Tuesday, May 31

D9 does Dudley

Friday 27th May: Walking and beer was the order of the day as Mr D9 Andy and I embarked upon our latest tour of the Black Country…

527: I’d arranged to meet Andy at Dudley for 9:30 so the 527 is my chosen route with its potential for soaking up a bit of time thanks to a sedate run through Northway, Sedgley and Gornal Wood.

Dudley: A few quick photos include the Fellows pub, the Heart Foundation electrical shop and the Shrewsbury Arms before Andy beckons me to the hub to begin the outing proper.

D9 leads on: A leisurely walk and some classic nosing about does us nicely for the morning. We covered a fair few miles, starting with Flood Street and the Fusion nightclub where Andy regales me with more tales of drunken escapades (but no pick-up trucks thankfully). We then spot an Asian lady seemingly blessing her dustbin as we report in for an inspection of Blowers Green's old railway station.

Paradise: A curiously-named corner of Dudley which includes a little war memorial plus two old pub sites; the houses where the Struggling Man was now seem to be pretty much finished and we also spot the old Barley Mow pub on the corner with Blackacre Road at the back of the Nuttall's factory.

- Caroline Street -

Kates Hill: a backstreet shimmy in Dixons Green reveals a penchant for outdoor sofas, a theme that continues as we progress to Kates Hill. Andy seems determined to photograph one particular corner shop whilst my targets include the Ivy House, St John's Church and a nice view along Caroline Street looking towards Dudley Castle.

Warrens Hall: We are gradually weaving our way towards Netherton and our mission is to try and find one of the vents that supplies air into the underground canal tunnel. We therefore have a ferret around in Warrens Hall Nature Reserve as Mr Lunn tries desperately to locate a vent – we do spot one in the undergrowth but it’s a needle in a haystack type thing. We even cross over and explore the open spaces by the Uplands but although we find a pool there isn’t a vent to be had.

Windmill End: With Mr D9 suggesting there might be “a nice surprise around the Bumble Hole” (sounds worrying if you ask me), we head cross country for a look at Cobb's Engine House, a nice landmark to photograph provided that a bald spot doesn't get in the way!

- Do you think it's getting bigger? -

Baptist End: Andy is determined to redeem himself after the vent frustrations so we head up to Lister Road where he reveals the day's star discovery, a little police house with old Dudley County Borough tiles, what a find! Unfortunately he seems to have used up his phone camera memory so some urgent deleting needs to be done. A steady stroll down past the White Swan (with parcel tape windows) brings us into Netherton.

Ma Pardoe’s: a brilliant pub offering a quintessential slice of the Black Country. Today we enjoy a pint of Bumblehole in the front bar, a room that comes complete with ceiling tiles and a backwards clock. Some locals add to the general chatter of the room “’Ow bist Stan?” and that kind of thing. I was surprised that it was Andy’s first ever visit here but I think he was suitably impressed.

Netherton: One pint down and we were hoping for a speedy second but the Bulls Head on St John's Street didn't seem to be open and the Yew Tree on Hockley Lane was catering for a private party.

Dudley No. 2 Canal: a handy little nugget of canal territory starting with Saltwells Bridge and then working our way around by Beech & Sons factory to Primrose Bridge and beyond to Bishton’s Bridge. Its quite a nice section actually with bits of greenery, a hint of a recreation ground and some posh new apartments springing up at Halesowen Road.

Darby End: It really was now time for the day’s second pint as Andy's bladder had been behaving much too well so far. Cole Street brings us to the Gate Hangs Well, a decent local that I'd previously visited with Rog. We try some Mansfield Creamy Smooth and a big bag of pork crunch to get us safely back on track.

- The Gate Hangs Well -

Windmill End: Completing the circle with a Windmill End return but this time it's the pubs we're after. The Dry Dock looks like it's been closed for some time so we have to settle for the Wheatsheaf, which did us alright for a swift half of Boddington's.

238: all this walking and belated supping had meant we’d missed out on the bus rides up until now. We make our way back down by the Gate Hangs Well with the aim of catching the 238, which seemed to be running late due to a diversion. The bus was busy so we squeezed in at the front and had to make do without a D9 demonstration, not that I was overly disappointed as I might have had to sing ‘The Hub Song’ to the tune of ‘I want to ride my bicycle’. The short journey includes calls at Brickhouse Farm (where the Brickhouse pub looks like it might not last much longer) and Rowley Regis Hospital.

Old Bush Revived: The first of our Blackheath boozers and this was a little gem. Located on Powke Lane, it’s a standard Banks’s house in many ways but with its own character complete with a friendly welcome and an array of Laurel & Hardy memorabilia. We enjoy some Cocker Hoop and a tasty cob as I resist the temptation to join in with a rendition of ‘Little White Bull’ by Tommy Steele, the mind boggles.

