Tuesday, 22 November 2011

2011 - Day Out 32: Staffordshire

Date: Saturday 19 November

Having recovered from our fantastic London weekend, it is time for a meeting of the ARMS, where we will be invading Staffordshire.

Mr UKBuses carriage awaits!
This is the penultimate meeting of the ARMS this year, so to get the day out under way, I make my way to my nearest bus stop in Wollaston, so that I can catch the National Express West Midlands Service 276 at 0806am. The winter has definitely arrived as it is just before 0800am and it is still dark. My bus arrives on time, and I send the usual text to ensure that the first ARM member is out of bed, and by the time I get to Norton, Mr UKBuses is at the stop wide awake, the bus carries onto Stourbridge, where we just miss out on seeing how the construction of the bus station, sorry, Interchange is going as we alight at the stop on Stourbridge ring road. We are only at the bus stop for about two or three minutes when our next bus arrives, National Express West Midlands Service 246, which will take us to Dudley, I look at the side roads en route preparing myself for traffic marshaling in next weekend's 246 Charity Walk - The Hard Way. Upon arrival we have to wait about ten minutes so that we can catch our next bus, National Express West Midlands service 311, which takes us to Walsall, via Wednesbury, as we get near to Walsall Mr UKBuses gets a phone call, which means that the final ARM member has arrived in Walsall, as our bus arrives in Bradford Place, we see him, so as we alight, the group are together and its a hello to Mr D9, who points out that Mr UKBuses transport to Walsall's bus station has arrived, see picture, left. Whilst Mr UKBuses is taking some pictures in Bradford Place, Mr D9 and myself make a bet, lets hope that my wager wins. After Mr UKBuses denies that the carriage has nothing to do with him, we make our way to Walsall Bus Station, keeping an eye for Mr D9 and Mr UKBuses work colleague, Raymondo who is lurking around the town somewhere.

We arrive at Walsall Bus Station (St Paul's), and there has been no sign of Raymondo. We have to walk just opposite the bus station, and we walk to our stop in Hatherton Road, Mr D9 takes a different route to us and goes via the bus station and the station toilets before the bus journey ahead. We are all at the bus stop and before our bus arrives, Raymondo makes a surprise appearance, he is just about to go to M&S and he has his bag for life to prove it. As we are chatting to Raymondo, our bus arrives and we board Arriva Midlands service 2 to Cannock. After purchasing our Arriva Daysavers, the bus makes its way through Bloxwich and Cheslyn Hay before we arrive at our first planned destination. Mr UKBuses carries on from where he left off last week, and he presses the bell too early, about five stops too early. We have about a ten minute walk before we arrive at our first destination and as we don't fully know where we are, we are pleased to find a road sign saying "Delta Way", we cross the road and enter the Arriva Midlands Cannock garage, we have only a few minutes to take some photographs. After Mr UKBuses finishes taking his photographs, he asks how long we have left, I tell him  that we have about two minutes left, so we make our way back to the correct bus stop, as we turn the corner, the bus is already there, so we have a mad dash across the grass and board Arriva Midlands service 70, despite running to get the bus, the driver stays at the bus stop for a few minutes before heading on towards our next destination. We have been on the bus for just over five minutes, and we arrive at Cannock, alighting at the bus station. We have about twenty minutes to wait, so we have a walk around the bus station taking photographs along the way. Our next bus arrives, so we catch Arriva Midlands service X60, which will take us to Lichfield, taking us through Heath Hayes and Burntwood along the way.

Mr D9 cops a feel
The journey takes approximately forty minutes and just after 12 midday, we arrive at Lichfield, and as we arrive I think I have gone back in time thanks to the old WMPTE style bus station from the seventies, I think that most of the bus shelters are still from that time period, Mr UKBuses and myself get off the bus all right, Mr D9 must have had his foot on the D9 pedal too much, as his foot has gone to sleep. As Mr UKBuses dashes around the bus station to take some photographs, Mr D9 and myself talk to our service X60 driver whilst waiting. Not long after Mr UKBuses is ready and he is also hungry so I have to dig into my memory banks so that I can get us to our planned pub to eat. Luckily I remember and we make our way out of the back of the bus station, past the theatre, and down an alley way where there are a couple of statues, Mr D9 thinks that these statues are cold, and as the sheet has fallen, he decides to help the statue lady get warm again by helping to cover her, see picture right, that's his excuse anyway but I think the woman in the shop may think it could be something different judging by her look. We carry on along the alley way where we catch up with Mr UKBuses and are in Lichfield High Street, we carry on up the street and we arrive at our first watering hole of the day, and that is J D Wetherspoons, "The Acorn Inn". We are glad to get out of the cold, and as Mr D9 makes his way to the toilets, Mr UKBuses finds a table, which means that it must be me that has to go to the bar and order the first round of the day.

In the warmth of The Acorn Inn
The round has been brought, so now it is time to stop our stomachs from rumbling and order food. Luckily Mr UKBuses has the menu in hand, and now Mr D9 and myself have our hands rubbing together, the bet will be won by one of us in a couple of minutes, or it could be the charity box on the bar that may gain from both of us. Mr UKBuses is thinking to have something different than usual, which means the charity box on the bar could be the winner, but Mr UKBuses finally decides and he is going to opt for his usual BBQ Chicken Melt without the cheese - just what I wanted to hear, I have just won our bet and Andy gives me the pound stake after I wake the pub up with my celebrations. With my win I decide to splash out and try something different, and I opt for the gammon, whilst Mr D9 opts for the simple steak, he will gain a couple of eggs from my meal when his arrives. After about ten minutes, our food arrives, so after passing on my eggs to Mr D9, we all tuck in, and I polish the plate clean, I must have been hungry. We spend a few minutes to let our dinner go down, see picture left, and Mr D9 and Mr UKBuses talk about work, I don't feel left out though as I am an honorary member of National Express staff, as I have had my name and picture appear in the National Express newsletter even though I don't work for them. The food has gone down, and we make our way back to the bus station to catch the bus to our next destination. As we make our way back, I do have to ensure that Mr D9 doesn't feel a right tit again by standing inbetween the statues and himself so he doesn't have a grope. Mr UKBuses decides to get his own back on Mr D9 for the next journey, and he asks him if he needs to use the bus station facilities as the next journey will be for one and a half hours. We don't have to wait long as our next bus is already in the station.

