Boo! How are you? You join me LIVE from Bolton market (well, 'live' as it was then, Friday 29th April). And having failed to visit the 'world famous' Bury market last time out, I didn't want to upset my legions of adoring fans again.
Colin was excited for the day ahead, his florets positively quivering .....
.... after all, this is where some of his relatives live .....
|No, not the Onion family|
|There they are!|
It took me a shamefully long time to locate 'Ashburner Street Lifestyle Hall' , where my pub was supposed to be.
With a name like that, I'm expecting another Jack in the Box Altrincham/Manchester / Assembly Underground, L**ds style experience. I couldn't have been more wrong.
One for the Road, Bolton (2177 / 3740) was more like being plonked into the centre of a sitcom co-written by Victoria Wood and Diane Morgan with music from the Lancashire Hotpots and Fred Dibnah on the horn section covering the Johnny Briggs theme against their wishes. 'Change we like!' says the lively barmaid, sounding a bit Jim Bowen, as I mutter something about 'not enough cash transactions in the world these days' a desperate attempt to fit in. The beer is called 'One'. I ask if it is a house beer. No, just a coincidence. I ask an old lady if I can share her bench. "Let me show you something" she says, removing a polystyrene box from her bottomless handbag. "A burrito. They've just opened over there! £5 for all this, really good stuff!" she explains. She shouts over to the single Mum's with buggies "You tried the new burrito place?" I turn around, a local pipe fitter on his lunchbreak is chatting to the barmaid about the same new burrito place. Bolton has gone burrito bonkers. The old lady is Margaret, 82, moved down here from Dundee with her brother, who right on cue nimbly hurdles a bench. Matthew, 72, plonks himself right alongside me. Margaret tells me about the time she told a man in a kilt that she was called Maggie May. She also tells me her best friend is called Sandra Bullock. "NOT THAT ONE!" in case I was wondering. Matthew tells me he's met both, the Hollywood one liked him more. "Yeah, that's cos you talk down to me!" says Margaret. Sibling tension. Matthew is the more fascinating character, he's had a hard life. His Dad used to beat him as a child, so he vowed not to make the same mistake with his son. His son died a junkie, ten years ago. "I never even went to his funeral" Matthew laments wistfully, as it all gets a bit bleak. He then tells me he's still scarred from the Falklands. In the parachute regiment, his captain got nine of Matthew's platoon killed by sending them down in the daytime. Matthew had said to go at night. "I don't like to talk about it" he says, but he seems to be doing a decent job. The captain was prosecuted for his actions. "At least you got some type of closure" I tell him, hating myself, feeling more and more Louis Theroux with each passing moment. He snarls and slides closer to me, turning to face me, his eyes getting wild. "I ALWAYS TALK TO MEN LIKE THIS, LOUD, DIRECT, IN THEIR FACE, JUST LIKE MY SERGEANT MAJOR SPOKE TO ME!" . Old blokes sometimes try to intimidate me. Happens in BRAPA once or twice every year. Like the bloke in the Scarborough Micropub who said he could kill me in twenty seconds just by pressing my neck. I'd only said I was a Hull City fan. During a break in play where Matthew thankfully goes to the bar having told me I should've brought a tape recorder to remember the tales they're both telling me, I drink up very quickly (the beer wasn't that good), whisper goodbye to Margaret, and head off, feeling well and truly Bolton'd.
You may as well stop reading now, everything was anti-climactic after that. Plus I've written a million words already.
But that's not to say I didn't enjoy the other Bolton pub, because I did, despite the Monkey logo looking so flippin' angry like "STOP DRINKING MY BEER SI!" angry .....
|Gizza smile mate!|
Northern Monkey, Bolton (2178 / 3741) was a nicely crafted establishment, bright, welcoming, spacious but with a winning atmosphere. Old blokes played American pool by the entrance, debating the fate of 80's snooker stars. "Is Kirk Stevens still alive? He was proper rock n roll he wor" says the chirpiest bloke. I like places like this, which probably started out trying to appeal to the younger crowd but because old blokes can sniff out the best ale in town at ten paces, gravitate to the best bars regardless. Warm greeting from the barmaid, Bolton is always a rewarding place to come if you are into humanity, and I'm intrigued by the Popcorn stout. Despite the strength, she encourages me to go for it and 'ping, that really hit the sweet spot .... burnt caramel'. If anything, a full pint of it was too much for me. My sweet tooth when it comes to 'beer only' stretches about as far as errrm, Doom Bar? But I enjoyed watching the pool and listening to the local 'bantz' with the staff.
I wend my way towards my Wigan digs, where I'll be spending the night, en route is Westhoughton, home of an adorable but hopelessly upside down church kittie ......
Possibly possessed by some demon, I decide against going in for a stroke and keep my eye on the prize, the next pub ......
