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Taphouse 1: The Fountain, Walsall

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

PubBlog Link
WhatPub Link
100Pubs Link

Given that The Fountain is an easy one to get to, and well loved by everyone on the 100 pubs tour, it was a ideal start for our taphouse adventure. It is, of course, currently the only pub owned by the Backyard Brewhouse, and serves their excellent beer, as well as a few guests.

The Fountain, taphouse 1 of n

The Fountain, taphouse 1 of n

It scored as Follows:

Ambience 8
Beer choice/quality 8.8
Architecture 6.8
Cobs/Pies/Snacks 9.6
Toilets 9

Which means an overall score of 8.44.

Taphouse Tour

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

Following on from last year’s 100 Pubs adventure, we decided on a twist in our ways to drink too much contribute to the pub trade and have a bit of a giggle.

We’ve lowered the count this time, but added a challenge in other ways.

The challenge is Taphouses: that is, a brewery’s primary pub or bar. If the brewery is on site, all the better, but this isn’t always the case.

There’s ground rules.
1. The challenge is a minimum of 10 taphouses.
2. Each participant must drink at least 1 of the home brewery’s beer.
3. A photo of the taphouse must be taken.
4. Any 3 of the originators must be present, as a minimum.
5. Arrival (at least the last mile) should be by public transport, or walking (maybe cycle?)
6. Each taphouse will be scored out of 10 on ambience, beer choice and quality, architecture, pies/cobs/snacks, and toilets. Yes, Andy and me gave in on this one!

Each visit will be recorded here. If it’s a pub I’ve not been to before, it will get an entry on PubBlog too.

Scoring works as follows: each person judges in each category out of 10. The mean of the scores in each category is then published, and then the mean of those is taken (by summing them and dividing by 5) to give an overall score.

#100pubs2015: The Finale

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

We did it.

The challenge set by Andy was completed last night, with some good company we hit pub number 100 at The Turf Tavern, aka Tinky’s, having already used the original choice of The OC’s very recently, we needed a reachable, nice pub for our final one, and, as it is happily now open again, this filled that role admirably.

We’re planning a new drink-related challenge for 2016- just a few things to check out first, and we’ll also be publishing our findings during the challenge at some point.

That Time of Year

Monday, December 21st, 2015

No, not the festive season. It’s the time of year again when I have to get the bike in the kitchen for cable replacements. It’s always this time of year, it seems. Christmas: ’tis the season to strip and replace gear and brake cables, so I took up the festive bike maintenance position in the kitchen, and this time didn’t lose any pingfuckits.

I had hoped my lower mileage this year might have avoided this, but obviously the last couple of runs to Chasewater in the mud (after which I hosed both the bike and myself) have made a mockery of that, with gear selection getting tricky and the brakes less effective. I’ve bought a different gear cable this time, with extended ferrules in places, so hopefully I might get a bit longer out of these.

#100pubs2015: The Home Straight

Sunday, December 20th, 2015

Despite a hangover (from all of four pints, FFS) on Saturday, I managed to get my errands done in time to get out by bus and meet Andy in Walsall for the start of another push at 100pubs2015. The start was going to be what used to be The Pen and Wig, but it is now The Lounge, and was shut. We considered a diversion to Arbor Lights, but the beer didn’t inspire us, so off the The Wheatsheaf it was, as it fitted our route- Brimingham, via The Bartons Arms. After that, we did a few Birmingham City Centre pubs, which will appear on PubBlog if previously unvisited, and will appear over on Andy’s blog (link above) once he gets a chance to log them.

Usual target is 5 pubs per trip, so we were pleased to see off 7 in this trip, leaving us at 99 completed. Now we have to pick pub 100, and try to reassemble as many of our companions on some of the trips together as possible for a final episode between now and Dec 31.