The Old Man Takes A Nap!
Our next destination is Tamworth, and we board Arriva Midlands service 765 which takes us through Whittington. About fifteen minutes into the journey, Mr UKBuses asks Mr D9 if his bladder is holding up as we have another hour and fifteen minutes before we arrive, at this point his legs are nearly in the crossed position, another ten minutes pass, and Mr UKBuses asks the question again, but the joke is about to backfire as we all need to make a visit as soon as the bus pulls up, luckily we don't have long to go, Mr D9 thinks otherwise. Five minutes pass by and we arrive at Tamworth, and Mr D9 is releived, and we all are as he spots the nearest toilets and we all pile in to make use of the facilities. After we do our business, we make our way a couple of minutes walk up the road and we arrive outside the Arriva Midlands Tamworth garage. We all take a few shots, even though we are having dead eye looks from the local chav fraternity, and as we make our way towards the end of the garage, Mr UKBuses spots a vehicle depart from inside the station, and he quickly runs down towards the open door to take a few shots (from the pavement!) of the interior of the garage, as soon as his camera is put away, the doors also close. Time for a drink, so we go to the nearest J D Wetherspoons, "The Silk Kite", for some liquid refreshment. As we arrive, there are a lot of people waiting to be served, so Mr D9 has a walk around the other side of the bar to see what real ales are available, with a member of bar staff abruptly telling him that "You have to be served the other side!", so as he makes his way back to us, the barmaid thinks we are invisible and serves a people who have not been waiting as long as us. When it is our turn she is rude and sureley has an attitude problem, at this point we decide to leave, making this one Wetherspoons that we will not be returning to due to the rudeness of both members of bar staff on duty. We have a little time to kill, so instead of waiting in a place where the local community seem to be ignorant, we decide to get ahead of the plan and catch the 1425pm Arriva Midlands 765 service back to Lichfield. As we make our way back to Lichfield, the day must surely be taking its toll on Mr UKBuses, who decides to have a nap, see picture right, with Mr D9 and myself sitting either side of him, we could have taken a bet on whose shoulder his head would be landing on. He does wake up in time to alight the bus when it pulls back into Lichfield bus station. We have about ten minutes before we catch the earlier than planned Arriva Midland service 825 to Rugeley, enough time for Mr D9 to make use of the facilities again at Lichfield bus station.

Cheers! At The Plaza, Rugeley
Our service 825 turns up on time and we board for a short journey to Rugeley, a place that I visited about two or three years ago, it may have been longer as they years go by so quick, we hope that the natives, when we arrive, will be better than the Tamworth natives. After a journey of approximately thirty-five minutes, we see the big chimney stacks at Rugeley power station, or "The Cloud Machines" as Mr D9 likes to call them, and we alight at Rugeley Bus Station. Mr UKBuses is getting hungry, so he decides to go on a hunt for chips. After visiting W H Smiths where I get a couple bars of chocolate to keep me going and we get a free copy of The Sun with our magazines (where to confuse you even more, they charge you for it then take £1 off the total cost, even though the paper is only 60p), Mr UKBuses spots a chip shop that Mr WME used when we visited previously. Mr UKBuses decides not to use that one, I cannot blame him, it didn't look very clean, we make our way to the main road leading back to the bus station and he finds Henry's, a rather more clean looking chip shop. After a little wait he buys a cone of chips, even though they are in a tray, and Mr D9 helps himself to a few as we sit outside, whilst Mr UKBuses eats them, it may have been a bit warmer, not a lot, by eating them in a bus shelter. After the chips have been consumed, we take a couple of steps and we are in J D Wetherspoons, "The Plaza", and as Mr D9 buys the round, with the staff loads more friendlier than the Tamworth staff, I find a seat, and to make sure that Mr D9 is okay, the table I find is right next to the gents toilets. We rest our feet for a few minutes, see picture left, before we head back to the bus station to catch the bus to our next destination, but before we leave, we all make a visit ensuring that we will be comfortable for the journey ahead. As we are right next to the gents, Mr D9 heads into the ladies, but he is saved embarassment as Mr UKBuses points out his mistake. Feeling refreshed, we head to Rugeley bus station to catch our bus, it is just after half past four, and the photographs have been stopped for the rest of the day due to the fact that it is absolutely pitch black outside.

It's the end of the day at The Wheatsheaf, Cheers!
We only have to wait a few minutes and our bus arrives, we did see the our bus go around on a different service to a local estate and back in what seemed one minute, before morphing into our Arriva Midlands service 33 taking us back to Cannock. We rest our feet for the journey which takes us about twenty five minutes before arriving at a cold and dark Cannock Bus Station just before 1700pm. We decide to skip Cannock and board our next bus, an earlier than planned Arriva Midlands service 70, it is now 1705, and our bus departs from Cannock. Whilst on board, we are approached from a market survey official acting on behalf of Bus Users UK, and gives us a survey to fill in and post back, I have duly completed and posted it back to them giving them my say on the service caught. As we near Wolverhampton, the bus driver thinks he is the next Jenson Button, speeding and driving with out care so as we arrive in Wolverhampton, we gladly alight in Stafford Street. We have extra time in Wolverhampton, so we can visit two pubs before leaving for home. We are on the corner of Lichfield Street and we don't know which pub to go to, but the decision is made easier as Mr D9's legs are becoming crossed, so we head to the nearest, which is J D Wetherspoons "The Moon Under Water". It is Mr UKBuses round, so as Mr D9 pops to use the facilities, I find a table in a pub packed with Wolves fans. We spend a while resting our legs, but as we finish our drinks we move onto the second Wolverhampton pub, one of our favourites, "The Wheatsheaf". We head round to the lounge or is it the snug, at the back of the building, and we are presented with the barmaid who serves us our round, the view gets better when I find a mirror above the bar, this pleases Mr D9 and myself. We rest our legs again and reflect on today's proceedings, see picture right. After a nice rest, we have to leave to catch our bus home, we leave Mr D9 to finish his pint and we say goodbye.

We make our way around to the new Wolverhampton bus station, and Mr UKBuses is walking so slow that a snail and his tortoise mate overtake him on the pavement. As we turn the corner, we see National Express West Midlands service 256, pull out of its stop. To make sure we are in a chance of catching this bus, we hurry around to Cleveland Street, but as we arrive we see the service 256 ahead turning into Summer Row, so we decide to walk around to Victoria Street, where we head to two pubs in quick succession. The first one we visit is The Giffard Arms, one of my favourite Wolverhampton pubs, but we use the facilities first, and as we come back to the bar, there is quite a queue, so we head opposite and visit The Litten Tree, where we have a quick drink before catching National Express West Midlands service 255. We board service 255 when it turns up a few minutes late, and after passing through Wombourne and Wall Heath, we alight at Kingswinford cross, where we walk up the High Street and after a few minutes National Express West Midlands service 256 takes us back to Stourbridge. We alight in Birmingham Street and by the time we have walked from Stand F to Stand C, our final bus of the day arrives and it is Black Diamond's service 276C which takes us back home dropping off Mr UKBuses first and I alight in Wollaston. I get my supper from Lucky House and take my Chinese takeaway home in time to watch this year's ITV I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here.

Another good day out, good laughs with good people, there is one final ARMS day out in 2011, which means only one thing, it is the Christmas outing - Anything can happen, it did last year!

Andy's Bald Cranium (ABC)

The Bald Spot at Cannock Bus Station.

Bald Spot One: This was captured in a cold Cannock Bus Station, whilst waiting to get our bus to Lichfield. Considering the low temperature, there is a lot of cranium showing, I was expecting the hair to be long, enabling the bald spot to be kept warm.

Thanks Mrs D9 for supply the distraction.

Bald Spot Two: This was captured in Mr D9's favourite place, Tamworth, outside of the old Midland Red garage, which is now run by Arriva Midlands. This picture was caught whilst Mr D9 was reporting in, so a big thank you goes to Mrs D9, who kept him talking, enabling me to get the shot.

The bald spot by moonlight!

Bald Spot Three: This is the first night time shot I have ever got of the cranium as you can see the reflection from the station lightning, the picture is a bit blurred as the cranium moved. The location of this picture was in Rugeley Bus Station whilst waiting to return to Cannock.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

2011 - Day Out 31: London - Rememberance Day

Date: Sunday 13 November 2011

It is the last day of our weekend visit to London. We will be visiting the Cenotaph to pay our respects and observe the main Remembrance service held at Westminster, with Her Majesty The Queen taking part.

