Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

Chasetown v Cambridge City & Hotpotting In Derby

It is a rare treat to have a weekend free in the football calendar. Following Blackpool is, of course, (sometimes) a joy, but I cherish the freedom a blank weekend gives me. Last weekend I enjoyed an epic pub crawl with Evo. And this weekend? Well I was going to hunt down some football!

Today was Non League Day and I was heading back to my former club, Chasetown, where I was Match Secretary during the Blackpool boycott years. It had been a huge wrench to leave a club I came to fall in love with and it’s always a treat when I get to return to The Scholars Ground.

Southbound

Lee dropped me at Blackpool North in plenty of time for the 0724 to Blackpool East. As I hopped out of the car, I was greeted by a stranger working on the station.

‘Morning Jane. Where are you going to today, then?’

He introduced himself as ‘a subscriber’ and it was lovely to be met with a friendly face at the start of my travels.

I withdrew £30 from the cashpoint because you never know if non league clubs take cards or not. Also the WiFi at The Scholars Ground is even worse than at Bloomfield Road, if you can believe that.

Next I made my way to the refreshment kiosk, where I bought an Earl Grey and a healthy breakfast from another chirpy man, who double-cupped my brew so I wouldn’t burn my hands. How thoughtful.

I took my place in the queue for the relevant platform, perching my brew on the barrier to let it cool. I pulled out my phone and continued reading this book, which I’ve been really enjoying.

I can’t say that I’ve always loved train travel because I spent many an hour crying on Blackpool East station during my Great Depression of my early twenties. But I have a great affection for it these days. It allows me some ‘me time’ during which I can read and write to my heart’s content. Indeed I’m writing this blog on the train.

I boarded the train and immersed myself in my book during the short hop to Blackpool East. Here I was disappointed to see the tangerine paint on the balustrade on the steps down to Ice Station Zebra Platform One had been covered with red paint. But it was good that the station was getting a lick of paint. Indeed as I walked through the tunnel towards Platform Six (which is sort of like the Big Dipper and I run down the downhill bits), I noticed a strong smell of fresh paint. Of course Blackpool East needs a lot more than paint to make it a pleasure to visit, hence my bombing, rebuilding and rebranding of it during lockdown.

Mercifully my connecting train was already on the platform and the doors were open, so I was quickly off the station and on the train.

This was an Aviva train, on which I learned that there are now three classes of travel: Standard, Premium and First. I usually try to tune out when the train announcements are being made but my ears pricked up at this news. Ooh what was Premium? Well apparently, for a premium, you’re guaranteed a table seat and extra legroom. Well I was already at a table seat and extra legroom is not something I’m ever going to need with my short legs. I tuned out again and returned to my book, which I soon finished.

Finishing a book is exciting because it means I get to start a new book. I was excited to see the next book in this series was available. I don’t usually read similar books back to back but I was prepared to make an exception in this case. Alas it was only available to pre-order, so this I did and I’ll have to wait until June to read it. Still, that’s something to look forward to. And I remembered I was already one chapter in to The Conquest Of Plassans by Emile Zola, so I returned to that.

I love the French classics and Zola is one of my faves (along with Alexandre Dumas, Victor Hugo and Jules Verne). His imagery is so powerful that he instantly transported me away from the train and off to a house in Plassans, where I became intrigued by the mysterious abbé and his mother.

I changed trains again at Crewe, where again the train was already waiting on the platform with the doors open. I have noticed a strange new trend of passengers waiting on the platform despite the train being ready to board. Is this a post-COVID thing where people prefer being in the fresh air for as long as possible as opposed to on a train? Or have they forgotten how getting on a train works?

I walked some way down the platform in the hope that I’d have a carriage more or less to myself, as I wanted to continue reading in the quiet. Alas this plan failed miserably.

First of all, the carriage became packed with children pretty quickly, one of whom kept returning to close the train doors behind everyone who boarded. Whilst this might be deemed a commendable action (indeed I usually close the train doors behind me to keep the heat in on cold mornings), it did come with a protracted BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP which interrupted my reading somewhat.

