Sunday, 17 September 2017

BRAPA - The Chain Gang

The embargo shackles were off, as I headed back to Chester for the second time in under a month.  It was raceday again.  I do know how to pick 'em!  

There was a certain symmetry here, not just due to 9am lager and prosecco drinking suits, ridiculous heels and tiny dresses, but also the fact that it was here where 'word of the new GBG' first started sweeping the nation on 26th Aug (if you can call Glamorgan, Poppleton and North Lincolnshire 'the nation').

Earlier in the journey, a young Wakefield lad called Dan spied my GBG and quizzed me on it.  He was off to a physics convention.  Our chat consisted of moon landings and micropubs, so expect to see our first intergalactic micro ("the Lunar Goat") in the 2019 edition.  It won't open Mondays.

From Chester's new shiny bus station, I took the C56 to a little village over a bridge called Aldford.  I wish i'd known about this pub back on 26th August but never mind.  The bus driver looked at me like "no one ever asks to stop here", so we had the traditional BRAPA-esque sudden grind to a halt and dislodge all the old folk's pacemakers.

1077.  Grosvenor Arms, Aldford

I had to shelve the realisation that my original "1077" tick had been achieved in Darlington back on April 8th, and crack on regardless.  The pub's mock tudory exterior and general inside feel put me in mind of something familiar, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.  Yet.  A load of old blokes were lining the bar, and I to squint at the ales and yell over their heads to get served by the enthusiastic bar-babes - there was no moving these blokes, and the "wet floor" sign at their feet (probably) bore this out.  Before I could come up with a leek-leak pun (Wales was on the agenda), I'd perched myself near a couple of old dears (well one was a dear, the other was like an evil version of everyone from Acorn Antiques mixed together).  They read newspapers, occasionally breaking off to say something like "Are you going for your hair doing?" which led to raucous laughter for no reason.  They'd ordered two plates of some posh looking scran ("oooh isn't it beautifully presented Joyce?") whilst I sipped my slightly sharp and metallic Flintshire Bitter which settled into a decent pint, surprisingly!  The landlord, one of those switched on eagle eyed individuals who seem interested in his customers, especially visitors, spied my GBG and got excited. "Oooh are we in?" and I broke him the good news, he was genuinely overjoyed telling me they are lucky due to strong competition in the area (if you say so).  He asked to read the GBG description ('steady on mate' I thought, 'not even I do that!') and then he went off on a rambling praise of Brunning & Price (OF COURSE!  that's why I recognised the pub style) making other pubs in the area raise their game.  Now as chains go, am quite happy with B&P even if you slightly get the feel that at times you are being beaten over the head and forced to love them in a "we spent a fortune on making this place look like what Henry VIII would've wanted if he was a pubman so don't be ungrateful!" kind of way.  This was certainly a 'pubbier' version than most.   Buses were only every 2 hours, I couldn't dilly-dally as I had too much to do, so blew my entire taxi fund on a trip to Wrexham which was amusing in that signal was so poor, I had to climb on picnic bench,crane my neck and shout just to get through to someone!

My taxi driver was a nice guy, if a bit edgy, a bit like a Welsh Rodney Marsh / Derek Acorah / Paul Hollywood hybrid who, the more he learnt about BRAPA, the more un P.C and less professional he became in his language, which I often find BRAPA brings out in people!

After much additional 'Wrexham pub landscape' chatter (you're not getting a tip mate so stop trying so hard), I was allowed to leave the vehicle where an imposing former bank screaming Wetherspoons awaited my arrival.....

1078.  North & South Wales Bank, Wrexham

If I hadn't picked the 'Brunning & Price' chain correctly last pub, this place was so undeniably Wetherspoons even a blind person would've been able to tell.  If I'd been a bit disappointed how 'nice and tame' Keighley's version had been on Tuesday evening, this more than made up for it.  One of those where my pictures below do a lot more justice than words ever can.  The barmaid was a nice wirey lass, calling me 'lovely' at every turn which might be a North Wales thing, £1.45 for a pint of Welsh Pride with my 50p off Mudgie Voucher and it was better quality than my last ale too.   My new 'red and white BRAPA kit' was undoubtedly affording me a certain acceptance amongst the locals that may not have been the case otherwise (Wrexham were at home, I blended in).  Anyone familiar with 'Spoons knows long walks to toilets are one of their many joyous features, but rarely have I ever climbed so many stairs to get to them.  No wonder dithery frail old locals walked around with huge sets of keys unlocking downstairs doors marked 'private', obviously a series of hidden loos.  And rarely have I taken my bag and coat with me, I did not trust leaving them at my table!     A huge majestic stained glass rooflight was obviously the main feature (apart from the pub scroats) and I had to stare at it occasionally just to 'take myself out of the zone'.  In the zone, a Carling Chav gang leaned across 10 seats and tried to look threatening but they were about 12.  Two wonderful old Steptoe blokes played cards together.  A slim ear-ringed guy with spiky hair kept staring at me, until his Spanish mate arrived who looked like a backing dancer from a Wham video.  And everyone else had moustaches and bulbous noses - and that included the women folk.  Fashions were very 1985, this place will live long in my memory.

