I'm not a religious man by any means, but as I sat in a Launceston churchyard at 11:30am on Day 5 of this most bonkers holiday in Cornwall, I looked up to the heavens and prayed for an easier day than the previous two.
As well as the usual expected farces such as cancelled trains, shut pubs and phantom bus services, I'd endured a waterlogged GBG, a traumatic boat trip at Polperro and some truly biblical rain storms.
A face appears through the clouds. Ah, so that is what God looks like. Resembling former footballer Jimmy Case. Who knew?
"Request denied BRAPA ..... where would be the fun in making it easy for you? In fact, I'm actually thinking of ranking it up to peak cringe" says Case (sorry, God) somewhat mysteriously before the face fades into a rather fetching cumulonimbus.
|Summoning God with Col|
No time to dwell on what he meant. 12 noon, and it was time for the first pub, which I temporarily mislaid which was rather silly of me considering it was neighbouring the churchyard.
The Bell Inn, Launceston (2267 / 3830) was the perfect way to start any pub ticking day. I am the first customer, and you know how people say some folk resemble their dogs? Well here it was landlord and Elliot the cat (sat atop the bar) who share similar features. Cute, kind, and a bit scraggly and unkempt. Both looked like a vigorous wire brush, some eye drops and a bit of de-fleaing could do wonders. The pub was a beauty, ecclesiastical to match the location, particular the door arches. I order a Hawthorn Ale from Otter, and hope our old mate Pete from Torquay (not Totnes, apologies) will not feel like I missed a trick going for the house beer. It drinks okay, nearly ends up with a bit of cat in it, as Elliott strides over and nearly puts his face in my pint! The landlord apologises and says he never used to jump up at all pre-lockdown, but having the pub to himself for so long, he now feels he rules the roost! We sit in companionable silence, until two men crash in, one recognises me, how is this possible? Of course, it is our mate from the Rising Sun in Gunnislake who chatted to me about map reading, potatoes and Russian submarines. This kind of proves my long held theory that there are 50 paid actors in Cornwall, who go around the pubs on a rotational basis. After I update him on my trials and tribulations, it is time I pushed off, so I thank the guv'nor and Elliot, back to Launceston bus station.
|Can you spot Elliot in this photo too?|
Launceston (or Lanston as I heard some people pronounce it) seems a pretty little town , the weather is much improved, and at this point all is well with the world.
Potential mascots are whoring themselves out in shop windows, in the hope they could one day be the new Colin the Cauliflower ......
.... and had I known then that Keane Lewis Otter wouldn't be with us much longer, I may've snapped one up!
Launceston really loves cats doesn't it? A man getting on the bus in front of me has one on a lead, and is behaving like it is the most normal thing in the world. More cats on leads please!
Time for one of my most highly anticipated ticks. Altarnun. Been wanting to do this for almost as long as I've been a pub ticker, and beginning with an "A", it is always the first one I see in Cornwall. A GBG regular.
There aren't many buses out that way, running from Launceston right over the barren Bodmin Moor to Bodmin itself. Timings meant this would need to be a quick 25 minute pint, as the pub isn't even in Altarnun proper, but a 20 minute walk north! Never easy is it?
The bus is on time, but to my horror, when we reach Five Lanes, the next village down, the bus turns in a circle, and speeds off towards Bodmin instead! I had an emergency back up plan in mind fortunately, so press the bell at the next stop, so I can finally visit the famous but never GBG worthy Jamaica Inn at Bolventor.
"What the 'eck happened there? Why didn't we go to Altarnun?" I ask the bus driver as I get off. He explains that due to a road closure, it is only going as far as Five Lanes at the moment, and he thought everyone knew! An old crone chimes in that visitors don't tend to go to Altarnun.
I tell them I'll go to the Jamaica Inn for an hour, get the next bus coming back, and get off at Five Lanes & walk from there. Even though he looks more like he should be playing guitar in Bring me the Horizon or Thirty Seconds to Mars, he's a nice chap, feels really bad for me, and hands me his booklet of timetables which became my most valued possession of this holiday after the GBG (sorry Colin).
The old crone squawks she wouldn't go in the pub as it is too expensive, but I tell her there's not much else to do out here, and she wishes me luck.
A bit like Polperro's Crumplehorn last night, it is such a vast place that it isn't easy to know exactly which entrance to take for the bar. When I find it, the place is packed to the gills with diners. Dark and atmospheric with it though. Many glance at me snootily. The barrel needs changing on my 5% Beast of Bodmin, bad cos I'm dying for the loo, but good because being a fresh barrel, the beer is immaculate and even fools me into thinking that this might be quite a decent pre-emptive after all! I visited EIGHT non GBG pubs this holiday, and I'd say this museum restaurant feels the most GBG worthy to me, which doesn't say a lot for the others. The brewery, Firebrand, who I'd see a bit more of this holiday, are shaking it up in the Cornwall ale scene and really liking their ales. I go a wanderin', the place is huge, and eventually find the scary Squ're Bassat behind some glass. I press a button, and he tells a story. I sit behind him. People keep pressing his button. And he keeps telling the same bloody story. I'm in a large comfortable booth, and part of me thinks some staff member is going to move me, but they all just smile sweetly. No chance to pick up on any Derek Acorah style hauntings, but overall, I'd enjoyed the Jamaica more than expected.
|"I'd be getting that topped up mate!"|
Back on the bus, and it is the same driver, he doesn't even want to see my ticket. He's still looking quite gutted for me.
I press the bell at Five Lanes in a pointed way (if you can press a bell in a pointed way, I'm not sure), and I'm now aware my walk will be more like 30-40 minutes, plus I have absolutely no idea how I'll get out of here (no buses for hours) but I can't think of that now, I'm 100% focussed on the tricky tick.
