Saturday, December 19

WME Flickr Focus: September to December 2015

Oh dear! Has it really been almost four months since I last filed one of my Flickr updates? Admittedly not a huge amount has been happening where the West Midlands Exploration photostream has been concerned, but that's hardly an excuse. An apologetic account of recent activity is urgently required so here goes...

September and October can each definitely be bracketed under the heading 'steady but unspectacular'. Both months primarily concerned themselves with archive extractions, so among the pictures receiving promotion were pub shots of the Nags Head at Darlaston (WME Walsall), the Blue Bell at Kidsgrove (WME Staffordshire) and the Summer House at Whitmore Reans (WME Wolverhampton). A bus station bonus came courtesy of Halesowen (WME Dudley) and there was Grand Union Canal content for both WME Solihull (Bridge 72 at Knowle) and WME Warwickshire (Bridge 55 near Hatton).

November was altogether enamoured with all things Exploration Extra, hence proffering forth railway-related shots from Colchester (the modern station entrance) and Weymouth (a general platform picture) while second shots of both Wrexham and Gloucester bus stations also entered the equation. Elsewhere, Fallgate Mill near Ashover made a welcome appearance, as did the 4a bus at Bournemouth and the Raven pub at Welshpool.

That merely leaves us with December and a minor attempt at a mopping-up exercise. Badger made its way onto the WME Shropshire map, while the courtyard garden at Bantock House supplemented an existing Bradmore sequence on WME Wolverhampton. Other than that a few buses parked themselves into position, notably the old 33 route at Tile Hill North (WME Coventry), the 44 at Telford Bus Station (WME Telford) and finally the 614 at Selly Oak (WME Birmingham).

This all means that I close down for Christmas with 2,737 pictures now paraded on my photostream - a not insignificant number but potentially only the tip of the iceberg in terms of representing thirteen or more completed years of digital photography. Any further updates will have to wait until 2016 though so I'll return to action in January with some fresh Flickr fragments for your delectation - see you next year!

Friday, December 18

Nick Turpin's Festive Forage

Monday 14th December 2015 and the yuletide season brings with it the chance for more highwayman handiwork in the company of Nick Turpin. Wintertime Warwickshire thus awaits with our Stagecoach all set to call at Barford, Wellesbourne, Bidford and Leek Wootton...

- A Warwick Welcome -
A tour of some smaller settlements is in the offing then as we meet up at Warwick. The county town is already firmly in the festive spirit with lights aloft and a Christmas tree taking pride of place next to Randolph Turpin's statue in the Market Square. The bus station off Bowling Green Street is where we summon the Stratford Stagecoach, otherwise known as the X18 bus.

- Joseph Arch's Cottage -
With views of Warwick Racecourse, the local non-league football club (Racing Club Warwick) and Shakespeare Drive, we ride serenely to the village of Barford beside the River Avon. A relaxing hour's wander allows some photographic pillaging concentrating on St Peter's Church, the Granville Arms and the village shop. A notable Barford personality was Joseph Arch (1826-1919), who founded the National Agricultural Labourers' Union and served as a Liberal MP; a local pub now bears his name while his old cottage residence can still be found on Church Street.

- Stags Head, Wellesbourne -
Sequestrating another Stagecoach, our next stop is Wellesbourne although Nick Turpin plentifully praises the stately pile that is Charlecote Park with its surrounding land being home to roaming fallow deer. The cervine connection continues at the Stags Head, a picture postcard pub overlooking Chestnut Square where there is Otter Ale to be drunk and fireplace baubles to be fondled. Wellesbourne's parish church is also dedicated to St Peter and has the Kings Head at close quarters although we decide to forego a quick half in favour of commandeering a top deck seat on the next X18.

- Bearing Baubles in the Bulls Head -
Tiddington (with the Crown and the Home Guard Club) then Loxley Road pave our way into Stratford-upon-Avon where there is an instant interchange onto a separate Stagecoach, the 28 towards Evesham now taking the strain. Our furthest destination of the day is Bidford-on-Avon, which like Barford earlier has an ancient river crossing for us to admire. The Bulls Head is an old inn standing on the opposite side of High Street to St Laurence's Church; we call into the pub for 'A Good Stuffing' (that was the name of the beer by the way) before inspecting the creative Christmas tree designs on show in the church, whereby a certain Mr D9 would surely have approved of the 'lavatree' with its toilet seat base and loo roll tinsel.

