Tuesday, 31 January 2017

BRAPA - Three More From North Yorkshire!

Only 13 North Yorkshire pubs to go after a gentle Saturday of chauffeuring fun on Dad's 70th birthday weekend.

We stopped in pretty market town Stokesley at 11am, just to prove we could find a parking space basically, but it was an opportunity to draw out some extra cash (it's hard to know what they are going to charge you in these fleecy parts).

In drizzly grey rain, we drove through Great Broughton and Dad identified the Wainstones Hotel as a place where all Yorkshire pensioners meet for lunch every March.  On a previous visit, Dad had actually driven into the car park of the BRAPA pub in question by mistake, but this time he allowed himself to park the car and get out ......

It's 11:30am, the pub has just opened behind me, let's go in ....
1015.  Bay Horse, Great Broughton

If every Marstons pub in the UK was as good as this one, I think the world would be a better place.  A warm welcome (and I don't just mean the fire that nearly singed my hood!) from the landlady and her gaggle of young blonde gigglers.  With me straight on the Hobgoblin Gold (I had to explain 3 times we weren't here for food, it was such a revelation to them), it was the perfect time for mother hen to train the youngsters up on the art of pulling a pint.  "You 'av to learn Jules" (not her real name) "and that one over there...." (points accusing finger at sheepish background brunette) "...is on the bar by herself tomorrow so she'll 'av to learn too!"  After a few tentative tugs of the squeaky pump, my pint finally arrived and I offered words of encouragement, for which I was quickly admonished "don't!  It'll go to her head!"  Oh well, Dad got a coffee with a wanky little mint and some fancy sugar lumps and cream, cost a small fortune (well £7.20 alongside a half, so probably can't complain too much) and as a bit of unobtrusive Carole King warbled around the room (replacing traditional North Yorks fave, Dire Straits) we agreed this was a cosy sizeable old pub that you couldn't dislike.  

Dad gets comfy as my jacket catches fire

Not sure on the glass, but a well poured pint by "Jules"
A few miles down the  road, was the pub which I learned (in the most boring fact of the day) was the furthest north in the York branch which Cleveland tried to steal off them.  But chairman of the time GK Smooth (not his real name) said "no way" and that was that.

Me walking towards pub two as the sun tries to comes through.
1016.  Buck Inn, Chop Gate

Another North Yorkshire trip, another Buck Inn!  At a place possibly pronounced Chop Yat.  They had some lovely stained glass doors signifying "bar" (to the right) and "lounge & restaurant" (to the left).  You'd think "bar" all the way, but in this room, no heating or handpumps or staff forced our hand into the typically 'set out for dining' main room, but it was comfy enough.  A Twild was present, but upon seeing me being served, immediately screamed "eeeek BRAPA", ran outside, and presumably went to drown himself in the nearest available pond.   The pub had decided to retain that rural North Yorkshire "we serve all aspects of village life" vibe, so had Crunchies and Creme Eggs on the bar, but it looked a bit of a forced gesture - you are not the Birch Hall Inn in at Beck Hole so get over it!  A nervous thin man who couldn't keep still kept darting from bar to bar, eventually buying 2 bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale and running off Twild style.  The music sounded like a compilation Jools Holland had created, all powerful women with powerful voices that he could tinkle his piano along to like the bland magnolia man he is, ughh.  Anyway, where was I?  Oh yeh, pretty decent pub but preferred Bay Horse when all said and done.  Oh, and I drank a beer from Wainstones brewery as a tribute to the pensioners hotel. 

Dad decided posing with one of my bedroom light bulbs would make a good photo (it didn't)

Bit of a lame buck
We then drove down to Helmsley, through that lovely little town, past the brewery, down a few crazy country roads past Byland Abbey, and soon we were in a pub I have so nearly done on so many occasions, it was finally nice to get in.

