Tuesday, 14 November 2017

BRAPA - Stuck in a Rutland, Stranded in Stamford

It was one of those weird days, even by the standards of the British Real Ale Pub Adventure, where nothing went particularly smoothly, felt nice, relaxed or too much fun.  But on the plus side, it should make for a decent blog write up!

From the sublime ....

......to the ridiculous
The second 'Dad Mystery Tour' of the 2017/18 season took us to Stamford.  Not because I had a craving to visit Lincolnshire (no one has ever had that craving), but because it was close to Rutland, the final English GBG county where I had a sum of zero pub ticks.  This needed rectifying. 

The train journey down from York to Peterborough was painstaking.  We could deal with engineering works making the journey a painful 2 hours long, but we couldn't deal with fans of the worst sport on earth (rugby union) travelling down south to watch England.  As long as the loud Hemsworth father n son behind us didn't get talking to the obnoxious group of posh oldies opposite (Wensleydale and Swaledale), we'd be okay.  They did, and swapped a copy of the Daily Mail for 2 cans of Carling.  A twild sang "Swing Low Sweet Chariot".  Gimme football hooligans any day. 

We had a long wait in Peterborough so popped into that above average 'Spoons, Drapers Arms,  but the service wasn't up to the usual standard (beer was superb) and Dad got short tempered with the barmaid and I had to be diplomatic whilst he went to find a table by the fire.

Me post-diplomacy. 
One exciting novelty factor about today was the chance to hop on a "request bus" but their online service was so shite, I had to ring and speak to a human man to ask if, at 2pm, we could get a lift from a village called Belmesthorpe to Stamford, something that looked eminently achievable on their timetable & website, but in reality was a total flop.  "I can't get to ya til 5pm, but thanks for thinking of us mate" was the reply.

I've only heard of request bus services existing in Lincolnshire, and like the county itself, it seemed synonymous with disappointment, flatness, webbed feet and things that just don't work. 

After a short train ride from Peterboro' to Stamford, an idiot family on the narrow footbridge over the railway line held up the entire human race trying to leave Stamford station by 'trying to reinact a scene from the railway children' which seemed incorrect on so many levels.

Today didn't need pubs to be irritating. 

We had an hour to kill before our bus so we headed to the Green Man pub, with it's advertised 11am opening time in the GBG.  It was closed.  Obviously.

Better luck around the corner at Jolly Brewer, open but only time for a rushed half.  I'd return later and review it then.  Dad too was failing, his inability to take any kind of decent outdoor photo totally out of character, adding to my anguish.  Even he was broken.

At the "bus station"(where incidentally a purple request bus was sat doing sweet fanny adams), me and Dad talked loudly about the bus we were catching and a senile old lady with zero marbles told us we couldn't get to Ryhall from here.  Everyone else looked skeptical, my phone AND research said otherwise, a teenager tried to challenge her and got shouted down by her fellow old admirers so he moodily put his headphones back in muttering "I give up". Good guy.

Dad had wandered off to find a bus stop at a church which didn't exist, I, exasperated, knew she'd told us porkies, so I marched us to the station to find a taxi, Dad walking at a snails pace, me trying to get him to show more urgency, I was absolutely fuming at this point with how today was going.  This was the BRAPA low point of the year.

You can stop reading now, it really doesn't get much better.

Happily, a jolly Asian taxi bloke finally got us to Ryhall.  It shouldn't have been this difficult.  Dad accidentally tried not to pay the poor bloke, maybe our first pub could lighten the mood..... my first Rutland tick n all that.