And then at Stafford a group of women invaded my carriage. I was dismayed to discover that one of this party was one of those people who just never stops talking – and she also talked loudly. I sighed and set my book aside as there was now no chance of focussing on that. Sadly there was no internet now we were in Staffordshire (I’m pretty sure it’s not been invented here yet) so I couldn’t even retreat to social media. But there was only 15 minutes left of my journey so I could live with that.

‘Do you want a biscuit? I’ve got to have something to eat before I start to go wobbly. I get wobbly if I don’t have anything to eat.’

I hoped that I’d get some respite from the running commentary of what was going on in her head for a few minutes while she ate. I felt a headache forming. I’d be tempted to pay a premium for a library coach on a train where I could sit and read in peace.

Now the door between the carriages (right next to me) seemed to jar open and there was a very loud rattling emanating from there. Grr. Are we nearly there yet?

Mercifully we were and I soon disembarked at Lichfield Trent Valley, where I was to be collected by Wendy and Daz. Now you may recall from my last visit here that there was some confusion as to which car park we were rendezvousing at. Attempts to clarify this ahead of time today failed miserably so I followed logic and took the ‘car park’ exit. But no. That was again the wrong one. My diversion did, however, allow me the opportunity to observe a tilting train hurtling at full pelt through the station, which was an impressive sight.

Daz has often chauffeured us to and from pubs and I always take the opportunity to chat with him about football en route. He’s a Villa fan and today he was raving about Coutinho. I pretended to know who that was but in reality I barely know any Premier League players because that’s not my world (at the moment, at least).

Wendy and I were soon despatched on Brownhills High Street and headed off in search of a caff for breakfast.

Morgans Coffee Shop

This was a new one on me but it was the first one we came to.

I was suspicious of the rogue apostrophe – especially in light of our recent questionable spelling/questionable breakfast episode in Wigan – but we headed in regardless because who could resist £3.99 for a full English?

It looked very modern inside, with comfy armchairs that didn’t seem too practical for eating breakfast. There was one table so we waited for this to be cleared before taking our seats.

Ash Brown is how it’s pronounced in Brownhills.

This was surprisingly decent. I’ll break it down for you.

Egg – Didn’t look like an egg but bonus points for runny yolk.

Bacon – Bit fatty but nicely cooked.

Toast – A rare treat to have butter now I’m on SlimmingWorld. Would have been nice to have a brown bread option. But it was tasty and quickly demolished.

Sausages – Another surprise package. I only had a taster for diet reasons but they were spicy and tasty. They were cut in half but there were two of them.

Ash brown – Perfect.

Beans & tomatoes – Paltry portions but the runny egg and lashings of butter made up for this in the moisture quotient.

I was amused to see the woman preparing the food was wearing a hairnet. You don’t see many of those these days. So what they lack in spelling they make up for in health and safety. And it was a decent breakfast for £3.99.

But now it was time for the pub…

The Jack Jigger Taylor

This Amber Tavern was the new pub on the block on Brownhills High Street, popping up since I left a couple of years ago. I didn’t know what to expect but it was open at 1100 and that was all I needed to know.

Here were the cask offerings.

I didn’t really want to waste my pre-match beer allocation on a pint of Doom Bar but it was 1120 and I didn’t think a half would last until the next pub opened at 1200 so a pint it was.

Wendy enquired about the post-1900 dress code that she’d read about online. Our landlady confirmed the following list of rules:

– Only smart trainers allowed

– Only smart shorts allowed

– No tracksuits

– No hoodies

– No football shirts, except when there’s a match on

We took a seat in a booth by the window. I do like a booth.

I perused the drinks menus on the table.

Ooh Cherry Baby!
Can’t drink gin but love the idea of flights.

This pub certainly makes a change from the predominantly foody/family pubs in Brownhills.

