Wednesday, 18 January 2017

BRAPA - From Zero to Hero in Saltaire & Shipley

Titus Salt might have banned "beershops" in his visionary town of Saltaire, but on all three of my visits so far, my purpose has been just that (he also has a Wetherspoons named after him in Bradford, and his family home is now a pub near Wakefield).  Ever get the feeling you are being mocked?

After the yearly 'squashed like sardines' 17:26 train service from L**ds (I couldn't do that every evening), I walked the ten minutes or so past t'mills and little houses to their new micro-pub ......

994.  Cap & Collar, Saltaire

Built in 2014, this was about as 'true' to the Hillier-esque wet dream vision of a micro-pub as you could expect to see.  A small pale and draughty room, presided over by a jolly landlord and a lot of expectant looks on arrival from a mainly youngish professional crowd, but no actual acknowledgement.  I ordered a Saltaire stout no 5 (when in Rome....) and took it to a high stool with an inordinately small 'seat' - I'm no 'fat-arse' but you'd have to have the butt-clenching qualities of a tight-jeaned hipster to balance on these monstrosities.  I don't like facing "away" from the pub cos I'm a nosy pub observer but it would have meant facing either (a) a necking European couple or (b) a frustrated theatre actor who eventually stood in the centre of the pub and broke into song ("I can't see-ee-ee, your smi-iiii-le anymorrrrrre" he crooned), terrifying all who shared the intimate space.  My stout had an unwelcome fizz, bookcase wallpaper seemed unnecessarily tasteless, and two bearded suits decided to steer clear of the stout when they were informed that it had a hint of vanilla to it, and returned to the safety of their euro shizz.   Later, one of them was forced to justify why his wife hadn't turned up .... "she's normally reliable, I promise ..... she must've lost her phone!"  Of course mate.  I watched a lady outside parallel parking on a hill, it was painful, it summed up this place.   More Titus Bramble than Titus Salt.

Spooky reverse reflection shot through the window

So it's fair to say I embarked on the 10-15 stroll to Shipley not exactly high on anticipation, knowing that my next pub was also described as a 2014 built micro-pub.  I took a chance down an unpromising dark lane behind Costa Coffee and a bowling alley, the kind of place you go to take the bins out and have a quick slash if you are caught short.  And as Ace of Base once sang during their own pub challenge of the 90's, 'I saw the sign' ..... 

Plenty of odd fellows in Odd Fellows.
995.  Odd Fellows

But isn't this just the sheer joy of pub-ticking?  When expectations are at the lowest, you get a welcome boost.  Hurrah!  And apart from being an unpromising 'space' converted into a place for local drinkers, this was about as far removed from the stereotypical Micro-pub vision as was humanely possible.  And all the better for it in my humble opinion.  Four ales on, Tetley's, Black Sheep, Askrigg Ale and Copper Dragon Best Bitter, this was the most traditional ale line up in a micro ever - Sam Smith's drip mat, Bass mirror too.  Even Carling was on!  The landlord spied me photographing my pint, told me he'd top it up even though I'd had two swigs, and said he'd have brought me a brewery glass if he'd have known.  I took my pint to the other side of the roompub where Shipley's version of Benefit Street were eagerly watching the green baize of a pool table being meticulously cleaned and ironed in readiness for the "Shipley Ladies League big match", starting later on.  "You can iron mi shirt when you've finished with that table!" said one toothless chap to much hilarity.  Conversation did end up getting a bit heated (and all due lack of commitment from certain members of the ladies pool league).  But this was a cosy warm place, a nice flat pint, a seat you could sit on, and a happy clientele.  I don't ask for much from pubs, just to be honest, basic and real, let them speak for themselves and the quality will shine through, very much like the Foresters on Saturday or the Rising Sun in Tipton.  With Tom in mind, I even wondered if it could break the final micro-pub taboo and offer blackcurrant cordial, and I only had to glance at the bar to see a bottle sitting there.  Genius.

My special re-filling pint

Pool table maintenance and the lovely locals

Calm after the storm - everyone has left but me.

So that cheered me up, and as you can see, the (official) 1,000th pub is fast approaching.  

Anti-climatically, it will take place in LONDON.  Probably on Saturday.  I know 4 pubs it won't be as I know the agenda on Saturday up to that point, I can surmise it might be somewhere close to Gipsy Hill.  But not Gipsy Hill.  Streatham Hill?  Dulwich?  Crystal Palace?  Forest Hill?  Battersea?  Balham?  Clapham?   Something like that.  

