Friday 18 March 2022

BRAPA in ..... BRAP FOREST GATEAU (From the New Forest all the way back to Pompey - Part 6/10)

Alarm goes off at 6:30am on Wednesday 2nd March.  Ugh, do I HAVE to get up?  I'd slept like a log, but not for long enough.  I've not got up this early for work since March 2020.

What's more, my hat and shoes were still damp from yesterday's #TraumaticTuesday.  My jeans were still muddy, but heading out to what I deemed 'my hardest Hants tick of the holiday', I couldn't rule out more wet & muddy falling over incidents!

My confidence was shot to pieces, I'll admit, terrified today's walk could be another Bransgore.  

I joined the Southampton bound commuters ('People in Portsmouth have jobs?  I just thought they sat in the pubs watching horse racing all day' I marvelled), bought myself a croissant and a coffee, and shivered at the bus stop before the delayed X7 took me to the ominously named Nomansland, which had a Salisbury postcode just to show how westerly these pesky rural Hants ticks were.

Colin was back, giving KLO a well deserved day off after yesterday's heroics, listening to his new fave tune, Cauliflower by Jak Lizard.


No 'cauliflower ear' as some wag pointed out on Twitter

At NoMansLand crossroads, I hurdled a cattle grid and a sign said 'Welcome to the New Forest' and it was still another 15-20 minutes before I got through NoMansLand village which had a pub and houses, think it needs a new name, like ActualMansLand.

It was still raining of course.  Three consecutive days now.  Cheers lads.  

The scenery was bleak in the most beautiful way possible, gently undulating, the paths a lot more walkable apart from a few boggy bits.  I could generally walk on the road very little traffic, and apart from one White Van Twat going too fast who made me step ankle deep in a muddy puddle, there were no repeats of yesterday.

58 minutes of walking, and the pub comes into view.  10:54am.  Having been closed Monday and Tuesday, everything online suggested 11am opener for Wednesday.  I'm still nervous though!

A bloke in blue shouts over to me. 'Waiting for the pub to open?'  I tell him yes and ask if he works here.  'No but me and my mate come at 11am every Wednesday, and they are reliable for 11 o'clock, usually haha' he replies.  His friend soon appears at my shoulder like a dishevelled but less talkative parrot.

11am soon comes around, and the duo agree it is a good idea to put a bit of pressure on the pub, so I follow them, glad of a bit of local support .....

Just as I take the above photo, a couple behind me shout to the duo from the hill behind "coooo-eeee!" Everyone knows each other round here.  The chatty lady seems impressed by my efforts getting here, telling me she's off home to get changed, dry the dog, and then will back here for a pint.  Alright for some innit!

Pub is open, hurrah, beer served in barrels behind the bar as is often the way in rural Hants boozers.  Blue bloke sort of introduces me, barmaid seems pretty unfazed.  Welcome to the Royal Oak, Fritham (2090 / 3653).  I'm admiring the pub interior, so with parrot bloke pissing outdoors, blue bloke gives me a potted history re recent sympathetic refurbishment allowing the pub to retain its original character. Sounds like something taken straight from the pages of a CAMRA Heritage Guide!  Aware that parrot bloke just wants a quiet pint with his mate and no interlopers, I say cheerio and take my pint around the corner.  This is when I really strike gold!  A gorgeous backroom, roaring old fire, and I've got the best seat in the house, as people keep telling me when they walk past, a few sullen diners sad they're relegated to the far corner.  I deserve this.  It's been an arduous week so far.  The Summer Lightning is drinking superbly, I forget it is 5%.  Knowing the next bus ain't due until 13:40, even with a 58 minute walk ahead of me, I can still afford to stay for another half so I go Flack's Double Drop having missed it yesterday.  Very rare I say this on a BRAPA mission but when it was time to leave, I found it VERY difficult.  Blue Bloke's table has swelled to about ten people now, I say bye but he's not looking.  Never mind! 

The walk back to the bus stop was remarkably uneventful, I lunched behind a tree.  The bus however was delayed to the extent where a passing girl on a horse trotted past very slowly, in both directions, the second time commenting "bus still not here yet LOL?" to which the horse whinnied in a sarcastic fashion.  Tworse.

Back in Southampton, I took a gentle train ride to the home of my second pub .....

Another sign that my recent spate of bad luck was finally at an end was this thatched Fullers gem, the Old House at Home, Romsey (2091 / 3654), one of my easier remaining ticks to reach.  That classic post-lunch weekday lull was very much in evident, plenty of geriatric blouse wearers of good breeding roamed the premises like unthreatening zombies, fully full up on brains and gore.  "I'll sleep all afternoon after that fish pie ho ho ho" says an old man.  A middle aged couple are having a whispered but aggressive sounding conversation at the bar. I assume it is going to be something fruity, but as I crane my ear, it seems the man has thrown a homemade salad dressing in the bin which would've kept for at least two more days.  She's incandescent in seething silent fury, as I sup my well kept London pride from a cosy low leather settee, and dry my STILL soggy feet in front of old fire.  An old lady sidles up to the barman and says "you might want to consider removing White Russian cocktails from the menu in light of recent events".  He chuckled nervously.  I thought she was perhaps joking, just very deadpan, but some stuff I've read since from the likes of Black Sheep brewery suggest she may've been deadly serious!  And piped comedy in the gents meant that this was the perfect pub for a much needed number two.  TMI I admit, but fear not, only BRAPA patreons can see that last sentence.

