Leader Allan Walmsley
This Interest Group is for like-minded members who enjoy good company and good conversation within a sociable environment. Knowledge of real ale is irrelevant. However there will be lots of opportunities to learn and no exam at the end!
The Group aims to meet on a regular basis but members get together whenever and wherever the urge takes them!
We will look to a get together every month or so - Thursday evening suited many people. But keep an eye on the Events page for the next get-together. In the meantime read the satirical pourings of the Real Ale Group and follow our adventures here:
Outings of the Real Ale Group
21 September 2017
Excellent first outing at the Wildcat Tap and the British Oak, not to mention a decent meal at Balti Bazaar afterwards. Stimulating conversation to match some interesting real ales.
The Wildcat Tap is a micro pub that had a couple of really good cask ales (and a less favourable stout), and a mini environment where you had to make friends with the guy next to you (whether he liked it or not!). Well worth another visit in due course.
The British Oak was a huge place with a heated outside area that suited us perfectly. Again good ales (I was particularly taken by the Lemon Ale).
October Outing - 10 October 2017. Post Office Vaults and The Wellington.
By consensus we gave the Post Office Vaults 6.5 out of 10 with a good range of beers, the Hobsons Milld coming out tops and the Kinver Ale a bit so so. The London Pale Ale also scored well. However the underground atmosphere and lack of seating dragged it down a little.
Then we were off to The Wellington which managed 8 out of 10 with a huge (and frankly mind boggling) range of ales and excellent atmosphere. Top of the pile was the Jarrylo ale with BFG and the ubiquitous HPA also scoring well.
Next outing was well discussed and the Jewellry Quarter seemed favourite with the Red Lion and Rose Villa Tavern being the targets. However there are a couple of beer festivals in late October/November which may be worth a visit. Back to a Thursday evening was best for those present. 2 or 9 November are proposed dates for the next get together.
9 November 2017 - Indeed the next visit was to the aforesaid pubs with Rose Villa ranking at 7.5 and Red Lion at 9. Beers at the Rose Villa were varied and the deco is immense with tiling straight out of a Victorian lavatory. However the American ale proved too hoppy for our tastes. The Red Lion is a superb traditional drinkers pub with a superb range of ales including the favourite Bathams and welcome HPA. Both ranked highly. The only downsides were the ubiquitous TV and music (not blaring but still noticeable).
7 December 2017 - Christmas Special. Home comforts in a member's cosy garden bar. With 3 ales from the Weatheroak Hill Brewery at the Coach and Horses, this proved to be a great success aided immensely by ham and cheese cobs and pork scratchings that tasted so much like crushed lava that they came with a risk assessment! The Icknield Pale Ale (3.8%) ranked 7, the Gold Pale Ale (3.5%) ranked 6 and the Impossible Pale Ale (4.2%) ranked 7.5 however one discerning drinker considered they were all similar in colour, with little depth and "no following note ie short of 'armonics".
8 February 2018 - The Bull's Head and The Vine.Thanks to all for a night out at The Bulls Head and the Vine (not to mention facing the wintry weather on the way back to Five Ways Station!!)
The Bull's Head has recently been refurbished to a good standard by Davenports in a very traditional style with tiling and comfortable green leather upholstered seating. We retired to the snug (as men of a certain age tend to do) and sampled the Davenports bitter and the Bath Row Pale which ranked with a 7 and 6 respectively. Personally I though both were good tasting but on the watery side. The pub itself was surprisingly almost empty probably due to early evening although with plenty of student accommodation and Broad St both in easy reach, I was surprised.
Because there wasn't much going on (and the weather was looking ok at the time), we moved across Broad St to the Vine at the back of the Fiveways Tesco. This is a real traditional drinking pub although a little claustrophobic with a pool/snooker dominating the lounge/bar area, and about five TV screens showing sport. Nevertheless The Hoard bitter took the evening's prize as best on the night at 8 points, so much so that we had to have another one!
All we have to do now is bring Graeme 30 years up to date with his jokes, and we will finally have the perfect evening out!
8 March 2018 - Thanks to Stuart, Pete, Paul, Graeme, Alan 2 and Alan 3 for another interesting evening on the pop. With 7 of us it made sitting and talking together a little more difficult particularly as the Old Contemptibles was heaving with early evening suits! This made group discussion shouty and for those of us with less than perfect hearing, the background noise was testing; nevertheless good beer was maintained throughout the evening and Alan Greggs made up for the lack of conversation by drinking the first ones quicker than everyone else!
So the Old C ranked high on the beer scale but low on the "peace and quiet and somewhere to sit" scale. Lets give it an 8 with Pedigree at 7 ("its not as good as it used to be"), Atlantic at 7.5 and London Pride at 8.5.
