Wednesday, 13 December 2017

BRAPA : The Thing from Tring (Part 2)

More Brilliant Pub Folk of Tring

So just to re-cap, it had been a tough start to the day.  Dagnall had been mean spirited, Aldbury a total let down, but at the King's Arms in Tring, I'd finally found reasons to be cheerful as somebody once sang.  Could the Castle (or was it Caaaaarstle?) live up to it?  The above picture tells you all you need to know, but here goes anyway.

1179 / 1925.   Castle, Tring

With the late fading already and no Hull City updates yet from Dad, I wandered in to find a very similar experience.  Two characterful blokes at the bar, but this pub was arguably even more welcoming than the King's Arms.  "You a Luton fan then?" says one guy, pushing me in the neck where my now famous orange scarf was wrapped around me.  "Nahhh, Hull City!" I said, almost proudly.  "'Ull, Ull, Ull" chants the guy and starts jigging around.  The more sedate man on the left glances over.  "You wouldn't know he was a secret millionaire who owns his own company would you?" he says to me.  I admit I wouldn't have picked it.  "And that's what is great about this pub ..." he continues, warming to his theme, "anyone can be anyone 'ere, it don't matter!" The barmaid seems lovely too, less impatient than the old one down the road, she tells me that if she had mince pies (she didn't), I'd definitely have been offered one.  We chat BRAPA, millionaires, and slag off almost every pub in Bucks and Herts between us.  It is perfect therapy.  "I've got a lifetime ban from the Red Lion at Dagnall" the secret millionaire proudly tells me, "bunch of inbred weirdos in there, very unfriendly place!" This is music to my ears after the morning I had.  They even agree the Valiant Trooper isn't so great, but tell me my next pub, the Robin Hood, is.  I think there's a link between here and there.  It was one of those "if you ask for so-and-so and say someone sent ya, and scratch your nose at right angles, you'll get a cheap taxi back to the station, save you that 40 min walk!" they tell me when I admit my six pub aim is in jeopardy.  I don't remember much about ale or pub other than I liked both, but it doesn't matter when the people are this good.

Their more serious expressions
The short walk to my final Tring pub brings news from Dad, Hull City were losing 0-1, then it was 1-1-1, now it was 3-1.  What's going on? 

Christmas Teddy brings pub into disrepute

Another less festive angle
1180 / 1926.  Robin Hood, Tring

So Fullers then.  They always manage to sneak a pub into your day when you least expect it, never mind though cos I got a winter guest called "Wise Men".  A Hull City omen perhaps to get them through to full time, not cos of former player Scott Wiseman because Nick Barmby was once asked his favourite song.  He responded "Wisemen by Elvis".  Classic Barmbs.  I couldn't hack a third Tring experience like the last two, I was exhausted, and whilst this pub had a warm friendly air, it was less basic and rugged, a bit more demure, so random chatter perhaps didn't lend itself to the place quite so easily.  Having said that. two minutes after ordering my pint, I remembered I could get an ultra cheap efficient taxi to help me make up time, but needed to act quick.  Well, the barman was on it like a car bonnet, showing me the phone, letting me hear the call, and this was after a few locals all got involved and said if the timing was different, they'd ran me back.  WHY IS TRING SO FRIENDLY?  I'm honestly a bit in love with the place.  And here was me thinking it was just another town!   Hull City had conceded and were threatening to mess it up, as I perched in an alcove radiator thing with an old duffer, I didn't want to get dragged into dining central, someone might buy me a drink, kiss me or give me a tenner knowing Tring, it was like Dublin in July 2000 without the Corrs or Harp lager.  That's the best thing I can compare it to.  The taxi was here, my Wisemen had gone down a treat.

"Waaahs men (by Elvis)"

Locals probably discussing who loves me the most

Crazy green dude almost offered me a life, alcove radiator oldie didn't.

The area of the pub I didn't want to get lured into.
And the feel good factor continued as the the train was 2 mins delayed, meaning I got the connection to Euston easily, plus Hull City had won for 5th time since like ever, all against rubbish teams beginning with a B.  Hurrah! 

