Saturday, December 9

The Hub Marketing Board's Stafford Santa Special

I'd never have guessed back in May 2006 that I would still be wittering away with my blog ramblings over 17 years later but here I am about to submit post number 1,000 - yes, really! Such a landmark total deserves a truly memorable trip so what better than the Hub Marketing Board's Christmas bash for 2023 which sees Mr D9 and myself sampling a few beers over in Stafford...

- The Bald Spot Assesses the River Sow -
It's Friday 8th December 2023 and the weather is dull verging on dreary as Board members congregate at Wolverhampton railway station, the Chairman insisting on sprinting into position even though the extended Midland Metro tram now drops him right outside. The 12:26 Crewe departure is the train we need, and ten minutes later we are surveying Stafford's Victoria Park where the River Sow has burst its banks - either that or some of the incumbent park benches have taken it up themselves to indulge in an inexplicable spot of paddling!

- George meets WG Grace -
Tradition dictates that whenever we're in the vicinity of Victoria Park we must go and say hello to a certain bearded sculpture over by the bowling green. This time around WG Grace has to contend with the attentions of George our fluffy feline mascot, although the cricketing legend seems to take it all very ably in his hirsute stride. Nearby, Mill Bank takes us past the remains of a medieval watermill to reach the Coach & Horses which is poised to be our first pubbing port of call; as a Craft Union establishment we are expecting this to be relatively cheap and relatively cheerful so it meets our predictions on both counts. £2.95 Carling and a soundtrack drawn from The Who and ELO, that'll get us up and running properly enough. 

- WME Whirlwind Regains His Crown -
We had earmarked either the 828 (to Lichfield) or 841 (to Uttoxeter) for onward bus progress but in the end we decide to walk it along Weston Road instead. In fairness, it isn't all that far to the Metropolitan anyway although the poor old Chairman might wish he'd never set foot in the place. Don't get us wrong, we like the pub and the beer (in this case JW Lees's Plum Pudding, appropriately fruity) but it's the fateful decision to play darts that will have Mr D9 looking back with regret. Our battle for oche supremacy had been a close run thing all year, D9 Destroyer taking an early lead in West Bromwich and Tipton only for WME Whirlwind to steadily claw his way back into contention. It all boils down to a nailbiting decider which the Secretary clinically snatches by four legs to nil, thus reclaiming the title he held with a vicelike grip until 2020.  

- Mr D9's Duvet Dilemma -
Elsewhere on the Weston Road, we pause to account for the Prince of Wales which registers as a homely local boozer merely a few doors up from the Metropolitan. The cosy lounge here is our cue for a quick Carling whilst grappling with the Hub Nominations spreadsheet, expertly sellotaped together by our illustrious Chairman but with font so tiny that neither of us are able to read it!! Keith Hill's bookmakers shop (presumably long closed?) stands next to the Coin-op Launderette where Mr D9 laments not bringing his duvet along and we threaten to put George through a spin cycle by way of road-testing the washing machines. Just the standard silliness!

- The Morris Man -
Inching our way further out of town, we reach the area known as Kingston Hill and eagerly anticipate a visit to the Morris Man as situated off Alliss Close beside a Premier convenience store. Anyone who's read a fair few of my previous 999 blog posts will know that Mr D9 has a declared liking for estate box boozers and this one really ticks all of his boxes, from the simple two room layout to the 1970s/1980s-type architecture. The kitchen specialises in Nepalese cuisine but we concentrate on unveiling the 2024 Hub Marketing calendar, always a highlight of any year. As ever there are quiffs, bald spots and plenty of daft poses although I suspect a royal salute from Hartshill in April may just have stolen the show!

- The Ship Aground -
Venturing back into Stafford town centre, we'll round things off with a few hostelries that had yet to receive their hub call to arms. The Grapes is another Craft Union offering which boasts a distinctively rounded frontage at the bottom end of Bridge Street; Secretary WME lands a cheap round here even though the Chairman insists on sampling the Beavertown Neck Oil. We then decamp to the Ship Aground craft bar literally just across Newport Road, treating ourselves to a delectable drop of 'Fairytale of Brew York' - billed as a stroopwafel milk stout, this is deep and rich with compelling hints of caramel and cinnamon. Utterly moreish!

- Cheers from the Chairman -
Maintaining the microbar remit, we mustn't ignore the Devil's Taphouse (the Floodgate Ale House under new ownership) where the liquid delights keep right on a-coming. Being a firm fan of Tiny Rebel's Stay Puft marshmellow porter, I can't resist trying their Sleigh Puft festive chocolatey variation with added notes of nougat - we're literally being spoiled in one small corner of Stafford! The Bird in Hand then proves bustlingly inviting for a Black Country Ales finale as we gorge on beef and onion cobs in readiness for the train home. So concludes another epic Hub Marketing year, and we'll aim to be back in 2024 for more such antics!

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