- Bradley Lane for Starters -
The arrival of our princely patron is still a couple of hours away when the Chairman and Secretary descend upon Bradley Lane right on cue at 9 a.m. The ride to Birmingham allows members to test out the standing capacity on the new Midland Metro fleet, there being just enough space during a busy journey to avoid any dreaded sardine situations.
- The Hair Hub -
We alight at Snow Hill with Mr D9 immediately getting twitchy in the sleeve department, such was his eagerness to pin down an early marker for the spreadsheet. A few doors down Colmore Row he can reveal the Hair Hub, a former barber's shop that definitely requires some marketing treatment although there isn't much of the Chairman's hair left to cut off these days.
- Watt a poser! -
Our morning ferret destination on this occasion would be Paradise Forum, an ugly concrete lump that previously housed Birmingham Central Library. The whole thing is scheduled for demolition as part of Birmingham's ongoing regeneration so we are eager to record the current scene while we still can. We say a quick hello to the Floozy in the Jacuzzi en route before encountering the more august figures of James Watt and Joseph Priestley in Chamberlain Square.
- Bald of Paradise -
The Chairman is like a kid in a sweetshop in among such brutal architecture and goes into photo overdrive trying to record the most hideous 'scenery', becoming so distracted that the bald spot is left totally unprotected near an old car park entrance. Walking through the former shopping centre is an eerie experience with all the units vacated - Wetherspoons, McDonalds and Nandos were among those that had outlets here.
- The Library of Birmingham -
We go from buildings that will soon be part of Birmingham's past to a landmark for the city's future as Centenary Square offers up views of the hive-like new library building - I remain a little undecided as to its aesthetic appeal but there's no doubting it is distinctive. A wander along Gas Street brings back memories of Central TV which had offices and studios in the vicinity.
- Fletchers Walk -
Returning to Paradise Circus, we make sure to survey Fletchers Walk, a desolate tunnel of a shopping precinct buried below Birmingham Conservatoire's Adrian Boult Hall. Admittedly the shops have all closed pending the wider redevelopment scheme but this would have been a depressing place even when everything was open. For the time being the arcade remains accessible as a pedestrian link from Town Hall to the Broad Street subways but it's hardly the most inviting of thoroughfares.
- A Taste of T'Other -
Mr D9 had been tasked with finding us some breakfast but freebie Belvita biscuits being given out in the Bull Ring weren't quite what I had in mind! Nickolenko is ready and waiting by the New Street ticket barrier, and with our extended membership all in attendance we are safe to proceed to Alvechurch, the Weighbridge having been nominated for our opening drink of the day. Some Teme Valley T'Other is just the ticket for the Secretary whereas D9 and HRH opted for the house brew, Bargees Bitter. The pub lived up to the high standards set previously by proving a delightfully relaxed setting next to the local marina.
- Alvechurch Accomplices -
A timetable miscalculation means we scamper back to Alvechurch Station unnecessarily early, the Secretary having to eat a little humble pie although at least we were in position for our next train. Work to upgrade the Cross City line has resulted in an improved twenty minute frequency down to Redditch while Alvechurch Station's second platform and new footbridge continue to bed in nicely.
- Ready for Rocklands -
Alighting at Redditch we brace ourselves for the walk via Southcrest to Headless Cross. D9's influence had clearly been rubbing off on Nickolenko given that 'Bladder Emergency Syndrome' necessitated a pit stop in the Woodland Cottage. Here one of the pub regulars gives us a potted local history as we sup our Doom Bar, and there are plenty of intriguing vintage photos for us to peruse. A short walk later and we reach the Rocklands Social Club, venue for the 8th Redditch Winter Ales Festival - it's good to see the event back on the calendar being as it wasn't held in 2014.
- Celebrating CAMRA's newest member -
With tokens and glasses in hand we dutifully dabble in the range of over 30 ales on offer. Favourites included Kinver's One Fat Lady, Flipside's Russian Rouble and Weatheroak's Portly Miss Stout. As a festival first-timer our Chairman soon gets into the swing of things and before we know it he's joined CAMRA, ringing the hallowed bell to a chorus of cheers. This momentous event was even reported on Twitter with D9 threatening to go viral across cyberspace! Absolution, Excelsior and Faust Banana were also sampled although it was Kinver's Full Centurion that saved the strongest til last.
- The Gate Hangs Well -
The evening was rounded off with a little tour of Headless Cross, utilising the map Nickolenko had printed in advance (excellent planning there). The Seven Stars, the Steps and the White Hart were all options but it was the Gate Hangs Well that got the biggest seal of approval. In between times the Secretary summoned up his knowledge of 1960's music (WME is definitely getting a taste for free pork scratchings) while Nickolenko took a close interest in a New York Metro map. As evening sets in we make our way back to Redditch Station and the marketing merriment draws to a close once more.
- Cheers! -