Tuesday, November 14

Bye Bye Bushbury

Isn't it strange how you can become attached to places as time goes by? Bushbury is certainly somewhere I have a lot of affection for having lived there for almost exactly thirty years, taking me from childhood into my mid-thirties. My time as a Bushbury resident is however drawing to a close, so on Friday 10th November I embarked on a farewell photo tour prior to moving house...

I begin with the local shops on Bushbury Lane where the old Butlers Arms stanchion still stands outside Co-op. I just about remember the pub while the supermarket has progressed through Kwik Save and Somerfield identities. Over the road various shops have come and gone, notably Terry’s Barbers, an old Bensons & Hedges newsagents (latterly incorporated into the All In One Supersave) and the branch post office that has since become home to Ladbrokes.  The other side of the Kempthorne Avenue roundabout is the Good All Chinese takeaway, pretty much unchanged since the late 1980s having supplied the occasional curry treat over the years - I used to catch my school coach to Telford just outside.

- Good All Takeaway -

Sandy Lane conjures up more memories, most particularly of Bushbury Pool where I (and no doubt many others) recall swimming lessons with the fearsome Mrs Turner. I was always a little nervous about going near the deep end, but if I did my lengths properly I might get treated to a snack from the vending machine in the upstairs viewing gallery. The building was a 1960s brutalist beauty/eyesore depending on your opinion, protruding out from Bushbury Hill in angular fashion until its final demise in 2008. Bushbury Hill itself has been the subject of many strolls, looking out over the horizon towards the Wrekin and more recently witnessing the sprawling emergence of i54.

- St Mary's Churchyard -

Indeed, Bushbury walks in general have been the bedrock of my digital explorations, providing a reliable source of inspiration since I first took hold of a camera. St Mary's Church is the very definition of an established photographic favourite, underpinning my WME archive from 2003 onwards. The churchyard looks very overgrown on this occasion though with the main path being diverted due to repairs on the church roof. The adjacent nursery school was once home to Collingwood Library which these days finds itself housed in the Broadway Gardens care home.

- Autumnal Aspects -

Rejoining Bushbury Lane, the autumn colours are spectacular as I approach the dairy farm, an understated yet constant presence that's just always been there. This little part of Bushbury still feels like the countryside with the sights (and scents) of fields and cows, not to mention the gentle chug of the tractor. Next comes Bushbury Crematorium with its East and West chapels plus a Woodland Garden memorial area that seems perfectly tranquil on a November morning.

Northycote Farm has quite a pictorial provenance to maintain having rightly garnered itself many a WME blog mention, usually referencing enchanting animals and the hidden surprise of the herb garden. This farewell account shall be no different with the star attraction being a huge brute of a pig with a brown-caked snout snuffling about in the mud. The sensory garden and the herb patch aren't at their best out of season although the red-veined sorrel still appears to be growing vigorously.

- A Piggy Picture -

From Northycote I nibble into Northwood Park, pausing briefly at Cavalier Circus but there is little remaining trace of the King Charles pub now the replacement houses have bedded in. Northwood Park's public park is more obliging with basketball hoops, scattered leaves and autumn berries to account for; as a lad I would enjoy playing on the swings with my sister. Broadway shopping parade still looks the same even if the names above some of the units have changed over time - Budget Box sticks in my memory as one of the former stores while Collingwood Library was located here for a few years too. I've recorded the passing of the Staffordshire Volunteer (a.k.a. the Vol) previously and don't feel tempted by any Flaming Chicken so I take Rushall Road down to Wood Lane to see if anything is happening at the Woodbine (answer = not much, I doubt it'll open as a pub again).

- Northwood Park -

Oxley is a place that has gone hand-in-hand with Bushbury as a doorstep district so I continue via Church Road to investigate the Church of the Epiphany, followed by a Stafford Road section covering Jackson Hateley Cycles and the ex-branch of Barclays Bank (potentially due to be converted into the Keg & Comfort micropub if all goes well). The Gatehouse and Island House then see me back to Bushbury Lane where I complete my walk by coming through past Goodyears, the former factory now silenced forever. Appropriately enough I’ve covered pretty much the whole length of Bushbury Lane by way of goodbye, and it still seems funny to think all these familiar features won't be part of my daily life anymore.

