Monday 17 September 2012


'Where life is colourful and varied, religion can be austere or unimportant. Where life is appallingly monotonous, religion must be emotional, dramatic and intense. Without the curry, boiled rice can be very dull.’ - Cyril Northcote Parkinson.
The second largest urban agglomeration in the UK, Birmingham, was my destination for a casual, but assiduous, Bank Holiday Weekend. It was also a chance to catch up with a couple of other seasoned, Connoisseurs. Sights, both traditional and modern-day, cuisine, both local and worldwide, and ale, both mild and bitter, were on the agenda – by the bucket load!
Since an epic trio of League Cup games versus the team of the moment, ‘Big Ron’s’ West Bromwich Albion, a squad full of afro premed superstars, in 1980, and my first visit to Birmingham, albeit just to The Hawthorns for two of the three matches, I’ve been back to the city come every football calendar to one of the seven central or surrounding clubs football teams grounds; but only for the day. So, I thought it was about time I ran the rule over Brum and give the city a proper appraisal of CC worth.

Stepping out form our hotel, and within a instant, you can see that the city’s redevelopment proposals, the Big City Plan, are well underway; these plans aim to make Birmingham one of the top 20 most prestige cities where to live in the world. Gleaming, modernistic buildings glinted in the sunshine, be they commercial lodgings or urban apartments, office blocks or shopping outlets, as we made our through streets brimming with, it seemed, a hundred thousand and one nationalities and creeds - such is the diverse population of Birmingham today. Contemporary architecture and neoteric sculptures lap against historical structures and chronicled statues that give the city a great depth and a want for knowledge about these period-honoured statements. We cracked on and did so. In-between lengthy ale breaks, though.

The Gas Street Basin and Old Turn Junction canal areas have pubs, restaurants and shops situated along their lengths and are a wondrous place for a leisurely meander or for taking a barge trip on a pleasant, warm sunny day. You can even forget that you’re in the heart of a bustling city and a once thriving hectic network of canals that were connections to the Black Country and the rest of England’s canal system. Once again it would be rude not to sample the alehouses wares while there too.

Birmingham is allegedly the genesis to the Balti curry: Balti restaurants that serve up a wide variety of Balti curries are known in as 'balti houses' in Brum, with the Balti dish usually accompanied with a mega ‘Karack’, more commonly known as a naan bread. And where better to find a ‘balti house’, none other than the Balti Triangle, which is just brief taxi ride away from the centre of town. Now then, I can still taste the splendid, sizzling chicken Balti and naan I had on Bank Holiday Monday, but the name of the restaurant is a distant memory due to the intake of alcohol during the day! Brum can also lay fame to being the home of Brylcreem and custard powder.

Over our stay, and especially on the Monday when I meet up with a couple of t’CC forum lads - one a Blue the other a Villain, and they both bizarrely got along? we drank a diversity of ales in a heterogeneity of pubs. Sadly, one pub in Digbeth I had greatly wished to order a red wine in, had shut some 4 years before due to the credit crunch. The said boozer being, the Eagle & Tun. This pub is where the group UB40, who frequented the gaff, shot a vid for their biggest selling single “Red, Red, Wine”, and it is also featured on the picture sleeve of UB40’s, “The Best of UB40.” But not to worry, I’d a CAMRA map of Brum’s other 107 real pubs at the ready.

Though most Brum pubs' ale were somewhat flatter than I usually like, there were plenty of choice, and nearly all had a mild on. Three public houses of note are: The Freehouse, the Post Office Vaults. The Vaults is a small and very plain establishment, but has on 8 real ales, 14 different ciders and stocks over 300 bottled beers from around the globe. The Anchor; a spit-and-sawdust kinda place that offers several hard to source ales, one offs, and ales brewed by microbreweries exclusively for The Anchor - plus they have a host of foreign lagers too. And last, but not least, The Wellington. The Wellington has been 5 times winner of Brum’s CAMRA pub of the year because of its perfectly kept 16 handpumps – say no-more.

If you can get use to the friendly folk of Brum referring to you with the endearment of ‘Bab’ when you make an inquiry, purchase any shopping or order an ale, as well as wanting to experience some of the aforementioned, Birmingham may just be the location for you one weekend.
Your Northern Monkey correspondent, Bill.

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