Wednesday, November 29

WME Flickr Focus - November 2017

November has been a whirlwind of a month with the process of moving house naturally taking up much of my focus and energy. Despite a few inevitable glitches here and there, the big move has thankfully gone very well and it's now a case of settling in and beginning to feel at home. I had anticipated that the WME Flickr photosteam would be completely devoid of updates for a while, but surprisingly I have found time to unpack a few archive additions...

Carefully emptying some cardboard boxes we have WME Wolverhampton which has been getting into the festive spirit a little early this year. The Mander Centre's 2016 Christmas Grotto is our prized possession, featuring in several shots involving bears, reindeers, snowmen and even a friendly penguin. We can also pick out a couple of Warstones pieces in the form of the Changing Lives base on Claverley Drive and the terminus bus stop sign on Eastcroft Road.

Extricating itself from yard upon yard of bubble wrap is WME Walsall, not that the pub signs of Willenhall are especially fragile. The Ring O Bells and the Bell Inn are both accounted for while the Milestone at New Invention is manhandled into place. Further furniture arrives courtesy of WME Birmingham with Sutton Coldfield's artistic Narnia bench based on Aslan from 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'.

Also checking in as part of our new household inventory is WME Staffordshire which expertly manoeuvres Tamworth's Market Vaults and Wombourne's Red Lion into position - the latter has a nice cosy interior which would be especially inviting at this time of year. We also grapple briefly with Glascote Cemetery, casting a peaceful glance across one of Tamworth's municipal graveyards.

That just leaves a final handful of items to be fetched off the removal van. WME Sandwell emerges clutching the Ivy House at Smethwick, a former Holden's pub on St Paul's Road, whereas WME Telford teases out a Trench scene (Wombridge Road by the Co-op) and a golfing skull at Town Park's Wonderland. As with my house move in general, November's photographic shifting and sorting can be considered complete although the photostream should still be open for further deliveries in December. Until then, enjoy the pictures!

Wednesday, November 22

A Coventry Crawl with the Chip Foundation

Believe it or not, this little trip is actually the 50th episode of the Chip Foundation Chronicles, continuing the series that stretches back to Beer We Go! in February 2010. In order to celebrate our half century in style, Nick, Stephen and I converged upon Coventry for a classic pubcrawl...

- Whittle Arches -
With a Whittle Statue rendezvous set for 11:45, Stephen and I play sardines on a very congested London Euston train through from Wolverhampton - the combination of Comic Con and Motorcycle Live events at the NEC meant that the train was very popular! There is more room to breathe once we get past Birmingham International, and the 11U bus outside Coventry Station means we are in place under the Whittle Arches ready to meet Nick as intended.

- Fargo Gorilla -
Our first port of call is Far Gosford Street, a historic thoroughfare with many cultural features. The Empire music venue has a mural depicting Elvis Presley and Bob Marley, while the former Hand & Heart pub (now a joke shop) was an important venue for Two Tone and Ska back in the day. We say hello to a pink gorilla (as you do) before reaching Fargo Village, the centrepiece of Coventry's creative quarter. This hub comprises vintage emporiums and quirky independent businesses, not to mention several examples of urban art (hence Mr B gets acquainted with our second gorilla in quick succession).

- Twisted Barrel Tap House -
Fargo Village boasts its very own craft brewery in the form of Twisted Barrel whose Tap House has secured a place in the 2018 Good Beer Guide. The brewery has recently moved into larger premises where we can marvel at the shimmering equipment and commandeer a rustic picnic table. The beer menu is wide-ranging and exciting with sours, triple IPAs and fruity concoctions (pineapple) to tempt us, although the oatmeal stout promise of God's Twisted Sister proves impossible to ignore. Add in an earthy blues soundtrack and Twisted Barrel very quickly becomes one of my drinking discoveries of the year!

