Monday 19 April 2021



There are nights when I think that RetiredMartin was right.  Pub tickers in America. It would be such a difficult endeavour.

Logging off my laptop at 4pm in York, I can be on a train in just over 7 minutes, be in Doncaster 20 minutes later, and after a 2 minute walk to the bus interchange, be in some rural out-in-the-sticks location a few minutes after that.  27.5 minute pint, nice and relaxed, and I can be back home sober with enough motivation and energy for a nice healthy Sicilian style sausage spaghetti concoction. 

But America is so big, that if you logged off your laptop at 4pm in suburban Minneapolis and your nearest tick is the Faultline Tap & Waffle House in San Luis Abispo,  odds against that you'll make it home by 8pm for your pizza pie, double fries and triple cheeseburger with twelve salted caramel doughnut dessert.  I hope that is an accurate representation of what the average American eats.  Correct me if I'm wrong.   I think I forgot the melted Monterey jack.  

Next week, I'll tell you about how to tick the Moomin Tavern in north Finland and Santa's Christmas Inn at the North Pole on the same night.  


Anyway, by last Thursday I was restless once more despite my ongoing claims that outdoor pub ticking is not something BRAPA would wholeheartedly embrace.  I had a strong desire to moo-ove (thanks) and see if I could capture another South Yorkshire pub tick without booking.  

Fellow pub-ticker Eddie Fogden (he's younger than me, but has done 500 GBG ticks more but doesn't make it into a three act tragedy like I do) had read my mind, and asked when I was doing the Station, Blaxton.  The answer was 'tonight'.  He said he'd join me.

The key point in the journey I described earlier was managing to get the 17:01 57f bus rather than wait for the 17:31 one.  I saw it quite by chance, expecting it to depart from stand A1, it was actually at A4. had lied to me. 

15 minutes into the bus ride, I realise Eddie is one of my fellow 4 passengers on the bus.  After all, he is the King of Hi-Vis and has worn it on each occasion I've seen him (Parcel Yard twice, Volunteer Arms in York, train from London) but it wasn't until he craned his neck curiously in the direction of Auckley's Eagle & Child that I realised Eddie was in fact Eddie.  

I crept up behind him, said boo, and we had a socially distanced masked chat.  He was off to do a post-emptive tick first, the Harvey Arms, Finningley, which had appeared in an old GBG I don't care about.  He'd catch me up, so I said 'farewell for now' pressed the little bell, and hopped off at Blaxton, saluted, and walked down towards the pub, and that is where the above cow at the garden centre was situated.

When the pub came into view, I liked how its colour scheme seemed to resemble Hull City's 1998/99 kit.  Had Mark Hateley's head popped out from an upstairs window, it wouldn't have seemed at all weird.

Uncanny isn't it?