And if not, Marylebone on Monday.  Bet you are all excited now(!) 

Let's hope it is less dull than the Delph in Orrell (my fake 1,000th back in August). 

See you there!  


Sunday, 15 January 2017

BRAPA - Influenza in Mid Berkshire : A Love Story

It's fair to say that after two days in bed unable to move and then only three hours sleep due to too much inactivity, I wasn't best prepared for my penultimate trip for Berkshire ticking, but I forced myself as it seemed like the 'key' journey of the month.  Surely getting myself on the 07:01 was the hardest part, right?  Hmmmm, well the pain lasted well into the afternoon!

All I did learn from the journey was that 'cultured' Doncaster Rovers fans drink Strongbow Dark Fruits instead of Carling.

I walked the short way to St Nicholas Hurst from Winnersh railway station (sadly not Winnersh Triangle which sounds like a lady-part to me!) despite Google Maps making out I was about to kill myself, and had 20 minutes til the pub opened so I walked around this place called "Dinton Pastures".  Ever been to Virginia Water?  It is a bit like that for the Mid Berkshire "elite" with less water, more mud, fewer dogs and less frisbee-beardie-toffs.

990.  Wheelwrights Arms, St Nicholas Hurst

11:55am and I'd waited long enough, hurrah the pub is open early and the angry dogs I'd seen behind a gate earlier had been disappeared.  I was looking for hand-pulled lemsip to no avail, at least I found an ale described as "zingy", in this, the most Wadworthy Wadworth I'd seen since a 2004 visit to Swindon.  A bit like the Rowbarge at Woolhampton, this pub was massively gastro yet still likeable at the same time - staff with a good attitude and an area which felt like a shrine to Wadworth and the 'old days' of drinkers pubs helped enormously.  Along with a dog that came in for a bowl of water, I was called "sweet pea".  A man in blue, the only other "drinker" ordered a pint at 12 noon, and went back for another at 12:08pm 'to beat the lunchtime rush'.  I smiled at him in a "drinkers together" way but he just looked guilty in a "don't tell the wife" warning look.  Forgetting my emergency beermat was a bad mistake, symptomatic of the lack of sleep. and I'd suffer again for this today.  The pub busied up mainly with old duffers, and I was aware the bloke behind me was deaf, but when he expressed massive shock at his liver casserole, I realised he was forgetful too, which much make meal times a huge surprise for him each time food appears!   I'd just been researching my next West Yorkshire trip when I looked up to see a snobby woman scowling at me from the bar.  I was nursing my last sip of ale, and she wanted my seat.  So I took the piss for as long as I could (well, about 5 mins more) before slowly leaving, returning my glass and smiling sweetly in her sour face as I did so!

A view of my mini-republic in the 'Wadworth' bar.

Lack of beermat, but ideal place to leave my BRAPA card.

I walked back to Winnersh for the delayed train back to Reading (waiting another hour for a bus which then took 40 mins didn't appeal) and after a struggle to escape the barriers, I hot footed it a mile across town out 'east'.

And so nice it was to be down some cute little backstreets in Reading, it almost reminded me of my trip to Old Aberdeen though maybe I am exaggerating a bit.  Still, there's no better pub location than hidden in a row of terraced houses, in my experience:

Approaching the Eldon
991.  Eldon Arms, Reading

I was very surprised to find myself the only customer on arrival, still I got the friendliest greeting all day from the landlady and landlord, who were just sat reading their papers.  We agreed it was another chilly day, which allowed me to mention my flu, in an attempt to gain some sympathy which worked in a 6/10 kind of way!  In fact, if I had one criticism of the pub, it'd be it was a bit too cold.  Again, we had a big Wadworth influence though I think I went for a guest, and took it along with a local CAMRA mag to the far left of the pub, where the walls were adorned with pumpclips, Lighthouse Family blared out a bit too loudly.  If I was surprised to see not one local in here, the next man who appeared was also a stranger, though a more southern one than me.  He scanned the beers and said "oh, what a great selection!"  I felt outraged, like "I'm their favourite so shut it visitor man!" Then he took a close up photo of the Cask Marque accreditation on the wall so I wondered if he was visiting all of these pubs, but I avoided eye contact cos I was not at my sociable best.  Good thing was, his big fat head perfectly obscured me from the owners so I could smuggle my steak bite.  Every cloud.  He got lost finding the loo (amateur), tried to say hi, so I waved a dismissive hand cos I was reading an article in the CAMRA mag which mentioned Quinno ("hi Quinno!" I said out loud, as he was in Prague and couldn't join me today).  I left telling the couple "thanks for great pint" but Mr Cask Marque had just done that so my words sounded hollow.  Bastard! 