Dad and a letter he must remember to post.
1017.  Fauconberg Arms, Coxwold

Like a pair of pubby Olympic relay runners, a £10 note changed hands FIVE times between me and Dad as we stood at the bar waiting.  First he went to the loo, then I did, then he went to post his letter, then I gave him the note back when he returned, but then he went to sit down so passed it back to me, I paid and gave him the change!  All this was necessary because the Helmsley beer we wanted was off, barrel had to be changed, then a tricky air-lock needed sorting out.  No wonder an irritating young bearded man was looking so frustrated, he only wanted to pay for his meal whilst his sickening girlfriend and doting parents looked on.  He decided to exact revenge on us in the only way he knew how.  He laid a retrospective log in the gents (unflushable), which was named "the poo room", seemingly in a nod towards my High Wycombe ladies incident.  As if that wasn't enough, he kept walking in and out of this not very well heated pub and letting the draught come through.  Why are men with hipster beards always the most ignorant pub goers, it is a trend I've noticed  since BRAPA began.  Fluffy Tom Irvin-esque beards, no problem, but the sculpted ones, ignorant dickheads.  Just when I was finally relaxing with my pint, I jumped out of my skin as a cuckoo jumped out of a clock behind me, twittered unnecessarily (just like me in most pubs ha ha ha) and went back inside again.   This pub seems to be a real "in the GBG one year, out the next, back in year after" and now I've been, that makes perfect sense.

Finally got mi pint

Weird throney chair - the one to the right was nicer but inhabited by goggly eyed woman

Better than being drowned in ponds I suppose

Sinister cuckoo clock
We were done in record time so able to have a nice relaxing session in the Fox (York's finest pub, not in the GBG) and Dad suggested I write a book called the 100 best pubs not in the GBG.  If people have any ideas (I only have 4 in mind!), I'd like to hear them.  The pub also seemed to think Dick Turpin and Guy Fawkes used to work as a team, which is perfect York villain propaganda.  An amazing pub, but am bored of saying it as no one listens! 

I'm having the midweek (i.e. tonight) off West Yorkshire BRAPA so I'll si thee all on Saturday for some daaarn saaarf fun, but before then, I'll do my month end review and preview.


Monday, 30 January 2017

BRAPA - Scarborough, Thirsk and a Tale of Woe!

After a bit of recovery time from my Croydon excursions, I was ready to make the most of my week off work with a couple of 'bonus' ticks which didn't look like too much effort from York.

It was a sunny but chilly lunchtime in Scarborough when I arrived, but the new pub I needed to 'tick off' was not far away, on a bit of a hilly side street near a bridge, and had an appropriate name ....

1013.  Hole in the Wall, Scarborough

I walked in to find three middle aged blokes having an animated chat about local geography "well if ya know where Snainton is, you must bloody know where Brompton is!"  It meant nothing to me but they all said hello and the friendliest, youngest and smartest one promptly hopped behind the bar to serve me a fine Otter Bitter.  With a roaring fire, 40's music and sunlight streaming through the window up here, it seemed wrong to go downstairs to one of their 'lower' darker rooms, so I sat along the bench from this young bearded Jesus type who got chatting to the landlord about ales.  A very passionate pub man who loved pushing the "our beers are from Yorkshire and when we get Camerons on, Hartlepool is practically Yorkshire anyway so it counts!" card.   This next line is going to sound like the start of a joke but 'what happens when two mental health nurses sit next to a theatre performer in a pub?'  Do you give up?  Answer, 'they play Snap!'  So if I thought I had been sat a bit too close to young Jesus (who turned out to be an actor in the theatre), then this crazy couple (mental health nurses, day off, on the piss) squashed between us and though they were strangers, soon were playing cards and buying each other drinks.  I plonked my GBG on the table, but no one wanted to talk to poor Simey(!), not that I'd have wanted to play cards because it became a bit competitive, and Jesus having Pontoon explained to him seemed a step too far so a slunk off and wished them all a good game and rest of the day.  Don't you love pub life?!


Back into York, back to platform 5, and off on the next train, I felt like I was stuck in a bit of a loop but luckily this was a Grand Central train heading north and stopped at Thirsk, a place I've always assumed was just a railway station, very much like Bedwyn or East Garforth, or Crewe!

