Friday, November 23

Chip Foundation Correspondence

Wednesday 21st November and the Chip Foundation's 2012/13 close season itinerary commences with a tour of Smethwick and Birmingham. As an added treat, Secretary Stephen has brought along a relic of a 1992 diary containing the Foundation's minutes from a full twenty years ago - dusting off the pages, we prepare to uncover progress and parallels from the passage of time...

SMETHWICK: Rolfe Street Station is our present day starting point, alighting from our train for a stroll along Smethwick High Street. Something about the Old Talbot sends Nick all a-shuddering whilst other notable features include the Blue Gates (constructed in 1932) and a former tollhouse. The autumn leaves mark the passing of another cricketing summer but the game is never too far from our thoughts, so we welcome the sight of Broomfield, the home ground of Smethwick Cricket Club, as we wander by The Uplands.

OLD CHAPEL: There are some nice old corners of Smethwick and none more so than down by the Old Church with its appealing slice of historic character. The Old Chapel pub next door offers our first refreshments of the day, and whilst the hoped-for real ale didn't materialise, a half of M&B Mild is at least a traditional Smethwick tipple. Sitting in the bar, Stephen digs out the diary and recalls lunchtime visits to bygone Wolverhampton venues including the Exchange, the George and the Tatton Sykes. It seems that library closures were very much on the agenda back in 1992 as well, although the greatest revelations are reserved for the drinks notes, Stephen being partial to bitter shandies whilst Nick was often ascribed with a Grolsch.

- Smethwick Old Church -

SPRING HILL: we head off in search of the 82 bus, intercepting the route by the Barleycorn on Bearwood Road - the pub is highly distinctive with its round frontage but seems to have been unused for several years. Hopping on the bus, we negotiate familiar Cape Hill congestion and pass the former M&B Brewery site followed by City Hospital. The landmark clock tower of Spring Hill Library is our cue to alight, and whilst we would applaud Tesco for helping safeguard an iconic gothic building, the sight of a supermarket grafted onto the side of a library doesn't sit that easily with us.

JEWELLERY QUARTER: the Chip Foundation are no strangers to the Jewellery Quarter these days, and the Chamberlain Clock greets us like an old friend as we approach along Warstone Lane. Our chosen pub here this time around is the Rose Villa Tavern, where I am a confirmed admirer of the exquisite tiled interior. Some Thornbridge Pollards is an excellent accompaniment to ornate fireplaces, antler light fittings and some very comfortable armchairs.

- Tugging on tassels -

SHAKESPEARE: we don't have to go too far for our next pub, so the suitably hatted 'Nickolenko' leads a walk down Frederick Street to Summer Row where The Shakespeare shines out in the encroaching darkness. The pub is part of the Nicholson's brand and offers a suitable degree of reverence to the Bard, including framed cast lists for various plays such as Anthony and Cleopatra. Nestling in a dimly-lit corner, we discuss the 1992 diary in more detail, debating the political situation in the country and wondering whether things have really got any better. Stephen ponders the progress made by English cricket whereas Nick hails technological developments whilst getting to grips with some theatrical tassels.

- Bears in The Bull -

GUN QUARTER: Lionel Street takes us directly below the BT Tower and we then shimmy around St Chad's Cathedral where the pavements are illuminated by little spotlights. The Gun Quarter is home to The Bull, an established favourite although we bypass the crockery today in favour of sitting by the stained glass signs in the pub entrance. The Beardsmore belly is rumbling so a call into The Square Peg resolves the appetite anguish, the ham, egg and chips of 2012 being not too dissimilar to the sausage and chips fare that was usually consumed in 1992.

- Beardsmore in The Bacchus -

BACCHUS: Corporation Street in central Birmingham is eerily devoid of traffic in preparation for the construction of the Midland Metro extension to New Street, although we note that in 1992 the tram was still a few years away from being reintroduced. Burrowing beneath the Burlington Hotel, we complete proceedings in the fantasy kingdom that is the Bacchus Bar, where Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Arthurian influences all intermingle for a surreal sense of wonderment. The 1992 diary doesn't go back quite as far as classical civilisation but it has provided plenty of food for thought during the day's endeavours, and we look forward to filing further 2012 minutes in due course...

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