I'd forgotten my Oyster, so my sixth pub had to be walkable from Euston / Kings Cross area.  I still had one to do in Bloomsbury.  I've been lucky recently with the "London Saturday night pubs".  We've had the Seven Stars at Chancery Lane, the Wenlock at Hoxton and the Calthorpe Arms at Bloomsbury, all good pubs.  Compare that to the 2016/17 shit-fest I encountered on a monthly basis.  Could this be another good one?

1181 / 1927.  Lamb, Bloomsbury

Had the staff not been so lackadaisical and served me in a timely manner on arrival (let's face it, despite the busy atmosphere, I was stood almost unchallenged with enough room to swing a twog), I'd have been able to grab the green corner bench seat and this could've been so different.  But by the time I finally had my disappointing pint of Redemption Blah Blah Blah in my hand, a guffawing bunch of cat women had taken the seat and I was left with what can only be described as one of longest fruitless 'tours' of any pub building to find a place to sit.  What a decent sized pub for London, I thought, as I went up the traditional narrow staircase to an upper room, thinking I'd struck gold, when a bearded Scottish wanker walks over and says "och aye, private party, sorry mate".  I paused, looked him in the eye, took an overly dramatic sip of my sub-standard ale.  He looked petrified thinking I was gonna protest / stand my ground, but then I finally said "ok, no problem" and walked off.  The Scots breathed a sigh of relief, cracked open the Special Brew, got out their thistle whistles and cranked up the Proclaimers to 11, and I walked downstairs disconsolately,  and wedged myself pathetically between a nice etched glass thing and what the GBG tells me is a working polyphon.  This place was suffering from the classic 'probably a lovely pub if it wasn't for the crowdedness'. 

Nice toilets, nearly drank my pint in here.

Polyphon thing

Etched mirror ruined by baldie, he's probably Scottish

Hologram serves people coffee to speed up staff productivity

My beer had taken an age to drink, and I had to power through to make the train back from Kings Cross, which I did after slipping over a cobbled pavement slab straight onto my front teeth.  Ouch!  I looked like I'd had collagen implants all the way home!

Monday, 11 December 2017

BRAPA - The Thing from Tring (Part 1)

The Lovely Men of Tring

A bloke called Colin who I used to work with from Bingley once met a lady on an online dating app.  She was from Tring.  From very early in their relationship, he called her "The Thing from Tring".  The relationship didn't last.

Armed with this knowledge, I took my already battered 2018 Good Beer Guide (now worth five times it's original value after Mr Protz's signing of it) down to "The South" for our monthly pub ticking extravaganza.

The key pub of course was in Buckinghamshire, that cruel county just never seems to have an end to it.  But today was the 4th last pub.  And after that, I planned to mop up 5 Hertfordshire pubs (a county I seldom visit) on the way back in to London.

From Euston, I powered up to Bedfordshire's finest real ale town Leighton Buzzard and after a struggle, commandeered a taxi to take me to Dagnall.  There were buses (4 a day), but I'd have been hanging around for too long, ruining my chances of getting the daily six pub quota in.  So I suffered the cost, thinking "oh well, Aldbury is a 3 mile jaunt from there so no worries".  Taxi man told me he'd pick me up in 35 mins to take me across to Aldbury.

1176 / 1922.  Red Lion, Dagnall

So here we were on this cool crisp winters morn, as I stepped in to this 1740 built building, a roaring fire, a carpet to rival those good folk over at Wetherspoons, and by rural Bucks standards, I wasn't being hit with the gastro sledgehammer, more being tickled with the gastro tickling stick.  I could handle that.  So all was well with world, right?  WRONG.  It all started to go wrong when mardy-faced barmaid peered carefully into the murky Christmas guest ale I'd ordered (the other two were GK IPA and Doom Bar so it won by default).  "Just checking if it's bottom of the barrel"she told me.  If it wasn't bottom of the barrel, it was certainly second bottom of the barrel, still in the relegation zone!  First I thought she didn't want to serve me bad beer, then I wondered whether she meant she was saving the bottom of the barrel beer for me!  Look how friendly she was to the 3 insular old guys who came in and simply scowled at me, and very accommodating to the old couple who came in for lunch. I tried smiling, got nothing back.  The fire fizzled out, symbolic of my whole experience here, and my mood blackened further when taxi driver told me he would be 20-30 mins late.  So I went back for half a Doom Bar, she was pleasant enough this time, but the murky xmas ale was still on.  Then she cracked open the mince pies, offered one to each local, but not me, the only other customer.  The opposite experience of last night's Keys at Hoyland Common, where I walked in fearing the worst and ending up with a positive experience.  Proof you can just never tell! 

