Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

Birmingham Pubs & WBA v Blackpool

After my epic night out in Walsall, I wasn’t up in time for breakfast. And besides, I was still pretty full after last night’s curry, so food could wait until lunchtime. I had a little time to kill in between checking out of my hotel and my first pub opening in Birmingham, so I had a little mooch around Walsall.

I was intrigued by the KFC inside Asda, which I still didn’t believe was a real thing, so I had to see it with my own eyes.

Yes, it’s a thing – and there’s one of these too.

As I headed round into the market area, I spied a board game cafe that I hadn’t known was there. This has to be visited next time.

I ambled slowly to Walsall Bus Station. I was still a bit early so I let the first 51 pass and remained in my seat, finishing off my French novella. I boarded the second bus and was alarmed by the seating arrangements downstairs. I expect the back seats to be facing each other but, on this bus, the next set of seats forward were also facing each other. I got very confused and, instead of sitting at the front as I usually do, ended up sitting in the ‘facing backwards’ seat at the back. I avoided the very back seat (facing forwards) because my feet don’t touch the floor from those seats.

By the time I’d finished my book I realised I was feeling travel sick. I didn’t realise that was a thing for me these days (except on boats and roller coasters) but evidently so. I switched to the facing forwards seat and stopped reading and looked out the window instead. Ooh look at those fancy new bus shelters.

They didn’t have those in my day. I later learned this was part of the revamping of the city for the Commonwealth Games.

I was still feeling a bit woozy when I got off the bus and dawdled in the drizzle in the direction of my pub of choice for lunch.

The Bull

This traditional pub is a little out of the centre so I haven’t visited since I left the area. I arrived a few minutes before it opened at noon and loitered outside. I heard the doors being opened pretty promptly and skipped through into the bar, totally unprepared for what would greet me there.

My favourite mild! The one I’d been so gutted to have missed with Katz being closed last night! I did a little jump and clap and instantly forgot all about my nausea. What a start to the day this was!

They had other beers on too but whatevs.

I carefully carried my pint of mild across to my favourite table and admired its fluffiness before savouring the flavour. Oh I could drink this beer all day. And probably would have, if I didn’t have other places to be today.

This pub was recently taken over by Nige (of the Welly / Post Office Vaults / Woodman) fame so I knew it would be even better than it was before (which was pretty good, with a pubcat and hearty food if boring beers, which clearly he’d already rectified).

I contemplated the menu. I’d already researched it online for SlimmingWorld-friendliness and knew there were lots of good choices on here today. I had arranged to meet Karina here for lunch and she was following the plan too so this suited us both.

I’m not afraid to ask for swaps when ordering food in pubs and restaurants to help me stay on plan. Despite his initial confusion as to how to put it through on the till, Nige was happy to oblige with this delicious combo.

Huge piece of salmon with jacket and salad. Note Paddington in situ to help me made good food choices.

I was delighted to hear that there was another barrel of Gravediggers to replace the one that had just gone off. Could this be a regular beer in here? I made enquiries and yes it only bloody well was! Nige confirmed it was proving very popular with customers. Quite right too.

It was lovely to catch up with Karina, a good friend who I met through Birmingham CAMRA back in the day. I have met so many wonderful like-minded people through CAMRA, which is something I highlighted in my recent piece for What’s Brewing?

As I ordered my third pint of Gravediggers (I figured I might as well make the most of it), I enjoyed the following poem behind the bar.

Ah yes the cat! Having seen evidence of cat food I went on the hunt. Would this be Ellie, the pubcat I’d met here before, or would Nige (also partial to a pubcat) have introduced a new feline friend? I was pleased to find Ellie snuggled on a seat in the snug. I took a photo (which came out terrible, so I’m not including it here). As there was a man sitting at the same table, I thought I’d better explain what I was doing. He replied that there were a couple of cats in the Gunmakers too (the neighbouring pub). Can anyone verify this information (ideally with photographic evidence?).

I only left this pub because I had to: I had arranged to meet Steve and Kathryn in the Welly at 1500. Rest assured I would be returning here (to my new favourite Birmingham pub?) very soon. And I recommend you visit if you’re ever in and around Birmingham.

I was feeling brave after three pints so I decided to take the subway route into the city centre because it was raining quite heavily and at least I’d be dry for a few seconds. However, when I got there, I noticed it was flooded several inches deep and there was no navigating it without fully immersing my non-waterproof Skechers. Hmm. There was an older Asian man here, too, considering how he was going to get his shopping across. As I looked on, puzzled, he offered to carry me across. Whilst that was a lovely gesture, I politely declined and opted to walk around instead, taking the longer, wetter route to Pub No 2.

The Wellington

This pub was my traditional fave – my local, my nunu – in Birmingham, so I couldn’t not visit today. Steve and Kathryn were already here and Steve leapt up to offer me a drink. Here’s what was on.

I opted for a half of each of these.