The Cenotaph, respecting our War dead
I wake up at 0715am after a well deserved sleep following yesterday's busy day and night out. I pop out for my morning "fresh air" break. Being in the fresh air also wakens me up a bit more. I make my way back to my room where I have a refreshing shower and get ready for the day ahead. We are checking out this morning, so I ensure that I have everything packed in my bag and before I make my way down to reception, I have one final check to ensure that I have left nothing behind. I pick up my bag, and make my way down to reception where I hand in my key card for the final time. I now have to wait for Mr UKBuses now, and while I do I can smell the breakfast in the breakfast room / bar. We don't have time this morning to help ourselves to an "all we can eat" breakfast as we need to get to Westminster so that we can get a good spot to watch the Remembrance service. Mr UKBuses gets his own back on me for meeting up with him late, last night before we hit the town, as I am down in the reception area for about fifteen to twenty minutes before he turns up. He hands his key card in and we leave the hotel for the final time as we make our way round the corner to the East India DLR station to get our DLR railway replacement bus to Canning Town Interchange. We don't have to wait long before a bus turns up and after boarding, it only takes a few minutes before we are at Canning Town ready to catch the tube to Westminster. As we make our way to the tube station, we are checking in all the shops along the way as Mr UKBuses needs to get a replacement poppy. This is his third this weekend, the first one he had, he lost it somewhere in Birmingham on the way to New Street Station. He purchased a replacement one yesterday from a lady during the Lord Mayor's Parade, and lost it shortly after on the tube. He is bound to get one when we arrive at Westminster, I wonder how long he will be wearing it?

We make our way to the platform at Canning Town and we are lucky as we only have to catch this tube to get us to Westminster. A tube arrives and we make our way along the Jubilee Line to get to us to our main destination for today, Westminster. It takes us just under twenty minutes and we arrive at Westminster. We only have a short walk to get to Whitehall, and along the way, Mr UKBuses is able to get a poppy to wear from a newsagent along the street, I get one too which replaces one that I have been wearing all weekend and has been battered about a bit, at least I have a crisp looking poppy to wear just in case we make an appearance on the television coverage. We are at Whitehall, and we are passed clear plastic bags to put our personal belongings in from our pockets as we have to have our bags checked and walk through a scanner before we can take our places. Mr UKBuses gets through okay, after having my bag checked, it is my turn to walk through the scanner and it goes off, I am ordered to one side where I have to have a body scan with a portable detector. It turns out that I left my inhaler in my pocket which contains metal, but I am allowed in and I am reunited with my bag. As I get my belongings (phone, camera, keys, etc) out of my bag, I find out that my policeman has left my packed clothes in a state, Mr UKBuses gets the personal touch as the WPC who checked his bag, helped him put his clothes back into his bag by folding them for him. We now have to find a place to stand so that we can watch the service.

We make it onto the BBC!
It looks as we arrived at the right time as the crowds are starting to gather, we make our way up towards Downing Street, and we find a spot just up from the Cenotaph and a good view as The Queen will be standing virtually in front of us. We take our places and put down our bags, it is just before 0930am so we have to wait another hour before the service starts, we get here this early so that we can ensure we get a good place, but it looks like we will have to be even earlier next time, as people have had similar ideas and they are right at the front. Even before the service has begun, it feels strange to be here, even though there are hundreds of people here, there is no running around trying to get anywhere, the area is quiet considering the number of the crowds. After an hour, the bands / troops start to arrive, they make there way down Whitehall and as they take their spots on each side of the road, our view is restricted now as they stand in front of us, this doesn't worry Mr UKBuses as he still gets his pictures and videos by holding his camera in the air. The main service starts, and after another half hour, The Queen, Prince Charles and Prime Ministers past and present take their places by the Cenotaph. It is now eleven o'clock and as Big Ben tolls, the two minute silence starts, and it is surreal as you can hear a pin drop, the two minutes pass by with no problems apart from one person who decides to shout at the top of his voice "No More War". The last post is played which sends a shiver down my spine, The Queen and Prime Minister lays wreaths onto the Cenotaph, and a hymn is sung by all who attend followed by The Lords Prayer, and finally the national anthem, God Save The Queen. The current and ex-service men will make there way down Whitehall and to the Cenotaph to lay there wreaths, we leave at this point as we need to make our way across London to get a bite to eat and to catch our train back home. I'm glad that I have stayed in London so that I can experience this and pay my respects to those who lost their lives during the wars to protect our country.

When we get back home, we find out that we do make it onto the BBC coverage, a still from the coverage is shown above right, can you spot us. Video footage can be seen below.

We make our way back to Westminster tube station but we do find it hard going as we do get stuck a few times through the crowds along Whitehall, we have to squeeze through some very tight spots along the way. We finally make it past the security area and I do need a "fresh air break" after making my way through the crowd. Nerves calmed we make our way underground and we head onto the District Line and make our way to Victoria. Upon arrival we make our way to our last London J D Wetherspoons of the weekend, instead of using the pub in the station as we did yesterday, we head to where we would have gone yesterday for lunch, "The Willow Walk" and as Mr UKBuses finds a seat, I get the round in. We see the tail end of the coverage of the Remembrance Sunday on the pubs television, and it seems strange that we have just come from where the TV pictures are being filmed. Back to lunch, and Mr UKBuses and myself opt for our usual Wetherspoons fayre. After finishing our lunches, our main priority is to get to London Euston, where we need to catch our train back home, so we make our way back to Victoria tube station, and we jump onto the Victoria Line which will take us straight back to London Euston, or so we thought. There are problems up ahead on the Victoria Line with signals, and the tube services are being held up. As we make our way along the line, the train is being held at each station for about five minutes each time before moving again. We are starting to get tight for time, and as we arrive at Warren Street tube station, the driver informs us that we may be here for some time, so we decide that we will change onto the Northern Line at this station after the driver's announcement, so we make our way to the Northern Line, as we start to walk away from the platform, the tube closes its door and promptly makes its way to the next station, London Euston. We run to the Northern Line platforms at Warren Street, we didn't realise that it is a bit of a walk. As we arrive on the Northern Line platform, luckily a train arrives and we jump on to get us to London Euston. It is a last minute dash through the ticket barriers and into the main London Euston railway station. As we make our way up the escalators we find that our 1318pm Virgin Train will be departing from platform five. We can calm down now though as we have just over five minutes to get onto the platform and our train.

