I lived in the West Midlands for 20 years so I like to use local fixtures to catch up with friends and old favourite haunts. On this occasion – ahead of Blackpool’s match at West Brom – a pub closure led me to some places I wouldn’t ordinarily have gone – and to a whole host of weird and wonderful adventures.
I had found a direct train at 0947 on Monday from Blackpool North to Birmingham New Street for £13.30 so I pressed the button on that right away. My reserved seat didn’t have a charging point so I relocated to a table in the empty carriage.
I’d been to SlimmingWorld this morning to help me get back on track after COVID buggered up my appetite and inclination to prepare food. I’d lost two pounds and come away with a new recipe book and a Christmas journal. I spent most of the journey working through my new journal and making plans.
I researched menus at potential places to eat on my travels, planned meals for the whole week, looked ahead to November as a whole and realised it was perfectly achievable to lose weight, with only the Saturdays proving potential danger zones. I had my accountability bear Paddington with me to help me on my travels. He set me alarms for later in the day, reminding me to order diet pop in the pub and would sit on the table at mealtimes to ensure I made good choices.
I had time to read a Jo Nesbo short story and hear all about an excited fellow passenger’s new grandchild before the train pulled into Birmingham New Street just after noon.
As always I got slightly lost on my way out of New Street (does this EVER get easier?). I did spot a new Paperchase and almost veered over there to browse Christmas cards before remembering I had important eating and drinking missions to attend to. I trotted across the city to where the Walsall bus stop used to be (by that ‘awesome’ chip place that serves every sauce under the sun apart from gravy). The road had been dug up and the bus stop moved (according to Google) round the corner. I found it easier than getting out of New Street station and was soon on the X51 continuing my French novella. I was in Walsall in around 20 minutes.
I’d only had a couple of Mint HiFi bars for breakfast so was looking forward to lunch. This is the best caff in Walsall – and I was pleased to see it so busy at 1300 on a Monday. I grabbed the only vacant table, marked my territory by leaving my coat on the back of a chair and waited for the queue to die down before heading up to the counter to order. While my friendly host was preparing my Earl Grey, I enquired if there was milk in the omelette. When the answer came back in the negative, I placed my food order.
Ham and Mushroom Omelette with undressed salad. This was really tasty, light enough not to ruin my curry later and free food on SlimmingWorld.
Evo (of Boozy Scribbler blog fame) arrived on schedule and ordered a fish finger sandwich. Controversially, he opted for no sauce – although the bread was buttered. He confessed that brown sauce would have been his condiment of choice but I argued the case for sweet chilli sauce. Granted, tartare sauce works but that’s so variable in quality. Like gravy, it can be exquisite or it can be done a bit wrong. Someone on Twitter last week suggested I might prefer gravy on a fish finger butty and I confessed I hadn’t actually tried that. I do like extra gravy for dipping when I’ve got gravy on a sandwich though.
Ev had come bearing gifts:
These bottles also came with stories. The bottle of Black Jack Mild is the last one of those ever to be acquired from AJ’s Ales (a Walsall brewery), as they won’t be bottling any more. And Ev told me all about the new Thornbridge Brewery, which he’d recently visited – and which you can read about in his excellent blog here.
Right – onwards to the pub! Now I had been hoping for an afternoon sesh on my favourite Church End Gravediggers Mild in Katz. This is a lush and low (3.8%) ABV beer that I figured would be a good option for SlimmingWorld. Its quaffability does mean I drink more of it – but there’s only so much mild that I can drink before I feel full. But Ev had sent me this devastating news when I was on my way down.
This did, however, open up an opportunity for me to try some different pubs around Walsall today. But first I needed to visit my old local.
The beer choice is abundant in this Black Country Ales classic. I didn’t photograph the beer board because I wasn’t particularly planning on blogging too much detail of this trip – and the more photos I take, the more reminders I have of things to write about. As it turned out, things were about to take such an interesting turn that, far from doing a short blog of my trip, it would end up being a double-header. I did, however, photograph the beers that I drank here this afternoon.
I had the one on the right of the photo above. Lots of New Invention Brewery action this week! All these beers were lovely and I was delighted to find my tastebuds had now recovered from COVID. Hurrah!
We sat at my favourite table – the booth in the window, where you can people-watch inside and outside. It’s also handy for the bar snackage, where the cobs (‘it’s a barmcake’) and pastries were only resisted because (and the reason why) we’d just eaten. It was barman Kev’s birthday today and I was hoping to see him to buy him a pint but he wasn’t working – although it was lovely to say hello to landlady Kim.