The town was a good 25-30 minute trek from the station right alongside the racecourse so I felt like a flippin' horse but I still got to the lovely but stereotypical North North Yorkshire market place (see Northallerton, Stokesley, Bedale for identikit examples)  nice and early.  The pub wasn't due to open til 4pm so I thought I need a 20 minute walk around the market in the cold, but I decided to seek out the pub anyway to get my bearings and hey presto, it was open! 

By the power of BRAPA - take that 'The Harp'
1014.  Little 3, Thirsk

I've always thought never to trust a pub with a number in it's name, this pub having renamed itself having been called Three Tuns just like the 'Spoons across the marketplace.  I'd have gone with Little Three personally, or even something as awful as 'Thirsk Tap Brewhouse, Kitchen & Brasserie' - just don't put a number in!  But I was immediately won over, not just by the new generous opening hours, but the pub was suitably dark, beamed, old, full of nooks and crannies, just the perfect pub style - one room but you wouldn't know it, that kinda thing.  The man behind the bar was one of those "got my big overcoat on so not really serving" types who had to be told by the young couple drinking coffee in the corner (presumably the owners) to serve me.  AND I had to ask for a top up on my pint - I'm not one of these 'exact full pint measure nazis', but there's difference between having a head on your beer and a quarter of a pint of froth!  Still, he later redeemed himself by not once but twice asking if I was "enjoying it".  The staff then all decided to move furniture around, not sure why, for exercise perhaps?  After a holiday in which beermats were very scarce, this pub had them on the chairs aswell as the tables.  The younger chap seemed jolly, but singing along to Jack Johnson didn't endear, neither did doing a perfect impression of the creepy old guy from Family Guy, or thinking the female (a young angelic Wizadora type) had said she had 'fingernails in her foot' when she had pins & needles.  Really great pub this, who'd a thought it? 

A BRAPA Tale of Woe

Fast forward a day and a bit and it is Thursday night, we are in Hull, and despite a spirited effort from the Tiger lads, it's evident we aren't gonna take this game to extra time so Dad (being the fantastic BRAPA supporter he is) says "it's now or never if you wanna try and get to West Haddlesey!" so we leave a few minutes early - cue evil glance from judgey steward, and we leg it to the car, and start careering towards Selby.

I needn't have worried though, as I check WhatPub and the GBG App, pub closes at midnight, 1am on a Friday or Saturday, and we turn off and see the George & Dragon all lit up,  It is 10:20pm.  The main light is on, and the kitchen area is lit too as Dad turns into the pub car park and reverses neatly into a space.  

We hop out of the car, and then Dad notices "THEY'VE JUST TURNED ALL THE LIGHTS OUT!"  What?  It was all lit up 30 seconds ago!  I went to explore, not a peep, silent as a mouse.  Unbelievable!!!

Had I arrived on foot, I'd have been inside no problem.  They heard and saw the car, and swiftly closed.  100 minutes earlier than advertised.  I understand pubs closing early if lack of trade, but to be open, see someone arrive and then close, is totally back to front.  

There's simply no excuse for such shady behaviour.  It's all very well people being told they should support the village pub, keep them open, but when village pubs don't want to help themselves, then how much sympathy can you have if they become West Haddlesey's new shiny Tesco Express? 

My Mum has demanded that she is present at the final 'Yorkshire tick', what chance it is this one, I'm not in any great hurry to return! 


Friday, 27 January 2017

BRAPA - Winter Festival Day Three (from Marylebone to Wycombe)

I was up early on Monday, deciding to grab BRAPA by the balls after a disappointing Sunday.

I sacked off the shitty Travelodge breakfast in favour of spending a fortune on Chocolate Croissants, Coffee and Sainsburys snacks to keep me sustained for the day, and was fighting my way past the dead-eyed dullards at Victoria Station before 10am.  It occurred to me I could get a pre-11am tick in if all went well, so I tubed it to Charing Cross, skirted around Trafalgar Square, and the Harp was in sight.  A lovely tiny old looking building, 10am said WhatPub and the GBG, but PUB CLOSED, never trust a Monday!  Too good to be true.

