If Coventry had been a textbook BRAPA lesson in how perfect planning prevents piss poor performance (the 6P's, a Rotherham Mod taught me that), then the following Saturday would illustrate just how unlucky you can be in this ticking game.
A day without rain, that was the first surprise. In fact, it was shaping up to be a bright spring day as I trotted up South Parade at 8:30am, feeling positive, waving at the local ginger tom (an actual cat, not Irvin) with my left hand, tapping away on my phone to find the platform number in advance with my right.
But what was this? Train cancelled. And the next one, and the next? Trainline App broken? No such luck. A message said 'problems in the Huddersfield area, all trains cancelled until at least 11am'. Noooooo!
Oh well, back to bed for an extra hour, and a leisurely croissant. I didn't attempt the 11:30am train, 27 travel alerts saying it was a very busy service, so I went for the one an hour later.
Today had long since been a planning problem. With Hants now finished, I decided to make Lancs / GMR my latest pet project. The original plan today, Morecambe, was postponed as the bloke I was going with was working. Accrington is out of the equation for now because a nice man is driving me around the area in May. Aughton looked hopeful, until I saw the price of a York - Liverpool day return at short notice. Ouch! How about Adlington? Replacement buses ruled that out.
I finally settled on an outer Wigan day so I could do Ashton-in-Makerfield. But due to the lateness of my arrival into Piccadilly, I decided to shelve the Ashton & Standish elements, and instead catch a bus from Manchester to Leigh and take it from there. What a headache!
I was first on the train, nicely sat down, but it was soon rammed. A bunch of coked up Teesiders stood too close to me. The one I'd identified as 'number 1 ruffian' managed to have two skirmishes during the journey.
Well, the first was just him and a bloke shouting "ARE YOU ALRIGHT MATE? YES ARE YOU? I'M ALRIGHT, ARE YOU OK MATE? " into each others faces, plus much swearing, which led to a hysterical mother to wail "won't someone think of the children!" and threatened to call the police.
The second grapple was with one of his own smoggie mates, but was more like a homo-erotic bear fight / lion cubs style wrestle, hard to know if it was just joshing, but it led to much lager going flying and the lady next to me having to lean into my seat to avoid an elbow in the face.
As you can imagine, the second I hit Manc, I needed a morale boosting, mind centring pint of ale.
I managed to walk past it twice, and as you can see from above, it hardly looks like the kind of building you'd expect to house Beatnikz Republic Bar, Manchester (2127 / 3690) a grade II listed former office block don't ya know? A large, pretty basic but not unpleasant place, bench seating on the right, groups of smiling beardy twentysomethings have a jolly old time, higher stools and sparseness to the left and back. The staff seem chirpy, and Beatnikz own ale is in rare form. Nectar after that tumultuous journey. Colin puts in his first appearance of the day, leading to plenty of amused glances along the lines of 'we're cool and but not cool enough to have a cauliflower on our table' and one lad even gives him a respectful nod on the way out. Not one soul is watching the Six Nations, if this was Leighton Buzzard, it'd be the whole bar. A solid start.
I got myself to Piccadilly Gardens where the Leigh bus was supposed to arrive, but I waited and waited and it just didn't show! The bus stop was rammed with people, most of them had buggies, many displaying 'cold like symptoms', and after a while, I reluctantly decide to scrap this plan, and instead hop aboard the Metro opposite.
I'm loathe to do this , as with Manchester Punk Festival on the horizon, I was hoping to mop up these 'close to Manc' GBG ticks between bands.
HOWEVER, of the six bands / artists I was most looking forward to, THREE (all American) have cancelled, and of the remaining three, two clash, and they're all on the Sunday leaving me watching lots of bands I don't know, which is fine and sometimes actually more fun, but the lure of more outlandish GMR BRAPA may therefore be stronger than I'd been anticipating!
I found myself heading east, a couple of pubs are on this route which was good news, after all I've been neglecting GMR for about four years now so plenty of gaps have opened up.