View to the bar in the golden era pre Mr Cask Marque

Me getting my BRAPA kit in order (the scarf was soon back on!)
Back into the middle of town, pub number three was one I'd passed regularly on my April 'Beezer' here when I stayed in the Premier Inn.  Although Quinno mentioned it back then, I never suspected it'd get in the GBG! 

992.  Purple Turtle, Reading

The Pairple Tairtle (as they say in Hull) is apparently notorious of many a wild drunken night of people's misspent youths (according to the GBG), and still closes 3am, presumably quality ale is all that has changed.  My entrance was so stereotypical 'rock club during the day' I'd pretty much rehearsed it in my head on the walk up.  I enter to find a group of hyperactive lads playing table fussball, frantically trying to impress some disinterested girls. whilst an equally disinterested green haired barmaid serves me from the one ale available whilst Foo Fighters play on a video jukebox.  Plus everything was luminous purple, so much so that if I was to keep the Aberdeen theme going, you could say this is a less good version of Krakatoa.  Well, me and a bald man exchanged pained smiles ("we are the only respectable people here") as we took our respective pints of Elsie Mo (very well kept I must report) to posing tables.  They did also have Tutts Clump cider on, which has probably gone from Aldworth to Cool in 12 months.  I noticed drum kits were being used as lights, and there was a stage were local bands probably play.  I'd guess it's quite a good little venue, but as a daytime GBG tick it can feel a bit depressing, as with the Alma in Bolton.  I'm probably just getting old!  Anyway, I think it was here my flu started to properly subside, it probably found plenty of like minded viral species to latch on to.   Still, not all bad and wait til the Kinky Koala gets in the GBG in a few years..... (you think I'm joking?)

Castle Rock in a Sharp's glass, and the stage.

Purple City!  Note the drum kit lights.  Groovy baby.
I kept walking west, past the Castle Tap which I'd visited as a pre-emptive last year, and past something called Old Reading Brewery (I think) which looked like it could a potential brilliant place.  My final pub of the day was even more deliciously side-street than the Eldon.

Hedge stops outdoor locals from seeing me taking pub photo!
993.  Foresters Arms, Reading

The moment I walked through the door, I felt at home.  And that wasn't just because both ales were guests from Tim Taylor and Black Sheep.  If I saw such a range in York, I'd probably roll my eyes, but in Reading?  Well, it almost brought a proud Yorkshire tear to them (okay, I'm exaggerating).  Anyway, the pub was busy, almost all old men laughing and joking and watching the football results coming through on Sky Sports News.  The barmaid was a kind old lady, and I took a mass 'smoking break' exodus as an opportunity to stretch out and make myself comfy at a corner table (though near enough the door to make a quick getaway if needed!  Not that it would be).  My highlight might well have been the struggle it took me to find the loos, as it allowed me to go down an outdoor corridor, through this back pool room, and I eventually found them outdoors round the back.  It is a small and basic pub, yet somehow wonderful and reminded me a bit of Golden Ball and Slip Inn in York, only smaller with a stronger community feel.  A bald man with nice aftershave struggled to hang a coat on the rack behind me, and then Hull City scored to go 2-1 up!  Later, I went to the look again and Hull City scored again!  A lucky pub too, even if I suspected the majority of locals had Bournemouth down for the win judging by their reactions.  Losers.  Actually, the 2nd luckiest Hull City pub of all time (2 goals in 32 mins) after the Wigmore Arms in Luton (3 goals in 28 mins).  Really enjoyed this pub!

Well, I was booked on the 19:00 which I was pleased about for once (couldn't face a London pub!) so I embarked on what was quite a slow meandering journey towards Kings Cross where a nice Welsh lady let me sit in first class to Paddington because the train guard had stopped checking tickets.  And then up to York, I had Newcastle, Hartlepool and Doncaster ALL on the same train which amazingly worked well as it caused an equilibrium of douchebaggery.  

Only ONE more Berkshire trip to do, only TWO pubs, both out West.  That is next month.  Very exciting.  Now, every trip I am planning seems to have Buckinghamshire in mind and I've got plenty coming up before January is out.  