Station, Blaxton (1737 / 3166) and with the clear blue skies, sun, and the fact that Doncaster folk are far too hardy to feel a 'chilly wind', it was no surprise to see the place bustling.  Time to employ BRAPA tactics and do something I know I'm not allowed to do, step indoors.  Two reasons for this, I like to 'announce' my arrival so the staff know I want a pint.  And also so I can say I've been inside (I could spy the bar in the background) and had my feet on the floorboards/carpet/slate/16th century tiling.  Sure enough, three alarmed young ladies swarmed round me like masked wasps, I ask 'wot iz occurring?', and they tell me quite predictably that if I sit down outside, someone will (eventually) serve me. 24 tables are available outside this pub.   Only 2 were left (thank goodness I didn't come on the Friday!), one wedged dead centre between a gang of six young gin drinkers, a stretched out sleeping dog, and two pizza lads.  This looked very unappealing.  So I went far end, on some 3G 'grass' that would make the Falkirk Stadium blush.  Next to a play area.  Behind me, a possible bus ticker sipped Guinness and 'red penned' a notebook.  Beyond me, a lairy business man with a pressed white shirt amused his lady friend with bawdy tales from Bawtry.  Problem was, the staff never got as far as me without being summoned.  Stranded.  No drink.  No way of getting their attention.  And the whole bloody pub could see my predicament!    "You never get anywhere in life being pleasant mate!" said Mr White Shirt eventually, when I say I could see how busy the staff were and I didn't want to go over and pressure them!  He's right though.  Was a bit lame of me.  "See these little plants on the tables?" he continues, warming to his task,  "They are not for decoration, in Doncaster we throw them at the staff to get their attention, ha ha hee hee ho!"  His lady friend hits him playfully in the arm (I bet he's a perfect gentleman underneath the bravado, I got that impression).  Finally a staff member comes over.  I ask what the real ale situation is.  "We just have one on, 'guest beer'" she tells me mysteriously.  I ask what it is.  'Hmmm, shall I go and find out?' she asks.  I practically plead with her "NO, DON'T LEAVE ME, I MIGHT NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN!" and I order one for Eddie as well who is pretty much finished in Finningley.  Another interminable wait for said pints to appear, when they do, I have been sat here 20 minutes!  Lockdown ticking.  It can be limiting.  More curious glances from those around (say what you like about Donny, but people are interested in their fellow man) thinking I've strategically ordered myself two.  Eddie arrives right on cue, the mystery ale is delicious we both agree, he does the highlighting but confirms my worst fears, the green Stabilo is nearly out of ink!  What trauma, but ultimately worth it for another good tick in the right direction.

The buses and trains go like clockwork (we even get a double decker bus back to Donny, which excites Eddie more than me) and I'm back home for a very reasonable hour.  

13 more South Yorkshire pubs to go, and I know at least 5 of them are open so who knows, there may be more similar after work midweek trips in the coming weeks, but the thought of doing this kind of stuff on a Friday night, weekend or Bank Holiday still doesn't entice.  We'll see.  1737 means I am only six away from my 2019 tally, 164 off my 2020 figure.  The struggle is real!

Thanks very much for reading, roll on 17th May.


Wednesday 14 April 2021


Swinging a left around Blossom Street to Station Approach, the sun on my rucksack, an icy wind on my face, there was that same palpable electricity in the air that I'd felt on 4th July 2020.

Pubs were back!  Albeit outdoors, but as decreed by the BRAPA 5th amendment, 'it counts as a tick as long as you take a leak' (in their facilities).  (And tick is pronounced 'teak' to make it rhyme, think Speedy Gonzales).

A woman smiled at me and said 'good morning'.  In York.  In the street.  This was a red letter day.

Boarding a train for the first time since 15th December felt peculiar.  And yet I felt kind of 'alive' again after four very long months of simply 'existing'.  An old man's phone rings.  He can't locate it in the bottom of his bag.  He has one of those 2003 Nokia ringtones.  I grit my teeth.  I've missed this.   I take a swig of my aptly named 'Arctic' coffee.  The drinking mechanism is faulty.  It now looks like I've weed myself.  Plenty of time for that later.  

I forgot my breakfast and phone charger, so a bit rusty, but otherwise a happy familiar scene

Then the obligatory announcement.  We are the third train in a queue to leave the station.  Slight delay.  Hopefully won't be long.  Ah, nice to see things haven't changed.  I have to change.  At Doncaster.  Even that can't dampen my spirits.   A mad dash to make the Sheffield connection ensues.  Made it! 

A student behind me asks her friend if her Dad is still stuck in Burma.  Conversation quickly jumps to British colonialism, and then becomes a critique of inbreeding in Spanish royal circles. A bloke across from me smirks, so I theatrically and deliberately pull my headphones from my rucksack and put them in my ears.  We exchange nods.  I've missed this kind of thing.  

In Sheffield, the famous wall of water outside the station is switched off because as we all know, Sheffield water is the single biggest spreader of Covid in the western world.  That is a BRAPA fact.

