"Phew, back to normality, or whatever normality means in the world of BRAPA lolz!" I cry to my fluffy cauliflower as I rise from my slumber at 8:30am on the Tuesday. I boil the mini kettle and make myself a thoroughly inadequate mug of PG Tips. Those removal monkeys from the adverts will be turning in their graves if they knew this once great brand had plumbed to such depths. The Dark Star Hophead of tea, if you like.
'How do I know they are dead?' you may be asking. Lugging pianos up and down stairs everyday for an entire decade is never going to end well.
After a hot shower, cornflakes, blueberries, a pathetic pain au chocolat, fresh orange juice, and some continental meats and smoked cheeses, I was all set for the day ahead. Pub ticking is about starting the day in the right way.
The now familiar bus service from Sittingbourne to Maidstone was negotiated, and I once again cursed myself for not choosing to stay in the latter, being the hub for all places 'awkward mid-Kent'.
Following hot on the heels of last night's dramatic 'GBG cover dropping off' in Whitstable, I notice the ink is draining alarmingly from my green Stabilo. Luckily, Maidstone WHSmith's provides the answer. In its extensive selection of individual highlighters, I eventually find these two lurkers.
I also bought a WHSmith's own yellow one for when it comes to my '2023 Legacy Ticks' (more on that once the new GBG finally arrives, if ever), ruffled the thinning hair of the depressed elderly checkout cove, and hop, skipped and jumped back into the sunny Maidstone thoroughfare, all set to jump aboard the 10X with a smattering of Maidstonians who certainly won't be alive to see the BRAPA conclusion in 2039.
The driver seems slightly intimidated by my 'Hart Hill Crossroads' specificity, so I smile kindly and tell him I'll press the bell well in advance if he can play his part by putting his foot on the brake. He agrees that this seems the most sensible course of action.
The 'manoeuvre' (as my old chum Tom 'Clag Monster' Irvin) would put it, goes smoothly, and it is only a 20-25 minute winding walk through some quite beautiful Kentish countryside in the direction of today's first pub, though I do suspect that whoever put the pub in this location was having a laugh at the pub tickers expense.
I suppose an idyllic location, warm sunny weather, the twittering of all manner of finches and tits, a mooing cow and a baaing sheep isn't a guarantee that the greeting you receive is going to be one of chirpy bonhomie, and just as well, because here at the Bowl Inn, Charing (2399 / 3963) the two youthful specimens behind the bar are glumness personified. Sleep walking through their jobs with all the ease of Hull City sleep walking through another defeat. No effort, no fight, no vim, no vigour, no personality. As my latest Canterbury Ale is being pulled, they do spark up a 'banterous' exchange between themselves, which only irks me further as eye contact isn't made with me at any stage. The pub website has you believe this is the most wholesome pub to visit in Christendom. So either someone is lying, or someone is not following the 'brand values'. Within five minutes, the general gloominess, random piles of logs and low slung leather couch is dragging my mood down, so I retire to the benches out front. A sunburnt local has got the right idea, he is leaning against the pub with his eyes closed, occasionally blindly groping for his nearby pint. I'm happier after this, the ale is well kept, I can hear nature, and I'm removed from the pub.
I take the controversial decision, in my own head at least, to walk onto Charing village which is twice the distance of the bus stop. This is because there is a railway station at Charing, and the bus timings are a bit out of kilter at this current hour.
I soon realise my pub options aren't quite as plentiful as I'd been expecting. Tuesday is not a great day to be in rural climes. If pubs open at all, it might not be until 4pm. And if they did open at noon, they may well be closed by 2:30/3pm. Stymied from many angles (they don't call me StymieSi for nothing) I decide the best course of action is a return to Maidstone and a connecting bus 5 which on a good day, has plenty of GBG ticks to go at.
The furthest point south of interest on this route is a curious little town called Cranbrook. Not un-Tenterden like in its pretensions of being slightly more special than it really is. Though slightly reminiscent of Cornish classic Helston with peculiar raised pavements designed to trip up drunken losers who've had too much Spingo Special.