So a tough day physically, but some great pubs and I'll be back on Tuesday for the latest West Yorkshire tick(s).  


Friday, 13 January 2017

BRAPA - Tuesday in Altofts

On Tuesday night, before my man-flu became full blown woman-flu, when I was still capable of functioning on a pubby level, I made the short train journey to Normanton.

The highlight of the journey were two older men who hopped on at Castleford with their Heron Foods carrier bags, carrying on like a more working class version of the Chuckle Brothers.  Had they said "to me, to you" it wouldn't have surprised anyone in the carriage.  As I knocked a desultory empty can of Carling onto the floor with my left foot, we'd reached our destination.

This had been an 11th hour "eureka" BRAPA moment for me, realising Normanton was little more than a 15 minute stroll from the Altofts pub I needed.  Despite taking two needless wrong turnings, I was soon glancing at a very dark unpromising inn sign by 6pm, but luckily, light was gleaming almost fluorescently from the windows ......

Illuminated, but not the pub sign.
989.  Robin Hood, Altofts

The Robin Hood didn't have the 'feel' of a pub from the outside, with no door on the street, or to the right, so the locals in the window watched in amused fashion as I eventually located the door on the left - the place looked like a WMC.  Nothing like making yourself look like a pub tourist in deepest West Yorkshire on a cold January night is there?  As I tiptoed tentatively past the rabbit warren of rooms to locate the bar, I decided to at least smile and make (pleading) eye contact with the perched selection of scary locals - this was make or break - but luckily, the baldest baldie man said "hi" to me, the whole pub breathed again, relaxed, and the conversation continued normally.  I was served by a kind looking nervy man with bad eczema, and chose a stout from the Tarn 51 brewery.  But what I didn't approve of was a bowl of half eaten peanuts on the bar (peanut allergy sufferer I am) and hoped he'd obeyed the "top half of the glass is the customers, bottom half belongs to barman" rule as I didn't want another Wargrave / Henlow incident.  With over an hour til my train back, I had to nurse this pint and get a re-fill, without feeling I was gonna die.  A few couples started to appear once we reached 7pm, one man told a story about how he was on course for a 147 break in a recent snooker match when he broke down on 32!  The amount of agonising detail in his description had us all wincing, especially the patient woman he was with who can't have been his wife, perhaps an internet date.  "Too much check side on it" or "covering the black spot with the cue ball" were his two favourite reasons/excuses.  It was all too much for me, and I left early so I could walk slowly back to the station where I scared a lame dog.

Getting comfy in my corner for the next hour with GBG and stout.

Nice view of the pub inc the nice man who was first to acknowledge my arrival.
So a good pub but not quite sure it had the wow factor of the Graziers at nearby Stanley which it has presumably ejected from the GBG, not that this doesn't deserve it's place I'd say.  Only 11 left and 2 of them should be done on Tuesday all being well.

I say "all being well" because tomorrow's trip to Berkshire is in doubt due to this horrible flu, bit better than yesterday but whether I can drag myself around in the freezing cold is another matter!  Time for an early night and see how it goes...... light a BRAPA-shaped candle for me please.


Monday, 9 January 2017

BRAPA - Mystery Lincolnshire Tour

This was a pub-ticking first for me as I met BRAPA-chauffeur elite Dad at York's Designer Outlet at 10am on a sunny, breezy morning - I DID NOT KNOW WHERE I WAS GOING!

The clues I'd been given was that it was a town with at least 3 pubs, at least one of which opens 11am or earlier.  But how could this be?  It certainly wasn't Yorkshire as nothing fit the bill, and my suspicions of Lancashire were soon put to bed as I noticed us heading eastwards.  I correctly guessed Lincolnshire but my next two thoughts, Brigg and Gainsborough, were both wrong.  Dad had gone even more ambitious, Louth!  I'd forgotten it existed.

Mystical shot of the church from the car window
We eventually arrived and parked up, a bustling market town with a positive feel, not too many bland high street shops, and if you forget Preston exists, the highest single church spire in England which dominated the town, but in a good way.  Our first pub was just underneath and Dad was taking his BRAPA photography duties more seriously with each trip that goes by.....

Dad basically leapt out onto the road to take this.

