There is always something special about an awayday. No matter how early the start, I bounce out of bed, bang on some belting tunes and skip on my merry way to wherever the fixture list tells me I’m going. This morning I am mainly listening to Raw Like Sushi by Neneh Cherry, an album I never had at the time (1989) but which I’ve been really enjoying this week.
It’s an 0515 alarm for me today, so I’m at Blackpool North in good time to catch the 0633 to Blackpool East. As soon as I take my seat, I’m straight on the Blackpool East app to order my breakfast for collection at the other end. Today it’s a bacon, egg (runny) and mushroom brioche (no butter) with HP Fruity Sauce, a bag of Mini Eggs, a big
sharing bag of Jelly Babies, an Earl Grey Rooibos and a bottle of Cherry Lucozade. It’s a long journey today and you can’t always bank on a train buffet car being open. Fail to prepare, prepare to go hungry/thirsty.
Admin completed, I use the rest of the journey to finish reading Heartbreak Bay by Rachel Caine. I’ve been enjoying this fiction series, which is told from the interesting angle of a serial killer’s wife.
At Blackpool East, I dart to the collections counter at the station caff and burst out laughing as the staff are all dressed as Easter bunnies. Best. Station. Ever. I thank them for making me smile (as always) and leave a generous tip before skipping off with my food parcel.
I bound aboard the 0717 to Wolverhampton. For many years this was my journey home from home matches, so I know the route very well. I spend this part of my journey working on my script that I’m writing for my final assignment with the Open University. I re-read the relevant chapters of the study materials (writing for film) and begin work on my step outline. I also start a spreadsheet to break down my script into scenes and ensure every scene has conflict and status and advances the plot. I’m very excited about this project and who knows you might see it on a small screen near you at some point in the future.
At 0835 the train pulls into Wolverhampton station, which I realise also needs bombing, rebranding and redesigning along the lines of Blackpool East. I’m thinking West Walsall. It will need a Black Country lilt, whilst also being inspired by its surrounding regions, so I’m thinking:
- Bathams Brewery Tap
- Caff serving grey peas and bacon, faggots, cheese & black pudding cobs, etc.
- A Staffordshire oatcake stall
- An Indian restaurant
- A waiting lounge that is an actual lounge, with sofas, rocking chairs, shelves full of books and a real fire
- A meditation/prayer room
- A performance venue with entertainment all day, including live bands, spoken word artists, plays, comedians, etc.
I only have seven minutes here today to make my connection, but I can see the work is well underway and I hope to be able to enjoy this station on my next visit. Meanwhile, I jump on the train to Reading, which will be my home for the next two hours. This is a looooong journey and I’m glad I have plenty of food.
I spend this part of the journey fleshing out the characters for my script. I do enjoy this part of writing fiction because it allows me to transform people I know into characters whose behaviours and fates I can control. This practice often helps me when I am faced with a particularly challenging individual in real life. Instead of allowing them to agitate me, I make them into a character and subsequently can observe them in a different light. Things that might previously have irked me about them, I can chuckle at as I view them objectively and weave their mannerisms and behaviour into their character model. It’s wonderfully liberating. I love being a writer.
Finally I arrive in Reading, where I have 15 minutes to find the 1055 to Swindon. I feel like I’ve done a full day’s work already, which is great, as it means it’s now playtime. On the 25 minute short hop to Swindon, I look ahead eagerly to the pubs that are awaiting me this afternoon. I’m getting rather thirsty now…
Hop Kettle work with businesses to develop bespoke beers to match their companies. For example, they ‘created a Saison for a Thai restaurant chain that uses ingredients including lime leaves and tamarind in the beer and was created specifically to match the food offering.’
Their house beers are:
- LodeStar (pale)
- DogStar (hazy pale)
- RisingStar (session IPA)
- Equuleus (pale)
- Cosmic Shake (‘Think fresh fruit salad smothered with Jersey double cream’)
- Neonate (session IPA)
- Polaris (NZ pale)
- Element (pale)
- Snakeshead USA (West Coast IPA)
- Old Town Pale Ale
- Liquid Highway (golden)
- ShootingStar (pilsner)
- RedStar (American red)
- North Wall (best bitter)
- COB (bitter)
- Space Cowboy (milk stout)
- Flapjack Black (breakfast stout)
- Flapjack Black Marmalade (marmalade breakfast stout)
Phew! That was a longer list than I was expecting. Have I missed kick off? There are a few irresistibles on there, so I opt for a third of each of the Cosmic Shake, Space Cowboy and Flapjack Black Marmalade.