Droylsden was my furthest point east. My only other visit here ended in disaster when a mardy barmaid refused to change my vinegary pint, even getting the lager loving old locals to side with her, so I left, tail between legs. A few hours later, the owner/someone in charge contacted me on Twitter to apologise, which was good at least. That pub, Beehive(?) has not been in a GBG since.
But this has ......
The throng of Droylsdonians sat outside enjoying this unseasonably warm sunshine, and the slightly silly named Silly Country Bar & Bottle Shop, Droylsden (2128 / 3691) had me creeping inside gingerly, hoping to avoid any incident! But this place won me over right from the start, the fact the locals were so friendly and smiley reassured me, service was swift and efficient, I got a nice stool in the window with a bit of cheeky 'Opening Times' to keep Colin entertained / from getting sunburnt. And by gum, that Chocolate Fudge Stout, pint of the day. As they say in the trade, hook it to my veins. And the bar itself, SO much better than it looks at street level - warm, bright, vibrant, plenty of depth, no half measures here, a place with a lot of love. And the nice man with the fluffy white dog is still smiling. Lovely stuff, best give him a manly nod. Col can't nod, neck issues. I feel like I spent most of 2020/21 claiming the north/south friendliness divide is a myth, but from what I've encountered in 2022 so far, that particular stereotype still has plenty of legs.
Although my App claimed the next Metro was three minutes away, the electronic scoreboard said 18 minutes, grrr, this kinda thing wouldn't have happened in Coventry, even if it did have a Metro. Hey Coventry, why don't you have a Metro? City of Culture. Come on, sort it out.
Oh well, as I 'catch some rays' and hope my bladder behaves, some lads wander past and go 'hey duuude, you were on our last Metro!' I confirm they have correctly identified me, wonder if they are too young for a #BRAPA pin badge and thin beermat, as they all (about seven of them) fist bump me as they walk past! You don't get fist bumping in outer Southampton. Maybe fisting, but not bumping.
The next stop on the Metro, more than half way back to Picc, is called 'New Islington' where I have a pub listed under a place called 'Ancoats'. Not even 'Manchester : Ancoats', Manc has done a lot of this in the GBG this year. See also 'New Windsor' & 'Hulme'. Like when York invented a place called Holgate to stick the Fox, when Holgate is very much just an area in (outer) York. Still they know best, I'm just the puppet who blindly follows the GBG's weird vagaries.
New Islington is a terrifying place. Sort of like a northern Canary Wharf for skinny hip kids. Everyone is either sat in doorways drinking cans and smoking pot, or sitting with their feet in little stretches of water, drinking cans and smoking pot. Billboards implore you to come and live here as it is one of the 10 funkiest places in the UK. I'm a young, but I feel about 60 in New Islington.
I have to squint at the little blue sign reflecting in the window which confirms I am in the correct place, Cask, Ancoats (2129 / 3692) so at least I've fulfilled one requirement today, getting to a GMR/Lancs listed GBG place beginning with an 'A'. Gotta take the wins where you can get them on these tricky days. My heart sinks when I see the sheer number of folk buzzing around the bar. Three deep! Ooof. One of those scenarios where you suspect the world is finally getting back to some sense of normality. For a bar called 'Cask', the cask ale isn't at the forefront, so I crane my neck towards a blackboard to my upper left and memorise a beer name. The staff deserve immense credit. Not loads of them but not only are they superb at getting people shifted, they memorise exactly what order to serve people in - a dying art perhaps, and I'm grateful, as two small ladies, one left, one right, are nibbling away at my heels trying to push in. Luckily, I'd made eye contact early doors with the main bloke. Gosh, the things you forget you have to do at busy bars, stressful! I temporarily take my pint outside, but with a chill in the air now, plus a lack of space, I retreat back indoors, where a stool as come free on the edge of a group sat in a circle. Their young spokesman, sounding like he's doing me the biggest favour in the world, allows me to grab it. So no table, but sat in the centre of the room, on a stool. Result! And constantly holding onto your pint means of course, you drink quicker. Which is what I need to do in the current circs. Pint is another good 'un. Time to get a wriggle on!
|Nice to see people using coat hooks on the bar like in t'olden days - look at those empties|
Back to the tram stop and of course, I've just missed one and have a long 14 minutes to wait, it has now thoroughly clouded over and I'm suddenly chilly.