985.  Wheatsheaf, Louth

Bit of a confusing entrance, as if you turn immediately left, you'd walk straight into the back of the bar, but then there is a door with another (main bar) to the right.  After flapping about and eventual remembering I'm supposed to be good at walking into pubs, I was declining the draught Bass in favour of something mysteriously murky (but well kept) local tasting called Tipsy Toad, which I later on was not at all surprised came from Tom Wood.  We sat in the left bar which was notable for two things.  A huge dip in the ceiling which made me imagine a huge hairy Greek man having a bath and jolly singalong right about my head, ready to drop at any moment.  And secondly, a coffee machine that took up the entire bar and chugged away irritatingly.  To be fair to it, it wasn't a namby pamby Goring Miller of Mansfield effort, but a proper Samuel Pepys 17th century balls-to-the-wall London Coffee House effort.  The type of coffee that makes you want to bury cheese in your garden.  Dad observed two old men near us, they'd just played tennis together and now seemed to form a book group (for two) - one commenting "I've just tried a bit of chick-lit".  Highly unexpected.  Matched only by a later comment "Did you read the one about the aftermath of the northern invasion??  EVERYONE STARVED!"  Spoiler alert much?  With a roaring fire in each room, this must be the most acceptable pub to have a gin menu ever.

A short walk into the more central part of town took us down a little alleyway called Pawnshop Passage to a Wetherspoons named after a man who loved talking about the iron (and I don't mean Scunthorpe Utd).

Dad ready to join a queue
986.  Joseph Morton, Louth

Arrrggghhh, WHY IS EVERYONE QUEUING?  That was my first and pretty much only thought of this identikit 'Spoons effort which won't stick in the mind for any other reason, not even the two tweens eating hotdogs twice as big as their jaundiced Lincolnshire faces.  Bar etiquette is one of the first things visitors to the UK get taught, so why would people in Louth suddenly think a snaking queue blocking half the pub floor is preferable to leaning against the bar and letting the capable staff decide who is next?  Utter fools.  Only twice before in a pub have I seen queuing.  Firstly, and it doesn't really count, the Black Swan in York on folk festival day, but we all know old folkies don't live in the real world so have no concept of social convention.  The other time, also a Spoons - the Eric Bartholomew in Morecambe.  I put this down to Morecambe trying to make itself look more cultured, but it just made everyone look thick.  So Dad's view is "there's a queue, we'd better queue", mine is "I'm leaning on the bar and ranting about how ridiculous it is".  An old man agreed with me and a barmaid heard me and said she'd serve me.  "Hah!" I thought, "and Dad is still three people back."  But she got waylaid with some coffee ditherer (not Dad) and he was soon in the hot-seat, and shouting what ale did I want.  And to make things worse, the ale I wanted was called "Thanks Pa" so it just sounded like I was thanking him from afar, til I ran over and had to point at the pump clip.  Traumatic, I try and be nice about 'Spoons but there are times they really let you down, mainly due to clientele or staff incompetence.  Nice 6% ale it was though!

A bit closer to the car and off the main drag was pub three, it was gonna be an improvement.....

Ahhh, my very Own Cow
987. Brown Cow, Louth

So Dad's photo diligence hadn't lasted the pace, I blame Wetherspoons coffee, but on the plus side, this felt like a proper traditional street corner local - a bit like the Dog & Bone in Lincoln but kind of nothing like the interior if that makes any sense.  A landlady who looks like she's been there for centuries pulling the frothiest Harvest Pale ever witnessed, an eight year old boy being forced to take plates of chips to slobbish football fans, and the classic line of the day "that was in the days when they used the same needle for everything".  Ahhh, well just as we were all reminiscing about the golden days of hepatitis and awkwardly craning our necks to see Man Utd easily beating a limp Reading, something that made perfect sense in the context of this pub happened.  A shady looking bearded chef emerged and revealed two pairs of gleaming new trainers which he tried to sell to the dodgy chaps at the bar, who were sporting a shiny new pair as it was, all the more noticeable considering their unkempt state from ankle up.  Before you could say "off the back of a lorry", the standard of the Harvest Pale was rapidly deteriorating, it was time to drink up and go.

Landlady sees all.

Gleaming pints, gleaming trainers.
We hopped back in the car because our final pub was well worth waiting for, out east of the town.

Still clutching my reusable Sainsbury's carrier of BRAPA kit.