Well that was a good start wasn't it?  
Not to be denied, I hot footed it (on the Tube I mean) to Marylebone where I was meeting a friend at noon, but there was an 11am opener in the vicinity, and despite a few smoking scroats on benches outside (you know, the type who think by rolling up Golden Virgina into Rizlas still makes them edgy), I was amazed to see the door spring open......

1006.  Carpenters Arms, Marylebone

I was greeted by a friendly (probably Australian, though he did seem to have a decent work ethic) man called Scott and served by an Eastern European girl with the kind of downturned expression of a lass who left her teddy bear in the Balkans.  BRAPA international relations!  There was something very liberating about being the only customer in a neat little London pub on a foggy Monday morning in January and I was well content.  Even if my emergency Watney's beermat was called into further usage.  This was very typical of a London city pub, with half horseshoe bar, some lovely old tiles and dark wood, clean with the smell of Brasso - the kind I've been going into and not appreciating on a busy Saturday evening, but in this situation, you can feel the class oozing through.  Even if Sky Sports News and some 90's reggae music were playing.  And even if Scott decided to do some DIY near the front door - BANG, BANG, BANG, was not the most relaxing of pub sessions for the second half, but still a good first pub to kick off a busy day.

I now walked 10 mins down the road and was at my designated meeting pub at 11:55am, to meet my old work friend Dan, and his new girlfriend Mel, who are now living in Argentina so craving English pub life no doubt.  They arrived just after me, it didn't look promising as the blinds were closed and not a light was on.  Oh dear.  A cat which looked like a pub cat but was actually next door stared moodily at us - and then hey presto, the bells chimed 12 and like clockwork, a man appeared with a Thai Food blackboard and let us in!

Cat bemoans fact it isn't eligible for a BRAPA award.
1007.  Thornbury Castle, Marylebone

In all the kerfuffle of greetings and awkward British hugs with Dan, I had forgotten the significance of pub 1007.  I had now surpassed the number I'd ticked off in the 2016 GBG before the new GBG (finally) arrived in September and cross-ticking commenced.  A bit of a faux-pas by me considering how much BRAPA seemed to capture Mel's imagination.  The staff were a bit of a good cop / bad cop duo, a moody man in a horrid Rugby Union shirt worked hard at pulling beers through and getting them on (two seemed to be Stephen Hawking based which was just plain weird), whilst Mrs Thornbury provided the smiling warm welcome and served us.  Teamwork, though this is NOT the kind of pub where you should really be saying "Rugby Union is the WRONG code" because the pub was obsessed with it judging by the decor (though I forgot to take my usual internal photos).  Another pub, another lack of beermat, this is getting stupid now!  Dan and Melly were as shocked as me, things had changed in the three years he'd been away.  A very comfy loungey pub though, nicely dark and not what I was expecting, amazed it is it's first time in the Guide but well above average for Central London I'd say.  We reminisced on stories from working in the bank like "Moth on the Stairs" and "Si's Harry Potter reading, Primary School Style".  Guess you had to be there!  Oh and more relevantly to BRAPA, Dan remembered the LLAC (Leeds Lunchtime Ale Challenge) which we did on Friday's in 2007 - you see the BRAPA genes were in me all those years ago! 

After saying our farewells, I legged it back to Marylebone Station and caught a train to High Wycombe with internal carriage doors which didn't open, and a man who got told off for disrespecting the fearsome lady train guard.  "I thought telling people off had finished for the day when I sent the kids to school!" she later growled at me.

Wycombe seemed quite an atmospheric place in the mist, but no time to admire it, I was hopping on the (delayed) 31 bus where Bucks pub ticking was back on the agenda .....

And the bus terminated on the Penn/Tylers Green border at an ominous place called "The Pond", where presumably witches and people who don't use their Wetherspoons vouchers get drowned.

Catching the bus in High Wycombe

On the Tylers Green / Penn border

"The Pond" mwhahahahaha.

