Sunday, December 27

WME Flickr Focus - December 2020

Season's Greetings! It has been a quiet and reflective Christmas here at WME Towers as I now bid to shake off any festive excesses by bringing you glad tidings of photostream happenings. 2020 has filed its final update and I'm surprised to see that I've added 648 new pictures over the course of the year; considering that I usually average around 380, we can safely conclude that Covid lockdowns have at least enabled me to dedicate more time than usual to the Flickr side of things...

Two collections in particular were at the forefront of December's arrivals, so I'll begin with felicitations from WME Birmingham. Yes Brum benefited from a distinct 'G' theme last month so thanks go to Gosta Green (Holt Street and the Gosta Green pub), Gravelly Hill (Hunton Hill) and the Gun Quarter (Price Street and the Gunmakers Arms). Also of that G persuasion were Great Barr Street on the Grand Union Canal near Warwick Bar, and Griffins Brook Lane in Hay Green (Bournville) - jolly good!

The other collection to have been served well by Santa was Exploration Extra, which can look back on a remarkably productive 2020 despite the fact I've barely left the West Midlands all year. The most recent batch of goodies here take us to Matlock, Merseyside and mid-Wales... Matlock ushered in a couple of pub pictures representing the Thorn Tree Inn and the Sycamore; Merseyside majored on Moorfields railway station as a Liverpool location I always seem to gravitate towards; and mid-Wales meant a delightful visit to Newtown where the Pryce Jones warehouse stole the show. Nether Poppleton ensured some Yorkshire content too and there was a numerical appearance for the majestic 'Mallard' at the National Railway Museum.

Those big-hitters apart, the rest of my WME collections struggled to be stirred from their seasonal slumbers. WME Wolverhampton managed one token addition (awards banners at the Hail to the Ale micropub), likewise WME Walsall with its solitary Gorway Road titbit. WME Dudley gave us Green Duck beer art and a Halesowen bus unloading position, which just leaves us with WME Sandwell (the Beacon Harvester at Great Barr) and WME Worcestershire (a station sign at Hagley). That's your lot for this month and indeed this year - 2021 looks likely to be very challenging, certainly to begin with at any rate, but I hope to keep the photostream flowing as best I can!

Wednesday, December 23

The Hub Marketing Awards 2020

Covid has understandably curtailed Hub Marketing activities this year, with only one trip (Stafford in October) having been submitted since the end of February. We can now add another to that list after an extraordinary general meeting was convened on Monday 21st December in order to facilitate the annual Hub Marketing Awards. Naturally these were more low-key than normal with pubs completely off the agenda, but Chairman D9 and Secretary WME did still cover many other aspects of hub business during the course of a Walsall Canal wander...

The Awards: as is customary around Christmastime, our ancient Hub founder Charles Pemberton Rowbottom III is stirred from his slumbers in order to undertake presentation duties. All of the usual accolades were dished out including Pub of the Year (the White Tower in Birmingham), Dive of the Year (Highgate's Town Crier) and the prize for the most devious discount (Mr WME with a £2.10 round in Stafford). The Chairman was not left empty-handed, far from it after hoovering up the Expensive Round title (£5.50 for nitrokeg in Stourbridge), but perhaps most significant was the news that D9 Destroyer finally claimed the Pub Games Championship for the first time ever!

The Closet: at Mr D9's insistence, the inclusion of a public conveniences on each outing is a standing item on the Hub Marketing rulebook. Decorum was fulfilled on this occasion by finding a gents outhouse within James Bridge Cemetery, the Chairman cashing in some prior research to good effect here. Note too the topical t-shirt being modelled by D9 in the above picture, he's certainly well versed as regards mobile tracking devices! Other closets that merit a mention from 2020 are the examples at Penn Fields Bowling Club and Stafford's Victoria Park but you'll have to take D9's word for it...

The Ferret: ongoing Tier 3 restrictions meant we couldn't attempt too much in terms of actual exploring so we settled on a steady canal-themed walk. Beginning in Moxley with Champions League Popmaster by the derelict Travellers Rest, we surveyed the remains of the Bradley Locks Branch down to Moorcroft Junction. Our main focus then became the Walsall Canal through to Pleck, passing the Rough Hay estate and detouring into Darlaston for a classic Middletons chip shop lunch. James Bridge Aqueduct meanwhile was originally built in 1797 and comprises two round arches carrying the canal over what is now Bentley Mill Way. 

The Bald Spot: another staple of many a marketing meeting, the D9 bald spot has suffered from particularly slim pickings this year (and for once we're not talking about the lack of hair up top). December's contribution is this snap taken during our Bradley Locks investigations, the Chairman distracted by a combination of old waterways infrastructure and the Midland Metro bridge. The Bradley Canal Restoration Society is working to bring about the re-opening of the canal from Moorcroft Junction through to the Canal & Rivers Trust workshop off Bradley Lane, a scheme that would involve reinstating nine locks in total. Fingers crossed this will become a reality in the not-too-distant future!