It wouldn't be a classic BRAPA holiday without getting stranded on a busy school bus, full of insane kids on a double decker eating Doritos and Haribo with their feet up, screaming n wailing, me the only adult, trying to be still in the hope it makes me invisible.  I even got a hair bobble flicked at me, so I confiscate it like a teacher would.  Gosh, the journey to the outer So'ton suburb of Shirley seemed to go on for ever!

I cross the road and end up in the backstreets, for one of the rare Saints boozers in the GBG that aren't a micropub or brewhouse.  I follow a bloke who is walking too slowly but impossible to overtake, definitely too old for the skinny jeans he is wearing .....

Park Inn, Southampton (2092 / 3655) had an other-wordly air about it, definitely one of the most 'chock full of crazy characters' pubs I've been to in this part of Hants.  The guv'nor insisted on doing a running commentary of every aspect of the serving process, which slowed things down, not ideal when you need a desperate wee, but I think he was just trying to be gregarious.  I love a dark pub, and this was dimly lit, the lighting almost neon, a bit like you get in those public toilets in Stalybridge where they don't want smackheads shooting up.  It gave Colin a jaundice glow, and it obviously didn't do him any favours because when one of the most outspoken ladies goes to the loo, she says "corrr, I thought that was a brain on your table .... I hadn't seen his green bits!"  Well, poor Col has never been so insulted.  I shouldn't have been surprised - if her group weren't talking about their Grandmother's cheese & onion cornflour recipe, it was having an egg n cheese mix on toast for a light snack, or putting golden syrup in your leftover Yorkshire Puddings.  They talked about vegetarianism in such a way, it was like it was 1980.  Finally, a man sits next to me.  The pub nutter of course, I see the looks on the others faces, they've thrown me (the poor unassuming stranger) to the wolves with this one!  "HERE'S TO LIFE!" he roars, raising his glass.  I make a strangulated positive noise.  He's very proud of a £1 bird book he's just bought.  A very heavy hard back, I have a quick look at the owls.  He scares me a bit so the two blokes on the other side take a bit of pressure off by joining in.  I tell them about BRAPA but bad news, they tell me my next pub is shut on a Wednesday, new winter hours!  They then warm me about heading back into town cos Southampton are at home "to L**ds.  No not L**ds, but somebody like that!" they amusingly add. Police are everywhere apparently.   Gonna be a fun late afternoon / early evening, I can tell!

Not a brain

Three enjoyable pubs in a row, BRAPA was back in the game!  As much as I believed the blokes re my next pub, I still checked it out.  No surprise they were correct.  I'd now have to come back this way tomorrow or Friday.  Frustrating.

Instead, I take a bus south towards my one remaining outlier in the old part of the town.  The blokes were also right about the strong police presence, and I witnessed a West Ham fan (not L**ds) having his head pressed onto the back of a police van as he's handcuffed outside Slug & Lettuce.  

All I could think of is I hope the poor lad isn't a pub ticker or his pre-match ticking had just been seriously curtailed.  

Took me ages to find the pub, a very narrow frontage I remember from when it was closed on a Sunday on my November visit here.  Shady lads hung around outside Stein Garten next door.

The reason for the problem, it had changed its name from the GBG listed Crammed Inn (2093 / 3656).

In all my confusion, I forget to get an outside photo, new name is something like Bar Below, Below Bar, Sub Par Bar, Drop Below Zero. Something along those lines.  I ask the landlord, who replies in a vaguely cryptic way ever out of the side of his mouth "yes, we had a restructure on Monday".  The Steam Town Firebox drinks very well, but I have to say, I found this a really weak GBG entry.  Soulless (and it did have plenty of people in, many of whom were Saints fans), chilly, not much seating.  You know how micros often have those half visible kitchenettes where the owners go to make themselves a brew, or even pull the beer from?  Well, it was like the whole public bar was an extension of that, it just felt messy, scatty, very much a dive bar I guess, maybe that is what they are going for?  Or a 'work in progress' as part of the ongoing restructure?  Am I being too charitable?  Whilst I lament the huge volume of Southampton GBG entries which are micros, they've all had something you can enjoy.  Handle Bar, Bookshop, Butchers Thingy, the Skateboardy non evil Brewdog style one, and probably others I forget, I've doffed my cap to them all.  But aside from beer quality ("well Si, it is a good BEER guide!" I hear you cry), I couldn't find anything much to commend this.

