Happy New Year!
Well, how do you describe THAT year from the perspective of someone who's lifelong mission is to visit every pub in the Good Beer Guide?
Fortitude, adaptability, a sense of humour - all skills you must hone if you are to make a go of this ticking lark, but 2020 certainly threw the curviest curvy ball that not even the most pessimistic of us could have foreseen.
So sit back with a bottle of something strong, and help me try and make sense of it all. We will have star pubs, star people, the songs that got me through, and 'worst' awards if I can remember. I'm drinking quite heavily as I write, so this blog might go downhill / uphill as it progresses.
January : Bleak Beginnings
|First pub of the year, but I wouldn't be smiling for long
Looking back with hindsight, New Year's Day 2020 proved to be symbolic of the entire year. I described it as 'the worst day in BRAPA history' later that evening. I was with the long suffering Daddy BRAPA and Tom Irvin in Sheffield. At various points in the day, all three of us fell ill. Three consecutive pubs were shut. Doncaster had to save us. How tragic is that? I returned to York with my tail between my legs, TWO ticks done, and to add insult to injury, York Tap was shut at 5pm.
Solace came in the form of the wonderful Brigantes, and the news that Hull City's win at Sheffield Wednesday (we didn't go to the match) had propelled us to the edge of the playoffs. Party on!
If you'd have told me right there and then that seven months on, Hull City would be relegated and Brigantes would be closed for good, I'd never have believed you.
January continued with a gloomy cloud hovering above everything I did BRAPA-wise, I either felt like I was catching a virus (not that one!) or the pub days just weren't quite flowing. On the way back from Lancaster on 11th, one of my work chums was nearly arrested following a skirmish on the train home! Closest police encounter since THAT Newark incident, which we don't talk about.
The spell was finally broken a week later, as Dad took me on an epic overnighter to Cockermouth. We got off to a slow start (Gilcrux Caravan park closed, bloody boo!) but the pub that triggered better fortunes was just around the corner, the magical Bush Inn, Tallentire.
It looked dead to the world when we arrived in the darkest village in England at 5:59pm on a Saturday evening, but it burst into live bang on 6pm, the lovely old couple were welcoming, stout fantastic, and what a difficult tick it was to get done!
That broke the spell, and everything seemed easier after that. Only one sad moment, as BRAPA mascot Martin the Owl flew the nest into the dark Cockermouth night. Was I drunk and irresponsible in losing him? No comment. He would, as it turned out, be VERY easily replaced in July. Martin the Who?
|So which one of these likely Cockermouth suspects pinched Martin?
The month ended strongly though, almost like BRAPA doesn't need a mascot. Ooops.
|Farewell Martin. Here he is quaffing murk in Ulverston
Pub of the Month - Tap & Spile, Framwellgate Moor, Durham
Song of the Month - Against Me! - Miami
People in the news kept banging on about this Chinese virus thing. Boy licks bat in wet market, or something. Yawn. Not really listening. Won't affect me will it? Sensationalist nonsense.
Feb began with a bang at my friend Christine's fantastic birthday celebrations in Barton on Humber where I got to meet pub ticking legend, Duncan Mackay. Look at his little face .....
From the same day, Tom Irvin requests I put the milk-wielding barmaid at Driffield's Benjamin Fawcett forward for 'BRAPA Brunette of the Year' but we are too woke for that kind of thing, so instead nominate Tom for BRAPA quote of the year when he loudly announced 'I like Boyes' as we marched down Driffield High Street.
My quest to get Cumbria, Northumberland, Durham and Tyne & Wear all completed by the new GBG coming out end of August was going well. What could possibly stop me?
Meanwhile, the news KEPT on banging on about this 'Coronavirus' thing. Jeez, give it a rest. As my workmate Emily said at the end of the month "I'm soooooo over this Corona business". "I'm hearing you bae, preach" I replied, trying to sound like a twentysomething, before making a salient point about it keeping Brexit out of the headlines at least.
Wanna see a pub of the month? Okay.
Pub of the Month - 1B Tap, Great Harwood
Song of the Month - The Pears - Comfortably Dumb
March started fairly well. The OG squad of myself, Dad and Tom found ourselves in Lichfield on 7th. It was a great day. Cathedral, pubs, town/city - top day out. I recommend.