I remembered my crazy taxi driver's instructions to get to my next pub, also a Wetherspoons which I might well have visited with Dad on 30th October 2004 as a sort of pre-emptive cos Wrexham didn't really have pubs in the GBG back then, but that felt a lighter pub and some charity box women who'd been following us around all day were banned from the premises which amused me greatly.

Onto today, and Guiseley are obviously a bigger draw in 2017 than Hull City were in 2004 because the place was heaving - I could barely get in!

You can hear the Welsh accents can't you?
 1079.  Elihu Yale, Wrexham

It was about three deep at the bar and I had to use my elbows to get myself into position, just behind an sweaty obese dude but just in front of a nervy shaky horse racing guy who proudly told me he'd won on a 14/1 shot and was confident about the next race.  His luck got even better as he was served before both of us despite arriving last, the staff not even trying to see who's next.  Hard for them I know.  Well, this led to an outburst from our obese friend, "I must be fucking invisible" he wails in my ear ('errrrm, not much chance of that mate!' is what I didn't say that out loud).  I reassured him I'd made sure he got served next, was he grateful, not at all.  "Well, make it TWO pints of Carling, I've been stood 'ere this long!" he moaned to the hapless barmaid.  It was 2:20pm and finding a seat was always going to be a challenge, but the BRAPA red & white was working again, I got some friendly nods from home fans.  I really hoped they didn't engage me in conversation, am pretty sure Kevin Russell doesn't still play for them and I don't know anyone else who might!  In the loo, a Guiseley father and son looked terrified of me.  I tried to look at them with "Yorkshire Unity' eyes but they misread it and bolted for the door.  I perched on the edge of some bearded 20 somethings table, it smelt of Brewdog and curry.  They stood up.  Why exactly, I'll never understand.  But even more bizarre, before I found this table when I was 'touring' the pub, our obese friend emerged from behind a fruit machine and burped loudly.  Yes, HE HAD FINISHED HIS FIRST PINT BEFORE I'D EVEN SAT DOWN!  I thought he was football bound, but when the crowds finally dispersed about 2:59pm, he was one of the remaining few, joined by one of Derby's woodland folk from the Brunswick and a crazy shop-mobility lady - another amusing 'Spoons effort.

'Craft' blokes standing up to make the pub football experience more real?

Two of our fave characters, in one shot

The crowds start to leave for the football, the Welsh dragon's feet visible only.
Next, I walked north through Wrexham to find my next pub, which both Martin Taylor and my taxi driver had seemed very unenthusiastic about......

But what they didn't tell me, was that it was an Ember Inn!  Obvious from miles away due to the huge sign and fact that it's on a nondescript main drag of road.

The scene so typically Ember

Looks alright, maybe this'll be the best Ember ever?
1080.  Acton Park, Wrexham

And the early signs were encouraging as a bubbly bouncing barmaid said 'hi' to me on arrival (though she was heading for the exit), and I saw Dark Star Hophead which is easily the most exciting beer I've seen in an Ember since Abbeydale Moonshine.  I remembered I could get CAMRA discount too.  But then it unravelled.  A less good barmaid served me, £3.45 after discount, and she sloshed half my ale on floor carrying it far end of the bar to me.  I came in a Brains glass, on a Carling beermat.  I sat in some unmistakably Ember mismatched garish furniture which neither Wetherspoons or B&P would deem suitable for a pub.  I spied the token pile of logs.  Where was my Ember bingo card, this was approaching a "full house".  I spied on this couple, a pregnant lass with what appeared to be a toy boy.  "Do you remember our first date, actually in this same pub!" she declared.  He remembered.  You always remember an Ember.  Sorry.  "Yeh" she continued " was here where you accidentally took that photograph of your hand!"  Oh what memories.  Romantic isn't the word.  They ordered food.  A barperson mentioned Salsa.  Our pregnant friend looked confused, probably thinking "why are they mentioning a dance off Strictly?"  And then, in earshot but slightly obscured, a guy shouts across the room "Hi Mum!  Did you have a phone call with Wynn Thomas earlier?"  Ember Inns ladies and gentlemen.


Now I'm sure my fellow pub tickers will agree but it's always great to tick off a pub which doesn't have a bus or train symbol in the GBG, which didn't require a 20 mile walk or cheating with some other mode of transport.

So I continued my journey North of Wrexham, through some housing estate, over a bridge crossing a dual carriageway, down a country lane, and winding around to the right, pub number five!

There's a pub around here some place!

