Tuesday, October 30

Hub Marketing 2018: Coventry

The leaves are turning gold, there's a chill in the air and the Chairman has been crafting quiffs out of cardboard. This can only mean one thing - yes, it's time for the Hub Marketing Board's annual visit to Coventry...

- An Elmer Encounter -
Friday 26th October and we have an action-packed agenda as we take the tram to Grand Central followed by the 9:54 Euston train from New Street. Our morning mission is to investigate Canley, an area the Secretary last photographed some eleven years ago. Alighting at the railway station we confirm that the Herald pub as was has been replaced by a care home, then Prior Deram Walk entices us with its little park, local shops and community centre. A few more houses have sprung up here since 2007 but the branch library is still on hand complete with mural of Elmer the Elephant.

- A Phantom Bald Spot? -
Our Canley circuit also includes a loop of Cannon Park shopping centre as we note a number of international students (Chinese especially) making their way to the University of Warwick campus. St John the Worker Church precedes a wander along Shultern Lane, uncovering a cottagey corner of Coventry where we contemplate some silly songs (Larry Grayson's Pom Poms meets Brian Taylor's Donkeys Tale, both suitably awful). Canley Crematorium is busy with a funeral service which may explain the wake buffet being prepared in the Phantom Coach across the road; this pub is one of several Sizzlers we'll sample today, although the bald spot seems more excited about potential closet remains attached to the main building.

- The Sovereign, Charter Avenue -
Continuing with Canley and Charter Avenue keeps us entertained with a swathe of estate agent 'For Sale' boards - Henry's in particular seem to have property under offer almost everywhere, sparking us into a rendition of Gone Gone Gone by Johnny Mathis (a disco classic which we cheekily misappropriated). Further fun awaits in the Sovereign, a standard estate boozer that serves as today's darts destination. For once D9 Destroyer was on top form - possibly aided by a steady flow of Carling bleach - in triumphing 3-2 although it was a close run thing!

- A Telegraph Tempter -
Into the centre of Coventry we now go, making use of a 16A bus which rumbles back around Cannon Park before powering along the Kenilworth Road past War Memorial Park. We are aiming to swiftly switch onto either the X1 or the 7 but the plunging temperatures are playing havoc with the Chairman's bladder, hence an emergency call at the Stag is required. Along the way Lamb Street reveals some intriguing remnants of the former Coventry Evening Telegraph offices, presumably these storage units will be disappearing soon as part of the redevelopment of the wider site. 

- Ready for the Rock & Roll singalong -
After that speedy Stag half, we do indeed make use of the X1 for our link along Holyhead Road spotting Alvis Retail Park and Coundon Shopping Parade. The Chairman has had his eye on the Tollgate as an essential target for many a year so this is the trip when his wish is finally granted. The pub is particularly notable for its late 1930s Art Deco architecture even though these days it operates as a Stonehouse carvery outlet. Further Carling lubrication means our voiceboxes are fully oiled in advance of some Rock and Roll karaoke, whereby the 2018 edition quiff (a little beige creation) is unveiled to the sounds of 'Poetry in Motion' and 'Blue Moon'.

- Strange Sheep -
The afternoon sees members concentrating on Coundon thanks to a slice of classic suburban Coventry investigation. There are discoveries to be made (Christ the King Church and Prichards mortgage brokers on Westhill Road then Bablake Playing Fields off Norman Place Road), plus pubs to photograph (the Brooklands and the Lion's Inn, the latter formerly known as the Cedars). The Nugget on Hollyfast Road is another Sizzler where we bump into a spooky skeleton and the Chairman tinkles the ivories of the resident piano in Bobby Crush fashion. If that isn't surreal enough for you, we offer next the Old Shepherd's luridly coloured sheep, quite a sight on Keresley Road!