Waterfall: I could have stayed in the Old Bush all afternoon to be fair but the lure of another Paul favourite was too much to resist. The Waterfall is a Black Country classic in it’s own right although I was concerned the pub name might provoke a ‘waterfall’ of a different kind from Andy’s miscreant bladder. No such problems thankfully as we enjoy a pint of Bathams perched outside on the rustic patio benches - beer and good conversation providing some Friday afternoon moments to relish.

- Cheers from the Waterfall -

The Boat: A short stroll round by Old Hill Station brings us next to the Boat, a Banks's local by the canal on the way to Coombeswood. Just a half in here as we join the regulars watching Deal or No Deal.

Blackheath: into the evening as we conclude our day with a Blackheath swansong. It's not an area that I've sampled much pub-wise, so I enjoyed putting some markers onto the blank canvas. The Beech Tree was handy for photos of the 128 on layover and I rather liked the understated period feel of the front bar, whilst the Malt Shovel scored highly for bar snacks as Mr D9 and I stocked up on pork pie and scotch egg tasters. The Robert Peel at Rowley Village had a homely family feel where we dodged the creche to sit in the 'Gin Tip' with half a Cumberland Ale, and the curtain came down courtesy of the New Inn by Rowley Station.

- A Palmful of Pork -

Rowley Regis: Andy is summoned for his lift home and I just have time to squeak in a photo of the Clock on Nimmings Lane before my 19:05 train. All good things must come to an end as they say but it's fair to say the outing had showcased the best of the Black Country with a mixture of curiosities, off the cuff wanderings and some good pubs, just the way I like it!

Tuesday, May 24

Writer's Block

Scrambling in vain for a delicious turn of phrase -
What is that word that I just can't think of?
I'm sure it begin with a 'p'
...but all I can think of is pomegranate.
A ruddy relentless pomegranate lodged in my brain
And it definitely isn't one of those,
I'd rather have a plum or a 'pamplemousse'
but I digress.

For a nanosecond it was there on the tip of my tongue,
That word - teasing, torturing,
A fleeting flash then fickle frustrations

It'll come to me at four o'clock in the morning,
This answer to the perplexing puzzle of 'p'.
Only it's bound to be an anticlimax -
A quick 'of course' and forgotten again by morning.
The cogs turn, the brain flickers,
Ah there it is: the word, the phrase...

What a...

It sure was!

Saturday, May 21

Bears On Tour

There's been a real concentration of cricket over the last couple of weeks or so as an East Midlands trilogy has kept the 'Bears Brigade' fully occupied. As ever there was a bit of exploring to accompany the on-field action...

Sunday 8th May
: The first leg of three sees us make our way to Wantage Road, Northampton where Warwickshire take on Northamptonshire in a Clydesdale Bank 40 over match. Nick, Stephen and myself are joined by Ken and Edward for this one, with Edward acting as our tour guide to lead us safely to the ground. Northants scored a few too many runs for our liking, and although Ian Bell and Mohammad Yousuf ('Mo-yo') put together a fine partnership, a kamikaze collapse meant the Bears went down to an 18-run defeat. On a brighter note, Wolves beat West Brom in the Black Country derby. On a shadier note, Northampton bus station is a depressing, dark dump - although I did quite enjoy walking through the town centre on a sunny Sunday evening for some bonus photos.

- The Long Room at Northants -

Sunday 15th May: Part two of the tour and this week we're in Leicester with the Bears back in CB40 action at Grace Road. The Sky cameras are also present for this one but despite our enthusiastic placard-waving antics whenever Warwickshire got a boundary I don't think we ever got onto the screen. Half centuries from Josh Cobb and Kadeer Ali steer Leics to 205 for 9 but the innings never really accelerated as we would have expected and the Bears closed out a comprehensive 8 wicket victory - it was just a shame that neither Porterfield or Chopra got a hundred. I quite liked Grace Road as a cricket venue, a proper county ground as opposed to a faceless stadium, and the cakes scored very highly too. We also got a considerable bit of exercise when the ground turned out to be much further out of the city than we'd anticipated; to borrow a Rog phrase, we were practically in Bromsgrove.

- Bears Brigade at Grace Road -

Thursday 19th and Friday 20th May
: Dispensing with the limited overs stuff, our attentions turn back to County Championship matters at Trent Bridge, Nottingham. In the corresponding fixture last year Warwickshire got bowled out entirely twice in the same day, an achievement that still gives Stephen the shudders. Thankfully this year Notts seemed intent on returning the favour, certainly on the Thursday when they collapsed to 117 all out then 40 for 4 following on. Stephen and I returned on the Friday to see Warwickshire complete a most impressive victory despite a fightback from Franks and Voges and some lusty hitting from Andre Adams. Ian Bell looked majestic all match and soon saw off the 6o run target for a 9 wicket win.

