All aboard the Polesworth Express for the annual BRAPA Christmas Special, and with Daddy BRAPA and Colin the Cauliflower in tow, we'd arrived in Birmingham/Tamworth so deliciously early, we really needed a pub that opened before noon.
It's a funny thing, the pre-noon GBG opener. Such a common sight when 'researching' pubs for pre-match away days in that Hull City golden era circa 2003-2009. But nowadays, and I noticed it a few years pre-Covid so we can't blame that, it is increasingly rare to find any non-Spoons pre-nooners.
I had to look at 13 (THIRTEEN) pubs before I found a solution. Hence this unexpected foray into Warwickshire, about 20 minutes outside today's key destination, Tamworth.
I got my 'festive' on, as the bus pulls up 10:56am. I'm just praying it will open up as expected.
The landlord pokes his head into the fresh air, before taking a long drag on his cigarette. He looks exactly like the kind of guy you'd picture running a proper boozer. His face is gnarly but kind, and Dad asks "I don't suppose you are open already are you?" to which he replies 'yes'. We're in! Bull's Head, Polesworth (1979 / 3542). And to our astonishment, the pub is lined with similar characters, half way down their pints, nicely settled into a session. This pub certainly hasn't just opened. Fabulous. The one ale on is Lit, no sign of the pump or brewery, it just sort of appears by magic through a hatch, a pale ale of startling quality, the lacings especially on Dad's glass tell their own story. Overheard anecdotes include "... and then someone stuck a shotgun in his face and he shit him sen". A loud lady asks for a packet of crisps from a seating position. The landlord casually launches them at her from the bar and it hits her in the side of the head, to which she cries 'oiiii'. That'd be a lawsuit in Chorlton or Hebden Bridge. The guv'nor comes over for a chat as we leave, he's seen my GBG and asks if we are doing EVERY pub in it .... today! Definitely a BRAPA FAQ. The answer sadly, is no. "Six does the trick" (my new catchphrase in this situation). What a great way to start. I thought about my chum, the wretched John Depeche Modem, and his views on the GBG not choosing the 'realest pubs' and I sort of wish he was here. Sort of.
|What's my (p)age (in the GBG) again?|
Rather irritatingly, Google Maps had "invented" a bus in addition to the hourly one listed on the actual bus stop and the oft reliable bustimes.org
Despite being 90% sure this was some kind of 'bollocks made up ghost service', Dad was right, imagine if we didn't look for it and it sped past the stop, then we'd feel silly.
Predictably though, it didn't show, and 7 minutes later, I suggest we start walking in the direction of our next closest pub, in a place called Dordon.
A 35 minute uphill walk, and if there was one pub today I was nervous about opening at 12, it was the Mini Miner, though my confidence had grown when I saw a Facebook post supporting all the other online hours (noon).
It was one of those temporary looking micros in a row of shops, and a sign emblazoned on the front revealed the awful truth ......
Dad was cross with me for not ringing ahead, understandably, and herein lies the reason why solo pub ticking is best, it is only yourself that you disappoint!
|You'll not see 3pm Saturday anywhere online kids, so please note this on pg 425 of your copybook|
A bus was due on the main road 5 minutes from now, so we jogged down to it. A busy road to cross, I could see the bus approaching the roundabout. The cars wouldn't stop! Dad got across before me, sort of hesitates a few yards from the stop, the bus shoots round the corner, I get across, we flail helpless arms towards it, and totally against the odds, he actually has the presence of mind to see us and stop.
I think we deserved that bit of luck after the Dordon cruelty! Phew!
Back in Tamworth, our other little bus trip isn't timed right, so we decide to go for one of our Tamworth trio whilst we wait. I got a good feeling about it as a pub town before we'd even left the bus station .....
I'm having a few problems with Tamworth though. Namely, having a very loud conversation with Dad as to how I'm getting mixed up between the Tamworth Two (Kate & Gerry McCann's dining partners) and the Tapas 7 (escaped pigs), which could've potentially got me into trouble.
A cut through onto the main drag leads us to pub two ......
