Saturday, June 23

D9 Conquers Cradley

Friday 22nd June 2012 provided the next meeting of the newly rechristened Anti-Hub Marketing Board as Chairman D9 and myself did a round trip covering Quarry Bank, Colley Gate, Lyde Green and Timbertree...

We convene at 1pm at the West Bromwich Hub fearing a repeat of the weather from our Warley trip two weeks ago - thankfully the D9 umbrella did the trick by scaring the rainclouds away. The 404A is on hand for our journey to Cradley Heath, during which I fill D9 in on the plans to overhaul the Wolverhampton Library Service (hence the Anti-Hub stance we have now adopted). At Cradley Heath Station we acknowledge the location of the former bus garage opposite (now Hawks Cycles store) before testing out the Banks’s Bitter on offer in the Waggon & Horses whilst watching the tennis from Eastbourne.

- Upping the Anti in the Waggon & Horses -

QUARRY BANK: The first major item on the afternoon’s agenda was a stop at Quarry Bank, noting the customary heavy traffic on the climb up towards the Merry Hill Centre. The White Horse is a backstreet Marston’s local trying to re-establish itself under new tenants – I liked the pub’s traditional features including a tiled fireplace and a bowling green. We also did some Waggle Dancing in the Church Tavern with the aid of a cheese and onion cob, Mr D9 thought he'd got himself a discount for a second there.

- The Church Tavern, Quarry Bank High Street -

NETHEREND: Next on the schedule was our now-customary ferreting interlude. Stevens Park catches our attention so that Mr D9 can investigate the old toilet block, then we weave our way through the woodland of Bobs Coppice to check on the deteriorating state of the former Saltbrook pub. Mogul Lane leads us past the gates of the closed Clancey foundry followed by Netherend Square with the Neighbourhood Centre. The Unitarian Chapel is a proud landmark as we head for Park Lane ready to display more of our modified board banners.

- Bald Spot Business at Stevens Park Closet -

COLLEY GATE: Pubs return to the fore as we proceed towards Colley Lane. Much to my disgust, D9 claims a genuine victory in the Discount of the Day battle thanks to a sneakily cheap round in the Widders, and we also found time to sample the Gate with its Hanson’s Brewery insignia still proudly intact.

- Modified Marketing in the Park Lane Tavern -

LYDE GREEN: Mapletree Lane takes us past the rear of Cradley Library and we can offer a nod to St Peter’s Parish Church as we descend the hill towards the River Stour. This brings us to Lyde Green and a pub I have had my eye on for quite a while, the Vine – well worth a quick half once you’ve negotiated the bushy stuff growing around the main door.

- The Timbertree, Valley Road -

TIMBERTREE: It’s over to the Chairman to put together the last vestiges of the meeting, and his wildcard addendums include the Bull Terrier on Surfeit Hill Road (a friendly community local with, as you might expect, a distinct canine theme) and the Timbertree (following in the footsteps of his Uncle Les who used to drink there in the 1970’s apparently). With all discounts, dives and closets duly acknowledged and recorded, the session was drawn to a conclusion with all members highly satisfied with the achievements of the day.

- Cheers! (from Lyde Green) -

Saturday, June 9

Wet Weather Warley

Friday 8th June and you'd think we'd be getting on towards the height of summer, surely? Instead it's brollies, hoods and waterproofs (and pubs!) that are the order of the day for the Hub Marketing Board’s latest afternoon out, during which Chairman Mr D9 displayed his new ‘extreme bald spot’ hair style…

OLDBURY - 12:30pm is the designated meeting time as we congregate at the West Bromwich Hub ready for the 404 ride to Oldbury. The Chairman’s updated haircut was immediately into the action as we sought out the new Wetherspoon’s housed in Oldbury’s former public library. The Court of Requests is an excellent conversion, retaining various shelves of books to make me feel very much at work! We stock up on Old Thumper and gourmet burgers with a side order of ‘gourmet gas’ for Mr D9.

- That Rainy Day Feeling -

– the weather is absolutely foul but we brave the deluge for a rummage around by the Merrivale, where we lament the closure of another landmark pub but console ourselves by finding a vintage closet in the undergrowth (Mr D9 was so excited he almost fell down an open manhole). The Thimblemill was still bedecked in the Jubilee spirit for our next escape from the rain.

- Thimblemill Library -

BEARWOOD – there are two more landmark pubs to contend with here, but what else can you do when the elements conspire against you? The Abbey was one of Mr D9’s locals about ten years ago and he tells me it hasn’t changed much since, whilst The Bear Tavern gives us chance to go ‘barrel-spotting’ as the Chairman uses our window perch to do some impromptu reliability checks for route 82. For the record, we spotted Double Barrel but the original was not in attendance.