I wondered how much this large pub would cost to heat during this expensive winter. It’s so sad that this energy crisis is so prevalent that these things even come to mind when I’m in a pub relaxing with a beer. But with so many pubs and breweries closing because everything is becoming so expensive it’s hard not to.
This really is a wonderful pub and I always feel so at home in here. However, owing to the ABV of the beers I was drinking, I knew it wasn’t sensible (nay possible) to have a lengthy session here today. And so the crawl of pubs I haven’t been in for a few years commenced…
This was the logical next stop because (a) it was practically next door; and (b) I was staying here tonight and needed to check in and ditch my bags. But first – beer!
I sampled the Green Duck but it was a bit too hoppy for my liking, so I went for the Black Country staple Golden Glow.
It was lovely to see Beertrice and be reminded of the famous Walsall hippo. I’m not sure why there’s a statue of a hippo in Walsall town centre but it’s just one of those little quirks that make our largest town so endearing. Er, endearing? Walsall? Well, if I’m honest, it’s not a word I ever used when I lived there, but I suppose it must be Evo’s influence rubbing off on me. I certainly enjoyed my tour of the town very much today.
I headed through to reception to check in to the hotel. I was told that breakfast was between 0700 and 0900 (seemed a bit early, since I was on holiday), checkout was 1100 at the very latest – and the pub doors would be locked at 2300 tonight and, if I wanted to get in after that, I’d have to use my front door key. I was given a slip of paper containing my room number, WiFi password and an emergency number to call if I needed anyone outside of pub opening hours. I was given directions to my room which I clearly wasn’t listening to, as I got lost on my way through the doors, down the stairs and up a different flight of stairs.
Finally in my room, I unpacked my rucksack (toiletries, clothes, hairdryer and straighteners) – and was confused by an item I spotted at the drinks station.
Why does coffee need to go in a bag? It dissolves. Why create waste for the sake of creating waste? Or does the bag dissolve too? Or is it biodegradable? This was all too much. I’m not a coffee drinker (it gives me migraines and stops me getting to sleep) so if someone could explain this to me that would be appreciated.
The room seemed decent enough but more of that later.
I returned to my beer and companion in the pub. It was pretty quiet. There were no menus in sight but there were condiments on the bar so food must be a thing here. I half-wondered if the toilets still had a lock on the outside of the door but I was too scared to go and find out.
At the next table there were three items on the table: a book, a pen and a writer’s notebook. Mmm curious. I supposed it was a comfortable and quiet environment in which to write. We were both dying to see the contents of the notebook but of course were too respectful to snoop. A man soon returned to the table. On our way out, I was about to ask what he was writing but I noticed the book on the table was French, which led me to assume that the man was French and that scared me because I struggle to understand strong and unfamiliar accents (not because our Government are trying to condition us into being scared of foreigners) so I continued past without enquiring.
Katz would have been the next obvious stop but I remembered it was shut so we tramped across the road in the rain to a pub that I didn’t want to miss on Halloween.
I knew this place wouldn’t let us down with the spooky decorations. One of the last times I’d been here was on Halloween and it was full of people dressed up and frankly I’d been quite scared of the masks. But I was much more comfortable in here this afternoon when it was daylight outside and pretty quiet inside.
But this was no longer a rock pub – Evo said it was more of a dancey place now. How odd. And there was no ale on, either, so I had one of these.
One of Paddington’s tricks is to encourage me to drink diet pop in between beers to help reduce my syn intake. It would be so much easier to do this if every pub sold Tango Berry Peachy. Hence I was actually pretty pleased there was no ale on in here as it was better for my weight loss.
We took a seat on a sofa in the centre of the pub (almost in a corridor between rooms). There were some lads playing pool in the back room. We spotted a poster promoting ’10 DRINKS FOR £10′ on a Friday and wondered what those drinks could possibly be but we weren’t planning on finding out. There was no Buckcherry blasting from the speakers on this occasion – but there was an odd dance version of Madonna’s Like A Virgin. I maligned the fact that modern music just seems to be bad remixes of perfectly good songs.
I do still like this pub – predominantly because it just oozes personality. But it appears to have multiple personality disorder. It’s a dark pub (one of its attractions for me is that you cannot see into the outside world once you’re deep within it) – but the music wasn’t dark and I feel it needs to be. Dance doesn’t seem to fit for me. Rock was perfect. And jazz would work. Anyway it’s one to keep an eye on and worth popping in on a Walsall crawl (Wal-crawl?).
