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.
But from the moment I climbed the wooden steps and saw a woman instigating a pointless single file queue to the bar (something she repeated TWICE more, such were her food and drink demands), I knew the Three Daws was going to be dire, despite a rather snazzy carpet. When a carpet can't save you, you know it is bad. Dining hell, zero friendliness verging on a poor attitude, and a third consecutive below par pint of ale were the sum of the parts. I'm really gonna have to bite the bullet and switch to keg in north Kent on summer days. When the barmaid finally does serve me, she just looks through me. Maybe I had become the ghost? So much so, when a local elderly lady walks in, barmaid talks THROUGH me to taunt the lady about her drunken escapades the previous night. "I bet she can't even remember getting home!" she tells another member of staff. I can't believe I paid for my drink, I'm sure I could've walked off I was that invisible. I can't even position myself in line with the pub's giant fan to cool down, and despite my best efforts to smile at any passers by, all I get are scowls. Customers are just as ignorant. Maybe it is a Gravesend thing? On my last visit, the Compass Alehouse was laughably unfriendly - they locked me alone in the courtyard and I needed permission to go to the loo! But then I went to the Three Pillars and everyone was lovely and I got asked if I was from Mansfield due to my 'accent', so who knows duck.
|Becoming a ghost|
|THREE times this same lady tries to instigate a queue |
|Greasy, warm and disappointing (the pint not Colin)|
Time to walk to Northfleet. My heart sank as I saw how far it was, but then realised Google Maps had gone a bit haywire and thought I was all at sea.
More like a 20-30 minutes walk from memory, I was sweating buckets now, and although this next place didn't 'look much' , industrial unit brewery taps seldom do, well talk about restoring your faith not only in humanity, but in cask ale ......
|Handy when you want a marquee and the South East's leading one is opposite!|
|Wonder how long it took to deliver? |
The two lads greet me warmly in a delightfully cool arena. That was enough for starters after that last hellhole. Iron Pier Taproom, Northfleet (2303 / 3866) was my saviour, and the lads Ross and the other one (sorry, it is like the Dawson brothers all over again) are shocked to hear all three pints I've had so far have been sub standard, or maybe they are just shocked I've had three pints by lunchtime having travelled down from York. I shouldn't be surprised, on my most recent Kentish trip, it was the micros (Past & Present and Prince of Ales) that saved us. The duo seem vaguely impressed in my 'tasters are for wimps, just jump straight in!' attitude which kinda felt wreckless today considering the beer so far. They recommend me this 'Joined at the Hop' thing which is a mixture of two hops, something local and something elsewhere but I've accidentally stopped listening. They watch intently as I take the first sip, so thank goodness it is 5* nectar and I don't have to do any facial acting. I sit at the far end of the room, and nothing happens because what few customers are here are under the marquee outside (the mad bastards) so I sit in the cool main room on a bench near two shiny silver tanks of beer, and the owner James sees my tweet and sends me a nice reply. What a difference a tick makes!
|Poor lad looks ready for the executioner (don't mention KLO, don't mention KLO)|
|Quality comment from a quality ticker|
I'd asked the 'Taproom duo' (not the Tamworth Two or the Tapas Seven) about my next pub, and the generally consensus was 'mehhh, it's alright'.
I'll take that as a win, and I marched off, half expecting a cup of tea infused with bergamot, possibly with a slice of lemon ......
Lovely shaped building, both bright and breezy but with a real local clamour against some pretty harsh, tinny acoustics (Shakhtar Donetsk and Liz Truss amongst the main topics of chat), the Earl Grey, Northfleet (2304 / 3867) actually had Bishop's Finger on cask. Yes, hook it to my veins! Not literally. A rare sighting anyway. You can't go wrong with a Bishop's Finger, as Madge from Neighbours found out back in the day. A quality pint too, the run of bad beer well and truly broken now and a rare example of drinkable beer in a traditional north Kent pub. Northfleet definitely getting the better of Gravesend and Dartford on today's evidence. I couldn't help but find the interior of the pub a bit disappointing, I'm not sure what year the modern grey refurb took place, but being grey, I'd guess last ten years. A shame because the place had heart and soul, definitely worth popping in if you want a slightly comfier seat after a few hours in the Iron Pier.
