind had to breathe in my ear "exsqueeeze me, it's your turn hun" in a very breathy way which made me glad she looked far too respectable and middle class to be carrying coronavirus - I mean, I assume that's how you tell?  I perched on a posing table and was relieved when a hooded, pimpled teen was given a friendly telling off for not santising, blocking the entrance, and then probably apologising too much.  Pubbing at the moment in time is all about not being the customer that everyone stares at.  Talking of staring, Colin the Cauliflower was FINALLY getting some attention when I noticed some of staff peering from beyond the serving hatch and whispering about him, or more likely "Why has that bloke brought a cuddly cauliflower into the pub, the weirdo?" but I tried to block out such thoughts and gave him a reassuring pat.  I read about 'Anne Boleyn's Castle' which I was glad to find wasn't cockney rhyming slang, but the serving hatch drama hadn't finished yet as a bloke was at the "Glass Collection Point" sign, jemmying it with a few tools he'd pulled out of his pocket.  Well, first I thought he was the 'Spoons odd job man', but when the staff reappeared, he quickly downed tools and scurried away to his corner.  Unbelievable you'd try and nick such a thing, or maybe there's a market for them!   I glanced over my shoulder, a bus queue for Stratford was forming, time to dash.  

The Aley Mirror

Bloke from outside photo is back in with another round #PubMan

Colin hugs his pint like an old friend

Might end up being the last ever photo of the 'Glass Collection Point' sign

The whole reason for the bus diversion was quite simple.  The line I'd been on terminated today at West Ham.  I don't why, probably Jarrod Bowen's fault.

In such times of crisis, when you can't see a clear way forward, always best to take inspiration from the wisest of lyricists, so I thought of the song 'East End' by Cockney Rejects.  "The 69 bus to Canning Town, it's never ever gonna get us down" and thought, oh yes, I could get a bus instead.  Jolly good.

It wasn't the 69 or Canning Town, but the 238 to Stratford, which sounds less 'romantic' but at least I could get to London Bridge from there, where I had an almighty scramble to find the public loos, then missed a connecting train to Brockley cos I somehow banged my knee.

Only one thing for it, a walk through London Bridge area to see if either of the two GBG pubs here were 'available'.  

The first was found in the smuggiest of smug London backstreet areas looking like this .......

Who's he then?  

Tired, aching and with discipline seriously lacking by now, I saw an open back door staggered into the centre of the room and gargled aimlessly, pointing towards the bar area, it's what Pete Doherty would've wanted if he was still with us today.  Welcome to The Libertine (1757 / 2974) , a friendly lady told me they were fully booked and no room at the inn!  I  put on my pleading eyes and wailed that I only want a drink and would only be half an hour most, and she must've taken pity on me for she told me there was one free bench outside at the front.  As I sat down, the sun came out, and she followed with a pint of murkiest murk and a card reader.  I gave it a swipe, and then a band started up in the garden in front of the block of flats opposite.  All the residents came out onto their balconies, clapping along.  Passing cyclists stopped directly outside the pub forming a curious throng, and I thought it was going to be one of those BRAPA 'perfect moments' (trademark Martine McCutcheon) until I tried the ale and realised it was seriously tired, and then the band pulled out the pan pipes and did the worst La Bamba cover ever, and the moment of magic was gone.  A bloke stood next to me squinted in an appalled manner, but he was wearing a 'Spits' shirt so probably not his style either.  Colin was just about to join me on the bench when a Spanish smoker sat down in HIS place, and started talking loudly in Spanish to her friends through the open window behind us.  This pub was ultimately a case of promised much, delivered little , but full marks to the lady who let me stay to get my tick!

The balcony concert audience (do you think that guy with his nan is gonna hunt me down?)

Always on the outside looking in

I necked my beer and realised if I got a wriggle on, I could get my sixth and final pub in (IF open and letting people just walk in, it'd been hard to tell online for this one).

As I approached, I was encouraged by the sight of people lining each side of the streets merrily drinking away, and with the evening sun glimmering off the building, a very attractive looking pub which let's be fair, we haven't said too often today. 

King's Arms, London Bridge / Borough (1758 / 2975) and I was immediately faced with this eff off Timmy Taylor's blackboard ........