Nice shape

"Life revolves around the bar" (sign starts well anyway)
1081.  Pant-yr-Ochain, Gresford

So my opening gambit here was going to be that this was the first pub of the day which wasn't a chain pub, even though it had the word 'chain' in it's title.  But then Malcolm Nicholls said on Twitter that it was a Brunning and Price, and I'm wondering how I didn't pick it!  4 pints in, less observant, but with hindsight, the clues were there.  Plenty of dining, nice old features, multi rooms, real fire, Weetwood Eastgate is always a give away in amongst the many ales with little blackboard descriptions, patio and big garden, even a lake.  Yes, I need a bingo card for these pubs too!  I headed with gusto for the centre of the bar ("seeing as this is where life revolves around!" but a lady with a delicately poised Sainsburys bag who'd arrived after me was served first because (a) she wanted a table for tonight and (b) I was ONLY buying a pint.  In fact, when I paid for my Purple Moose ale 'upfront' and declined to open a tab, the barman looked very put out.  I slunk over to the far room, with nice smells of the fire giving the first glimpses of Autumn pubbing - my favourite time of year.  An excessively OTT 'joint' family group were enjoying a post-meal wind down, a man who may or may not have been Michael French was telling tales of derring-do to some wide-eyed twilds, whose own Dad (a kind of even more sculptured Robbie Savage) was doing a weird kind of jig to try and win back some of the attention.  Another twild carrying the tiniest twog you've ever seen outside of Paris Hilton's handbag took it to the exit, and launched it into the huge garden!  I didn't see it again after that, but the wide-eyed twilds had ditched both French and Savage to go outside to get a glimpse of this peculiar little creature (the twog, not me).  A man ran in to the bar "WREXHAM HAVE SCORED A 97TH MINUTE EQUALISER!" but I think he'd misjudged the situation, no one cared, one woman yawned and forced another piece of breaded calamari down her entitled gullet.

This is actually 'Dad', not a waiter.
Back out onto the country lane, I kept walking north to reach Gresford itself and just on the outskirts to the left of centre I saw my last pub of the day.  I'd usually start at the furthest point, but this doesn't open til 4pm even on a Saturday hence why I ended up finishing here.  And it didn't look too lively from the outside so was relieved to see a door ajar .....

1082.  Griffin Inn, Gresford

But looks can be deceiving as I walked in to find a hive of local activity, busy friendly smiling people - one and all.  Pub of the day, before I'd even been served.  You can just tell sometimes, when the quality shines through.  And really, the first pub not obviously part of a chain as well.  No coincidence there.  Great layout too, hardly changed since 1947, and I was served by a lovely old lady who used her 44 years of service to immediately work out I was on a crazy pub crawl and was knackered from a long walk (or it may have been obvious, the glazed expression, bits of twig in my hair etc!)  I told her I'd just come from Pant-yr-Ochain, she seemed impressed, we both scrunched our faces up simultaneously and said "nice but a bit of a dining pub!"  #PubLady.  Her father had run it for 40 years before her too.  I sat down and got talking to this lovely old couple (he went to grab me a local CAMRA mag to takeaway) and I was just explaining how my blog was more about the quirky side of pubs rather than a textbook description, when a loud alarm reverberated around the whole pub.  Everyone looked in pain, covered there ears, as our PubLady went to investigate the root cause - turned out her hubbie was having a sly puff on his E-Cig out the back, and had set off the smoke alarm.  "And that" I said to the couple next to me "is EXACTLY the kind of thing I write about!"  They told me about a time the electricity went out, and the landlady got on the piano and everyone had a sing-song in the dark.  Sounded amazing.  There was still time to make a fool of myself in the loo, blocking the door, getting squashed, trying to laugh it off, going the wrong way, bloke I was chatting to looked at me like you'd look at a sparrow with an injured wing.  Oh dear.  Time to go.

Our CAMRA mag grabbing friend

I managed to flag down a bus to Wrexham, but then I found out it was a "rail replacement service" and I already had 40 mins to wait til it was due.

That was painful, but I made friends with a trainee 'engineer' who wasn't quite as endearing as our Wakefield physician, but he had these occasional flashes of humour, and taught me a bit of Welsh which I've forgotten already.  

The Chester-Manchester train was blighted by dickheads out on t'piss, embarrassingly trying to chat up the pretty young ladies on the train - most of whom got out at Stockport presumably just to get away from the creeps (not that I'm saying they might not have been off to Boar's Head for a few jugs of OBB).

Even though my train got into Manc after the York connection had left, I managed to travel back in time, jumped on it, and was back in York more like 10:15 than 10:45 which was a bonus.

Phew!  6 pubs, really amusing day.  Very enjoyable.  And my first 5 ticks under North East Wales, and I told you I wanted to get some new counties in.

I'll be midweek BRAPping on the slightly earlier day of Monday due to York Beer Fest on Wednesday, so I can have a day's recovery.  Only thing is, of my remaining 9 West Yorks ticks, only 5 of them open at all on a Monday. Guess why that might be.


Friday, 15 September 2017

BRAPA - Briefly in Keighley, and whatever rhymes with Bingley

The new Good Beer Guide will have been released by the time you read this.  But not when I visited these pubs, so I should start by saying that when that ghostly Dick Turpin character slipped me that bit of paper amongst the lemons in Sainsburys, the words "Keighley" and "Wetherspoons" were the most frightening.

Keighley isn't the kind of place where you feel the warm Lenor scented hug of strangers, or bunny rabbits frollicking in the meadows.  And I'd already been traumatised by that worst of trains EVER, the dreaded 17:24 L**ds to Skipton, which despite it's 5 billion carriages, is utterly heaving, and having random businessman's crotch thrust into my face at Shipley didn't suggest an easy evening ahead.

Roadworks meant the pedestrian lights weren't functioning outside the pub, but I wasn't put out of my misery despite the best efforts of a smiley Asian lady in a 4x4, so into the pub I must go.....

