Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

Blackpool v Millwall: St Annes Pubs & The Gurkha

Diet notwithstanding, I’ve decided it’s high time I get out and about around the pubs of the Fylde Coast more often. Much as I’m all for promoting other football towns, I love my hometown too and am keen to encourage more visitors to the seaside. Blackpool away is, after all, the first fixture everyone looks for. So I’m starting this blog with a new pub adventure…

Farm Yard Brew Co @ The Hop Shoppe

On Thursday night I couldn’t resist this Meet The Brewer night at St Annes’ newest (at the time of writing) bar and bottle shop. I used to enjoy events such as this in my Birmingham CAMRA days and it seemed like a fine excuse for a cheeky Thirsty Thursday.

The event kicked off at 1900 but, according to t’internet, The Hop Shoppe closed at 2000. I hoped that was wrong. It would make a refreshing change for a pub to stay open beyond its advertised opening hours, as the reverse is more often the case these days.

First impressions were good: the bar looked inviting on a cold winter’s night. Apologies for the streaky photo; my hands were covered in handcream and no amount of wiping my lens on my (now noticeably looser) jeans was clearing it up.

Immediately on stepping through the door I was greeted by a table full of friendly Blackpool Fylde & Wyre CAMRA members who were already enjoying the beers. It was lovely to receive such a warm welcome and it seems I had more drinking buddies on the Fylde Coast than I realised. We drinkers have a knack of finding each other…

At length I progressed to the L-shaped bar at the back of the room, pausing to study the beer board en route.

Of course I was never going to resist that imperial stout. But I couldn’t start with it…could I?

As I waited quite a long time to get served, I spotted a pile of flight boards on the bar. That looked promising. I contemplated which three beers I wanted to try, eventually settling on the IPL, Hoof and Impish or Admirable? And then I waited a little longer, watched the bar being cleaned and began to wonder if I was invisible. Had I really lost that much weight?

‘Are you being served?’

‘No. Do you serve flights?’

‘Yes – you can have three from the tap or three cask.’

‘Oh. I wanted to mix and match.’

‘Oh no – you can’t do that.’

My head was already hurting and I hadn’t sampled the imperial stout yet.

Of course it was possible for me to mix and match; all this meant was that I couldn’t take advantage of the three for £6 on draft or three for £4 on cask. Which was fine. I’m not really concerned how much beer costs or how it’s brewed – I just like drinking beer that tastes good.

£6.37 – go figure.

I rested my flight on the table and gravitated towards Andy and Gary from the Cask & Tap. I’m not spending nearly enough time in their excellent hostelry and it was lovely to have a proper catch up with them tonight. I’m always made very welcome in their pub. Indeed they have a tangerine tee waiting for me in there, so I really do need to pay them another visit soon. Andy said so many times ‘don’t go putting that in the blog’ that I’m not sure what I’m allowed to write about our conversation, so I’ll just leave it at that.

In the room to the left as you walk in, there’s a wall of fridges, which caught my eye. However there was a table blocking access as well as a prohibitive sign overhead.

I love a good rummage in a fridge and handling the cans while I decide on my Dangerous Drink of Choice. With these fridges inaccessible, that small (and previously unappreciated) joy was snatched away from me. Whilst I took a curious glance at the contents, I had no intention of raiding this fridge; it seemed too difficult. I appreciate the fridge can’t be seen from the bar but for me that seemed like a design flaw for which the customers were being punished.

What I loved about tonight’s event was that there was a Farm Yard rep circling the room with a tray of beer samples for customers to try. What I didn’t love so much was that he kept completely bypassing me. Eventually he did hover in our general vicinity and I attempted to engage him in conversation, for no other reason than to prove to myself that I really wasn’t invisible. However his reply and all subsequent conversation was directed towards the men I was standing with. I know I’m short but surely he must have noticed I was there?

I began to look around the room for things that I liked, keen to offer a balanced review despite feeling angrier as the evening progressed. And I found plenty.

Doesn’t the Queen look pretty in this picture?
These lights are cool.
Funky glass. Hand by Alistair.
Nice table.
Hops on the ceiling.

My evening was further cheered by a man who recognised me from my blog.

‘I’m leaving now, but I’ll be back soon with my dog.’

He knew exactly what this blog needed. And, sure enough, he was soon back with Dio (named after the singer from Black Sabbath).

I gave Dio a good fuss (despite not really knowing how to fuss dogs; I know cats like their heads skritched, so I just tend to do that). I also apologised for only having Dreamies in my pocket. Can dogs eat cat food? I probably need to start carrying dog treats too, as I seem to encounter way more dogs than cats these days.