..... so I mooched about in the entrance way when the staff started beckoning me up to the bar in a sort of "don't be shy, enter our lair" kind of way, which just shows, you can't even trust the word of a blackboard from Keighley.  Did that mean they wanted me to start chucking tables around too?  It was hard to say.  I'll be glad when this 'new normal' is a mere artefact of the briefest pubby history.  This barman has a proper swagger, very engaging, another first for the day.  I went for the Harvey's (I'd normally go Landlord but was silently protesting against the lying blackboard) and he starts rabbiting on like a Chas n Dave song about how £4.70 a pint is cheap for SE1 and how I shouldn't complain (which i had no intention of doing!)   Then, when I go to swipe my contactless card, he tells me £5 minimum!  Classic.  I nearly suggest raising their price to £5 a pint but decide against it, and end up conducting my first cash transaction since March.  I got a 20p and a 10p change, and I stare at them for hours like a pirate with his treasure.  Coins!  Wow. I ask him if it is okay to sit inside, having realised what a perfectly formed small one room classic this is, and unlike a normal July Saturday evening in London, there is actually space to breathe and relax.  Swings n roundabouts you see.  As Colin and I soak up the atmosphere (I'd definitely got a second wind by now), I reflect how many beautiful pubs like this there are scattered around inner London, most of which I haven't been able to enjoy simple due to the high volume of people on my visit (generally a similar time on a Saturday).  So I really enjoyed this experience.  Colin simply got nodded at like he was a fellow customer, he looked like a lot of them.  Twitter seemed more interested in my pint of Harvey's than the fact I was in beautiful pub, I guess beer is more interesting than pubs to most people, I can't understand it myself!  Was a great drop here though.  Never been a fan of theirs til I had a glorious pint of their Old Ale in a pub called near here (Royal Oak I think?) a couple of years back.  So I wonder if Harvey's is one of those things that come to you a bit later in life, a bit like coriander, ABBA, or death?

Bit of late drama as I thought using Borough station would make more sense than London Bridge being closer, only to find it totally shut!  After a brief panic, I still got back to King's Cross in plenty of time, drank loads of water, ate loads of food, and travelled back in total peace, though with the facemask on, it was a bit like a 'greatest hits' compilation of all six ales I'd drunk earlier, and it wasn't that great!  

At least contactless payment helps me keep a record of how much my beer cost

I had the best night's sleep I'd had since lockdown began, and woke up with that sense of achievement you can only get from a six pub tick day!  

Until next time, and it might be a couple of weeks because friends and family are suggesting they are more important than BRAPA, goodbye for now.


Sunday 12 July 2020


Colin's lack of facemask on train went against the rules

Despite the overwhelming success of last week's 'return to the pub', the return of BRAPA itself was a different, scarier, more awkward type of beast, involving as it did travel to strange, unfamiliar lands and pub layouts.  And that was if they were open at all.  And even if they were, would I be allowed in?  

Never has the preparation been so intensive, frantically Googling / Whatpubbing / Twittering / Facebooking every required pub in the South and East of London, where my options were less limited than in every other part of the country, marking down their various rules & regulations.

Having decided that pub ticking is classed as essential travel, I boarded the virtually empty 07:01 from York, donning my funky green facemask (gotta match your highlighter pen) which stretches my ears into house elf proportions due to my face being a strange shape.  

All went swimmingly, but it was once in the 'Underground Network' that the sense of being far from 'back to normal' hit me, this scene at 9:15am on a Saturday morning in summer would normally be chocka with milling folk wandering in all directions with very little purpose .......

Luckily, my few fellow travellers (save for a few idiots at Romford) observed the rules impeccably, and soon I was on a short bus ride up to Collier Row where my first BRAPA tick since 7th March (Bitter Suite, Lichfield) was to be found looking very Spoonsy across the road .....

No protesters
The pub entrance was lined with cockney wideboys and girls on high stools, smiling at the entrance, presumably enjoying the theatre of whether or not people would forget to go in for a squirt of hand santiser and be turned around by a barking barmaid (oh the shame!).  This was a common theme throughout the day.  Any track n trace was incredibly voluntary (you may say overly so) and I was beckoned towards the bar behind some old bloke, where a young nervous barman served me a pint of Brentwood Hope and Glory from behind a perspex screen.  When I tried to hand him one of the new 50p off vouchers (thanks Mudgie!), he had to check that they were still accepted 'in the current climate'.  So you can imagine my relief when I finally got seated in a dark library-esque raised corner, took a sip of my bitter, pulled out new mascot Colin the Cauliflower and the green stabilo from the depths of my rucksack, and highlighted my first pub Colley Rowe Inn, Collier Row (1753 / 2970) in over four months.  Felt like a weight off my shoulders, it really did!  Moments of drama were few and far between in the early morning hub, two old blokes spoke of 'a great offer on bacon' and an old wheezer parked his shopmobility scooter right at my feet.  It was almost too stereotypically 'Spoons.  The symbol on the gents loos were etched out, so I couldn't be sure it was a man, so had to ask if it was indeed the gents, to which a bloke acted like I was a bit simple.  Otherwise, all good.  Welcome back!