Sense of foreboding .....

Ooh, looks quite welcoming now you mention it.
Livery Rooms, Keighley

So I teetered in expecting something grimmer than the time Nick Grimshaw bought me a bottle of Grimbergen in Grimsby before reading the Brothers Grimm to me whilst I grimaced.  But it was all rather tame.  Tamer than .... no, you can do that one!  The barmaid was efficient and pleasant, I'd remembered my 50p off Mudgie voucher today, but despite working in a bank, I was sure £2.15 less 50p was £1.75 so I totally messed up my change, and my attempts of a joke to rectify it were met with the disdain they deserved.  The pub was actually huge (it was once an entire row of shops!) but I tried to sit "where the action was", that is in amongst a load of typical 'Spoons codgers.  But they didn't care, or do much amusing.  One looked like he'd come from a YMCA tribute act, and apart from that, the most fascinating was Keighley's version of the Mona Lisa.  His eyes just followed you around the room, his head totally still at all times.  My ale (Rye Mild) was top quality, which I silently dedicated to pub ticking legend Alan Winfield who'd suffered some unfair criticism IMO the previous day re his blog for daring to tell it like it is.  #PubTickersUnite!  And nothing else happened of note.

Come on blokes, do something fun!

Young man, there's no need to feel down.

NOT Mona Lisa guy, but you get the i-dea.
The train from Keighley to Bingley was so serene, it was almost a joy.

I never seem to have to walk more than about two minutes from Bingley station to the pub, so when my Spanish buddy Rocio tells me "it's a nice place", I must believe her.  Unlike Keighley, where I'd previously "finished" West Yorkshire back in March, I'd not been to Bingley since a dark winter's night in October 2014.

The pub reared up in an amusing Micropub kind of a way, you could tell it was quirky immediately.

Quiz - which of these 3 nice gents is real?
Chip N Ern, Bingley

One of those "a little bit more than your average micropub", it certainly had more scope than some of those Southport types I visited on Saturday.  It was obviously "bring your own instruments" evening, and as I entered, a trio turned to smile at me, and the girl singer immediately told Mr Banjo and Mr Guitar to start playing "Personal Jesus".  Now I know BRAPA is good, but that's my fave dedication yet!  The barman was a sturdy unmovable proper pub bloke, and he wasn't going to move himself to make my life easier in terms of getting served, so I had to shout my order over a load of old codgers, and walk the codger perimeter, which involved tripping over a (admittedly nice) dog to get to my pint!  My pint tasted strong, was called Raven, no idea what it was really, just something dark brown which would take approx 27.5 mins to drink if I nursed it.  The nice dog was interestingly sat in the EXACT same place the dogs in the Grasshopper and the Barrel were on Saturday, my micropub bingo card is evolving!  The trio of "musicians" were now playing "Creep" by Radiohead, the dog's ears said it all.  She didn't have much a voice, they were better when they did "gang vocals".  I then took a walk down "Gin Lush Ave" to the bogs, surprisingly some stairs.  Even more surprisingly, a stained glass window on the stairs.  Even more surprisingly, a separate room with little bar upstairs in darkness, all deserted.  Wow!  Your micro-purist (if they exist) may not approve.  Back downstairs, two more blokes had come in brandishing acoustic guitars.  Girl singer says "We do this next one in A, G and C Minor .... but not the way I sing it!"  (you don't have to tell me, luv).  And just as I was 'packing up', barman comes over to apologise to me.  "Why?" I asked, and told him it was a great pint.  "I've just had to eject those two guys, they came in hammered, and asked for the strongest drink we had!"  Woah.  Firstly, I'm supposed to be observing these things .... HOW DID I NOT NOTICE?!  Secondly, why just apologise to me?  Just cos I have a green highlighter, a big book and a judgey expression.  Okay, so yes that's probably it!

Looking to my right, a cow's head and the bar.

A bit of Personal Jesus, for BRAPA (probably)

A very micro scene

Nice window

Upstairs room - photo lightened up for your benefit
Back in York well before 9, enjoying these West Yorks days before we have to start getting 'further flung' again.  Only nine WY pubs to go.

Blogs will start having numbers next to the pubs again from Saturday onwards, we are back to the west of Cheshire and beyond, aiming for six more little beauties which hopefully all stay in the GBG til the year 2042.

See you on Sunday,


Thursday, 14 September 2017

BRAPA Special - Good Beer Guide 2018 Released Today!

"The embargo is over, there's a bunch of demons in my head" as a Norwegian folk-punk band once (nearly) sang.

As you have probably been able to tell from recent posts, cross-ticking hasn't been kind to poor fragile downtordden BRAPA.

Below is my slightly self indulgent strategic ramble on the subject.  The headings could be titles from my debut punk rock album, "Never Mind the Balloch House Hotel" (12 songs coming in at 19 minutes and 4 seconds long, tell me your favourite track).

1. The Figures of Doom

I "locked down" on 1236 pubs as the 2017 GBG total on 26th August, and although I was expecting a loss somewhere in the 130 region, I actually lost a whopping 178 GBG pubs to take me all the way back down to 1058.  