No time for a "fresh air" break, we make our way to platform five, and board our train, I do notice on our coach door that the service is leaving Euston at "1418" and think nothing of it, as we take our seats, we get a table seat as it is available, the time is 1318pm, and we pull off and start making our way towards Birmingham, as we pull out of London Euston, Mr UKBuses notices that he has lost his poppy, next year he will be stapling it to himself so he doesn't lose it. This should be a fast train as we are only stopping at Coventry and Birmingham International before we reach Birmingham New Street, but we are making a brief stop at Watford Junction states Mark, our Train Manager. After we pass Watford, I go to the shop to get refreshments and as I come back to Coach A, I utter the words "Tickets and passes, please", Mr UKBuses doesn't fall for it this time, but a passenger on the table opposite thought it was funny. After we stop at Coventry, Mark, our Train Manager informs us of the time that we will be arriving at our stations, it turns out that we will be back an hour later than the printed timetable, I then notice that the times on the display screens are an hour behind - I think Virgin Trains have forgot to put their clocks back a few weeks ago and are still operating to British Summer Time (BST). We arrive back in Birmingham New Street and have to wait about twenty minutes for our train to Smethwick Galton Bridge, luckily it is already on the platform opposite, so we take our seats and rest our legs. After twenty minutes we pull out of Birmingham New Street and head towards Smethwick Galton Bridge, where we change to the Snow Hill Line. We have another twenty minute wait at Smethwick Galton Bridge, but as it arrives we get on a "shiny new train", back to Stourbridge Junction where we change onto the Stourbridge Town Shuttle otherwise known as "The Parry's People Mover". As we arrive at Stourbridge Town, we head towards Birmingham Street and Stand C to get Black Diamond's service 276C back home to rest after an action packed weekend.

I've had a fantastic weekend in London, with a fantastic hotel and fantastic company. I cannot wait until we go down London again as I want to try out my Oyster card and be classed as a proper Londoner!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

2011 - Day Out 30: London - Lord's Mayor Parade

Date: Saturday 12 November 2011

Continuing our weekend in the Capital, we plan to visit the Lord's Mayor Parade which will be taking to the streets of London, and we also explore new places in the city.

We finally make it to Stratford!
After a sleepless night, I decide to get up just after 0715am and first on the agenda is a "fresh air" break, so I get myself to the front of the hotel. As I light up, I decide to have a little excursion whilst I smoke, and I decide to have a walk around to the back of the building which is opposite the hotel, after a couple of minutes I am at the back of the building and I am shocked at what I see before me, I see the East India DLR Station, I think that Mr UKBuses needs to learn to read a map after he took us the long way around to the hotel last night. After finishing my "fresh air" break, I go back to my hotel room to freshen up before breakfast. After my shower, I head down to reception where I meet up with Mr UKBuses so that we can have our breakfast before the day ahead. After a big helping of sausages and bacon, I decide to have a yoghurt, and another, and whilst Mr UKBuses is up I ask him to bring me another one, well it is an "all you can eat" breakfast. Breakfast finished, we head up to our rooms to freshen up before we start the day and meet back in reception ten minutes later. As there is no DLR in operation today, we have to make our way to Canning Town, we walk around the corner from the hotel so that we can catch our first bus of the weekend for the short journey to the Canning Town interchange. As we make our way past the hotel, we come to a crossroads, and Mr UKBuses is up to his old tricks again as he carries straight carries on. We turn back and turn right to where the bus stop really is, we only have to wait five minutes for First London Service 309 to turn up and take us to Canning Town.

The amazing Stratford Interchange
As we arrive at Canning Town, we take a few photographs of the buses in the station before we make our way down to the tube to get us to our first destination of the day. We decide to visit Stratford, a place we have been trying to get to on previous visits but due to various reasons we have never got there. We make our way to the tube station where we get onto the Jubilee Line, and six minutes later we arrive at Stratford, I decide to get a photograph taken (above left) as a memento of our visit and to say that I have finally got there. We make our way out of the Stratford Interchange and it is one of the best interchanges I have ever visited, the bus, rail, tube and DLR services all meet in one place. The place is spotlessly clean, easy to navigate and all round passenger friendly. The bus station is currently being redeveloped, but from what I can see from the works that have already taken place, the bus station will be up to the same standard of the combined tube and railway station (see picture, right). At least one of the features of the new Stratford bus station will be exactly the same as the Stourbridge Interchange back home, and that is what I now call "The upside down umbrella", Stratford will have more when finished. We have a quick look around Stratford before we head back to the tube station. We arrive on our platform just as a tube train pulls in, we now make our way on the Central Line to Bank, or so we thought as the tube train is having problems with shutting it's doors, and after several attempts, the driver announces that the train will have to be taken out of service. As we wait a National Express train pulls in on the adjacent platform, but as we make our way to catch it, a tube train pulls up, so we get on board and we finally make our way to Bank.

Relaxing at Victoria
We leave Bank Station and as we arrive outside of the entrance to the station, the crowds have already gathered along Poultry ready for The Lord Mayor's Parade. A man walks past selling flags and whistles, so I purchase a whistle as insurance for any "fracas" music that may be played over the rest of the weekend. We stay in Poultry to watch the parade take place. There are over 150 participants taking part in the parade, Mr UKBuses has taken video footage of mostly half of the floats that have passed. Whilst in the crowd, I am a sitting target for a couple of the floats. The first float that decides to throw something at me is a bean bag, it hits me right on the brow of my head. About ten minutes later another passing float decides to throw something at me, but this time I can forgive them as about half a dozen chocolate sweets decide to bounce of my noggin, Mr UKBuses is busy taking some video footage, so I grab the opportunity to pick up his share of the sweets and eat them while the rest of the parade goes by. During the parade, we see TV presenter Claire Balding go back and forth in front of us a few times as she interviewed people taking part in the parade. After an hour from the start of the parade, the final float goes past. We quickly make our way to the Bank tube station, before the rest of the crowds, and it is back onto the Central Line to Oxford Circus where we change onto the Victoria Line to take us to Victoria Station. We had planned to have lunch at Victoria but we were still a bit full from our big breakfast, so after taking a few photographs in the bus station, we decide to try out a new J D Wetherspoons in London (see picture, left) and it is situated in Victoria Station. It is a small Wetherspoons due to its location, but it is also a nice place to relax with a drink whilst waiting for a train. After we finish our drinks, we decide to deviate from the plan, as we are ahead of schedule.

We make our way to Victoria bus station, but on our way we decide to become proper Londoners, and we visit the London Transport Ticket Office at Victoria railway station and purchase an Oyster card for future trips to London, we pay £5 deposit for the cards and £5 for the first top up. This will save us the hassle of buying a one day travel card when we arrive in London each time, and we can top up our Oyster card online before we arrive in London. The card takes a standard fare off your card each time you scan it as you board a bus or tube, but as you reach the level of the one day travel card on the day of travel in London, no more fares will be taken off, unless you travel to the next zone and the same will happen. We get back to our day in London using our standard travel card and we deviate from the plan by having a ride on the buses of London as we are ahead of time. First off we catch the Go-Ahead London 436 from Victoria to Vauxhall. As we arrive in Vauxhall, we promptly catch the Go-Ahead London service 87 from Vauxhall to Trafalgar Square. At Trafalger Square we catch Go-Ahead London service 12 to Oxford Circus, and we get back onto the original plan. We have a walk down the busy Oxford Street through all of the shoppers doing their Christmas shopping. We get to our stop and wait for the next bus we are going to catch, as we are waiting I have to help a distraught French woman who is desperately trying to pay for her bus fare using the on-street ticket machines. The bus driver is getting irate too as he is starting to beep his horn, which makes her panic more. Whilst this is going on, our planned  First London service 25 arrives and as Mr UKBuses boards, I nearly miss the bus, but I do get on....just.

