Under a cloud of uncertainty, I arrived in sunny Hitchin on the morning of Saturday 30th October.
The first few copies of the shiny new blue 2022 Good Beer Guide had been observed across southern regions, but with no copy making its way to BRAPA Towers in York as yet, I set off down south armed with the moth eaten old stager that is the 2021 copy.
Talking of moth eaten old stagers, #PubMan and BRAPA hero John Depeche-Modem who lives local was propping up 'Bancroft Stop D' (a recent back problem means he had to pass a late fitness test just to make today). A few nosy old buggers listened keenly as we greeted each other, and I told John of today's pub agenda.
Being our Hallowe'en Special, we had a debutant in the shape of Pumpy, a little scamp of a pumpkin knitted skilfully by Sarah Morgans and sent to me by Christine Andrew #NorthLincsPubWomen - Pumpy would keep Colin on his toes all day .......
|Pumpy tries to strangle Col with a phone charger lead early on. "It was only banter" he later claimed.|
For a dude hellbent on getting Hertfordshire greened up as quickly as possible, I have a bloody funny way of showing it, straying into Bedfordshire at any given opportunity.
A bumpy bus ride took us firstly to the leafy village of Haynes, looking deliciously autumnal, for pub number one ......Greyhound, Haynes (2020 / 3450)
was a rare modern day example of compulsory face covering, which seemed apt for a pub numbered 2020. It was a pretty desperate experience. The only customers, we wander in to an empty pub grasping at some long forgotten semblance of true village atmosphere. A dewy eyed barmaid blinks at us from behind the raft of cocktail menus and turned around pumpclips (only Greene King IPA on). It was excellent GK IPA, and I don't think I've ever said that before in my life! John, who plays the 'BRAPA ambassadorial role' better than anyone I know, tries his best to get some chat going, but pleasant as she was, she has no game. Quizzing her on whether this pub is likely to be included in the forthcoming GBG was always going to be a step too far, she admits she hasn't really heard of it, or CAMRA, I was already sat in a corner at this point, telling Pumpy that as debut pubs go, he'd been a bit unlucky. The pub needed something, anything, to save it. Suddenly, a strangulated squawk from beyond. Not a ghost, not John's breakfast repeating on him, but a beautiful Scarlet Macaw called Freddie, and finally, we got some chat!
|Friendly but may bite? Bit like Weymouth then.|
My already fragile confidence was wavering further as we waited for the bus back in the direction we'd come from. "That pub's never going to make the 2022 GBG is it? Is it?" I whine to John between mouthfuls of Mini Cheddars to keep me sustained.
Maybe Shefford could fare better? After all, their Brewery Tap had been decent in my formative Beds ticking years of 2014/15, and it is in a town, which in Beds ticking terms, usually outstrips the village efforts.
Bridge, Shefford (2021 / 3451) was a bit of a contradiction, in that it was stripped back to a sort of bare minimalist dining blandness, but combined with a wholesome belts n braces style attitude of the staff and clientele, totally at odds with the decor. Nothing doing getting served round the front, John realises before me the action is round the back bar. The lady who serves us is wholly unresponsive of John's banter and I didn't warm to her at all, but the other two ladies and a lurking bloke, including a loud scouser, are proper salt of the earth. John needs a ciggie, so we head outside to the garden / sheltered courtyard. Not exactly the prettiest backdrop, but the unseasonably warm weather, smell of John's fag fumes, and a pretty decent Charles Wells (soz, Charlie Wells, he's been hipsterfied) makes for a pleasant experience. It gets better on the way out as I return from the bogs, John is doing his BRAPA ambassadorial duties once more (I really should pay the man) and they are absolutely LOVIN' it! Good folk, more proof that pubs really do live or die by the people who run them.
|The only ale on, and again, well kept (no surprise, but here, it felt more 'deliberate')|
|My mental state|
|How Shefford residents view Shefford in their mind's eye|
|Charles Wells : rebooted|
|John looks like he's prepping a barbecue (he isn't)|
|Pumpy and Col getting a few rays|
|"Most improved East Beds pub 2020" now THAT'S AN AWARD!|
As we take the bus back into Hitchin, I'm still troubled. "That pub's never gonna make the new GBG either is it John? Is it???" I whine. Soon though, I'm distracted just as I was in Horsham by FA Trophy shenanigans. Yes, the fans are swarming in their half dozens towards the gates of Hitchin FC, cup fever is high, and a quick check of my phone shows they are taking on Leiston, wherever that is!
A short walk takes us to the impressive looking third pub at a road junction, John seems determined to get some arty shot going on .......
I don't even have to try the ale to know that Victoria, Hitchin (2022 / 3452) is a definite upturn in the quality of the day from the moment we step inside. Brimming with a large quantity of bright folk, about 50/50 split male/female, young n old, foodies and drinkers, has a cracking atmosphere. Being a Hitchin man, John was most looking forward to taking me to this one, in the hope bar manager Amy was working here, a larger than life character he says, and if John says that, must be true. In a familiarly reminiscent scene, I return from the bogs to find John chatting to her, giving her the BRAPA lowdown. Lovely lady, but got the sense she was busy and wanted to get on with whatever vital work these bar managers do - especially with a popular burger menu called 'Bun Loving Criminals' (eye roll) popular with a massive group of Euro students behind us. Pumpy declares this his favourite pub of the day and celebrates by eating a beermat. Another staff member in a Lou Reed top has full Hallowe'en face make up on but is walking around with an amusingly nonchalant air. The Mad Squirrel Autumn is tasty, my fragile confidence is given a boost. "I'd be surprised if this one doesn't make the 2022 Guide" I tell John. However, we are giving BB's Bar a miss on the basis John thinks it might miss out next time. John needs to buy a ticket to Baldock, so knowing he's walking slower due to a recent back problem, he leaves the pub first, and I set off five minutes later.
|"Oh Pumpy, you really are a very naughty little pumpkin" (in Matthew Corbett voice)|
I power walk down to Hitchin station, but disaster at the barriers as my phone freezes and won't let me swipe to bring up my electronic ticket! I plead with about ten members of staff at the barrier, telling them my train is in three minutes, but they won't let me through.