So north Kent is coming along quite nicely - you can tell what I've highlighted pre and post the great Cornwall drowning!
Plenty of trips pencilled in for the coming weeks/months. And a nice chap is helping me out with outer Faverhsam (Conyer? Bredgar? Doddington?) in September, so the future is bright, the future is Stabilo green. And a lot of places are on train lines so already I'm thinking it'll be easier than Cornwall and Cumbria. I guess opening hours could be the big bug bear if we are looking at a hobbyist micro heavy county.
My final tick of the day meant a trip back into south London according to the GBG, but the purists would probably still call it Kent.
Do you remember my harrowing Sidcup experience when THIS happened?
31/7/19 in Sidcup's Hackney Carriage Micropub, I got chatting to the above dude (I was sat across two tables like a slob and he wanted one of them for him and his mate which was fair, so we got chatting. Guard down, I went to the loo, and when I'm came back, to my horror, he'd picked up my GBG and Stablio, and was highlighting his favourite pubs in the area "so you remember to do them!" he claimed. 3 or 4 until I told him to stand down. Ruined my day.
This was the first time I'd had chance to actually do one of his 'favourites'.
|Even my phone was excited to be here|
I scan the outdoor tables for signs of our Sidcup Strangler, but I can't see him, so I scuttle off inside the Penny Farthing, Crayford (2305 / 3868) which is similarly populated by grey haired, well fed, well meaning upper middle class twits - the whitest pub crowd I've seen all year, and I live in York for heaven's sake! A funky place with too much light, and weird guest beers with names a bit like 'Slave to the Rhythm' which meant Grace Jones was soon stuck in my head - and no one wants that. Little did I know in two weeks times, I'd be watching Toyah covering that very song on a giant outdoor stage in the shadow of Blackpool tower. An old crone with pink cheeks whispers confidentially down my ear'ole that she's thinking about going back for a second cider. Did I ask? No. Am I delighted that folk in south London/Kent are talking to strangers? Yes. She then instigates a Sweet Caroline singalong. Possibly only because she is called Caroline. This was an incredibly microey micro, but it was happy. And the beer was very good. Maybe the Sidcup Strangler had a point?
|And that's how you highlight it properly!|
I was surprised how long it took me to reach Kings Cross, and when I did the concourse was heaving. But what do all these people have in common?
That's right - they're all looking for an extra special kind of beer ......
Getting a table in my favourite room was a rare treat, you can tell it is the close season in the football. Not a Mackem, Geordie or Monkey Hanger in sight. That won't happen again til next May!
I'd love an ESB tee shirt so I start having a look online. Even Fullers official website only seems to do London Pride ones. They do ESB keyrings but I don't wanna be fobbed off. THANKS. I thought I'd cracked it on eBay but they all had Star Wars logos on. Turns out ESB means Empire Strikes Back for SOME losers.
Back in York, I pop into York Tap. Not sure why, must've been extra thirsty tonight ....
.... but finally I did make it home, via my chippy/KFC (can't remember) , all's well that ends well.
Join me tomorrow for part one of my recent Cumbrian mini-break.
Shetland time, see you soon, Si
You can't imagine how thrilled I was to see my Iron Pier tweet in a BRAPA blog. Honoured.ReplyDelete
The Jolly Drayman made the first 25 editions of the GBG (the Silver Selection), you know. Almost famous.
Was a stunning tweet, rare I include them unless they are one of the best haha.Delete
Jolly Drayman I guess I can handle that being semi famous, as long as it isn't the monstrous Three Daws