Around the corner at the Old Royal, and a much quieter pub on the face of it but numerous TV screens and relentless music was good for some but not for others. (Arsenal winning seemed irrelevant to most of us!). So I'll give the pub a 7 (notwithstanding the sliced bananas in the urinals) with very good JBH at 8, and TT Landlord took the night's prize at 9. Both pubs well worth the visit - and Graeme kept his jokes post 1970s!!
19 April 2108 - Disappointing attendance (thanks Pete for turning up) - the date obviously clashed with lots of pesonal committments - but also thanks to everyone who apologised in advance. Nevertheless what great weather we had! Just perfect for wandering around town sampling some of the best (and worse) that Brum has to offer.
Starting in The Anchor (what a mediocre dive - who suggested this one?) Popular with the Polish - and not much else. Perhaps they focus more on craft beer but there were only two real bitters on offer (one of which was the eponymous Butty Bach. The "other" one was ok and we agreed on a 7 but by the end of the night neither of us could remember what it was called!!
Short stroll to the Spotted Dog, slightly better and by this stage, the warm weather was making all pubs feel great. Not the best of areas but the the tenants/managers are obviously working hard to keep the pub alive with music, theatre and poetry nights booked on an almost nightly basis. However at 6.30 early evening......... Despite friendly advice from the landlord, the real ale choice was limited and the one we chose was instantly forgettable - so much so that we can't rmember what it was!
A short wander down Digbeth (passing the Crown - that looked equally uninviting - and my first visit to the Custard Factory. The craft bar Clink was the best choice of the evening. Good conversation and advice from the barman and with around 5 or 6 to chose from, we went with Buning Sky, very quaffable, clean and crisp, which ranked an 8 as did the bar. Sitting outside and watching the alternative lifestyle around the Custard Factory is indeed a decent pastime for summer evenings.
But we weren't finished yet. After staggering back into the city centre, where better to finish the evening than the Post Office Vaults. Brilliant real ale choice and the Yorkshire Dale topped the charts at 8.5 (tough to accept for a Lancastrian!).
A good evening all round (and thanks to Pete once again).
31 May 2018 - At the risk of plagiarising Carlesberg, and falling into hyperbole, was this probably the Best Real Ale evening in the World? One out of two good venues, great beers throughout, super weather to enjoy wandering aimlessly, and good company with a developing edge to the banter. Welcome to Kevin as a new addition (trying hard to impress us by tasting halves), alongside regulars Pete, the three Alan's and Stuart. But Graham and Paul missed it!! Not to worry chaps – now that we’ve got the hang of it I’m sure we can easily replicate it next time.
First off was the Purecraft bar on Waterloo St, dedicated to Purity Ales but with a guest ale (Three Swords from Yorkshire) that topped the pile with an 8. The rest wasn’t half bad with Gold in at 7, Lawless at 7, and Hop at 7. However for old timers like us, the industrial nature of the bar (absence of any soft furnishings to reduce the background noise) played havoc with my tinnitus and, without the aid of a sign language interpreter, took Alan 3 right out of the conversations. So Purecraft Bar ranked the season’s lowest with a 3.
But then off to more secure surroundings with a short walk to the Craven Arms alongside the Mail Box. From Pure Craft to Pure Heaven – a cosy pub, friendly people, superb choice of familiar music from the barmaid, and with a terrific range of Black Country ales. Bradley’s Finest Gold, Fireside and Pig all ranked well around 8 and the classic surroundings justified an 8 with an extra 0.5 to the young woman at the bar for finding my lost mobile!
Thursday June 21 2018:
Pubs, pubs and more pubs! That seems to have been the mantra when Harborne was designed – and we thought it only civil to try a few of them just to see if the founding fathers got it right. And did they? Read on….
Ably arranged by Alan K and supported by Graeme The Engineer, the Two Disciples (Peter and Paul), and “Half-Pint” Kevin and me, we ventured out on the 11C Outer Ring Road bus (a first for me) to meet at the New Inn on a balmy evening – that quickly turned chilly. What a range of (predominantly) Marstons beers, and the scores on the doors read Saddlers Tank 8, Wainwright 7, 61 Deep 4, Razor Back 6.5, EPA 6 and the New Inn scores 7.5 largely because of one member’s infatuation with the “busting” barmaid.
Off we trooped to the Paper Duck, one of these pop up crafty thingymijigs, with more drinking options than you could shake a stick at. Salopian only ranked a disappointing 5.5 and Paul’s Cloudy something remained unfinished on 3. However “Half Pint” gave his Green Mountain a resounding 8. As far as wind tunnels go, the venue wasn’t great and only ranked a 3.
Looking for warmth, we stumbled up York Road to The White Horse (formerly known as the White Swan to some members!). A step up in quality, range of recognisable beers and temperature. Affinity and Abbots Brew both rated 7 whilst Blue Moon hit the record with 8.5. Great pub with 8 (and an extra point for watching the Argies being humbled)..
We even finished with a float of £26.50 to roll over to next time. Pete – don’t leave the country.
