Feb. 27th, 2017

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We decided to go to Birmingham for the weekend, pretty last minute in the wake of Wolfie's successful exam. We have been meaning to go to more meets and do more touring around the UK this year, as we have felt somewhat detached from the British fandom at large. This saw us visit Manchester two weeks ago and having never gone to a Birmingham Meet before, we thought we would take the opportunity to visit.

The Meet itself was quite good, although it was difficult to meet people as there were a fair number of cliques in evidence. We arrived at around 12:30pm having got the train down from Leeds and the meet was already in full swing with around eighty already in attendance. This number was pretty static for the rest of the day, although the meet thinned out later on (it went on until 8pm which I thought was fantastic - the meets usually end in Leeds about three hours earlier). I must admit I had my reservations about it being in a gay bar, but Sidewalk was pretty good apart from the poor range of drinks, which is so often the main drawback of LGBT establishments. Indeed, in terms of atmosphere it was probably the best meet I had ever been to, although, as I say, it was quite difficult to meet people and we spent quite a while awkwardly waiting for something to happen. It took us about two hours before we got talking to some new furs, and when we did, they turned out to be new too and in a similar situation to ourselves. Some of them were even from Yorkshire in a huge irony. Still, Wolfie's plan of drinking and then just talking at people until they interacted worked later on, and we got to meet a fair number of people into the local fetish scene, which was also quite good as we have already started to plan future events. Alas, due to the inclement weather, the fursuit walk was cancelled, meaning I had to spend my time fursuiting around the bar, largely being ignored by anyone with a camera. I did fursuit with a few of the new guys though, and with a soundtrack of Green Day for most of the afternoon (with a fair number of the younger furs singing along), I was pretty content even if the fursuiting was somewhat limited. We did get some photos outside the bar though, where my head got a little damp due to the rain. The food in the bar was also very well-priced and the place reminded me a little of Baa Bar, the former venue of the Leeds Meet which we had to vacate in the end of 2015. We would certainly like to go back, but I think we will have to make the effort to get to know more people online first. It was quite difficult to meet people initially.

One of the main reasons to go to Birmingham was to sample the local craft beer scene with Vulpecula, who had approached me around Christmas time proposing a meeting. We arranged to hook up at around 6pm, so I headed off to the hotel around an hour earlier, leaving Wolfie in the bar to meet some more furs. Time was tight but fortunately Vulpecula met me in the lobby of my hotel rather than in the bar he had initially suggested so it was less of a rush (even though I was still around ten minutes late). We then headed back to Sidewalk to pick up Wolfie before heading towards the Burning Soul Microbrewery. Time was tight as this place shut at 8pm, but we needed food so we stopped off to get a pie in the Bullring on the way. Then we walked all the way over to the other side of the city and into the heart of an unassuming industrial estate, before entering a grey warehouse which contained the brewery. Vulpecula knew the staff there and upon identifying we were from Leeds, we had a good chat about the craft beer scene in our home city, which was something that Birmingham seems to model itself on. Indeed, across the bars we visited on Saturday night, the high regard Leeds has within the beer community kept coming up, which was rather heartening to hear. Burning Soul very much reminds me of the North Brewing Company near my office, and the layout was very similar. We had two nice beers here, a malty pale ale and a vanilla chocolate stout, while people played pool around us. Everyone was really friendly, sharing table space and the like, and there was a hairy bloke who looked a little like Si King from the Hairy Bikers, which I found quite amusing.