Credit must be given to Blackedge what is otherwise an unassuming, almost invisible micro, I'd be painting it a nice shade of gaudy Stabilo green if I had my way! Brewery Tap, Westhoughton (2179 / 3742) did the basics really well. Cheerful staff. A pint of Dark Mild (so much Mild this April, it really IS the beer of the moment) which was cheap as chips and of stunning quality, look at those lacings. Col's a bit reluctant to come out of the bag, but I think that was more fear of the Demonic Kittie returning then the boisterous group of old boys making the most of a Friday afternoon on the ale. My main gripe, as is so often the case in Micros, particularly in the North West I notice, the lack of comfort. High stools, not a lot in the way of soft furnishings, very small ledges (you couldn't even call them tables) for your pint, barely room to seat a Cauli, and the general dimly lit, drab colour scheme wouldn't make it conducive to stay for a session here, NOT that a ticker needs more than one drink! Personal preference I guess, cos if you are properly into your ale, like your view is beer > pub, then I guess it ain't an issue, you might get piles next day, but if you've got 16 unique check ins on your Untappd, then the trip to Superdrug for Anusol was worth it. Sherrington's Wigan struggled similarly on my last visit there.
In Wigan, I checked in, packed a less weighty bag with just the BRAPA essentials, had a bite to eat, and took myself down to the bus station for two slightly out-in-the-sticks ticks.
It was late afternoon now, work chucking out time, schoolkids still loitering, the weather was warm and glorious, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it made for a tortuous bus ride out, across t'border into actual GBG Lancs.
I had a welcoming committee too in the form of two scarecrows at an outdoors bar .....
The hustle and bustle of a 'let's celebrate the weekend at a Marston's dining pub' atmosphere greets me at the White Lion, Wrightington (2180 / 3743) - which isn't as horrific as it sounds, Oakingham Belle in Wokingham for example, because it was still close enough to Wigan to have a decent chunk of down to earth, owz ya father, "wahey, your round Keith!", "how's tha grandkids Mary?" hubbub about the place. "You seen Boris Becker?" says one chap, and his mates spin around like he's in the pub. But he's not, he's in prison. The barmaid pulls me a Banksies and we agree that we'd not have expected it to 'turn out this nice again' and she can't wait to finish work to get a bit of the old Vit D. I don't often say this in BRAPA, but sitting outdoors is a total no-brainer considering the layout of the pub, space available, recent chat, and of course, the scarecrows. I want another look at them, gotta love a bit of pub quirkiness, Colin wants to make friends, all is good, and the beer is on decent form. I check 'live' times as pub ticker Eddie Fogden showed me how to do on Bustimes.org (I was expecting this next one to be delayed too, but if anything it is running ahead of schedule). Two ladies walk past. "I find those scarecrows a bit creepy" sneers one, but to be honest, she looked a lot more frightening and I'd grown quite attached to them by now! Hang on a second, maybe she meant me! I was very still in this moment. Best drink quick, this bus is absolutely bombing along.
I'm the only customer aboard the penultimate Wigan bus of the day, the last one being in 45 minutes, which gives me just a nice amount of time to 'enjoy' my final pub, situated close by at Shevington Moor, probably walkable if time allows and you know the roads.
Foresters Arms, Shevington Moor, Standish (2181 / 3744) was a crashing disappointment, I'd possibly built this one up in my mind too much. After all, I'd been thinking about coming here for years, back when it was called the Silver Tally, but it's always in and out of the Guide. I enter through the right hand side, totally deserted, every table laid out with knives and forks and placemats. A lot of bookings for later? Hard to imagine they'll all fill up but I guess they will, easily the largest side of the pub too, 70% of the space. All the noise is coming from the smaller left hand bar, so I walk around and weave my way between some rosy faced, well oiled blokes all on the lager, a couple of whom nod and say 'ey up lad'. The one handpump is here, Moorhouses, drinking pretty good. One of the blokes is a landscape gardener, his phone rings, a customer wanting a quote. He very honestly says 'please ring me back tomorrow, I can't discuss business when I'm half cut!' I like it. Someone off Twitter alerts me to the fact Wigan are at Warrington tonight in a game that could go to the wire. (Yes, that was an attempt at rugby league humour, I'll never do it again promise). Could explain the crowd in here. A blackboard tells me last orders is one hour before closing time, ONE HOUR! Wow, are the customers here notoriously hard to get rid of?! Bus is still 10 minutes away but I go to stand at the stop, I've seen enough.
So the sun sets on a decent five pub day in the north west. I considered catching a train to Atherton briefly, but it all seemed like too much effort, so I retire to my Premier Inn via Aldi, even 'treating' myself to a craft can in case my body didn't understand five beers instead of the obligatory six.
And the best news of all, I'd get to do it all again tomorrow, in more fun places just a bus ride away from Wigan.
Join me tomorrow or Wednesday for that one,
Take care, Si