The outing begins in time-honoured fashion with our morning ferret, the Midland Metro taking us from Bradley Lane to Booth Street as Mr D9 anticipates some serious Smethwick-based industry. Rabone Lane's metal refineries therefore offer swarf and sulphur as we reach the ghost of a transport location next to the Old Corner House pub. Soho Station stood in this vicinity from 1867 till 1949 but little trace of it remains, the area having been subject to extensive clearance and road realignment over subsequent years - a bald spot shot becomes our token gesture to the site's existence.
- Spotted at Soho Station Site -
The winds of change are very much still evident here today thanks to the construction of the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, a seven storey medical masterpiece that is taking shape on a 16 acre brownfield plot off Grove Lane. Cranes tower overhead as we witness brand new development juxtaposed with the rotting dereliction of abandoned factories. A bonus Cranford Street closet gets some D9 attention as we count up the lost pubs of the locality - the London Apprentice, the London Works Tavern, the Moilliet Arms and the Queens Arms have all closed down in recent memory.
- Hospital construction continues... -
The Secretary's top target for the morning involves tracking down the ex-M&B cricket ground once associated with the Cape Hill Brewery. To get there we flirt with Winson Green, passing the sad ruins of the Bellfield Inn (still somehow standing) then taking terraced backstreets through to Rotton Park Road where a corner hardware store seems bedecked with plastic birds. City Road next to Portland Road and the ground itself, the facility now serving as the base for Warwickshire's second XI and youth squads. Historically the venue hosted County Championship and Birmingham League matches so it's pleasing to see cricket being at the forefront of a recreational resurrection.
- Mr WME meets Papa Winson -
Our rendezvous with Nick Turpin is rapidly approaching but we cannot miss out on some belated 'Big Hoot' owl-spotting carried over from last autumn. Summerfield Park is home to Papa Winson, a community-designed owl that remains proudly perched in public view whereas most of its fellow creations were auctioned off for charity. The park's neatly maintained flowerbeds provide an inviting backdrop to our sculptural snapshots although the adjacent disused police station is nowhere near as attractive.
- Nick Turpin feeling fruity -
A busy 82 conveys us to the centre of Birmingham via Spring Hill and Sand Pits, although the diversions in place due to the Paradise Circus works mean we face an endless weave to Moor Street followed by a sprint on foot to Smallbrook Queensway. We just about meet Nick in time only to be informed that our passes aren't valid on the 144 bus, an irritation compounded when the 11:49 train is full and standing at New Street. Marooned in Brum for another hour, we decamp to the Shakespeare on Lower Temple Street for a contingency drink and a Nick Turpin revelation - our favourite highwayman is now owner of a bright yellow banana box and uses it to insist that Chairman D9 pays our Yorkshire Blackout bill.
Carriage capacity is slightly better on the 12:49 departure so we make it to Bromsgrove somewhat behind schedule and head straight for the festival, held as ever at the local rugby club. Entry is secured for £10 a piece then we can peruse the ale arrangement in the large marquee, complete with a London Bar special selection of offerings from the capital. A pirate theme has been adopted for this year which probably explains the unusually high number of Captain Jack Sparrow lookalikes dotted about - Aaarrr lad! Orchid Vanilla Mild, Fat Neck IPA and Stout Coffin are our opening choices before we take up residence in the clubhouse and consult the programme in more detail.
- Comparing ales in the Clubhouse -
Shiver me timbers, there be cracking beer bounty to be had out among them there stillages!! Secretary WME makes sure to try the intriguing White Stout (Bad Seed Brewery) and the Coach House Blueberry Bitter (fabulously fruity) while Lymestone's Stonewall Penalty proved more satisfying than the England football team's latest performances. Nick Turpin's charcoal cravings are ably attended to by Kinver's Black Ram and Five Points' Railway Porter whereas Chairman D9 chose to Rock the Kazbek before declaring himself to be a Horny Goat (no arguments there old chum).
- Tombola Topiary -
Time passes quickly when you're having fun or so the adage goes; the saying certainly holds true for us, so with tokens spent up it's almost time to bid the Banana Box Bandit goodbye. Tombola tradition must not be ignored though so we take turns to draw winning tickets - a gravy boat for the Chairman, some mulled wine for Nick Turpin and a trio of garden topiary balls for the Secretary (although that last prize would later mysteriously go missing during the course of the evening). As Nick makes plans to catch his train, the Chairman and Secretary avail themselves of the number 43 Diamond bus through to Charford, an outlying housing estate served by the Golden Lion on Austin Road (a modern Marston's box effort that's alright for a swift visit). Other features here include a Co-op convenience store, St Andrew's Church and South Bromsgrove High School.
- Black Cross Baldness -
Mr D9 has fond memories of the days when he lived near Bromsgrove so he's in his element when we explore the town centre. A brief darts blast in the Olde Black Cross results in a 2-1 win for WME, a victory we follow with a cob and some Malvern Spring ale at the nearby Little Ale House micropub. The Wishing Well has become a holistic therapy centre so D9 decides on a splash and dash in the Grove (purely to ward off any bladder emergencies) then there's a minor panic when our intended return bus is late arriving. Visions of grovelling apologies haunt us until the 42 finally appears, meaning we just about make our train connection along with several other folk who've enjoyed the hospitality of the Redditch & Bromsgrove branch of CAMRA.
In all the excitement we've forgotten to reveal our silly songs for the day, so the homeward tram ride gives us an ideal opportunity to
inflict listen to some singing fish heads courtesy of the Chairman. WME's gem is a Stargazers ditty about newly-born children, chosen specially in honour of the D9 family's latest addition - welcome to the world little Evangeline - although the fact the tune also happens to mention bald spots is surely just a coincidence! At moments such as these it is only right and proper to wet the baby's head hence a final nightcap in the Travellers Rest at Moxley allows us to maintain this most excellent custom. Cheers!
- A Celebratory Cheers Shot -