No football this weekend yippee! I wasn’t wrong in my assumption that this would be my best weekend for ages.
Shortly before leaving the house, I realised that it would be five hours before I’d be having my next meal. Despite not being the slightest bit hungry – and still under the watch of Paddington at this stage – I polished off a punnet of blueberries, followed by a bowl of Vanilla Cheerios and unsweetened almond milk. I packed a couple of Alpen Light bars to scoff on my journey.
Lee despatched me at Blackpool Central Coach Station (basically a section of car park opposite Coral Island) around 0940, ahead of the departure of the 121 service to Birmingham, which was due to depart at 1000. The coach was already in, so I boarded and took a seat.
I selected a seat towards the front of the coach and settled back for the four hour(!) journey to Birmingham. Almost instantly I realised I’d forgotten a vital item. There were a couple across the aisle who did not stop for breath during their incessant chatter. Oh what I’d give for my AirPods right now! I took evasive action and relocated far enough out of earshot towards the rear of the coach. Ah! That was better.
So, no AirPods meant no audiobook. I’d been counting on that for my ‘tired’ journey home tomorrow. I’d gifted myself this whole weekend off, you see. That meant no studying and no writing – just reading and chilling. But what happens to me when I (rarely) have downtime is that my subconscious takes over and starts solving problems that in turn creates me more work. For example over Christmas I ended up rearranging pretty much the whole house.
This morning in the shower I’d started listening to a new audiobook: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. My subconscious picked up on something in this book and thus I spent the first two hours of my journey writing over 3,000 words of the next chapter of my book (which I wasn’t scheduled to start until next week). My subconscious had decided that travelling time is good writing time that mustn’t be wasted (I always write these blogs on the move, so it had a point). Well I supposed Future Me would be grateful (perhaps she might get a day off). But seriously it did feel good getting all those words down.
I spent the rest of the journey reading, alternating between A Love Episode by Emile Zola (my fave and the king of imagery) and The Dispossessed by Ursula le Guin (which I’m struggling with, as can happen with science fiction novels, much as I love the genre on screen). When I’d lost the will to live with the latter, I switched to the latest issue of the Wigan fanzine, Mudhutter, that I’d bought on my pub crawl of Wigan the other week.
I was incredibly relaxed now, like I hadn’t been in months. Writing and reading are good for me and my mental health. I gazed out of the window and there was Birmingham. Ah Birmingham. I’d spent 18 years
drinking working here and had conflicting emotions about the city.
I disembarked the coach at Digbeth and stepped out into carnage. They’re extending the tram out here and I’m sure it will be great when it’s done. I know full well these things take time because how fucking long are they taking to finish the new tram terminus and Holiday Inn at Blackpool North?!
I emerged onto New Street and was amazed by how busy it was. It had been rammed on my last visit but I’d assumed that was German Market related. Nope. Evidently Birmingham was just busy on Saturdays. I weaved through the crowds (I don’t like crowds, so I sped up at this point). Ooh a sign for Tilt. I’d spent many an hour in there back in the day. But not now! I had places to be, people to see.
As I made my way across Pigeon Park, I could hear a busker singing a UB40 song and shuddered as I remembered that pub that played nothing but UB40 songs because that was where they filmed the video for Red Red Wine and the landlord invited me to his hot yoga class and they’ve knocked the pub down now for HS2 which might not even be happening any more but I’m glad they did because not all pubs are good pubs.
I skipped through Snow Hill, across the tram tracks, across the Queensway, past St Chads Cathedral (ooh I went to a concert there once) into the Gun Quarter. I passed the Gunmakers Arms (back to that shortly) and soon arrived at my destination.
After four hours on a coach, my first stop here was the Ladies, where I learned of a problem I didn’t know existed.
So, why had I hiked all the way across town to come here? Because of this:
I chuckled at the MILD warning sign, as I recalled Wendy and Karina receiving a verbal warning to that effect on our last visit.
I can’t get this lush mild at home so there’s no way I’m missing out on it on a visit to Birmingham, when I know it’s always on in The Bull.
Here’s are the other beers but whatevs.
But the Gravediggers is not this pub’s only attraction. There’s also this:
It’s a good looking traditional pub this. Just look at it.
Karina soon arrived (sans Wendy, who wasn’t well) – armed with this absolute beauty she’d found for me in a local charity shop.
