Monday, December 24

Ho Ho Hubs: A Christmas Caper

The last Hub Marketing outing of 2018 brings with it certain festive formalities to be taken care of - the annual awards are to be announced, the Silly Songs chart rundown must be played and the latest Hub calendar will be unveiled. Come join Secretary WME and Chairman D9 (plus the usual cast of crazy extras) as we wend our way through Whitmore Reans...

- Which one's Wolfie? -
Friday 21st December and our task is to investigate various Wolverhampton watering holes that had thus far escaped our clutches. The Chairman is remarkably punctual for a 12:15pm Stafford Street rendezvous meaning we can proceed past the Molineux as planned, saying hello to Sir Jack Hayward's statue and a cartoon depiction of football mascot Wolfie. Our first pub is just over the road from the stadium, the Leaping Wolf having rebranded itself after a few years as the Lounge 107 bar (before that it was well known as the Goalpost). We appear to have gatecrashed the relaunch day celebrations and are impressed by the new look with Wolves shirts of various vintages displayed alongside historic local photos.

- Seeking Santa in the Stile -
Delving deeper into Whitmore Reans requires Staveley Road to lead us towards the Stile; we have been here previously but it more than merits a revisit as an unspoiled backstreet cracker. It's Banks's all the way as we dig out the darts, D9 Destroyer being determined to claw back the ten leg deficit that had accrued over the course of the year. Sadly for the balding one, a 6-4 D9 victory cannot quite close the gap enough and WME Whirlwind retains his champion's crown for the sixth year in succession. We have to be careful that any stray arrows don't puncture an inflatable Father Christmas, but fear not, Santa does emerge unscathed!

- The Hub action doesn't stop for Christmas -
Whitmore Reans is a fascinating inner-city area situated in the shadow of the football ground. Old terraced houses mix with 1960s developments such as the Avion Centre shopping precinct, and there are a number of features and facilities to keep the WME camera occupied. Ever observant to the hub cause, we spot a banner for a Bereavement Information Hub service then Lowe Street is the setting for some song silliness - the full chart rundown will be unleashed later on although we can declare our Christmas novelty contenders, 'Santa Bring Me Ringo' (Christine Hunter) and 'A Cockney Christmas' (Dick Emery).

- Modelling the 2019 Hub Marketing Calendar -
How's about another couple of pubs? Newhampton Road West gives us two to consider in quick succession so a swift half in each will suffice. The Summer House on Lloyd Street is where we stage the 2019 calendar unveiling, Chairman D9 being delighted by the inclusion of Barrel Singh and Hearty Carty (not to mention a few Hoodwinked robin sculptures), while the Newhampton lurks on the junction of Sweetman and Riches streets for Mud City Stout and a ham cob. Indeed, the Newhampton is somewhat revered in local CAMRA circles and it's great to see it back open after it shut down unexpectedly a couple of months ago.

- Windswept in the Winning Post -
One particular watering hole is top of the Chairman's Christmas wish list so a visit to the Winning Post is essential. As the name suggests, this boozer is handily located for Dunstall Park racecourse (on Gorsebrook Road to be precise) and proves surprisingly presentable - not quite the flat-roof dive the Secretary had feared. We have to linger on the doorstep for 4pm opening but manage to avoid getting too drenched by a sudden shower; a mention too for the Pegasus on Jackson Street as another potentially dubious estate effort that exceeded expectations. Our Christmas caper is certainly going well!

- The Emerald Club -
Wolves are playing Liverpool at Molineux tonight and as we enter evening the pre-match atmosphere is really starting to build. Both the Hatherton Arms (North Road) and the Emerald Club (Cross Street North) are getting into full swing with home fans in fine voice; the Emerald is home to the Wolverhampton Irish Centre and marked its 50th anniversary in June 2018. Given that Chairman D9 claims to be a West Bromwich Albion fan, it must be the Guinness that prompts him to join in the Hi Ho Silver Lining and Sweet Caroline singalong - either that or he's still dazed after tripping over a pothole on the car park.