We plan to go to Mile End, and en route we are diverted due to the Lords Mayor Parade and after about half an hour Mr UKBuses is up to his old tricks and gets off the bus early, very early as we get off at Aldgate and decide to take our last photographs of the day in Aldgate bus station, a great place to take photographs as we found out on our last trip to London. After taking our photographs, we cross the road to Aldgate tube station and use the tube to get to our originally planned destination of Mile End. I also get the opportunity to video my favourite thing about the tube - that is when the train comes out of the tunnel into the station, this can be seen in the video below (the lady starting to take her clothes off was an added bonus). We leave the station for a couple of minutes to see what the area is like, I think we may have been before on one of our previous visits, but we go back on the plan and we get back on the tube and onto the District Line to Temple. We make our way out onto ground level and there are quite a lot of people there already waiting for the Lord Mayors Parade fireworks, which are due to take place at 1700pm. A trip to the toilet is needed desperately by me, but we can not find any in the area, we decide to have a walk around the corner, and hidden away is a pub, which we enter straight away to use the facilities. Mr UKBuses leaves the toilets before me and decides to use a different entrance, I spend a few minutes searching for him, and notice the other entrance, and as he spots from across the road, he frantically waves his arms to get my attention. Once I catch up with him he asks me where have I been, I cannot print my response publicly.

It is decided that we won't stay and watch the fireworks, so we have a walk past the tube station and eventually we end up at a bus stop outside the Royal Courts of Justice. We wait a few minutes when Metroline London service 4 turns up and takes us to Waterloo station. We decide to have a bite to eat and we use McDonald's and we both order large meals, which also means that we are entitled to a limited edition Coca Cola glass. We spend a few minutes at our table to let our food settle, and we stay in the station and we use the Jubilee Line which takes us straight to Canning Town. We walk from the tube station to the bus station and we get our DLR rail replacement bus back to East India DLR station, where we walk the correct route back to the hotel, we arrive at 1845pm, so we head to our rooms so that we can freshen up and arrange to meet back at reception in an hour so that we can visit a few pubs on the evening.

It is 1945, and I head down to reception as planned and find Mr UKBuses already sitting there waiting for me, he informs me that he has been there for some time, so we head straight out and back to the East India DLR station to catch our rail replacement bus back to Canning Town Interchange. From there we head back onto the Jubilee Line to West Ham, where we change onto the District Line where we alight at one of our favourite places in London, Whitechapel. We are on the lookout for a new pub in the area, The Kray's local, "The Grave Maurice". From previous research on its location, we turn right as we head out of Whitechapel tube station, instead of our normal left, and walk down towards Aldgate. On the way I stop to get some cigarettes from a newsagent whilst Mr UKBuses stands outside. We carry on down the road, and Mr UKBuses thinks its the other way, so we catch a First London service 25, back up to our London regular, The Blind Beggar. This is Mr UKBuses first time in this pub on a night time, and it is a different atmosphere to our normal daytime experience, but the company in the pub is still good. Whilst we have our drinks, I get the Blackberry out and try and do some research on The Grave Maurice, and later find out that the pub has closed and is now a "Paddy Power" betting shop. The crazy thing about this was that Mr UKBuses was standing outside of it as I visited the newsagents as it was next door, and we ended carrying on towards Aldgate without realising. Drinks finished in the Blind Beggar, we walk to the nearest bus stop to catch our bus to the next drinking location.

We wait about ten minutes and a First London service 25 bus turns up, which takes us on the short journey down Whitechapel to Aldgate East tube station, from here we try to retrace our steps from a couple of years ago down Commercial Street, after a ten minute walk, we arrive at The Ten Bells, a pub which is supposed to have been the regular haunt for Jack The Ripper. We arrive and there are a load of people outside and that is because this pub is popular, but the pub is too small to accommodate these people. Since our last visit a couple of years ago, they have moved the bar from its original location to the centre of the pub, which has also made less space available for customers, a crazy idea if you ask me as the pub had capacity problems before the change. For me, the movement of the bar has also ruined this pub for me, as it has ruined the atmosphere of the pub and also it means that the pub doesn't have the original "Jack The Ripper" days feel to it. As we are getting cold as we are with the crowds outside, we drink up and make our way to the bus stop, in which First London service 67 arrives to take us the short distance to the Aldgate East tube station. We jump onto the District Line, where we change onto the Central Line to Stratford.

We arrive in Stratford for the second time in one day (probably because we enjoyed the visit earlier and we simply had to come back) and as we walk through the shopping centre, opposite the interchange, it takes us to the main High Street area of the town and we decide to have a drink in "The Longthorne", previously a Yates pub. A trip to the toilet is needed first before purchasing any drinks as we are finding it difficult to walk as we are bursting to go. We choose a seat by the window, to rest our feet for a while. Drinks finished we make our way back to the interchange, and find out where we need to get our DLR rail replacement buses to get back to the hotel. We see a few pulled up at one stop and upon closer inspection these are the buses that we need to catch. We catch the bus to Canary Wharf, passing through many DLR stations, I do get excited when we pass Devon's Road, this was the DLR station I had to use when I had to visit the offices of my work when we had a presence in the London area.

We arrive at Canary Wharf where we have a little walk to get to the Canary Wharf tube station. From here we get onto the Jubilee Line, but before we catch our train, Mr UKBuses has to visit the toilet, which I tease him about as he was stating that I was the person who has the bladder trouble, revenge is sweet! We get on to the tube and shortly after we arrive at Canning Town, where we catch the DLR replacement bus to East India DLR station and finally arrive back at the hotel. Mr UKBuses goes to bed, whilst I have a drink in the hotel bar where I catch up with emails on my Blackberry, before finally climbing into bed myself.

An action packed day was had by both with new locations visited. Mr UKBuses finally had a night time experience in The Blind Beggar. We look forward to our last day in London, and hope it will be as enjoyable as today's activities.

Friday, 11 November 2011

2011 - Day Out 29: London

Date: Friday 11 November 2011

It will be our last visit to the capital this year, so Mr UKBuses and myself decide to spend the weekend in London which means that we will be able to see The Lords Mayor Parade, as we have seen in previous years and we can also see Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph.

Our home for the weekendWork have allowed me to leave half an hour early, but I also sneak off a few minutes earlier so that I can make my way down to National Express West Midlands Pensnett Garage where I will meet Mr UKBuses who will give me a lift home so that I can have a quick bite to eat before we leave for London and also so I can pick up my bag. Before we get back home though, Mr UKBuses pulls up outside a newsagents in Kingswinford so that he can get an Express and Star for his mom, I do the honours and also get Mr UKBuses a poppy as he as lost his. After making our way through Wordsley and Amblecote, beating the rush hour traffic, we arrive in Wollaston where Mr UKBuses drops me off at home. As soon as I get in, my tea is ready so I eat it fast so that I can pack my final few things for the weekend, I also have a quick freshen up before getting changed and have a final check to see if I have everything.

I now make my way back to Wollaston village where I board the 1726pm National Express West Midlands service 276, which will take Mr UKBuses and myself to Stourbridge Junction. As I take my seat, I send a text to Mr UKBuses to ensure he is at his stop, and as the bus makes its way through Norton, Mr UKBuses is at his stop and boards the bus. We make our way through Stourbridge, and as we pass the construction site which will be the Stourbridge Interchange, we can not see any progress as it is too dark. After a couple of minutes wait in Stourbridge, we make our way around the ring road again and shortly after we arrive at Stourbridge Junction, being dropped off virtually outside the station as Mr UKBuses uses his powers by ordering the driver to drop us off after the proper bus stop. We have a shorter walk to the railway station, and before we catch our train, we buy our One Day Travelcards for use in London on Saturday and Sunday. We time it right as the person in the ticket office informs us that a Birmingham bound train is waiting to depart on Platform 3.