Jiggers Whistle

This micropub was the reason we had come to Brownhills today. The Jiggers was my old local when I lived down here. It’s just what I want a micropub to be. It has excellent beer (and cider, if that floats your boat) and the landlord and landlady, Colin and Teresa, greet you by name. It’s one of those micropubs that really feels like a home from home. I used to call in on my way home from work, although not as often as I ought to have.

Here were today’s cask offerings.

We both had the locally-brewed Beowulf Chocolate Porter which is what I think Martin would describe as ‘chewy’. I now understand this to mean a bit thick and not quaffable. Not that it wasn’t delicious, but it’s not one you could down quickly.

I was delighted to meet pubdog Maxi, formerly a Romanian streetdog. She strained on her lead to come and say hello, so I bent down to pet her. I was gobsmacked when she rolled over and showed me her belly. Er, wasn’t that a cat thing? I gave her belly a vigorous fuss and she loved it.

When I took my hand away, she batted me insistently with her paw, wanting me to continue with the fuss. I duly obliged. I must confess it made for a refreshing change giving a belly fuss without being bitten at the end of it like cats do. I could actually be tempted to get a dog like this, although suspected she was one of a kind.

This pub had changed a lot since I last visited but all for the better.

And, in case you’re wondering what the Jiggers these pub names are all about, here’s the story of Jack ‘Jigger’ Taylor.

And here’s the statue of him here at the Gateway to the Black Country.

We headed round the corner in search of the bus to Chasetown, which arrived on time and allowed me to pay via contactless. This makes bus travel so much easier.

Uxbridge Arms

Well it would have been rude not to call in at this recently-refurbished Black Country Ales pub.

Here’s the beer board.

And here’s what I had.

It is lovely to see pubs busy again (despite me preferring them quiet). The Uxbridge wasn’t quite as heaving as on our last visit owing to fewer travelling fans today but it was still thriving and we had to queue at the bar.

This sign raised a couple of questions, which I posed to Twitter.

Some interesting and varied answers there!

Sadly there was only time for a half here. And I now found myself 3.5 pints down pre-match. My self-imposed limit is usually three. I suppose we can discount the Doom Bar but the other beers had been pretty strong. I felt ok though. That breakfast had clearly done its job.

On the short walk to the ground, we got chatting with Bob the groundsman, who had also been in the Uxbridge. Nice chap Bob.

Chasetown v Cambridge City

And now here we were at my former home ground. And it really did feel like I was back home.

I was surprised to see Edna, who looked after me in hospitality in my Chase days, so stopped for a chat with her. Also here was her husband, John, who had been my mentor here as Club Secretary. I was closest to John and Edna when I was here and they became like family as I spoke to John most days. He is a whizz on non league administration. It was lovely to see them both again.

Today Wendy and I sat in the main stand, close to where I used to sit to undertake my administrative duties during matches (noting down the goalscorers and substitutions so I could report these to the league).

I was conscious that I needed to eat something between now and the gig but suspected there’d be nothing diet-friendly here. Nonetheless, I ventured to get something in my belly just ahead of half time.

Not healthy but it would have to do.

The match was a walk in the park for high-flying Chase – with Pondy saving a penalty to boot.

As we left the ground we were top of the league but alas Ilkeston got a last minute winner so this is how the table looks now.

Exciting stuff, eh?

I bade farewell to Wendy, as we were off on separate missions tonight, and headed out to the car park with Kev, who had kindly offered me a lift to Tamworth. As well as a lift, I was given a present of last week’s Non League Paper, which featured Chase’s epic win at Yeltz.

Kev was confident he’d get me to Tamworth in time for the 1730 train but I thought that sounded ambitious. But we only made it with minutes to spare. What a legend.

The train to Derby was loud but it was only a short hop and I had a seat and I wasn’t reading and I was buzzing after that win so all was good.

The Alexandra

My early arrival in Derby allowed me a little time to play with. And I knew exactly what to do with it.