- A D9 drive with bonus baubles -
The Hubbacini chart countdown is underway as Milly Molly Mandy, Larry Grayson and Pluto Shervington occupy the lower reaches of the top 20. We're also gearing up for our annual meeting with Hub founder Charles Pemberton Rowbottom III, however that must wait until we've picked out a present from Penn Fields. The number 2 bus carefully connects us to Lea Road albeit Mr D9 is distracted from his usual driving duties by the presence of wrapping paper, orange 'baubles' and reams of sellotape.

- Elsie Mo at the Starting Gate -
Our Penn Fields interlude comes at the Secretary's request as Mr WME insists on trying out the Starting Gate on Birches Barn Road. This micropub housed in a former branch of HSBC is already earning commendable plaudits for the quality of its beer; we perform our own control check and the Castle Rock 'Elsie Mo' passes with flying colours - exemplary! Rumour has it that Mr D9 then models a battered sausage while playing with his baubles again, although the photographic evidence has had to be filed away securely so as not to distress anyone of a nervous disposition.

- And the Christmas number one is... -
Back in a now very wet and windy Wolverhampton, we complete official proceedings for the year by declaring the Hubbacini top three ('The Rovers Chorus' at 3, 'The Tiger's Wide Awake' at 2 and Dick Emery taking chart honours with the 'You are awful (but I like you) Conga'). Charles Pemberton Rowbottom is on hand at the Plough & Harrow for the 2018 Hub Awards - the headline news here is that D9 wins the most expensive round gong for his £4.70 pint in Harborne, WME had the Discount of the Year thanks to the Goldthorn, and Hearty Carty is our lifetime achievement recipient. All that remains is for the Hub Marketing Board to wish all readers a very Merry Christmas... Cheers!

Friday, December 21

WME Flickr Focus - December 2018

Twelve long months of Flickr action have culminated in this, my final photostream posting of 2018. In keeping with the rest of the year, December proved to be productive in bringing my annual additions to a grand total of 389 photos...

With Christmas just around the corner, WME Wolverhampton has taken on the role of Santa by supplying a sackful of goodies. Rather than reindeer though, this sleigh has been pulled by a pack of Wolves in Wolves sculptures including Bayliss (at West Park), Zeus (by the Civic Centre) and Hunter (by the Art School). Other wolves getting in a festive howl or two are Dynasty (Princess Street), Love (outside the Registry Office) and Wild (in the Art Gallery).

Speaking of the Art Gallery, I've dipped into my cultural stocking with snapshots from interesting exhibitions that took place in 2017. Chinese characters therefore make their collective presence felt alongside some gold and green ceramics, plus there's even a guest appearance from Mahatma Gandhi! A curious bird puppet gets in on the act too and I fully expect there to be more artistic arrivals come 2019.

Elsewhere in the wintry world of WME Wolverhampton, I can toast the inclusion of more tiled street signs (Long Street, Whitmore Street), linger by lock seven on the Birmingham Main Line Canal and pause to reflect at the 2015 Festival of Remembrance. Last but not least is a Woodbine sign from across Bushbury way, the pub itself becoming an increasing eyesore awaiting a new lease of life. This is all means Wolverhampton alone has contributed over 100 pictures to the Flickr cause this year, not a bad effort!

Admittedly there have been slim December pickings as regards the rest of my collections, although there were occasional stirrings down the chimney so to speak. WME Walsall sneaked in with a solitary present (a vintage Highgate Ales sign at Willenhall Liberal Club), likewise WME Birmingham which pulls a cracker in the form of Yardley's Ring O Bells sign. The closing word goes to the little-seen WME Worcestershire where the New Street elves have released the King Charles II and Swan with Two Nicks from behind the yule log. With that I'll sign off well in advance of the Queen's Speech - Merry Christmas one and all, I'll be back with more photostream progress in January...