- Fargo Village Robot -
From Twisted Barrel we undertake another sweep of eccentric exhibits, saying hello to a rusty robot celebrating Fargo Village's third birthday. It's fair to say the place has captured our imagination so a return visit is a must. Today though our second pub is calling, Drapers being on Earl Street in the city centre (next to the Herbert Art Gallery). More God's Twisted Sister goes down nicely as we seek out the soft sofas on the mezzanine floor.

- Sporty Street Art -
Our lunchtime location will be Wetherspoons - not the Flying Standard nor the Earl of Mercia but the Spon Gate, part of the Sky Dome Arena complex. Speedy service means that the food arrives on our table just prior to Nick's 14:30 deadline (it is never a good idea to keep our 'royal' waiting for his vegetable lasagne). North Cotswold's Shagweaver (named in reference to the weaving of wool) is a decent drink, priming us nicely for a look at Coventry's Olympic mural. This celebrates sporting olympians from the Coventry and Warwickshire region, including Rachel Smith (rhythmic gymnastics), Neil Adams (judo) and Marlon Devenish (athletics).

- Belgian Blue in the Old Windmill -
Literally just around the corner from the Spon Gate lies the Old Windmill, our perennial Coventry favourite where the historic interior is full of interesting nooks and crannies. As the reigning Coventry CAMRA Pub of the Year winner we have high expectations but these are more than satisfied. A perch in one of the tiny snugs allows us to peruse framed paperwork from 1909 while supping respective halves of Backyard 1898 Dark Mild and Farmer's Belgian Blue (the hue of which proves a good match for Stephen's lemonade and blackcurrant).

- Town Criers? -
The pubs are coming thick and fast at this point as another very short stroll brings us neatly to the Town Crier, a Marston's establishment on Corporation Street. I am spared any crying of my own when news from Reading reveals Wolves are 1-0 up at the Madejski Stadium although I have to be careful not to incur the wrath of Beardsmore by declaring any England rugby scorelines! Ale-wise we account for Jennings Sneck Lifter and Courage Directors, plus more purple stuff for Stephen.

- The Golden Cross -
Our Coventry crawl reaches its conclusion with two final taverns not far from the Cathedral. The Golden Cross is said to be the oldest pub in the city with Tudor beams and jettied upper storeys to prove it; some Fuller's Damson Porter tickles our fancy here. Last but not least comes the Castle Grounds on Little Park Street, gearing up for an 1980s themed night with Rubik's cube and Space Invader details - I'm not quite sure how the bright pink bicycle fits in! Sadler's Peaky Blinder is a topical brew now that the popular television series has commenced a new run on BBC Two, and with that we say our farewells. Stephen and I have a much less cramped journey back to Wolverhampton while the planning for the next Chip Foundation half century is now underway. Cheers!

Tuesday, November 14

Bye Bye Bushbury

Isn't it strange how you can become attached to places as time goes by? Bushbury is certainly somewhere I have a lot of affection for having lived there for almost exactly thirty years, taking me from childhood into my mid-thirties. My time as a Bushbury resident is however drawing to a close, so on Friday 10th November I embarked on a farewell photo tour prior to moving house...

I begin with the local shops on Bushbury Lane where the old Butlers Arms stanchion still stands outside Co-op. I just about remember the pub while the supermarket has progressed through Kwik Save and Somerfield identities. Over the road various shops have come and gone, notably Terry’s Barbers, an old Bensons & Hedges newsagents (latterly incorporated into the All In One Supersave) and the branch post office that has since become home to Ladbrokes.  The other side of the Kempthorne Avenue roundabout is the Good All Chinese takeaway, pretty much unchanged since the late 1980s having supplied the occasional curry treat over the years - I used to catch my school coach to Telford just outside.

- Good All Takeaway -

Sandy Lane conjures up more memories, most particularly of Bushbury Pool where I (and no doubt many others) recall swimming lessons with the fearsome Mrs Turner. I was always a little nervous about going near the deep end, but if I did my lengths properly I might get treated to a snack from the vending machine in the upstairs viewing gallery. The building was a 1960s brutalist beauty/eyesore depending on your opinion, protruding out from Bushbury Hill in angular fashion until its final demise in 2008. Bushbury Hill itself has been the subject of many strolls, looking out over the horizon towards the Wrekin and more recently witnessing the sprawling emergence of i54.