- Quiffy driving on the 16A -
Evening is encroaching upon Keresley Green as we pick out the local medical centre and the Bell Inn as items of Bennetts Road South interest. The Coronation Club also looks intriguing but doesn't appear to be open yet, so we flag down another 16A and unleash a full scale Ron West driving re-enactment. The route in full links Keresley Village with the Warwickshire Shopping Park at Binley via Coventry City Centre and Stoke Aldermoor (operating a joint timetable with the standard 16). Just look at the focus of Mr D9 as he attempts to keep the quiff in place!

- Cheers from the Old Dyers Arms -
Our arrival back in central Coventry allows scope for a nightcap or two prior to the train home. The Old Dyers Arms at Spon End by the rugby ground gets the nod for some Adnams Broadside (this establishment is said to be popular with the biker community), before the final curtain falls care of the Aardvark and a swift Wadworth 6X in a fancy (i.e. dimpled) glass. Hub happenings are therefore concluded in Coventry for another year and the quiff is safely stowed away until 2019 - cheers!

Wednesday, October 24

WME Flickr Focus - October 2018

It has been a case of pistols at dawn recently as various showdowns have taken place on the Wild West Midlands Exploration photostream - let's take a look at our cowboy contenders...

Stepping out into the street at dawn is WME Wolverhampton, racking up further notches on its gun courtesy of some Northwood Park and Northycote nuggets (the usual combination of pigs and herbs plus a tractor, some autumn berries and the sensory garden). Penn Fields makes its presence felt with some ceramic street signs while the moody Merry Boys pub sign appears at dusk. There's even a photo that Mr Beermat from the Life After Football blog might appreciate (see below)...

Strolling into the local saloon comes WME Birmingham, laying its money down for Moseley moments (the One Trick Pony club) and Mere Green (the Butler's Arms). Brum is accompanied on the cactus juice by WME Sandwell which stares out the bartender in demanding some Ocker Hill lubrication. The Three Horseshoes is duly supplied along with some Rolfe Street action in the form of a platform mural and the bus stop outside the railway station.

Patrolling the prairie hiding from the law is WME Warwickshire, wanted for misdemeanours involving Lapworth (the Boot Inn) and Bridge 64 on the Grand Union Canal near Rowington. Other members of the outlaw gang include WME Telford (having taken an Oakengates station sign into its possession) and WME Staffordshire (which surreptitiously raided Penkridge Market and survived a duel with the Beefeater pub at Longford Island, Cannock).

The final word is reserved for our redoubtable sheriff WME Walsall, quick on the draw thanks to some Walsall Canal gunslinging (towpath scenes near Moorcroft Junction and Bull Lane Bridge). Walsall further polishes its sheriff's star with additional watery deeds, rounding up Pelsall Junction fingerpost and Pelsall Works Bridge - both photos had evaded capture since 2007 but have finally been slammed into photostream jail where they belong. Until next time, yee-haw!

Monday, October 8

Soggy Solihull

It's fair to say my recent trips have had one unfortunate thing in common... RAIN! The pesky precipitation was evident once more as Nick and I descended upon Solihull for the town's beer festival; thankfully the weather didn't put too much of a dampener on the occasion...

- 172 342 at Solihull Station -
Saturday 6th October sees persistent drizzle besetting the morning as I make my way from Wolverhampton to Solihull. Photography is always tricky when it's wet but I do attempt some shots of the Class 172 trains at Solihull Station, newly resplendent in the orange West Midlands Railway livery. The operator replaced London Midland on the local suburban franchise following the December 2017 timetable changes and is accountable to the West Midlands Rail Executive group of 16 local authorities. 

- Gravedigger's Mild -
Nick arrives off his Chiltern connection and we survey the soggy scene that greets us. It's a little early to go straight to the festival so we nip into the Beech House primarily to stay dry, sampling London Pride and Purity Mad Goose respectively while admiring some copper Budweiser tanks. The festival itself opens at midday whereby we eagerly obtain our token allocation before launching into Sinker Stout (from Leicester's Framework Brewery) and the slightly macabre Gravedigger's Mild (Church End).