- In the Bear, minus hair -

WINSON GREEN – the rain seems to be easing off a little, allowing for a bit of backstreet ferreting around Grove Street; sadly we couldn’t find the George so our suspicions that this might now be the Hono (Oh No!) Bar seem well founded. Winson Street brings us to the Bellfield, a sorry sight latterly but the shell of the building still conveys a sense of the traditional backstreet boozer this place once was. A quick Outer Circle hop brings us to the Acorn, a pleasant surprise of a pub with hints of old tiling. At least Andy’s criminal haircut narrowly avoided earning him a stay in the prison over the road!

- The Bellfield, Winson Street -

HOCKLEY – after a very brief call at the Devonshire Arms (dubiously notable for some industrial-strength vinegar masquerading as Guinness), we found our way into the Railway, a proper no-frills local where the Euro 2012 football tournament was underway on the TV screens. We then convened in old favourite the Black Eagle, keeping dry over a pint of What the Fox’s Hat (Church End) whilst ensuring the full Hub Marketing promotional regalia was proudly visible.

- Vinegar -

KENRICK PARK – time is tight but with the weather predictably improving just as we have to head home, we sneak a final furtle around Kenrick Park where Andy homes straight in on the toilet block. The Cricketers Arms is our last stop of the day, coming to the crease with a cheap round of Tetleys that firmly ensured Mr D9 stole the Discount of the Day award, the cheek of it! Onto the Metro at Trinity Way and the Hub Marketing Board meeting was officially adjourned until next time. Despite the weather it had been an excellent afternoon, christening the new hair (what’s left of it) and pinning a few more markers into our hub pub map of the West Midlands.

- Cheers! -

Tuesday, June 5

Bears On Tour: Derby

Monday 4th June 2012 and the Diamond Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend continues with some cricketing action in the East Midlands. The County Ground, Derby was the stage as the Warwickshire Bears took on the Derbyshire Falcons in a Clydesdale Bank 40-over match...

I made my way to Wolverhampton Station for 10:30am where I met up with Stephen, Nick and Ken, all of us looking forward to the action ahead. Despite delays earlier in the morning, our trains ran very smoothly with a slight hold-up to the Nottingham service at New Street actually working in our favour. We therefore touched down at Derby just after mid-day with plenty of time to get to the ground.

So much time in fact that we decided to make use of one of Nick's pub recommendations. Barely a two minute walk from Derby Station brings us to The Brunswick, a celebrated homebrew pub that acts as a centrepiece to the surrounding railway cottages. The choice of real ales is excellent with several guest beers accompanying those that are brewed on the premises - I opt for the Brunswick Caramild whilst Nick and Ken sample the Railway Porter. Traditional fixtures and fittings mean you immediately feel at home here and it's interesting to see some of the brewhouse equipment at the end of the central corridor. The Brunswick has definitely whetted my appetite for exploring more of Derby's pubs in future, especially as the city considers itself the Real Ale Capital of Britain.

- Brunswick Bears -

Our route to the ground is completed by a riverside path, crossing the Derwent to pass newspaper offices and the Meadow Lane bus depot before we negotiate the busy Pentagon roundabout. The County Ground then appears before us, my anticipation building at the prospect of getting to know another cricketing venue. Ken and Stephen had both been here before and jointly confirmed that the ground had seen much redevelopment over the last few years, with the square notably having been rotated to avoid the batsmen being blinded by the setting sun. The Lund Pavilion and the Gateway Centre are the two primary buildings, the latter looking like it had been transplanted straight out of an IKEA catalogue given its propensity for dark wood cladding. Otherwise there is a mix and match of seating areas to give the whole place the feel of a traditional cricket ground rather than a uniform modern stadium.

- The Gateway Centre -

Derbyshire have won the toss and elected to bowl so at 1:45pm the match gets underway with Chopra and Porterfield opening for the Bears. I hadn't heard of too many of the Derbyshire players anyway but my task is made doubly difficult when it seems half the team has changed from that printed on the scorecard. A couple of early wickets has us fearing another collapse (the Bears having lost dismally at Kent last Friday), so the arrival of the miserably-out-of-form Captain Troughton to the crease did nothing for our nerves. Actually I have to say that Jim batted pretty well until his innings was sawn-off at 34 in a run out mix-up with Tim Ambrose, hopefully that little knock bodes well for future matches. Stephen was threatening to throw himself into the river at this stage so I took over scorecard duties whilst Nick nibbled politely on some walnut cake. Maddy and Ambrose made steady progress with Rikki Clarke adding some lusty hitting towards the end, giving us a total of 242 for 6 (Ambrose 77 not out by way of apology to Jim).

- Ready for the action -

The interval between innings allows the chance for a circuit of the ground, including a squeeze into the Gateway Centre where the club shop felt like an undersized broom cupboard. I did like the gallery showing Derbyshire's capped players since 1946 and I reckon Nick quite fancied having a go in the indoor nets. The players return to the field and I haven't even reclaimed my seat before Chris Woakes reduces the Falcons to 2 for 2. A couple more quick wickets meant the game was effectively over so we concentrate instead on trying to spot fellow Bears fan Edward in the crowd (it turned out he was about 4 rows in front of us!) whilst Stephen demonstrates his own patented method for eating chocolate bars. Stefan Piolet took regular wickets to dispose of the middle order, Jon Clare being the only Derbyshire batsman to make an impression in compiling 57 before being the last man out. In the end Warwickshire secured a comprehensive victory by 105 runs, so the Falcons were tamed without the Bears having to get too grizzly and Stephen was spared his dip in the Derwent. All that remained was to get to Derby Station and catch our train home and another successful Bears adventure was completed.

