Thursday 30 September 2021


We are approaching the business end of the season in pub ticking terms, the equivalent of football's Easter weekend, where fates can be sealed with a joyous roar or a sniffling mew.

Yes, the 2022 Good Beer Guide is officially published on 12th November (which is also my 20th anniversary of working for Yorkshire Bank tragically enough).  

Nice vibrant blue, same classic design, time to buy an outfit to match?

For the 'Privilege Club Members' (who do get direct debited for the privilege), they are posted out late October meaning that there is a small chance, that the new Guide could be in my hands by Hallowe'en when I write my next spooky month end review.

Cross ticking with a bottle of red wine and a horror film on for one of my favourite nights of the year?  What could possibly go wrong?

I think I was supposed to be a werewolf

As you can imagine, it is a time of intense activity as we pub tickers scramble for the finishing line, all with our own goals to achieve.  

For the Champions League tickers, it is a case of getting together via Whatsapp to book a flight from that difficult micropub in Guernsey to an Isle of Man hotel which has just started selling Okells, in the quest to achieve 100% completion.  And they'll ensure they are in Moldova by 7:45pm for a 7th division football match on the side of a mountain.  I think they call it showboating.

For the automatic promotion chasers, it is all about getting as many counties highlighted as you can, getting your wife to drive you to back of beyond Oxfordshire to pink off that final pub with half a Doom Bar.  90% completion?  Easy.

My Oxfordshire - 'a work in progress'

For the playoff chasers, saving all your holidays up earlier in the year has worked well.  Suddenly, you are never at work.  12 pubs a day?  Easy. 372 in a month?  And yet you still feel it could have been more if that micro in Marylebone opened at 5am on a Monday like its Facebook suggests.

And then we have BRAPA F.C..  Another season of consolidation.  Mid-table mediocrity.  To paraphrase Hull City's main manager of the nineties Terry Dolan "if we've ticked off one more pub, and drank one more pint than we did the previous season, I call that progress".  And who could argue with Super Tez?  

But considering the trials and tribulations of 2020/21, it is actually an achievement not to go backwards.  I sit here on 1986 pubs, 2000 is a landmark I'll definitely achieve before the GBG 'drops', and when you consider 2250 is half the Guide (less of course in next year's edition), I'm definitely going well.

September was another fine month.  I didn't let up despite only TWO days off work.  51 is a total I'm well pleased with in the circs.  And more evidence that I'm pushing myself a lot harder pubwise post-lockdown, almost like something subconsciously is making me feel the need to make up for lost time.  It is working.  

My Staffs finally getting a bit of green to it

23 in Staffordshire helped immensely.  What a county that is!  Sorry for the lack of blogs on the subject since, three factors.  Firstly, I came back with a dreadful cold / man-flu which still ain't shifting.  Secondly, I was all pubbed out after last weekend.  And thirdly, work has been so intense, looking at a laptop screen after 5pm is the LAST thing I've wanted to do.

Can October be as fruitful?  I certainly hope so.  A five Saturday month helps.  It starts and ends with further Hertfordshire progress, where we will see a BRAPA debutant and then an old fave wielding the trusty Stabilo (soon to be Staedtler cos quite frankly, I'm sick of Stabilos unrequited love for me).  

Just say no!

The middle three Saturday's all feature Daddy BRAPA, he's like the mouthwatering filling in a sandwich made with Hertfordshire bread.  Yummy.   Some weird, wonderful areas of the UK are on the agenda, so keep your eyes peeled.

Daddy BRAPA - likely to feature prominently again, but will the shoes / that otter ever return?

I'm almost ready to wave the white flag on both County Durham and South Yorkshire.  I'm so close on each, but I feel we are too late in the season to be chasing single outliers down, when I have so many juicy towns and cities offering 3,4,5 pubs in one go.  

I'll leave you with my five favourite pub experiences of the month in no particular order ....... 

1. John Bull Inn, Alnwick

2. Blue Mugge, Leek

3. George & the Dragon, Gnosall

4. Coachmakers Arms, Hanley

5. Ale House, Sheffield

Col Contentment in the Blue Mugge

With honourable mentions aplenty, Swan at Bushey and Swan at Stone both stand out, Shrewsbury Arms in Stafford, Smithy Arms Oxspring, Ale Gate Alnwick and Wilkes Head & Fountain Inn in Leek.  All could easily make a top 5 or 3 on a weaker month.  

