Remove a 'B' from ABBA, then add an 'R' and a 'P' and what do you get? BRAPA! It can't be a coincidence.
I tell you what else isn't a coincidence. Andover bus station being the place on earth that makes you feel most mortal. And I don't mean in a Geordie Shore kind of way.
It was Thursday, and that meant the twice weekly bus to the GBG tick-friendly remote village of Vernham Dean was due. I patiently wait for the wheezing, zimmered, breathing tubers to get on first. They are all old pals of each other with tea cosy hats. I sit still with a silly smile on my face and try to blend in.
Before long, all trace of phone signal has gone. Breath-taking sweeping Wiltshire countryside on my left. These roads weren't designed for buses. Or cars. Every time we encounter oncoming traffic, it is forced to reverse about a mile to the nearest passing point. Our driver is totally ungracious and keeps getting abusive gesticulations, but he doesn't care, he owns this road.
Once in VD (do they call it that?), the pub is thankfully open just gone noon. It looks the part .....
And it is just as glorious within, welcome to George Inn, Vernham Dean , one of the strongest pubs of the week. It just did everything well. An old man with those really long ears that suggest he must be 300 years old has just vacated the prime spot by the fire, where crazy dog Buster is (for now) wisely snoozing. I'm having that space! Our barmaid is a star, European accent and blonde, she may well be of Swedish origin to tie in further with the blog intro. She tells me she too wishes she could settle in front of the fire as it is chilly back here, but she thinks it'd look unprofessional to the customers. I tell her I cannot relax until I know how I'm getting out of Vernham Dean with no bus til next Tuesday, and with no phone signal, she lets me borrow the landline, breaking off the chef to jot me down a couple of taxi firms! I get through first time, and now I can enjoy this pub. A few posh blouses in for lunch from Sudbury and more local places are jealous of my spot near the fire, but are more interested in why I am here, and am soon having shouted conversations across the room re Sudbury pubs. The eagle eyed landlord is here, noticing the new GBG. "We're in embargo period, so it isn't me who told you you're in it!" I tell him, but he says it is okay, the local CAMRA lady rang him two days ago. He is delighted to be back in, saying the only reason they weren't in last year is no one visited! Another old bloke with long ears is presented with a really spicy Bloody Mary. "He can handle it, he was born in Calcutta!" his wife proudly declares, only for him to have a full on coughing fit. Am I allowed to laugh? Time to leave, taxi imminent.
In the carpark as I wait, there is a sinister bloke waiting around talking loudly on his phone. "Of course I don't WANT her to die, I just think it'd be a lot BETTER all round if she did!" he explains. I try to pretend I haven't heard. Thank heavens the taxi is on time.
I ask him to take me to Weyhill rather than back to Andover, it makes sense. The pub closes mid afternoon, and there is a back road from VD which is fairly direct, in a winding rural sort of way. How could it even begin to follow the last pub?
"DID WE GET IN YOUR PHOTO?" cackle mother/daughter combo Allie G and Emma, propping up the bar at the slightly insane Weyhill Fair, Weyhill downing their 50th vodka lemonades of the lunchtime session. On the surface, this pub could be viewed as a fairly basic dining led Fullers roadside pub, but you can tell the people and staff help it rise above mediocrity into something rather special. They give good Hophead too, best pint of it I have tried in quite a long time. With the last of the elderly lunchtime crew doddering up and out of the pub, it settles into a jolly pub like atmosphere. Me, the two ladies, and our barmaid, the gorgeous Rhiannon (she has a Welsh Dad), and the TripAdvisor person who said she had a smile which could light up any room wasn't kidding. If I still had that unwoke BRAPA Brunette of the Year award, the contest would've ended in this pub. I was supposed to do a Trip Advisor for them too, but didn't wanna run out of juice and peak too soon pre BRAP. Knowing I'm all about the pub blogs, Rhiannon takes me upstairs to the function room, where they have a rather splendid mural of the Weyhill Fair. No dodgems, ghost train or rollercoaster at this fair, just a bunch of old blokes and ladies with horses and hay bales trying to get married and stuff pigs in their shirts. Touch of class. Back in the bar, Allie G tells me Winchester is a bit 'illy. I eventually work out she means 'hilly', which is weird as she'd been going on about her Cornish origins and getting into the awkward little villages away from Newquay and stuff. I managed to miss the bus, cue hysterical laughter all round, and then I think I missed a second one, but was too embarrassed to go back inside on for a second time. It was that kind of pub!
Back into Andover then, and after two fab pub experiences, talk about coming back down to earth with a bump! I visited the four GBG pubs last year, commendable for all being open at 11am on a Monday. But only one remains (Town Mills). And you have to say, Andover is so dreary. Not so much because the pubs are dull, though it doesn't help, but the people are so insular and ungiving.
Quite a pretty place on the surface too with its duck pond, little bridge and grassy area, so it is a shame. It needs an army of Swedish George Inn barmaids, Sudbury ladies, Rhiannon's, Allie G's and Emma's to inject life into it.
This next pub looked so 'unassuming', I actually walked past it despite tracking it on my App ......
Andover Tap, Andover did nothing to convince me that my previous appraisal of the town's boozers were anything other than inconsequential non entities. 'But Si, tell us what you really think?' I hear you say. Well, let us give credit where it is due, the understated guv'nor is a nice chap. And both on arrival, and on exit, we exchange a few brief words about how their lovely porter, on gravity, warmed me up on this increasingly chilly day. As a micropub landlord once told me, his type aren't 'performing monkeys', and it isn't like I made any great effort to 'entertain' (NOT that the atmosphere was at all conducive to it). The only customer who spoke, later identified as Rob from Basingstoke due to his famous pullover and recent ditching of his legendary Nokia 3210 is reading the previous edition of the GBG. Tsk, amateur, I continue to highlight mine 'under the table' being in embargo period n all! He occasional chirps a few words to the main man. But on the whole, I'm left still waiting for Andover to sparkle (and that isn't even supposed to a northern beer head pun).
