Just off out for a friend's Birthday do so clicking the 'Publish' button on this one earlier tonight .....
Thursday 2nd November, 3:59pm
My outlier tick in North North Yorkshire at Marske by the Sea was today's aim, but a cancelled train and some particularly squally rain forced me to abandon that plan.
"Keep it simple and focus on Stockton" said a voice. My common sense? Colin? I'll let you decide which is most likely.
Sound advice anyway, I had a Norton 'Spoons, two Stockton ticks, and a non GBG pub I'd been meaning to try for years, so plenty to keep me entertained. Plus it was nearly dark already as pub one peered at me from across the road, not very 'Spoons from this angle .....
Highland Laddie (2503 / 4601)
But more standard fare within, although wooden sauna walls and not one but TWO carpet patterns were reasons to raise half an eyebrow. Furthermore, as I retreat from the bar area with my quality Maxim Treacle Toffee Stout, served by a glam Jill Scott (she'll only serve Mackem drinks), I find an empty side room. In a 'Spoons! Don't know when this last happened. I'm just taking a photo of Colin in front of some weird highland games sticks, when two chirrupy ladies enter and are all like "pub mascot is he?" I once accidentally crashed a Norton ladies hen-do, and can confirm they are all crazy. These two chatted to me sporadically too, mainly about what they were ordering for tea. I hadn't asked.
With the rain bouncing down, a lad comments on how fortunate I am to arrive just in time for the bus - errm, I'd planned it actually mate!
Stockton is obsessed with micros these days like most places used to be 10 years ago, and here was the first of two corkers .....
Kopper Keg, Stockton on Tees (2504 / 4602)
I'd been getting a few Crafty Kernel Shipley vibes off this place on arrival, but it's a step above it for me. Partly because if I'm in a hazy pale sort of mood, Two by Two are one of my faves out there. Best thing to come out of Wallsend since errrm Sting, Brian Laws and Lee Clark. Look, I tried, okay? But what really makes it is la bearded guv'nor. Chatting to me across the room, he recently managed to fit in 15 York pubs on a 'shopping trip' with his daughter. A plasma shows photos of punters past having a good time in here. I often think Teesside folk are some of the canniest in the land, and this was more proof.
Was the rain easing off or was the beer just helping me not to notice it? That was my main thought as I found my third pub lurking in a small arcade ......
Tipsy Turtle, Stockton on Tees (2505 / 4603)
A fraction more characterful in style, and therefore more memorable, this place evoked memories of some of those wonderfully down to earth marketeers in NW outposts like Bolton, Chorley, Oldham and Bury. I didn't necessarily prefer this to the Kopper Keg though on balance, one of the main struggles seemed to be heating the place (a very 70's looking device finally kicks into life but a bit too late). This 6.3% Goth Weekender Milk Stout is insane(ly good), tastes like it came straight out of an Ecuadorian rainforest. not one for a six pub Saturday. Only a matter of time before the locals start chatting, they apologise, assuming I'm a serious sensible kind of dude simply here for a quiet ale, so I tell them they needn't worry!
This was third time lucky for me in Stockton. I'd not really 'felt it' on my previous two visits, but tonight, all seemed to click into place and I had plenty of time to enjoy a very different type of pub experience for the finale. One of those which the #PubMen of Twitter often pipe up about.
Sun Inn, Stockton on Tees
This pub's particular USP is what they call 'banked Bass'. The one ale on. They pull half of it, then pop it in a fridge for a bit, then top it up before they give it to you. End result is artwork that should hang in a Parisian gallery. A head so fluffy, Colin thought it was a relative. I'd not seen the likes since my Hartlepool Headland Cameron's extravaganza. And it tasted great, had a couple of questionable Bassies of late (Sleaford, Bourne) but this a return to form. And the pub itself, a cheap cheerful sorta gaff with a 24/7 weekend atmosphere which is never a bad thing is it? I nibbled my snacks and tried not to make too much eye contact, but stayed for a second due to poorly timed trains and a great time was had by all (me). It'd take a brave Stocktonian to put this one beer pub forward for GBG inclusion in such a micro climate, but I'd support it.
It had been a great night, as was the 'Everitt Family Bonfire' 24 hrs later .....
And then the following morning, it was off to West Brom away.
Now, I'm annoyed with myself here because I KNEW in my heart of hearts that WBA doesn't combine at all well with BRAPA progress, even though my West Midlands options continue to be plentiful.
I'd have been far better off abandoning plans to watch the match, and just try and get my ticks in. And that was always the plan, apart from one moment of weakness where I decided I'd attend.
The rain was even more atrocious than it had been in Stockton on Thursday night, as we trudged miserably towards Small Heath, me doing my best Vera Geordie detective impression .....
After splodging aboundness through the biggest puddle in history, we cross a road and notice the pub , looking quite handsome and most importantly, open early ..... state of poor Daddy BRAPA!
Red Lion, Small Heath, Birmingham (2506 / 4604)
Despite our initial exuberance at being indoors, dry and warm, paired with a decent if a bit chilly pint of Titanic Plum Porter, it wasn't too long before we noticed just how lukewarm this Ember Inn was, from barmaid's reaction to the overall temperature. Whilst I can just about cope with the Ember chain, I think they should the be toasty because embers are at their best when burning (so to speak). Exactly the same carpet and squally conditions at Centurion North Hykeham. A bloke orders a cup of tea and gets a handful of smarties on the side which is easily the most colourful thing to happen all day!
The rain hadn't eased off as we had a shorter walk to our second pub, though we prolonged the agony by taking the drivers entrance rather the pedestrian one. Finally, we found an open members only door near a bin, and Daddy B. needed to dry off!
King's Heath Cricket & Sports Club, King's Heath, Birmingham (2507 / 4665)
But no one is at home on first glance, the shutters are down on the bar. There's a timid man lurking nearby, looking confused. But I spring into life, use all my 9.5 years pub ticking experience, stick my body between the bar and the last defender, and I spy a hidden bar in another room, phew. Nice club actually, but everyone else who comes in just wants tickets for tomorrow's bonfire. Not one person stays for a drink. Despite the weather. Back in car and off home to change into their vest and pants and down Neck Oil in front of Soccer Saturday and Repair Shop and moan on X about how sad it is that people don't frequent pubs any more. That's what is wrong with the world. It is a nice place and deserve better from the fair weather King's Heathens.
The other King's Heath pub (a micro) doesn't open til 2pm so that is off limits.
Back at New Street, wee in All Bar One, then a tram.
But I calculate West Brom's Three Horseshoes is so tucked away, we might be pushing it for kick off. Especially in this rain. The Wednesbury duo don't look much more appealing.
Plan then is to hop off and go to our old favourite, the Vine, but I get lost and think I typed in the wrong Vine, a cafe or something!
So a drink under the ground it is, hideously long queue, pie and a bottle of Stowford Press we actually enjoy, the bitter had run out. Brave faces everyone.
Then, a rubbish 3-1 defeat where, despite controlling possession for the most part, all WBA need to do is sit in, concentrate, wait for us to make the silly errors we all know we're capable of, then we lose 3-1.
Post match ticks was the hope but whilst the home fans are siphoned off in a BRAPA friendly direction, us losers are funnelled towards Brum where I have like zero remaining ticks. FFS!
AND then the trains go all wrong just to compound a miserable day.
Two morale boosting revisits on the way back brought a bit of colour back to our cheeks, pubs I would recommend to anyone .....
Bull in Birmingham
Ohh, Bull in a china shop. Just got it!
And in Derby ......
Brunswick Derby, my East Midlands KX Parcel Yard