Ticking on a Bank Holiday Monday is generally the hardest of days to be a pub ticker. But a Bank Holiday Monday due to a State funeral? Peak difficulty levels. Impossible to predict what pubs would be open.
Nearly every GBG pub in Kent has a Facebook page. The problem is, hardly any of them update it. And when they do, it is with useless stuff like Jazzy Geoff has won tonight's quiz, a red bobble hat has been handed in, calamari rings are now on the menu or a kitten has gone missing in Snodland. 'Pub opening hours? Why would we update those?'
It wasn't worth getting out of bed til 11am. I showered and breakfasted slowly, popped on my Sittingbourne Travelodge TV where the coffin's progress was in full swing, and I sat down to plan where I could possibly go pubbing.
It was enough to throw anyone out of their Keto regime.
Maidstone had been my initial plan, but when #PubWoman Pauline Sharp told me the Thirsty Pig wasn't opening til 4pm (not listed anywhere I could see online), I lost confidence. The other two ticks I needed were giving nothing away.
The North Kent coast seemed sensible with its plentiful train route going west. But being mainly micros which rarely open Monday's as a rule, there wasn't much cause for optimism here either. I researched 11 pubs going out as far as Margate, only 4 looked semi-likely.
To give you an idea of what I was up against, one pub posted "we are opening today as a mark of respect" whilst another wrote "we will be closed all day as a mark of respect".
I hope Charles 3 lives til about 120 and all those Duchy organic biscuits are life-giving cos I don't wanna go through this again for another 40 years.
But then I struck on a plan I'd not even considered. CANTERBURY. It had specific information on 4 of its 5 pubs almost certainly being open. Gawd bless you Canterbury GBG pubs.
Okay, so the Archbishop was otherwise engaged preventing him from giving me the 'Audience with BRAPA' he'd have conducted under normal circumstances, but them's the breaks.
I arrive in town to find a typically Kentish busy one way system. I had to walk five minutes in the wrong direction, just to find a crossing point, and then a subway, and finally, it became the pretty town full of tourists a bit like York that I'd been expecting.
Three Americans hovered outside pub one got in my way. I loitered patiently until they decided the place looked too full. Too full? I'd not been expecting that today.
'Please wait to be seated'. Ugh, I hoped those days had gone. But glancing past the blackboard, wow the tourists weren't wrong, every seat was taken ......Foundry Brew Pub, Canterbury (2393 / 3957)
was the name, serving local beers and looking suspiciously like a restaurant is their game. "I just want a drink" I wail hopefully to a Competent Olly Murs (COM) who bounded over, tongue half out, to seat me. He takes me down some steps and I'm seated all on my lonesome in the 'brewery area'. An old couple glance back and stare, worried they are missing out on a better experience, so I try and look important. COM passes me a laminated beer menu, I pick a pint of 'Gold' as it is cask and not too strong, and when he brings my beer, I beg him to let me pay now as I won't be staying for another as "I'm on a bit of a mission" (a line I've not rolled out since the 'Lockdown Years'). He acquiesces and soon I'm left with just spooky blackboard Santa for company. Nothing happens, because I'm not even within earshot of anybody, but on a day I was particularly nervous about getting into the pubs, this place raises my hopes of a decent day ahead.
Next up, on a pretty street full of timber framed creaky old buildings and more milling tourists, I found pub two. It deserves special BRAPA commendation for specifically saying that whilst their kitchen is closed, you can come in and watch the funeral i.e. they are open for drinks.
And what a beauty the Unicorn, Canterbury (2394 / 3958)
with its carpetted, cosy, bench seating, sunken, historic feel. Bar billiards players to the back, and small huddle of folk to the right watching the procession, and free grief nibbles on the bar, which I made a mental note of. Don't look too desperate too soon when it comes to free pub snacks. Problem was, the ale. My Gadds No. 5 started off fabulously, though I was a bit surprised when it didn't clear. When I overheard mine host telling two men it'd just gone, it started to make sense. I was more the halfway down when it took on a decidedly ropey taste. And to think I'd heard the men bemoaning the fact they'd have to pick something else! Surely any sane person would prefer a fresh top of barrel beer they weren't so keen on (we'll say Doom Bar as that gets slated most) rather the bottom of a barrel beer they favour? Yes lads, you actually dodged a bullet. Yet again, I'd ignored the Oakham Citra and had been punished. A young lad is lurking around the free nibbles. 'Don't be shy, take some more!' the landlord encourages him. Well, the little twild blighter only goes and fills up his empty crisp packet with mini sausage rolls! This was my cue to get myself over there, before he takes the whole lot. A lady who has witnessed the same incident is chuckling about it and recounting it to her friends who'd had their eyes glued to the screen. I cannot finish my ale, but grab a triangle sandwich on my way out. "One for the road!" I call over to previously chuckling woman. I expect her to chuckle some more, but she simply sits there open mouthed. I'll bring an empty crisp packet back here when Charles 3 carks it.