Pelsall and Clayhanger

Saturday 2nd June 2012: It's the start of the Jubilee Bank Holiday Weekend so I set out to celebrate with some diamond-standard exploration across Walsall way...

PELSALL: I get started with a ride on the 89, making the most of the connection direct from Wolverhampton to Pelsall where I can get reacquainted with one of my favourite corners of Walsall. I really do like Pelsall a lot because of its combination of traditional shops and amenities based around various sections of common. Even so, today's visit is extraspecial because, in one of those serendipitous accidents that happens from time to time, I appear to have unwittingly stumbled across a Jubilee Proms Concert being held in the Queen's honour. There's bunting aplenty, a funfair, display stalls and a performance stage whereby even the overcast conditions cannot detract from the community spirit on show. I also made sure to photograph two Pelsall landmarks that had previously escaped my clutches, so my shots of St Michael & All Angels Church and the famous Fingerpost direction sign added to the sense of occasion.

 - Jubilee Proms on Pelsall Common -

CANALS: Next comes a bit of relaxation with a canal double-header around Pelsall Junction. First is the Cannock Extension Canal, which I follow into Staffordshire through a sequence of bridges (Friar, Pelsall Common, Green and Wyrley Grove) to reach the Norton Canes Docks and Boatbuilders off Lime Lane. The Wyrley & Essington then comes to the fore as I plot a course from Yorks Bridge to Jolly Collier via High Bridge and The Slough. It was quite therapeutic strolling along to the trills of birdsong and the breeze in the trees, adding all the time to my knowledge of the local waterways.

 - Wyrley Grove Bridge -

CLAYHANGER: a small village on the edge of Brownhills which seems to have mushroomed with new houses over recent years. Facilities include a Co-op supermarket, a couple of takeaways, a recreation ground and the combined Holy Trinity Church and Primary School, although my main target is the former George & Dragon pub, now home to the local Community Assocation and the Little Dragons day nursery. My visit is completed by a wander across Clayhanger Common, a local nature reserve with ponds and grassland that provides a rich mix of wildlife habitats.

- Former George & Dragon, Clayhanger -

BROWNHILLS & SHELFIELD: There is just time for a few little titbits as I begin the journey home. I steer clear of Brownhills Town Centre on this occasion, favouring instead Lindon Road where Anchor Garage and the Wheel both catch my eye - the latter has been closed for some years but would surely still make for a decent pub if the right person got hold of it? A quick ride on the 10A brings me to Shelfield where I can reconnect with the 89, but not before I've enjoyed a little look at the Spring Cottage (now a Co-op store) and taken a mooch through High Heath to see what has happened to the former sites of the local library (still wasteland) and the Four Seasons pub (now housing). The 89 completes the job for my ride home, and I was pleased to see that the Jubilee Proms was still attracting quite an audience well into the afternoon.

- The Wheel, Brownhills -

An excellent day getting into the Jubilee spirit!

Sunday, June 3

WME Flickr Focus: May 2012

What's all this then? Another month gone, and as things gather pace for an epic summer of Jubilee and Olympics, permit me a moment of reflection as I glance back over May's contribution to the WME Flickr Photostream...

This shouldn't actually take that long because there isn't much to report anyway. The only part of my archive to receive any kind of attention was WME Solihull, where 39 arrivals slotted into position to firm up the initial 11 photos I'd provided in January and April. Returning to the fold then are Castle Bromwich (the Coach & Horses, Parish Church, local library and war memorial), Marston Green (another library), Kingshurst (views of the River Cole and Babbs Mill Nature Reserve) and Knowle (the park, the village hall, the Red Lion and a pretty shot of the Church). There have been bus-related additions courtesy of Shirley Station's bus stop and routes such as the 26 at Kingshurst and the A6 at Damsonwood, whilst the railways have muscled in with offerings from Dorridge and Solihull Stations - rumour has it there are train shots, back entrances, front entrances, station car parks and even the occasional sighting of a traditional footbridge!

Everywhere else fell mysteriously quiet but the Solihull progress at least means that all the core West Midlands boroughs now have some sort of solid coverage plucked out of my archive. The running totals are as follows; Wolverhampton 366, Walsall 171, Birmingham 237, Dudley 174, Sandwell 106, Coventry 51 and Solihull 50 - a grand tally of 1155 pictures so I am getting there. I will still be winkling out what I can to showcase the immediate West Midlands area but from now on my focus will also be shifting slightly further afield as I re-introduce my representatives from Staffordshire, Worcestershire, Telford and so forth. I just hope it doesn't take me 60 years before everything is properly as it should be!