A pub, I airbrushed out the locals (not really).
1008.  Red Lion, Penn

Two young men were smoking menacingly outside, comparing greyhounds and labradors, but at least they said hello which wouldn't really be symptomatic of the village.  I entered the pub to the low sound of hysterical laughter, a blonde girl at the bar was showing her mate a video where some elderly gent couldn't stop laughing.  Me and the dark curly haired bar-boy exchanged glances like "is this actually supposed to be funny?" and I ordered a pint of Chiltern something-or-other as quickly as I could.  The pub was a gem, lovely stone flagged floors, a wood burner and of course it's wonderful smell. and I settled into a high backed 'settle' (get it!) facing the wood burner - a candle on my table, the gentle chiming of a clock on the quarter hour, yes this was my "moment of contentment" for the pub holiday.  What was slightly annoying was everyone else talking in loud whispers which was more off-putting than normal voices.  When I stared at these blonde middle aged women, they hushed even more like they were plotting to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Witches probably.  "Show them the pond!" i felt like shouting.  Later on, both ladies did the "I insist on paying for lunch" rigmarole and nearly wrestled each other to the floor, most amusing.  Meanwhile, an old man broke the silence by declaring "I won't need a pudding after this ale, it's like a dessert wine!" and I thought he was going to be lynched.  Brilliant, if slightly weird pub.  

It's a great pub, but do I recognise that beermat per chance? 
A short walk around "THE POND" (plays dramatic sound effect from BBC archive library), careful not to slip on the ice, and a short walk up the road back into Tylers Green where the next pub was soon within sight ......

Front of the pub.

From the pub, facing back towards Penn.
1009.  Horse & Jockey, Tylers Green

The barmaid's confused expression told me something was amiss ... "we close at 3 luv, we always have done!"  I looked at the clock, dead on 3pm "But but but, BRAPA ....." I staggered before recovering myself and telling her I'd travelled especially from York to visit her pub, and then explained BRAPA.  "Can't I just stay for one quick pint, pleeeasssse?"  I pleaded.  And she agreed.  Top lady.  I didn't want to look like I was taking the jimmy riddle so I stood at the bar with my coat on, to drink my Adnams Southwold quite quick.  Whenever I have to drink a pint quickly, it seems to be an Adnams.  And a bit ironic standing at the bar, as this pub actually had beer mats for the first time today!  She went back to reading her paper after a little bit more chat, I told her to ensure this above average wooden old pub stayed in future GBG's so my visit wasn't in vain and she agreed to try!  You see, once I get a foot in the door.....   Anyway, all this got me thinking about Loudwater, a 30 minute walk from here that I was embarking on next, and to my surprise, both the GBG and WhatPub did confirm it shut at 2:30pm til 5pm.  So I hadn't done my homework very well - yet there was no hint that THIS pub shut in the middle of the day on any source.   Still, this was a good example of luck evening itself up - had this been yesterday, I'd never have been served!

Gotta drink quickly!
After the barmaid wished me well on my challenge, I decided to take the bus back to High Wycombe as I had little other option now I knew Loudwater was closed.  Problem was, on train to Wycombe, I'd wolfed down 2 choc croissants, a coffee, a sandwich, a bag of crisps, and these last two quickish pints, so I was busting for the loo long before we arrived at High Wycombe just before 4pm!  

So I raced to 4pm opener Bootlegger, on the railway bridge with a big neon sign outside, and mercifully, open a few mins early ......

1010.  Bootlegger, High Wycombe

The bearded ginger bloke in this modern 'beerhouse' was a jovial, nice young chap, and seemed sympathetic to my toilet needs but warned me the gents was closed for a refurb so I'd have to use the ladies.  Uh oh, I needed a number 2 aswell - poor ladies, not that I saw one present in my 40 mins here.  But in my favour, ladies loos are clean and warm and fragrant (well, for now!) and I spent a good 5 mins sorting myself out.  Still feeling guilty, I emerged back to the bar where mine host nodded and winked as if to say "feel better for that do you? hahaha" or maybe I was paranoid.  There was a fantastic range of local beers on, it was like Land of Liberty Peace and Plenty needing another 300 years to "bed in" as a pub, but my stout from I think Fisher's brewery was first class and I found a secluded 'snug' (well, side room) and just when it looked nothing was happening at all, I saw that Gorden Kaye (Rene from Allo Allo) had died which saddened me, but then I noticed his face had appeared in my table which was surely a BRAPA sign.  So buoyed by this, I downed my pint, ran across the road,  and headed back to Marylebone.