Looks nice doesn't it?

The now closed other pub in Dagnall was the Golden Rule, it was better I was later told.  Here's it's sign.

"I'm over here waving if you wanna give me a mince pie?"

Half a Doom Bar on no beermat.  Is there a sadder sight?
My taxi driver tried to placate me as he could tell I wasn't happy, told me he was held up by a dubious Malaysian businessman with piles of money who wanted to "buy a village" around here.  Fine, you can let me off some of the fare for being late if you made a fortune from him.  But I only haggled him down £2, not the £5 I wanted. 

My mood cheered slightly when he asked the common theme about the pubs in the book I was visiting, as Muslim taxi drivers go, he was quite taken by the BRAPA concept.  They usually get bored of me after 2 seconds.  I told him it was the pubs with "the best quality ale, the theory is if the quality of beer is good, everything should follow, the toilets should be clean for example!" 

No sooner had I said this then he admitted he needed to use the loo, would they mind?  He seemed very nervous poor chap so I told him we'd go to bar together, I'd ask and then distract staff by ordering a drink for myself!  He liked the plan.

1177 / 1923.  Valiant Trooper, Aldbury

I got the impression I was supposed to like this pub, what with a recent award win, it's pretty little village etc.  Low beams were the order of the day, and we got stared at on entry by a selection of toffee nosed diners.  I ordered something strong from Leighton Buzzard, and finally found a seat by the shiny coffee machine.  About 10 mins later, my taxi driver finally emerged (he'd obviously had a poo a la the taxi guy in the Royal Oak in Perranwell back in July) and on the way out, we shook hands (hope he washed them) and he whispered in my ear "how's the beer, the toilets were disgusting?!" before laughing and leaving, nice to see he'd been listening to my earlier BRAPA speech.  The beer was okay, better than the last pub, but it was freezing along with the whole pub, shouldn't a place like this be a bit cosier?  I went to check the loo for myself, and sure enough, a handwritten sign saying "warning!" was written on the door.  Poor bloke, haha, probably karma for ripping me off.  There was a mop in one of two freezing urinals, a bucket to deal with the leak, and yes am afraid the taxi man was correct.  A twild played with a toy car on the floor just outside, I nearly stood on the little bastard's hand but didn't wanna take out today's problems all on him poor lad.  The staff were a bit aloof, I was desperate to ask one of them what a "Manchester Egg" was but didn't get chance.  A bohemian version of Bob Geldof kept cleaning tables aggressively and muttering feck off under his breath, probably.  A man with a luminous pink hat (think Martin Taylor's highlighter pen) stood in the middle of the room and tried to make an exhibition of himself.  No, I did not like this pub anymore than the Red Lion and god help Herts if this is an award winner was my feeling on departure, yet the GBG description would make you think it's an all time classic. 

Me in the coffee machine with my mustard orange look upsetting the punters

Manchester egg anyone?


Strange old man brings two random teens in pepsi and crisps
The GBG gave me the impression the walk to Tring station was a little gentle stroll, so icy main roads with no pavements just added to today's difficulties so far.  And when I then noted Tring was an additional 40 mins walk from the station, I was almost pining for Wombwell!

By the time I got to my first Tring pub, i was apoplectic, incandescent with rage.  How could today have been so difficult when it looked so easy on paper from the safety of my York home? 