Wednesday 18 July 2018:
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, we stumbled upon an evening that combined physical exercise with appreciation of nature, livestock, furniture removal, and traditional canal songs but sadly also criminal activity. Alvechurch was the destination and a brisk wander along the canal path (worryingly following Alan 3) brought us to The Crown where, sitting in the evening sunshine, we were able to focus on the movement of sheep and re-arrange tables to suit. Super country pub, with the ubiquitous Butty Bach (8), HPA (7.88897) – sack the statistician with the man bag for suggesting averaging the scores, and Abbot (11/10 on the score of one drinker). The pub itself ranked a worthy 8.
A 10 min walk back along the canal gave us a canal sea shanty (if there is such a thing) on a squeeze box and then over the bridge to The Weighbridge – a strange jumble of buildings and gazebos with directions to the toilets that would challenge a university graduate. The Bargee disappointed at 5 although the Oakham Citra (7.5), By George (8) and the Redwood (8) all helped to redeem the pub to an overall ranking of 7.5. Thankfully, none of the crisps and scratchings were responsible for long-lasting medical ailments.
All in all a very wide ranging and enjoyable evening with conversations that resolved outstanding questions of Greek mythology; why Michael Caine said what he said in the Italian Job; and will we allow man bags in the future? Back to civilisation on the train and hands up those who paid for the Alvechurch to Longbridge leg!! Thanks to Alans 1-3, Stuart The Head, Kevin The Half (now grown up), Paul The Fiddle, and Graeme the Engineer.
PS Happy anniversary Pete!
16 August 2018
The latest gathering of the Old Fogies' Mutual Appreciation Society was a re-run of last month's Alvechurch itinerary, but with even more smutty jokes. After almost 12 months together, we've come to realise that the venue becomes largely irrelevant after two pints; but what is important is the sitting arrangements and the number of steps to the Gents.
Our journey started, then stopped, then started again - all thanks to the crews of the Cross City line resulting in two cancelled trains, redeemed only by The Head's daughter training to be an Über driver. But it gave us the opportunity to award the first Donald J Trump prize to Kevin Half Pint for creating a crisis and then smugly solving it (only for the crisis to return).
The Crown initially housed us in the backyard where Half-Pint choked on his Butty as A2 "floated" his ideas and the hifi intelligencia bored the pants off us. Eventually, The Head (as he often has) led us from the darkness into the light and we were on familiar ground once more watching the sheep and carefully avoiding splinters in the inner thigh. Abbots came out top again with 9, with HPA a close second, whilst opinions on the Butty varied between 5 and 10 (no accounting for taste). But the real successes of the night were the sandwiches that kept us just the right side of sobriety.
Navigating the tow path without mishap, and unable to find seats inside, we resorted to camping out in a tent at The Weighbridge, amused only by exploring each other's failings. Dictionary Corner tried out new words such as meritorious, arbiter and supplicant (but sadly we couldn't piece them together in a sentence). The Orbiter recorded a decent 7.5 but the Bargee struggled to make a 6.5, and the tent received a 5 from the Camping and Caravanning Club.
After so much excitement in one evening, a final act of minor rail criminality seemed an anti climax - so much for rebellious pensioners!
So as Stuart and Alan skipped merrily arm in arm off into the sunset, thoughts moved to next month and the anniversary event of The Real Ale Group. The Engineer suggested Minworth Sewage Works (but we put it down to the drink!), so it's off to Moseley for the next chapter in the never-ending quest for alcoholic fortitude. Preliminary arrangements are to meet at Kings Norton Station at 17.45 on Thursday 13 September. Ps. Next time you see him, ask Paul to repeat the joke about the local magistrate - priceless!!
13 September 2018 - 1 Year Anniversary
Throughout almost exactly one year, it seemed somehow that we’d purposely ignored the delights on offer in Moseley. Lack of direct rail or bus connections from Kings Norton had condemned Moseley to the list of “possible visits sometime in the future”. But seeking a suitable venue for the Real Ale Group’s First Anniversary meet, Moseley muscled its way up to the top of the list, and, thanks to taxi power we breezed into the Prince of Wales as the first of five venues in a record evening. The liste de présence included the WM Police Wanted List of A’s 1 and 2, Pete and Paul (the disciples), Kevin Half Pint, Graeme (the Engineer), and Stuart (The Head).
Prince of Wales – first introduction of new member, John (currently without a nickname, but working on it) Sutton. A former fiddler (of taxes, music, or both?) he manfully entered the repartee and banter which was severely curtailed by the music. Strange for a pub of the quality and traditions of the Prince of Wales but it seems to be de rigueur for today’s audience. Despite recent media articles, it seemed that news of the pub’s death had been exaggerated (perhaps another candidate for the Donald J Trump Award?) but the pub was clogged with current and ex CBSO’ers – no excuse for the heavy music. Nevertheless the prime attraction was the barmaid’s décolletage which definitely piqued the interest of our audience but it didn’t help the Oakham Bishop to more than a 5, whilst the old standby TT Landlord once again fared well at 8.5.