Their tap is open 3-9 on Fridays and 12-9 on Saturdays. They also deliver nationally.
Arkells have 90 pubs across Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Hampshire – none of which are counties I am familiar with, which may explain why they only ring a vague bell in my mind.
Their house beers are:
- Pioneer (NZ IPA)
- Mustang Black (keg stout)
- Hoperation IPA
- Malthouse Craft Lager
- Hurricane Amber Ale
- Wiltshire Gold
- 3B (best bitter)
Half a stout, please.
Here’s a walkthrough of their Grape & Grain Wine & Brewery Warehouse, which I visit as a point of cultural interest.
Nationwide delivery of Arkells beers is available.
I’m delighted to find a taproom here. Here’s the menu:
I’m most tempted by the lager – and also the hot dogs (even though you and I both know that I don’t even like hot dogs). Currywurst with potato salad, though? I’m not leaving without demolishing that.
Rusty Garage beers available for local delivery are:
- Sump Oil (milk stout)
- Pumpkin Ale
- Broken Axle (old ale)
- V12 Triple NEIPA
- Piston Broke (Belgian dubbel)
- Wonky Wheel (amber rye)
- No Brakes (NEIPA)
- Slick Tyre (lager)
I grab a bottle of each of the Sump Oil and Pumpkin Ale to stow away on the coach to drink at home. NB I am on the supporters bus home because the return train journey would have cost £109.40 and involved five changes on the way home. Also, my first available train home was also my last train home, which would have left no room for missed connections. Whilst Arkells do offer accommodation at their pubs, I have no intention of staying over in Swindon. The last time I did that I lost my favourite hat and I’m still scarred from the experience. It was just tight enough to grip on during strong winds, but not so tight as to leave a mark on my head or press my sunglasses into the side of my head. Apologies, I’ve just triggered myself. I need another drink…
Dear reader, it’s time for comfort food. After my currywurst starter, my appetite has been well and truly whetted (whet?).
There is beer here, too, of course (else I wouldn’t be here). Recent checkins on Untappd include:
- BrightBeer Amber
- BrightBeer Gold
- BrightBeer Valentinus (porter)
BrightBeer is the onsite brewhouse (formerly Weighbridge Brewhouse) and I’m drinking their porter, admiring this lovely view.
Somewhat modestly, the Tuppenny describes itself as ‘perhaps Swindons premier bar & bottleshop‘. Are they not sure? I have no choice but to check it out and decide for myself.
My eyes are instantly drawn towards their snackage and I order a packet of these bad boys because there’s a dog on the packet.
Their core beer range is:
- Porterhouse Oyster Stout
- West Berkshire Detour (American pale)
- West Berkshire Renegade Lager
- West Berkshire Good Old Boy (bitter)
- Cidersmiths Henry Masters’ Jersey Craft Cider
Their Fridge of
Death Dreams includes:
- Brew York HYG (10% Peanut, Caramel and Marshmallow Milk Stout)
- Vault City Blueberry Session Sour
- Makemake Starstuff III: Cherry Pie
- Brew York Barack Oklava (9.5% big, sticky and sweet baklava-inspired Imperial stout with huge flavours from pistachio, walnuts and orange blossom)
- Brasserie des Légendes Hercule Stout
- Loose Cannon Robust British Porter
- Broad Town Black Llama
- Box Steam Soul Train (white IPA)
I collect the HYG and Barack Oklava and stow them safely away in my rucksack to take home. If I drink even one of those now, I run the risk of falling asleep in the stand. I play it safe and go for the 6% Cherry Pie. I have never heard of Makemake, so I make(make) some enquiries. It turns out they are a microbrewery based in Southsea. Why didn’t I come across them at Portsmouth?
I am confused by the wording on their website ‘happy for (good) dogs to be here and, though The Hop Inn isn’t a ‘family pub’, kids are welcome. We can provide cages if needed.’ Hang on, they put children in cages? I probably shouldn’t approve of that but I never have been a fan of children in
The Hop displays work by local artists on its walls.
Their current tap list is as follows:
- Ramsbury Hop (house best bitter)
- Arbor Mosaic
- Twisted Wheel Speed Wobble (IPA)
- Arbor My Little Sabrony (hazy pale)
- Gloucester Dockside Dark
And on keg:
- Freedom Lager
- Maule Mandarina Pilsner
- Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephaner (golden wheat)
- New Bristol The Joy of Sesh (tropical session pale)
- Otter OPA
- Fixed Wheel Blackheath Stout
There are a lot of cycling-themed beers around today and I am delighted to find Fixed Wheel (my friend Scott’s brewery) here. I am also pleased to see New Bristol represented, as they are my find of the season so far. Look out for them in my end of season awards. These are the two beers I’m having here.