This was just as good as the Cliff Richard coasters she’d got me for Christmas. I vowed to scour Blackpool’s charity shops to see if I could match these excellent items. Watch this space.
I was ravenous so I scanned the menu for something suitable for lunch. I asked for the chilli with half and half but was advised that that wasn’t doable – although I could order a bowl of chips on the side. I pondered this for a moment, while Karina looked over at the table for Paddington (my lifestyle manager, who I’d forgotten to bring). I decided to stick with the rice and no chips. It’s what Paddington would have wanted.
This was very tasty, with a lovely afterburn; however I knew I’d be wanting something else to eat before the gig.
‘They’ve got cobs at the Craven Arms,’ Karina pointed out. She even messaged them just to check. More of that later.
Big up to the barmaid here who was lovely and confirmed that my new haircut suited me, when I’d remarked to Karina that I wasn’t sure about it.
It was now past 1500 so I was able to check into my digs for the night, which were pretty much just next door.
I quickly checked in with the barman, who showed us up to my room. This was accessed via a metal staircase in the yard at the back of the pub, which immediately put me in mind of the place I stayed in Sheffield when I went for the snooker. There was a shared kitchen area complete with washing machine (‘you can put a load on if you want’) and the rooms were at the other side. This reminded me of the place I’d stayed in Gillingham with the dinosaur books in the kitchen. My room had a table and chair and a bed. There was a wardrobe but the doors wouldn’t open but I didn’t need it anyway. The bathroom had a tiny sink, toilet and spacious shower. It was all I needed and it was the only place I could find below £100. At £40 for this AirBNB and £30 for the return coach with National Express, this was quite the bargain weekend.
I quickly unpacked, leaving my Hotpots hoodie in the room, as it was quite warm out. Karina had a plan in mind for the next pub and I wasn’t for arguing.
This pub is alluring because it’s a Thornbridge pub. I was first introduced to Thornbridge by the Friends of Highgate Brewery (a group that still exists, despite my old local Highgate Brewery – which I could smell from my Walsall flat – being long-since defunct). One day every summer they would run a coach trip to Thornbridge Hall (where Thornbridge Brewery was back then), where we would drink beer, eat wild boar burgers and enjoy the beautiful gardens, going home with a range of bottled beers and plants.
So when I heard that Thornbridge were opening a pub in Birmingham (where I worked at that time) I was very excited. But, by the time the pub actually opened, I’d skipped town and moved back to Blackpool. And then got locked down. So consequently it was AGES before I finally got there.
But I was here today. And, before I lead in to the pump clips, let me just explain that this is a busy pub with a busy bar. I usually find it impossible to get enough room to see all the pump clips, let alone find an angle where I can photograph them for you, dear reader. Anyway here goes:
Now this is a LOUD pub, with hard surfaces everywhere. It’s divided up with little rooms at the back which is kind of quirky. And somehow – no matter how busy it is – we always seem to find a table to sit at. Perhaps it seems busier than it is because it’s so abuzz with chatter.
We resolved to use the Ladies here before we left because, well, if you’ve ever used the facilities at the next pub you’ll understand.
This little pub fills up quickly and I was fully expecting to have to stand up in here. That was indeed the case but we found a table where we could rest our beers and oh did I mention they had GREEN DUCK?!?
Karina had had this beer the other week and I had been quite jealous. Green Duck is one of my favourite Black Country breweries and they do some bostin dark ones. They also have my favourite tap house, which is definitely worth a visit if you’re ever anywhere near Stourbridge. And I’m not getting into the ‘is it in Worcestershire or part of Dudley’ argument here. I’m in charge in this blog and it’s in the Black Country. I’ve seen the chimneys and everything.
Conversation turned to SlimmingWorld and Karina thanked me for recommending the Crimpit for making toasties. Confused, I reminded her that she’d recommended it to me. Indeed I have documentary evidence of this here.
Now it was time to move on to the penultimate pub of the crawl.
This traditional pre-theatre pub (it’s next to the Alexandra Theatre) was pretty busy when we arrived around 1700. Here are the beers:
Not the most exciting choice but that was ok because today I was after low ABV cask which meant I could safely survive the sesh – and that hadn’t been going too well in the last couple of pubs. I went for the Hobgoblin Gold. I had felt guilty at immediately ruling out Karina’s suggestion of Burning Soul Brewery earlier on in the crawl but I explained that strong craft/keg/whatever non-cask beer is called could be lethal for me on a sesh (see Wigan).