Getting The Turtle’s Head

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

Yesterday saw us at the Brownhills Christmas Market mid-morning, and having beer forced upon us by the nice chaps at Backyard. As reported over on BrowhillsBob’s Blog the event seemed a success, despite the weather, though I felt last year’s layout, with a cluster in Ravenscourt worked better, but given relations between Walsall MBC and the owners may be a little awkward, maybe co-operation on that front wasn’t possible, and it may also be that the chosen layout was deliberate to encourage foot traffic along the High St. Whatvever, we had a wander, the aforementioned beer, and caught the attention of a bird or two:

"Cats, you say? Nom."

“Cats, you say? Nom.”

then off to Aldridge, to order our turkey, and check out The Turtle’s Head, (snigger) Aldridge’s first Micropub, which made for a pleasant interlude, and all by public transport, which has to be better than staying sober and mucking about parking.

Not So Swift

Monday, October 19th, 2015

I bought a Swiftcard, because it seemed like a great idea. I’ve been waiting for it to be valid on National Express West Midlands, simply because those are the buses I use the most, and finally, it is, so I bought two cards (one for my better half), and off we trotted (well, I hobbled) to get a bus.

The Pay As You Go card is simple; it replaces cash. You top it up with credit, allow auto top-up if you want, and then buy a ticket, but instead of hunting for change, you slap the car on the reader, and tell the driver what you want. They press the right keys, a ticket is issued, and the cost comes off your Swiftcard. Not before time, as most buses in our area do not give change, and the price of two all-day tickets means notes get involved unless you have close to 10 quid in coins, and notes get jammed in the coin chute.

So, the theory is Swiftcard fixes this.

I’ve now used the card three times. The first time, the driver just didn’t know what to do, so just let us on. The second time, attempting to buy 2 tickets, we were charged for one, and the driver thought the top-up receipt (top-ups happen automaticatally on buses, or you can use a terminal at bus stations, or an Android device with NFC and the app) was a second ticket. On the third occaision, the bus was quiet, so I explained how it is supposed to work to the driver, and he worked it out :-)

Clearly, at least at National Express, no one has told the drivers, and I’m not alone.

Swift.

Swift.

The system’s great, and in my experience, the tech all works, but they really need to train the drivers, who I’m sure will be just as frustrated. It’s also interesting that just as we get our electronic cash-replacing card, London’s Oystercard gets phased out, replaced by contactless debit cards.

Diesel & Whine

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

I was feeling like I’d missed out on the requisite quantity of dieselboners this year, so I was pleased to note that Aston Manor Road Transport Museum had their final running day of the year today, even if I did have to befoul my computer with their Facebook page to confirm it.

Sssh. Don’t tell anyone, but I originally learned of it from here. Obviously, I have this sent in a plain wrapper, rather than purchase in a shop and have to wrap a copy of Razzle (link is work-safe!) around it.

Anyway, off I went. My usual bike-parking place was a bit trickier than normal, as the easy spots to lock a bike were occupied (it’s a old-style bike shed, as the museum is in an old industrial unit, but only the extreme ends have anywhere to lock on to), but I overcame that with a bit of juggling about, and soon enough was on a Daimler CLG5, with the oddly off-beat sound of a 5LW powering it. Back at the museum, I grabbed a botulism burger, had a quick wander around, and a look at this Volvo Ailsa (odd in being front-engined), of which there were a couple running in the West Midlands in the 80s, though I don’t recall them.

Volvo Ailsa V1, ex London Transport, at AMRTM October 2015

Volvo Ailsa V1, ex London Transport, at AMRTM October 2015

Much more familiar, and a step back to the 70s, is the Bristol VR. Common enough, even if the Fleetline was the usual choice for WMPTE. Another Gardner, but an extra cylinder this time and a semi-auto box whining away, being driven with more care than I remember back in the day, when the in-service drivers seemed to take pleasure in a huge lurch at every gearchange. The semi-auto box doesn’t have a clutch, but also has no logic or interlocks to control changes, so a fair bit of skill is still needed to drive one well: matching of revs to road speed and a blip of the throttle on a downchange, but it’s notable that this 1976 bus keeps up with modern traffic well, where the old Daimler notably can become a rather nice rolling roadblock.