Wetherspoons decided to try and be responsible, and joined in the recent media clamour for us all to keep washing our hands whilst singing happy birthday twice. This Corona shit was getting real.
That was from the bogs in Mere Green, wherever that is. Once in Lichfield itself, we could forget about this virus talk as none of the pubs there had signs up, and the locals were a friendly bunch, happy to lick the faces of any day-trippers from York or Grimsby.
By the Bitter Suite, I was a tiny bit drunk so can't tell you much about it, other than it'd be the last GBG pub I'd visit for over 4 months, whaaaaaaaat?!!?!
The following Tuesday, work moved those of who commuted into L**ds from far away to 'THE BASEMENT'. I felt like a leper, with better skin, Was hard to know whether bank were overreacting to all this Corona stuff or were, as we learnt to say 'ahead of the curve'.
Didn't bother me, I was off to Lanzarote with parents two days later for a timely break in the sun. Sad to miss a week or two BRAPA but frankly, I was ready for a holiday.
No question of holiday being cancelled, no questions at the airport, at either end. It was only when our 'man' Pablo Pedro drove us to our resort, there was a bit of cheeky Corona bantz i.e. "You English filth spreading your Covid germs over here" "Ohhh, why don't you go and cruelly murder a bull for fun you horrible Paella eating monster?!" All in good humour.
Dad and I got out for a couple of drinks on the Friday I'll let you decide what we enjoyed most out of these ........
On the Sunday, I was sat on a sun lounger eating toblerone, drinking supermarket own brand lager, designing LAPA (Lanzarote Ale Pub Adventure) and had just had the 'difficult' conversation (not that one) with the parents where I'd be leaving them to get some pubs (well, bars) ticked off ........
|Well you can't keep a good ticker down
.... when my phone pinged, and it was Pablo Pedro telling us to STAY INDOORS. Yes, Spain had been 'locked down' last night, and we could only leave the villa to get supermarket essentials. Before we knew, police were up and down with loud hailers, weird robotic American voices telling us to remain inside. Police tape was stuck all around like some crime scene. Woah, kinda scarey!
|Not a bad temporary prison
July 4th was the day on all pub lovers calendars. Excitement was mounting. The mood on Twitter feverish. "I'm staying in with my Camden Pale and hot water bottle" declared a load of CAMRA branch chairmen called Geoff & Neil up and down the land, and you weren't allowed to criticise them cos it was THEIR CHOICE.
Soon, the overly cautious and serial bed wetters, spurred on by the media who hate pubs, were declaring July 4th as a likely manic combination of the Friday before Christmas combined with England winning a football world cup.
Those of us a bit more long in the tooth re pubbing things (I'm counting myself in this category!) suspected it might all be a bit of damp squib. And so it proved.
I wasn't QUITE confident enough to make a full-on BRAPA return, so kept it local, and my 'return' at the unfashionable Mount in York at 10:05am will live long in the memory. The pure joy on the punters faces, that first taste again of real beer in a pub, the appreciation for the hard work the staff have put in to create a pleasant yet safe environment. I felt so happy. Glad to be back.
|Queuing for first pint back
The experience was replicated in two more pubs, and a week later, BRAPA returned at the Colley Rowe Inn, Colley Row, East London. I kept it Wetherspoons, as they were strangely geared up for such a socially distanced pub experience long before Covid hit with their wonderful App etc, which am sure isn't suspicious in any way!
All this Colley talk seemed a great time to give a 'debut' to new BRAPA mascot, Colin the Cauliflower, who has now become more popular than me, the baaarstard. I can see us developing a Rod Hull/Emu style relationship as the years progress, before he pushes me off the roof as I go to fix the Sky box.
|Colin makes his debut down in East London
To celebrate the return of pubs, July concluded with an epic NINE day crawl of Surrey, where I got round the vast majority of GBG pubs, pint in each, two in some, I felt dead by the end but happy.
Big thanks to one of our #PubMen of the year, Ed Wray, for helping me get about on two different occasions. Here's some highlights.
|Crossways Inn, Churt
|Outside with Ed and Colin at a pub with phantom llamas
|The majestic Jolly Farmers at Bramley
PUB OF THE MONTH - JOLLY FARMERS, BRAMLEY
I was still in August in early Surrey (Surrey in early August?) , and desperate to make hay while the sun shone in those bright, summer days.