To put that in context, even if I do 30 pubs a month which would be above average (I normally do about 26 or 27), that would take me just under 6 months to get back to the 1236 mark.  "FML" as the kids say.  And only 6 more months to 'get ahead'.  After which time, you could argue I'd be back down to below 1236 come 2019 cross-ticking.  Waaaaaaaaah.

2. Where Did it All Go Wrong?

So was I unlucky, or do I just need to find ways to do BRAPA "better"?  Maybe a bit of both.

I'm not sure who would do the following analysis (even I'm not this sad) but I wouldn't mind betting that the 2017 to 2018 turnover of pubs is higher than ever.  And one reason for this, and one that is obvious from scanning the new book, is this growth of the micropub.

3.  Micro Madness

Don't get me wrong, there are some great examples of micropubs out there and I went to two in August alone (Grocers in Cadishead, Chiverton Tap in Cheadle Hulme) and though they can be entertaining, I'm gradually getting the feeling (as twitterers have said already) that 'opening a micropub' is one of those fly-by-night 'latest crazes' of the semi-retired bloke/couple.

If the 'Good Life' was set in 2017, Tom and Barbara would have strangled the chickens and sacrificed the pigs at the expense of putting two handpumps in a whitewashed former chippie.

Opening hours often bear out the perceived lack of commitment, leaving a "pub ticker" like me skeptical as to the longevity of such places.  After all, why should I tick a Micropub in the 2018 GBG if it is going to be dust and rubble (or an Aldi Express) by 2022?

I've read about one in Birmingham that opens for 13 hours a week.  5-9 Friday, 12-9 Saturday.  The GBG entry is three lines long and reads like even the local CAMRA haven't been able to form an impression of it.  We feel here at BRAPA Towers that CAMRA could bring in a "minimum hours" rule for GBG admission, though I guess this could be controversial for some of those ancient country pubs run by immobile 91 year olds (if they still exist).

4.  Harder! Faster! Smarter!

But it'd be too easy to blame the emergence of the micropub alone for my poor numbers this year.

I've spent the last fortnight working out how I can make BRAPA more productive.

One idea, slightly relating to the micropub conundrum above, and this has been in my mind since a Hull CAMRA chap suggested it back in 2015, is to focus on those entries that get in the GBG year after year.  Much easier to say in theory than to do in practice, of course.  But when there is a toss-up between two or three, for example, I'm in Central London 7pm, last pub of the day, I've got to think "Right, this is a pub I've seen from flicking through past GBG's for ages now, get this done, and leave the 'Mirth, Marvel & Maud' for a year or two, see if it has staying power."

Pubs like "Royal Oak (Th' Heights) in Delph and the Tandle Tandle Tandle Tav may be hard to get to, but 25 consecutive years or whatever means they should be a rewarding visit in more ways than one.

Too many times in the 2016/17 'season' saw me happy to spend the last two hours of a post Berkshire or Buckinghamshire day 'relaxing' in Scottish Stores and Parcel Yard when I should be tooling around Covent Garden or Leicester Square.  This has to change.  I must aim for SIX each Saturday.  If you are out for a full day, it isn't much of an ask!

5.  Where's Your Famous Effin' Alphabet?

I've become increasingly annoyed with my own "letter of the law" mentality around doing the GBG in some kind of alphabetical order.  Especially now that I really need a 12 months of morale boosting numbers.

Cumbria is such an unfriendly BRAPA county, I think I'd be best off focusing on completing the likes of Lancs. Greater Manchester and Merseyside once Cheshire is done.  Midlands (both East and West, must be easier too).  Cambs is still on in the South once Bucks done.  And I can still do the alphabet within the county to sate my ABC/OCD needs.

Those further flung things can be my "week long specials" when I have time off work.  Oh to be a RetiredSimon!  Or a lottery winner.  I might just live as a hermit in Bristol for a year, no one would notice.

6. Pre-Emptive Pain

Not even my pre-emptive ticks really bore much fruit this year compared with previous years.  I know Middlesbrough has quite an array of micropubs now, yet it is still only two ('starring' Dr Phil's) which gets in.  Scottish Stores didn't get in for London.  Surprising.  Hops n Cheese Hartlepool, Draft House Milton Keynes, Gun Bar, Saltburn, Weighton Whippet, Market Weighton.  I was confident on all of these.  Maybe too new?  I think only York's Brew York Tap Room (which I really wasn't expecting) and Wath-upon-Dearne's Wath Tap (another excellent Micro I might add) made it.

The recently visited Draft House Seething at Tower Hill has dropped out.  No surprise there, I must say my pint wasn't up to much, yet it features on the front cover for heaven's sake!

7. Local Woes/What's it All About, Simey?

Even taking local knowledge from real ale fans in their own counties didn't work in my favour this year.

Take Boxing Day in Lincs.  "Oh, come and meet us in the Barrow Haven", she said.  DE-GUIDED.  And once in Barton, "oh don't worry about the George, it won't be in next year".  But it is!

Similar thing a week later in West Brom.  "Ah, you don't wanna go to the Crown & Cushion" he says, "let me show you the wonderful Wheatsheaf instead!"  Guess which one made the GBG and which didn't?  Even the fantastic boxing bloke pub in Tipton's gone.  It was brilliant!