Also, they have pies!
The Hop has eight cask and eight keg on every day, as well as a selection of bottles and cans They deliver locally and will consider national delivery for large orders.
Next door but one – in the Hop Inn’s former premises – is its little sister pub The Little Hop.
There are 11 beers on tap here (five cask, six keg) as well as ‘a record player and a stash of vinyl’. I’m liking the sound of this already…
Recent beer checkins on Untappd include:
- Hop Kettle Tap & Brew Experimental #8 Snakes Head English IPA
- Hop Kettle Ceru Levare (honey beer)
- 71 Brewing Breakfast Toast (milk stout)
- Arbor Grifter (IPA)
- Arbor Nice To Wheat You (white IPA)
- Arbor Basta Rosse (American red)
- Tiny Rebel Peaches & Cream
- Lost & Grounded Keller Pils
Honey beer is another one of those things that I know I don’t like but my brain doesn’t quite compute and I have to order it anyway because it sounds different and exciting. I counter it with a milk stout, which I cannot fail to enjoy.
They have ‘quiz and curry nights’ here, which I’m all over. There are also regular life drawing sessions in the pub.
Now this is our traditional Pub of Choice in Swindon, so I know this is going to be a good un. Indeed here I am greeted with many friendly faces from BASIL (Blackpool Association of Supporters In London) and the Yorkshire Seasiders.
This is a Hop Back Brewery pub, which gets its name from ‘the glue pots nearby coachbuilders would bring into the pub at lunchtime and place on the central stove to keep warm.’ Fun fact for you there.
Recent Untappd checkins include:
- Lacons Legacy (blonde)
- Downton Apple Blossom Ale (pale)
- Hop Back Entire Stout
- Downton Dream (pilsner)
- Hop Back Citra
- Hop Back Summer Lightning (golden)
- Hop Back New Zealand Pale
I’m having the stout and a cheese and onion barm. I don’t think anyone will want to be sitting near me at the match this afternoon.
This is also the pub for you if you like cider, as it wins the Swindon & North Wiltshire CAMRA Cider Pub of the Year every year.
Right now it’s time to head to The County Ground for the match.
Swindon Town v Blackpool
I don’t know what to expect with Blackpool any more, so I don’t even try to second guess them. All I do know is that we can get back in the play-off positions if we win this one today (we somehow slipped back in the week).
TinkerVulcan Critch makes a couple of changes, bringing in Ellis Simms for Demi Mitchell, which seems odd, as the latter is looking particularly sprightly – not unlike a spring lamb – of late. Daniel Gretarsson also comes back in for Jordan Thorniley. We fell in love with Gretarsson last night whilst watching the excellent Blackpool FC Preview Show, in which he confessed to being part of the Blackpool FC supporters club in Iceland prior to signing for us. He seems such a lovely boy – as they all do, really.
This week I had been conferring with fellow Seasiders on fans forum AVFTT and we collectively came up with a number of new chants for current players. Consequently I added another three to my existing repertoire of three, which you can hear me singing on our live watchalong.
Oh, the match? Well the first half was the usual frustrating stuff. We had 72.2% possession and were comfortable on the ball in our own half; but every time we strayed over the halfway line, Swindon were on us like bloodhounds and we struggled to gain ground. And yet we did penetrate their defence a couple of times – and just before half time Simms scored a corker.
The second half was markedly different, with Swindon forced to come out and attack, leaving themselves more vulnerable at the back. They failed to trouble Chris Maxwell in the Blackpool goal, though. Indeed it was Blackpool who scored again – Jerry Yates (now on 18 goals) does not miss from there.
Other than that, little happened. Goodness knows how Mitch Cook’s Left Foot manages to write as much as he does on the matches. If you haven’t read his blogs, I would urge you to do so. You don’t even have to like football – they are just plain funny. And another example of why we creative types need to be let out of the house and back into society soon before it’s too late and we expect Blackpool East and West Walsall to be real.
Check out the highlights of the match below.
So that’s five away wins on the bounce – and not a goal conceded. Bloody typical this is happening during a season when we aren’t there, after the hell I went through on the road with them last season. But of course I’m still enjoying the ride – and the pubs – even if it is all virtual and less tangible.
I skip onto the Blackpool Supporters Association coach prepared for a journey home that doesn’t feel so long with three points in the luggage rack. I plug in my AirPods and binge on The Bold Type all the way home.
NB Pics above are taken from the websites referenced, as this was a virtual trip.
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