I'm perhaps at my most anxious on a pub ticking day when confronted with a GBG Club.
You just don't know what you are going to get. A grilling from the staff. A need to show your GBG or a CAMRA card. Weird looks from the locals. Sign your name here. Donate to the charity tin. Ask a local to sign you in. Or, you may simply stroll in, no questions asked at all.
The variables are endless, and quite terrifying.
Perhaps the worst case scenario, apart from being growled at by an angry red faced CAMRA hater as per my Penistone horror show, is when you cannot work out HOW to get in and end up red faced and feeling silly.
Imagine my panic being confronted with these instructions!
The lady behind the railings says hello, but doesn't come to my aid. Luckily, waddling in behind me like history's least convincing knight in shining armour, Rob (or Robbie to his mates) explains that it all depends on whether you are club member, and your thumb print is recognisable or not. Welcome to Dartford Working Man's Club, Dartford (2300 / 3863) which opens up into a large traditional club style (it just needed Vic Reeves on vocals) lounge room. A terrific place, I'm presented with a pint of murk (warm and unconvincing) and as I go to take a seat, two lively old blokes in suits are swatting flies on the window pane. One of them does a shimmy to Springsteen's Dancing in the Dark. This was my kinda place. If I thought I'd seen the last of Rob, I was wrong. Despite having a huge room to aim at, he comes and sits directly opposite me. Doesn't say a word. "Am I in your usual seat?" I venture, but he simply exhales. Even the suited fly swatters raise an eyebrow. Perhaps this is my initiation ceremony, 'can the newbie handle being directly chatted to for 25 minutes straight?'. Because that is what he did, talk. It is good to talk. Bob Hoskins said that. Bob and Rob could be related. With his braces and claims of recent weight loss, he's quite the character. I try bonding with him over Keto diets, but I've lost him. He'd rather tell me he's a black belt in Tai Chi. Just not officially. His arthritis is bad these days in any case, but despite being short, he can knock out most blokes out twice his size. His first pint was in 1951, a Courage brown & mild. He was only 9. His Dad took him to the pub. Robbie wanted a coke but his Dad said 'you're drinking beer like the rest of us and THAT is final!' And Robbie hasn't looked back, though he only drinks 3 pints a week now, he claims, patting his belly. "This shirt is much looser these days" he adds. We say farewell with a firm handshake and he directs me to the 'exit release button'. Blokes like Robbie need preserving, if only for the wealth of blog material they provide.
BRAPA has just started taking its first baby steps into Kent. Expect to see me down here more frequently over the next few months. I'm starting north west, and gradually working my way to the east coast to all those famous places like Dover, Ramsgate, Margate and Folkestone. It is all very exciting, even though I am not expecting to encounter many pubs built pre 2012!
Although I required two further Dartford ticks, I left them for today and moved around the corner to Gravesend and Northfleet, which provided four ticks I need (I'd done two in Gravesend previously).
Gravesend was up first .....
A group of smartly dressed Asian lads with sculptured beards turn away from their Madri Exceptionals (or similar) and nod vaguely as I struggle to find my way through the garden to the entrance of Jolly Drayman, Gravesend (2301 / 3864). I wondered if I'd ever find a pub entrance with ease today. Dancing in the Dark is playing again, is it still number one in the north Kent hit parade I wonder? The locals are burly, bawdy and sweaty. They love a larf. A bloke is retiling the floor in the gents. His spirit level wobbles happily. One of the louder, redder, locals tells barmaid Soph (who's a very personable barmaid) that she reminds him of a 60's model. I'm not sure which one. She takes the compliment by replying that he reminds her of a dainty ballerina. Possibly not a genuine compliment, but he takes it on the chin. My Adnams is poor. Why do I have such bad luck with real ale in north Kent? Last time in the Gillingham area was dreadful, and already I've had two lame ales, this is definitely somewhere near bottom of barrel. The pub itself is a pleasure to be in, you can lose yourself. I did. On autopilot I head towards the gents, I'm reminded I'll have to use the ladies due to the retiling. When I reappear, two locals move towards me and ask 'what it is like in there?'. Smells nicer than a gents loo, clean and probably a 9/10. I'll pop it on Tripadvisor.
Someone was neglecting their rather large pub mascot, and for once, it wasn't me .....
Anything branded as a 'riverside inn' is always liable to be a bit shitter than a pub away from water. But I didn't realise that as I strode up to the pier for my other Gravesend tick. After all, with stories of ghosts, press gangs and smugglers, it sounded pretty interesting. Plus, being called the Three Daws, Gravesend (2302 / 3865) I could finally do my joke about it being named after football's three Dawson brothers - Michael, Andy and the other one.
|Becoming a ghost|
|THREE times this same lady tries to instigate a queue|
|Greasy, warm and disappointing (the pint not Colin)|
|Handy when you want a marquee and the South East's leading one is opposite!|
|Wonder how long it took to deliver?|
|Poor lad looks ready for the executioner (don't mention KLO, don't mention KLO)|
|Quality comment from a quality ticker|
|Even my phone was excited to be here|
|And that's how you highlight it properly!|