I lurch back up the hill to Andover station, where there is always a healthy gaggle of taxis standing, waiting to take people to happier places (sorry Andover, I'll give it a rest now). Second taxi of the day due to another almost bus-free location, I feel kinda dirty, but a tick is a tick, and a pub open throughout the day in rural Hants on a Thursday is a rarity. I'm meeting a Twitter pub debutant too, exciting!
Chilbolton is the village in question, no one understands what I mean because I keep pronouncing it "Chill-bolton" and it seems you pretty much ignore the L and say Chi-bolton. How would I know? Totally spoilt my 'Netflix and Chil-bolton' blog title too.
Well, what a stunning village. Chocolate boxy if the weather wasn't so grey and wild. Thatched cottages, cute little lanes, and then the pub, totally incongruous to all around it with its brick structure. My #PubMan debutant pointed this out. Does it upset the village locals? I can't remember. I hope so. Hardly an eyesore though is it?
Abbot's Mitre, Chilbolton was an interesting one for me. It was a bit smart, shiny floors are the type you can hear high heels clip clip clopping along, there was this huge unashamed restaurant behind me. And yet somehow, and I'm not quite sure how, and you probably won't be able to pick this up from the photos, but it had an atmosphere of something a lot more traditional and cosy, and that smell of an ancient pub that no amount of stomach busting culinary japes could disguise. The Bowman's Swift One drank well, but it wasn't a Swift One, I proper nursed it. And then, our new friend arrived, Andrew Mackean off Twitter with links to nearby Stockbridge, and Ireland (this isn't Crimewatch, honest). A lovely chap, felt immediately comfortable in his company, I just discovered he lived round here a bit too late to help me with Broughton yesterday! We had nice pub /BRAPA chats, and with the annoying news that Longparish wasn't opening til 6pm, I could see the cogs whirring in his mind and he said "right, I've got a surprise pre-emptive for you I think you'll like!" Yesss, surprise BRAPA, not seen the like since Daddy BRAPA drugged me and shoved me in the boot and took me to Louth.
Right, I'm just off for a tea break because this is turning into a proper mammoth blog, so see you in a bit ......
That was lovely. Kedgeree! Eggs bit more scrambled than boiled, cream was double not single so I had less, but otherwise, pretty much perfect.
Where was I? Yes, mystery pub time. Helped by the fact that it is now pitch black out in the remote villages of mid Hants, and our shadowy guest does his first BRAPA poses .....
Every pub this week was strictly pre-emptive, with the new GBG not 'officially out', but the Clatford Arms, Goodworth Clatford especially so! Shame really, it deserves a spot on this showing, too gritty for the local CAMRA perhaps, beer quality spot on. But what really shone about this place was its uniqueness, and it didn't need a statue of a monkey with its hand up two donkey's asses to 'bring the quirk' to tonight. With the fabulous carpet and smell of curry, you could almost have been at a top ranking 'Spoons. And with the low ceilinged angular layout, kids chasing each other around and flinging themselves on the floor, and 'women in sport' in the gents (combined with whatever that guy was saying on the way to the Gents which I can't remember), it felt a lot like being in a social club. Whatever, it was full of life and if it is one of the 4,500 pubs in the <insert year> Good Beer Guide I end up fully greening up, it was especially worth it!
Being the gent he is, Andrew didn't ditch me in a ditch in Goodworth Clatford and drove me to Andover where I could catch a change. It seems strange to me that to get from Andover to Winchester, you have to go via Basingstoke, but there's the vagaries of life.
And of course, I'd strategically left a Basingstoke tick for a moment such as this.
It was all a bit Batman, as it had its own hologram thingy shining not in the Basingstoke night sky, but on the ground a few yards from the pub to draw in the punters ........
New Inn, Basingstoke was a peculiar way to end the night. And kind of why I like Basingstoke a lot more than Andover. It was a little bit rough around the edges, but the beer quality was spot on. It didn't feel GBG at all, and that only added to the 'charm' if charm is the word. Perhaps not. Everyone was very raucous, Thursday is the new Friday after all. The two young chavs to my right further along the bench barely looked old enough to be in here, nervously huddled over their lagers, but they at least hacked up phlegm with a gusto of men thrice their age. They asked me if I'd just come back from the loos when I returned to my table, and if it really was in that direction! "Yes lads". "Ohhhh cheers mate!" Bizarre. The wood burner next to me was very welcome, it was about the last pub on earth you'd expect to see one in. I'd already witnessed some serious dudes playing pool behind a closed door, and then three smiley men arrived with snooker cues, which they propped against the bar, and polished long and slow whilst they waited for their pints to be served. I couldn't help but smile throughout the whole experience, and you don't always get that in the 'stoke.
Train back to Winchester, and a THIRD day of no individual bags of crisps in Tesco. This was getting silly. Giant Wotsits it was! Up to 17 ticks for the week, plus one ace pre-emptive. Going well.
And tomorrow, we'd continue to be sociable as the lovely Mick Citra agrees to drive me around six more weird and wonderful boozers. If I have the energy, I'll see you tomorrow evening for the review of that one! If not, Sunday.
See you then, and ta for reading, Si