Before long, Altarnun comes into view ....
I glance out left, towards St Nonna's church, where the bus should've stopped, and see a procession of mourners. This is funny, not haha funny, but strange funny, because when I ticked the wonderful Blisland Inn a couple of years back, not far from here, there was also a funeral in progress.
I keep walking north, and before long, the heavens open. It had been bright sunshine up until now. Why do I get the impression that Jimmy Case has woken from his slumber?
The roads are thin and narrow, lined with thick deep green hedges, obviously no pavement, and I'm suddenly conscious of a huge amount of traffic is passing me. This doesn't feel normal for a road like this! I have to do a lot of smiling, acknowledging, exchanging waves, it is hard work.
Then my mind starts joining the dots. What if these are post-funeral people? They all do seem smartly dressed. 'Oh gosh, what if they are all off to the same pub as me for a wake?' I tell myself to stop my imagination running wild.
The pub finally comes into view around the next left turning, and crikey, is this it? Not since the Anchor in Anchor, Shropshire have I seen such a dishevelled, unpublike building. You've got to love it. Farming machinery & scaffolding surround.
And as I cross the road ..... my worst 'case' scenario is confirmed ..... cheers Jimmy!
SHIT, SHIT, SHIT I think are my first three words. I hate to do this, but I've come so far, I'm gonna go for it, explain myself, and may the good lord strike me down! I take a deep breath.
The door is wide open, which makes that aspect a lot easier, and there are plenty of people stood by the bar, close to the entrance. I explain the purpose of my visit to the first man I see, let us call him Mr Dick Respect for the benefit of this narrative. If it would be at all possible, could I stay for a pint as long as I don't get in the way. He seems friendly enough, points to another man. "He's a Yorkshireman like you, what do you think?" Encouraged I haven't been dismissed immediately, I try and strike up some fellow Yorkshireman banter, the guy is friendly but hesitant, and says it isn't his call to make. "I think you should check with the family .... you see that woman in the tall black hat...", he says, pointing towards the far end of the bar, "ask her, she should understand!" I tell him thanks, I'll go over. Meanwhile, Dick has obviously had time to reposition his moral outrage compass, and tells me he thinks I'm quite disrespectful! Bit of a personality change in the space of one minute, but hey ho, I choose to ignore him, though I have to bite my tongue. Isn't booking out a pub for an entire day quite disrespectful to the local old boys and farmers who prop the pub up the other 364 days of the year? PLOT TWIST TIME ..... there is no woman in tall black hat. I think our Yorkshire buddy has been watching too much Gentleman Jack. I find a woman in a black veil half way down and go in for the chat. She is lovely. Tells me of course I should be allowed to stay, pubs are pubs. But almost as an afterthought, she casually asks a young woman just in front of us - we'll call her Miss Spoilt Snotface. And in sulky snotty tones, she says "well no, private means private .... there's a pub in Five Lanes down the road!" And gives me the most patronising weak smile. Snotnose doesn't seem to understand how BRAPA works. But I feel defeated now, thank veil lady anyway, but I don't wanna push it in what are delicate circumstances, and trudge off, Dick giving me a glare of satisfaction as I leave.
I decide to sit on the bench outside and ring for a taxi as the next bus I can see is 18:59 and it is only 4:55, half of me tactically thinking that if I sit outside a pub looking forlorn for long enough , someone might take pity on me (it is what I call the Chaldon Herring Manoeuvre).
And I was right to be hopeful. I've not even dialled my first taxi number when this radiant middle aged lady in a bold floral dress pops her head around the corner, says "I believe you are wanting a pint ..... well I believe pubs should be for everyone, as in PUBlic! So please come in and and have a drink". She then adds the real clincher "the family aren't even turning up for another hour!" So Dick and the Yorkshireman don't even know who the family are. Muppets. "Thanks so much, but I'm standing next to you cos a couple of people aren't happy about me being here" I tell her. "Fine!" she says. At the bar, there are three young staff. The two barmaids smile kindly. The barman who steps up to serve me starts saying "errrm, are you here for the wake because this is a private event" and I say 'I've cleared it with this lady" but when I glance over, Floral Dress has swanned off to the other side of the pub to chat to someone else! Grrrr. Oh well, he believes me, and soon, I've got what I came for, a pint of deep malty Tintagel in good nick. Rising Sun, Altarnun (2268 / 3831). Tick it off! I even get a sly blurry pic .....
After a quick triumphant glance at Dick, I decide not to push my luck, and take my pint outside and enjoy it under a dripping awning. A smoker in a suit comes out and has a long chat with me about BRAPA - he's loving it, and says I shouldn't have even mentioned I wasn't with the funeral gang. I glance down at my combat cargo shorts, Western movies t-shirt, and BRAPA hoodie and say I think my dress would've given it away and he replies "duhhh, oh yeah!" We laugh. Wakes are allowed to be happy right? Didn't realise how desperate I was for a wee. Don't feel like I can go back in. And weeing on the outside of the pub might actually be disrespectful, wake or no wake, so I prop my pint on the bench and walk a couple of mins down the most obscure of the many obscure country lanes! I keep trying with the taxis too. Nothing doing. Plan now, get outta here, back to Five Lanes, go to their pub, try again. I return my glass to the bar with a breezy smile and thank you, it feels a bit like what the kids call shithousery at this point, but I don't care. Some pub ticks are worth fighting for and gosh darn it I really fought for this one!
Join me on Sunday for part six. I'll tell you what went down in Five Lanes, feelings of being stranded, a review of each Launceston taxi company, and an unlikely 'day saving' third tick.
Til then, don't have nightmares about Jimmy Case, do sleep well.