- St Mary's Churchyard -

Indeed, Bushbury walks in general have been the bedrock of my digital explorations, providing a reliable source of inspiration since I first took hold of a camera. St Mary's Church is the very definition of an established photographic favourite, underpinning my WME archive from 2003 onwards. The churchyard looks very overgrown on this occasion though with the main path being diverted due to repairs on the church roof. The adjacent nursery school was once home to Collingwood Library which these days finds itself housed in the Broadway Gardens care home.

- Autumnal Aspects -

Rejoining Bushbury Lane, the autumn colours are spectacular as I approach the dairy farm, an understated yet constant presence that's just always been there. This little part of Bushbury still feels like the countryside with the sights (and scents) of fields and cows, not to mention the gentle chug of the tractor. Next comes Bushbury Crematorium with its East and West chapels plus a Woodland Garden memorial area that seems perfectly tranquil on a November morning.

Northycote Farm has quite a pictorial provenance to maintain having rightly garnered itself many a WME blog mention, usually referencing enchanting animals and the hidden surprise of the herb garden. This farewell account shall be no different with the star attraction being a huge brute of a pig with a brown-caked snout snuffling about in the mud. The sensory garden and the herb patch aren't at their best out of season although the red-veined sorrel still appears to be growing vigorously.

- A Piggy Picture -

From Northycote I nibble into Northwood Park, pausing briefly at Cavalier Circus but there is little remaining trace of the King Charles pub now the replacement houses have bedded in. Northwood Park's public park is more obliging with basketball hoops, scattered leaves and autumn berries to account for; as a lad I would enjoy playing on the swings with my sister. Broadway shopping parade still looks the same even if the names above some of the units have changed over time - Budget Box sticks in my memory as one of the former stores while Collingwood Library was located here for a few years too. I've recorded the passing of the Staffordshire Volunteer (a.k.a. the Vol) previously and don't feel tempted by any Flaming Chicken so I take Rushall Road down to Wood Lane to see if anything is happening at the Woodbine (answer = not much, I doubt it'll open as a pub again).

- Northwood Park -

Oxley is a place that has gone hand-in-hand with Bushbury as a doorstep district so I continue via Church Road to investigate the Church of the Epiphany, followed by a Stafford Road section covering Jackson Hateley Cycles and the ex-branch of Barclays Bank (potentially due to be converted into the Keg & Comfort micropub if all goes well). The Gatehouse and Island House then see me back to Bushbury Lane where I complete my walk by coming through past Goodyears, the former factory now silenced forever. Appropriately enough I’ve covered pretty much the whole length of Bushbury Lane by way of goodbye, and it still seems funny to think all these familiar features won't be part of my daily life anymore.

I may be moving but I very much doubt this will be the absolute end of my Bushbury exploration story. I still expect to be back from time to time, topping up the photo archive and indulging in bits and pieces of personal nostalgia. For now though, I look forward to different horizons from my new address on the other side of Wolverhampton...

Wednesday, November 1

Birmingham Beer Festival 2017

After a few years at the New Bingley Hall in Hockley, Birmingham CAMRA's real ale showcase has relocated to the regionally renowned Custard Factory - Nick, D9 and I therefore made Digbeth our destination for an afternoon of big-hitting brews and curious cultural discoveries...

- A Breakfast Mugshot -
Friday 27th October and the autumn morning mists burn off just in time for me to test the robustness of the Wolverhampton to West Bromwich 79 bus timetable. Mr D9 taunts me with threats of cob penalties but I arrive with moments to spare so the balding one is denied a free breakfast. Our pre-festival nosh comes courtesy of the Great Western Cafe on West Brom High Street, a former pub turned greasy spoon where the bargain prices certainly attract a lot of custom. £3.25 for the Full Breakfast is excellent value, the proper bacon being the star of the show.