At the pick up/drop off area, my lift arrives.  Martin Taylor,  ladies and gentlemen!  Sporting long lockdown locks and an excitable expression, conversation seems disjointed until I realise he's speaking to wife Christine on loudspeaker.  She's seen off a root canal procedure, and wants to join us.  Bonus. Which allows us a steep climb towards north Sheffield where she is sheltering like a blonde alpaca, and I drink in Martin's pre-emptive local pub knowledge en route.  Waterbeach must seem a long time ago.

East of Sheffield, South of Rotherham, we find our first pub, it is just gone 12 noon.

Letters on pub sign missing was first sign this pub was going to feel 'real'

Roland Arms, Aston (1736 / 3165) will be remembered longer than many due to the unique circumstances.  The fact it had so many shortcomings that it didn't feel anything like a GBG pub was neither here nor there.  "I'm camera shy" says the landlady as above photo is taken (or did she mean CAMRA shy?  In any case, you may be able to spot her in the window reflection).  We plonk ourselves at a bench in a modest marquee, the majority of locals and dogs look like they'd be here on a Monday at 12 noon regardless of any pub reopening hype.  Our young hostess is stumped by the 'what real ales are on?' question, admits out of side of her mouth from behind her mask that she's never heard of real ale so she'll have to go and check.  The answer is negative, so John Smith's Smooth, Carling or Fosters.  I go Smooth, as does Christine.  Martin asks for a diet coke, but after much umming and ahhing, it is discovered 'the pressure ain't working' so he asks do they do J20.  Luckily, yes, but they end up picking the flavour!  Us three can't stop chuckling at this sequence of events.  And Christine makes an intelligent point about how lockdown has perhaps allowed folk more perspective, and not to take things for granted so much, hence why we are all so joyful despite the pubs opening day limitations.  The biggest rule of sixers ever, young ladz, order much Carling, and many shots.  One of the funny blokes with big dogs has a rude sea shanty as his ringtone.  Salty Dick?  Check him out.  More laughter.    A toilet trip gives an indication of 'what we could have won'.  A pleasing pubby interior.  Deep wood panelling, pool table, swirly carpets, stained glass partitions, fluffy owls.  A bloke weeing along side me asks me how fooking great it is to be back.  Very fooking great. I'd forgotten about chatting to dangerous strangers whilst urinating.  Life affirming.


So nice to just hold a pint glass again in a pub setting!

Great photo courtesy of Martin Taylor photography ltd

Onto pub two then, heading out further east not too far from north Notts to be honest, this next pub was part of my 'Mansfield Holiday Plan' that got cruelly cancelled last March.

Martin had been before, and challenged me to find anything interesting to write about this one.  Hmm, he wasn't wrong.  Greene King dining pub if you were wondering.  No chain during lockdown pushes quite as hard for a pre-booking, eating or not.  Indoors or out.  It really is irritating to the point you get paranoid.  I'd originally booked for 1 person at 13:45.  Then changed it to 2 people 13:15.  Now, here we were , 3 people 12:57!  

No wonder our brusque hostess was sweating from behind her mask.  I stepped forward for the obligatory photo, and she told me to get back behind the (imaginary) line.  I hadn't crossed it, or had I?  VAR?  Surely?

Little Mester, North Anston (1737 / 3166) was the name, and we were growled at to each do the Track n Trace, masks on, indoors, to get to this side door where they'd put the dregs (i.e. us and a couple of other pasty faced diners) in this grim side bit with a grey wall, the strong wind blowing the laminated menus away so Christine had to pounce on them, as a couple of local ladies shouted across some jokey south yorkshire bantz which we had no idea what they said.  The beer choice finally allowed us cask.  Yey!  Greene King IPA or Black Sheep?  Oh hang on, the Black Sheep isn't on!  GK IPA it was.  For the first time in my life, I enjoyed this beer.  After the JS Smooth, it tasted a bit like Oakham Citra.  How odd.  And then, nothing happened.  Glad I'd brought my thickest winter coat, scarf, gloves and hat though.  An indoor loo trip reminded me what every GK dining pub looks like indoors, making me feel less bad about this 'outdoor ticking' business.  