1143 (189).  Green Dragon, Ryhall

A pretty village and a pub which has probably been there for centuries but has had the heart and soul ripped out of it by years of unsympathetic refurbishment.  There were two rooms to choose from.  A side room behind a sliding door, or straight ahead, the main bar.  Dad reported the main room smelt of dog.  So we made the decision to sit in the white-walled bland side room, with tuck shop goodies and one customer who we suspected was former football maniac John Hartson.  The beers on offer was as dull as humanely possible, but the blonde barmaid in army jacket was a friendly shining jewel in an otherwise shit-stained crown.  We ordered the only ale that didn't shout "Greene King", but it tasted of it and was impossible to pronounce (SBS C+).  I recapped the horrors of the morning quite loudly, Hartson looked like he was gonna kick me in the head Berkovic style, so I went to the loo (nice art deco mirror), then we settled down to 'Come Dine with Me' as Hartson left in a grump.  A nice buttery smell of home cooking briefly wafted in.  The tuck shop sweets looked like they'd been in the pub for 20 years untouched, this wasn't the dream intro to Rutland pubbing I'd hoped.

Yum yum.

John's enjoying it just as much as me.
  The walk from Ryhall to Belmesthorpe was one of the few nice moments of today (see photo at top of blog) and very straightforward.  Time for my second Rutland pub tick, Dad's fourth as he did two in  Oakham with Mum the other year.  Belmesthorpe looked a lovely village.

1144 (1890).  Blue Bell, Belmesthorpe

Heart palpitations as I had to walk past two very shut looking doors before finding the 'main entrance' at the back of the pub in the busy car park.  An elaborate porch way suggested this could be a dining pub, so I was fairly relieved when I walked in to find a group of old locals stood silently in a circle inviting me to 'enter their space'.  I smiled weakly, one man said hello (the friendly one), and an old dining couple were feeding a greedy twog which was camouflaged into the stone walls.  It felt like we'd walked into a seance or a witches coven, and a watchful barmaid told me "to look above yer" head to see what beers were on, they must be floating eerily above my head.  I hurriedly ordered a pint of Brewsters something cos the girl on the pump clip looks like someone I worked with but it wasn't their finest effort (SBS C).  On the face of it, this should've been a nice pub, warmer than the last, yet it was even less convincing and had us being all the more complimentary about the Green Dragon.  It was like it lacked a basic honesty, the human touch, and was just a bit weird.  Dad kept moving tables cos he kept finding 'red stains' on them which made him felt uneasy!  A man came out of a cupboard (crypt) with shirt and moustache straight out of the 1980's.  Had he been in there all this time?  He went to work behind the bar, looking confused by handpumps.  The taxi pipped it's horn, it was here early, good, we don't have to finish this beer.  So we scurried off.

Twog life

View through the bar
As today was today, the taxi driver had to be weird.  He played us a Status Quo medley telling us they were the most underrated band in the world, then gave us a Suzi Quatro quiz, and ended by playing African music ultra loud like he thought he was a chav on a tomato soup advert.  We were glad to escape, back in Stamford.

Dad, so relieved to be out of that taxi.

1145 (1891).  Tobie Norris, Stamford

But any thoughts that the 'hard part' of the day was done, and we could now settle down to 4 pubs in the town, were put on hold when we saw people 'queuing' to the bar, all with menus debating with loved ones whether tomato and basil pesto bruschetta was a good pairing with an ice cold glass of prosecco.  Dad suggested maybe we leave, returning to this pub when the lunchtime rush was over.  But this was the straw that broke the camel's back for me, after a day of annoying events so far.  I marched down the queue, plonked myself on the bar, and when the guy said 'who's next?', I pushed in, telling the lady next in the queue that we were only having drinks so I may as well go first.  Dad said I did it in a charming way, but woe betide if she'd argued the toss!  The rest of the queue looked daggers at me, and her for letting me push in.  The young bar man was lily livered, and had no control over what was happening.  Where to sit with our pints of average Damson Porter by Fullers (SBS C+) was the next challenge.  Couldn't get to side room for the queue and sleeping twogs, other rooms full or upstairsy restaurant.  One chair at the fireplace.  So Dad, buoyed by my actions, went to wrestle a chair off a posh foodie woman in the next room.  Sounds like it took some arguing, but he came back victorious, chair raised above his head, and plonked it by the fire place.  I felt like we were channelling the ghosts of #PubMen of the past, caring not the pub hated us.  The queue died down and solidarity came in the form of a local woman, who sat at the bar, read her paper with a pint, and nodded happily as I recounted how me and Dad had turned this into a great pub experience, for which the pub deserves approximately zero amount of credit. 