Colin enjoying his debut

First pint back, and much better than the three I had in York last week

Lesser spotted Good Beer Guide 2012

First tick back, a fine moment

I've missed carpets like this

Late shopmobility drama

I took the bus back to Romford station, but perhaps symptomatic of being 'out of practice', I jumped on the wrong train, back towards Stratford rather than down towards Upminster and Hornchurch, grrrrr.

I turned back on myself for I had a back up plan, on the same line at a place called Manor Park.

I hadn't factored this next pub in as they seemed to be strongly encouraging pre-booking, but I decided to chance it anyway.

The area was surprisingly green and leafy, and lots of kids and smuggie Dads were playing football on this thing opposite the pub called Wanstead Flats.  The pub was a Greene King one, and is it bad that in this current moment in pub-ticking life, I'm actually preferring being in the chain pubs to the independents, where I feel it is easier to get a handle of the rules and regulations and order? 

Golden Fleece, Manor Park (1754 / 2971) and I was swooped down upon by a facemasked young guy with a shock of dyed blonde hair and a euro-American accent.  He reeled off the rules at such a rate of knots, I would defy anybody to be able to totally ingest them in one go.  I swiped a QR code and gave my name, the only time I was asked to do so all day.  He directed me to a table behind the door (exactly where I'd have sat given the choice!) and an affable barman served me from behind another plastic screen.  I opted for St Austell Tribute, and was surprised to find myself rating it as the freshest beer I drank all day.  Either that or the Harvey's in my last pub.  If anything, the new Greene King rules are a bit overly stifling with so many floor arrows, the army of staff seemingly in a state of high anxiety, and the fact that the pub wasn't allowing itself to breathe made for a rather sterile atmosphere - though I guess you could argue this is EXACTLY the effect they should be going for in the current climate.  Still, if a 'second wave' does hit, no one will be able to blame GK, they've gone to great lengths. The craziest moment was when I followed the maze of arrows to the bogs, and found an arrow on the door which you were expected to toggle between 'vacant' and 'engaged' using your elbow, but there was both a urinal and a cubicle availabe, so how would you know until you were already in?  'So far, so bland' I was thinking halfway through, but then people started appearing more frequently.  And none of them had booked.  And all of them kept stopping in prohibited areas staring up at the many screens!  Of course, West Ham fans, wanting to watch the lunchtime game v Norwich.  This sent the staff into an almighty conflab, and soon the chips and Moretti were flying out with much gusto.  Antonio scored, a Hammer leapt high in the air, nearly punched the ceiling, and I decided as amusing as it had all  become, it was time to go.  I left by the wrong door, but the call back got strangulated, and I was allowed to carry on.

Hammers blokes tiny dog prevents him from being 'ard

Colin, Tribute and a much needed emergency beermat

Tie dyed Hull City kit and dreads - it's a 2020/21 concept

Behind the Greene (King) Screen

Toilet elbow mayhem

Our final pub of part one takes us to a new place for BRAPA, Hornchurch which is so East London, I've always thought of it an Essex but that could be a county boundary Good Beer Guide thing.

It required a bit of jiggery pokery of the travel front, one stop to Forest Gate, a walk up to Wanstead Park, a train to Barking, and then a few stops up the district line to Hornchurch, where I accidentally sent a young Mum and her kids the wrong way because I tried to act like a local who knows.

I'd been very tempted to go to Upminster where I required the Upminster TapRoom, I saw they were open, had good clear rules and even had a couple of tables set aside for 'walk in' customers, which set them apart from most micropubs in the area I looked at.  Ultimately, it just feel like too big of a risk at 2pm on a Saturday if I was to be turned away.

On arrival in Hornchurch, I'd not had my facemask off for 30 seconds, breathing in the 'fresh' air, when a jovial bloke at a bus stop who sort of combined Del Boy, Martin Taylor and Liquid Len of West Brom fame asked me my shoe size.  I told him I was a size 8.  "Ohhhh perfick!" he replies (hang on, isn't that a different David Jason character?) and whips out this brand new pair of black trainers and tries to sell them to me, for a tenner.  'Errrm, no thanks mate, my rucksack is full!' I say, and hurry off.

The pub was just around the corner, jeez, I needed a pint.