I don't mean to criticise - both these days were so good, I enjoyed the pubs I went in, the chatter, the people, and in the long term, it may still end up being good advice if it all swings around in 2019.

And that's when you start questioning the whole damn thing!  I'm enjoying my days out going to new pubs, having new experiences, I wouldn't swap this life for anything, so at the end of the day, how bothered will I be when I drop down dead and I've only done 3,677 pubs.  Will I care?  Course I fucking won't.  I'm fucking dead.

8. North Yorkshire Nuisance & Nonsense

I finished Yorkshire, I'm not bothered about replenishing my numbers (I keep saying ad-nauseaum whilst fervently doing West Yorks and South Yorks on Tuesday nights, well, it's cheaper and easier ticks than the Greater Manchester pubs I have been on).

But North Yorkshire can absolutely get knotted!  30 pubs I dropped.  And when I count, actually only 21 still to do.  Huh?  So have they been given 9 less pubs in the allocation then?  Bizarre.  (Or I miscounted something last year!)

9. Wanky Wanky Wanky Wanky Manky-shire

Greater Manchester wasn't much bloody better with 21 pubs lost, but here I get the impression there's a real competitiveness in terms of getting in the GBG, and a real contrast between old and new (though Altrincham's entries get more modern and shit by the year, or so it looks on the surface).  Has the Old Market Tavern really gone downhill to the extent it can't get in, yet Jack in the Box can?  Hard to believe, but (a) I'm just a one off visitor and (b) it is a good BEER guide so perhaps so.  But the town may as well rename itself Alty-SCum-Hardy.

10. Father's Theory of the Overall Number of Everything / Sanity Test

BRAPA legend Bernard "Chauffeur" Daddy Everitt has been badgering me for a while to build up an "overall" figure of GBG pubs visited past and present.  I'm nearly up with it.  I will start using this number alongside my current GBG total, writing this one on the BRAPA card I leave in the pub, and then I can feel I'm always progressing, which I need when I've just gone backwards like right now!  That number is about 1825 at present but no doubt a few are missing.

11. The Archives Arc

And despite all the bad news with the cross-ticking, I've identified ten or eleven pubs (TBC) which have made it into the 2018 GBG and I've visited, but have never reviewed before.  This is because they were either visited before BRAPA started and haven't been in 2014-17 GBG's, or because I never treated them as a 'pre-emptive', so now I need to write a little review of each one, which I'll do in the next week or two so watch out for that.  York Beer Festival next week will slow me down!

12.  Lighter, Not Shiter

We'll end on a high.  This might be officially day one of carrying my new GBG around with me but I can happily report it has magically lost approx 360 pages of it's 1,032 page total (that's like a third or something mad), and is now comfortably manageable in one hand if you wanna walk around the Buckinghamshire countryside swinging it around your ears or batting twild and twog life out of your way in a Surrey dining pub.

Phew, well that was rambling and painful wasn't it!  Therapeutic though,  Thanks for reading/skimming it.


Monday, 11 September 2017

BRAPA - The Revenge of the Sith-port

"Any pubs visited in this blog should be viewed as merely 'pre-emptive', and any similarity to pubs listed in the forthcoming 2018 Good Beer Guide is purely co-incidental."

I dusted mi' sen down from the exertions of the previous night's Derby debacle for an early morning NFFD trip to Southport, a place that me, Dad and Tom had particularly enjoyed on our first visit and were determined to come back and 'finish the job'.

I felt a bit fragile first thing, but my staged photo backfired when most people just thought I was trying to blend in with the folk of Merseyside (or Lancs, as non dedicated followers of the GBG would have you believe) ......

Tom, his beard and heavy coat were lurking at Southport station on arrival, and any hangover I'd been feeling was soon cured as he walked us the wrong way (my fault too for not checking Google Maps) in torrential rain to the first pub on Lord Street, the only Southport street that really exists.  Dad borrowed my hat but wore it in such a way that he managed to look like all the blokes from "New Tricks" in one go.   By the time we got to the pub, the sun was out and the seagulls were singing happy tunes about Tim Martin.

Sir Henry Segrave, Southport

First thing's first, this felt like a cleaner, better kept 'Spoons than it's town counterpart, the Willow Grove, which was just more scroatly all round.  Staff were friendly, jolly, if maybe a bit mad as we'll see later, the guy who served me had such a thick scouse accent, I thought a phlegmmy layer was going to end up in my pint, acting as the head.  In any case, this was a supreme quality pint, Dad couldn't even do his "Pint of Wetherspoons" joke which is never not funny, if he's reading.  A blackcurrant cordial shortage was dire news for Tom, but was soon rectified.  The only downer was a miserable old codger staring at me from along the bar, so I reacted in the only way BRAPA knows how and photographed the grumpy bugger and gave him a winning smile.  I was tasked with finding the quietest darkest corner of the pub, away from the many feasting twild-led families.  I thought I'd done well, til I realised it was on a walkway between kitchen and rest of pub!  But as Tom said, there is no such thing as a prime location to sit in Wetherspoons so I felt a bit better for that.  We discussed the Wetherspoons App, where you can order without going to the bar, as covered by proper bloggers.  The chat was occasionally punctuated by an absolute racket of crashing pans, loud music, and wailing voices coming from the kitchen - I swear the staff enjoy themselves far too much here!  One young Mum told her twild it was like a nightclub was next door, but twild didn't understand.  A bubbly little brunette barmaid fell over a step next to me cos it was disguised under carpet - "you wouldn't think I'd worked here for years hahaha" she screeched, and before you could chant "there's only one Donald Campbell" or "what's it like to see a land-speed record?", it was time to move on.