Honourable (in a fashion) - Swan, Stone

Take care, and I'll see you in my first October pub very soon.


Wednesday 22 September 2021


You left me waiting at a bus stop in Hemel Hempstead last time out, which was quite cruel of you now I think about it.

But don't feel too guilty, we were soon whizzing back past Hemel train station, in the opposite direction, where we stop in the village of Bovingdon.  Of course, no BRAPA day out with be complete without attempting something a bit more difficult, and 'difficult' in West Herts is basically "not on a train". 

Time was of the essence, even with a 25 minute minimum, catching the next return bus would be a challenge.  Luckily, it was the sort of pub where it was quite easy to have a drink and leave, if you know what I mean! 

There was no disputing the winning 18th century interior here at the Bell, Bovingdon (1959 / 3388) with its low roofs, creaking beams, narrow corridors and raised bar area.  But middle of the road dining twee it also was.  If there'd been doubts about the presence of a ghost in the Swan at Bushey, I would not be surprised to hear such stories in here, an intermittent farting malevolent one or not.  The barmaid serving me is wearing a pair of glasses for the first time, and this has thrown the assembled old boys into a spin, unsure whether they suit her, and how to compliment her in a genuine way.  "You look more intelligent" didn't go down well.  The most gentlemanly softly spoken chap, to my immediate left, murmurs in a confidential tone "I think you look very nice, and I don't mean that in a sexual way " and she says yes, she knows he's a good man.  #WokeSi2021 approves.  Tempted as I am to chime in with "Are you going to call Scooby, Fred and Daphne and solve the mystery of the malevolent farting ghost?", I decide against it.  And if you are wondering why I didn't include Shaggy, never liked the bloke.  And don't even get me started on Scrappy Doo.  Twog incarnate.  A Scottish bloke is unhappy about that the Channel Tunnel doesn't run to Inverness, and his Scouse female companion may not have an opinion on that, but does agree with him about Greg Wallace.  Oooh gosh is that the time??  Down it, down it.  

At the bus stop, I'm relieved to see it delayed as catching it was touch and go.  A hapless young lad with a burnt hand seems to be waiting for something else, but what?  Nothing is due!  I quiz him, and he's forgotten it is Saturday and is working on weekday times.  Ooops!  Luckily for him, I'm here to point this grateful Bovi Boy in the right direction, i.e. "jump on this bus coming .... NOW!"

"We all need a lucky break now and again" I say, disappearing up the stairs like some Yorkshire Angel of Superior Hertfordshire Bus Knowledge.   

Next stop, THIS place and I won't deny it, I'm feeling quite emotional at the prospect of a pint of tolerable cask ale in the town .......

This bloke has brought his own bottle, and on past experience, who can blame him?

Yes, in the period circa 2005-2012 when I was at my peak Hull City away day Vicarage Road visiting, I can honestly hand on heart say that Watford was the WORST town in the entire football league to get a good pint.  

In fact, my archives tell me you have to go all the way back to April 2011 to find the last time I had a decent pint here, in the West Herts Sports Club, sat in the sun on the grass.  Even then, my beer was green in colour, but I'm still counting it.  

The pub was a short walk, and interesting to see it opposite the Estcourt Arms, one of the many pubs that consistently served me vinegar or nothing at all back in 2006, though I believe there are/were two Estcourt Arms so I may have the wrong one.  

So I step up to the bar with some apprehension at Wellington Arms, Watford (1960 / 3389) and order a pint of Squadron Scramble by Tring because the bloke on the pump clip is looking at me like "chocs away BRAPA, everything is going to be alright!"  and it was, a delightful drop.  I closed my eyes and savoured a long swig.  A couple of old blokes eye me as if to say "does he need his medication?" but I had it.  Real ale.  In Watford.  From a handpump.  Emotional.  I'll give it another ten years before the next one, but we'll see!  Almost easy to miss what was really important here, the pub itself, proper belt n braces old school arsefest.  One of those pubs that felt like it was built for 3pm Saturday Gilette Soccer Saturday's.  Watford are winning awaay, many strangled cries of joy can be heard from the benches out the front.  Hull City lost at lunchtime, I'm over it, so not even they can spoil this moment.  It feels like the closer I am getting back to Bushey, the 'realer' the pubs are getting.  Without sounding at all patronising, well done Watford, bless your dark cold tiny occasionally beating heart.  