We board our train and we arrive just under half an hour later at Birmingham Snow Hill. We have a little time to kill in Birmingham before our London train is due, so as we make our way to the next station, we divert to Bennett's Hill, where we have a quick drink in J D Wetherspoons' "The Briar Rose", the pub is busy, so Mr UKBuses finds a seat as I buy the drinks. Between Birmingham Snow Hill and The Briar Rose, Mr UKBuses has lost his poppy, so he makes a mental note to purchase another one in London tomorrow ready for the Remembrance service on Sunday. Drinks finished and toilets visited, we make our way to New Street Station via The Pallasades and as we arrive we check the destination board to ensure that there are no problems with the train that we are catching. We find out that our train will be leaving from Platform 5 on time, so after getting refreshments from WH Smiths for the train journey, we make our way to the platform where our train is waiting.

We board our Virgin train and take our seats and to keep us busy on our journey ahead, we decide to make notes for crossing points on the upcoming charity walk for the 246 route at the end of November that we will be taking up the honours of marshalling the traffic en route. We go through the maps twice and make notes of how the marshalling will work. We think that this will keep us busy for the most of the journey, when we finish we have a look at what station the train has stopped at and we discover that it is only Coventry, we still have just over an hour to go before we arrive in London, we can not even look at the scenery outside as it is pitch black. The drinks we had at the pub earlier are catching up on me, and after visiting the toilet, I make my way back into coach A, where with a posh voice I try and do my impression of the ticket inspector and say "Tickets and passes please" just after I have walked through the carriage entrance. I seem to have fooled Mr UKBuses as I'm sure he nearly pulled his tickets out for inspection.

We arrive at London Euston and we now need to get our ticket for the journey on the tube to the hotel in the East India district of the Docklands. We don't know where we need to purchase these from as the normal London Transport ticket office is shut, we make our way to the Virgin ticket offices to see if they can gives us the appropriate ticket, but when I ask for "two single tickets to East India", the man behind the counter looks at me gone out before he informs me that we need to purchase our tickets from downstairs in the tube station. Before we do that, we head outside so that I can have a much needed "fresh air" break, and after I have finished we make our way down to the London Euston tube station. We both don't have any change, so we have to wait in a long queue for our tickets. After waiting about twenty minutes, we get our tube tickets, and after passing through the ticket barriers, we make our first tube journey of the weekend,  and as we arrive in Bank, we change from the tube and we get on the Docklands Light Railway to our destination at  East India. This would be our only trip on the DLR this weekend as there are engineering works for the rest of our stay.

Relaxing at the hotel bar
We alight at East India DLR station, and we need to find the hotel. After a walk of about ten minutes following the main road and quite a few office complexes, we arrive at our hotel, Travelodge Docklands (the photo can be seen at the top of this blog post), as we book in at reception we decide to book breakfast for tomorrow morning, especially as it an "all you can eat" breakfast buffet. After booking in, we decide to drop our bags off in our rooms, and after a quick freshening up, we both meet back up in reception where we decide to have a couple of pints before we go to bed in the hotel bar, as can be seen in the photograph, right. As we settle down in the bar, I notice a man in a CM Punk T-shirt, and after a few more minutes, a load more people descend upon the hotel wearing different wrestling t-shirts. It seems that the WWE are in town and the WWE Raw brand have been showing off there wrestling skills in the nearby 02 arena. If only I had known, I would have booked the day off and come down to London earlier in the day and watched the event whilst Mr UKBuses made his way from work. As we finish our second pint we decide it is time for bed, I wish Mr UKBuses a goodnight, and pop outside for a "fresh air" break before I hear my bed calling.

It has been a different experience as we travelled down toward London during the evening and also in the dark. The weekend has got off to an enjoyable start ahead of the next couple of days.....

Thursday, 10 November 2011

2011 - Day Out 28: Birmingham Brawlings

Date: Monday 07 November 2011

The WWE Smackdown Superstars are in town, so it is a good opportunity to see the guys in live action, rather than on the television, whilst they are in the country on the European Tour.

The ring at the start of the evening.
First of all, I have to pick up Mrs SBI and Little SBI, so after getting into Stourbridge, I catch National Express West Midlands (NXWM) Service 257 to Kingswinford. After arriving at Mrs SBI's residence, I help get an overnight bag packed and subsequently have to repack again as I break the zip. Before we make our way to Birmingham, we have to pick up Little SBI, and so we pick him up for school "so that he can go to a family gathering". We make a quick visit back home so that Little SBI can quickly get changed and so that we can also pick up our overnight bag and my replica WWE World Heavyweight Championship Belt - It is not only Little SBI who wants to see the wrestling!!!

With Little SBI changed, we are all ready to make our way, so we get to our stop in Stallings Lane, and after a few minutes wait, in which we look at the redecorating progress of The British Oak, our NXWM's service 257 arrives and we make the trip to Stourbridge. After passing through Kingswinford and Wall Heath, we arrive in Stourbridge and we have a few steps to walk from our temporary stop to the NXWM Service 9 stop, but Little SBI carries on to the layover stop and tells the driver to hurry up, he must be excited! Whilst we are waiting the Pensnett Garage drivers are having a joke with the woman driver, they point at something on the entrance and she subsequently bends over to have a closer look, I catch one of the male drivers having a cheeky look at her cheeks (so to speak). Its not long after our NXWM Service 9 pulls up and we board ready to make our way to Birmingham, Mrs SBI decides to have a little joke by sitting upstairs, normally I don't mind this as it keeps Little SBI happy, but I cannot bend very well as I have a big belt around my waist limiting bendiness!!!

We make our way through Halesowen and Quinton, and eventually we arrive in Broad Street in Birmingham, and I have to guess when to press the button to get off for the hotel, and luckily I correctly guess as when we alight, the Birmingham Central Travelodge is virtually opposite. We check in, and we can go to our room which is on the fifth floor and drop our bags off and give my waist a rest by taking off my belt for a couple of hours. After dropping our stuff off, we head back onto Broad Street, where we catch the bus for a short trip into the City, and we alight at Colmore Row. We decide to look for food before having a quick look around the shops, and so we head to JD Wetherspoons, "The Square Peg", where we feed ourselves, bet you can't guess what I had? We have a few minutes so that the food can go down, and we spend a little time looking around a couple of shops before heading back to Colmore Row and getting NXWM's service 9 for a short journey back to our hotel.

We have a little rest back at the hotel before we get ready for the main event of the day. We eventually leave the hotel at around 5.00pm and catch the bus back into the city where we alight at Colmore Row and walk to Moor Street to get NXWM's service 900 to Birmingham International Railway Station. It takes us about 45 minutes to get there due to the peak traffic from the city, we alight at Birmingham International and now we have to try and find the LG Arena, our host for the WWE Smackdown Tour tonight. As we are in the bus station we spot a few men dressed up as WWE characters, so we decide to follow them, seeing one of them as disguised himself as "Papa Shango", I decide to show off my belt. We make our way upstairs and head towards the NEC, we have to turn right before we reach there and have a short walk to the LG Arena. I get a few looks off the kids passing as they make there way to the arena, I think they like my belt, I also get a few good comments from the adults, or should I say big kids attending the show too.