988.  Gas Lamp Lounge, Louth

Only 22 pubs with gas lights left in the UK, and not many can have a brewery underneath the pub like here (Fulstow).  So a pretty special place to tick off and you walk in to this serene atmosphere, no music, just yokel Lincs chatter and laughter, and a nice wood burner.  The beers seemed pretty strong, I had one called Northway IPA which tasted of cloves and we were both soon hallucinating - well Dad was convinced Micky Phelan enjoying a pint with his mates and one of Dad's old York magistrate buddies.  I needed the loo (where Phelan was sat) so said "I'll walk past and smell him to see if it's him".  I was serious at the time but have no idea what he'd smell like.  Weird what happens in pubs isn't it?  Anyway, despite the carefree expression you'd expect from a man relieved of his duties at the shower of poo which is Hull City, he was far too young.  A visiting man at the bar made a point of proudly telling the staff "I don't wanna be having a pint!" before adding "but I'll sample a few halves and see how I get on".  It was that kind of pub.

A few home brewed ales, and some silly pots.

Fake Micky P and friends under the old Hull Brewery sign.

It was a long drive back to Hull where I was going to a party in pre-emptive shoe-in Furley & Co, via a Travelodge, some City of Culture second world war recreations, and Walters, where I had my most "haunted" pub experience ever, but that is a story for another day cos it is bed time.

Conclusion, I like Louth, and if Lincolnshire is all like this, I've been unfair on it in the past.  But Dad has set a dangerous precedent, everywhere north of Louth in Lincs is now fair-game for chauffeur day ticking (well, once I've finished North Yorkshire).

I'm back in West Yorkshire tomorrow, somewhere exactly as far from L**ds as Ossett is.

Good night!  Si

Saturday, 7 January 2017

BRAPA - Shopping in Ossett

I had to act quickly.  My two nearest West Yorkshire pub ticks were both 12 miles from L**ds, but one shuts 6:30pm every weekday except Friday, too early for my usual Tuesday night venture.

So it came to pass that at 5:20pm on Fri 6th Jan 2017, I was stood in a train carriage hurtling towards Dewsbury chatting to my new fave work buddy and local resident, Miss Hannah Gilroy, about subjects as joyous as 'tricky job interviews', 'epilepsy' and Shannon Matthews.

Before you could say "who's hiding in that divan bed?", she handed me over to "Kind Random Old Man" who was heading for the bus station and was happy to walk me down - I felt like a Dewsbury shaped baton.  After some gentle BRAPA chat, he came up with quote of the year so far.  "I'm not a real ale drinker, I don't like beer.  I'll drink the odd lager, but I had a pint of Guinness in the eighties and it put me off!"

Jeeeeez!  I told him I wouldn't try converting him.  Dewsbury bus station was a sterile affair, the most fun moment when a senile old lady with zimmer-frame was given a right royal rollocking by a station 'official' for not having waited where she should've and therefore missing her bus.  "WHAT AM I GONNA DO WITH YOU KNOW?" he whined.

20 mins later, I was in Ossett where I avoided some lurking bus station chavs and found this weird precinct area which looked very 70's in the gloom, but hurrah, I spied my "pub"!

The lights are on, and someone's at home.
984.  Bier Huis, Ossett

I use inverted commas because it was more shop than pub, as you can probably see even from the photo.  A smiling satisfied pair of customers were leaving as I entered, and said 'hi' so a nice friendly start.  The shop had those weird carpet tiles, which make me think Doncaster Brewery Tap, but then there was an element of Cardiff's Gravity Station too, with just one large communal table - this was being used by a jovial bunch of middle-agers and I had to skirt around them to find the sole handpump hiding in the corner.  At £2 a pint, am not surprised it's kept a secret!  There were two nice staff members, the serving baldie-man who was vaguely 'Lord of the Rings', plus a wild-eyed merry bearded chap whose eyes implored people to ask him about the beers on sale.  I could've perched on the huge table and got into conversation, but it felt a bit awkward and squashed so I took my pint around the room, 'window shopping' and came away with two cans of something trendy, and some cheese-based biscuity snacks for a party I'm off to in Hull tomorrow.  The Bier Huis was surprisingly friendly to me considering I spent most of the time in my long black coat doing a slow perimeter of the shop like some Dickensian beer obsessed spectral lurker.  I assured them I was having fun.  One slight downside, one customer had a 2017 Good Beer Guide out on the table.  I think I started to hear a growling from my bag.  Yes, my own GBG has now turned feral, and it cannot stand rivals.  It was time to leave before it decided to mark it's territory.  No-one wants a pissy rucksack.  Everyone wished me a cheery goodbye, a strange but pleasant experience.

Spot the one that I'm drinking!