- JFK Mosaic -
The plan now should have been to catch the Metro into Birmingham but a lengthy phone call delays Mr D9 at West Bromwich while I forge ahead to the festival. Along the way I can gather some bonus Digbeth photos focusing on the police station (an imposing landmark in Portland stone), the Kerryman pub and the Digbeth Institute (originally opening in 1908 as a congregational chapel but now an O2 music venue). My favourite find however is the mosaic memorial to John F. Kennedy that occupies one corner of Floodgate Street - the inscription reads 'A man may die, nations may rise and fall but an idea lives on'.

- Plenty to choose from -
To the Custard Factory I go, the building so-named as it was here that Alfred Bird & Sons produced their famed brand of custard powder; the family name remains revered by fans of traditional British puddings to this very day. Entering the festival, I quickly gather glass and tokens then see Nick waiting to greet me eagerly clutching some Outstanding Stout. My opening tipple is some Platform 5 Antelope, although I soon progress through a Lucid Dream (a delicious cookie cream stout) and Northern Whisper's Beltie Stout (also very satisfying). 

- Beer Festival Baldness -
Mr D9 finally makes his delayed arrival and is 'rewarded' with a Slap in the Face (a Totally Brewed hoppy blonde ale). Before we know it, D9 is availing himself of the strongest beers in the programme including Burton Bridge's Thomas Sykes and Kinver's Full Centurion - no wonder his bald spot was parading around in full view! Nick's festival favourites comprised Thousand Trades Hazelnut Porter and Anarchy Sublime Chaos whereas I heeded the warning to Never Swim With Piranhas.

- In the Clink! -
Three hours of indulgent imbibing fairly whizz by and the last traces of our tokens are ceremonially scribbled out. I spend up with Stocky Oatmeal Porter (Thirst Class), Nick extracts some Fixed Wheel Blackheath Stout and D9 ends up as a Confused Brummie (no explanation needed). Our festival fun is followed immediately by more beery business literally across the street, Clink being a bottle shop and taproom on the Custard Factory's doorstep. Craft keg is to the fore here with premium pricing to match; saying that, the Celery Sour was most definitely a taste sensation unlike anything I'd ever drunk before.

- Digbeth Street Art -
The modern-day Custard Factory is a hive of activity at the heart of Birmingham's creative quarter, the industrial setting being re-purposed for digital businesses and independent retail outlets. The sheer energy of the location is evidenced by vibrant street art as we wander beyond Gibb Street - some of the designs are beautiful, some thought provoking and some frankly disturbing. A wall of crushed car parts gets the D9 seal of approval while there are celestial ladies, skeletal fish and alien monsters awaiting our admiring glances.

- Dig Brew -
River Street is our next calling point as we seek out a very recent addition to Birmingham's brewing contingent. Dig Brew have turned a converted backstreet unit into a bar and street food operation so we are only too happy to drop in for respective samples of Bitter and Burning Gold - first impressions are extremely favourable! Another place to watch over the coming months is The Ruin on Floodgate Street, newly opened and rather quirky in style. We happen across it completely by accident but quickly begin to appreciate the shabby decor and courtyard murals, not to mention the Two Towers Complete Muppetry real ale.

- The Final Tilt -
Evening is upon us once more as Nick exits stage left by catching his homeward train from Moor Street. D9 and I decide a cheeky nightcap is in order, and having developed a taste for craft we pay our first ever visit to Tilt on City Arcade. A tap takeover by Norway's Amundsen Brewery is underway, allowing us to revel in speciality selections with a non-conformist edge. I thereby partake of 'Lush', a kettle sour Berliner-inspired concoction involving sour raspberry and lime, whereas D9 succumbed to the promise of 'Hoptropolis' Double IPA. Pinball machines are a prominent feature here (Tilt hosts a monthly Monday night league) but we resist any ball bearing battles because the Midland Metro must be caught, bringing to a close a drinking adventure with a difference. Cheers!