Thursday 21 April 2022

BRAPA in ..... NUTS IN APRIL (Berkshire & Oxfordshire Part 4/5)

It is ALWAYS a fact in this BRAPA game that if I'm enjoying life a little too much, there'll always be something lurking around the next corner, ready to bite me in the bum.

And so it proved, 8:30pm, Reading Premier Inn, a second day's successful pub ticking of Berkshire was over.  I'm sitting down with a big bag of Tesco goodies strewn across my bed, waiting for the finale of Peaky Blinders.  The dulcet tones of D.Attenborough can be heard chatting gently about baby elephants.  This is the life!

I shovel a pile of Tesco's smoky paprika crunch into my mouth.  Before long, I feel my mouth swelling and my breathing struggling.  Uh oh, it has been a while but I know this feeling .... nut allergy!  

With no EpiPen, I quickly dress again just in case I need to rush down to reception and get an ambulance.  I check the ingredients.  No nuts listed.  May be a 'may contain traces', but everything says that.  Tesco, ya trying to kill me? 

I can't help thinking this would be a very BRAPA way to die.  If not hit by a car between road walks, then a nut allergy in a Reading Premier Inn with only a cauliflower for company would probably be the most likely way to go.  Perhaps even more tragic than Adam Faith.

I guzzle down a load of water, take deep breaths and just try to stay calm and ride it out, collapsing heavily on the bed with a massive 'KERPLUNK!'   Half way through Peaky, I realise I'm feeling less peaky but the whole episode felt a bit like a fever dream.  But doesn't it always?  

Well that had been scary!   I don't sleep much, throat feels awful and by 8:30am, I'm in Reading's Oracle (one of the few shopping centres which actually feels like they join up the town rather than being a massive eyesore / inconvenience).  I get some Piriteze from Boots, more water then back to bed for as long as I could.

Problem is, my first two Monday pubs have that annoying mid afternoon closure thing.  All the mouth swelling has subsided now, except for my tonsils which are like balloons and every time I speak, I feel them jumping forward into my mouth.  Yuck!  I can only talk in quick sentences before having to swallow deeply.  But the pub ticking must go on!

Henley-on-Thames is actually in Oxfordshire.  (You learn a lot reading BRAPA, I tell ya).  But it provided a nice base to walk to one of my rural Berkshire pubs so I thought I'd visit Bird in Hand (2155 / 3178) first before it closes at 2.  I feel rough as an owl's arse but maybe being in my natural habitat will sort me out.   The Henley folk had been much as I expected.  Healthy red faced 60 year old men in colourful trousers buying artisan bread and smiling at schoolkids before a spot of lazy afternoon punting.  The barmaid/landlady is very friendly, and if I hadn't decided on a 'no speaking because it is painful' policy, I'm sure I'd have got chatting with her.  Luckily, she is talking to a Daddy (not a BRAPA Daddy) with a chaotic young toddler who is actually quite likeable, and not too sold on the idea of having a baby brother.  I'm sure barmaid and daddy are not a couple, but I notice a certain 'frisson' between the two.  Siblings?  Second cousins who fancy each other without realising?  Possibly just old school chums who briefly dated?  Was interesting.  Also interesting, the pub has an aviary AND a pond out the back, and a less half-dead, totally mute BRAPA would've gone for exploring, but I had to make do with the sound of cheeping parakeets through the gents bogs window, which was fine as long as they didn't get in and nibble my delicates.  I'll never be this quiet in a BRAPA Oxfordshire pub tick ever again!  Nice pub, and the White Horse Bitter certainly was soothing.

It is a start at least!

It wasn't far up to the Berkshire village of Aston, a 40 minute walk or so is nothing, normally.  But having overdosed on Piriteze and now having had a pint, PLUS the fact that their own 2:30pm-3pm afternoon closure wasn't far off, well when I saw a taxi parked up, I jumped in.