The D9 Drive: as has been the case with bald spots, D9 driving poses have also been conspicuously absent from our marketing minutes in 2020. Thankfully the Chairman seems to have lost none of his prowess behind those imaginary pizza-sized steering wheels as indeed he was keen to demonstrate aboard the number 34 bound for Bilston. In keeping with current regulations, face coverings were worn at all times whilst on the vehicle albeit Conductor 'Ding Ding' Dave is allegedly still on furlough.

The Hub: the core mission of the Hub Marketing Board is of course to identify and document hubs in all their myriad shapes and sizes. Ever on the lookout for undetected examples, we were pleased to spot the Olio Hub among the industrial units on Midland Road (apparently it's some kind of dance studio or music academy). That discovery came near Darlaston Green where we paid homage to the former Rubery Owen works; based in Booth Street, the factory employed around 5,000 people before closing in the early 1980s although the Rubery Owen name continues to operate across eight subsidiary companies.

The Charts: the final essential piece of activity that needs reporting on has to be our silly songs chart. DJ D9 Hubbacini therefore counts down our very own Pick of the Pops, starting with Jon Inman's 'I'm Free' and progressing through gems from Nina & Frederik (Sucu Sucu) plus Valerie Singleton (Solomon Centipede). The all-important top three comprised Freddie Barratt's version of 'It's Impossible', Monty Norman's 'Good Sign, Bad Sign' - which later got reworked into the James Bond Theme - and at number one was Wing with her unique take on 'All the Single Ladies'. Such was the impression Wing made that the Chairman in his infinite wisdom spent most of the walk playing examples of her other recordings, good grief!

That concludes our light-hearted look at the 2020 Hub Awards but in all seriousness it has been a year like no other and our hearts do go out to anybody who's been affected by loss and hardship during the pandemic. We sincerely hope that 2021 will be a better year all round, and as the Northern Soul cushion says - Keep the Faith!

Friday, December 18

Towpath Turpin's Festive Furtle

Normally this would be the time of year when everyone's favourite highwayman Nick Turpin plots his 'Festive Forage', an opulent extravaganza of plunder and merriment. Covid has other ideas of course so there can be no dandyish delinquency, no Stagecoach shenanigans and - worst of all - no pubs this time around. Instead our scaled-back seasonal special involves a socially distanced sampling of the Grand Union Canal near Solihull...

- Station Lamp, Olton -
Friday 17th December 2020 dawns with some welcome morning sunshine so I'm keen to maximise my photographic opportunities en route to Solihull. I therefore alight at Olton where the traditional waiting room on the island platform is lovingly strewn with silver streamers. Olton Station originally opened in 1869 and was then reworked during the 1930s; chunky lamps help add to the period detail while it is clear that the facility is well cared for by volunteers who look after the planters and hanging baskets. 

- The Lyndon -
A round-the-block loop of Richmond Road and Lyndon Road will get my exploring off and running for the day, and it makes a change to be getting pictures of somewhere other than Wolverhampton! Features include St Margaret's Church of England Primary School, the Richmond Medical Centre and a Kelvinator Launderama although my undoubted top target has to be the Lyndon pub. This is a suburban roadhouse I've never had the pleasure of frequenting, even though it earned rave reviews from Life After Football - I make a mental note to have a priority pint here once the pandemic has passed. 

- Coptic Orthodox Cathedral -
I'm due to meet Towpath Turpin at Solihull Station come 11am so I need to get a move on or else I'll be late (it's never wise to keep an outlaw waiting). Warwick Road has me on target for an elegant glimpse of the Dovehouse shopping parade, and I'm soon forgiven for arriving five minutes behind schedule. Reunited with Nick, our walk proper commences with Lode Lane as we pass Solihull Hospital, the Mill Pool scout hut and the Jaguar Land Rover car plant. Perhaps the most interesting discovery is St Mary & Archangel Michael's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral as situated off Caldwell Grove - Coptic Orthodoxy is not a denomination I know much about but I believe it originated in Egypt (Alexandria). 

- Lode Lane Bridge -
The centrepiece of this furtle requires us to investigate a short(ish) stretch of the Grand Union Canal, starting from Bridge 82 at Dovehouse Lane. The waterway occupies quite a deep cutting at this point and passes in turn below Lode Lane, Rowood Drive and Damson Lane offering just the occasional hint of back gardens or moored miniature pleasure boats. Conditions underfoot are somewhat squelchy so we're glad to be wearing appropriate footwear; conversation meanwhile concentrates on our hopes that the vaccine roll-out programme will have the desired effect of bringing the pandemic to a close. 

