Thursday, October 27

Birmingham with The Chip Foundation

With the English county cricket season having entered hibernation for another year, the Chip Foundation turned its attention back towards a winter itinerary - yes it was time to resurrect our pubcrawl series, starting on Wednesday 26th October with a browse around Brum...

ASTON: We get underway with a train to Perry Barr, meaning some memory lane moments for Nick and Stephen as we call in on the old UCE campus (now home to Birmingham City University) and indulge in a nostalgic stroll along Franchise Street. A 51 connection then links us to our first pub, and what a treat we have in store straight off. The Barton's Arms was affected by the recent riots in Newtown but I'm delighted to say that the building looked as splendid as ever today, complete with clocktower and the renowned heritage interior that features colourful glazed tiles, a grand staircase and engraved windows. It really is a sight to behold and makes for a spectacular setting in which to sample some Oakham Ales, my tipple being a half of Inferno.

- Chesty precautions in the Bartons Arms -

GOSTA GREEN: From one academic location to another as a further 51 ride brings us swiftly to the Aston University campus at Gosta Green. There seems to be a lot of construction work taking place in the area as part of the wider redevelopment of Eastside, and we enjoy soaking up the scene as we munch some chips outside the Business School - Nickolenko even went all exotic with a piece of masala fish! The campus is served by two pubs and it's the Sacks of Potatoes that secures our custom, lured in by the prospect of some Farmer's Blonde from the Bradfield Brewery near Sheffield.

- The Sacks of Potatoes -

GUN QUARTER: An encounter with the subways of Lancaster Circus leads us neatly into the historic Gun Quarter, a proud centre for the production of firearms, a trade which still continues here to this day (albeit on a smaller scale). The Bull on Price Street is our reason for stopping by though, sampling a very homely pub adorned with shelves of ceramics that must be an absolute nightmare when it comes to dusting. Aside from the jugs, plates and ornaments, a cat looked very cosy snoozing on a sofa in the snug and there's more Sheffield beer in the form of the Abbeydale Brewery's Contraption.

- The Bull: Perky in the Parlour? -

HIGHGATE: The light is beginning to fade as we cross the City Centre (with a helping hand from the 58 bus) and enter Highgate. The Lamp Tavern is a perennial favourite of mine as an example of a compact, backstreet local with a long-serving landlord (Eddie). Its a tight squeeze to get in this time but we find some standing room in the back corridor and I can enjoy my Aston Mild whilst Nick tackles the 'Stan the Man' Stanney Bitter. Stephen for his part is stoically getting through the lemonade and blackcurrants, possibly as a form of cough relief.

- Cheers from the White Swan -

DIGBETH: Darkness has definitely descended as we navigate the backstreets of Digbeth accompanied by a cacophony of Diwali fireworks. Two final pubs complete the evening as we soon realise why the Lamp had been so busy. Our next port of call, the Spotted Dog, is absolutely stuffed solid with Bluenoses as we belatedly realise that it's a Birmingham City home matchnight. The pre-match anticipation added an extra crackle to the friendly atmosphere whilst the Uisce Madra ale was another discovery - brewed especially for the pub, the name apparently translates as 'dog water'. We finish off at the White Swan, an impressively ornate Banks's pub that boasts some decorative tilework all of its own. We even get to watch some of the Wolves v Man City Carling Cup match before leaving for our train home safe in the knowledge that our wintertime exploits had got off to a riproaring start.

Tuesday, October 18

A Mini D9 Adventure

Friday 14th October involved a shortened session of the Hub Marketing Board as the Chairman joined the Secretary for an afternoon around and about Wolverhampton...

Route 5: The meeting begins with a ride out to Codsall on the 5, formerly the 535 prior to the Wolverhampton Network Review. The revised service includes more coverage for Bilbrook so the Chairman has to do a bit of D9 route-learning as he tackles Duck Lane...

CODSALL: The board then sampled two of the village hostelries, the Station and the Bull. The Station is a Holden's pub contained in Codsall's former railway house, hence it displays various rail-related artefacts as well as offering a smooth swig of Septimus Sid. Banks's is the order of the day in the Bull so its a pint of Bitter just as the Chairman used to drink in days when he had hair.

- Banks's Bitter in the Bull -

WHITMORE REANS: We don't have to linger long at the Codsall hub before the return 5 arrives to collect us. We alight at Peace Green where the Chairman indulges in a spot of cowboy walking, either that or his rebellious bladder is giving him some grief again. Luckily it's not far to the Stile, a proper Victorian backstreet boozer where we partake of some Wicked Witch whilst admiring the L-shaped bowling green.

- The Stile, corner of Harrow Street and Fawdry Street -

CHAPEL ASH: Members vote unanimously to extend our agenda to include the Chapel Ash area, allowing us to clock in with a couple of halves. The Chindit has a compact feel as befits it being converted from an off licence back in the late 1950's, whilst the Clarendon effectively serves as a showcase tap for Banks's with the beer being brewed a matter of yards away.

- Cheerful in the Chindit -

WEDNESFIELD: To complete proceedings, members are transported to Wednesfield to indulge in the 1930's ambience of the Vine followed by the cottagey cosiness of the Pyle Cock. It is here that the Chairman receives his collection call and the meeting is adjourned after a closing Boondoggle. A successful afternoon indeed.

- The Chairman gets his summons -

Thursday, October 6

WME Flickr Focus: September 2011

My monthly reflections are an indication of the passing of another year and as we tumble into autumn it's time to look back and see what happened on WME in September...