A momentous ale moment in my life

If this was the Estcourt in the GBG circa 2006, I've done it!

Merson moaning about something

I could not afford to take my foot off the gas if I was to get both Oxhey pubs done, although I was finding myself getting drunker than last Saturday at the same five pint moment of the day!  I was on the 8pm out of King's Cross and of course, it'd be rude not to give myself a Parcel Yard chance too.

Back at Bushey station, I went to the slightly further out pub first, with its problematic 2:30pm Saturday opening time.  All was peaceful in the streets around, two barmaids smiled through the door, and it looked a nice boozer too .......

Villiers Arms, Oxhey (1961 / 3390) was the name, and if it is named after the chap who was the Duke of Buckingham, then he haunts the Cock & Bottle in York and is very horrid to women and hates crucifixes.  It is the only reason to visit that pub.  But this one was much nicer, a fine curved bar like you get in London, narrow around each side, very side street 1950's.  Confusing as it is now 1961.  The barmaid who looked a bit like Bobbie Mitchell off Prisoner Cell Block H if you are drunk pulled me a very acceptable Otter (not Keane Lewis), though I only chose it cos I'd already had the other two beers today.  You could make a beer ticker of me yet.  Are you watching Mr Dewhurst?  Same barmaid loves Colin, she's seen his family members recently and has been keen to adopt one of her own.  Second person recently who 'recognises' his kind, I hope he's not become too common.  That would never do.
Pocket calculators so you can work out how much to pay yourself, it might just catch on ....

BM's, Otter and Calculators

First sign I was perhaps getting a bit tiddly

Feel the quality

A truly British scene, and no, I'm certainly not getting out sober

If that pub was a bit of a BRAPA blur, try this one for size ......

A surprisingly boisterous locals local, luckily I was at the comfortably numb stage as I enter Railway Arms, Oxhey (1962 / 3391) otherwise I may've felt intimidated.  A pint of Something Citra, not the official name, not Oakham, but the landlady who's jolly nice is pleased/surprised I'm eager to pay in cash.  I'm now getting adept at 'reading the pub' with regards 'cash or card' even at this drunkture (drunk juncture, I'm patenting the word so don't try and nick it).  I forgot the Twitter check in here, just a couple of slurred lines of notes on my phone.  I sat at 3 o'clock from the bar, there may've been football on, and an old bloke came to share my table which seemed exactly the kind of thing that folk around here would do.  I like the Bushey/Oxhey area, probably the three best pubs of the day, actually definitely.  Do my photos tell me anymore?  Errrm, I was impressed with the snack selection?  Does the GBG say anything interesting about the pub?  Former Masons meeting house, Gaelic Football shown, signed Watford shirts.  So not really.  Anyway, try to visit and do it soberer than me, I think it was good.

I left the pub just gone 18:30 and was back in London, striding towards Parcel Yard 19:25 as I climbed the steps, booked on the 20:00.  I had time if I can get past the troll on the stairs.

ESB was on, in perfect condition, and I say to the guy "it is a bit of an end of night tradition for me to come in here and have a pint of ESB" and he says I couldn't have chosen a better tradition, and I'm like 'hiccup, cheers mate'.  Convivial.

But the place is heaving.  And I'm relegated to the corridor.  Only plus point it is near the loo

A very busy bee of a staff member seems to be up and down the corridor a million times, to the point we're saying "arite" to each other that many times, it's almost getting awkward.  

Stomach bubbling, I am struggling, I tell Col he can drink as much as he wants but he's like "you're on your own mate".  Cheers "pal" bring back the Otter!  (In more ways the one I'm feeling at this drunkture).

Thank goodness I just about force down the Devil's Own Juice, not my fave Parcel Yard experience but am sure it'll be better next time out! 

Got a busy weekend's ticking planned, so see you on Twitter for Thursty Thursday tomorrow night, and see you for next blog Mon or Tue. 

Take care and ta for reading, Si 

Tuesday 21 September 2021


Hertfordshire joined Bucks on joint 29th position in the BRAPA league table with a highly successful (and rule-breaking) 7 (SEVEN) pub day on Saturday just gone.  