Sunday, December 9

A Kenilworth and Leamington Forage

Astounding. Simply astounding. There are some trips every year that you just know are going to be all-time classics, the annual Festive Forage being a case in point. However, 2018's Nick Turpin Christmas special exceeded even the loftiest expectations, helped by a quirky selection of watering holes that included my first ever experience of walking through a fridge to enter a bar...

- Class 153 train at Kenilworth -
Saturday 8th December 2018 and Nick Turpin has sacrificed his Stagecoach in favour of letting the train take the strain. I am therefore instructed to meet our highwayman hero at Kenilworth, journeying down from Coventry on a single carriage Class 153 unit. The fact that Kenilworth has a railway station again is an immediate cause for celebration - the town had disappeared off the network map in 1965 thanks to the Beeching cuts but can now boast a brand new facility with an hourly shuttle service between Leamington and Coventry. 

- St John's Church -
It's a bright crisp December morning as we set about plundering Kenilworth for photographic prey. Nick acts as our tour guide as we join the busy Warwick Road, pondering references to Walter Scott novels and spotting a disused branch of the National Provincial Bank. A notable landmark at the southern tip of the town centre is St John's Parish Church, positioned pretty much opposite the Green Man pub where we slake our initial thirst. This Ember Inns establishment is listed in the 2019 Good Beer Guide so we enjoy respective halves of X-Panda and Mad Goose sitting in the dedicated grumpy men's corner.

- Mouthy mat in the Bear & Ragged Staff -
Kenilworth is a place that seems to have pubs at regular intervals and we're somewhat spoiled for choice. The Earl Clarendon is a traditional little Marston's local while the Lion has big screen sport and cheeky patio gnomes. Sport is also to the fore in the Bear & Ragged Staff, a standard Greene King boozer where we can choose between watching rugby or football. Rocking Rudolph whets our whistle here, a decent malty Christmas ale which we quaff while testing out the Chris Kamara beermats - I'm not sure it suits me though!

- Abbey Fields -
Prior to becoming a dandy highwayman/ace cataloguer, Nick Turpin did a mid-1970s stint as a Saturday assistant at Kenilworth Library. Alas it shuts at 1pm today so we can't fully revisit his old stomping ground, then an ill-timed shower sends us scurrying for shelter in the Almanack (cue expensive halves of UBU in a gastropub setting). The skies clear soon enough and we're free to proceed over the Abbey Fields, excitedly exploring the earthwork remains of St Mary's Augustinian Abbey as the Finham Brook burbles by. More tangible building remnants include an intact former barn (now a museum, it may have historically been the Prior's Hall) and the remains of an ancient gatehouse.

- Old Original, Virgins & Castle -
St Nicholas's Church is also close at hand as a landmark of distinction; the young Nick Turpin rang the bells here on occasion but today we satisfy ourselves with a glimpse of the altar and a peek at some organ pedals. Our lunchtime location is the Virgins & Castle, a fascinatingly atmospheric inn on Kenilworth's old High Street. Everard's Old Original (5.2% and immaculate, our only full pint of the day) washes down a delicious bowl of Chicken Ginataang curry, a Filipino culinary treat. I however fail my highwayman's apprenticeship course by reminding the barmaid to take for our beer, a commendable moment of honesty when we would've had a free drink otherwise. 

- Rail Reflections -
We haven't quite finished with the Kenilworth pub scene just yet - New Street reveals the Royal Oak (Butty Bach plus Jeff Stelling in full Sky Sports Saturday flow) whereas Stoneleigh Road supplies the Cottage Inn (a Charles Wells tied house where the Eagle IPA is a tad iffy). Darkness is descending by the time we make tracks back to the station, catching the 16:44 to Leamington as Nick reflects further on the welcome return of Kenilworth's railway connection - it may be in time that services continue through to wider destinations such as Nuneaton or Stratford-upon-Avon.