- A Stratford Spectacular -
The return 28 Stagecoach is somewhat delayed by congestion at both ends of the route with Stratford town centre being especially clogged up from the Salmon Tail (on Evesham Road) thereafter. We escape from the jams by seeking sustenance in the Golden Bee Wetherspoons, our trusty Nick Turpin tucking into a yuletide turkey dinner with cranberry sauce while yours truly opted for a not-so-seasonal gammon. Dusk has now descended upon Shakespeare's town allowing us to see the Christmas lights along Bridge Street in all their glittering glory.

- Anchor Inn, Leek Wootton -
Careful study of the X16 timetable suggests we can include a final explorational extravagance to round off this fun-filled forage. Leek Wootton is therefore identified as our evening indulgence, albeit by the time the bus actually arrived our window of opportunity had almost vanished. Undeterred, our highwayman hero strides into the night, availing himself of the Anchor Inn's hospitality and the lascivious charms of Dorothy Goodbody's Santa Special ale - we might only have been in the pub five minutes but it was five minutes well spent! Our X16 Stagecoach swansong then returns us to Warwick railway station where it all began, and our festive felicitations are ended with the train back home. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 17

Hub Marketing 2015: Christmas

The final Hub Marketing Board outing of the year brings with it certain administrative duties; there's a calendar presentation to perform, DJ D9 Heartburn is set to declare his Pick of the Pops top twenty chart, and Charles Pemberton Rowbottom III will be exhumed in readiness to announce the Hub Awards 2015. Hurst Green and Hasbury are the designated destinations for this Christmas cracker of an adventure...

- Britannia Park -
West Bromwich is distinctly wet and dreary as members battle bus station congestion before encountering rainy Rowley Regis, wading up the hill to Rowley Village for shelter in the Britannia pub. Some darts are part of the drying off process as the Chairman takes an early Golden Glow-powered lead. There are awards nominations to consult amid tinselled surroundings before a brief look at Britannia Park, a statement of civic pride from the days when Rowley Regis was its own county borough.

- A Robert Peel Ride in Rowley Regis -
Heading back down the hill towards Blackheath, there is a photo call outside the Robert Peel where Mr D9's daft radar has detected a strange hippo like creature to straddle on the pub car park. A closed closet by Barclays Bank adds to the picture count despite the weather, then members board the 129 bus outside the market hall so that we can hear grannies grumbling about recent bus route changes - could it be that the Chairman's timetable scheduling has struck again?!

- Hairless in Hurst Green -
With Mr D9 suspiciously keeping a low profile we make it safely to Hurst Green where there is our second pub to visit (the Fairfield, a large Marston's estate roadhouse) and some old factory remains to investigate (the Chairman stomping across possible former canteen tiles in the process). The bald spot gets its requisite airing as do some seasonal silly songs in advance of the full chart rundown - 'Merry Christmas You Suckers' by Paddy Roberts adds a particularly sardonic note of cynicism to proceedings.

- Secretary Santa in the Swan -
Onwards to Long Lane and the Swan sees Secretary WME in Santa mode when delivering the 2016 edition of the Hub Marketing Calendar, a photographic record depicting another twelve months of mayhem. Board members are very impressed with the Swan, a homely Black Country Ales establishment that just so happened to be hosting a beer festival; Enville's Blizzard and Fixed Wheel's Coco Mocha Porter are duly sampled, mopped up with a lovely crusty cob and a thick wedge of pork pie. Wonderful!

- Maypole Music -
The focus of the trip now switches to DJ D9 Heartburn as he recounts the highlights of a whole year of comedy song choices. A soundtrack including singing dogs, wailing ladies and Des O'Connor accompanies us through Halesowen to Hasbury where the pub plot includes a visit to the Maypole on Bassnage Road, a place that has been under threat of closure and demolition. The Secretary has had sporting success here before and stages a darting comeback complete with a seldom-seem genuine double checkout!

- Cornbow Centre Christmas Tree -
The chart countdown continues as we weave our way back to Halesowen, pit-stopping along Hagley Road for swift halves of Enville Ginger (in the Rose & Crown) and Theakston's Smooth (in the Hare & Hounds). Chairman D9 embarks on an unsuccessful Cornbow closet hunt while Secretary WME admires the mall's Christmas tree, then we have a 244 bus to catch as 'Neasden' is crowned the Hub Marketing #1 silly song for 2015.

- Charles Pemberton Rowbottom III does his duty -
Netherton will be the final calling point for this outing and indeed the whole year. Mr D9 gets all excited about the flat-roofed appearance of the Crown on Simms Lane, but it's in the Bulls Head that hub originator Charles Pemberton Rowbottom gets resurrected in order to declare the annual awards. A snooze-struck speech is ably enacted (not bad for a 300 year old) as all honours are handed out accordingly - Halloween in Coventry is our favourite outing of the year, WME is the darts and discount champion while D9 gets the lifetime achievement gong for his concerted commitment to all things bald. 
Merry Christmas and a Happy 2016 from the Hub Marketing Board - Cheers!

