Long black coat. Black hat, Homburg? Battered brown leather briefcase comes asking questions.
To be honest, I felt a bit of a fraud. I mean I’m not in the same league as Martin or Simon, am I. It became quite obvious when Mr Protz started asking stuff like how many pubs we’d done? ‘Nearly 11,000, but only 3,500 in the latest guide.’ said Martin. Simon followed up with a couple of thousand. Me? All I could manage was – don’t know, don’t keep any records. Not like their highlighter penned, nearly all ticked off Good Beer Guides. Martin goes for pink, Simon prefers green.
I thought he might be quite old, I’m not young myself. It’s the twinkle in his eye that gives his real age away. I didn’t get it a first. I’m not sure he knew what he’d got neither. After twenty minutes sat in a pub that was once surrounded by steelworks, the crucible tilted, fiery streams of information transformed in the furnace poured forth; things I’ll never know, places I’ve never been. There’s so much writing he still wants to do. He’ll never retire.
I’d joked earlier that I might need a hand lugging a large heavy suitcase full of Roger Protz books down to Kelham Island for him to sign. I don’t think anyone was surprised when I hadn’t brought them. I think Martin and Simon secretly thought it was a bit condescending getting Mr P to autograph stuff, but it didn’t stop them asking him to sign their Good Beer Guides. Perhaps this one, will be ‘the one’ they complete?
Roger carefully weighed the BRAPA copy in his hands. Simon cautiously explained he’d cut out the brewery section to make it lighter for his travels. It just reinforced to me how seriously they take this pub ticking business. I likened them to Butterfly Collectors, hunting out rare specimens, pinning them to a board, cataloguing, then carefully storing everything away. But do they ever pore over them at some later date?
Me? I’m just a Butterfly flitting from one pretty flower to the next, biding a while where there’s a plentiful supply of sweet nectar, frequently returning to the same bower.
They never stop talking about it neither; have you … when did you … ? Roger couldn’t get a question in edgeways at one point and at times I’m sure Martin and Simon never realised he was actually there. Good interview technique, listening.
I couldn’t single out my favourite pub, I mean there’s been so many, over a good few years, even though I’ve only been blogging about it for a couple. I’d prepared some answers. I’d even done a list of questions, but I forgot them too, and he’s such a nice bloke you’ve got to tell him the truth. It’s the one I’m in now, that’s what I meant to say, but it came out as something else. I hope I said Whitelock’s or somewhere like that?
I was quite surprised when there was no pre-prepared itinerary. The meeting point was Kelham Island’s Fat Cat. I travelled with Simon from Leeds. As we walked down West Bar we decided on Shakespeare’s and possibly a new micro pub opposite, and The Kelham Island was an obvious next stop.
Sheffield Tap seemed a good end point, waiting for trains. I actually did it twice because once we’d waved Roger off, we nipped up to The Rutland for one before I returned. Martin said something like, ‘You should never go back!’ It’s better than waiting on the platform though. He was meeting up with his son for a curry after I left him and then going to try and knock a pub off in Kimberworth Park, a far flung part of Rotherham, where coincidentally my Nan’s family come from.
So what did I think of it all, meeting beer writing Royalty? Actually, I was quite reassured after chatting with Roger; Bass is nothing like the beer it used to be. Ditto Marston’s Pedigree. Beavertown’s blood orangey thing is one of the nicest beers he’s had in a long time. And yes, Marston’s have become like the old Big Six were, confirming what he alludes to in the introduction to GBG 2018.
Obviously Martin, a big fan of the voracious Dudley & Wolverhampton Brewery group, Draught Bass, 2 for 1 pubs and the likes of Ember Inns had his fingers in his ears at this point going, ‘Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, not listening!’ Simon didn’t say anything. Like he says, he doesn’t know anything about beer and he’s not really interested.
Mr P asked us all which was the most isolated pub we’d been to? Martin and Simon had been to places miles from anywhere that only opened for ten minutes every other Wednesday, reached by a bus service that only operates once a week between October and December. I admitted I’d once walked up North Street in Wetherby as far as the Royal Oak.
Roger seemed interested? He explained that Michael Jackson was born and lived in Wetherby. I said I’d be surprised, I’ve never noticed that level of diversity and the nearest thing we’ve got to Neverland is the Christmas Spectacular at Stockeld Park.
Whilst discussing beer writing, I wondered about the benefits of the British Guild of Beer Writers? Roger thought it was a good thing, there’s an awards evening with honours for good writing. I was sceptical, it’s all a bit London centric really isn’t it this beer writing game? Roger agreed with me on this, which is strange really because you can wear a lot of shoe leather out trying to find a decent pint in London, yet in one afternoon we’d had five outstanding drinks in five fantastic pubs and all within a short mile of Sheffield Midland Station.
Black coat. Black hat and battered brown leather briefcase shook hands, said goodbye and walked out of Sheffield Tap heading in the direction of platform 15, and Martin prostrated himself on Grinders Hill.