After a couple of pints, we realised we’d turned the corner – literally - and found ourselves in the Pat Kavanagh. An old haunt from university days, the current student décor, garage musicality and, instantly forgettable bar staff came to haunt Stuart (The Head) – lets hope he’s reported back suitably to his daughter! Proper Job (St Austells) came in at a lowly 6, Doom Bar, at a consistent 7 with one of Half Pint’s strange Citron brews claiming 7.
Escaping back to the safety of the main road we stumbled into the Fighting Cocks – never one of my favourites when I lived in Moseley many years ago. But what a surprise!! After a decent renovation, the Cocks is now a solid, comfortable drinkers pub (with food and limited music) and a nice line in entente cordiale from behind the bar. Just the place to listen to stories about a hooligan horn blower performing Mahler, and yet more examples of our Treasurer living beyond his means. Purity ranked 7.5 but Blaze only managed a 5.
Reluctantly we shuffled along the road on yet another whim from The Head and waltzed confidently into the Bulls Head. However one glance at bright blue lighting, heavy music and an almost total lack of any recognisable beers, we made our ageist apologies and waltzed straight out again!
So in times of crisis, who do we turn to? That well known refuge of cheap beer and lonely people – Wetherspoons! Formerly Elizabeth of York (who she? answers on a postcard), its so handy (just across the road), and even 7.5% off for National Tax Day. The bill for 8 beers turned out to be almost exactly 50% the price in The Cocks and no need to demonstrate your credentials to JD as a Brexiteer. No music, comfortable chairs and space to sit, and cheap burgers - but stairs to the Gents – can’t have it all. Usual beers on offer and all perfectly acceptable – but by then members had lost the ability to count up to 10! A good ending to an extensive and adventurous evening but best of all, the limo was waiting outside to whisk us back to our beds, and dreams of décolletage.
Thursday 18 October 2018 – A world record attendance of nine saw the Real Ale Group reconvene for the October meeting. Strangely for once, the Group stayed at only one location, Black Horse, Northfield, where the locals thought Halloween had come early as successive waves of U3A geriatric zombies invaded their criminal idyll. The reason we didn’t move on had less to do with the mock smoke-stained décor, and more to do with the unbeatable value for money – so important to the skinflints on the Group.
Having survived the Wild West No 18 bus ride and dodged the shaven heads, we finally got down to drinking and putting the world to rights. The 3 A’s all turned up, as did the two disciples, Peter and Paul. John the Fiddler and Kevin Half Pint sat either side of Graeme the Engineer whilst newbie Bryan seemed comfortable with his moniker Shadow.
Drinking throughout the evening a combination of Ruddles (7.5 rising to a 9.5), Abbots (9.5), Celebration (7) and Hawkshead (8.5), most of us avoided the dreaded Moroccan which Bryan The Shadow awarded a 6 and nine tenths (he’ll get used to the rules). Half Pint gave the HopHead a 7 and, as the most adventurous member, we’ve learnt to respect his beery opinion. But is he right to refer to our meeting as a symposium and just what is the plural of symposium? Latin or Greek? Answers on a postcard and the winner will get a pint of Moroccan (2nd place gets two pints!). Pete gave us a mini tutorial on the Highway Code and knelt before the picture of Neville Chamberlain, his hero; whilst A2 confessed to hay fever from the tapestries. Strange what members reveal when they’ve had a few drinks!
The Black Horse is what it is. A huge drinking palace that caters for all levels of society from the bottom all the way up to the ground floor…. The curries seemed to go down well and from a £20 each float, five drinks and the curry still left us with a balance of £27.29 for the next outing. On that parameter along, the place can be proud of a 7.5.
For the next of our symposia (Gr) there was a majority for a Black Country outing, via a 7/8 seater minibus on Thursday 22 November.
Thursday 22 November 2018 - Puritanical Relief
If the NFL can arrange a regular season game at Wembley (and make a real mess of the pitch!), then the Real Ale Group can pick up its collective kitbag and have a Thanksgiving Away Day in the Black Country.
Unlike 17th Century Puritans, we were in search of adventure and variety, and two dodgy taxi rides later, we arrived at what must be close to real ale nirvana – The Bell and Bear at Rowley Regis. Old beams, stone, sloping floors, small comfortable side rooms, welcoming bar staff and, most importantly, a huge array of quality ales. So with yours truly, The Head sitting pretty and talking turkey, Peter and Paul the Disciples, John the Fiddler, Bryan the Shadow, and Graeme the Engineer, we joined A2 to sample the goods.