On Twitter last night, Paul WME (West Midlands Explorer) announced that he’d met a snake in a pub and asked if we’d ever encountered anything similar.

The conversation came round to the famous pubrabbit in the Alex in Derby. I was pleased that Britainbeermat remembered this pubrabbit too because I was beginning to wonder if I’d imagined it. Indeed, I had made enquiries of said pubrabbit of two fellow pub explorers, both of whom had visited the Alex recently. I wasn’t sure if they’d ignored my request for confirmation of pubrabbit’s existence because they thought I was making it up, but both had failed to acknowledge its existence. So I knew what I had to do tonight. This pub is very close to Derby station, so I headed straight there.

I entered the pub via the door on the right. On my last visit, pretty much the whole room was a huge run for the pubrabbit. That had been replaced by tables today. Hmm. I continued towards the back of the room…and look who I found.

The beer pumps were in the other room, so I made my way back round there. I was disturbed by the sight of what might have been Morris dancers (I have a phobia of Morris dancers) so was in a slightly disturbed state when I eventually got to the bar and forgot to grill the bar staff about the rabbit (name, age, etc). I did, however, remember to snap the beer board.

And this is what I had.

I took a seat on a high stool by the beer shelf on the wall. Mercifully no Morris dancers appeared so I was saved that torment.

Stuart Hotel

I was staying here tonight – again not far away. It had my name and it was reasonably priced and in a suitable location. What was not to like?

I was curious as to why it described itself as ‘quirky’ but soon discovered why.

I suspected I might skip breakfast.

This is me standing on my tiptoes in front of the bathroom mirror.

The drinks station was in a drawer.

There was a wedding party downstairs but I didn’t have time to raid the buffet (or were the guests eating from bags as well?) as I had a party of my own to get to. A Hotpotting party.

I did, however, have time for a pub stop en route. Despite not being a Good Beer Guide pub ticker, I consulted the GBG app and was delighted to see a GBG pub situated between the hotel and the gig venue. However, as I got closer, I realised it was a Spoons and I’m boycotting them, so a frantic change of plan was called for. I returned to the GBG app – which also includes pubs that aren’t in the GBG – and scanned the map for nearby pubbage. This one sounded most interesting.

The Hairy Dog

I almost walked past it as it seemed more clubby than pubby but I was pleased that the map diverted me in. From the outside this reminded me a little of the Stein Bar in Walsall in an intriguing but moderately scary kind of way. Death metal was blaring out and I entered with excited trepidation.

Dear reader, it was ace. It was dark (just how I like a pub) and here are the beers.

I had the chilli choc stout and enjoyed it (and the bar) so much that I went back for a second.

I’ve explained previously how I feel I ought to dress appropriately (i.e. in black) when I’m in a rock pub. And yet here I was tonight fully decked out in tangerine – including my Eggs Sausage Chips & Beans Hotpots tee – and I couldn’t have cared less that I stood out like a sore thumb in here. Nor did anyone else seem to care. A good time was being had by all and that was how it should be.

This is also a live music venue and I would like to return here for a gig sometime. Remind me to check the listings.

But I had another gig at another venue to get to right now, so it was off there that I headed.

Lancashire Hotpots @ The Venue

Despite the doors opening a little while earlier, there was still a small queue for The Venue when I arrived. While I waited patiently, pulling up the ticket from my emails (much easier when there’s a signal and I’m not lashed), a man came storming out, chuntering about the bar only taking cash. Aha! That emergency pit stop at the cashpoint this morning had been a stroke of genius.

Once I’d had my hand stamped, I entered the venue and headed immediately for the Ladies, before marching up to the bar. It was busy but the staff knew what they were doing and seemed to be serving everyone in order and got to me pretty quickly. There was no cask on so I settled for a bottle of Spitfire, decanted into a plastic glass. And paying by card was an option, despite all the CASH ONLY signs.

Despite the opening act not yet taking to the stage, there was no room for little me right at the front, so I assumed a position next to a pillar to the right of the stage as I looked at it. This was also right by the Ladies so it seemed a decent spot.