I may be moving but I very much doubt this will be the absolute end of my Bushbury exploration story. I still expect to be back from time to time, topping up the photo archive and indulging in bits and pieces of personal nostalgia. For now though, I look forward to different horizons from my new address on the other side of Wolverhampton...

Wednesday, November 1

Birmingham Beer Festival 2017

After a few years at the New Bingley Hall in Hockley, Birmingham CAMRA's real ale showcase has relocated to the regionally renowned Custard Factory - Nick, D9 and I therefore made Digbeth our destination for an afternoon of big-hitting brews and curious cultural discoveries...

- A Breakfast Mugshot -
Friday 27th October and the autumn morning mists burn off just in time for me to test the robustness of the Wolverhampton to West Bromwich 79 bus timetable. Mr D9 taunts me with threats of cob penalties but I arrive with moments to spare so the balding one is denied a free breakfast. Our pre-festival nosh comes courtesy of the Great Western Cafe on West Brom High Street, a former pub turned greasy spoon where the bargain prices certainly attract a lot of custom. £3.25 for the Full Breakfast is excellent value, the proper bacon being the star of the show.

- JFK Mosaic -
The plan now should have been to catch the Metro into Birmingham but a lengthy phone call delays Mr D9 at West Bromwich while I forge ahead to the festival. Along the way I can gather some bonus Digbeth photos focusing on the police station (an imposing landmark in Portland stone), the Kerryman pub and the Digbeth Institute (originally opening in 1908 as a congregational chapel but now an O2 music venue). My favourite find however is the mosaic memorial to John F. Kennedy that occupies one corner of Floodgate Street - the inscription reads 'A man may die, nations may rise and fall but an idea lives on'.

- Plenty to choose from -
To the Custard Factory I go, the building so-named as it was here that Alfred Bird & Sons produced their famed brand of custard powder; the family name remains revered by fans of traditional British puddings to this very day. Entering the festival, I quickly gather glass and tokens then see Nick waiting to greet me eagerly clutching some Outstanding Stout. My opening tipple is some Platform 5 Antelope, although I soon progress through a Lucid Dream (a delicious cookie cream stout) and Northern Whisper's Beltie Stout (also very satisfying). 

- Beer Festival Baldness -
Mr D9 finally makes his delayed arrival and is 'rewarded' with a Slap in the Face (a Totally Brewed hoppy blonde ale). Before we know it, D9 is availing himself of the strongest beers in the programme including Burton Bridge's Thomas Sykes and Kinver's Full Centurion - no wonder his bald spot was parading around in full view! Nick's festival favourites comprised Thousand Trades Hazelnut Porter and Anarchy Sublime Chaos whereas I heeded the warning to Never Swim With Piranhas.

- In the Clink! -
Three hours of indulgent imbibing fairly whizz by and the last traces of our tokens are ceremonially scribbled out. I spend up with Stocky Oatmeal Porter (Thirst Class), Nick extracts some Fixed Wheel Blackheath Stout and D9 ends up as a Confused Brummie (no explanation needed). Our festival fun is followed immediately by more beery business literally across the street, Clink being a bottle shop and taproom on the Custard Factory's doorstep. Craft keg is to the fore here with premium pricing to match; saying that, the Celery Sour was most definitely a taste sensation unlike anything I'd ever drunk before.

- Digbeth Street Art -
The modern-day Custard Factory is a hive of activity at the heart of Birmingham's creative quarter, the industrial setting being re-purposed for digital businesses and independent retail outlets. The sheer energy of the location is evidenced by vibrant street art as we wander beyond Gibb Street - some of the designs are beautiful, some thought provoking and some frankly disturbing. A wall of crushed car parts gets the D9 seal of approval while there are celestial ladies, skeletal fish and alien monsters awaiting our admiring glances.