Golden Glow seemed to excel at 8.5, Batham’s a cracking 8, but a cloudy Enville (first off the barrel) stumbled around at 5. Conversation flowed as usual but the best laugh of the night was “sitting on the toilet until the Bishop comes”.
A 5 minute saunter down the road brought us to The Lighthouse, a little patch of Greece all on its own. Less popular than up the road but a good fire, no TVs and no music, so somewhat nirvana light. Nevertheless in a blossoming bromance straight out of Brokeback Mountain, A2 and the Head became inseparable even to the point of going for the curry option against the majority moussaka.
But nothing could slow the marking process, which is now challenging the Eurovision Song Contest for scoring complexity. (To be read in the voice of Katie Boyle…) Golden Glow huit points, Pardoe’s huit points, Hobsons six points, Moussaka neuf points et toilette ablutions sept points.
12 December 2018 - Final session of the year and the Bar Walmsley. The Engineer and A2 supplied the Burton and Black Country Ales and as usual The Head treated us to the Scratchings. Enough said.
14 February 2019 After a Dry January (for some) - Getting The Band Back Together Again.....
If Jake and Elwood could do it then so could we. Fans asked "Will it be the same after a long layoff? Could the guys do it again? Would it have the same magic as before?"
With these questions ringing in our ear, the re-formed (or should it be reformed?) band of brothers set off on our Come-Back Tour of Harborne. A1, A2, Stuart The Head, Bryan The Shadow, Kevin Half-Pint, Paul Half of Two Disciples, Nobby The Fiddler, Graeme The Engineer, and Jim Mobile Home made up the nine-piece.
Our first show was a repeat performance at The New Inn, proving only that cheap beer on Valentine's Night doesn't necessarily equal good value for money. Fan ratings for the beers struggled to reach a 6.5 on the Rotten Tomatoes scale and the Shipyard had Half-Pint and The Head all gassed up. But the old banter was back and Jim The Motor Home won the Oscar for Best Newcomer (in a category with only one nominee!).
The tour rumbled on to The Harborne Stores, a former haunt of journalists, artists and craftsmen - sadly none were in evidence on the night, probably chased away by the incessant music and infinite number of TV's on the walls - presumably to replace the missing wallpaper. Again the beers struggled to impress but having found a quiet corner, we settled down to the serious business of putting the world to rights. Would a gender re-balance within the group meet the requirements of the Me Too movement? A2 offered his services as a trans but it didn't seem to be the solution so it was off to the White Horse for Act III.
"Now this is what I call a proper pub" exclaimed Paul and The Fiddler. And so it proved, as the barmaid welcomed "older customers", seemingly unaware of the damage caused to upholstery by dribbling senior citizens. The beers ranked high on the index, so high in fact that I can't remember any specific brands! But never mind - we resisted the obvious attraction of staying for another, despite the implorings of the barmaid and it was off to the Mela Curry House for our Finale.
We failed to test the memory of the waiter by almost everyone ordering a Mixed Grill and beers (with two unmentioned members drinking red wine on a Real Ale night), a good time was had by all. Partway through at least one member self-declared insanity and more than one conversation expressed harsh words about the Beano. High intellectual debate indeed and it just goes to show how quickly beer can destroy the brain cells of older men!
In the absence of any agreement, it was agreed by a majority of me to suggest 14 March as the next performance with city centre (and specifically Craven Arms, back of the MailBox) as the venue.
14 March 2019 - The Illuminati - The order of the day is to put an end to the machinations of the purveyors of injustice.
It was with this endorsement of purpose ringing in our ears that A1, A2, Paul The Disciple, Nobby The Fiddler, Bryan The Shadow, Graeme The Engineer, and Kevin Half Pint, were supplemented by newcomer JP The Welsh. The secretive intelligentsia met at The Bull's Head, flagship of the Davenport's brand re-launch. Although the nostalgic Beer-At-Home isn't yet available, we were able to examine the plush, but bordello-like interior and hear a quaint history from an original Peaky Blinder who (gratefully) left his razor blade in his pocket. And that wasn't the end of the terror trip. We were forced - under threat to life - to take part in our first "beer cocktail" tasting session. All tasted remarkably similar and the certain presence of ginger turned out to be coke (the liquid not the snorting variety!). As for the beers, either our memories of the past Davenport taste was befuddled with time, or the current range doesn't quite make the grade. Either way the quality wasn't tip top. The Gold Ale averaged at a memorable 7.842, Original gravitated to a 7 (or 4 on the Keepax scale), and the Cranberry Ale started off as a 7 and after three mouthfuls finished at a 3. The Bull's Head itself is worthy of a mention in Best Boudoir Pubs of GB but probably rated a 9 largely because the Gents were about 20ft from where we were sat - a useful feature for clientele of our venerable age and wobbly bladder.