Of course, pub restrictions were still in place, but when people talked of a second wave in the winter, I merely scoffed. "Covid? Completed it mate!"
I say that, but I deliberately chose to do my pub ticking in the south east where cases were lower.
Two days stood out. The 15th, I met another #PubMan of the year, probably THE #Pubman of the year if you put me on the fence, Citra. The beer was very modern, the drinking receptacle upsetting, and I got a bit drunk
Two weeks later, another lovely chap, called Jon C, took me round his hometown of Tonbridge on a rare trip to Kent, another place that never seemed to have Covid cases til I went ticking there. Don't stare at the 'Spoons carpet too long.
PUB OF THE MONTH - BLYTHE HILL TAVERN, FOREST HILL
SONG OF THE MONTH - NANCY SINATRA & LEE HAZLEWOOD - SUMMER WINE
|Blythe Hill Tavern - something very special
I was back in a nice rhythm by now, every Saturday on the early train down to London, before tackling 5 or 6 GBG pubs, before a nice soothing restorative pint of ESB in the Parcel Yard before the train back north.
|Seaham locals almost definitely delighted to see me in their pub
|The excellent Piper in Kettering, first tick under slightly tighter new measures
|Colin meets Wee Irish Man at pre-emptive of the year Hop Inn
|Golden Lion, Rochford
|Railway Hotel, Southend
|Theobald Arms, Grays
|Traitors Gate, Little Thurrock
|Victoria Arms, Brentwood
|I can't believe THAT pub is in again!
But as I'd sat outdoors in chilly GBG debutant 'Spoons Goldengrove in Stratford at 6pm on 31st October, Boris was addressing the nation to say there'd be one month lockdown starting from 5th November, not a full lockdown you understand, just one designed at punishing the hospitality industry when everyone knows they aren't the main cause of rise in cases!
At least I was luckily enough to be in Tier 2 North Yorkshire, many people by now were in Tier 3 so nothing was open anyway. So I took advantage and did a mad dash, three night after work to squeeze in 8 pubs before lockdown hit again.
I accidentally deleted all my photos so here's my old cat Jasper getting to know some Barbie dolls
PUB OF THE MONTH - DISAPPEARING CHIN, HARROGATE
SONG OF THE MONTH - BOMB THE MUSIC INDUSTRY - THE SHIT THAT YOU HATE
Fed up by now, at least I had my wine & wotsits.
December 2nd saw stuff open up again, but not really! The goalposts had moved for Tier 2 people. If you wanted a drink in a pub now, you had to have an accompanying meal. Insane.
Now, I have huge respect for those tickers who'll go to several tier 2 pubs and have a meal in each, but it isn't for me. This isn't what I signed up for when BRAPA started. When you have to eat food, is it even right to call it a pub at all? Or is it just a glorified restaurant? This could be the beer talking, I am quite drunk by now. I've realised for some people, the 'tick' is everything, but for me, I have to have some kind of pub experience I can enjoy, hate, or at least feel. Does that make sense?
So yeah, you'd have to go to Tier 1 to get drink only, and that wasn't easy. I did manage 13 ticks in December, but didn't publicise it despite not technically breaking any laws probably. I'll do a blog on them probably in the spring time when the dust has settled. Here's a preview ......
Then of course, we got towards Christmas and things seemed worse than EVER with new strains etc. Oh well, at least vaccines are on the way. I honestly would prefer them to stop dicking around with these tier systems which in my opinion are flawed (cos everyone just gravitates to the lower tiers if they wanna trip out) and if they are gonna shut pubs, put full country into lockdown Jan n Feb (inc schools, football, everything like back in March-June), see this damn thing off once and for all, reopen everything at Tier Zero level on 1st March. Let pub tickers jump queue for vaccine as it is our duty to be out and about. And stop making pubs scapegoats. Optimistic? Probably! This beer is good. Time for bed.
I did a grand total of 258 new pubs, which is EXACTLY the same number as my debut BRAPA year in 2014, so when you put it like that, not too bad. I did do 450 in 2019 though!
Thanks for reading, Si