- Towpath Turpin primed for action -
There's something about an energetic stroll on a crisp winter's day that simply feels good for the mind and the soul, lifting some of the gloom of lockdown. The scenery opens out again slightly as we reach Damson Parkway (Bridge 78A) which acts as our Elmdon Heath exit point - apparently it is only a further mile to Catherine-de-Barnes so we've food for thought there as regards a future wander. Heading back towards the town centre, we note a BUPA Hospital before spotting the prestigious grounds of the Solihull School as seen from Hampton Lane.

- Prancing Horse, Malvern Park -
The weather has certainly held nicely for us and Nick is looking forward to unwrapping his Christmas calendar. Malvern Park is chosen as the location for the 'Big Reveal' once we've found a suitably sheltered seat, hence Nick can get to grips with his gift - 2020's chosen photos include the Nuneaton Nun, Bedworth Carling and even an appearance from Coseley Pete. Our meeting then draws to a close as we say farewell to the park's Prancing Horse statue, crafted in bronze by Joseph Boehm in honour of Sir Alfred Bird. With that it's off to the station for our respective trains home, cheers!

Friday, December 11

Hub Marketing Reflections: The Christmas Collection

We may be out of national lockdown again but the Tier 3 restrictions imposed on the West Midlands have scuppered any prospect of the Hub Marketing Board holding a full Christmas meeting this year. However, festive fun can still be on the agenda if you'd care to join us in another memory lane trawl through the pages of Hub history...

- Inspecting the Cape Hill Closet -
Our Christmas compilation begins back in 2011 when we rounded off our first full year of marketing action by investigating the December delights to be found around Moseley and Ladywood. A damp morning gave way to an exciting afternoon, calling into the Merry Maid and the Vine (Ruston Street) among other watering holes. The Chairman has a longstanding fascination with Smethwick so it was only appropriate to finish there, reliving memories of pick-up trucks by trundling around the Robin, the Hono Bar (previously the George) and the Queens Arms - we resisted the offer of a scalp massage in the latter, Mr D9 wanting to keep a clear head for his tribute to the Cape Hill Closet. 

- Foaming with Joy in 2012 -
East Birmingham was our December destination in 2012 for a seasonal sweep around Saltley and Small Heath. St Clements Road summoned up a Nechells nugget for the Chairman's closed closet collection, and we gazed in awe at giant gasholders when recalling the area's lost industries. The Albion Vaults was a backstreet sleeve success for the Secretary while the Foaming Tankard provided a definitive flat roof fix, all washed down with some M&B Mild. Ward End then kept us occupied with every single round seeming to come to £2.50 (bar the Wetherspoons), but the piece de resistance had to be our evening visit to Bedders fish and chip shop - their diced pickled onions are a thing of legend!

- Bah Humbug Bus Driving -
Fast forward twelve months into 2013 and Wednesbury was in our sights as the inaugural Pub Games Championship reached the tightest possible conclusion, WME Whirlwind prevailing by a single darts leg - cue wild celebrations in the Croft! D9 Destroyer was crestfallen having committed the cardinal sin of defaulting a critical pool frame in the Old Mill, knocking in an accidental black that has haunted the Chairman ever since. Hateley Heath and Hill Top had got the trip off to a lively start (complete with us gatecrashing a wake in the Gough Arms), and there was something of a 'Shameless' swansong when we rubber-stamped the dive credentials of both the Brunswick and the George. 

- Picking out the Puffing Billy -
2014's yuletide masterpiece got underway with some extended exploration thanks to a first-class ferret from Handsworth all the way to Langley Green. Stan's Cafe was a greasy spoon experience par excellence, plus we staged a Winson Green jailbreak (the Chairman clutching his prized calendar) and homaged Hockley Port on the Soho canal loop. Amidst all the fun we almost forgot to sample some pubs, a situation we corrected by pairing the Royal Oak with the Old Cross before savouring a Smethwick soiree involving the Hollybush and the Puffing Billy; the latter has sadly since burnt down and is due for demolition. 

- Bring on the Calendar! -
Our festive outings always require additional administration to be carried out, chiefly the declaration of the Hub Awards (by Charles Pemberton Rowbottom III) and the presentation of the Hub Calendar. The Chairman was the grateful recipient in 2015 at the Swan, Long Lane during a Halesowen bash that also covered Hasbury and Hurst Green (playing darts in the Fairfield). Mr D9 had earlier emerged largely unscathed after some Blackheath pensioners took exception to recent bus route changes, meaning he was still present and correct for a Netherton nightcap at the atmospherically unspoiled Bulls Head. 