Having escaped the BBC Two set, we followed our venerable guide along Bath Row (that would become a police shooting gallery resulting in a death some 6 hours later) in search of The Craven Arms. This was a return to our favourite pub of 2018 and its beers didn't disappoint. The barmaid struggled to greet us with anything suggesting warmth or welcome, and A3 mistook the grimace on her face for a smile. But imagine her delight, as we realised we were out of time for the eats across the road, and we ordered all the food she had - enabling her to clear the shelves of day-old exposed sausage rolls, scotch eggs and pork pies. But no worry, apparently salmonella injections are covered by U3A insurance! Ratings were up on the last pub, BFG at 8, Weeley's Weal 8 and IPA at 8 although Carol Kirkwood (obviously a fine-bodied Scottish blend) consistently rates highly.
But the power of our Illuminati spreads far and wide, and preferring to skulk in the shadows, we came upon Ken Nichols, a fellow aspirant. Still to be inaugurated and therefore still to be named, he gave us his opinions on walking and biology teaching, all of which was instantly forgotten or ignored, along with most subjective concepts discussed. (Yep! I'm lost as well.) After another 4 pork pies (it would have been cheaper to visit any 3 star Michelin restaurant) we licked our wounds and called it a day.
My less than sober calculations suggest we were about £1 each in profit, although for me, Paul, Nobby, and JP, the unsatisfactory taxi means we are net £3 in deficit. Pete still has £2 in the "bank" and Jim has £8.
25 April 2019 - “By failing to plan, you are planning to fail”
Who said that?
He (for it was a he) may well have been thinking about the Real Ale Group as we sat down to plan the year ahead – they certainly had them in the 18th Century. A record attendance of 11 of the usual suspects, spurned only by Nobby The Fiddler and A3, both on more sensible holiday outings, as we paid a repeat visit to The British Oak. But this time we frequented the Bar rather than the outside terrace, and even so the Tribute, TT Landlord and the other yellowy one (!) flowed well. It was universally agreed (by me) that, as most beers seem to be largely acceptable to easily pleased members, we would can the points scoring, unless one is particularly vile or nectorous (is that a word?). Therefore, and in the absence of taking any notes, we could concentrate on the main topic in hand – listening to the Head and A2 pontificating as usual. What were they rabbiting on about? Answers on a postcard, but I watched as The Engineer and Disciple Paul nudged each other to stay awake.
On the left wing and unaffected by the glaring early evening sun, Ken The White Walker, Motorhome, The Shadow and yours truly, skipped rapidly over Broken Brexit, the Perils of Portugal, Keen on Kenya, and the Twat that is Trump. All standard stuff, but The Shadow was concentrating so hard, he missed a round!
It was getting past his bedtime when the Head, recalling the main purpose of the meeting, rummaged down his trousers and brought out …. a suggested trip to Codsall and the Railway Station buffet that offers a wide range of the amber stuff. Certainly one for the next couple of months and even for a day outing rather than an evening session. Through clenched buttocks and a beery grin, Half-Pint recounted his experiences in The Shakespeare, Summer Row earlier that evening, and coupling it with the resurgence of The Prince of Wales (back of the ICC) seemed a good combination for the future.
Earlier than expected, Paul’s stomach started rumbling and with the Ayes to the Right electing to hit a local Balti shop, the Noes to the Left were left to drink yet more beer, purely in the interests of experimentation.
Having failed to plan the date of the next outing, let me recover some semblance of organisation by suggesting Thursday 23 May visiting the aforementioned Shakespeare Inn, Summer Row (https://www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/eastandwestmidlands/theshakespeareinnsummerrowbirmingham?utmsource=google&utmmedium=organic&utm_campaign=gmb) and recently re-opened Prince of Wales (https://www.facebook.com/thepowcambridgestreet).
Any other options welcomed as always and look out for a mid-week Codsall trip courtesy of The Head. Thanks again to everyone who turned up, and it just goes to show that blokes can throroughly enjoy themselves doing not a lot at all!
23 May 2019 - "Excuse me, Sir, 1st class or Steerage?"
No doubt the barmaid (are we still allowed to use that term?) was thinking this last Thursday as she watched us giggling like schoolboys hunched in a corner cowering away from the ubiquitous music. Did we deserve the VIP box or should she have shunted us into the snug at the back? She had seemingly opened the Prince of Wales but forgotten to invite anyone else and there we were, sat in splendid, but cavernous isolation appreciating the music but not the volume, and wondering how we could tackle the UK class system..
But I'm getting ahead of myself. It seems like we plumped for a dodgy date and due variously to pestilence, poverty and old age, we started off only as a five. But then, A3 (masquerading as Arthur Anderson) sloped off after an hour, seemingly on a promise, which left us as the Big Four ( me, Half Pint, Pete The Disciple, and A2). The Shakespeare on Summer Row was the first beertery (is that a word?) and despite the potential appeal of the Roku Gin garden we sat inside - in fact in the very seat that our favourite bard used when he wrote the infamous Theresa May Brexit speeches. He too, was apparently disappointed by the poor range on offer, limited only to Moonstone (7), and Blond (5) which seemed remarkably easy to confuse with Sharps Rising Tide (7.5). Venting his ire in Anthony and Cleo, he wrote: "The band that tie's their friendship together will be the very strangler of their amity" (as the Conservative Party proved) so before it came true, we escaped his influence and it was off to The Prince of Wales, behind the ICC.