1178 / 1924.  King's Arms, Tring

Well, the two local boys sat at the bar (see top photo) could tell how out of breath I was and asked why and then it all came out like a torrent - finally people had spoken to me so I went on this diatribe about the trials and tribulations of my morning!  Good therapy.  They loved it.  The old barmaid hated it.   She had a point, she just wanted me to quit the jibber-jabber and order a pint, so I ordered something cos it said Tring on it and I was in Tring.  It made sense.  "They have triangular pump clips so that's why people go for them, but not me, I'm a lager drinker" one of the blokes told me in a moment of pure logic.  Oh this was so nice.  A cosy small welcoming pub, no frills, no massive dining influx,  just normal Tring folk having a drink and a natter.  "They're all racist in Aldbury, they wouldn't have liked that!" someone said when I told them I'd taken the taxi driver in to use the loo.  The bloke on the right had to go home, so I finally got to sit down and when I said I was going to the Castle next, I was told off for pronouncing it 'Castle' and not 'Caaaarstle'.  They told me I'd be beaten up in the Castle if I said it wrong in there!  In a pure moment of southern snobbery, I was even told 'Caaarstles' are lovely old historical places, whereas 'Castles' are run down dirty ruins!  But I think it was all done in good humour, perhaps.  Time to go.  The locals call this place the "Pink Pub", but it looked red to me.  Sums it all up.  Lovely. 

Trinagular pump clip, that's why it sells!

So, join me on Wednesday for part two.  Would I get beaten up for saying "Castle" in a northern way?  Would the Tring friendly vibe continue?  What would Dad have to say about Hull City v Brentford?  Could I achieve my six pub quota considering I was already a bit behind thanks to taxi driver and long walks?  Stay tuned!


Sunday, 10 December 2017

BRAPA - Barnstorming Barnsley Bonus Bonanza

"The weather outside is frightful, but Barnsley is so delightful ...." as that Christmas song was supposed to say, I might be a bit biased but I've always had a soft spot for the place.  I lived here for two years, my great uncle captained the football team in 1920's, and if you dislike Donny and find Sheffield as problematic as I do, you have to have a South Yorkshire favourite.  Rotherham obviously is great too.

I'm needing to do everything I can in December to get my "1200 pub quota" before the bell tolls for the dawn of 2018, so after Messrs Couldwell, Taylor and Protz (not Hull City's defensive trio as one friend thought) impeded the BRAPA march on Tuesday, I needed to be creative.  Barnsley on a cold Friday night?  That is creativity, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary. 

Your average Leeds to Barnsley commuter
Once in Barnsley, a wait in the most soothing bus station in the country soon had me on bus 66 out to Hoyland Common, where I'd visited the Savile Square pub two years earlier.  I must've walked past this place on the way back into Birdwell, but had totally blanked it.  

1173.  Keys, Hoyland Common

Perhaps it was the "drink & dine" slogan and peculiar keys logo that meant I had no recollection of walking past this place before, but if my jaw was set to 'stern, probably gonna dislike immensely due to lack of pubbiness', then I was revising my pre-conceived notions within seconds of being greeted by a jovial young lad with most Barnsley accent ever, offering me 15p CAMRA discount without me even asking (another great trait of South Yorks pubs, perhaps due to high number of non cask drinkers?).  And he genuinely seeming interested in the customer, take that Bucks!  He was proud to tell me the pub had recently won pub of the season, which in his logic, meant it was probably the best of the 4,500 pubs in my Good Beer Guide.  Well, steady on mate, I've not done Maidenhead Conservative Club yet so can't possibly comment.  Despite the predictable number of 'reserved' dining spaces, there was a surprising number of 'drinker only' areas, less surprisingly all taken  so after a brief dilemma, I eventually settled in a big red armchair which looked like a kind of "reception" area for foodies, but was comfy.  The barmaids were all as smiley and friendly as our barman, singing Christmas songs (got a bit too excited at Mariah Carey) and looking at me sympathetically like "poor lad on his own" but I've always said you can judge a good pub by happy staff so I just smiled manically through my time there.  My Abbeydale ale was first class, and only a few tattoo clad gargling Christmas party groups threatened to set my jaw to 'anguished' again, but a surprisingly top quality experience.

The bus was only 5 minutes late, but felt about an hour with a wind blowing which was more bitter than a pint of Tetleys with an ice cube in it. 