- Back to the Drawing Board? -
Our arrival in Royal Leamington Spa means Nick can attempt to flummox me with weird and wonderful discoveries from the town's burgeoning beer scene. First stop is the Drawing Board as an eclectic Newbold Street gastrobar - they're clearly keen on comics here as the bookshelves are crammed full of bygone annuals while the walls are adorned with framed covers of Spiderman, Captain America, Groo the Wanderer and such like. I've never been anywhere quite like it and the Elephant Wash ale is rather nice too, produced locally in conjunction with the Old Pie Factory Brewery in tribute to Leamington's longstanding liking for all things elephantine.

- An Apehangers Acquaintance -
Next on Nick's itinerary is a walk south/sarf of the river (prompting my best efforts at a dodgy Danny Dyer accent) and a backstreet trail that eventually leads us onto the twilit towpath of the Grand Union Canal. Navigating in the dark is never easy but we successfully stumble across Clemens Street where the Procaffeinate coffee shop conceals an amazing hidden surprise. Step through the Smeg fridge - I kid you not - beside the counter to enter a subterranean world of motorbike helmets and Charles Aznavour LPs. This dear reader is the Apehangers Bar, a basement drinking den with the stairwell guarded by a tinsel-strewn lady mannequin. Dortmunder Vier pale lager is our tipple as I try to comprehend what on earth is happening. 

- The Beertorrent Samosa Stop -
No, we haven't entered a parallel universe and to prove it Nick now introduces me to the Beertorrent tasting room, tucked away in a railway arch and dispensing vegan-friendly concoctions - how much more 'craft' can one place get? The 8.1% Belgian Christmas brew is impossible to ignore so I pace my sipping while munching bargain samosas; Nick meanwhile avails himself of a Smoked Wheat stunner as we park ourselves on a long bench seat. All good things must sadly end and this particular forage concludes with two swift halves of Guinness, one in the Railway Inn (a nice enough two-roomed town pub) and one in Kelsey's (a studentcentric club venue that was eerily quiet, enlivened only by us trying our hand at table football). Half past eight or thereabouts heralds our trains home and a simply astounding pubcrawl for the ages passes into history - cheers!

Sunday, December 2

D9 does Dudley Winter Ales... again!

Having enjoyed our visit to the Dudley Winter Ales Festival so much in 2015, our redoubtable Chairman was keen to repeat the dose for more beery business. Friday 30th November 2018 therefore saw the Hub Marketing Board targeting the Town Hall during an afternoon also notable for pepperpots, puppeteers and Parkfields...

- The Fallen -
Secretary WME's day begins in Wolverhampton checking out some new wolf developments. Remembrance sculpture The Fallen has been brought back to commemorate the centenary of the Armistice (find it in the Archives gardens at the Molineux Hotel) whilst over in the Wulfrun Centre a pop up store is showcasing Professor Heinz Wolf as an extra creation that didn't feature in the original trail last year. The shop is aiming to raise money to repair the South Staffordshire Regiment's tablet memorial on Thornley Street.

- BizHub at Burnt Tree -
The hub action proper commences with a ride on the X7 Platinum bus from Wolverhampton to Burnt Tree island, Mr D9 ready and waiting to board at Dudley (he's so early there's not even the remotest sniff of a free cob). The massive Tesco store is our cue to alight, not because we need groceries but rather we have a photo location to visit, the D9 sleeves revealing the BizHub office block next to the Toby Carvery place. The requisite pictures are quickly taken before we tiptoe tentatively into Tividale, renewing our acquaintance with the Albion where WME is nervous about the pub's strong Baggies allegiances.

- Back on the old D9 patch -
The Chairman used to live in Tividale and uses his previous home advantage to secure a narrow darts victory by two legs to one; WME Whirlwind does have the consolation of the day's highest checkout (a count-them-up 44). Regent Road takes us past the former D9 residence in bringing us to Tivi Ale, a micropub housed in an old shop premises. Here we dry out after a sharp shower by force-feeding spicy samosas to an innocent reindeer while enjoying a pint of some golden ale we can't remember the name of!