J J Moons, Hornchurch (1755 / 2972) was the pub in question, and with my head still in shoe-bloke turmoil, it was maybe no surprise I walked in through the exit and then forgot the hand santiser!  I was sent back to the start, hanging my head in shame, ready for take two.  I took a deep breath of the Wetherspoons air, for it suddenly dawned I've never smelt this level of cleanliness in a 'Spoons before.  A tattooed  barmaid served me in a brisk, no nonsense style, and there were no worries with the 50p off voucher on this occasion.  After much deliberation where to sit, I went for the far back of the pub, by the smoking area (no more than 12 at a time) where a peculiar guy kept looking at my pint like he wanted to drug it, but luckily he left soon after, and Colin had to hide as six young Hammers fans got on the pitchers ("If I wanted to go to India and marry a 12 year old....." started one, before being abandoned as the others went out to smoke), though a lady on the next table did at least smile kindly.  Of the six pubs today, this one made the littlest impact, the beer didn't go down too well (no idea what I ordered) and I phoned Mummy BRAPA to predict Hull City would definitely beat nearby Millwall in our efforts to avoid relegation.  In the bogs, a bloke told me (TWICE) that it was ridiculous that they'd removed the condom machine for social distancing purposes, I laughed and made a cockney noise and scurried off.

Find out how the rest of the day, in part 2 tomorrow night! 

For now, I'll leave you with two pictures from J J Moons.    

Colin hiding from the yoofs

Looks empty, but that's cos I was too scared to photograph any Hornchurcians

Saturday 4 July 2020


With a sense of eager anticipation but also a fair amount of trepidation, I left BRAPA Towers on the morning of Saturday 4th July 2020, 09:50 to take the first careful steps back towards the world of pub, the world I know best and feel most comfortable with!

Yet I can't remember being this nervous pre-pub since I landed in Melbourne, and went straight out alone into the Saturday night chaos looking for craft ale at $17 a pop at 11pm in a strange new hemisphere.   

The early signs were positive.  John the Magic Moth was on my door to wave me off ......

My neighbours cat, Angry Jason, looked at me in that 'go forth and multiply' kinda way ...... I tell him I'm a cat person on a daily basis, and not too fond of dogs, but Jase detests me regardless.

Having had near on four months to select my pubs, I settled for a trio featured in my earlier #SWANKYPUBS (Springtime Walks at Night 'Kross York Photographed Unprofessionally by Si) which I passed constantly on my favourite lockdown walking route from late March-mid May.

None of them are fashionable, particularly real aley, all reopened today, none made you book in advance, and all had mapped out clear instructions on their Facebook pages re what was expected of the customers to make today a success. 

I walked up one of the unlikely snickets in my immediate vicinity which I've shamefully only discovered since lockdown .....

And after what felt like an interminable wait at two sets of traffic lights to cross the road, the pub was in sight.  'If there's a swarming gaggle of people outside or inside the entrance, walk around and go back home' I kept telling myself in my head, but apart from one young lad who glanced up at the pub sign, nodded and walked in, all was quiet, 10:01am, 1 minute late! 

The Mount surprised me with its 'happy for you to go to the bar' policy, so it was nice to see arrows and stickers on the floor leaving people in no doubt how they should socially distance.  There were three people in front of me, a jowly local Warnock-esque character, a lively stringy L**ds Utd fan who kept getting teased on whether they'd mess up promotion, and a friendly young lad who said hello and told me I needed to 'check in' and use the hand sanitizer on the wall, which was more liquidy than I was expecting and went everywhere!  Checking in required scanning a Q code thing on your phone, this directed you to a local Marstons webpage, where you selected the pub from a drop down list and typed in your name (I just gave 'Simon') and mobile number.  I was  not surprised to see a total lack of real ale, as this was the case on my previous visit last summer, so I went for a 61 Deep which was, I have to say beautiful, what with the pint glass and smell of pub you cannot capture at home!  The young lad told me he'd only come here this morning because he'd seen so much insane hyperbole in the media re going back to the pub, he was curious to see if it'd really be so chaotic  I nodded sagely. He went to join his mate, two pints of Guinness and a tanned old local bloke brought us up to six people, he had to be barked at from afar for simply wandering off in the wrong direction and not observing the new directives!  I joined in the congratulations to new landlady Nicole, what a time to have your first day in charge.  She put my beer on the other bar through the hatch, where I went to retrieve it and sat in the window, trying to look reassuringly at passers by like 'see, it ain't so bad'.  I closed my eyes as I took my first sip, and opened them to find the Guinness pair and Tanned Old Rule Breaker (TORB) smiling at me, one saying 'ooh you look like you'd been waiting for that!'  A huge bee started buzzing around the window, scaring me, but when I came back from a pee, the bee had gone and TORB shouts over 'I got it into your empty pint glass and took it outside!'  It's this kind of random interaction that I've been missing!  I went back for a second pint, same again, and realised these new rules make small talk with the staff much easier, and Nicole says she'd been expecting far worse and as long as people stick to the rules, she was confident it'd be a good day.  It still wasn't even 11am like, but I didn't say that.  Someone asked for a beermat but they weren't allowed, unhygienic apparently.  Woah!  My friends in Barton said they were having the same issue at the White Swan.  Did not know that.  And when I left, I was told I had to exit via the back gate through the garden which I didn't even know existed.