- Darts Duel in the Duke of Cambridge -
Another ceremonial aspect every year is totting up the scores in the aforementioned Pub Games Championship, whereby WME Whirlwind has established something of a stranglehold over the years. 2016 was a case in point, the Secretary having sewn up the title well in advance of our Short Heath session. The vanquished D9 Destroyer consoled himself with wrapping paper drapery at the Duke of Cambridge, and a cheeky call at the Avery Club also merits a mention. However the undoubted star that day was the Manhattan in Heath Town, massive speakers belting out a reggae disco in cementing fond memories of a pub that no longer exists, the building having been flattened a couple of years later. 

- Banks's in the Beehive -
If that 2016 offering had flirted briefly with Willenhall, 2017's seasonal special put the town firmly in the spotlight. Chairman D9 recovered from his sickbed to complete a terrific tour of tempting taverns, notably including the Falcon, the Jolly Collier and the Navigation. Derelict factories prompted thoughts of 'Deirdre's Bristols' and secretarial shenanigans, the vintage theme then being maintained by several old-fashioned petrol pumps at Fibbersley Service Station. That spot of refuelling prepared us well for a Deansfield denouement, Banks's Mild and brandy in the Beehive being the perfect way to sign off. 

- The less said the better! -
As for 2018, a doorstep focus meant that Whitmore Reans and Wolverhampton supplied our end-of-year entertainment. Flat-roof boozers were again to the fore with pride of place going to the Winning Post (near Dunstall Park Racecourse) and the Pegasus, while the Chairman became rather too well acquainted with the potholes on the Emerald Club car park. Dusting himself down, Mr D9 recovered his composure over in Penn Fields although an inexplicable bauble and battered sausage routine still defies description. Other memorable highlights involved inflatable Santas in the Stile and match night musings in the Hatherton Arms, not forgetting an encounter with a Leaping Wolf!

- Cheers from the Little Chop House -
All of which brings us to the small matter of 2019's Christmas classic which saw board members descending once more upon Ho Ho Halesowen. A Crafty Pint micropub moment in Hasbury preceded a Picks pause and the homely Black Country charms of both the Hawne Tavern and the Why Not. Charles Pemberton Rowbottom III was last seen in the Wilson Hall (Cradley Labour Club) snoozing away having imbibed generously of the house bitter - hopefully our founder will be in a fit state for the 2020 Awards, wherever they may be held...

Merry Christmas from the Hub Marketing Board!

Tuesday, December 1

WME Flickr Focus - November 2020

Tiers seem to be all the rage as England readies itself to leave the second national lockdown in early December, so here at WME Towers I've decided to follow suit. My constituent collections have therefore been categorised according to their recent photostream performance...

Having the highest tier all to itself is Exploration Extra which registers a bumper November thanks to several new arrivals. These can broadly be grouped into items from Hereford, Oxford and Liverpool; Isis Lock accounts for the Oxford contingent whereas Hereford is represented by the Bishops Palace, Wallis Avenue and an ironmongers shop. Liverpool has undoubtedly been the busiest of all, trialling some city centre street signs (Rainford Square, Mathew Street) whilst checking in on the White Star pub and the famous Cunard Building. 

Dropping down into Tier Two, our middle-ranking collections include WME Wolverhampton and WME Dudley. Wolverhampton discovers Wile E Coyote by the disused former Eye Infirmary before charting developments with the Dixons Building on Cleveland Road. The Golden Lion at Fallings Park makes its presence felt, plus we have the usual clutch of ceramic street names. As for Dudley, I bring you news of Dudley Zoo goings on - especially at the Reptile House - alongside an airing for the Saracens Head and a Gornal Wood glance at Guys Lane. 

A Tier Two mention also must go to WME Birmingham after a solid few weeks of photo accumulation. Of particular note here are a couple of snapshots from Farmers Bridge Locks, and a brace of pub signs remembering the Drop Forge in the Jewellery Quarter (an upmarket industrial bar that Nick and I visited twice). Over in Edgbaston, there's a comic book depiction of some Pakistani cricketers and a bit of hoovering up as regards Farquhar Road and Church Road - all good progress I'm sure!

The lowest tier is populated by those collections that have been relatively quiet of late. WME Coventry can be very shy in terms of additions so three Fargo Village items (Bramble Street signage and some remote control street art among them) are still reason to celebrate. WME Sandwell is usually more forthcoming by comparison and supplies a Gorse Farm footbridge view along with a nod to St Francis Church in Friar Park; likewise WME Staffordshire maintains a steady trajectory via two Enville offerings and a Fazeley Three Tuns dartboard.

Some of the WME members - notably Solihull, Warwickshire and Shropshire - haven't mustered any updates at all and therefore find themselves excluded from categorisation as things stand, meaning the final word goes to that handful of constituents which only just scraped the cut. One solitary delivery was recorded by each of WME Walsall (Gillity Bridge on the Rushall Canal), WME Worcestershire (moorings at Diglis Basin) and WME Telford (Dothill Nature Reserve greenery) - and that's your lot!