Back in Piccadilly, I'm a bit unsure what my next move should be so I sit down and plan a little trip to Bolton, and perhaps Westhoughton too. As soon as I buy my ticket, an announcement 'your train has been delayed'. No time given. Just delayed. Another is delayed too. Down at the extremities of Platforms 13 & 14, folk look bewildered. I sip coffee, eat a scotch egg, and wait.
Suddenly, a train seems to be on the horizon. But just then, a rumble of football. And a colony of Bolton Wanderers fans coming from god knows where sweep past us all, down onto the platform, like a load of demented worker ants, at which point an announcement comes through the tannoy "this train has now been cancelled". Hmmm, suspicious timing!
"Fuck this, I'm off!" says the scraggly hybrid Groucho Marx / Chris Addison next to me, unhooking himself from his 20 bluetooth devices. I agree that toddling off may well be the best course of action, and decide to leg it across Manchester for my other pub in this fine city. Bolton plan in tatters, ticket unrefundable, FML.
I now find myself in the Bolton swarm, everyone is singing a song that goes "twenty goal, twenty goal someone someone" so I hum along. A bloke who could be Fred Dibnah and Diane Morgan's lovechild drops a phone charger in the street. I pick it up. "Cheers cock!" he says. And I think it was a compliment.
Takes me ages to locate my next 'pub', but if I'd remember back to my Altrincham equivalent, I'd have known it was part of a modern market hall , and the place I'm aiming for is just one of many businesses within.
"Do you wanna take a knife and fork?" says the bloke at the entrance. 'Is this for my own protection, or because the beer is chewy?' I wonder. Oh, he thinks I'm off to an eatery. I explain that I'm looking for Jack in the Box, Manchester (2130 / 3693) and can he direct me (I didn't say Manchester or 2130/3693 out loud, might've been weird). He says he's not heard of it, but there's a bar over yonder. Reminds me of when I tried to get to the Cronx at Croydon's Boxpark insanity. Well, I soon see the sign I'm looking for, at last!
Would it be worth it? Well, obviously yes, any tick towards the 4500 is, and fully greening Manchester is always satisfying. A nonchalant dude pulls me a pint of the finest Blackjack, and I'm delighted to see a bench has become available, with views overlooking chefs cooking at one of the main eateries. Colin suddenly goes a paler dirty white. 'What is it mate?' I ask, following his gaze. Then I notice. Someone has chopped, and is now deep frying, his long lost cousin from the allotment. Oh dear. I knew the peace couldn't last, and soon a Mancunian Taylor Hawkins is asking if he can have all the seats around me. 'Go for it' I say with an air of resignation. Then I sup up, get lost looking for the loos, but have a plan of action for pubs 5 & 6 forming in my mind ......
|Keep your head down mate|
The funny thing is, I'd approached today with a laissez-faire 'if I don't get my full six ticks in today, doesn't matter' attitude. But the more and more that transport had blighted me, the more I dug my heels in and wanted the full six.
We were well into evening time now as I rushed to Victoria station, leapt like a gazelle over the bridge, and just managed to make the Swinton bound train before the doors closed on my coat tails.
I even thought a Bolton ticket refund looked on the cards after all, but .....
|Or maybe not!|
I had been to Swinton once before. That was a Holt's only pub, proper rough n ready, but kind of enjoyable. A couple of years back, it had been replaced by something else which sounded old but never seemed to be open! But now, and you can't halt the march of progress, like so many new GMR entries, it was a micropub that we were looking at.
It had been a good 14 minute march from station to pub, which meant I had to keep an eye on the clock ......