Oh, bee-have!

Pint two, and soon to be bee collecting vessel

After a quick detour back to BRAPA towers, it was time to take the 15 minute walk west towards the racecourse where the Knavesmire pub sits nicely on the corner.

Opening at 12 noon, this Greene King house I suspect does a fair bit of food and had a table service only policy, so I was half expecting a bit of a queue but again, all seemed quiet as I approached.

A bloke immediately swooped down on me and asked if I was here for food or just a drink.  'Drink' of course, and he effortlessly reeled off the three ales on offer with tasting notes to boot!   Wow, could get used to this.  Shame I said "Oh, Ainsty Flummoxed Farmer?  That's a nice one!" after he told me about GK IPA and Ruddles.  "THEY ARE ALL NICE!" he implored.  Ooops, such a beer snob.   I'd been ushered inadvertently into the darker pool room to the left, with two football matches about to start, so was joined by four young lads.  The bloke asks if I mind giving my contact details like I genuinely had a choice, and I notice beermats too, so obviously this problem doesn't affect all pubs.  A bit less signage here I thought, though the staff were constantly up and busily directing folk about.  I think I prefered the Mount approach, and experience in general, but nice to get a pint of ale.  The lads were talking Premier League football like it was the only thing in the world that mattered, and after one went on a rant about his love for Tyrone Mings, one of his mates said "you've never actually supported a team have you?"  He admitted it was true, and then gave this response  ..... "I'll start supporting Leeds when they get promoted, they are our local team after all!"  I wasn't going to let anything upset my ultra positive non-critical mood today, but it was at this moment I decided I wouldn't be staying on for a second pint!  Before long, I needed the loo of course but when I asked our server of naturally yellow hair tones, she tells me I'll have to then leave the pub by the exit, and come back in the entrance door to get back to my pint.  Phew, these one way systems are the one difficult part of this new regime I wasn't anticipating!  And in the brief 5 seconds I stepped back out into the street, I nearly collide with a guy in a Hull City top who says hi to me.  Life is weird like that isn't it? 

The 'I Am Clean' sign was swiped away from my table about two minutes after I sat down, charming!  

I'd been thinking about giving the next pub a swerve, but with my confidence now up, I thought I'd give it a go, again despite talks of food and bookings and popularity on their Facebook page in the last 24 hours. 

The Bay Horse is York's third oldest pub, and as such, the shape of it doesn't make it particularly conducive to social distancing as you can imagine.  Bit of a let down on the ale front, usually, though at least here they apologised for lack of it, but as a pub it is an atmospheric tight-knit place.  All through lockdown, they've been having their biggest refurb and deep clean since the eighties, and it felt almost unrecognisable in places.  The 'secret' backroom I sat in alone seemed a totally new discovery, but my friends insist I've been in here 'literally at least twice'.  When I walked in and sat down with an expectant grin on my face, I sort of got gawped at but when I told them I was just here for beer, they told me to come to the bar and were super friendly after that.  Really chatty, lots of north eastern accents, and the guv'nor comes through to chat to me about all the work that's gone on , and how they are coping with the changes, none of which I can remember cos my Guinness was distracting me by tasting of liquid soil but you could really feel the positive community energy in this pub.  No beermats, and back out into the hub of the pub looking for the loos, a few old blokes blocking doorways which they probably shouldn't have been,  so this time by choice, I exited via the beer garden and side gate, where the majority of the punters were.  

As I wandered back to my flat, the school bells bonged for 2pm, just back home in time for a late lunch and some documentary about Wimbledon (the tennis thing).  

I'd not been expecting an experience anything like this positive on the whole.  It restored my faith that everything will be ok eventually, and a lesson not to get too carried away in the social media circus that seems hellbent on claiming that pubs are permanently chock a block hellholes inhabited only by the most irresponsible low-class scroaty scum of society.  We of course, know better!

True, it'd be interesting to see what they'll be like by 10pm (I'm not going to do that by the way!)  But it it gives me the confidence that a return to a full on BRAPA new pub ticking trip might not be too far away.

Happy pubbing all,