One pub left in this part, and our Canterbury progress takes us into the backstreets. I find the pub staring back at me, and through the entrance door, a moth eaten little mutt and a lady watching me intently.
Eight Bells, Canterbury (2395 / 3959)
must be the most 'local' of all the town's GBG entries. A couple of elderly ladies, a bloke who might be married to one, and a younger lady all watch with some curiosity as I order a Young's Original, the only cask on, it is decent but not a beer I find crazy southern. Having spied the remnants of more free grief snacks (Angel and Battenberg slices, a cake, and some tiny egg n cress sandwiches), I position myself strategically around the corner, but I'm soon 'invited' into the main area so I can watch the slow procession up the Mall. It'd feel rude not to move, so I do. Problem is, they watch the coverage like hawks, very little said, bloke tries the odd joke. It is all a bit awkward. They finally all need a ciggie en masse and stand outside the front door. I nip to the outdoor loos, what a beautiful little area with fish, plants and scarecrows. I'm eyeing up the snack remnants when the gang return, so I ask if I can partake, they agree but not in a "oooh yes, help yourself luv, they'll only go to waste" kinda way I was expecting, more in a "oh go on then you outsider" way. The food has obviously been out since 10:30am, it is very dry around the edges but still edible. It really feel like the ingredients were in place for this pub to really welcome me into the bosom of their little community, and yet it never happened. As I got up to leave, the all round sense of relief was palpable.
The one Canterbury pub I was convinced wouldn't be open was their micro, the Thomas Tallis Alehouse. It doesn't normally open Monday and their Facebook wasn't suggesting anything to the contrary. Still, nothing ventured nothing gained.
And once it came into view, I noticed not only were all the windows open, but there was a light on too.
Ooooh, could I be lucky?
I stick my head through the open window, there is a lady mopping the floor. "Are you opening today?" I ask, making her jump out of her skin, but she tells me no. It's the hope that kills you in this game.
I need a pre-emptive as my other nailed on Canterbury tick, the New Inn, isn't opening until 5:30pm which I know because Katrina said so on Facebook which means a brownie point for that pub before I'd even arrived.
Luckily, local #PubWoman Pauline Sharp had recently been on a Canterbury pub tour and listed a few she found decent. One was just a few yards away, best give it a try ....
Bell & Crown, Canterbury might've worried me from the outside with its Cruzcampo outdoor nonsense, but inside, particularly to the front left, I find a wholly unspoilt corner, with just enough space for one man and his cauli. Okay, so a couple of weird posh men appear and practically sit on my face but what do you expect from a non GBG listed pub? Less face-sitting, more attention to cask, and you too might make the GBG. The ales are decent actually, four of them. I go for a Canterbury Ale (the Friar's Tale if you care, most are named after Chaucer's blogs), shame it has no head but I guess we couldn't be much more southern than Canterbury. Piped sixties music turned up to 11 is totally uncalled for, and not even good sixties like Vernon Girls Funny All Over - I always feel loud piped music is a sign of a pub that doesn't have enough confidence in itself. I'm a bit upset at the lack of free funeral snacks - funny how quickly you get acclimatised to a new way of pubbing isn't it? In conclusion, reminds me of an inferior version of a Cambridge pub such as Free Press or Champion of the Thames.
Back same time tomorrow to tell you about the rest of this crazy day.
Still no GBG .... still no word of anyone in the south receiving it either, someone wise suspected the postal strikes might be the reason (my ticket for Hull City's 2-0 defeat v Birmingham still hasn't arrived so there might be something in it!)
Sweet dreams, Si
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