Back in town, I was treated to classic Barnsley Friday night sights like "Angry daughter being restrained by father", "Old Man wailing into rubbish bin" and "underdressed teenage girl complaining to underdressed Mum that she should've put another layer on".  You don't get such realness in South Kensington.

Down a twinkling cobbled street almost reminiscent of Whitby or York's Shambles (if it was in Barnsley), I found pub number two......

1174.  Arcade Alehouse, Barnsley

I never hold out much hope about the temperature of micropubs on night's such as this, so was delighted to feel that it was well insulated, first requirement complete.  Amazingly, there was no slobbering dog to trip over (a micropub first!) so I was straight to the corner of the bar, where I was allowed to simply order the first ale I could see with a pumpclip clear enough to read - none of this "try before ya buy, what type o' beer do you like?" malarky, this was proper no nonsense, wham bam here's your pint, man!  I heard a murmuring from upstairs (I needed the loo anyway and guessed they must be here) so found an even busier room, all four tables occupied so asked a stodgy looking blonde couple (who I'm hoping were brother and sister rather than husband and wife) if I could perch at the end of their table if I promised to behave!  The lady answered, none too enthusiastically but they didn't put up a fight, and I draped my (now famous) orange scarf over her seat to 'test the waters'.  She snarled at it like a labrador trying to fend off a poodle. After a quick tinkle, I settled down to another quality ale, but something pubwise was missing.  Not only was there no dog or cold draught, but where was the quirky craziness you'd expect from a South Yorks micropub on a Friday?  All four groups simply chatted boringly, so I was like "hang on guys, I've got a pub blog reputation for weirdness to uphold here!"  Apart from one dude who looked like Neil Morrissey from one angle but Greg Davies from another, oh and a wife who looked at me scornfully every 5 minutes, nothing to report.  Hey ho!  Cosy stuff.

She doesn't like mustard jumpers and orange scarves

Even the crazy students didn't say anything remotely odd

Next, I took the train one stop further down the line to Wombwell, where I'd previously only been in BRAPA's formative year of 2014 on a hot Saturday evening to a jolly pub called Anglers Rest where nice landlady kept checking drunk me was ok, and yes the walk from railway station to centre was every bit as far as I remembered it!

Onto the main street I turned, past some rather terrifying looking bars (oh, how to be an Alan Winfield at a time like this!) and despite a few young lads masquerading as bouncers, the 'Spoons looked a bit sedate by comparison, which was sort of a relief. 

1175.  Horseshoe, Wombwell

I was entering at exactly the same time as a gaggle of old girls with daughters, and we all hesitated and held doors for each other, which caused me to be down wind of some  '50-a-day smoker's laughs' - it was your classic 'Spoons entrance.  As they all went, somewhat bizarrely, away from the bar, space was clear for me to get served by a personable young lad.  I'd forgotten my vouchers (schoolboy error) so had to pay the astonishing fee of £1.99 for perhaps the best quality ale on a night of quality ales.  No idea what it was, summat local.  Good idea to get seated on the edge of the pub, so I could keep an eye on everyone, 9pm in here was bound to be interesting - and failing that, fans of Wetherspoons carpets were treated to something special here.  Down in the loos, a shifty looking 14 year old boy who was possibly a drugs mule for some older kids hid in a cubicle after I tried to look at him like I was an undercover policeman.  My mustard jumper probably brought me into disrepute.  Back up at my seat, a bargain basement version of a Gallagher brother was trying to inspire his mates into "Friday night, let's go crazy" mentality, but they seemed happy to drink quietly and not make a scene, though it didn't stop him racing around the pub like a man possessed.  Other than that, old people clapped, young girls with tight jeans gossiped, and a train was delayed just long enough for me to get back to station without having to stay for a second 10pm pint.  Good atmos here, one of the better 'Spoons of 2017.  Almost Maltby-esque.

Girl with no feet has too much in her back pockets

Jeff tells another anti-Darton joke to much delight

Background bald man tries to listen in

The mates of Bargain Basement Gallagher, who I was too scared to photograph

Back Lane Bar, Melbourne,  the sister pub to Horseshoe in Wombwell
So there we have it.  No regrets.  Freezing cold, had to be up early for Bucks, but a fine evening in a friendly part of the world.  Only 4 South Yorkshire pubs to do, 3 of them easy, one I need a car for but there's no urgency as I completed S Yorks last year.