Fixed Wheel is my mate Scott’s brewery, based in Blackheath. There’s a belting taproom there which is open on Fridays and Saturdays. He also has a micropub in Cradley Heath that I really ought to visit: Wheelie Thirsty. I’ve only ever been to Cradley Heath once and that was by accident when I followed the crowd onto the tram heading in the wrong direction after a match at The Hawthorns. But that’s by the bye.

Oh look – there’s another New Invention beer on in here. Nice to see this Walsall brewery’s beers popping up everywhere lately (see Walsall and Coventry).

I was very excited to see Malt and Hops – the pubcats – in the Welly today. Cat-tricks are very rare. Could this be a good omen for tonight’s match?

Ooh look there’s Steve in the background.

See Coventry for kitten pics.

It was lovely to catch up with Steve and Kathryn. Steve is a star writer for the Blackpool fanzine that I edit and you can enjoy his work (and mine, and other wonderful writers and artists) by subscribing for four issues for this season for just £15.

Come on, these blogs are free – help a girl out by subbing to the zine. You’ll enjoy it. Plus it’s a nice little treat to get something fun in the post.

Whilst we could happily have remained in here, we were conscious that we needed food before the match. You can bring your own food in here – and I’ve done that many a time over the years, my favourite being a curry from the hot food counter at Sainsbury’s. They even provide plates, cutlery and napkins. Although sadly no sweets in the Ladies today, which does lose them points. Maybe they’re a casualty of COVID. Back in the day there used to be a Visitors Book in the Ladies which I’ve never heard of in any other toilets. Perhaps they could reinstate a halfway house, like a quick review sheet on the wall, like the ones the cleaners sign to confirm they’ve done their rounds. Name, date and time of visit, comments. Jane Stuart, 1600 01/11/22, wot no sweets?

Anyway we moved on to a nearby pub that served food.

Head of Steam

A huge island bar dominates the room that you enter by ascending the stairs to the Head of Steam. This chain is owned by Camerons Brewery and their offering on cask was the most tempting this afternoon (given that I’d already had the Duck Dastardly, so wanted something different here).

In my wisdom I decided to check out the taps as well. And here’s what I found (and could not resist).

I went for the Peanut Butter Cup and it is at times like this I’m thankful that I’ve continued my habit of not sharing beers since COVID. I do, however, allow my companions a sniff of my beer so they get an idea of the flavour.

Happily there was plenty of spare seating and we managed to secure a booth at the rear of the room. There was a charging point so I was able to charge my phone. More of this sort of thing.

My research had revealed this pub to have changed its menu to a more SlimmingWorld-friendly one. This pleased me greatly because this pub (and indeed chain) is a huge favourite of mine. There doesn’t seem to be much commonality of menu between the pubs as I recall ruling out Head of Steam in Huddersfield because it only served pies.

On the menu here were Pizzas (no), Burgers (no), Turbo Sides (no), Tacos (what are they? oh. no.) and Gyros. Ooh what ARE Gyros? I’ve only heard of them anecdotally.

Ooh that sounds delicious and pretty healthy. Medium rare steak, though? Well there’s always something I need tweaking from the menu. Steve got up to order and was tasked with enquiring if they’d cook the steak for longer but, if not, I’d have the chicken instead. Here’s what I ended up with.

Head of Steam Gyro(s?).

Shortly after polishing off the above, Lee rang to announce his imminent arrival. You may recall I’d headed down a day early for this match to catch up with pals and pubs in Walsall.

But now Lee was here to pick me up so we could complete the last leg of the journey to The Hawthorns together. Yes, sadly we had a match to go to, so the afternoon’s revelries were now over. I headed out in the rain to the car and we battled through the rush hour city centre traffic in the direction of West Brom’s ground.

WBA v Blackpool

Realising we’d parked too far away last season, we were successful in our attempt to park nearer this time – and free street parking too. It was perhaps a 5-10 minute walk to the ground (closer than Lee parks to the supermarket) and, just as we were about to head in, he realised he’d forgotten his camera. I carried on and he traipsed back in the rain.

I headed to the refreshment kiosk for water and was surprised to be handed this.

Well it did the job and they left the lid on.

I found a great spot that neither Lee nor Karen liked but it meant that I could watch the match from a seated position. Sadly it was within earshot of a man who seemed incapable of uttering anything that wasn’t abuse (racist, sexist and picking on people’s appearance – he didn’t discriminate, abuse is for all). Helpfully there was a telephone number to report abuse on the big screen, however it was so small it was illegible from the away end. Besides, the stewards weren’t even reacting to being abused personally, which didn’t inspire confidence that they’d react positively to me reporting anything. I considered playing my White Noise app through my AirPods at one point.

This was about the most interesting thing from the match.

What’s the significance of people holding up lights? It all seems a bit Coldplay to me.

I sum up the match quite succinctly at the end of this video.

I hate football sometimes. Roll on the winter break.

Next Up: A Football Tourist’s Guide To Wigan.