- Programme Poised -
As with previous Solihull Beer Festivals the venue is Broomfields Hall, the Royal British Legion Club on Union Road. Settling in we proceed through the programme, availing ourselves of Black Storm Porter, Muck Cart Mild (from the mysterious-sounding Son of Sid Brewery), Malvern Hills Green Pear and Backyard Aethelred. Arguably our most memorable ale is the Silhill North Star with tasting notes about motherships and de-husked grain. We also make the acquaintance of a chap from Yardley or thereabouts who regales us with memories of his 46 year career dealing with income tax.

- Tell me it's not Carling! -
Tokens all totted up, we're now feeling peckish and decide to go a tad exotic by visiting the Tap & Tandoor, an Indian gastropub based on Warwick Road in the former Saddlers Arms. The vegetarian mixed grill fits the bill perfectly, washed down with some Purity Longhorn IPA served in a hefty handled glass (despite the photographic evidence we do steer clear of the Carling). Although the beer range is largely craft at the moment, cask ales may be introduced in future and the quality of the food would certainly entice us back for a repeat visit. 

- Nick in economic mood -
The rain is just about easing off so we can brave a ride out to Hockley Heath, utilising Diamond's Signature S3 route which runs through from Dickens Heath via Knowle and Dorridge. Alighting on the Stratford Road, we spot an ancient petrol pump (trust Nick to note the Economy branding) then take a brief stroll along the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. Bridge 26 is quite a find here, a hand-winched drawbridge contraption with a boat just happening to pass through by way of demonstration.

- Railway Inn, Dorridge -
Two tempting taverns will round off our damp day, starting with the Wharf Tavern in Hockley Heath beside Bridge 25 on the canal. Backyard Blonde is a tasty tipple as the football results flood in, Wolves securing a precious Premier League away win at Crystal Palace - our comfy chairs have seen better days though, sprouting stuffing from well worn armrests. We can then decamp to Dorridge and the Railway Inn which incidentally isn't as close to the train tracks as the name would imply. Corresponding halves of Sharp's Sea Fury and North Cotswold's Moreton Mild provide a cracking cask conclusion, leaving us to negotiate a further minor downpour prior to our respective trains home. The trip could have been a washout but actually went rather well - cheers!

Wednesday, October 3

Hub Marketing 2018: West Birmingham

Friday 28th September - the sixth Hub Marketing outing of the year and a long overdue Birmingham bash which will take us into deepest Harborne, Weoley Castle and Woodgate. Usually by September each year D9 and I have at least one Brum effort under our belts but the Second City had escaped our 2018 clutches until now...

- Contemplating the Winson Green Closet -
The day commences with a Midland Metro ride to Winson Green, Chairman D9 only just joining WME aboard the tram at Bradley Lane after some animated waving from the Secretary. Our opening photographic exchanges see us stealthily sweep past Winson Green Prison to reacquaint ourselves with the old closet adjoining the canal bridge. It's then over to Summerfield Park where Papa Winson owl looks on approvingly as we prepare for a full-on ferret.

- Selwyn Road -
Our morning mission is to investigate the Harborne Walkway, a mysterious footpath that marks the course of an old branch railway (Hub Marketing members always like a lost transport link). The line historically connected Birmingham New Street and Harborne via Monument Lane, Icknield Port and Rotton Park with part of the trackbed running through Summerfield Park. The bridge at Selwyn Road tantalisingly acts as our gateway into hidden heritage.

- Hagley Road wormhole -
The Harborne Railway was only a short branch, roughly two and a half miles long, and was open to passenger traffic from 1874 to 1934 (freight operations continued through until November 1963 when the line was finally closed). Nowadays the walkway makes for a pleasant leafy stroll as we dodge giant dogs and a jogging club, passing beneath Hagley Road (a former station site) to reach Park Hill Road among suburban rooftops. All is peaceful and quiet until we indulge our crazy craving for silly songs, D9 supplying a Chas and Dave tribute selection before the path reverberates to a Dick Emery-inspired conga.