Part of the queue of queuers

More of the queue, and they aren't happy.

The dungeon master gets in the way

Two young black dudes march an old man to bar and buy him half a coke!

Woman is pub legend.
Feeling a bit more like we'd taken back the power, we headed to our next pub and it looked like it might be more foodie nightmares, despite being well into the afternoon .....

1146 (1192).  Kings Head, Stamford

We walked into this rather small pub to find it packed to the rafters with zombies, either sitting down very slowly at tables, or bemoaning the lack of free seats and groaning in people's ears in the hope they could jump in their graves, if that's what zombies do, I don't really know.  I went to the bar and got the round in (some tawny coloured liquid fizzing slightly but clearer than some, SBS B-)  and was surprised to see Dad had magically got quite a decent sized table in impossible circs.  "But I wanted an orange juice!" he complains as I put the pint down.  "WHATTT?" I stammer.  "Only joking!" he replies, what a trickster that man is.  Something already vaguely in our minds from most of the previous pubs was that the folk of Stamford are perhaps the smuggest most self satisfied looking individuals on the planet.  Beautiful town they live in, no doubt about it.  But even so, lose the attitude people, you are still from Lincolnshire, and not even good North North East East Lincs.  Dad puts it down to the fact that almost every Period Drama is set in the town.  The clientele are weirder here than the other pubs, yes, even the Tobie Norris.  Two women try to hypnotise each other, a young Mum wrestles two Helium Minions as Twild grizzles and suffocates in a buggy that would probably seat about 10 twilds, no wonder this pub is short on space.  Three bearded lads have that look in their eye that says 'we have shares in Brewdog', and a low rent Keeley Hawes and lower rent Matthew McFadyen talk charmingly about Howards End.  Time to leave.

Next up was the Green Man.  Was it home time yet? 

1147 (1193).  Green Man, Stamford

So the pub we tried to get in at 11am but wasn't open, Dad's theory that 11am openers are becoming increasingly rare seemed spot on.  Once inside, it had the feel of a pub that broke promises.  Dad asked the barmaid if he could have a coffee. "Haha, Dad you joker!" I said, remembering 'orange juice gate' in the previous pub.  "No I'm serious this time" he said.  The barmaid looked confused.  "We don't do coffee, sorry!"  Was she joining in the joke?  Was there a joke?  Fair play to any pub that doesn't serve coffee in my book.  "Never mind" says Dad, and does a quick recce of the bar.  "I'll have a Thornbridge Jaipur then!"  Of course, the logical choice(!)  We sat to the left of the main door.  An old man stared at us perplexed, like he'd never seen people drinking real ale in this pub before.  The bloodstained tables that had blighted Dad in Belmesthorpe were back.  And then, nothing happened.

The Jolly Brewer was the last pub on the list.  Thank fook.  We'd been in earlier.  So we went in again.

1148 (1194).  Jolly Brewer, Stamford

EASILY the best pub of the day, and the best pub in Stamford unless there's something hidden controversially like that Coopers place in Burton on Trent that Twitter loves.  Anyway most of my memories are from the first visit, as you may expect, and we were greeted by a few curmudgeonly old blokes milling around the bar, and a friendly barmaid in Oakham Green Devil top.  I chose an ale cos it had an elephant on the pump clip and she told me it was a local brewer called "Abstract Jungle" - it was v.nice (SBS A-) even though I didn't need to know this information.  The old men then annoyed her by saying "imagine women having a voice".  It was agreed such a concept was "disgraceful".  The pub had a pool table and still managed to be excellent, how very Herefordshire and Worcestershire.  On our second visit, the pub was a lot busier.  We sat to the right this time.  Dad got coffee.  And more coffee.  So I got one too.  Even though I slag off coffee pubs.  I'm such a hypocrite.  But i'm allowed to be.  So there. 