Karina reported that our final calling point had ‘a few cobs left’ so we were sure to hurry so we didn’t miss them. We were both ravenous by now – never a good thing to happen when you’re a few beers down on SlimmingWorld…
This was to be our immediate pre-gig pub and we had arranged to meet others here. Prior to doing so, it was time for beer and cobs (barms to fellow Northerners).
Obvs I was all over that Cherry Porter.
Karina acquired two cobs while I was reviewing the loo.
I was given a choice between a cheese and tomato cob and a cheese and onion cob. What would you have had? I went for the latter and it was quickly demolished.
Natasha (remember her from Wigan?) soon arrived with a couple of fellow Hotpotters in tow: Garry and Lucy, who’d travelled up from That There London for tonight’s gig. Garry designs bespoke board games and has even made one for the Hotpots.
Brendon rocked up too and it was lovely to see him again. Brendon is an old pal from my Birmingham CAMRA days and he runs the Hop Garden in Harborne (well worth a visit).
To counter all this excitement, the Cherry Porter went off (boo!) so we consoled ourselves with a hot sausage roll each while we waited for this to come on:
Now I tend to find Oakham beers too hoppy for my palate but I was excited about this one. It was very sweet but a good ABV for a porter on a crawl.
I was still hungry (should have had that bowl of chips after all) so ordered and consumed a big bag of Mini Cheddars. Oh Paddington, where were you when I needed you? (‘Well, I hope you don’t mind me saying, Miss Stuart, but, if you’d asked, I’d have helped you draw up a plan for the day.’)
I was keen to get away from all this food as soon as possible so I left with Karina and Brendon to head to the gig, leaving the others to catch us down there.
On the relatively short but perilous walk to the gig, we witnessed a very loud accident, as a car veered into the rear of a car in the next lane – before speeding off. Tut tut.
After a quick frisk, we entered the Academy and surveyed the bar at the back of the room. There was nothing on that took our fancy so we settled for tap water. We then made our way down to the front.
Tonight’s opening act was Andy Mack and he was already partway through his set. I’ve just found his vlog of his day and here it is:
Brendon had accompanied me on my Hotpotting debut at the Live Rooms in Chester in 2016. At that gig he had made a balloon animal during The Day The Circus Came To Town before falling asleep standing up next to a speaker mid-gig. In his defence, we had had a heavy sesh round the pubs of Chester that afternoon.
This was, however, Karina’s Hotpots debut. She did get involved in the dancing and held up the light on her phone during Shopmobility Scooter. But I’m guessing from all the bemused side-eyes I was getting – plus her flat-out refusal to lead the conga despite my insistence – that the Hotpots simply weren’t her thing. Perhaps it’s a Northern nutjob thing but I appreciate they aren’t for everybody and good on her for coming along and giving it a go.
Post-gig I caught up with the others and the band (they always do a meet and greet after gigs).
I walked back into town with Garry and Lucy as I didn’t feel safe getting there unaccompanied. Finally in a familiar area, we went our separate ways.
New Street was carnage. One girl couldn’t walk and was being led along by a man either side of her, holding her upright. Ahead, Temple Street was closed, with the blue flashing lights of an ambulance and police tape blocking access. Birmingham is not pretty on a Saturday night! I didn’t want to imagine what Broad Street was like right now…
I managed to safely navigate all this carnage and breathed a sigh of relief as I finally arrived at my digs for the night.
Getting ready for bed, I was annoyed at the apparent absence of a glass for my water that I liked to drink during the night. It wasn’t until the following morning that I realised the glasses would probably be in the separate communal kitchen. Anyway I managed fine without, as I slept very soundly in what was a very quiet room.
My meal planning was non-existent this weekend as you’ve probably noticed (the scales certainly did). Breakfast on Sunday morning was a Meal Deal from Sainsbury’s, comprising a prawn mayo sandwich, a big bottle of Mango Passion Volvic and this:
Having stopped drinking last night around 1930, I was feeling way more productive than I’d expected to on the coach trip home. I made a plan for the next chapter of my book and finished reading my Zola and the Wigan fanzine. I also struggled through another couple of chapters of le Guin, which was as much as I could stomach.
I landed back in Blackpool a little earlier than the scheduled 1430, once again famished. I spent the next few hours eating mostly crap before retiring to bed completely zonked at 1930. Was it really only an hour we’d lost with the clocks changing? Zzz…
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