In the newly refurbished howff, the Enville (8) became in instant hit to the exclusion of almost everything else. But Half Pint tried to raise the level of conversation pushing the candidature of Renee Fleming as "thinking man's singing crumpet" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5KuU8UpiRl0) whist A2 countered with Joseph Pujol (http://mentalfloss.com/article/66445/19th-century-performer-wowed-audiences-musical-farts) who wowed his Victorian audience with musical flatulence. Third, in the disturbed mind of quaffers was Mongolian throat music (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rmo3fKeveo). We asked the opinion of the scooter-bourne, tea-drinking, pot-bellied skinheads perched outside, but they were more interested in finding some "greasers" to have fun with.
Highlight of the evening was the pie and mash marked at 10 by the four hardy souls. Pub is well worth a visit but find a date when there are more than four in the place. Vote on your favourite artist and I'll get the winner round for the next get together!
25 July 2019 - Should We Ban Morning Exams?
You can buy a hard cover version of British Railway Disasters from Amazon for £1.32 but its even better to be a player and take part in your very own episode for a future edition!
Once more our intrepid quaffers were caught out by the famed technological vagaries of the UK’s rail network. The hottest day of the year had in fact been so unexpected (despite excessive advanced coverage in almost every red top daily) that the powers-that-be had not had time to swathe overhead lines in bagged ice to prevent them expanding and buckling. So, successive trains were delayed and cancelled resulting in a fragmented arrival at our favourite Craven Arms. Nevertheless Half Pint led our entry into the Beer Festival followed by The Head, Shadow, The Engineer, Pete Half a Disciple, Jim Motorhome, Chief Quaffer and latecomer Mystery Man, showing the stamina of a true Brummie after being left on the platform for an hour. Apparently our rail network is only capable of operating between -1C and 25C despite 15% of average yearly temperatures falling outside those parameters.
In the good old days it was easy to pin the blame on British Rail as the overarching authority but now after the transition to Railtrack and its subsequent morph into Network Rail, we have a mosaic of operators like West Midlands Railways that run the Cross City Line, and have no responsibility for the track and lines. But all is not lost. I discovered that WM Railways are offering compensation to passengers inconvenienced as a result of delays – but alas bus pass users are ineligible!
Placed against the delights on offer at the Craven Arms, our frustrations were quickly forgotten as we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing by sinking Swan Small Step and Bay of Tranquility, both with unexpectedly high gravity (geddit?). During a Railway and a Fireside, followed by the Black Country BFG et al, we were regaled by sad experiences in The Head’s life, The Engineer’s Hitler impressions, and belated celebrations of The Head’s birthday. But the most interesting factoid was that the density of petrol is greater in the morning than in the afternoon, so it’s better VFM to fill up in the morning – the corollary being that we are moving future Real Ale sessions to Thursday breakfast to take advantage of this (questionable) fact. Similarly if we are less dense in the afternoons should we not ban morning exams? See below: https://auto.howstuffworks.com/fuel-efficiency/fuel-economy/gasoline-more-dense-in-morning.htm
Conversation further deteriorated as the Head claimed that he had celebrated one wedding anniversary in Tipton Port, (notwithstanding that most of us didn’t even know that Tipton produced wine) and for the second time in Real Ale Group history, The Head admitted that he was lost for words – a blessing to us all!
Soon it was food time and a number favoured a Michelin Star restaurant. But, as nobody could be bothered to get up, we once again emptied the larder of seven pork pies, one sausage roll, and two scotch eggs – all topped off with mustard and subsequently, antacids.
Soon there was nothing left but to seek a final pint at the Post Office Vaults on the way back to New St station, where once again, rails featured to disrupt our evening as the tram track construction limited entry. Another of our favourite watering holes was suitably quiet for late evening but the beers still hit the sweet spot (as did the ground floor nearby toilets - so essential to the last visit of the night).
Next stop looks like a trip to The Bell in Harborne – delayed this month to accommodate Half Pint’s predilection. However I recognise the date may be problematic as holidays and “wifey things” occasionally interfere with quaffing. I can offer Thursday 15 August - usual time and transport arrangements via the 11C or otherwise.
So let me know your availability and assuming enough takers, we’ll make it a date. As always please shout up with any alternatives.