"You from up North?" he asks excitedly.  (Oh please don't make me talk!)  "York", I croak.  "Skipton" he tells me.  We do that Yorkshire handshake that Yorkshire people do in the posh south east.  "Nice town, Skipton!" I reply, though what I'm secretly thinking is 'nice town full of mediocre fly-by-night GBG entries that never last the pace'.  Luckily, being a taxi man, he does most of the talking.  He moved down here when his marriage broke up, but he has now been 'gifted' by a 'loving' new wife and two 'beautiful' young children.  "..... and the same will happen to you, there is a lovely young lady out there for you!" he implores.  I want to tell him I'm happy with my GBG, Otter n Cauli, but it is too long a sentence in my current state.  

It looked a beauty, and it was.  The Flower Pot, Aston (2156 / 3179) not flawless by any means, but certainly one of my most memorable pubs of the holiday.  The taxidermy, especially the fish in cases on the wall most be one of the most extensive collections I've seen in any pub.  A pub photographers dream this place.  Service is brisk and efficient, some might say a bit impersonal.  The ale is good but not quite Henley standard.  A grand old fire in the main bar is billowing out a fair amount of smoke, not good in my current state.  The tables in this larger area are more of the dining ilk, but I've spied a quiet back bar through a hatch and am determined to explore.  'Gotta do the pub justice for the blog' is always in my mind.  I push the door as far as it will go, a (living) parrot is in a cage just behind it, and I also have to hurdle a dog on the floor.  I croak a nervous 'hello' to the locals and landlord.  Half way across the floor, a fire grate clipped to a piece of board block off the other half of the room, bod Stoke on Trent style (but better and more temporary).  "Anything to stop me sitting over here?" I ask, a bloke says no, just the dog isn't allowed in that half of the room!  Having successfully hurdled the obstacles, I can sit on the fine bench seating in this small atmospheric bar enjoying being in the 'best bit' of the pub.  But not before the landlady witnesses my hurdling, sticks her head around the door, and rolls her eyes at me!  Landlord briefly asks if I'm on a 'tour' but doesn't seem too intrigued by BRAPA to my relief due to talking constraints.   The door on the other side of the room is locked, so I have to retrace my steps on the way out.  "I'll do this without trying to break anything, or cause any fuss!" I tell the locals, but no one laughs so it is an awkward exit.  Back in the main room, the smoke is now engulfing the whole front part of the pub, you can hardly see!  How are people dining in these conditions?  And why is no one sorting it out?  Maybe someone was smoking a taxidermy kipper?

The 40-50 minute walk back into Henley is pleasant and picturesque and a quieter roadwalk you couldn't hope for.  1 on the Bransgore scale of difficulty.  Red Kites circle above and make similar noises to my throat, which was nice.

Back in Henley, with a bit of time to kill until the bus, I decide to pop into the 'Spoons opposite for a pre-emptive half and more importantly a wee. 

I was so impressed with the quality of my half of a guest Oakham 5%er,  I honestly feel that as 'Spoons go, the Catherine Wheel, Henley-on-Thames could be a better pre-emptive than I'd anticipated.  At least on a par with the Bird in Hand ale, and slightly better than the Flower Pot stuff.  I guess the biggest problem could be a Henley snobbery towards 'Spoons outlets, but that is pure speculation.  It was very vast, the folk were very watchful, and despite being blatantly at the bar before some old dude, he still huffed and puffed and gestured at me to go first as though it was highly unfair!  I only had 13 mins so no time to form much of an opinion of the place beyond that.  

The bus meanders slowly southwards, stopping eventually at the surprisingly difficult to reach village of Sonning, which looks on paper at least that it is highly reachable from Reading and Caversham.

There was a real 'well-to-do, snooty' sense in the air, as soon as I trotted up towards the pub.  

This doormat was my passive aggressive highlight ......