Now that my time in Hop Shoppe had peaked, I negotiated a migration across to the less-bustling pub across the road, taking pity on the landlord who must have noticed how many of us were drinking over here.

Keg n Cask

I was interested to visit this place and see what it was like on the inside. On my last (and first) visit in the summer (which I don’t appear to have blogged – apologies), it was Table Service Only, so I had only popped in briefly to photograph the pump clips before hastily retreating to an outside table.

As I snapped the pump clips, one of my companions announced that I was from Trading Standards and I hope the landlord realised he was joking.

Half of Lancaster Black in hand, I made a point of exploring the interior. It was way more spacious than I’d expected. Here’s what I found:

Wall art.
Lighting that looks like a spider.

I must remark on the ladies toilet here. Not only was this the largest cubicle I had ever been in in my life (the bathroom in my flat was smaller)…

…but on the right of this photo there is a door. I noticed this while I was sitting on the loo and couldn’t resist trying the handle. Dear reader, it only opened! And what was in there? Well I was a little tipsy by now – and I didn’t take a photo to back this up – but I’m pretty sure I remember there being barrels and boxes of crisps. It’s a good job my thirst and hunger were already satiated…

We were soon joined by a fair few others and it was lovely to have a natter with my new friends. One (I hesitate to call him a friend, but he’s warming on me) was a Nobber Preston fan who confessed to enjoying reading my blogs, but stopping when I got to the football unless we lost. I also learned about Lee from Fifteens’ affinity with Altrincham FC, which was a pleasant surprise. I confessed I’d never been but was urged to visit.

On the whole, I had an enjoyable night out – the real highlight being the people. There’s something really special about spending time with friends in the pub. I value that more than ever, having missed out on the opportunity to go to the pub for so long these last couple of years. I hereby resolve to get out and about round the Fylde Coast pubs more over the coming months.

Other pubs you might want to visit if you’re in St Annes are No 10 Alehouse and Fifteens.

Friday Night

Blackpool v Millwall

I woke on Saturday morning feeling refreshed after a lovely relaxing evening. I blasted out Buckcherry in the shower and was singing my head off and dancing round the house all morning. Why was I feeling so good on a Blackpool matchday, when we were having a spell of shit form? It made no sense. Was it the post-match curry I was looking forward to? Nonetheless, I decided I was in control of Blackpool’s fortunes today and, the way I was feeling, we were definitely going to win. I dressed in my pristine Lancashire Hotpots tangerine tee:

I decided to veer away from the Earl Grey this morning in favour of Whittards Herbal Chai.

I’d checked with Lee what his plans were for the morning and explained that I had arranged to meet Kelly at the ground at 1400 to give her a Fritidsklader hat for Jacob. I established that a lift at that time was no problem and I looked forward to a relaxing couple of hours ahead of our departure.

And for breakfast/lunch/brunch/whatever-it’s called-when-you’ve-just-got-up-but-it’s-midday, I decided to treat myself to one of those spicy beanburgers that’s been in the freezer for weeks, together with fried eggs and fresh (well technically ten days after their best before date) tomatoes.

As I was preparing this (shall we just say) meal, Lee announced that it was time for us to do our pre-match video in our home studio. I explained that I was busy preparing food but he seemed stressed so I took time out to do the required work.

Now back in the kitchen, I received a call from an unknown number in London. It was The Holly Tree pub concerning my reservation there for Friday (spoiler alert!). This pub was top of my agenda for the Fulham weekender because it has a monorail (that you can ride on!) going around its beer garden. I couldn’t miss that, right?

‘I can see that you want to go on the monorail but unfortunately it doesn’t run on Fridays, except in school holidays. Also, are you sure you want a table outside?’

I was crestfallen. I tried to explain about the Football Tourist’s Guide and how we’d showcase the pub and its little train but she seemed nonplussed. I asked when the train did run.

‘It runs between two and five on Saturdays and Sundays.’

Fat lot of use that was to me. I said I’d have to think about whether I wanted the table at all now, as the monorail was the only reason for my planned visit (much as I hate the practice of cancelling bookings). I was really quite upset about this.

Now Lee arrived in the kitchen and announced that the video we’d just filmed was blurry (there’s always something) so we’d need to film our section again.

‘But I’ve got eggs on the hob!’

Lee was now getting in a strop because I was being difficult / he was stressed (delete where applicable) so I gave in and re-recorded the segment.

Finally, I finished preparing my meal and retired to the back room to eat in peace while watching Dexter: New Blood.