Colin makes his return to pubbing , supervising Christine with the serious ticking job

First pint of cask back in the pub!  

So that was all very delightful, as Martin and Christine dropped me back outside Sheffield station and  I made my way back to York.  I'll do a part two at some point to tell you how I've found York so far.

Now I would like to tell you how Monday was a 'sign of things to come' for BRAPA over this next month, but I maintain things won't really kick off until 17th May (if that date holds of course).

In South Yorkshire, I have 14 pubs left to do.  Only 5 of those are definitely open/opening at some point during April (just 3 currently, one a micro so presumably very limited space).  8 are almost certainly waiting til May.  With 1 unknown that is probably not worth the risk.  So whilst there's the chance I may travel for the odd sporadic tick, it'll be few and far between.  Roll on indoor opening!

Thanks very much for reading, 


Tuesday 6 April 2021


Whisper it softly, but I think that is a pub I spy on the horizon.  Okay, so it may well be a vast Brunning & Price dining pub in rural Surrey, but at this point (fourth month of third lockdown), I quite frankly don't give two hoots.

And just to clarify, I'm talking Monday 17th May.  Next weeks outdoor April 12th re-opening will bring some limited localised joy shivering under the snowy umbrellas of York's Fox and Golden Ball, but BRAPA will not recommence until I can do it 'properly' (or so I say until I see all my fellow pub tickers checking in up and down the country, and get itchy feet!)

Forced outdoor ticking - happened all to often in 2020.   Will 2021 been more indoorsy?

BRAPA eh?  How did it work again?  6am alarm beep beep beep.  Long train journey.  Shorter train journey.  Bumpy bus.  Mini Cheddars.  Cauliflower mascot.  Green highlighter pen.  A pint in each of the six pubs.  Taking astonishing photos.  Making notes for an overly wordy blog.  Mad dash to Kings Cross.  More time than I realised.  Fullers ESB in the Parcel Yard.  Drunken selfie.  Can't remember the journey home.  Sleep a full day.  Write blog.  Plan next journey.  Repeat.

Phew, sounds like hard work now I think about it.  Do I really do that every week for 'fun'?  

Don't worry, with the spring air in my nostrils and these lighter nights, I can feel my mojo stirring (ey up!) and a burning desire to plan my first trip since that December one we don't talk about.

I'm going to walk you through the SEVEN key planning steps, so you too, can become a pub ticker as brilliant as me.  This example will be of a week long extravaganza relying on public transport.  

1. Book the Time Off  (n/a if you are one of these lucky 'retired' pub tickers, or 'completist' as I'm now going to start calling myself as per page 164 of CAMRA's wonderful 50th anniversary book - buy today, Amazon deliver speedily - I'm not on commission, honest). 

If work reject your request, cite 'life event' reasons i.e. the reopening of pubs is YOUR wedding day if you are never planning on getting married.  Your 2,500th tick is you giving birth, forceps needed.  Your overnighter to Weymouth is having to stay in cos the man from Hotpoint is over to fix the washing machine.  Kind of.  You get the idea.

TOP TIP - Book your holidays across two weeks so you can get the benefit of 'staying down' for a weekend for any pubs with particularly limited hours.  Skipping a day?  Make it a Monday.  A pointless day of the week, unless you are in Andover which has no concept of space or time.

Book it!  But don't Thomas Cook it.

2.  Accommodation/Staying Down  

You need to commit and tie yourself in as soon as possible.  What county is in your mind?  Surrey?  Are you sure?  Now you need a city/town with good transport links, definitely rail, and a good bus service to take you north, east, south and west.  Guildford works well.  Placing yourself fairly centrally within the county is often a good plan of course.  In Bucks, Aylesbury is a must.  No one has ever said that before.  In any context. Ever. Make sure your chosen place has accommodation options.  