We arrive at the LG Arena, and after we have our tickets scanned we are inside and first of all a trip to the toilet is needed, and Little SBI is eager to get to the merchandise stand. Little SBI wants everything from John Cena Armbands to a Sin Cara Mask, but he does eventually opt for a John Cena T-Shirt, and we throw in a show programme as well. I have to have a shirt as well and I opt for a "Christian's Hit The Switch" T-shirt. Mrs SBI feels left out, so she gets herself a Sheamus T-Shirt. After we spend all of my money, we make our way to our seats, but Little SBI changes into his John Cena T-shirt first, we eventually find the stairs for Block 1, and we climb the stairs to find our seats. The usher informs us that our seats have been changed and we find ourselves in better seats with a better view. I decide to follow Little SBI's enthusiasm and change into my Christian top, and whilst doing this the fans behind me decide to check out my belt and find that I must be strong as they also feel the weight of it. It is not long before the show starts and as the lights dim, we prepare ourselves for our first live WWE event, what we didn't prepare for is the pyrotechnics that go off and what makes it worse for us is that they are virtually in front of us. After we have our heart attacks we keep our eyes on the entrance and see who is the first to wrestle....

William Regal Versus Daniel Bryan

William Regal Vs Daniel Bryan
The first match of the night is between William Regal, one of the British wrestlers who is signed to the WWE, and the American Daniel Bryan, one of the newer signings to the WWE. The match demonstrates a lot of the classic scientific moves, William Regal scores the pin, he had to really seeing as he is the Brit. After the match Regal gets the microphone, thanking his opponent for a good match, and it turns out that Daniel Bryan was one of the many wrestlers that have been trained by Regal (on later research, it turns out that Regal has trained many of the superstars who are appearing tonight). Regal also thanked Robbie Brookside, who was in tonight's audience, for training him, all them years ago.

Jinder Mahal Versus Johnny Curtis

The second match is about to start, and Johnny Curtis is making his way to the ring. As he is halfway down the aisle, Jinder Mahal runs down and attacks him from behind. He pulls Johnny into the ring where he attacks him a bit more. At this point a medic makes his way to the ring and it looks like Jinder won't be wrestling a proper match. Mick Foley's ring music starts blaring out, and the audience are surprised that Mick Foley is making an appearance, his first in a very long time for the WWE. Foley grabs a microphone and talks to the crowd, and then he calls out Curtis' replacement and Tyson Kidd makes his way to the ring, and the bell rings and Kidd wrestles Mahal. The match finishes and is won by Tyson Kidd after outside interference from Mick Foley.

Tamina Versus AJ (with guest referee Aksana)

Next up was a WWE divas match, with the main divas in Liverpool for the RAW tour, and television taping, we have Tamina and AJ with the match being refereed by Aksana. This match was a slow match and it didn't cause a lot of reaction judging by the audience being quiet for most of the match.

Christian Versus Sheamus

Christian Vs Sheamus
The last match before a break, and so Christian's music blared out and he came down to the ring. His opponent was about to come down to the ring, and as his music started, Mrs SBI started to scream, one of her favourites was on his way to the ring, the flame haired Sheamus. After my hearing came back, the match had started, and it was also a funny start as Christian and Sheamus had a bit of banter going. As Christian had took his shirt off and about to throw it to the audience, Sheamus grabbed it and wiped it on his bottom. He then held it up like a matador, and Christian got in the act as he bent down as if he was a bull about to charge. Shenanigans over, and the wrestling started, throughout the match, the crowd and Mrs SBI were chanting for Sheamus, I was in the minority and I was cheering on Christain. After a fast moving match, Sheamus got the pin, and Mrs SBI had a big smile on her face.

It is time for a break in proceedings, and Mrs SBI decides she feels left out so she is the first to go for a toilet break and then change into her Sheamus t-shirt. Little SBI and myself wait so that we don't lose our seats, so after ten minutes Mrs SBI returns and Little SBI and myself have the opportunity to go for a toilet break, and we dash as I am desperate to go. After the toilet break I get some more liquid refreshment and we make our way back to our seats, we time it right, as soon as we take our seats the second half of the show begins....

Sin Cara Vs Yoshi Tatsu

Time for the next match, and it was Sin Cara's and Yoshi Tatsu's turn to wow the crowds. Sin Cara had entered the ring in his high flying way, and as Yoshi was waiting in the ring, Sin Cara had gone to the crowd, picked up a home made poster and took it to the ring and ripped it up. It turned out that this was the evil Sin Cara, in the Goody Sin Cara's ring attire. After the bell had rung, the two lighter weighted wrestlers gave us a good fast match with high flying moves. It was Sin Cara who got the pin.

Ted Dibiase & Randy Orton Vs Cody Rhodes & Wade Barrett

Cody Rhodes & Wade Barrett Vs Ted Dibiase and Randy Orton
Next up was a tag-team match, and the first team to come down was Cody Rhodes and Mancunian born Wade Barrett. For the other side, Ted Dibiase made his way to the ring, and as he is about to enter the ring, Wade and Cody attempt to double team him even before the match had started. Ted turned around to the curtains to signal his partner to come down. Randy Orton's music blared from the main speakers and very loud screams blared from Mrs SBI's mouth, her other favourite wrestler is on the show, and my ears are definitely going to need some medical attention in the morning! After a well thought match, there was only going to be one winner, and after RKO'ing his opponents, Randy Orton and Ted Dibiase get the win. As the RKO was about to be used, so was Mrs SBI's vocal chords again. If I come to another WWE live event with her, I will have to bring some ear plugs!

Big Show Vs Mark Henry

Mark Henry Vs Big Show
Time for the last match and the main event. It is a World Heavyweight Championship match between the current champion, Mark Henry and The Big Show. They both make their entrances, with the crowd booing Henry and cheering for the Big Show. The Big Show is a bit of a joker who has always got a smile on his face. As he climbs onto the ring edge, he holds onto the ropes before giving a "booty shake" and entering the ring. Before the bell rings, the referee does his final checks, and ensures that there aren't no hidden weapons hidden on the wrestlers. After the Big Show is checked, he plays another joke by turning round, sticking his bottom out and asking the referee if he wants to ensure that nothing is hidden there. The belt is held high in the air by the referee before the bell rings. Despite the size of both wrestlers, the match is quite a good one. Seeing as this is a house show, the championship rarely changes hands as it is not televised, so we know that the Big Show cannot win by pin fall. The Big Show does win the match though, by disqualification after Mark Henry gets a steel chair and hits the big show with it in full view of the referee.