I always find I enjoy Stu Penders (and Spladoosh) much more when I’ve had a few drinks and, true to form, found him hilarious tonight. This was in stark contrast to the venue security staff, who looked quite stern throughout.

I had a comfort break between sets before reassuming my position by the pillar (which nicely shielded my drink from being kicked over).

And then it was Hotpot O’Clock! The set was amazing as always, with banger after banger. I had another strategic comfort break during Lean Forwards Lean Backwards to avoid the strenuous dance moves but that meant there was no escaping the even more lively Perfect Pint. Dammit I’m out of practice after two years off from gigging.

Dickie came down into the crowd for Lancashire DJ and I grabbed him by the waist as he led the conga round the room. I was pretty knackered by the time that one was over. Not that that stopped me Doing The Dad Dance like a demon during the encore.

Hotpots gigs are a great laugh and also great exercise with all that dancing. And I did need to work off that burger from earlier! It had settled on my stomach to the point that I didn’t have anything further to drink after my initial Spitfire here. And that’s unheard of for me at a Hotpots gig, as I’m usually spurred on to drink more beer with all the drinky songs.

I had toyed with the idea of a return to The Hairy Dog but now I really didn’t fancy any more beer so I headed straight back to the hotel for a well-earned kip. Although I did pause to take a photograph of this ram.

Northbound

You won’t be surprised to hear that I skipped the hotel breakfast. I was, however, annoyed that I’d failed to notice the caff right next door to the hotel. Doh! But there was no time for that now – I had a train to catch.

I bought an Earl Grey from Costa on the station but they didn’t have any of those sausage and onion marmalade toasties that I like so I went without food for now.

The first leg of this journey was to Sheffield. It was straightforward and comfortable and I got my head down writing this blog.

At Sheffield I was thirsty again but I wasn’t paying £1.99 for a bottle of water at Pumpkin. I retreated to Costa and consulted their price list. £1.60. That was better. By the time I got to the front of the queue, I was dismayed to find only sparkling water in the fridge. I don’t understand why that’s even a thing.

‘Would you like me to pour you a tap water?’

‘Oh yes please – thank you so much!’

I have to say the Costa staff can be quite brilliant at times. I’d got my water AND saved £1.99. What a result!

AND the straw didn’t go soggy. I’m not a fan of chains as a rule but credit where credit’s due – big up Costa.

But it was here that things began to go wrong. This was, after all, Sunday on the trains. The station announcer confirmed that my next train was ‘heaving’ and advised passengers for Manchester (where I was indeed headed) to catch a later train. Hmm. But I was on set trains so I didn’t think that was an option for me. Nor did anyone else seem to fancy this option, as no-one budged.

Mercifully I managed to get a seat on the train and continued writing this blog.

I was interrupted by the arrival of an email.

Whilst that is of course annoying, it’s great that you now get an email notifying you so you can at least make alternative plans. Now I had over an hour to kill in Manchester, my alternative plan was to find somewhere to sit down and have some breakfast.

I had this at Leon

just outside Piccadilly station as I’d been salivating over it every time I’d passed in recent weeks. It was slightly messy but very tasty and I’d have it again (and try to remember to ask for extra napkins next time).

By the time I got back to Platform 14, it was heaving and I was dismayed to note my train (to Blackpool East) was formed of only two carriages (it’s usually six). Magically, I managed to position myself perfectly so I got a seat on this train too. I’m getting back into the swing of this train travel malarkey now. Again I got my head down writing this blog.

My connection at Blackpool East was mighty tight (one minute!) but I stood up early so I could be one of the first off the train. And it worked, as I made my connection.

And that’s me up to date. I’m finishing this off as my train pulls into Blackpool North. What an epic weekend that was.

Next Up: Blackpool v Nottingham Forest

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Thank you to Ronnie for buying those lush chilli beers in The Hairy Dog last night.

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