Grumpy old bugger

Some ales - but I forgot my vouchers today

A pre-11am 'Spoons scene, anything more beautiful?
Lord Street is quite long for a street, this was number 90 something, our next pub was five hundred and fifty something but we found it soon enough, and I was quite interested in this one.....

Peaky blinded by the sun.
Peaky Blinders, Southport

I'm a big fan of the TV show Peaky Blinders, and so must the owners of this place be, if my sources are correct, they paid a fair bit of cash to get the rights to use the name for their bar.  But that's the problem, it is a 'bar', light airy and modern, and whilst I've been to some delightful outer Birmingham pubs with backrooms, frosted glass and snob screens where you can imagine the Shelby gang doing some betting related deal, you can't really see it here, and but for one token photograph in the corridor near the gents, they've not really embraced the spirit of Peaky B, unless you count the use of the word "Beer Mongers" maybe, which I like, or the fact that Tom is like a slightly less derranged Arthur.  Not even a mobile Stella Artois bar outside really does it!  Despite the total lack of customers when we went inside, it took a painfully long time to be served, and it was done without a smile, just an instruction for someone to "put some music on, I hate this silence".  I tried to agree, but just got scowled at.   We sat outside but coming back from the loo, I noticed a guy in Paisley shirt who I recongised, yes Matthew 'SeetheLizards' Lawrenson had jetted in from Preston to join us on his first official BRAPA outing (we'd seen him at Glebe and White Star in Stoke, but this were just re-visits).  Back outside, a weird smell in the Southport air, perhaps paint, it lasted all day.  I'd just thought it was Wetherspoons earlier!  Weakest pub of the day in my opinion.

Capturing the true spirit of 1920's Birmingham
So just across the road and down the next street, was the next pub, and it would be memorable!

Guest House, Southport

"This has been in every GBG for as long as I can remember" said Matthew as we walked in (not that we can confirm or deny it is in 2018 edition), that is the kind of pub I need to be focussing on in the coming year, those long standing entries like Delph and Tandle thing and Littleborough, not yer flimsy fly by night Pie, Soup and Wank Kitchen Craft Houses.  This was a beautiful old pub, multi roomed, wood panelling, stained glass and a nice 50/50 split of clientele engrossed in Man City v Liverpool.  "Anything said against Manchester City will be met with violence" said the stony faced barmaid, and no one was arguing.  Two Everton fans seemed to agree, and a deathly hush descended on the pub as a Liverpool player was (perhaps harshly) sent off for a raised boot, which upset a load of old blokes near us.  A cockney Liverpool fan was even brave enough to have rant, he disappeared after that,   pretty sure the barmaid disposed of him.   I was so in amongst it cos I'd had to take my pint of vinegar back.  It was returned with good grace from the young bar lad holding the fort "That one was due to go anyway!" he cheerfully declared and turned the pump clip around.  Hold that thought.  Back at the table, a friendly but slightly strange old couple overheard me talking BRAPA, and joined in.  In a very "local bloke in Bollington" move, he declared this one of the 3 best pubs in the UK.  The other two also in Southport.  "And let me tell you something" he said staring into my soul "....this pub won 'best pub on Merseyside ..... AND I'M EVEN INCLUDING ST HELENS!"  He dramatically paused for effect, which was just the most hilarious moment of the day.  Yes, I'm aware St Helens has great pubs, but for a visitor, it sounded utterly ridiculous.  He then changed the subject "free chip butties on the bar lads, go and help yourselves!"  Dad was hesitant, the bloke confirmed "yes, even outsiders like you are allowed them."  And what wonderful chips they were.  I loved this place.  Sadly, it ended on something of a negative.  Dad had gone back up for half an ale, asked for one at the far end, but for some reason, our Man City murderess decided she wanted to give him the ale I'd taken back, pump clip turned back round!  So she did.  Dad later told me, half way into his half, that it was vinegar, which it was.  I told him to return it, he said 'too late'. So what happened?  Did they change barrel but still some 'bad beer residue?' Was it a misunderstand with bar-lad where she came back from disposing of cockney scouser body, and just turned it back round without realising it was off?  Or something more sinister(!)  Who knows but it was a sour note to end such a wonderful pub experience.

Matthew and Tom, being amazing probably.

Next up, we got to the station, sorted out some tickets for next leg of journey at what appeared to be a newsagents, and headed for 'Hillside' which seems to be Southport suburb.  I was looking for one of the two pubs, when I spied the other .....