After the main event finishes, we have fifteen minutes to get back to the bus stops at Birmingham International, so we make a dash, and luckily the doors are open by our block entrance, so we save a few minutes walk, we head back to the National Exhibition Centre, and along the main walkways back to the station, we arrive at the bus stops just as NXWM's Service 900 pulls up to take us back to Birmingham. After half an hour, we arrive in Moor Street, Birmingham, so we walk through the Bull Ring, where we pass the bull glistening in the moonlight. We are feeling peckish, so we make our way around to The Pallasades to have a crafty McDonald's before we go back to the hotel. After we have eaten, we walk up to Colmore Row to catch the bus back to the hotel, as we arrive, NXWM's Service 9 pulls off. We think that this is the last bus, but upon closer inspection, we discover that there is one more. We wait at the stop for about ten minutes, when a NXWM Service 126 pulls up. We decide to jump on this as it goes past the hotel. After about five minutes we arrive back at the hotel, where we go straight to bed. In the morning, we will make our way back home, that is after sampling one of J D Wetherspoons tasty fried breakfasts!

A good day out and a new experience by watching WWE live rather than on television. I certainly enjoyed it and I think Little SBI thoroughly enjoyed it, the best part of the evening for Mrs SBI was the appearances by her favourites, Sheamus and Randy Orton. The WWE normally makes two trips to the UK each year, and after tonight's WWE experience, I think a visit to the next live show is definitely on the cards.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

2011 - Day Out 27: Pensnett Garage

Date: Wednesday 02 November 2011

I am sadly at work, toiling away, and at about 11.30, an email desktop alert appears. I have an email from Mr UKBuses, asking me "If I want to come down to his workplace, National Express West Midlands Pensnett Garage, to have my picture taken?". I reply with no hesitation, "Yes, I'll be down in a bit."

The article that appeared in the Express & Star, Thursday 03 November 2011
There is a reason for this impromptu visit to Pensnett Garage. On 2 August, I helped out with traffic marshaling on a charity walk that was organised by National Express West Midlands Pensnett Garage driver Dave Gerrard. The walk followed the National Express West Midlands 246 route from Dudley to Stourbridge, and just after the two hour mark, the walk was completed when the Pensnett Garage drivers who took part arrived at the temporary stands in Birmingham Street. The money which was raised would be going to the Children's Unit at Russell's Hall Hospital. I did volunteer to assist the walkers across busy road junctions with Mr UKBuses and we would be going ahead on a supporting bus, ready for the walkers to arrive, for some reason I ended up walking the whole distance of the 246 route, and I cannot complain as I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Back to today, the reason Mr UKBuses has got in touch with me was because Dave Gerrard would be officially handing over the cheque to The Children's Unit, and it is also being covered with a story and a photograph in the local media, The Express and Star (as can be seen left, click on the picture for a larger view) and also The Stourbridge News. Mr UKBuses kindly asked me if I could pop along so that I could appear. Luckily, I work on the Pensnett Trading Estate and my workplace is just a couple of minutes walk to the garage. I inform my work colleagues that I will be having an early lunch break, so at 11:50am, I walk through my office door, and walk the short distance down Second Avenue. As I arrive at Pensnett Garage, I ring Mr UKBuses and tell him that I am just about to arrive, so that he can come and meet me, and also means that he can help me follow the Health and Safety Regulations by bringing me down an HI-Viz Jacket to wear whilst on the premises.

I spot Dave talking to his manager, so I give a quick hello to him, when his manager asks me "Where is your Hi-Viz?", at that point Mr UKBuses appears out of the garage building to save the day, and he gives me a Hi-Viz, which I quickly put on. It is a bit windy, so Mr UKBuses invites me into the traffic office, where I spot Dave's long suffering wife, Carol, so I have a little chat, it is through Carol that I know Dave, as I used to work with her years ago and he used to meet her out of work and also giving me earache with his barrage of jokes whilst he waited for her. We still have a few minutes to wait for the member of staff from the Children's Unit to arrive, so after being introduced to Mr UKBuses work colleagues, he decides to give me a tour of Pensnett Garage.

First off, he shows me the travel office, and I take note of the Health and Safety notice board, spotting the Health and Safety Policy, which is a bit ironic, as I have just been working on the policy for the company I work for at my place of work. We go round the corner and we arrive in the engineering area, and there are are a couple of vehicles in the pits having work done on them, at least I can vouch for the garage if anyone thinks that no works are done to their vehicles, this place looked busy to me, at this point Mr UKBuses thinks that I'm strange as I love the smell of oil. We go around another corner and Mr UKBuses takes me upstairs and into the administration office, this is also his office where he keeps the garage ticking over during the day. I spot his desk before he tells me, it is the one where there is absolutely no paperwork on and a few scuff marks on the corner from where he puts his feet up for most of the day (only joking Mr UKBuses!!). It is by the window, so he can keep an eye out over the estate. We now go back downstairs, but not before he shows me where the garage manager's office is, something which he has his eyes on in the future. We are back downstairs in the travel office, and it isn't long before we are called out into the yard.

The nurse, Karen, who is accepting the cheque has arrived, and the photographer is ready to take our picture. We all line up alongside the bus which has the destination blind showing "246 Charity Walk". We are told that we have to recreate the cover off the Madness album "One Step Beyond", the cover showing the band members doing a strange kind of walk. So we take our places, and after we are sorted out by height, which means that Mr UKBuses and myself are towards the back, we put our left legs out and our left arms in the air. At this point, the wind starts to blow, so I am struggling to keep my hair out of my face and wish that the photographer would get his picture. Dave and Karen are at the front with Dave kneeling on the ground. Whilst we are in place, a couple of Mr UKBuses work colleagues decide to use the pose to their advantage and with their arms stretched outwards, decide that they can just swing around and Mr UKBuses could be hit, the photographer notices this behaviour and it is Mr UKBuses that gets the telling off!

The photographer from the Stourbridge News is also present, and luckily, she decides to take a picture to the same style, with Dave and Karen doing a different pose at the front. This photograph only takes a couple of minutes to shoot, and luckily the wind has died down, so my hair behaves itself. Dave's wife, Carol notices that the door on the bus is closed and that her handbag is inside, so I get the opportunity to do something that I have wanted to do for years, and that is press the outside button to open them. Another driver closes them from the inside and jumping out before the doors are shut. After a brief thank you speech from Dave, Mr UKBuses decides to get on the bus and change the destination display to show the next destination for the next charity walk, if things go to plan this will be taking place at the end of November. After he has come out of the drivers cab, he leaves the doors open, so he gives me the chance to fulfil another dream, that is to stand on the platform, press the button inside the bus above the door, and then jump off whilst dodging the closing doors. I've only been waiting 30 years to do that!!

It is time for me to go back to work, so I thank Mr UKBuses and Dave for inviting me along, hand my hi-viz back and walk back along Second Avenue back to my desk in my office. The final total raised by the walk in August and handed over today to the Children's Unit at Russell's Hall Hospital was £1250. Another charity walk is planned for the final Sunday in November, weather permitting. We are still going to be walking the National Express West Midlands 246 route, but we are going the reverse way of the route we did in August, and that is from Stourbridge Bus Station to Dudley Bus Station. This will be harder as it will be colder and also it will be mainly uphill. I have already been volunteered to help out on the day, and I will be with Mr UKBuses on the support bus helping out doing the marshaling and helping the participants across the roads safely, lets hope that my road crossing skills have been passed down to me from my mom.

I would like to thank Dave Gerrard, Mr UKBuses and other staff at National Express West Midlands for inviting me "down the road", and letting me have my picture taken for the newspapers and also extra thanks to Mr UKBuses for kindly showing me around a bus depot for the first time, so at least I know how things work in bus land. If the walk goes ahead as planned, you will read about it here first.