- Dig Brew -
River Street is our next calling point as we seek out a very recent addition to Birmingham's brewing contingent. Dig Brew have turned a converted backstreet unit into a bar and street food operation so we are only too happy to drop in for respective samples of Bitter and Burning Gold - first impressions are extremely favourable! Another place to watch over the coming months is The Ruin on Floodgate Street, newly opened and rather quirky in style. We happen across it completely by accident but quickly begin to appreciate the shabby decor and courtyard murals, not to mention the Two Towers Complete Muppetry real ale.

- The Final Tilt -
Evening is upon us once more as Nick exits stage left by catching his homeward train from Moor Street. D9 and I decide a cheeky nightcap is in order, and having developed a taste for craft we pay our first ever visit to Tilt on City Arcade. A tap takeover by Norway's Amundsen Brewery is underway, allowing us to revel in speciality selections with a non-conformist edge. I thereby partake of 'Lush', a kettle sour Berliner-inspired concoction involving sour raspberry and lime, whereas D9 succumbed to the promise of 'Hoptropolis' Double IPA. Pinball machines are a prominent feature here (Tilt hosts a monthly Monday night league) but we resist any ball bearing battles because the Midland Metro must be caught, bringing to a close a drinking adventure with a difference. Cheers!

Monday, October 30

WME Flickr Focus - October 2017

I'm currently in the process of a major house move so naturally thoughts about the WME Flickr photostream have been placed on the back burner. October was rationed to fewer updates than usual although I did squeak through some noteworthy additions in between boxing up my possessions...

Doing the heavy lifting this month has been WME Sandwell which has muscled its way along the Smethwick Locks flight. A sequence of pictures here show the little toll hut (sadly fire-damaged), lock beams and the Canal & River Trust location sign. While in the Smethwick area, our metaphorical removal van stops briefly at the Old Chapel for a glimpse of the pub interior.

Manhandling a few bulky boxes of its own is WME Wolverhampton which applies ribbons of parcel tape around the Spring Hill area of Penn. The local Co-op supermarket and the Spring Hill pub both feature, whereas a Stowheath Lane street sign narrowly avoids being labelled as fragile. WME Staffordshire meanwhile takes the utmost care with Stapenhill (Burton upon Trent), delicately fixing a couple of New Inn pub signs into their new adopted position. 

Elsewhere, WME Birmingham has been rummaging in the loft to find a Selly Park Tavern sign and a Sherlock Street bus stop - I note too the dusting off of Pebble Mill Road, reminding me of when BBC Birmingham made the significant switch from Pebble Mill Studios to the Mailbox (the WME family relocation is nothing in comparison). WME Coventry's contribution is clearing out the cupboard under the stairs, blowing the cobwebs off the Humber Hotel in the process.

This just leaves WME Telford and WME Shropshire emptying the shed, Telford by grappling with the Randlay Farmhouse pub sign and Shropshire by sweeping up the Sutton Farm shopping centre. That completes October's offerings but if I may be serious just for a moment, November and December will be a busy time as I uproot myself across Wolverhampton and settle into my new home, so please bear with me if the blog and the photostream are quieter over the next few weeks...

Wednesday, October 18

Hub Marketing 2017: Coventry

Friday 13th might be unlucky for some but the date holds no fears for the Hub Marketing Board, especially when our annual Coventry compilation awaits completion. This is the outing we always look forward to more than any other so, with the quiff safely stowed in the Chairman's satchel, we are primed for some ferreting from Finham to Foleshill...

- An early airing for the quiff -
Indeed the 2017 edition quiff enters the action almost immediately courtesy of a D9 driving demonstration aboard the 9A - the Chairman's creations get more elaborate every year and this one involves scrunched up black paper with plenty of sticky tape. We caught the bus outside Coventry railway station just after half past ten, settling in for the short ride towards Finham via Styvechale Parish Church (St James) and Mantilla Drive.

- 9A at Wainbody terminus -
The 9A terminates in a residential estate just off Kenpas Highway, the bus pulling up outside the Green Lane Ex-Services Club on Leasowes Avenue. The Bishop Ullathorne Catholic School is another notable local feature as the Chairman treats us to the vocal talents of Mrs Miller warbling a hideous version of 'Act Naturally'. Via Wainbody Avenue South we make our way to our chosen breakfast venue, the Burnt Post doing the honours in typical Ember Inns style (albeit with a shortage of hash browns). 