Back in Peterborough, we went to Waitrose for a sandwich and more coffee.  It was a better experience than almost all the pubs we'd been to today!  They just need to put a handpump in like Guiseley Morrisons has. 

A truly hideous day, but fun in a weird twisted way.  At Donny, as the train waited to depart, who should appear in the window but Thos. Irvin.  The day we'd had, it was no surprise!  The poor woman nearest him looked terrified.  We waved and hid, embarrassed but kind of pleased. 

I want to end the blog on a high so a few quick pictures of Monday's 'York Dice Night' trip to the Exhibition, a vastly underrated pub that will never trouble the GBG compilers sadly, but when the beer is not vinegar or pondwater like tonight, is really quite wonderful.  It beat the GBG listed Pivni 3-1 and is now in the quarter finals with plenty of other surprising entries (Seahorse Hotel, Pavement Vaults, Gillygate and less surprisingly, The Fox). 

Until my London trip (unless I do Harrogate Thu which is highly unlikely as my face will be numb, bruised, bleeding or all three), have a good week!


Friday, 10 November 2017

BRAPA - A Good Hartshead These Days is Hard to Find

Suspect font does club no favours

I was joined by unique work 'character' Karl Dawson for this pub tick, an enthusiastic chap who had expressed a desire to come on this trip ever since I mentioned it in passing when the 2018 GBG first found it's way into my possession. 

Karl lives fairly close to Hartshead, in Batley, but despite being off work this week, he still insisted on getting the train into L**ds, walking up to work, doing an impromptu hour of work from 3-4, then walking down with me, and getting the train to Mirfield.  "It's not like I've got owt better to do with my life!" he declared totally deadpan.  "Besides, I want the full BRAPA experience!"

Karl only drinks one alcoholic drink.  Smirnoff Ice.  It's hard to find these days he tells me.  Ordering one for him in a club in rural West Yorkshire was going to be a challenge, and had the potential to make me look like a dick in front of serious West Yorkshire club men. 

We hopped off the 16:23 train at Mirfield.  In the comfort of my York flat, Google Maps said a 38 minute walk.  In the deepest darkest reality of West Yorkshire, it was a 53 minute walk.  Karl's main hobby is walking.  So we walked.  And walked.  Buses exist, but they aren't very convenient from Mirfield.

About three quarters of an hour of slightly uphill trekking on increasingly isolated slippy Autumn leaves, with Karl stopping for a quick interlude at an astroturfed hockey pitch where some honest Yorkshire girls with proper thighs (not the kind of thighs you get in London) were thrashing their sticks around.

On a summers day (I should really have done this pub when the evenings were light) you'd get some wonderful views from the top, and after a quick bus stop recce for later, we found the club on Prospect Lane's vertical hill. 