TOP TIP - Experience has taught me Travelodges and Premier Inns work much better than B&B's, which can be nosey, judgey, over friendly, standing over you while you eat breakfast, and have awkward key mechanisms / weird rules when you drunkenly arrive back and puke on the cat at 1am for the 7th day in a row.  Save your 'being sociable' for chatting to pub oddballs, make your down time as anonymous and private as possible.  Book it now, don't delay.  Tie yourself in.  Then you're committed.

Farnborough Travelodge has an adjoining GBG Wetherspoons and Papa Johns.  The holy trinity? 

3.  Transport 

Get those trains booked ASAP, or at least get alerts set on LNER website so you know as soon as your dates become available.  You don't want to be paying through the nose, a seven day ticking extravaganza is a pricey enough affair as it is.  Look up local bus services.  Can you get day/weekly savers?  Chat to bus drivers.  Most will be massive twats, granted, but if one in the entire week offers a great deal with a smiley expression and 'can do' attitude, it has been worth it.  You'll be needing to get the best deal for yourself in every respect.  I saved a fortune in Cornwall in the days when they offered decent deals.  Derbyshire similarly excellent re Wayfarers. should be a Martin Lewis style website to assist in this regard, but isn't.

Me in rural Cumbria, Oct 2019, on my fourth hour waiting for a bus to appear

4. Pub Opening Hours

Now the fun can really begin as we raise aloft that magic Good Beer Guide and say 'by the power of BRAPA' (optional step).  

Open the Guide at the relevant county (Surrey?  Are you sure you are sure?)  What isn't highlighted already?  Get a notepad and jot down the places and pub names you have left to do.  Leave a couple of lines around each to add notes in.   Why are there so many?  You only went last year.  You've 'lost' 17 of the 51 you visited in 2020?  WHY SURREY CAMRA, WHY?!  DO YOU WANT ME TO FAIL IN MY QUEST? is a good starting point.  Unlike the modern GBG, it lists opening hours.  This is more likely to be up to date than the GBG was anyway, but Facebook and pub official websites are even more likely to be updated, so if these are linked on Whatpub, pay more attention to these times.

Write these down in your little notepad.  Closing times I wouldn't bother with unless particularly early (like Dorking where everything shuts by 6pm) and you plan to be particularly late!  Beware though mid afternoon closures.  We've all been to pubs with midweek hours like 12-2:30, 5:30-11 - don't be caught out!  I was.

TOP TIP - What if contradictory hours are listed on Whatpub, Facebook and the pub website and you can't ascertain the most up to date?  It happens.  Go 'worst case scenario' i.e. go with the most limited.   And if all three sources say they are open 2pm on a Saturday, visit then, cos they will be open.  Probably.  Maybe.  If you're lucky.  No social media presence anywhere to be seen?  Wing it, it'll be fun (if you get in).

My Surrey 2020 GBG completion effort.  Only Caterham I didn't attempt

.... and the 'revised position' after 2021 cross-ticking

5. Local Geography

With pub opening times pencilled in, now time to jot a few notes on how to actually get to the place, better still if you can make an additional mental map of each required location.  'Broadham Green 11:30 Mon - Sat, 12 Sunis all well and good, but much better you also know you can walk it from Hurst Green station in 20 minutes (take that total lack of bus or train symbol in GBG!  Ha!), and will most likely involve a bit of jiggery-pokery around East Croydon.  Best to pair with other required pubs in area, Titsey?  Caterham?  Whyteleafe?  You may as well, best opportunity you will get if you live up north.  Choose a day and time all are open together.  Couple of South London ticks on the way back in?  I hear Selsdon is nice at this time of year.  

TOP TIP - Google Maps is an invaluable resource.  Apart from the obvious benefit of being a map (yes I told you this guide was good!), zoom in enough and it shows bus stops which you can click on for times and routes.  Use this in conjunction with the wonderful and exciting upstart and you too will be slurring to the old men smoking outside your 5th pub that you've got to dash cos the 595 to Oxted is the last one of the day.  Locals love that kinda shit and will accept you as 'one of them' in no time.

