|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 .....
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|