A view from the far corner.
Ossett bus station was more terrifying than Dewsbury, they played dreary classical music to try and placate the local teenage shit-bags.   The bus journey went quick and then rather annoyingly, a direct train to York was due immediately so I saw this as a sign not to go to the utterly amazing West Riding Refreshment Rooms.  Boooo!  That's a Dewsbury first for me.

I was back in York well before 8pm, job done, only 12 West Yorkshire pubs to go.  The next on Tuesday evening, again just 12 miles from L**ds.  I can W.Yorks done by late spring if I crack on!

Happy weekends all, Si

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

BRAPA - From Tipton to Farsley

The Tipton Slasher in full glory (photo sent by West Brom EL,  courtesy of Peter Allen)

So, a New Year and plenty of exciting (or not) BRAPA pubs to visit and write 'lovely' things about ...

And that has actually been true so far, as me and Dad arrived in a chilly Birmingham New Street station on Bank Holiday Monday morning to find Tom leaning out of the Tipton train like something from a Brummie Brothers Grimm Fairytale.  By Sandwell & Dudley, Twitter legend West Brom EL had hopped on and soon the four of us were skidding on the icy pavements towards the first BRAPA pub of 2017 which El told me was once owned by the Tipton Slasher, William Perry, Champion Boxer - amazing the facts you'd miss without local knowledge.

Let's get 2017 pub ticking show on the road
981.  Fountain Inn, Tipton

And an excellent start to find a warm traditional no-frills pub selling Titanic Plum Porter (a fitting first pint of the year which El realised I wanted before even I did!)  An early candidate for most inappropriate footwear of the year came from an old man propped against the bar like he'd been there since New Year's Eve, some weird slipper things which I couldn't stop scowling at, they really offended my sensitivities in view of the slippy pavements.  I couldn't observe all due to being "sociable", but the pub had a nice bolshy atmosphere going on so when I noticed a barmaid giving a stern telling off to a customer for trying to steal a cob from the cabinet (this is obviously the type of pub that does food in the proper pub way), I smiled over thinking it was done in jest only to realise she looked red-faced and properly angry.  Was she planning on becoming a modern day Tipton Slasher I wondered.  We squeezed in a quick half before the bus, Hobson Town Crier (which strangely has been following Dad around all Christmas - not literally) was on, I let him go to the bar under the circs, whilst Tom picked up a cob but did actually pay for it which was something of a shame.  A pub everyone should visit.  I even let El use the green stabilo (best brand) highlighter to 'tick it off'.

We sat here - note bench seating and beermats which you can't take for granted!

View to the bar and the local with weird footwear.
After a meandering bus journey around some crazy Tipton-ish estates, we arrived at pub two which was near an area closer to West Bromwich called Great Bridge .....

Me and Dad are all smiles outside, but would it be any good inside?
982.  Rising Sun, Tipton

Yes, it was pretty evident from the moment we stepped inside that we were in a classic.  Dad even temporarily turned into a Tony Gubba football commentary .... "OH I say, This is it, This IS IT, quite remarkable, oh yes, it's there!!!!!"  Even the unflappable barmaid who has probably seen everything in this pub looked half amused by his thrilled reaction and it wasn't long before Dad was telling us about 'linen fold' architecture in the bar design - which is enough BRAPA culture for the entire year thanks very much.  El went for a cigarette break, Tom tried to remember why South Norwood might make such a good day out, and me and Dad took great joy in finding a fault with the pub - 80's music videos played too loudly.  And when that changed to Sinead O'Connor's crazy crying bald head, you could almost tell by the emotion in her voice that she was singing Mike Phelan's death knell.  It was that kind of pub.  An early contender for pub of the year? 

After some expert bus-hopping from Tom had us in West Bromwich in ultra-quick time, El took us to a pre-emptive (we didn't have time for the Crown & Cushion*) which I think he felt confident would be in next year's GBG.....

Tom, me and El arrive at the Wheatsheaf.

 Wheatsheaf, West Bromwich

The only pub in West Brom I really know is the Vine, and this felt strangely reminiscent, only slightly less long and thin.  El ordered us an "Old Ale" by Holdens before we could blink (well me and Dad, this would have been a harsh ale introduction for Tom) , they sadly didn't do pints but it was beautiful hybrid of tarmac and syrup, just how I like it.  I heard on the grapevine that this ale makes over 60's quite obstructive and sure enough, soon Dad was claiming he wasn't going to the match, until he was brought round again with the remedy, a quick sip of Black Country Bitter.  This pub had this fantastic family community feel but I think they went a bit too far when a barmaid plonked her twild ON the bar whilst I was getting served, is there anything sadder than a Bar Twild who hasn't learnt the joys of getting smashed on Old Ale?  Probably not.  Lovely pub though, best get in t'GBG.