We left just before 8pm, heading around the corner to The Gunmakers' Arms, a former rough pub now next to the Two Towers Brewery, serving as an outlet for them. This was a very small operation and the bar itself very much had a 1970s working mens' club feel, something that Wolfie was quite entranced with. What with fursuiting, he had had about four more pints than I had and was starting to struggle a bit, although he did enjoy the wallpaper on the ceiling and the authentic historic decor. There weren't many people in this bar but the elderly gentleman serving was really nice, telling us all about the history of the brewery, while the ales were pretty solid too. We had a very pleasant pint in here, before heading over to The Lone Wolf bar, which had only just opened two months previously and where you could smell the paint on the wall. This is very much like Foley's in Leeds and they have a nice range of beers, some of which being accompanied by taps in the shape of various animals, including wolves. We grabbed a couple of local beers here, and noticed that they had the new Cloudwater dIPA, version 12 in the fridge, along with some stuff from the Verdant Brewery of Cornwall, one of which I had not heard before. Consequently, we grabbed a few cans to take out before heading to the final bar of the night, Tilt. This is back in the city centre in a covered shopping centre, and the owner admitted that their inspiration was very much the Tall Boys Beer Market in Leeds. The twist here is the 15 pinball machines littered around the bar, which was a very odd shape with a number of little rooms. The toilets were literally miles away, and we were fortunate that they were in the middle of a Vocation Brewery tap takeover, Vocation being a local Yorkshire brewery. We had had their core range but they had a number of special ones on tap too, so we tried a couple of those while chatting to the bar staff. We picked up some more cans here before Vulpecula had to dash off for his train, the last 11:20pm service being as annoying as the 11:18pm bus service back home.

Picking our way back through Birmingham city centre, we noticed the new trams, which had not been there before. Apparently, the extension from Snow Hill to New Street is quite new, and highlights again Leeds's poverty when it comes to infrastructure. As it was barely midnight and it was on our way back to the hotel, we decided to drop into BrewDog, where we were delighted to discover there was a Time and Tide tap takeover ongoing. We grabbed a few beers here and sat down, only for the lady next to us to spill her beer all over Wolfie. She was most apologetic and Wolfie shrugged it off, but it was a sign that perhaps we needed to go. I remember having a rather nice chat with one of the barmen here - who would recognize me on Sunday when we returned, drinking there while we whiled away an hour waiting for our train - so I must have made a good impression. Upon returning to the hotel, Wolfie grabbed a pizza while I just fell asleep, knackered after a rather long day.

What didn't help was being woken up by the fire alarm going off at 8:20am because someone had burnt some toast. We found this out later, but fortunately the ringing dropped off pretty quickly, allowing us a few more hours of sleep. We checked out at midday, deposited our bags and grabbed a roast pork dinner from a local craft beer bar that really just served the mainstream craft beer. The food, a sharing platter for two in a deep metal dish, was delicious though and definitely set us up for the rest of the day. The plan was to go to Walsall to meet up with Kael and his boyfriend, who are both Polish but have lived in the UK for over ten years. The plan was to meet at 2pm so after our dinner, we headed over, making the seemless twenty minute journey over there. I had never been to Walsall before, although Wolfie has been on work, and I found it yet another unremarkable commuter town, although probably nicer than Birmingham itself which has an air of delapidation about it. The interesting thing in Walsall was the range of architecture, with no one building on the main high street being the same. We saw the church which had been converted into a shopping centre that had been opened by Princess Diana months before she died, along with the impressive Guildhall and Town Hall, very much done in the Victorian style. The highlight though was St Matthew's Church perched on top of a hill overlooking the town. The view was slightly spoiled by the corregated iron roof of the ASDA on the left-hand side, but a walk around the church soon alleviated that, particularly on its far side which has a rather unique passageway underneath the alter. You could also see the old town walls too, now forming one side of a Lidl carpark, which they have also plonked some pretentious housing on. After this, we headed down off the hill to a delapidated street which had really suffered in the recent high winds, with one abandoned house apparently having had its roof blown off. We then retired to an Irish bar, where we had a couple of beers and a nice chat about a range of topics. We got on rather well - we had never met before and there is now talk of spending a weekend together with mutual friends - while the barlady admitted that Walsall was not the best place to live but okay to visit. It seemed fine to me as we walked back through the town and towards the station two hours later, with Kael needing to get his car and us needing to get back to Birmingham. Once we did, we picked up the bags from the hotel in the driving wind and rain, before heading back to BrewDog for a few as we waited for our train. At the station, we grabbed some food and saw some cool dogs before boarding the train and heading back after a brilliant weekend.

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