Rene's face appears in my table.

My "snug" (with the slightest gap through to the rest of the pub)
Back in London earlier than expected, I worked out that I still had time before the train back to York to do what I originally booked this trip for in the first place - and that was to "tick off" those London pubs that don't open on a Saturday or Sunday.  And after the Thornbury earlier, I only had two more to do from what I could see in the GBG ......

I got myself to Bank, and fought my way past the thousands of post-work city drinkers, eventually finding this pub which I somehow managed to walk past (well, it was badly 'pinned' on the GBG App) despite being huge! 

1011.  Counting House, Gracechurch Street

A bank for 104 years, you could probably tell by the name but in my hazy state, it took me about 10 minutes to make the connection!  I thought people just came here to count things.  I felt like it was going to be a 'Spoons, but it was a Fullers pub instead with lots of shiny brass pillars, dark oak and smart staff in uniforms.  Though with the huge ceiling and after work crowd, it was VERY noisy.  I also had just realised I was running perilously low on money, and almost had to copper up for the mousey little barmaid, to get my £4.40 London Pride, just so I could use the phrase "the Pride is drinking well this evening", which it was in fairness.  A posh excitable man in a suit appeared from nowhere and out of the corner of his mouth, asked the barmaid if it was true they had something on called "Cornish Pale Ale".  "Yes, you mean the St Austell Tribute" she replied, and I've never seen a man looked so crushed.  Not sure what he thought he was going to get.  I smiled sympathetically but he ignored me so I went back to my posers pillar and stared at the dome ceiling whilst necking my Pride.

Once I remembered the GBG push-pin was in the wrong place on the map, I eventually got my bearings to seek out the final "we don't open on weekends" pub......

Rushed photo as I nearly was trampled by a herd of city workers
1012.  Phoenix, Old Broad Street

If Counting House was not my kind of pub but had enough amusement / history to commend it, this place seemed totally bereft of any real charm or spirit.  Even in a slightly drunken state, it was evident that one barmaid was doing all the work serving about 10 people, whilst the other girl was being chatted up by the barman til they were interrputed and told to serve me!  I laughed in a "I can see what is going on here kinda way", they looked awkward, I tried to relieve the tension by saying the 3.5% Redemption Trinity is a great beer to see when you've been on the ale all day, but the elephant was not only in the room, it was sat on the bar.  The place was a heaving rabble of noise and the clientele seemed younger and more irritating than in the previous pub, so I perched on a posing table (all this pub had to offer from what I could see even though it was massive), across from a group of guffawing idiots (mainly girls) and stared them out, partly cos I was drunk but partly cos i wondered if they might realise how annoying they sounded.  One girl did and looked nervous, but I felt bad so went for a slash and when I returned (I'd left my bags on the table), I later discovered my Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Mango Chunks had gone missing, had they been pinched?  It probably sums up this pub perfectly.  

Dimply glass without asking, this place didn't convince

Some people who aren't in their twenties - a rarity here.
I got myself back to Kings Cross via Liverpool Street and was on the 8pm to York after a bit of transport delay had the station in chaos and several cancellations.  

It'd been a productive three days, beermat count today:

Yes : 1.  No : 6.  (worst ever return!)

I'll be back soon to review a couple of North Yorks midweek pubs, reveal the one I'm boycotting (til September), and tomorrow I have another 'gentle' North Yorks day so see you twitterers for some check ins .....


Wednesday, 25 January 2017

BRAPA - Winter Festival Day Two (Bucking Hell, Croydon my saviour)

When you wake up on a Sunday morning in a Croydon Travelodge with a "to do" list of 3,599 items, you start wondering if you are unnecessarily complicating life.

And this was the kind of day wish left me wishing I could rewind and do differently.