Don't let the jolly bald head glimmering in the sun fool you, Larkins' Alehouse, Cranbrook (2400 / 3964) was the cringiest, most awkward pub I would visit this entire week. 'An award winner!' someone on my Twitter cried. Jeez, slow year for good pubs in this part of Kent? A micro of course, you have probably guessed. But let us be fair, no blame should be attached to the three young men who were running the show. A zippy trio, not a bungle amongst them, jumping around the pub like their pedometers depended upon it. I was served with a smile. "Corr, we've ran out of sausage rolls" is the first thing I heard. They laugh, they joke, they frolic like lambs in the meadow, the ale was good, the pub did nothing wrong whatsoever. It was the customers. As one, they cut a tragic figure. A more lugubrious, haggard faced, gloomy bunch I've never before witnessed outside of an Ember Inn. I normally find that in micros, the clientele take their lead from the staff. So happy outgoing staff rub off. But not here. I don't know what to do with myself. I'm conscious of every molecule in my body. At least wolfman with his wolf howling at the moon t-shirt reading a dark fantasy novel at the front is 'doing something'. The rest just blink into the middle distance, occasionally staring at me. The place is narrow and tight. It creates a pressure cooker of doom. I'm just about to do the unthinkable and preside over a ten minute long 'live' Untappd check in, when the old bloke I've long since suspected had most potential whispers something at me. Whispering to avoid waking the dead? Reminds me of the time I upset Dr Phil in Middlesbrough. I jump at the chance of any chat, though he keeps throwing nervous glances at his sour wife who doesn't enjoy the intrusion. We soon bond over Tenterden however, and even her face softens from its original granite form. And then all of a sudden, wolfman stands up and says to me "if you are wanting a lift to Tenterden, I'm heading that way now". Sadly, Tenterden is about the only Kentish place I don't need a lift to but I thank him. "So kind!" I say to our whispering baldie, who replies "oh yes, the folk in here are always spot on". If you say so mate, if you say so.
Time to head back north on the number 5 bus. A random Geordie (there is one in every town) pushes in front of me, apologises, saying he thinks he lost his wallet on this bus earlier. "What does it look like?" asks the driver. "Brooooon and leatha" says random Geordie. "Good enough for me, mate" says driver, handing it over. RG looks so relieved, I'm actually really pleased for him.
Next stop, the Knoxbridge, Frittenden on the main road. The bus rapidly becomes a school bus, it is that time of day, and no BRAPA holiday would be complete without the dreaded school bus experience.
I press the bell, but I check myself just before I hop off. "Hang on, it doesn't look very open, does it look open to you?" I ask the driver. "HOW THE BLOODY 'ELL SHOULD I KNOW?" barks the driver impatiently. I resist the temptation to say "errrm, look at it?" but the shutters, darkness and Castle Duckula-esque cobwebs hanging off the closest door and window are a giveaway. I tell him I'll stay on to Maidstone and decide to research it further tomorrow.
I'm expecting the kids to rip the absolute Michael out of me, but no, as I do the walk of shame back to my seat feeling like a prize turnip, I even get a couple of sympathetic glances off the more studious ones as if to say "the perils of GBG ticking, eh?" #PubKids
With Staplehurst and Linton not open today (and Boughton Monchelsea pairing well with the latter), I have no choice but to get myself back into Maidstone and abandon my rural plans. It has been a lot of effort for very little reward, but hey, it happens!
Time to hastily message Mrs Maidstone herself, Pauline Sharp, to see if she wants to come out n play (well, meet Colin) at short notice, and I'm delighted and a bit surprised when she says yes.
There are certain Twitter pub legends who need three months written notice and a specific BRAPA arrival time.
My third pub today, and final one in Part 6 is this ......
'Gorgeous Tudor fronted old building ruined by a ridiculously oversized comedy pub sign' is my first assessment of Olde Thirsty Pig, Maidstone (2401 / 3964) , a pub of hidden depths (and heights!) though it'd take a trip to the loo to realise. The tiny front bar is lined with friendly, boisterous folk sat uncomfortably close together on adjacent stools. You know, 'thighs touching' close. The barmaid is buzzy and lively, conversation is peculiar and after obtaining what'd prove a very impressive pint of the Tonbridge Ebony Moon, I balance my pint, bag and jacket on the one remaining stool, and go in search of a toilet, with the intention of bracing myself for some overly intimate local chatter (a culture shock after my Cranbrook experience). But to my surprise and joy, steep steps (enough to make Mount Everest or even a Central London pub blush) lead up to some empty, beautifully vaulted rooms, and it is the same story downstairs, a hidden back room - this was like York's House of The Trembling Madness (Stonegate edition) but with room to swing a Cauli. I return to the bar to grab my things, luckily the locals are too engrossed in a tale of a child with the body of a cat who has been brought up in a forest (or something) to notice, and before long, Pauline arrives. Meeting Colin is the highlight, even if he is a bit 'grey' at present he still gets a cuddle. She tells me how she'd had to nip into 'the club' to tell Mr Pauline ("oooh the wife's here, yer in trouble" the other blokes say) that she was coming to meet the Cauliflower Man off Twitter, which no doubt left him a bit gobsmacked! Time to come to another pub with me? Pauline says yes. A good pub this, another one to add to Maidstone's strong suit of GBG entries.
|Surprise upstairs joy at the Thirsty P.|
|More upstairs joy in the Thirsty P.|
|What a fabulous pub room (ignore Mr Nike traffic lights)|
|Stop showing off for Auntie Pauline, mate|
Join me tomorrow for part 7 where we will hear about the rest of my Tuesday in Kent.