Wobbly Stool, Swinton (2131 / 3694) was the name, though my stupid auto correct changed it to 'Swindon' so I got a million jokey comments about how come I'd hot footed it down to Wiltshire in super quick time. Hilarious guys, thanks. I'm at the bar thinking 'what, no cask?' but luckily the person before me has put in a hugely convoluted drinks order, allowing me time to realise there is one cask ale around the side, huzzah, and it is good stuff! I never get away from the bar after that, as I get chatting with this lovely couple Mike and Kelly, propping up the bar having a few. Mike is well impressed with my BRAPA GMR progress, flicking through the GBG, he keeps saying of me "ey up, this kid ain't messin' about!" Love it, might get that on my headstone. What's more, Kelly works with people who do ticking (though beers I think) and says with a real sincerity she really respects it! BRAPA love is always nice, so I let them do the highlighting. The guv'nor is great too, has a quick read of the GBG and says they'd have more ales on but CAMRA were in last night n drunk a lot! He plays that classic pub owner role of 'grumpy curmudgeon' so well, but you just know that deep down he's a proper loveable guy. With Mike chatting to some folk behind us, I suddenly realise my last train until 23:30 goes in 14 minutes. Uh oh. 'Gotta dash' I tell Kelly, thank goodness I didn't leave checking the train times any longer. Swinton folk, proper salt of the earth. Oh, and the Wild West style toilet doors were fun too.
|Colin on quality control duty|
|11 mins now, am getting there!|
And then, probably dashing too much, in the echoes of some of those wet n wild Hampshire days, I manage to fall over crunch onto the concrete. Ouch. Didn't think I was THAT drunk. Didn't think it was that slippy, or wet. I blame these clown shoes, weird ridges in the toe area!
Still, I catch the train so I can cope with grazed dirty knees.
Back in the direction of Victoria, I hop off at Salford Crescent, realise I cannot walk along the A6 or A5063 so have to go a longer way around.
The pub is weirdly listed under 'New Windsor' which sounds a bit made up when you consider it isn't on Google Maps and the queen is unlikely to hang out around here. I think Salford is the word they are looking for.
It soon becomes rather bleak and industrial. Car dealerships and plumbing parts aplenty. Mike told me to be careful of walking around the mean streets of Salford after dark, but I didn't encounter one human being, or alien, in my quest for pub six. It finally twinkles into view, all on its own, just after I have a sly wee where a rusty sign on a warehouse flaps in the wind and nearly crushes me.
I confess that I enter the pub with a sense of trepidation, but the locals dotted around the public bar all nod and say 'ow do' and the landlord is welcoming and rather flamboyant, which I had not been expecting, so it is with a sense of relief that I order my pint of cheap bitter, and retire to the beautiful but totally empty lounge room. Six pubs, I'd made it! Union Tavern, New Windsor (2132 / 3695) is a fine note on which to end, and this is the rewarding side of GMR ticking if you are pub lover first, beer love second - they will throw you a few immaculate old Joseph Holt's boozers for you to enjoy amidst the sea of micros and brewery taps. I don't want to relax for long, a quick look at my phone tells me there is only one train left to York from Manchester! Luckily, it is from Victoria, nearest to here. It is in 61 minutes time. Google Maps tells me Victoria is a 36 minute walk from here. 25 minutes to drink this. Perfect timing. Again, a bit like in Swinton, I was so close to leaving myself stranded. It was as if fate was saying 'we'll give you a solution, but you're gonna have to work for it!" Well, fine with me, and the Holt's Bitter is in fine condition so slips down the hatch in closer to 20. Let's get walking!
Speed walking out of the door in TOTALLY the wrong direction was not the best start to the walk, totally undoing the 5 minutes I'd gained from drinking quickly.
But I was soon striding out, no scary roads to negotiate, in fact, it became quite Manchestery quite quickly and I was on the York train with a few minutes to spare. Phew! And for once, no delays OR cancellations, just a nice clean run. Needed that. Tough day, but a good six ticks in the bag.
Thanks for reading, Si