The Bull, Sonning (2157 / 3180) both had a fabulous centuries old 'raise your frothy silver tankards in the air' atmosphere, whilst at the same time managing to feel a touch twee.  I walked into a very peculiar pub atmosphere where teenage boys sat at a table babysitting / cajoling an amusing toddler.  A few tables away, teenage girls sat on their own.  One comes over to the boys and is told "boys only table, sorry!"  Through to the back, their parents are in a separate room downing much wine.  I grab a pint of Pride (excellent quality) from the stoic waistcoated guv'nor, a guy so still, unflinching and unfazed it was sort of impressive, but when you list T.May, G. & A, Clooney, U.Geller, G.Hoddle and J.Page amongst your regulars, I guess not much surprises you anymore.  I sit at the one remaining armchair, behind two ladies who lunch in pashminas discussing cod loins.  The Dad (surely he isn't father to all 12 kids?  there were at least 3 wives too) is perhaps a bit of a #PubMan because he seems to 'read the room' and gently encourages the gang into the covered outdoor area saying things like "it is actually very warm out there, you'll enjoy it more" but the teenage lads in particularly are loving their pub life.  The Mums wander through and one says something which suggests they were all in this one huge fan (I'm imagining Scooby Doo at this stage) when their tyre blew, and they had to come in here for refreshments and an unmasking.  But when they FINALLY do leave, and by god do they drag it out, they all seem to know the landlord's name.  So who knows?  And I might just be able to make this next bus against the odds if I hurry ........

But to my horror, the bus is chugging around the corner THREE minutes early and I miss it!  "You baaarstard!" I shout waving my first, then remember I'm in Sonning, not Keighley, and apologise to the gods.

63 minutes til the next bus.  Back to the Bull?  Only thing for it!  Definitely my last pub.  The Piriteze had knocked me out, my legs were jelly but I had noticed something great, my tonsils swelling had gone down and I could talk without pain.  Back at the bar, you'd expect the guv'nor Ray to make a comment but being the coolest dude ever, he still doesn't flinch as this time I order a Spring Sprinter.  He has a sea shanty for his ring tone.  He's almost definitely been in a band or two.

This time, I sit with my back to the action and a young dude who works 'in the pub industry' and looks like a failed Apprentice candidate eventually starts chatting to me, we get onto BRAPA, and he says people like me who 'save the pubs' should be commended.  I'm half expecting him to say 'hashtag pubman'.  I'm wondering if Ray is going to agree but he remains unmoved.  Love his style.  Loving my ale now, feeling better, and aware that there's not really anymore pubs I can get to after this, I want a third so I put it to Twitter - HSB or Hophead?  A chap called Ian Harvey replies first and says HSB.  Good call, so much so I accidentally make my first ever GIF - a throbbing pint of HSB!  Ian says it looks a good pint, so my work here is done.

This time, I made sure I was at the bus stop early.

Back in Reading, I need a wee so time for my second trip to the Ale House of the holiday.

It might've been the Piriteze combined with the booze, or the 18th century lively (well, quite bonkers) dimly lit stuffy atmosphere, or a combination of everything, but as I wait to be served, I fall into a kind of trance reminiscing on my first ever trip here in 2005 with Daddy BRAPA.  The barman snaps me out of it by asking what I want, but instead of ordering the ale I'm looking at, I ask for a pint of Hobgoblin by mistake, the previous name of the pub!

Luckily, he realises what has happened and says "been a while since you were last in 'ere mate LOL?" and I laugh and say 'apart from last night, yes', conscious that the other barman who looks a bit like David Mitchell playing William Shakespeare in Upstart Crow is knocking around here somewhere.  Then I feel obliged to explain to a bunch of locals that I'd been in a 2005 reverie.

I sit in the main bar area this evening, atmosphere and ale are cracking!  Like the absolute best.  I know everyone goes on about the Nag's Head and it is great but surely on this showing, Ale House is the best 'pub pub' in town?  A lady even stumbles over a stool trying to tell me she likes my jacket.  That wouldn't happen in Sonning.   Not bad for 8pm on a Tuesday eh? 

After a tricky start, a great end to the day, and I am ultra careful to avoid nuts as I pick up my Tesco supplies, ready for an early night.  Big day tomorrow with Tim Thomas in West Berkshire for BRAPA's eighth birthday.   I'll tell you about that maybe on Friday , maybe on Sunday. 


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