Locals often respond well to an 'adventure' in their locality.  Especially in Tring.

6. The Final Touches

Now you know what is open when, and where everything is, and hopefully, what pubs 'pair' best with other pubs.  Best now to jot out a little schedule of what you want to achieve (roughly) each day.  Of course, you have to be adaptable and think on your feet in this game, but it's a rough outline.  27 pubs to do?  Give yourself six days if drinking pints.  The full six pubs a day might not always be achievable even if you are up early, trust me.  And if you are making good progress, you can always look across the borders at the likes of Hants, Berkshire, West Sussex and London.  I might not have mentioned it before but Selsdon is very nice at this time of year.   

First draft

It's all in the planning, and believe me, once you are in the swing of a weeks ticking, it is seriously hectic and the last thing you want is waking up with a banging head, knowing you've got to work out today's agenda.  Keeping yourself fed, watered and well rested is really all you have time for during your 'down-time' between being in the pubs and the travelling itself

TOP TIP - Try and be done for 7pm, 8pm latest if you are also ticking the following day.  Then you are fresh as a daisy ready to start drinking again as soon as that 8am 'Spoons opens in Epsom.

TOP TOP TIP - If a pubman / pubwoman / Twitter follower offers to help you transport wise, definitely take them up on it, even if you already had 'plans' to get to a certain place.  Someone with a car who is happy to drink halves/lemonade is the pub tickers friend.   Especially if it has a built in loo. Plus you may feel the need for a bit of quality human company once you get so many days in!  No offence Colin.  Do NOT confuse this with 'inviting' someone along though, you need to remain as independent and single-minded as possible.

7. Packing

To prove your dedication to the organisational aspect of this (what you might now be realising is a highly scientific procedure and not just a case of opening the GBG at a random page and going "WANT THAT ONE") , your master ticking spreadsheet/database/csv file should have an 'overnight' checklist.

Fluffy Cauliflower, check.  GBG, check.  Notepad with all your jotted down workings out, check.  Pen, and back up pen.  Check.  Highlighter pen of green.  Check.  Mini Cheddars for the week.  Check.  Spare underpants (because we all remember homebrews like the laxative of Laxey). CHECK!  And plenty more of course.  You just don't want to miss anything.  Earphones essential.  Twildery on public transport, there's nothing worse.  No point taking your new novel.  You've got the GBG anyway (a cracking read), and you won't have time to get lost in a crime ridden Victorian underbelly when you're really in 2021 Reigate.  You'll only miss your stop.  Oh phone chargers, back up phone chargers, and back up back up phone chargers.  Don't forget.  Don't forget your smartphone.  It'd be like ticking blind (as I found when I went to Darton with a disposable cam'ra). 

TOP TIP - Squash everything for the week into a huge hold all / giant rucksack,  but with a mini canvas bag concealed within to separate out and swing over your shoulder for your daily jaunts.  Less luggage means the more productive your ticking will be, and less like a tourist you will look.  I call this 'The Biggleswade Realisation'.   You can buy food and mini toiletries when you are down there and checked in.  Newport Isle of Wight has a wonderful Superdrug I hear.  

Squash it all down.  Sit on it if needs be.  Don't be shy.

So there we have it!  Did that put you off ever attempting such a thing, or make you want to give it a go?  And if you are a fellow ticker (sorry, completist) reading this, what did I miss?

I could even do a volume 2 re 'ticking' strategy, but I won't. I'll be blogging about real life pubs in a few weeks anyway!  Hurray.  I might even do a Yorkshire pub gardens special if you're lucky.

Yesterday was BRAPA's 7th anniversary and for a second year running, I could not spend it in (or even outside) a pub.  Frustrating times indeed, but at least the future is finally, hopefully, looking a bit brighter for all us folk who love the pub.  

Thank you for reading, Si