Perhaps I should have mentioned August too being as my last digest was for July, but the bare fact is that absolutely nothing happened at all in August, the site put distinctly on the back burner whilst I enjoyed a brace of Yorkshire breaks. September it is then as I picked up the reins with a few scattered updates that eventually amounted to 43 additions to bring my running total for my photostream to 562 pictures.

Having mainly concentrated on Wolverhampton and Walsall thus far, it was now the turn of Birmingham to get most of my attention. Of those 43 additions, 36 had a Brum connection as some of my local and railway sets began to take shape again. Amongst the influx were representatives of Weoley Castle (the market hall), West Heath (the shed-like library), Old Oscott (the Kingfisher pub) and Hall Green (the Maggies). Rail was restored with offerings from Spring Road and Kings Norton Stations whilst some Tame Valley shots made for a canal contribution and the 104 route at Sutton Coldfield was returned to it's rightful position as one of my seminal early bus pictures.

Away from Birmingham it was Dudley that made up the rest of September's numbers, an initial 7 photos being released back into the public glare. This is very much a token effort so far but there are showings for Woodsetton and Wollaston alongside one of my regular Lower Gornal Post Office examples and a snap of the old 544 at Coseley. It goes without saying that there is an enormous amount of work still to do to get the photostream where I want it to be, and that's even before I can think about adding some new stuff that never appeared on the old Fotopic. I am currently uploading what I can salvage of my previous WME Sandwell photos as a background task, and I hope to be resurrecting more Birmingham and Dudley content over the coming weeks.

Saturday, October 1

Hub Marketing Board: Telford

Friday 30th September and the latest meeting of the Hub Marketing Board involved a scrutiny away-day in Shropshire assessing the hub capabilities around and about Telford…

The meeting time was set for 9:30 but the Chairman endured Metro delays and a coronary-inducing sprint down to Wolverhampton Station only to be told that the Secretary had made a complete horlicks of the train times.

After a plan reshuffle we regroup onto the 10:25 service to Oakengates, admiring the Shropshire countryside and stations such as Albrighton, Shifnal and Cosford.

Arrival at Oakengates is now at 10:54 and we make it to the ‘hub’ bus station just in time to see our 55 connection disappearing into the distance. The Chairman does at least track down a closet for his collection whilst we await the next Green Line service.

That subsequent 55 is on hand at 11:20 for a ride through Trench, Wombridge and Donnington. More rehashing is needed so the proposed call at the Hadley hub is aborted but can remain up the Secretary’s sleeve for future reference.

- Getting cocky with a Blonde -

Now in need of some urgent liquid refreshment, we alight outside the Cock Hotel in Wellington. The Chairman’s presence must’ve been detected as the door creaks open right on cue with Joules’ Blonde being the preferred tipple. You may notice the Cock figurine inspecting the Chairman’s bald spot!

Suitably quenched it is time to test out the robustness of some thick blue lines with the 44 route providing our link back into Telford via Ketley and Oakengates. The service was popular and might just make enough of a big fat profit to negate the need to save a bus.

A very robust interchange at Telford connects us smoothly onto the 12:50 88 which introduces us to Dawley Bank before braving the narrow lanes of Little Dawley and Doseley to drop us off in Horsehay.

- Horsehay, All Labour in Vain -

Horsehay is a personal favourite of our esteemed Secretary who soon set to work taking photos of the derelict All Labour in Vain pub. The Foresters Arms is very much still going so we are treated to a Tribute amongst the ceramic jug collection. Lunch is provided courtesy of the CodFather as we enjoy the scenery of Horsehay Pool and a quick peek at the Telford Steam Railway.

Testing timetables is a core feature of hub scrutineering and the 77 at 14:09 passed with flying colours, collecting us promptly from Horsehay Crossroads and embarking on a well-paced jaunt through Coalbrookdale, Ironbridge and Madeley.

- On with the suntan lotion -

The afternoon itinerary involves a roam around Coalport, Jackfield and Ironbridge. Our Chairman makes the requisite call back to base and we thereby receive clearance to enter the All Nations, a classic Shropshire home brew house hidden away off Coalport Road. Some Dabley Ale is much appreciated as we commandeer a table in the beer garden so that the Chairman can apply some sunblock.

A rummage along the Silkin Way reveals the Great Hay Incline, an engineering solution that enabled boats to be transported up and down a slope between two sections of the local canal. We enjoy a look around Coalport village where the Chairman attracts the attention of a chihuahua down by the Tar Tunnels.

- The Chairman makes a new friend -

Across the river from Coalport is the village of Jackfield where the Boat pub has markers on the door pinpointing flood levels from years gone by. There’s no sign of any flooding today thankfully as we make use of another sunkissed beer garden.

We pass Maws Craft Centre and the Tile Museum to make our way towards Jackfield Bridge with old letter boxes, telephone kiosks and a couple of pubs catching our eye – the Black Swan and the Robin Hood.

- An old-fashioned bald spot photo -

In an example of being anything but TUAG, the 99 threatens to derail proceedings by keeping us waiting well after the scheduled 16:50 departure time – in the end we were just happy to see the bus at all but some more plan-juggling is required in order to squeeze in our desired conclusion back in Oakengates.

Matters are completed with a trinity of tightly positioned taverns on Market Street. The Crown is holding a beer festival where the Secretary goes all Dark & Dangerous, the Station involves a near head-on collision with 'Elvis' and the Fighting Cocks stoutly brings the curtain down. 19:05 provides the return train to Wolverhampton and the meeting is adjourned at 1930 hours. The sun definitely shone on Telford today!

- Cheers! -