- Moorpool Moments -
The walkway ends at a secluded Harborne cul-de-sac (Forest Drive) from whence it is not far at all into Moorpool, that lovely pocket of conservation zone charm which the Secretary explored earlier this year. Strangely enough that April WME visit hadn't included one essential feature, the Moor Pool itself so we set about correcting that omission with Mr D9 posing happily at the water's edge. The pool is accompanied by pretty cottages and a bowls club while the rest of the estate presents plenty of garden suburb greenery spanning out from The Circle.

- The Court Oak -
Further flora awaits at Queens Park where the flowerbeds look particularly pretty in the autumn sunshine; alas there isn't a vintage closet for the Chairman to get excited about, and part of the park appears to have been drained due to flood alleviation works. Just over the way is the Court Oak pub, a typical sprawling suburban roadhouse that is currently part of the Mitchells & Butlers 'Sizzling' portfolio. St Austell Proper Job provides some welcome liquid lubrication as we watch the early exchanges of the Ryder Cup opening fourballs.

- Crying over Cwtch -
Our afternoon agenda takes us next to Harborne, scene of a recent fire which caused major damage to a longstanding landmark - the Royalty Cinema as situated on the junction of Greenfield Road and High Street. The building dates from 1930 with notable Art Deco fixtures and fittings; hopefully it can yet be saved for future generations. Pub-wise Harborne supplies the Vine (a standard Sizzler), the Paper Duck (a craft beer bar sampled at the Secretary's request, we enjoyed the 8% Imperial Stout here) and the Plough (scene of a £4.70 couple of halves that left the Chairman crying into his napkin).

- A Weoley Castle Winner -
Boarding the 27 bus, the action moves to Weoley Castle (via California, the Chairman unimpressed by some route hubbing in the Stonehouse vicinity). Weoley Castle Square remains resolutely oval in shape, a variety of shopping parades arranged around a central green. After a pit stop for scratchings, we seek out the estate's eponymous pub as the setting for a darting duel. Fuelled by cheese cobs we trade blows from the oche, D9 Destroyer fearing a Weoley wipeout when WME Whirlwind lands a pinpoint 74 checkout. Destroyer does claim one leg but the final tally gives Whirlwind a 5-1 victory. 

- Bartley Green Baldness -
To Woodgate we must now wander, pausing at Bartley Green Reservoir so that the bald spot can admire the watery vista. The 23 is soon on hand to convey us towards Carter's Lane in readiness for a swift half in the Old Crown - cue a drop of Doom Bar whilst watching The Chase. It is then time for our second extended walk of the day, members embarking upon a ramble across Woodgate Valley Country Park with the Bourn Brook for close company. As with Harborne earlier, we shatter the tranquility by staging a singalong although our afternoon playlist contains Desmond Dekker rather than Dick Emery - I'm sure 'Hearty Carty' would approve!

- Sadler's Tap Room -
West Birmingham trips can't get much further west than Quinton, a residential district that sits alongside the A456 between Bearwood and Halesowen. Our targets here are two contrasting microbars, Masons and Sadler's. The former has a solitary real ale (Wye Valley Butty Bach) among a keg-led range whereas the latter is a relatively new arrival showcasing craft and cask from the Sadler's brewery in Lye. The Secretary is delighted to see one of his favourites is available, the Mud City Stout never disappoints.

- A Platinum Perch -
Evening is very much encroaching so our thoughts turn homeward, the Chairman requisitioning the X8 front seat for a belated driving duty. The route was introduced following changes to the 126, creating an express Platinum service linking Wolverhampton, Dudley, Blackheath and Birmingham. The new connection allows us a Blackheath splash and dash whereby Mr D9 picks out the Windmill's End (previously the Ashley) for a nightcap half of Ringwood Fortyniner. With that a breathless day of happy hubbing is complete - cheers!