I have a habit while I’m eating – or directly after – of inputting the components of my meal into the SlimmingWorld app, which helps me stay on track of what I’m eating. I was flabbergasted to see that these spicy bean burgers were a whopping eight syns each. I was only allocated 5-15 syns a day and I was hoping to have none at all today ahead of my meal out later. I was annoyed with myself for this schoolgirl error. But I’d eaten and enjoyed this meal, so that was that.

Now Lee arrived in the room, announcing that the segment we’d just filmed was taking a long time to upload from his memory stick and could we pretty please do it again? By now I was furious that my planned relaxing morning was going to shit and was only just managing to keep a stress migraine at bay, experiencing tunnel vision. Of course THAT had been why I was feeling so great this morning: my migraines are usually preceded by a short bout of unexplained euphoria. I downed a couple of paracetamol (frightened that a triptan might trigger a full-blown aura) and dutifully filmed our segment again. I was tempted to walk to the ground by this point to clear my head but time was against me, so I pulled on my boots and coat, put my unlucky hat in my pocket (only to be worn in an emergency cold snap) and waited for Lee to drive me to the ground.

Here I met with Kelly (and Jacob) as planned before queueing to get into the ground. I flashed my COVID pass (today being the last day I’d need this – hooray – it was starting to look rat-eared) and approached the turnstiles to the South Stand. There were three turnstiles here but a steward was blocking the entrances to two of them.

‘Excuse me – I think the next one’s the lucky entrance.’

He allowed me past. This stuff was important.

I strode directly to my seat for some pre-match solitude. I love getting to grounds early and simply being there. It’s my happy place. I chuckled as I observed this down the front of the stand.

Was this the wine and frosé man? Had he stolen the sign? So many questions and I had no answers.

But of course I’m never on my own for long at Bloomfield Road these days. You know how people in classic English novels have set times for ‘visiting’, when people visit them at home? Well 1400-1500 at Bloomfield Road appears to be my drop-in session.

Here was Karen to collect her Fulham and Cov tickets. Still upset, I bemoaned the lack of monorail action this coming weekend, after being so proud that I’d almost finalised my itinerary for the weekend in London. She cheered me up by suggesting that I visit Jeremy Bentham at UCL. You may recall I had been convinced that the eerily-lifelike human figures at the National Museum of the Royal Navy Hartlepool were actual examples of human taxidermy. Well Jeremy Bentham actually IS such an example, having left his body to science. I wasn’t sure whether to be disturbed or pleased that Karen knew that this was exactly the sort of thing I would love to see.

Here were a couple of fellows arriving several rows in front, enquiring after my Orange Aero. I explained that I was on a diet.

‘Oh well you’re looking well on it. Perhaps you could bring a carrot? It’s the same colour.’

Here were the chaps from a couple of rows in front, who we’d met in the Hop & Vine in Hull.

‘I’ve got a stash of Orange Aeros for you!’

I explained that I was trialling the ‘keeping-the-unlucky-hat-in-the-pocket’ method today to see if that worked.

Here was my neighbour, Derek, who explained why Netflix UK drama ‘Stay Close’ (which I’m hating, by the way) was filmed in apparently random locations across the North West (some scenes show a character travelling from Blackpool, then directly across Runcorn bridge). The book was set in Atlantic City and the transport across the bridge is supposed to represent the character’s crossing from her current life into her past life. And, of course, there are no bridges in Blackpool. I made a note to mention this to Lee when he arrived, as he’s been infuriated by the whole setting situation.

Here was Steve on the row in front, who was double-masked today because he was going on holiday this week. This made it almost impossible for me to hear what he was saying, so I edged so close to the point that he might have been better off just not wearing a mask and keeping me at a distance.

Here was Pickle, who was bemoaning the fact that we had no creativity in midfield. I agreed that a midfield dynamo like Kiernan Salmesbury-Hall (or whatever his name is) or Charlie Adam would be a brilliant addition to our squad. I’ll confess I rarely even notice our midfielders.

The vibration of my voice was hurting my head (damn migraine), so I slid back across to my seat for a moment’s silent scrolling on Twitter before kick-off.

Now out came the players. Oh I say – look at that for an away kit.

I’m coming to realise that most of the time I love embracing football culture rather than enjoying the football itself (which, let’s face it, is shit around 80% of the time). I do get why football shirt collecting is a thing. There sure are some corkers out there, this being a prime example. What a stunning and unusual colour.

And now to the match. Well, the first half was the usual loads-of-possession-and-chances-but-no-goals. 0-0 at half time. My headache was not for shifting and I was fed up watching this week in, week out. It was bloody frustrating. Why is scoring goals so hard for us? Why put in all that work if they’re not going to make it count?