"In the pines, in the pines, in the pines!" 
The Pines, Hillside

I marched in after the others and gave the barmaid a cheerful "hello!" and wave, helped by the fact that she had the whitest teeth this side of Liverpool.  We weren't inside long, the interior didn't exactly scream "stay in and love me" so we headed to one of these tables you can see on the left in the sun.  I had plenty troubling my mind though.  Firstly and most importantly, was this a micropub?  On the surface, it might look it, but the following things convinced me it wasn't.  Our beer came in Worthington's glasses, there were TWO toilets, and they found blackcurrant cordial with no effort.  Now I don't have a Micropub Bingo Card like I do with Ember Inns, but Matthew suggested it might be useful.   A table of twilds were crawling behind me, but out of sight out of mind.  Was this a former furniture shop?  If it wasn't, I'm seriously disappointed.  Batley has a Pine Studio, so am sure there has to be a good bet (just checked, it was a hairdressers - what?)  And why did I have a song in my head which went "the Pines, the Pines, the Pines".  Luckily whilst Tom and Dad looked vacant, Matthew knew what I was on about, an old American folk song that Kurt Cobain and Leadbelly did (not together, in Southport, that'd be just weird).

Oh well, the next pub was a matter of metres away and I'd like to take a moment to recognise the poor cyclist sat outside in the photo with a dog coming out of his head - without realising at the time, he was a kindred spirit ......

Grasshopper, Hillside

The scene was dominated by an enthusiastic five month old pup, who especially loved Dad despite the fact he'd kept his summertime Miami Vice glasses on which would be sinister to any cat who caught a glance of him.  Tom got some dog-love too (if that doesn't sound wrong), but when the attention seeking Twup spied my red BRAPA shirt, it visible cowered.  YES!  Matthew hung back a bit, obviously a #Catman.  The barmaid was a lovely lass, and in the early stages, the locals were a great bunch too.  She told me the cyclist outside had been traumatised by the Twup .... #Catman.  Only one toilet, yet Blackcurrant cordial was in evidence, I think this place definitely did enough to get micropub status.  (Like I make the rules!)   The beer I drank was "Faith, Hope and Charity",  I remember a song called this where the next line went "love is the greatest of the three" but no one was particularly amused with my recollection of this, and the ale wasn't a fave of mine.  We'd done well to go this long without a "pub character" coming along to irritate, especially this close to the west coast, and surprisingly perhaps, it took on the form of an American woman from Florida.  Whilst Dad slept behind his dark glasses and Tom analysed the 2018 GBG which doesn't actually exist, me and Matthew were left to witness the full horror.  In a normal pub, you could escape, or at least expect a few locals to roll eyes and mutter under their breath, but in a micropub, such fuckwittery is actively encouraged no matter how empty the vessel.   Her constant (and I apologise to my American readers for this accent) "Wellllll, gee-whizz, isn't he the most adorable puppy,  ahhhhm from Miami, isn't this swell, would you like to see a picture of my puppy you guys?" before showing pup pics to the pub on her phone was nauseating.  When I said I liked cats, she scowled at me.  Like proper daggers.  To take the edge off, Matthew noted Tom and Plato were practically the same person.  Then we left.  Amusing place.

Great barmaid, decent twup.

Plato knows he'll never quite be Tom.
There was one pub left, to complete the wholly trinity (or however many six is) and we decided that walking from Hillside to Birkdale was a better idea than getting a train one stop.

Birkdale, only famous to me for a golf course, seemed very well heeled with some posh houses and a trendy little shopping arcade.  Blink and you'd miss the pub, because it looked like an extension of the next door cheese shop, and the only sign was on the awning outside the arcade, and not on the building itself ......

Matthew's shirt upstages front of pub.
Barrel House, Birkdale

After a few pints, it was quite hard to follow the whole "this pub only exists because of Sainsbury's forcing the newsagents to shut down" tale, but they seemed to believe it, as one of the pubs big features was a newspaper rack which included the Sun which I believe wouldn't be allowed much closer to Liverpool.  A little fluffy dog was blocking EXACTLY the same space the one in the last pub did, between bar and loo.   This felt less of a micropub, and more of a cafe bar.  Only 2 ales on, seemed a bit of a token gesture.  Having said that, it was my favourite ever pint of anything by Lancaster, superb quality too.  Dad was on the coffees, plenty of it ("are you reading Mother BRAP?"), suggesting if there was a good coffee guide, this pub would be in it.  In an emotional moment, I got the creamcake that I'd been craving since King's Stores in London when Dad and Tom stole my piece between them, and again we had to/wanted to sit outside.  What can you say?  If these last three pubs are all still open and serving ale by 2030, I will buy anyone reading this a pint in the first month of the year providing I see you in a Norfolk pub after 10pm.

"Chance in here would be a fine thing!"

A nod to the newsagents of our past

Tom considers a boutique haircut in Birkdale

Oh dear!
 We marched back up the hill (if there was one) to Birkdale station, said cheerio to our mates Tom and Matthew, and were soon back in Manc Victoria, via Southport.  Time for more coffee, at the end of a lovely lovely day.  Good company, really like Southport and this part of the world.  

I'm back in West Yorkshire on Tuesday, doing two of the last eleven pubs on that secret list.  And Thursday sees the end of this bloody embargo,  phew.  How tight lipped I've had to be ;)