Bar Twild.

Towards the back of the pub
After 45 minutes of good but frustrating stuff from Hull City, we were subjected to the most spineless second 45 ever.  "Phelan has to go" I said, which means I now have the same brain as Ehab Allam.  Which is depressing.  

But when I said to Dad after approx 80 mins "oh well, consolation is at least we can get 1 or 2 Birmingham ticks in before our train home!" only to find both pubs (Pure Craft Bar & Kitchen AND Queen's Arms) shut, this was even more depressing.

I mean I know it is a Bank Holiday, it is 2nd Jan, but 5:30pm in centre of Birmingham, I think that is quite ridiculous.  At least the Post Office Vaults came to my rescue (for a THIRD time in my life!) and we had a nice warming underground pint of something from Huddersfield.

A great day out, despite various hurdles (and I tripped over a road sign in Brum and am only telling you this because Tom said he'd shame me if I didn't cos he's evil!), and lovely to meet El who may get a full time West Midlands BRAPA contract if he can keep up this good form in the January window. 

* A weird trend is evolving, the "reverse pre-emptive".  It started on Boxing Day in Barton when I asked Christine Andrew how come we weren't ticking off the George Inn.  She indicated that's because it probably won't be in the GBG again (next year at least!).  And I sensed something similar with Crown & Cushion (even though we ran out of time anyway), a bit like no-one really believed it was a GBG pub.  Interesting trend which I'll see if this continues and let you know.

I may as well be making pancakes
Fast forward 24 hours then after a knackering first day back of work, dosed up on honey & lemon to stop "cold number 4" from taking hold, I'm legging it down a windswept Old Road in Farsley.  

I knew the shortcut from New Pudsey railway station from the days when I used to go round to my friend Emily's house for cottage pie and a game with the kittens.

I walked fast and was at the pub in about 15 minutes, passing weird shops with names like "You are takin' the Pizza" and "Window to the Womb" (and I thought Pudsey was weird).

The Fleece in early January gloom

983.  Fleece, Farsley

I know a lad who went up to the bar in this pub, asked for a pint, only to be told be a stern barmaid "this is a golfers pub you know!"  It didn't stop him being served when he asked, she just thought he should be aware.  So dressed in my finest tank top, tartan trousers and carrying a niblick (kidding I promise), I strode confidently up to the bar where a friendly 18 year old bar boy had boring pub questions for me.  (a) Did I want to try the ale first?  NO!  (b) Did I have a CAMRA card?  YES!  (c) Did he want to see it?  No, I had a trustworthy face (not his official words, it was more "no one would lie about being in CAMRA").   All the staff were remarkably young considering the fierce "if you're not 25 you better bloody prove your 18 okay you fresh-faced shitbags?" signs all over the pub.  A friendly newbie blonde barmaid smiled at me, but didn't know how to spell "Excelsior", but we'll forgive her on account on being blonde and from Farsley.  I sat in the front bar where I was joined by Seasick Steve (lost on his way back from Hootenanny) and he provided unlikely drama when he ordered a "Mocha".  This caused a stir with the lively twenty-somethings in the back bar who seemed to be a mixture of kitchen staff and off-duty-staff:
"What IS Mocha?"
"Coffee and chocolate mixed together"
"Does it have marshmallows in?  I love marshmallows in my hot chocolate on a cold night!"
"Errrm no, I don't think so ..... Steve, Steve, do you want sugar?"
"Oooh don't gimme sugar luv, sugar kills me!" 

This is exactly why pubs are amazing.  I had to feign interest in a circa 2001 re-run of L**ds playing away at the Gooners whilst this was going on.   Nowt else happened, I just sat in a corner and tried to be invisible.  Oh, a bald man called Martin came in, danced around a bit, told Steve "I'm off to do my hair".  Steve asked if he was having a wax.  It was time I left.

After a 15 minute hike back up t'hill, just managing to get the next train, I was sweating and exhausted but glad I did it though a hard one to get motivated for before.

My next two West Yorkshire places are both 12 miles from Leeds so which do I choose first?  Well, one has weird opening (well, closing) hours on a Tuesday so I might be there sooner than you think.

Have a jolly good evening and see you all soon,