- Trent Bridge Pavilion -

I have to say Trent Bridge is probably my favourite cricket venue out of those I've visited - the view from the Pavilion End was excellent whilst the Radcliffe Road stand should be an exemplar case study of what is possible when providing new ground developments that retain hints of tradition. Our Nottingham experiences are completed by a look at Nottingham Forest's City Ground home (with the pitch being dug up) and a celebratory drink courtesy of the Castle Rock Brewery's Vat & Fiddle tap house - excellent!

- Cheers to Victory! -

Thursday, May 12

Taking A Chance Around Solihull

Saturday 7th May: Last Saturday’s outing was something of a PR exercise as, minus the other WARP crew, Rog and I joined forces for a rather wet tour of Soggy Solihull that featured Hockley Heath, Shirley, Dorridge and Balsall Common. Here is the customary account of proceedings…

* Smethwick: The day is off to a damp start as we meet at drizzly Galton Bridge, Rog appearing in full McLaren F1 regalia and already on the lookout for some ‘Fairhavens’ (don’t ask!)

* Solihull: Catching the 9:46 service to Dorridge, we soon arrive at Solihull where the weather has only got worse. A serious downpour sends us scurrying for the bus shelters to plot our next move. The S3 I’d got my eye on doesn’t seem to call at the railway station so we had to catch a rain-dodging 76 into the town centre to meet our Hockley Heath connection.

* S3: A route that came about through the Solihull Network Review providing half-hourly links to Knowle and Dorridge with an hourly extension to Hockley Heath. Somewhat worryingly our Central Connect Optare Solo has a ‘Bus2Work’ livery but we stick with it for an interesting ride out to the edge of the West Midlands.

* Hockley Heath: A border village that was brand new territory for me, so despite the rain this was still intriguing exploration. Landmarks include the Barn Beefeater, the local war memorial and the Wharf Tavern on the side of the canal as we zigzag back and forth across the Stratford Road dodging the largest puddles so that we wouldn’t get soaked by oncoming traffic.

* X20: It was still too early for the pubs to be open and we didn’t feel like hanging around for another three-quarters of an hour. Riding to our rescue came the X20 courtesy of Johnsons whereby courtesy was indeed the operative word, a very friendly service with the driver showing lots of consideration for his passengers. A short ride gives learner driver Rog the chance to test his D9 skills but we both agreed he needed much more practice. Before long we alight in Shirley and track down a pub where we hoped we might watch the F1 qualifying.

* The Red Lion: An ugly lump of a pub from the outside, straight from the 1970’s, but inside it wasn’t too bad. A pint of Titanic’s Steerage goes down well and Rog is pleased when the staff switch on the screens for some motoring action. Our viewing delectation is accompanied by a spot of lunch, a cheap and cheerful curry and chips to be exact, and the protestations of fellow customer Brian who provides our favourite quote of the day, “Who cooked this!?! It’s rock hard”.

* 5: Outside into some rare sunshine with a ride down to Widney Manor via Cranmore Boulevard and Monkspath.

* Widney Manor: A new station location for us and definitely worth a future revisit. There’s a bus turning circle outside that could be handy for photos, whilst the station itself looks relatively new. We would have had a closer look but our train was coming and we had to put in a sprint over the footbridge to get safely on board. At least the dash gave Rog another chance to put his fun-running skills to good use!

* Dorridge: Returning to one of our classic trip locations, and the memories certainly come back when we find that the Forest Hotel is full of wedding guests just as it was when we first called here six years ago. On the positive side I was spared buying an expensive round so there was no need for me to take out a mortgage this time.

* S2A: Rog finally gets his ride on a Central Connect ‘Signature’ bus and he seems to have taken a shine to the stitched leather seats, very smart but somewhat slippery. A trundle up through Knowle and Chadwick End brings us to Balsall Common, terminating at the Station Road roundabout for the signature shot photos.

* Balsall Common: Having escaped in Dorridge, it was now time to put my hand in my pocket and get the drinks in. The Railway Inn was our choice, a nice local pub handily positioned next to Berkswell Station. There are some assorted train pictures on the wall as the barmaid tries to find a football match amongst various obscure satellite channels.

* Berkswell Station: Drinks supped we head next door to see when the train is due, and with remarkably good timing we’ve only got a couple of minutes to wait. The station is undergoing a makeover whereby the derelict station house has been demolished along with the nice old platform building and canopies. In their place a silvery box has appeared that will presumably be the new ticket office – I shall reserve judgement until I see it in full operation.