Curry was on the menu for tea and we could barely wait a minute after opening time (1730) before heading across the road to one of Walsall’s finest and longest-established Indian restaurants.
Ok, so Indians aren’t the best places to go when I’m trying to lose weight (you’ll note I usually eat in pubs with healthy options). But this place had something on the menu that I’ve been unable to source on the Fylde Coast and was a must-scoff for me on this visit.
We were shown to a table in the middle of the restaurant and, almost immediately, I placed Paddington on the table. The waiter was very excited to see him (‘Ooh Paddington!’) and I explained all about him being my accountability bear and how he helps me make good choices to help protect my weight loss. Paddington and I had already considered the menu online so I already knew what I would be ordering.
I passed on the poppadoms, although did tuck into the onion salad, as I was pretty hungry by now. My drink of choice in here was a Diet Coke.
This was what I had come here for today: the best starter in Indian restaurants and I won’t have any arguments on the matter.
This, dear reader, is a Nargis Kebab. I’ll confess the photo could have been better, so further description is required here. It’s basically an Indian Scotch Egg. There’s a hard boiled egg enclosed in lamb kebab meat with a fried egg resting on top. So really, with the double egg action – and the side salad – it wasn’t all that bad from a food optimising point of view. And my word it was even more delicious than I remembered. If you ever see this on a menu, give it a try. And it really is worth going out of your way to find. I certainly plan to have more of these on future visits to Walsall/Birmingham. And, yes, I know I’m here for West Brom and it’s almost as if I’m trying to wind them up with constant references to Walsall and Birmingham but I’m really not – it’s just that I have personal connections to Walsall and Birmingham, hence I tend to visit them when we play West Brom. For more on the Black Country please refer to the Football Tourist’s Guide To The Black Country (Part One here and Part Two here) from last season.
Now onto the main course.
Paddington selected Boiled Rice as the healthiest accompaniment and the curry is a Chicken Shaslik Bhuna (boneless pieces of chicken, cooked in thick spicy sauce with onions, tomatoes and green herbs. Medium Hot. A semi-dry dish.) This was also really tasty, more moist than expected (a good thing) and just the right portion size. Much as I love the food at Akash, the portions are so huge that I end up taking a doggy bag home and eating the meal again which, whilst great, is a double-hit for my weight loss.
This was quite simply the best Indian meal I have had in a very, very long time. Quite why this was never a regular haunt for me when I lived down here I’ll never know. I suppose it was because Sarawak (Indonesian, Malaysian & Thai restaurant, reasonably-priced, always gave us free Baileys, sadly long-since gone) and Planet Spice (Indian, used to be excellent, closed more recently) kept drawing me there. And I think I only came here on buffet nights as opposed to going a la carte. Rest assured it is now my Walsall restaurant of choice and I will be back.
We had been the first to arrive but now several other of the tables were occupied – again encouraging for a Monday. An older man and a woman were being shown to the table next to ours. Just before the woman sat down she hurled something into the seat across the table, next to the man. Dear reader, this was a doll. A baby doll. The man seated it upright in the chair and placed the drinks menu in front of it. Ev had his back to all of this and I struggled to explain it to him, I was laughing so hard. And what must the waiter have thought, with Paddington on our table and a doll seated at the next table?
Again, as I stood up to leave, I really, REALLY wanted to ask what the doll was all about. But I was worried they might have lost a baby or something so I thought it best not to. Plus I kind of like to leave things up in the air sometimes so we can use our imaginations. It could be a good subject for a short story. If I can ever figure out a way to escape these all-consuming blogs I might get round to writing it one of these days.
One thing I couldn’t leave without doing, however, was reviewing the loo. I recalled this place had the best toilet seats known to man (or woman) so was keen to see if that was still the case (why wouldn’t it be?).
Just beautiful, aren’t they? And the tiles were works of art, too.
What’s not to love about Golden Moments? Apart from the doll incident sparking me into full-on blog mode, which I had been trying to avoid post-COVID…
Right now it was time to meet up with Bob.
Ev had announced that this was rapidly becoming one of his favourite pubs in Walsall, so we had to call in so I could get a sense as to why this was. Again this is a place I rarely frequented – probably as much down to its location as much as anything (bit scary to access as a lone female in the dark). Anyway here are tonight’s beers:
I suppose this is another reason I didn’t frequent this place back when I lived here. I just look at all these beers and see the same thing. My eyes never rest on them as I’m looking for something else. I want milds and stouts and porters and fruits and spices and FLAVOURS. This was my first day post-COVID finally being able to enjoy the taste of things again and all of a sudden I felt as if I had COVID all over again (without the hot and cold flashes and lethargy and sickness and deafness and tinnitus in opposite ears). I had an HPA. Doesn’t it look lovely?