- Finham Library -
Next up we venture deeper into Finham by following Green Lane down past St Martin's Church and a small clutch of shops (Finham News, Posh Nails and a piano tuition store). The local branch library can be found on Finham Green Road and is now a community-managed facility operated by volunteers; public library services up and down the country are sadly having to rely on such solutions to maintain provision in the face of ongoing austerity measures imposed on local government.

- The Festival, Fenside -
On a more cheerful note, we continue through to Fenside where the Festival on Leaf Lane becomes our darting destination for the day. The pub is a simple estate boozer with a combined allegiance to Coventry City FC and Glasgow Celtic. Fuelled by Old Speckled Hen, WME Whirlwind edges out a 3-2 victory by virtue of a clinical three dart 101 checkout in the deciding leg that left the D9 Destroyer gasping in awe (or something to that effect). 

- A Social Club Spot -
Availing ourselves of the number 23 bus in order to escape a sharp shower, we relocate to nearby Cheylesmore where the Social Club on Quinton Park demands our attention. The bald spot strides forth to get us signed in, then we can relax by munching scratchings, supping Ansells Mild and watching the horse racing. One club curiosity is a full length bagatelle table with a curved net at one end; Coventry is one of the few places in the country where the game is kept alive.

- Daventry Buildings, Cheylesmore -
Beyond the Social Club, Cheylesmore has much else of interest to keep us entertained. A long suburban shopping parade stretches along the Daventry Road whereby Bosworth's Butchers and Devlin's Newsagents occupy one prominent corner. Quinton Park has a pool popular with anglers and geese although the Chairman is disappointed to discover the closet block has been demolished. The toilets were formerly located on Cecily Road opposite where the Cheylesmore Hotel once stood, the pub site now being home to an Asda supermarket.

- Coat of Arms Bridge -
Elsewhere on Daventry Road, the Open Arms offers another slice of Ember Inns hospitality before the Secretary delves deep into his sleeves to summon up a memorable landmark. Coat of Arms Bridge is a sandstone structure that carries the Coventry to Leamington railway line near War Memorial Park; the bridge is decorated with the carved heraldic crest of the Gregory family, local landowners at the time of construction.

- Earlsdon Closet Conundrum -
War Memorial Park is subjected to a bequiffed Rock 'n' Roll singalong (with apologies to Neil Sedaka and Connie Francis) as members tra-la-la their way to Earlsdon, spotting a historic water fountain on a patch of Stivichall Common. The Royal Oak in Earlsdon itself is a pub that had eluded us previously so we enjoy adding that to our growing portfolio (a swift half of Bass does the job nicely); sadly neither the Watchmakers nor the Albany were open by way of follow-up, and the conveniences adjoining the branch library have been taken out of service.

- Byatt's Brewhouse -
Evening is encroaching upon Coventry now and the Chairman still requires his Bendibus fix, the remaining articulated fleet being due for withdrawal by the end of the year. Route 4 is where the Bendibuses currently ply their trade but luck dictates we end up with a boring Trident for our journey to Holbrooks, drat! The Hollybush provides Mr D9 with a Carling pit stop before Lythalls Lane leads us to Byatt's brewhouse base (i.e. yet another of those new generation brewery concerns that no self-respecting industrial estate should be without). The Coventry Bitter is quality here, easily the Secretary's favourite beer of the day.

- The Bendibus Bash -
The sun is setting on an epic adventure but we cannot leave Coventry before attempting a frantic Foleshill Road finale. The D9 dive detector goes into overdrive by pinpointing the Three Horseshoes combined with the Wheatsheaf - both pubs have a certain downtrodden charm that the Chairman seems to savour even if Secretary WME is distinctly less convinced. We survive to tell the tale though, the number 4 bus then granting our Bendi wish for a closing example of superquiff steering. A Philip Larkin nightcap brings the curtain down, and that's Coventry done and dusted for another year. Cheers!