15 August 2019 - Thing A Thong Of Thixpence
A novel experience for the Group this week – a trip to The Bell at Harborne – a little known quaint olde worlde pub in the leafy backwoods away from the hustle and bustle of Harborne’s more famous High St. Good beers served albeit in a narrow corridor that encourages single line queuing and requires a disciplined behaviour. But once outside, in the (initially) balmy summer evening sunshine, the pub opens out to a dog-leg crown (supposedly) bowling green. A unique feature, and the more we drank, the more noticeable was the mega dip in the middle, and the more curious became the bowlers ability to bend bowls around the dogleg. All in all, the dipping, bending and crisscrossing of numerous bowls provided a certain bilious background to the drinking experience for A2, Jims Mystery Man and Motorhome, Kevin Half Pint, a welcome return from Ken The White Walker and latecomer Disciple Pete (known to his friend as Taximan!).
Jim Mystery Man set the tone after complaining endlessly about his thong which apparently prevented him from bending over and showing us his expertise! The thought only slightly detracted from the tasty quality of T. Taylor’s Landlord, Slaters Citrus or Adnams Ghost Ship; although the barmaid’s insistence at including a slice of orange in the Blue Moon showed dodgy taste. A2 waxed lyrically about Mild and Barley Wine and as he searched his endless memory for the name of the Rugby Union Warm up Competition (still waiting for the answer), we once again resolved the Brexit Backstop – assisted this time by Clown Prince Bozzo’s recent PM antics. This Gordian Knot of British politics can apparently be solved within the Real Ale Group month after month but nobody listens to us!
This brought us neatly to Rousseau and Half Pint’s tendency to confuse him with Mussolini (not an easy confusion to be had!) Clearance of the mind was demonstrated by Jim Mystery Man as he explained his efforts at house clearance, and Pete bemoaned his ongoing guardianship of numerous grandchildren. Living next door to a house full of nurses seemed to bring back memories (and aspirations), whilst a floated U3A dating app found little enthusiasm.
Final accolade of the night went to Ken White Walker who, despite coherently commentating on the bowls match, waltzed off with the title of Best Dressed and Biggest Lightweight.
That left us only with a famous quote from the above Swiss gentleman which seemed to sum up the conversations sweetly “People who know little are usually great talkers, while men who know much say little.” Fortunately none of us have learnt the lesson!
19 September 2019 - Bog Snorkeling For Fun
Encrusted with the detritus of a Saturday Workshop, a dicky PA system, and the melancholy that comes with knowing that almost everyone I know is going away on holiday (except bloody me), its been difficult getting the digits and limbs to work together and compose even a mini classic. Nevertheless here goes. A trip to town, they said. It’ll be fun, they said. How about getting down with the youngsters? They said. Like a little music with your beer, sir? And Half Pint didn’t even turn up to face the music.
Last Thursday we entered the Head of Steam – a central Cheers-like bar and a few hundred post-work flunkies (remember those days?) and lots and lots of music. But otherwise the interior was one of those vast uncluttered spaces that could easily have been a department store or a clothing shop in a former life. Pete, Shadow, Engineer, The Head, Fiddler, A2, Motorhome and White Walker joined me in a shouting game as we quaffed Peaky Blinders Pale and Green Duck whilst playing musical chairs. Once the chairs (or lack of) had won, it was time to move on, and with the aid of sign language we toddled off into the night in search of the Pint Shop.
Competing with the all-powerful Wellington next door, The Pint Shop has one of the largest range of beers we’ve ever experienced with a choice of 27 to read through and understand. Normally that’s an advantage but with our geriatric bunch, it merely added to the general confusion as Shadow missed the real ales and decided to plump for a dodgy Peach Triple, at 8.2 ABV a craft beer that would have made Half Pint gulp. Otherwise Adnams Southwold and the strangely named Release The Chimps seemed the best beers to chug (a term introduced by A2 – and who are we to argue).
Not to be outdone, Motorhome went for the 10.5 ABV Hey Zeus (wtf - we all cried – but he was still standing at the end of the night). We didn’t even mind when A2 referred to me and The Head as “mindless f….g twats”, over what we haven’t got a clue, but he seemed to be banging on about some teacher on the bridge of a cruise ship. So still dogged by the ubiquitous music, we made the long walk to The Wellington (next door) - a music-free haven with endless recognisable beers.
However is it me or is the Wellington losing its appeal in the face of competition? Perhaps it was just a slow night but we were almost alone with the odd (and I do mean odd) few hardy drinkers. At least we could talk without shouting, and there were significantly more empty chairs than bums. The HPA reigned supreme whilst the Black Country Ales also starred, but the real joy was a main course of assorted crisps that Michelin had awarded 1star but Egon Ronay had avoided like the plague. Time to go, and the terror of herding cats returned as The Fiddler successfully evaded the gaze of everyone searching for him and made his own shaky way back to the station. A few stayed on to sample even more peace, quiet and isolation – presumably reluctant to go home – but sooner or later we all have to face the music. So it was back to the station and a quick bog snorkel on the train on the way home.