I strode back across town, still a buzz of unpleasantness in the air.  What was with me being in the vicinity of football this holiday?  Two Pompey home games whilst drinking in Pompey, and now this!  

Speaking of Pompey, time to cut my losses and get myself back there for my remaining two backstreet boozers to take us to the magic SIX for the day before a Happy Hammer eats me.  

The first one was close to Fratton, and I'd have done it yesterday but it is weirdly closed on a Tuesday (but not a Monday) .......

The scaffolding initially made me think 'ey up' but I needn't have worried, Lawrence Arms, Portsmouth (2094 / 3657) was one of my favourite of all the backstreet boozers I'd visited on this epic week of pub tickery.  Quite why a man is wearing a West Ham beanie hat I couldn't quite work out, a very motivated Pompey fan perhaps?  This pub is perhaps the friendliest of all this holiday, bristling in the build up to quiz night, the bar billiards will just have to wait, as the barmaid tests out her dodgy microphone and asks at 100 decibels if we can all hear her.  The only free table is the centre of the room, and yet I have no qualms about plonking Colin on the table, and sure enough, it isn't long before a series of old goats are coming over, giving him a tickle, asking about my GBG, one keeps slapping me on the back quite hard, feel like my Oakham Citra might come back up at this rate!  Glad it doesn't, perfect pint.   "Love what you are doing mate, tickin' pubs eh, wot a life, fair play to ya" he exudes with more BRAPA enthusiasm than I even have myself.  He didn't witness yesterday.   I feel a bit bad excusing myself from the quiz, NOT that the other punters know, they think I'm googling the answers.  I want to tell them "no, I'm actually making notes on you lot!" but that might seem worse.  I wait for a break in proceedings, somewhere between music and picture round I think, return my glass and quickly shoot off before it starts again!  Lovely pub.

The only thing troubling me about Lawrence Arms was that I was sure this was the pub I did post-match on my 2011 Pompey visit.   I couldn't be sure, hence why I had to come back, but having been in, totally different shape, bar in different place, so as well as my mystery Wolves 2007, mystery Worcester 2008 and mystery Walsall 2005 pubs, I now I have a mystery Portsmouth 2011 edition!

We'd gone down there, Hull City, needed to win to stay up against already doomed Pompey.  'Twas a good pre-match in the Barley Mow.  I was the only one staying over.  We went 2-1 up in the 89th minute cue wild scenes of jubilations in the away end and much mocking of our friend Ben who'd left at 1-1.  But we then somehow conceded TWO injury time goals, lost 3-2 and you never heard of Iain Dowie Football Consultant ever again.  I trudged moodily to this nice backstreet Pompey boozer , had my colours on, felt depressed (these were the days when Hull City losing still hurt) and these two jolly young lads came in, laughed at me, sat with me, plied me with ale, until I eventually decided I should buy them a round, stood up, realised how pissed I was, had to lean on the side of the bar (narrow gap with wall to the left), lads are like "you arite mate?" I said not really, bought them both a pint, made my excuses, and staggered back to my weird B&B.  I must've read about said pub in GBG at the time.  Wonder which it was?   

Anyway, I digress.   I meandered down through town for what was to be my final Portsmouth tick of the 2022 GBG.  Here it was ......

I think there was an even more ornate pub next door, so 5 pints in, I had to make sure I went for the right door here at Apsley House, Portsmouth (2095 / 3658).  It was good n honest, don't get me wrong, but not a patch on the Lawrence or Winchester or any of the other classics I'd fallen in love with.  Bare boarded, a bit echoey, it felt like your quintessential boozer which had decided to dip its toe into modernity, found the water a bit cold, and quickly retreated.  One of my biggest gripes here was the standard of the ale.  Summer Lightning seemed the obvious choice, giving the day a bit of perfect symmetry after my Fritham experience all those hours ago, but this pint wasn't fit to lace Fritham's boots.  The glass had those greasy lines on, and if the ale didn't exactly taste of beef dripping, it was certainly a bit dishwatery.  Some yoofs played pool just behind me, one seemed to think he was Pompey's answer to Pepe Le Pew, for between every shot, he raced down the mini staircase, and amorously kissed his floral dressed girlfriend up and down the arms, annoying his opponent, bewildering her other man friend, and making the match last longer than he would tonight.  Interesting behaviour to end what on the whole, had been a pretty strong day for the pubs.  The nightmares of Monday and especially Tuesday well behind me now, I hoped!

Join me on Sunday, or more likely Monday, when I'll tell you about Thursday (not confusing at all).  The days were running out, but luckily, so were the Hants pubs.  C'mon, we can do this!


1 comment:

  1. Wonderful stuff.

    That feeling you get like at Fritham, waiting with locals for the pub to open, is wonderful, like the Blitz spirit.

    Nice to see you and me and the Tand are getting such good beer at the moment, much of it old favourites rather than stuff brewed in a shed.