See you soon for my post-Bucks Saturday write up,


Monday, 4 December 2017

BRAPA - Not Too Tricky in Billericay

There's not many more intimidating counties than Essex when it comes to the Good Beer Guide.  A huge area, a vast array of pubs, many of which in fictional sounding places, often without either rail or bus symbol meaning impossible to get to.  Aythorpe Roding, Stapleford Tawney, Margaretting Tye, Steeple Bumpstead, Colne Engaine.  And there just the ones I can pronounce. 

So when the ginger bearded figure of Thomas J. Irvin suggested we give the Sheffield Wednesday away game a miss in favour of a rare trip to this neglected BRAPA county, I was all ears.  After all, Tom needed "required track", "shack ticks" and the like, so we were all winning. 

On a chilly December Saturday morning, me and Dad ambled down to Kings Cross, changed at Liverpool Street, and found Tom on the train towards Billericay, a place I apparently was keen to go to, though am not too sure why.  Perhaps because there's a girl on my 'Neighbours' Twitter called Kim from there who describes herself as a "muggy keyboard warrior".  Whatever one of them is.   

After realising the Coach & Horses wasn't open at 10am as the GBG reckoned, we at least still had one early opener and it was a funny little shed of a place .....

1166 / 1912.  Billericay Brewing Co. Shop & Micropub

"You 'ere for the beer festival then?" asked mine host as we teetered in to the surprising warmth approx 10:30am and eyed up the Billericay beer barrels behind the bar.  If I had a quid for every time I was asked this question on a BRAPA day out, I'd be a rich man by now (well, I'd have a tenner).  After explaining BRAPA matter of factly, we were STILL charged a £5 deposit for each glass (in case we love the stemmed monstrosities so much, we decided to nick them), and with Tom only able to get half a sorry tap water, meaning an amusingly expensive first round.  Common sense wouldn't have gone amiss in this instance.  His right hand man came in, looking a bit bewildered by our presence,  not helped by the fact that he'd lost three satsumas.  Now he didn't accuse us, but 3 strange Northerners drinking at this time, 3 satsumas missing, it wasn't a difficult conclusion to draw   "I need my citrus fix!" he declared, and scurried off around the back.   Meanwhile, Essex's answer to Roy Orbison wandered in and shouted "HALF A DOZEN BILLERICAY BLONDES" and stood in the middle of the shop arms folded like he thought such a sexist diva attitude would cut it.  His two female companions (both blondes) spent 10 minutes paying for something by card because they were old and hopeless.  Another man came in 'Christmas shopping' but couldn't get what he wanted, then the satsumas reappeared and the bearded bloke started being nice to us.  And the main chap was lovely, though I don't need to know how beer is brewed, I just drink the stuff and assume it happens by magic as I told him.  I think he believed me.  And after much nice chatting, we moved on. 

The colder other area is where the 'guest' beers go which the local CAMRA people will try.

Beers and a glass I had no intention of taking

Dad looks pensive, Tom enjoys his tap water


I remembered to get my £10 deposit back, and on leaving the premises, Tom suddenly gave himself a sickening pat on the back for taking us to such a great place, as though he brewed all the ales and had built it himself.  It's important to put him in his place at times like this, so we did! 

With neither of the other Billericay pubs opening til 12 noon, we took the train to Burnham-on-Crouch now via a place called Wickford, which actually has houses n shops and isn't just a railway station.  I enjoyed the train journey, there was something powerful and beautiful about the bleak marshland scenery, though vaguely reminiscent of Lincolnshire.

In Burnham, we had a meandering walk through the backstreets to my most favourite of pub locations, 'just another building in a row of terraced / semi detached houses'.  You know the type, Foresters in Reading, Wellington in York, wonderful. 