Even from the miserable breakfast in the Travelodge cos they'd all but run out of food (I'd have gone to Skylark 'Spoons instead had I not paid!), today just didn't go well.

I got myself to Marylebone and purchased an "add-on" to Great Missenden, a spur of the moment decision with the aim of walking 2.5 miles to the Crown at Little Missenden, but the A413 could have been the A1(M) and I couldn't walk along it!  I tried two different ways, worked out a long-winded rural third, but knowing the pub was closing 3pm, I'd not make it in time.

I sulkily appreciated the pretty town of Great Missenden with it's Roald Dahl museum & twild wannabees, and jumped on the next available train to Chorleywood.  From there, a brisk 25 minute walk to Chenies had me nervous.  I'd lost confidence and had to spend 5 mins on the A404 but thankfully, this was a nice A road with a path and everything!

I walked into Chenies, lovely little place - have I ever been so relieved to see a pub?  It was nearly 3pm already and my first of the day, rubbish Simon!

Have I ever been so pleased to see a pub - I could cry! 
1002.  Red Lion, Chenies

Just to explain, with me being so close to finishing Berkshire, I was eager to get cracking with Buckinghamshire hence my insistence on making a 'London' trip more complex than needed!  The pub is described as an "autarchic freehouse(!)" and it seemed the Sunday lunch crowd were outstaying their welcome (or people eat late in Chenies) and the place was bouncing, like the waitresses tight tops,  and it was one of those pubs with an army of staff in a tiny space which almost outnumbered clientele.  I'd originally thought the sign said "anarchic freehouse" which may have been nearer the truth.  "It's been manic today!" wailed one barmaid, as I paid £3.70 for a Vale Best (incredibly lively bubbly bitter) in ten and twenty pence coins, to a young bar-lad, a nice funny youth who stuck his tongue out whenever he was concentrating, like on counting change and stuff.  Soon a mellow Sunday hubbub took over, all coffee n cream and prosecco n nuts.   Two friendly posh men who looked like well-groomed Bob Dylan's stood at the bar and said 'hi' to me in a smooth classy way, but guess what, I needed that emergency beermat yet again!

The other side of Chorleywood was only a mile or so from Heronsgate, where there was a pub I'd wanted to visit since 2004.

In our early days of going to the Whalebone in Hull before home games, me and Dad were struck by the random array of CAMRA magazines and we picked up the Hertfordshire one, Dad saw a full page advert about how great this place was.  When we got promoted and were playing Watford, we entertained the idea of coming here pre-match but it never actually happened, til now, 13 years on!

Land of Liberty, Peace and Plenty!
1003.  Land of Liberty, Peace and Plenty, Heronsgate

The pub name is very wordy, enough to give the bar posers of Chorlton-cum-Hardy sleepless nights with it's evil multi syllaballed ways.  It was one of those "you know it's a class act as soon as you step through the door" pubs.  The landlord's friendly smile, the exciting range of (4 out of 6 Yorkshire ales) seemed rare, bare boarded floor but comfortable, a sleeping dog, happy old and middle-aged locals,  A big blackboard declared their target of 370 beers to put on in 2017, to beat their 369 total of 2016.  Whilst I was there, York Snowflake (5 out of 7!) was chalked on a board just above me - this reminded me of Hull's Wellington at it's best, but with a bit more pub hubbub.  Considering I'd arrived with a stone in my shoe, a snotty nose, needing a pee, my sense of well-being had gone through the roof within 2 minutes of arrival.  Oh, and mobile phones were strictly prohibited but it was still perfect timing to be included in a Twitter chat about beer quality in GBG pubs.  I'd been trying to work out what made this place special, and I think the fact everyone was drinking ale and talking about it passionately - plus the landlord took time out to come and chat to an old man in the corner about the weather -  a nice touch.  Classic pub.

Boring dog, great beer, pub beermats!

The target board and a man who became a blue column from waist down.
Although it was pitch black and freezing cold, I was buoyed by this experience and decided to hang around for a tube to Chesham where I had an out of town pub to do (Chesham is at the end of the Metropolitan line, only runs twice an hour as some go to Amersham).