Tuesday, December 1

D9 does... Dudley Winter Ales

Friday 27th November 2015 offers up a date with Dudley as the Hub Marketing Board descend upon the town's Winter Ales Fayre to sample the delightful brews being showcased therein. A Tipton tour would also feature during a day when Chairman D9 was determined to "bring on the beermats"...

- A Building Site Bald Spot -
A West Bromwich rendezvous has members on the march for an opening homage, whereby Chairman D9 picks out the patch on Dartmouth Street where the Hop & Barleycorn once stood. He requires intense concentration when peeking through the hoardings to see whether any segments of the old pub still linger, but alas the only thing to be spotted is a certain balding bonce.

- The Castle Gate Hub -
The Farley Clock Tower at Carters Green looms large as we catch the 74 bus down to Dudley, the Chairman's timetable scheduling proving quite robust on this occasion despite us encountering traffic at Great Bridge and Dudley Port. We alight just before Castle Gate roundabout so that Mr D9 can excitedly visit 'the hub' (part of the Village hotel complex) before pointing out the former location of Dudley Bus Garage.

- The Ivy House, Kates Hill -
It's now but a short walk into Kates Hill, an estate where the Hill Tavern and Freebodies pubs have both been demolished in recent years. The Ivy House is still going on the corner of Brewery Street and Watson's Green Road, thus enabling a bit of darting action as the comforting warmth of a crackling coal fire powers D9 Destroyer to a rare victory. A comedy song trade-off involving Charlie Drake and Bernard Cribbins keeps us occupied until Dixons Green; here the Bush presents a certain landmark quality on the roundabout where Oakham Road meets Buffery Road.

- Duncan Edwards Statue -
Stocking up on tins of salmon, we catch the bus for a quick lift into Dudley town centre where Duncan Edwards' restored statue once again takes pride of place at the head of the marketplace. Born and brought up in Dudley, Edwards was considered one of the most talented footballers of his generation but tragically his life - and those of several Manchester United teammates - was cut short by the fateful Munich air disaster of February 1958.

- Meeting our Warwickshire correspondent -
Having paid our respects to a local sporting legend, we proceed to Dudley Town Hall where the Winter Ales Fayre is taking place. The £15 entry pack arms us with tokens and glasses ready to imbibe of the finest beery concoctions; Secretary WME seeks out some Figgy Pudding Porter to begin with whereas the Chairman launches straight into the supreme strength of Sarah Hughes Snowflake. Honorary Hub Member HRH Nick Turpin is also in attendance, getting to grips with an Enville Cherry Gothic amongst other seductive stouts and porters.

- Flags Aloft in Fountain Arcade -
The ales aren't the only attraction in the festival hall though; the breweriana stand comes in for some serious attention as D9 raids the boxes of vintage beermats - in the end he must have purchased over 200 examples! Back to the beer and WME's other tempting tipples include Peer Pressure Porter, Church End RIP, Holdens Master Ale (a whopping winter warmer) and Brass Castle Christmas Kitty (with lovely hints of vanilla). D9 meanwhile is being especially extravagant, building up to the 15% beer bombshell that is the collaborative Angel Ales/Fixed Wheel Cyclone, a triple IPA that the Secretary isn't brave enough to tackle. Grey peas and good company make for a fine old time and it is a shame to leave, especially with wet weather awaiting outside. Exit we must but at least the Fountain Arcade with its display of Black Country flags offers some brief respite from the elements.

- D9 in the Dew Drop -
To Tipton then and the Fountain on Owen Street where the Secretary confirms that the homely hospitality he witnessed with the Chip Foundation a few weeks ago is very much in evidence again - there is a strong sense of community here with a warm welcome for two soggy strangers escaping from the rain. Tipton's community spirit is also to the fore during the switching on of the Christmas lights; despite the weather, a good crowd have gathered on the square by the shopping precinct to begin the festive celebrations. Our Chairman is a bit too old to sit on Santa's knee these days so we forego the grotto in favour of heading to Toll End, getting drenched along Powis Avenue by the Harrier but thankfully drying off in the Dew Drop.

- Waggon & Horses, Toll End -
Our final port in a wild and windy storm is the Waggon & Horses, the tap for the Toll End Brewery whose ales include Power Station, Black Bridge, Phoebe's Ale (P.A.) and in our case the Clooz Oss special. A fitting flourish to a fabulous festival ferret - cheers!