Ghostly Karl

Ghostly Si
1143 (1888).  Hartshead Club, Hartshead

The entrance was stereotypical Yorkshire club in the middle of nowhere, expectant faces turning to face us, a brief look of disappointment as we were over the age of 60 or people they knew, a full sized snooker table to the right, and a raised stage to the left that looked like it had hosted Phoenix Nights style 'entertainment' for many years.  Some things were less stereotypical, it was light, bright, relatively friendly, a lovely circular bar ceiling area very art deco or something.  It was cosy and 'pubbier' than many GBG clubs I've visited.  It contained that rarest of club creature .... 'WOMEN' who presumably fought for their rights to be admitted here and finally succeeded after a 2015 court injunction.  I fought my way past the bar blockers, Karl had scanned the fridges and was not too hopeful on the Smirnoff Ice front.  Not surprising really seeing as it isn't 1998.  He said "don't worry, just get me a coke".  "No Karl, I've psyched myself up for this moment!" and bellowed the request to the horror of the locals.  Barman was apologetic, reeled off a long list of WKD's and the like, only for me to tell him "coke only" which seemed to throw everyone totally.  I had a Saltaire Blonde cos it was the beer directly in front of me, an underwhelming SBS of B- but decently drinkable.  The next half an hour was Karl talking at me about his latest 'building stuff out of wood' projects, his brother borrowing his new sander, as Culture Club was piped out behind me and I heard "Waiting for a Star to Fall" by Boy Meets Girl for the first time since before Smirnoff Ice was popular.  One quirk I noticed were Sam Smiths beer mats and Taddy Lager on tap.

Don't trip over the pumpkins

Karl puts brave face on his coke

The bar blockers
I told Karl not to miss his bus to Batley, so we left.  I had 55 mins to get back to Mirfield station for the 19:08 which was delayed anyway, I still had time to stop in the Co-Op for a bag of pickled onion monster munch & a capri-sun.

It was an eventful walk back.  A steamed up car down a country lane with handprints in the back windows was rocking, a startled fox crossed my path, and back at the floodlit astroturf pitch, it was now 'boys football' being watched by 'Terry the Terror', the local paedo.  He looked a bit sheepish as I nodded "ow do" and wiped his right hand suspiciously on his trouser leg. 

In the midst of all this chaos, it was easy to forget I should be celebrating.  I'd completed West Yorkshire 2018 GBG entries, my third time doing this, and my first county done in the new GBG so good psychologically!  Although there was no real 'appetite' around finishing WY again, working in Leeds means it's nice easy after work ticks.  Too easy NOT to do!

I'll now look at what I can do in North Yorkshire on evenings before starting on South again, though I suspect the real 'value' ticks will be when I get back over the Pennines to Greater Manchester and get places like Eccles, Hyde, Monton and Patricroft ticked off.  By which I mean GBG regulars and not the Johnny-come-Latelys.  Altrincham can fucking do one.

So plenty to do still, next week could be tricky as I'm going "under the knife" (well, laser!) on Thurs, cannot drink for 48 hours before, but the location of this is Harrogate where I require two pubs so there's a chance I could get them done if I'm not too dead, numb n scarred!  And London bonus Fri evening around Camden/Kentish Towns should alleviate the pain further before a return to Bucks on Saturday where I'm doing 3 of my final 7.


Thursday, 9 November 2017

BRAPA - Wild Wonderful Walk(ley) North West of Sheffield

So, just to recap from the previous blog.  It was Saturday afternoon, 4pm, and Hull City were 1-0 up at Sheffield Utd.  We'd been to the Hillsborough Tap, Ship and the incredible Wellington.  3 further pubs awaited, and all was well with the world.

The second half commenced with my work friend Joanna telling me she was in the midst of a York pub crawl with some other ladies, and kept sending me "guess the York pub" pictures:

Three Legged NightMare - guessed it in one!

Eagle & Twild - a terrible York "pub".  Second time lucky.
Hull City conceded an equaliser which had been coming, and then remembered how terrible they were defensively and shipped 3 quick goals, making the "wish you were here on our York pub crawl" messages harder to take.