I realised this was my first match wearing my new and improved contact lenses. I should be able to see the action much clearer but migraines play havoc with my vision and it took all my powers of concentration and relaxation to maintain single vision. I’d have to wait for the next match when I’d hopefully see much clearer.

Blackpool went ahead in the second half after lovely work from CJ Hamilton set up Shayne Lavery, who needed a goal to boost his confidence. At this point I still wasn’t convinced Blackpool would win. And, true to form, they were under the cosh for the remainder of the match, seemingly panicked and unable to keep hold of the ball. It’s the same every week and it’s not a pleasant watch.

But we did hold on and – thanks to another wondersave from Grimmy near the end – we came out 1-0 winners.

Josh Bowler was outstanding for Blackpool today – I would say his best ever performance in a tangerine shirt. I actually welled up watching him at one point, he evokes so much emotion within me. Maybe that was partly trying to ease the pressure from my migraine; I don’t know.

Here’s our matchday vlog, in which I’m a bit sweary but I’m hoping the above explains my frame of mind at the time of filming.

I should be happy with this result but I’m just not enjoying the football at the moment. I guess it’s a January thing (you may recall I was crying at the Lincoln match on the corresponding weekend two years ago).

Shickers Micropub

Post-match, with Lee off to The Armfield Club to DJ a party, I was meeting MG for some post-match grub at 1730 but, when I arrived on Waterloo Road, it was only 1710. I was cold and desperate for a wee, so I decided to call into Shickers for a cheeky half. From across the road I was pleased to note that the queue at the bar wasn’t out the door today – although I could see a small group of men approaching and about to turn into the pub. As I was short on time, I made a dart for the door and made it in before them by the skin of my teeth (horrible phrase).

As the short queue moved forwards and I approached the bar, the men behind me manoeuvred ahead of me. After being ignored at the bar at Hop Shoppe the other night, I wasn’t having any of this, immediately bodychecking them out of the way.

‘Oh, I’m sorry, were you waiting to be served?’

Yes, sir, I am.

I snapped the pump clips and ordered a half of the Golden Cascade (apt, as I needed a wee).

Dark pic, dark pub.

After visiting the Ladies, I headed to the room on the left, where I’d spotted some friends I hadn’t seen in ages. Despite being a flying visit, I managed to secure an unexpected invite to a party as well as easing my headache with a beer. I like Shickers.

The Gurkha

MG had suggested we pay a visit to this Asian buffet restaurant after the match. And boy was this a great suggestion! Immediately on entering we were greeted with amazing aromas and welcome warmth. We were seated at a table against the wall (my preference, with no people milling around you), our drinks order was taken (Diet Coke for me – I’m not wasting my beer allowance syns on lager) and we were invited to head over to the buffet and help ourselves to food. It was rammed in here and I was pleased we had booked.

I headed immediately for the Indian/Nepali counter and helped myself to Pilau Rice, Chicken Biryani and a Hot Lamb Curry.

Phew that curry was hot! I downed my pint of Diet Coke and used two napkins to blow my nose before I’d even finished it. Damn it was was great, though. Such good quality food, prepared with love.

I needed some less spicy food to take away the burn, though, so headed for the Chinese/Thai counter, where I filled a fresh plate with Beef in Black Bean Sauce, Thai Green Curry and Egg Fried Rice. None of this was, of course, any good for my diet. However, faced with all these amazing delicious dishes, how could I resist? After I’d scoffed the lot and was fit for bursting, MG finally piped up.

‘There’s a salad bar round there, you know. There’s lots of nice fruit. And rice pudding.’

RICE PUDDING?!?! I was straight over there.

Ooh look – you can see me in the spoon!

Oops cheesecake too – but, in my defence, I did select the smallest piece.

I was well and truly stuffed now – with indigestion kicking in. But, do you know what? After a lovely relaxing couple of hours in the company of friends, my headache had shifted and I was now feeling much better overall.

There was a lot of love for Joanna Lumley in here, which confused me, before MG explained that she had tirelessly campaigned for the rights of the Gurkhas, which you can read all about here.

I opted to walk home, despite the offer of a lift from MG, taking the main (safer) roads. It was a lovely mild evening for a walk. I could have kept walking for hours.

Back home, I settled on the sofa to finish off the series of Dexter: New Blood. It’s worth a watch if you haven’t seen it.

And that, dear reader, was that.

Next up: A Football Tourist’s Guide to London (we’re going anyway, even if the Fulham match is off as a result of international call-ups/COVID/whatever, as we’ve got stuff booked).

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