1167 / 1912.  Queen's Head, Burnham-on-Crouch

You could tell from the second that you stepped inside that this was a bare-boarded classic.  A pool table in a nice pub as we know, is a rarity, and it was soon occupied by a couple of paint-stained individuals who'd obviously dressed like this to make people think they'd spent the morning working.  Our genial young host served us some sparkling ales and Tom managed to find a use for 'jam jars' for the first time in BRAPA history by using them to identify which of the IPA's was mine and which belonged to Dad.  After chats on New Tricks and Ellie Harrison, I spied on the book case something written by Roger Protz.  "I'll be having a drink with someone who's written a book up there", I proudly declared.  My fellow travellers scanned the bookshelf asked me where it was I was meeting Frankie Boyle!  Great pub this one, perfect for smuggling mini cornish pasties too, this was a better day out than Stamford already.

The pool table in quieter times

Protz v Boyle at the Queen's Head
The walk back to the station was so quick, isn't it weird how much further a walk seems when you don't know where you are going?  The next train to Southminster took us to the end of the line.  It felt like it too.  In a good serene small Hull kind of way.  Both pubs were very close, the first a little bit south east took us along a quiet country lane to our second brewery-cum-micropub of the day, in a large farmhouse style building, lovely location.

1168 / 1913.  Wibblers Brewery Taproom and Kitchen, Southminster

A warm welcome greeted us from yokels and barman alike here, the latter pushing some Harvest Hop ale on me with tales of it's freshness and wibblyness.  Talking of wibblyness (if that's a word), I'd not been feeling 100% comfortable all day and the reason was simple, I needed a poo.  Neither the Billericay Brew Co or the Queen's Head quite had enough levels of loo comfort, but this place with it's double lock and Airwick air freshener was just the ticket.  I'd never had a poo in a micropub before, always slightly worried by irational fears over their plumbing limitations, and although you may argue this isn't a micropub, it ticked enough on the bingo card to easily qualify it.  Refreshed and raring to go, Tom and Dad had perched at an end table and a local bloke asked us why we were here, where we were from, what our intentions were etc. in the kind of friendly nosiness that won it yet another micropub bingo point.  He laughed and said he could tell we were local ("I've lived in Saffron Walden ya bastard!") but was most interested in Tom (who wouldn't be?) with his own Grimsby connections - his nan had been the post mistress in Keelby or something!  With the news that Martin Taylor and Mrs RM were visiting this pub later, we did the honourable thing and got out of their way despite Tom saying he'd been intrigued to meet Mrs,  but he did linger to buy some Christmas presents for the second time today, possibly the babygrow with Wibblers logo. 

Much needed air freshener

Tom drinks the closest looking thing to beer he ever has

Friendly locals and Grimsby links

Merch inc the famous babygrow

Tom actually caught us up by the time we'd reached our next pub, one of those GBG regulars (25 years consecutive or something), so had high hopes .....

1169 / 1914.  Station Arms, Southminster

A pretty unassuming looking building, with it's tiny old school lamp displaying the name, you could kind of tell it was another classic of today.  That's 4 great pubs in a row, 2 very modern, 2 old school boozers, this is the reason I enjoy the variety of the Good Beer Guide.  Gimme a Wetherspoons, Ember and Greene King Local Hero pub to finish and I can die happy - well, okay I'm going a bit too far now!  The landlord was one of those old school cockney mafia types who spoke out of the side of his mouth and twitched an eyebrow as if to say "if I rip you off, it's all for the good of the pub industry" so this is what I had to tell poor Dad when he was chinged £10.50 for 2 pints and a blackcurrant cordial.  Why he didn't query it, well, a certain amount of subterfuge had been going on whereby he'd told us that the locals couldn't get to grips with Thornbridge Jaipur, declaring it too strong with too many weird flavours for their soft southern palettes, so we were too busy regaling him with our hardcore Jaipur sessions in places like Sheffield and North Derbyshire to immediately notice we'd been conned.  The pub itself was beautiful, simple is always best, one room, railway memorabilia, a sort of outdoor loo too hostile for pooing, and although Tom is convinced it won't be in next year's GBG, I'll remain positive.