And how about this for a pie menu?!
I want ALL of those pies…
There was also this snackage tower behind the bar.
Bonus points for the chocolate. I don’t see enough of this in pubs – and it’s especially welcomed where pale/gold/amber beers are the only option, as it completely transforms the flavour of the beer. I have been known to smuggle my own chocolate into pubs (see Hartlepool, where I put a Flake in my banked beer).
Ev and I took a seat in the far corner of the main lounge. We were underneath a speaker which was playing Magic Radio, which was pretty good. I stopped listening to the radio when the Queen died because it was all too much. Plus I try to avoid the news generally as it’s all too depressing. So I tend to listen to Apple Music or, better still, live music at gigs. There’ll be a bit of that during the World Cup break, which I may or may not blog about.
Bob soon arrived – again bearing a gift for me (aren’t these Walsall folk great?).
I know we’ve cancelled Brewdog but I’ll allow myself to drink this as it was a gift (and does sound lush).
All these beers were of course gratefully received – but they did leave me with a logistical problem. There was no way I could take them into the ground tomorrow night – so what did I do with them? I didn’t actually consider DRINKING them (which would, of course, have been the perfect solution). But that was a ‘tomorrow problem’ which we’ll find a solution for in Part Two.
I hadn’t seen Bob since I left Walsall but we have kept in touch via email. We’ve discovered a shared interest in garden fairies – and indeed he’s writing a book about them. Yes, we were three writers here drinking together. I again kicked myself for not engaging with the French (peut-être) writer in the Lyndon House earlier, as we could have had quite the writer’s circle.
Evo and Bob alerted me to the fact that my handbag was flashing. I opened it and retrieved my phone, which was playing this beautiful song.
This phone alarm was Paddington’s reminder for me to order a diet pop in the pub. I duly obliged and my next drink was a Diet Lemonade. After that I fancied another beer to round off the night and went for a Shropshire Gold, which had delightful lacings that Martin would love.
Bob pointed out that good lacings were not only the sign of a good beer but also a clean glass; apparently beer lacks life in dirty glasses. Bob was great company with so many stories from his adventures over the years. He kept us going when Ev and I were flagging after our afternoon beer sesh and Indian meal.
There appeared to be some sort of dominoes competition going on at the other end of the room and they had a decent buffet which included chips. There was also a dog that kept scurrying past, wagging its tail furiously. And there’s a skittles alley in another room, which Bob reminded me I’d won at on a previous visit with Friends of Highgate Brewery.
The toilets? Well the main door to both the Gents and the Ladies were wide open, which meant that, from my vantage point, I could see the back half of men when they were (I think) standing at the urinals (or it could have been the sink or hand driers – it’s another one of those mysteries).
It was fast approaching 2300 and I did want to get back to the Lyndon before the doors locked so I reluctantly said my goodbyes to Ev and Bob, whilst at the same time looking forward to having a good night’s sleep.
I made it down, across and up to my room with no trouble and began my evening toilette. Which proved unusually eventful. First of all, the lid of my contact lens case went flying into the toilet. Brilliant. I muddled through and finished up in the bathroom. Now I just needed to plug in my phone for it to charge overnight and I could go to bed. Hmm. Where’s the plug socket? Nothing either side of the bed. The sockets by the dressing table/drinks station seemed to have been doctored so the hairdryer and iron were effectively attached to the wall. Well this was ridiculous. There had to be a normal plug socket somewhere, surely? I looked behind the headboard – and there was a double socket slap bang in the middle, but quite low down. I grabbed my plug and reached down. Nope. It was no good. My arms weren’t long enough to reach. What now? I pulled the bed out a little but there really wasn’t much room to manoeuvre – and, besides, I still couldn’t reach far enough down. I wondered…was there room to reach it from UNDER the bed? I lay down on the floor and – yes! – I fitted! I slithered forward on my belly like a snake, plugged my charger in and then – tricker this part – manoeuvred myself back out and up without banging my head on the wooden bed frame. Result!
The weird baby/doll/cupid thing on the wall did not look impressed at any of this but I was chuffed with my inventiveness.
Now to sleep before heading into Birmingham, where a nice surprise awaits on the next stage of my adventure.
Next Up: Birmingham Pubs & WBA v Blackpool.