Herts is my new 'focus' county daaarn saarf, and despite a couple of unsatisfactory experiences in my early days in the likes of Aldbury and Croxley Green, recent trips to St Albans and Hertford are making up for the slow start.

Today further confirmed what a good county Herts could prove to be, with a selection of generally old, no nonsense pubs, plus a few modern frilly bits around the edges just to keep the day nicely rounded. 

Breakfast on the train and look who is back ......

Verdict on the new Dairylea Crackers - 7/10, pleasant but lacking pow.  More cheese to bic ratio needed

An exhausting Tube trek from Euston to Watford Junction followed.  For a second Saturday running, much of my planning was done 'on the hoof' and it was only coming into Bushey station, that I realised that my furthest pub was an 11am opener.  I quickly scooped Colin, weak lemon drink and GBG into my bag, and jumped off.

Bushey and the GBG eh?  What a head scratcher.  The one pub listed is a good 23 minute walk from the station.  But two listed under Oxhey are both within spitting distance of Bushey station.  Best to negotiate when sober rather than six pints in, I decided.

The 23 minute walk got me to the pub at 10:59am, pub door pleasingly opening and a gurning man already sat down with pint.

Just as I found in the John Bull at Alnwick last week, today's first pub Swan, Bushey (1956 / 3385) would prove to be my favourite of the day.  The chirpy wiry barman is a lovely bloke, bouncing about in pure September sunny exuberance.  "You travelled far?" he says.  I tell him, not really, just York.  He reckons that's far.  But wonders if my decision to choose Tim Taylor Landlord from Keighley is therefore a wise one!  I assure him it is, Black Sheep not really my cup of tea, bit too early for an Abbot, and Young's Bitter I've found a bit of a wet lettuce recently.  The TTL is a class act here, perfectly kept.  Our barman and local gurner are soon searching around for a rare ancient pub document detailing historic pubs of the area.  They think a pub ticker like me might be interested.  Very good of them, though the constant 'don't lose it, don't spill on it, it is very precious' comments make me almost scared to remove it from the plastic sleeve!  I'm more interested in drinking in the gorgeous surroundings , but I'm then given a framed informational piece on the pub, telling me it is the last unrestored Victorian pub in the M25, probably.  Pumping me with information this place.  No pub is perfect however, and the only downside here was a vile smell, so reminiscent of a silent but deadly fart, I was convinced our helpful local gurner had a problem.  But the fact it was intermittent, no matter who was situated where, made me realise it must either be coming from the fireplace / chimney.  A malevolent spirit, or some blocked drain issue?  If you ever visit, which you should, please sit where I did and see if you experience the same, it really was revolting!   But cannot detract from a classic boozer.

Fabulously kept TTL

This barman made me so welcome, lovely chap 

The rare document I was almost scared to look at

"On a string, on a string, brush is hanging on a string"

Pub in all it's splendour, way back from bogs

Bloke (left) guv'nor(?) is here to drive our barman friend somewhere

My plan to get the Oxhey duo done next are in tatters as replacement barman, the also very friendly bald chap pictured above with spider web elbow tattoo, has checked with Google to confirm his suspicions, and the Villiers Arms doesn't open til 14:30.  This is the advantage of laying down your ticking agenda to locals in the know.

So I instead get the train out to my furthest point today with the aim of 'mopping them up' on the way back to Euston.

Berkhamstead is that furthest point, home of the Rising Sun or 'Riser', a very memorable pub tick in perhaps the most torrential downpour (joint with Donny '14 and Morecambe '05) I've witnessed in my life, huddled in the tiny porch with five other people because no room inside.
Gin & Tonic Nutcase - favourite of my Rising Sun porch friends, May 2017

Weather was a damn sight better today, glorious you could say.  Funny place Berkhamstead, always feels to me like the locals are bit smugger than the Things from Tring.  Almost like they take self-reflective glory in their pretty canal.  Not quite Stamford levels of puke-inducing-self-satisfied-sycophantic-left-handed-fellatiary, but still, it has that slight edge to it.  

Beautiful, but a bit in love with itself?

Our next pub too, managed to be both excellent and hugely frustrating at the same time ......