- D9 Doolittle strikes again -
Two pubs down and it's time for a ferret, but not just any old random wandering. No siree, Secretary WME has been thorough with his research in realising we have a missing item from our pepperpot mission (last staged in January 2013). The open spaces of Warrens Hall Farm therefore beckon as we make tracks from Oakham Road, shuffling down the side of a care home to pass the riding stables. Mr D9 momentarily tries his hand at horse-whispering though the neighbourhood nags seem wise to his approaches. 

- A Pepperpot Pose -
Our 'Getting Shafted' adventure over five years ago had seen us tracking down several examples of the canal ventilation shafts that serve the Netherton Tunnel. One of the structures - known locally as pepperpots due to their cylindrical appearance and domed tops - had however escaped us back then so today we go cross country over the paddock to complete our set. Shaft No. 6 is that which we seek, perched halfway up a hillside with a vintage British Waterways Board nameplate. 

- A Pepperpot Spot -
With No. 6 captured on camera we squelch our way over more of the reserve, listening to silly songs including 'The Beard' (by the Four Beards, chosen by D9 in tribute to any hirsute hipsters we might meet at the beer festival later) and 'The Tiger's Wide Awake' (a slightly off-key answer to 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight'). Pictures are taken of Pepperpot No. 4 for good measure - complete with a balding intruder - as we emerge onto Dudley Road ready for a ride on the X8. We share the bus stop with a puppeteer lady who has a festive elf on her arm and gives us a brief ventriloquism demonstration - how unexpected!

- Programme Poised -
Once in Dudley we make a beeline straight for the Town Hall where the 2018 Winter Ales Fayre is already well underway. The Secretary considers this to be his favourite beer festival as there's always scope to sample some stronger darker ales you wouldn't normally encounter. Tokens purchased we plot a path through the programme, opening with respective Lunar and Murderer's Yard tipples. D9 is then enticed by the Lunartic Porter whereas WME opts for Ratmus Pudding, tasting almost medicinal due to the festive flavourings. 

- Molten Glow -
An essential element of coming to DWAF is tucking into grey peas and bacon plus picking up some bargain beermats (albeit the main breweriana stall didn't seem to be there this year). Among the Secretary's other ale selections are Gregory's Porter (Ilkley) and Charlie Blackout Extra (Toll End) although special mention has to go to Holden's Molten Glow, brewed in tribute to the industrial pioneer Abraham Darby I who was born in Woodsetton. D9 meanwhile opts to go strong and exotic, supping his way through Mango Junction, Peach Milkshake and a Chocolate Orange IPA. The beer quality as ever proves exceptional.

- Parkfield Central Bar -
Our last traces of tokens are exchanged for Beat's Cosmic Pop (a black IPA) by way of a festival finale, and then we exit into the evening primed for further fun. Our aim now is to hoover up a few Wolverhampton watering holes we hadn't yet visited, so the X8 down the Birmingham New Road gets us underway again. The Garden Bar (previously the Copper Bowl, historically the Staffordshire Knot) specialises in Asian cuisine on the corner of Laburnum Road, and mixed grills are also to the fore on Martin Street where the Parkfield Central Bar is a backstreet revelation. This used to be a working men's club with Jack and Vera Duckworth-style stone cladding that has become something of a Desi gem.

- Cat charming in the Crown -
Indeed, the Desi theme continues with the Builders Arms on Derry Street, All Saints. The place is packed with a mixture of football fans and curry connoisseurs giving a lively backdrop to a swift swig of Banks's, noting an impressive old frosted window that tells of the pub's Butler's Brewery heritage. Last but not least comes the Crown on Cartwright Street, an almost unspoiled old school industrial boozer where we watch Wolves take the lead against Cardiff (sadly that scoreline couldn't last). The Chairman though is more interested in the felines than the football, and with one closing purr we call it a day - cheers!