Ever eager to sniff a bargain, I managed to book a £2 return fare to Birmingham via National Express. This was a chance to visit the city of my alma mater (Latin O Level comes in handy sometimes). It has been several years since I went there and it has altered dramatically.

As the rain continued to follow me, I was largely confine to indoor places like shops and pubs. When I was a student in the 8os the was a dearth of pubs selling real ale. Fortunately, this has now changed, although it was sad to see that Atkinson's Bar, which was part of The Midland Hotel, has long gone. It appears to be a Waterstone's bookshop. Potter has replaced Porter.

I returned to The Shakespeare, near to New Street Station and found that, apart from a lick of paint to the outside, it has not changed for 20 years. It still has the old fireplace at the rear of the pub. I made the mistake of using instinct when finding the toilets and ended up in the women's upstairs. I'm sure that the gents were there before. I also made the mistake of reaching for one of the newspapers on the bar. They were for sale rather than for customers. I was not impressed at the fact that they only had The Sun and The Times.

Anyway, a fine pint of Tim Taylor Landlord came in handy whilst sheltering from the rain. There was a boring lawyer standing next to me at the bar droning on about how he once had a major case in the Bahamas.

That reminds me of a recent computer test I took. It was to assess people's aptitude for different careers. mine came up as lawyer as the first choice, when I really wanted it to say Lion Tamer or Lumberjack (spot the Python reference).

The new Bullring shopping centre is very American in style and all the usual suspects are there in store form....Starbucks, Burger King etc. The outside of Selfridges is visually stunning and I aim to post some pictures later.

The centrepiece of the city centre is a huge fountain outside the city council HQ (The Council House). This was added in 1993 and was designed by sculptor and artist Dhruva Mistry. It is called River, Youth, Guardians and Object (Variations). The photo at the top of the posting is not this one but another near to the old town hall, which was home to the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. I had my graduation ceremony here and the CBSO, conducted by Liverpool born Simon Rattle (now of Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra), had its home here.

Not far from here is a newish real ale bar in the city. It is called The Wellington Specialist Real Ale Bar and serves up to 15 different real ales plus ciders and bottled continental beers. The pub is situated in an old bank but has been a pub in the past. The surprising aspect to this place was that as it did not serve food, you were welcome to bring your own and they supplied the plates and cutlery! The prices were a little steep but there was a great selection of unusual beers. I settled on a Hammer Head Stout from Milestone Brewery.
The pub has an old fashioned character to it, and the staff and clientele were extremely friendly. It is not hard to see why CAMRA voted it pub of the year for 2005 and 2006. It also held a Smokeathon night on the last day of June, hours before the smoking ban came into force.
A word of warning to those choosing to travel on National Express. They seem to have sent some of their drivers on customer hatred courses. Having availed myself of some ale during the day, I became the subject of Mr. Attitude's power trip. Obviously, he had smelt the dreaded alcohol on my breath. Where are the Polo Mints when you need them?
"Have you been drinkin' mate?" he interrogated.
"Yes," replies the eponymous hero.
"How much?"
"About 3," I underestimated.
" Well OK, but I don't have to let you on. So no trouble, right?"
The driver was of course within his rights to refuse entry but this smells of an over zealous approach.
Providers of services from hospital workers to coach drivers have a right to protection from anti-social and violent behaviour. The figures relating to attacks speak for themselves. However, respect will not be obtained from non-offenders if such a heavy handed approach is made. It is symptomatic of how we are dealing with current problems and can be seen with the knee-jerk reactions to airport security. In addition, I have the sneaking suspicion that had I been 7 foot 5 and with a number of others, this conversation would not have taken place. Alcohol is a serious problem in this country, but do not treat all drinkers as lepers.