No entrance through the front door at the Bull, Berkhamstead (1957 / 3386) so up through the back decking, where a small gathering of ladies with rings on their fingers, and men with bells on their toes, were tucking into scran from the famed 'Fish Bar & Grill', honking like posh Herts sealions.  Am sure a couple clapped too.  Once inside, I'm asked to sit down.  "It's still table service, we feel it works better here", I'm told by the fantastic barman who gives the bloke in Bushey a run for his money for 'staff of the day' award.  An old bloke with his wife later questions the lack of bar service, to which he's told  "well, you can come to the bar for the theatre of it if you like, as long as you then sit down!"   The ale is superb, K9 by Tring.  There is a fabulous old jukebox, but the pub has been far too modernised for my liking.  "Where's your pool table gone?" asks a lady who hasn't visited for a few years.  He tells her it was a nightmare to clean and maintain.  She glances over her shoulder, as wistful as one could be.  A couple at the bar spy this posh Tequila vessel called 'Azul', a real pub centrepiece, and looking online, wow looks more like an 'event' than a drink.  But for all my frustrations with this place, the guy is so nice to me (and Colin), and you can tell the pub is ran in such a professional way,  to suit the Berkhamstead crowd, I find it hard to be overly critical.  Brentford have about twenty goals disallowed in 10 minutes at Wolves, as a group of six codgers come in very slowly.  Good luck getting this lot not to hover at the bar I think, and sure enough, it becomes an impossible ask, especially as most of them are deaf as posts!  Good place, you'll be well looked after if you come here.

Our hero of the hour pulling my excellent pint

Hotel "Col"ifornia, how apt

Way back from t'bogs, my pint is gleaming like Jules Rimet

Tequila couple giving it a try

Wonder what this pub paid for their one?!

Time to leave bootifil down town Berkhamstead, and make my way back down the train line.  

VERY EXCITED next, a trip to a place I'd never ever been to in my life but had heard a LOT about, Hemel Hempstead.  Whoop-the-doop.

Well, it isn't Berkhamstead.  Or Tring.  Or even Watford.  Feels a bit like getting off the plane at Barcelona.  I think that is a more favourable comparison than Slough or Milton Keynes which'd be obvious and lazy.  I crossed the road and a lovely old bloke gave me a 15 minute diatribe on Hemel's pub history.  I only asked him if the next bus would take me to town cos I had one to visit! 

Off the bus, and a few people smiled, which was nice.  I turned the corner which opened up into the vast sparse empty space with shopping precincts around the side.  I suddenly felt a bit depressed.  Where was Amble-by-the-Sea when you needed it?  But the sight of a new pub always lifts the heart by at least 0.01%.  

Felt a bit like the Western that John Wayne forgot to make

I panic on entering Monk's Inn, Hemel Hempstead (1958 / 3387).  All I can see is cider!  Six handpulls of it, and a blackboard confirming what I can see.  "Do ... do you do any 'cask' beer?" I simper, all pathetic like.  Our landlady points to six handpulls, all behind the bar.  So a cider 'forward' pub then?  I also spot three big barrels of ale on gravity.  I'd probably have gone for that had I seen them sooner.  Well, the owner seems a right formidable character, she calls me 'luv' or 'darling' or something but I bet she takes no nonsense from any Hemel naughty boys, and I suspect Hemel has more than its fair share of them?   The lady to my right wants a 'cider' recommending.  Something not at all dry, something blackcurranty.  She's given something that tastes just like Vimto, and she approves.  Cider?  Bit like craft beer innit?  I notice the "no card payments under £10 sign" and ask if it is telling me the truth.  Both ladies confirm my fears.  I feel like I'm kind of in a conversation now, but it is one of those where neither are really talking directly to me, yet you suspect, if this was 'up north' I'd have been right in the bosom of their Herts by now!  Oh well, I retire to the far wall, and drink my pint (less fresh than most today I have to admit) and I think that is about it for my HH debut.  Sure I'll be back before 2043.

Ask staff for help?  What they gonna do?  Point you to nearest cashpoint?

The beer I missed

Cheshire beermats were an interesting quirk

I tell you about my final four pubs in part two, maybe tomorrow, maybe not, in hazier detail of course.  I'll leave you with me standing at a bus stop in Hemel Hempstead where my phoned has just pinged to say Duncan Mackay is watching lower league German football.  These NHS Apps ain't what they used to be.

See you 9pm tomorrow, Si