I'm no weather expert but it must have been about minus 100 or something and if the walk wasn't painful enough, eventually the street lights and the pavement ran out and with cars whizzing with full beam headlights round a sharp bend on the B4505, and me not be able to see one step in front of me, it was a heavy heart I gave it up - I was only 0.3 miles from the turning - so frustrating.  But I wouldn't be here now to write this if I'd carried on! 

By the time I got back to Croydon, I'd been out 9 hours for a 2 pub return.  I hate BRAPA!  It was approaching closing time so after stocking up on food, it was time for the pub equivalent of scoring two injury time goals having done nothing for 90 minutes.....

1004.  Green Dragon, Croydon

At least it was a day of getting monkeys off my back, I'd first considered this pub as part of a 2005 trip to Crystal Palace away, and it's still in the flippin' GBG innit?!   I was amazed how huge it was, less surprised it was a former bank, but kind of pleased it wasn't Wetherspoons owned.  Not that the crowd cared, a terrifying Sunday night bunch.  With a vague whiff of puke in the air, it would be easy to dismiss this place as a dirty Sports Bar but it obviously had a passion for ales with hundreds of pump clips and a barmaid very eager for me to accept her "dimpled jug" over a straight glass.  I don't normally like handled glasses, but didn't want to upset her hopeful blonde face.  I think she was just pleased I was an ale drinker amongst the shots flying off the bar.  Everyone was pissed as newts, from the rowdy pool players in the corner, two Eastern European girls on the vodka, and a skinhead sinking so far into his girlfriend's lap, he was horizontal on a leather seat half an hour later!  Scariest of the lot though, an old woman with half-mast bondage trousers who looked and walked like Neil from the Young Ones and kept prowling the pub.  No eye contact!  The toilets were an impossible maze of upstairs rooms, some friendly guys were holed up in a hidden function room, the temperature was a degree too cold, and the TV screen was dirty, distracting from the snooker, still it felt like a fitting place to see a scumbag like Ronnie O'Sullivan to win a major final!  Crazy place, glad I experienced it.

Like the Green Dragon, my next pub was closing 10:30pm on a Sunday and it was getting on for ten past, so walking down two alleyways when the address clearly said 'Surrey Street', (the street I was ON) was probably symptomatic of my over-complicated day. ....

But will they let me in?
1005.  Dog & Bull, Croydon

And to my relief, a friendly barmaid seemed more than happy to serve me even if table polish was out and a chair was inches from being acrobatically flipped onto a table.  This was a much more intimate venue than the Green Dragon, though the tattooed barman started warbling to some strange opera style music, though when I tried to smile in an amused manner, he glared as if to say "I'm an amazing singer okay?"  The pub felt like a Youngs pub (because it had their beer on, nothing gets past me) so I took my pint of Special to the adjoining side-room where two chaps were chatting animatedly and their presence felt like a nice 'last-orders' buffer, though I made a mental note to drink quick and not to take the mickey.  This was one of those pubs that felt so ancient, that vague attempts to modernise 20th/21st century style hadn't really had an impact - beermats in here were on the bar but not on the tables and I was too scared to pinch one from under the nose of Mr Opera.  Take away the wanky dried flowers, wine lists and wall quotes about cheese and you've got an excellent pub.  The two blokes got onto my fave topic of Celebrity Deaths but when the younger beard mentioned Brian Matthew of "Sounds of the Sixties" fame, he was told he'd gone too far!  Last orders was finally called, just to us three in person, and he sang it you won't be surprised to hear.  Then it was weird cos they played "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" very loudly, and all staff appeared from nowhere and sang and danced around!!  Was this a thing, do pubs have "Last Orders" tunes?  I know a pub in Fulford near York always plays L**ds Utd anthem "Marching on Together" at last orders (utterly awful), wonder how common it is?!

My pint is ready to drink!

The two blokes and my GBG.

An idea of how nice this pub can be internally.
So that was it, back through the freezing night air of Croydon to my Travelodge - determined to do better on my third and final day! 

Beermat count : 1 yes, 1 partial, 2 no.