So then, another sad note of the time of year: no more old buses, along with the dark nights and cold :-(

Near Beer

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

We’ve been away, to Seaton, as I didn’t fancy a long drive to Scotland just yet, so the M5 beckoned.

We’d been here before, around 20 years ago, and fancied staying in Beer (because Beer) then, but lack of parking drove us out to Seaton. This time we chose Seaton for it’s size, flat terrain, and public transport: I’m much less of a keen driver than 20 years ago.

It’s a nice town, Seaton. A wide promenade, with a good view,

Seaton Promenade

Seaton Promenade

lots of benches (useful when you’re trying to regain walking distance), and independent pubs, cafes, and restaurants- remarkably chain-free, if you can ignore the Tesco behemoth with attached Costa coffee. We had a seafront property, which was great, and a short walk to town.

I’d mentioned public transport: we actually managed to not use the car all week, between walking around town, the tramway, and buses, we got about. The buses were the X53 Jurassic Coaster, and the 899 local service run by AVMT. Both weave their way through small roads, but the 899 at times goes down roads where the greenery hits both sides simultaneously in places, and in others the space each side was measured in inches, and you get to see some nice small Devon villages. Like Beer.

Sadly Beer wasn’t the best place to drink, which made our choice of Seaton to stop in all the better, even if the best meal of the week was in a hybrid Italian/Thai in Beer.

We were interested that Sidmouth, which 20 years ago, in our 20s, we’d discounted as God’s waiting room, and dull, was lovely, with at least one great pub, a nice hotel where we had drinks brought to us by a very smartly dressed waiter (and for less than a tenner), and a bit of a slightly upmarket, but lively feel. I think both us and the resort have changed…

School of Hard NOx

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Oh dear, VAG seem to have cocked up, huh?

The fact that the EPA in the US caught them gaming the system with emission testing is interesting, and given that they face a huge fine, and the CEO Martin Winterkorn, having recently ousted Ferdinand Piech from his role, has now resigned.

I’m more interested in the tech. Simplified, it all hinges on EGR. It’s a common trick to disable EGR in a tuned diesel- in many ways it’s a huge pain in the arse, reducing efficiency, and therefore power and economy, and being prone to clogging up intakes, so with an EGR delete, your diesel will do better MPG, perform better, and not get so claggy. Also, as a diesel runs with excess air, if you don’t run EGR, you produce less particulates (soot), which is good.

The disadvantage comes with NOx production. No EGR means more NOx, which is one form of pollution generated by internal combustion engines, with health and environmental impact. This, and other pollutants, are regulated by EU Directives in Europe, and the EPA in the states, and cars that do not meet the standards cannot be sold new.

So, there’s a balancing act: try to keep particulates down, power and MPG up, but don’t create too much NOx.

Some diesels do this with AdBlue, but VAG have claimed to be able to meet the latest standards without the extra complication, cost, and space of the kit needed to inject it, managing with just a DPF. Nice trick.

Trick would seem to be the operative word, and you have to admire it. We’ve seen how networked cars are now, and that meant a clever algorithm was able to detect when the car was on a rolling-road being emmission-tested, and crank up the EGR, lovering the NOx output. On the road, EGR is reduced, so up goes the power and MPG. WIN!

How the conversation at Wolfsburg may have gone. From CommitStrip, click for original.

How the conversation at Wolfsburg may have gone. From CommitStrip, click for original.

Trouble is, that’s specifically not allowed by the EPA (PDF, 2.35MB), leaving VAG with a big headache stateside.

This does set me thinking if the diesel car boom could be ending: in particular, the UK’s CO-based taxation favours diesels, but as the amount of emissions gear required to meet the regulatory standards increases, the performance of the engines comes down and the complexity increases, and so therefore does cost. In one way, VAG’s (rather elegant) trick was actually good for the consumer, reducing costs and increasing performance, while seeming to meet all required standards. In another, it’s a cynical attempt to evade emissions law, risk public health, and increase profit. For sure, the fix is going to be painful for both VAG and its customers in the US: it remains to be seen if they have a problem in Europe too.


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