Eventually, a hard re-boot fixes it and after glaring back at the barrier staff (not that it was their fault, it just felt like they weren't helpful at the time!) I jump on the train just in the nick of time and ring John to find out what carriage he's in. But because he didn't see me, he didn't get on and he's still in Hitchin!
He suggests it is best if I do the further out pub on my own, and then meet him at the second one later. Solid plan, so here we go, I set off through the spooky streets of Baldock alone in quest of pub four ......
Noting this is by no means a GBG regular, those little pangs of doubt creep in yet again as I enter Cock, Baldock (2023 / 3453) and I'm delighted to find a dark, beamed creaky place with a fire, and a jocular kind of atmosphere. As I get served, the friendly barmaid with Sophie Ellis-Bextor-ish bone structure, totally unprompted, starts asking me how my day is going, where I've been and what I'm up to next! Well, first pub where my BRAPA ambassador wasn't here to get in first, and I'm able to effortlessly reel off the BRAPA concept in full. Poor SEBish, bet she wishes she hadn't asked! No, I didn't outstay my welcome at the bar, pub was a bit cramped for that, but I find a nice seat adjacent to some maniacal footie lads, hunched around the Gillette Soccer Saturday screen so no one else can see. After extolling the virtues of Bolo Zenden which seemed rather random (but might be an omen a new Middlesbrough GBG tick is on the horizon?) they are soon in a worrying state of ecstasy with shock Premier league goals n VARs flying in at Liverpool and Man City. Looking around the room, rest of the pub are all glancing at them like "shut the flip up guys, it is only soccer ball". Col has fallen asleep in my bag, so Pumpy is now my sole companion. Now I'm not saying the evil little scamp is drugging my companions, but first John goes AWOL, now Colin. Suspicious eh?
|Pumpy wondering which of the ladz to drug first|
|No pumpy, these three men seem friendly, leave them alone|
|My "this pub deserves to make the 2022 GBG but not sure it will & I've had 3 pints" expression|
And part of the reason for my worry is that on the way to the next pub, I spy this pub, White Lion, which featured in the previous GBG instead of the Cock. Pop in for a pre/post emptive half? That's what a proper ticker would do. But John is at the next pub, he's seen a beer he knows I like, and I've kept him waiting long enough. I just hope it doesn't come back to haunt me.
A few side streets later, the pub we really really want is on the horizon, and I spy a John on the horizon lurking outside like a sinister man of the cloth ....
John tells me off for approaching from the one direction he wasn't expecting me to come from. Blame Google Maps mate, not me.
|Faceless blurry me and shopmobility scooter - sign of a good pub|
We go through to the small little room immediately to the left after entering Orange Tree, Baldock (2024 / 3454) and John wasn't wrong, Titanic Plum Porter. Yessss, the perfect beer to lead us into a Parcel Yard ESB. This is a cracking little pub, and a now recovered Colin declares it his favourite. My only gripe, so many people kept walking between rooms, straight through ours, it at times had the transient feel of a station tap and it deserved to be so much more than that. Always fascinated by the love of rugby union on TV when I am anywhere in the home counties, and here, they watched with a rugby fervour you'd only get for summat like Batley v Hunslet up in Yorkshire. Got a bit annoyed when I went through to the right hand bar to find the loos, it felt like I'd walked into a totally different pub, and they all stop and look at me like I've cheekily walked in off the street. Determined to protest my case that I'm here drinking Plum Porter in the other bar, they all suddenly turn away and start chatting amongst themselves! I don't know whether to be happy or not. John performs the final tick of the 2021 GBG, and fittingly, shows me the hidden unpublished pages of the 2022 edition (see below). A fine way to end '21 ticking.
|So many of these sound like genuine Antic pubs, you gotta laugh|
As I stood on Baldock station, the sun setting for the final time before the clocks go back, it is decision time .......
A rushed sixth tick at Letchworth Garden City? Or a nice relaxing ESB in Parcel Yard? I had to think about it for about three seconds. After all, no guarantee LGC would make the 2022 GBG is there? Is there?
The train home was a more pleasant experience than I could have imagined. The Hartlepool fans, so boisterous and full of optimism on the way down to Orient, being charged only a fiver to get in, had lost 5-0 and were very quiet, poor things!
The young lass across from me whose Dad plonked her near me and then went back to drink with his mates (top parenting mate!) finally stopped looking like she was going to puke on me, and told me the ref was to blame for a decision he made at 3-0!
I was less happy when I got back to BRAPA Towers, STILL no GBG. The wait would go on til 13:35 on Monday. Even Paisley got it before me, but not Sheffield. #JusticeForRetiredMartin
See you all on Friday morning where I'll tell you what the cross-ticking has done to BRAPA!
"Quizzing her on whether this pub is likely to be included in the forthcoming GBG was always going to be a step too far"ReplyDelete
Oh, go on, and ask about GBG23 while you're at it. Since I'm clearly never getting GBG22 that info could be useful to me.
Congrats on braving Beds.