Tamworth Tap, Tamworth (1980 / 3543) is the name, and what a Christmas cracker this was. The polar (excuse the pun) opposite from Bull's Head, but just as fantastic in its own right. I'm suspecting a family run set up a bit like Brighouse's Crafty Fox on Thursday, the mother/daughter combo with their long black hair and matching checked shirts are a great duo. My contactless payment is playing up, massive panic as I have to insert card the right way, remember my PIN number, gosh, I can feel the sweat beads forming on my brow. "I hate it when people shout 'CHIP FACE DOWN'" I tell the Mum, adding "sorry, you wouldn't think I work in a bank would you?" as I struggle on. She's finding me hilarious, and I'll take that as a win! The pub has some cosy little leathered armchairs and quieter rooms upstairs, but we wanna be where the action is and face the main bar. Far from it for me to be impressed by something as inconsequential as 'beer range', but I'm loving the 8 Christmas themed ales I've never heard of. I go for an Oakham FROZEN Citra. Luckily, it has no ice in it and drinks with a bite. A frostbite? Some Aston Villa fans appear at the bar. Do they know their game has been called off at the last minute? It is impossible to tell. For if you've ever met an Aston Villa fan, you'll know they walk around with that kind of expression with eyes close together, furrowed brow, vacant stare, like they aren't quite sure where they are in the UK or what is occurring. A cracking boozer this, get yourself there!
|Dad proper 'inked' the GBG entry, nearly went through the page! I gave him an official warning. He said it showed how much he was enjoying the pub|
Time to hop on the bus to our other little outer village of the day. I'd considered a taxi to the bus free / surrounded by water village of Elford (someone pointed out the Elf-ord Christmas link I'd never thought of), and a bus to Whittington, but decided to leave this duo for now in favour of Fazeley.
|I wonder if he's called Chris and this bunting is up for him?|
It was a painful journey for two reasons. First, I'd tried to wolf down a 'runny' yolked Scotch Egg but the bus had arrived prematurely. I shoved it in my pocket hoping I'd get chance to 'smuggle it' in the next pub, big mistake!
And secondly, we had to navigate this hideous edge of town Shopping Retail Park called Ventura. But there was nothing 'Ace' about it (thanks), being the Saturday before Christmas, well you can imagine!
Just a relief to finally reach Fazeley and jog around the corner, full bladder, where our pub was looking sort of foreboding, dominating but impressive .....
|Coat weirdly half open from bottom, but not for urination ease I promise (sorry Newark)|
You know you are in a winning pub when, straining your neck at the bar to ensure Bass is on as advertised, a drunken local staggers into you, apologises, then wishes you 'good evening' (at 2:30pm) and staggers off again. Welcome to Three Horseshoes, Fazeley (1981 / 3544) a pub so bonkers, it restores your faith in life, pubs and the GBG. As Dad expertly summed up later "exhausting place .... you walk in, it totally consumes you, and then spits you out again". I needn't say more, but this is a BRAPA blog, so I will. So after Mrs Claus passes us two pints of Bass kept to perfection, we find ourselves on the bench next to a nice chap who has an excitable and overly curious Jackapoo called Bo. And Bo has sniffed out my runny pocket scotch egg and doesn't give it up! Actually, admitting I have a runny scotch egg in my pocket seems to make me more human to the Fazeley locals. I wouldn't call the atmosphere rough, or intimidating, but certainly 'character building'. 'Plasterer Jennifer Saunders' for example is always staring over at us! Drunk bloke wants to put something specific on the jukebox, but he doesn't know how to use it. He's eventually told to stop buggering about, so he enlists some help and puts on Jobseeker by Sleaford Mods. His anthem he says, he has his own special dance to it. It is half amusing, half terrifying, to watch him stomping about. Not to mention very niche! "Three cracking pubs so far!" Dad sums up, during the half time report. "Yes, but what worries me from past BRAPA experience, where there's this many ups, there's bound to be a down" I reply. I didn't realise quite how right I'd be.
Back on the bus back to Tamworth then. Join me some time in the early new year for the traumatic part two. I betcha can't wait, I know you love it when I suffer!
See you around 1am New Year's Day for the annual BRAPA year end review, where we'll hand out a few awards to the best (& worst) pubs, reveal this year's #PubMan of the year, some of my favourite photos of the year etc etc. I'll start writing it 7:30pm surrounded by snacks and strong craft cans! It's gonna be fun.
Take care, Si