I had the Porter

A mirror in recognition of a nearby man

It's the greatest cockney rip off
We took the train back to Billericay now, for the final 2 pubs that hadn't been open earlier.  Dad had made a GBG green highlighting faux-pas and highlighted the word "Billericay" prematurely, meaning if either pub weren't open, we'd have to camp outside til tomorrow morning or such time as they re-open, so the pressure was on!

1170 / 1915.  Coach & Horses, Billericay

So many people had said positive things about the 'Coach' (despite their failure to open at GBG advertised time) that I was almost a bit suspicious. My round (ooh doesn't it come round quickly?) so I went for an Oakham ale I'd never heard of, best beer quality of the day (SBS A-) but as we carried them through to a table that Dad had commandeered at the end - it was very busy - you could tell this slightly foodie environment, with dried flowers on the tables and menus, BT Sport etc , that this perhaps wasn't quite going to be as enjoyable as our previous four.  Tom was most critical and although me and Dad told him not to be too harsh and it was warm and cosy, I can see what he meant in the cold light of day.  After all, I didn't take one photo in here which may be forgetful semi-drunkeness, or could also be that there wasn't a lot to see, but it's quite rare these days for me!

So onwards and upwards back towards the station, time for the last one ... or was it? 

1171 / 1916.  Railway, Billericay

It couldn't have been a more typical 'station pub, sixth pub of the day', bustling with locals, Dad on t'coffee, friendly barmaids trying their best but from memory being a bit unconvincing, but you could maybe blame the bald bar blockers (bald ones are always worst).  Wibblers IPA must've been in nearly every pub we went to today, and with the news Hull City had thrown away a 1-0 lead to be 2-1 down surprised nobody, not even gummy men from Billericay.  An irritating sign told us "jovial banter from your home to ours".  It wasn't the catchiest of slogans, I hate the word "banter" since the kids got hold of it, and it just didn't really work anyway.  Oh, and the other slogan "number one on the high street" meaning literally, the address.  If such amusement wasn't enough, I checked my phone one final time .... Hull City 95th minute equaliser, 2-2!  Best pub ever!  For a few seconds anyway, but seriously, good atmosphere and you could do a lot worse.

We took the train back to Liverpool Street, said a fond farewell to Tom Irvin / burnt off the excess baggage (delete as appropriate) , and found ourselves on the Central line as planned earlier in the day cos Dad wanted to show me one of his favourite London pubs.

1172 / 1917.  Seven Stars, Chancery Lane

Apart from slightly suffering from the old "central London Saturday night syndrome", this was a delightfully squashy old creaky place which felt like a step back in time despite the Adnams glasses doing their best to bring pub-life into disrepute, apparently a brewery the landlady favours and i wouldn't be brave enough to argue against that - whatever Adnams guest it was, I enjoyed it immensely.  Dad did something no-one else in the pub had thought to do, and see if the snug around to the left was free, amazingly it was and we were sat down, whilst others floundered like pub tourist sheep.  That's why he is a "hashtag pubman".  Downside was sharing a room with a group of loud Irish people, you know the ones Graham Norton's character shares a caravan with in Father Ted.  Because they had Irish accents, they obviously thought they were super amusing.  Bit like scousers.  And men over the age of 50 from West Yorkshire.  And Americans and Canadians.  Now I've isolated almost my entire readership, I started telling Dad that the GBG said there was a pub cat here, and I was just debating the likelihood of him making an appearance when a furry paw stretched out on a seat opposite us.  Because we weren't in East Lancs, I correctly assumed this wasn't a human furry paw but in fact feline.  And by jove, he was wearing a ruff - the poor sleeping thing!  Then the Irish group spotted him and said he was pissed and sleeping off the effects of the booze.  Apparantly, he's called Peabody as the one from last year called Ray Brown died.  And before that, an even more famous one called Tom Paine who also wore a ruff! Crazy times and a great way to end a superb day's pubbing.

Oh dear!

Adnams glasses take the piss out of a wonderful old pub

Sleeping cat in ruff

Atmospheric bar scene

A bald man does some quality staring into nowhere
The train back was full of Geordies who'd stayed in London all day to get legless, and it showed.  They were a bit slow witted.  I'm off to watch the FA Cup draw so must go, let us hope it is (a) away and (b) BRAPA freindly.

Good night, Si