I could've been here:

But this was my reality:

Crikey!  Soon, we were put out of our misery and after saying farewell to good ole Dad who needed to get home for tea, me and Tom wound our way West and happened upon pub number three:

1139 / 1885.  Portland House, Sheffield West

All the excitement happened in the first 5 minutes here, and it wasn't until we got inside to find a group laughing at us that we realised we'd been photobombed, and I had to serious lighten and edit my photo to get the full genius of their 'amusing' ways.  The wait to be served was fairly painful, and the group next to us chatted with much feeling in their voices with a probable staff member about how this place would probably close on 3rd Dec if a buyer wasn't found.  When I relayed this to Tom, he (not unreasonably from a strategic BRAPA perspective) suggested the sensible move might be to walk straight back out(!) but the walk, 4-1 defeat, and sense of sympathy for the pub made me stay. 
Besides, everyone was drinking an ale called "Last Hurrah (to youth)".  Fitting perhaps.  SBS B, it was billed as a "Super hopped North American party beer" which made me want to punch everything in the face.  Not my North American readers though obviously!  We sat down and I could tell Tom was about as non-plussed about the place as I was.  Large Micropub?  London style "beer canteen"?  With knowing tiles with words like "ginfinity", "beardolicious" and "craftology" (i'm making these up I think) scrawled on them in black marker pen.  Having said that, warm, welcoming, and very west Sheffield which I'll expand on in next pub.  I can imagine it will be missed, not only by pub-tickers who've done it, but by uni students.  But I'd be crying more if Wellington, Shakespeare, Blake Hotel, White Lion, Kelham Island Tav, Bath Hotel etc were going! On the way out, I showed the crazy window group the lightened up photo.  They were semi-amused.

Can you see what I mean?

Crazy window group from inside view
We then had the most painstaking walk of the day, joining up West Sheffield to take us from Sharrow to wherever Commonside is:

Tom and a smoking bloke unfazed by BRAPA
1140 / 1886.  Hallamshire House, Sheffield West

This was a great looking pub with superb windows and a small frontage which opened out into a huge pub inside, which is why they call it the Tardis, which is an infinitely better name than Hallamshire House, which is just as dull as the name 'Portland House'.  What happened to the days when pubs had pub names and didn't sound like accountants premises?  That was my first thought.  My second was why is there a man at the door with a dog buried in his crotch.  After ordering something Thornbridge (I basically closed my eyes, yawned and pointed at one  - SBS B-), Tom asked if the dog was a contender for dog of the year but the fellatio element put me off, despite it's well behaved nature.  The pub was so outer Sheffield, a youthful to middle aged well to do community, everyone very pleased with themselves despite being from Sheffield, loud Saturday evening "top bantz", trying to appeal to lovers of traditional pubs as well as the modern, leather, well heeled foodie crowd, and falling a bit short of both in my opinion.  The only empty room was, no surprise, the pubbiest, delightfully gloomy with a snooker table filling the floor space.  This was fine til some pissed up lads came in, and made us be referees cos they didn't know rules like "if you foul on the blue, it is 5 away" which just made shake me head in silent disgust, but never mind cos time to move on to our final pub of the day.

The calm before the dickheads

It's not even worth thinking about.
Luckily, the next pub was very much just in a straight line up the road, even though this was now classed as Sheffield North:

1141 / 1887.  Walkley Beer Co., Sheffield North

If there was any doubt how micropubby Portland House was, then this was a more welcome "piss in a unisex broom cupboard" style return to micropub form in Walkley.  Very much a beer shop where people have decided to put some chairs and handpumps in, friendly welcoming, I have no idea what I ordered but it was an ale of some description.  It tasted of ale.  But I was too hazy to remember any details, it may well have been rather forgettable sober.  The clientele were posh Sheffield, a bit older than those at Hallamshire House, and we squashed on a table where an ancient philosopher contemplated life as a radiator burnt his hand without him realising.  That's about it.

"My hand burns, therefore I am"

Arty or Drunky?

Well, it's a micropub innit?
Tom navigated us back to a tram stop somewhere not too far from Hillsborough, it was like the day had come full circle as the fireworks crackled above our heads in the cold night sky.

Sheffield done for another year, and a timely early boost to my South Yorkshire ticking, I have 8 to tick off (plus a pre-emptive) over the next few Tuesday nights where possible.  One may need a car, one doesn't open til Thursday, one is a 'Spoons, so should be done by around Christmas time.