* Hampton-in-Arden: The 15:21 train arrives on schedule, whisking us 4 minutes down the track to Hampton-in-Arden. Here we can reacquaint ourselves with the White Lion, which combines the charms of an English village pub with some curious Gallic overtones complete with French background music that prompted Rog into some audience participation. He’s also having some fun with a man-eating chair, virtually disappearing before my very eyes. I reckon the seat came from the same batch that nearly swallowed Mr Wood in Dorchester last year.

* Brum: To the second city where we seek out a pub recommended by Nickolenko Pubalotovich. The place in question is the Prince of Wales, hidden away on Cambridge Street behind the new library development and the repertory theatre. It actually was deceptively small and cosy inside with various advertising curiosities on the walls and rugby league on the big screen. Rog thankfully resists the urge to go all thespian although he was saying ‘darling luvvies’ and ‘break a leg’ rather too much for my liking. We then have a little stroll around Brindley Place and try to locate the front entrance to the ITV Central studios on Berkeley Street before catching the 9 along the stop-start Hagley Road.

* Halesowen: Into the evening and our aim now is to enjoy a mini Black Country crawl sampling a couple of further pubs that intrigued us. Top of the list is the Hawne Tavern so we alight just past Halesowen town centre and are spotted by Rog’s brother who wonders if we need a lift. Having politely declined we head around the corner to sample what soon became our pub of the day. The main bar is busy but we find a quieter spot in the lounge where we peruse an array of pumpclips and talk beer festivals with one of the other punters – I love it when you can just spark up new conversations like this. The pub seems to pride itself on a wide real ale selection and my Stairway to Heaven from Burton Bridge certainly hit the mark nicely.

* Lye: Back onto the 9 a short distance (no sign of Rog’s brother this time) and we get off in Lye by the Old Bell. Rog becomes navigator as the sky begins to turn ominously dark and another soaking looks imminent. A few spots of rain can already be detected so we scamper to the shelter of The Hollybush and watch a bit of Doctor Who Confidential whilst the regulars concentrate on the Tottenham vs Blackpool football match. The Hollybush was just a normal local pub really, not much refinement but it served a purpose in keeping us dry. We then brace ourselves to head back out into the rain which wasn’t (yet) as heavy as I’d anticipated, and a well timed dash sees us safely onto the 9 just by the Windsor Castle.

* Stourbridge: The ride on the 9 might only have taken a matter of minutes but the heavens have really opened by the time we get dropped off on Birmingham Street. Luckily our final pub is not too far away, the dash coming complete with that quintessential Stourbridge requirement, a soggy subway. I always enjoy spending a bit of time in Stourbridge on an evening, and the Duke William is quickly becoming our new favourite (and everybody else’s judging by how busy it was). We find a little table in the bar just behind the door and leisurely sup our final half, which for me is Titanic once more with Nine Tenths Below. With the Hawne Tavern crowned as our pub of the day we just have to debate the barmaids award, whereby the two ladies in the Duke steal the title.

* Its then time to say goodbye with a final sprint out into the pounding rain to find the 256 waiting for me and that’s that! Despite the best efforts of the weather, it had been a great day regardless in getting May off to a flying start…

Monday, May 2

WME Flickr Focus: April 2011

And now for the comeback! Following the mayhem of March, when my old Fotopic galleries disappeared virtually without trace, April has been an altogether much kinder month. The West Midlands Exploration bandwagon has rolled its way over onto Flickr, and the slow process of rebuilding my archive has begun...

I quite like Flickr - admittedly there are aspects of Fotopic that I miss, particularly the option to personalise your own webspace, but on the whole I'm pleased with my new photographic home. Flickr's use of collections made up of sets means that I've been able to replicate the basic structure of my old Fotopic galleries, and I like having the option to tag and geotag my photos, plotting their locations against a map and generally making my archive more searchable. My 'photostream' acts as a kind of blog presenting my latest updates, and I also have the handy option of making photos private so I can hide them until all the dating and commentary is in place.

So what am I up to? I plan to work through each of my old galleries in turn, uploading the photos behind the scenes and then releasing them when I'm happy with everything. To that end, the photos for WME Wolverhampton and WME Walsall are now in hand whilst I've just begun the uploads for WME Birmingham. Several photos have been released for public viewing, and my tally at the end of April stood at 222 pictures, 188 for Wolverhampton and 34 for Walsall. There is a massively long way to go but it is a start, and the links to both the Wolves and Walsall collections are now included on this blog along with that for the general photostream.

The challenge going forward is to keep going as best as I can. Hopefully more of my Wolverhampton and Walsall photos should be appearing over the coming weeks, possibly with a sprinkling of Birmingham too, and if all goes well I might be ready to upload some Dudley and Sandwell before much longer. I look forward to seeing it all take shape and I will be interested to find out whether Flickr generates any extra interest in my photos compared to Fotopic. The next few months could be fascinating, well for me at least...