Adventures in Birmingham: Midlands Discovery Tours – Canal walk

Readers of this blog will know how much I have grown to love walking discovery tours. What started as a way of getting to know San Francisco on a short trip there, grew to having  month of to discover my home town, Bedford. In the last year or so, it’s been an excellent way of getting to know about the very Birmingham streets I walk in every day.

A group of us mostly strangers and a few from my girls social network (Out with the Girls) turned up on a wet Sunday – the first in ages! – to meet at the council building and with  warming hot chocolate beverage, set out to discover the stories behind the canals.

You’d think the number of walks I’ve been on with our trust guide Ian Braisby, I’d be doing his job for him (it is actually a secret dream job of mine) and yet I learn new Birmingham facts every time.

Britain’s canal capital

For example, the oft asked question is answered; are there more canals in Birmingham than Venice? How many?

Why there is a round-a-bout in the middle of the canal near Brindleyplace.

What the connection is between cage fighters and canal boat workers.

The generations of canal boat workers and how at one time the canals were privatised and tolls had to be paid to get through.

How the canals link Birmingham up to other towns and cities.

Apart from the imagined stench, we were taken right back to the times when canal boats were the main transportation for companies such as Cadburys (who despite moving away from the city centre still have their base near the canal in Bourenville) and especially for the heavy goods movement of the breweries.

As well as the canal history, we learnt about the beginnings and subsequent uses of a variety of buildings along the canal way, especially what is now The Brasshouse and the beautiful Round House and how Saturday Bridge got it’s name..

This is just a fraction of what I learnt. To book a place on a forthcoming walk, visit the Midlands Discovery Tours website here Then have fun spouting facts to your friends as you walk along the delight that is Birmingham canals.

Follow @MidsDiscovery or @IanBraisby


It’s a New Year, take on more

This time last year, I remember reading about all the lovely things people give up in January as part of New Year’s resolutions’. (or rather by now, given up on them). In the first instance, I‘m of the school of thought that if we want to change something about our life we can change it any day of the year; why wait for a cold January 1st to roll round?

However, this isn’t an anti-resolution rant; far from it. Despite being one of the world’s odd balls in that I love Winter (sorry) and don’t have any problems with January (truly sorry) – I go off on my travels and have a lovely break for Christmas week, Italy for the second year, but still look forward to coming back on the 1st and being refreshed and raring to go for the fresh new year ahead. (Again, I apologise).

What I’m advocating is that change is indeed as good as a rest so let’s make fun changes in January. Rather than giving up things you love (wine) to do things you despise (exercise) in the coldest, darkest month of the year, let’s take up piano lessons or even better crafting or baking; activities that can be done in the comfort of our homes whilst eating chocolate and/or drinking wine.

The time to give up is April, when you have warm summer months as an incentive to leave the house and jog round the park.

For now, here are some fun things to do in January:

  1. Do more list

    Take off your layers and go to a Spa. Go for a weekend if you can and with your friends.

  2. Throw a cosy staying home party, your friends will love you (even more) for brightening up their January and it will cost next to nothing if everyone contributes. It may even be another chance to wear that party dress you wore once or you can have a theme party.
  3. Start wearing bright colours. If you’re addicted to black, try wearing one new colour each week. You make like it.
  4. Book a holiday. If taking the winter off to go to sunny climes or skiing is a little extravagant, spend hours and hours planning your big holiday for the year. Make it an event in itself.
  5. Go away each weekend to see fun friends or beloved (obviously) relatives.
  6. Learn something new. Yes I know, you’ve always wanted to but ‘never got round to it’. Well I’m giving you a ‘roundtoit’ (get it?)
  7. Learn to cook or bake, painting, singing, learning a language, reading, starting a book (that old chestnut), dance class, picking up PC skills or horse riding.  If it’s something you want to do, now is the time.
  8. Have a sparkling 2012!

My Ideal……Airline

Another in a series, this is based on in particular long-haul flights but many of these services will be ideal on short-haul too.



From the minute I reach the website until I get out of the airport on the return journey, what I need is real customer service; where I can call on a normal number rather than having to have to listen to two minutes on a premium rate just to hear all the options. Or better still, an actual email address that reaches a person rather than an automated ‘we’ll get back to you when we can be bothered’ message. This is on top of the expected standards of politeness and courtesy of course.


One example is a delightful indulgence to eat while watching the movie, having eaten a decent meal earlier. I love the way Virgin always give old fashioned ice cream.


Lots of food – keep the options coming so I can choose when and what I want to eat.

On board drinks

Serve refreshments immediately we’re up in the air, or if there’s more than 20 minutes of waiting before we’re airborne.

Loyal points 

Or air miles, even if I book through a third party and for on-board purchases

Customer focused staff

Groomed, friendly and ready to help and greet customers like guests of the airline.

Discounts and additional services

For booking in advance, booking multiples flights and for airline loyalty

Ideally discounted or VIP treatment for insurance, hotels, theatre tickets etc


Choose our own seats for free and have somewhere under the seat to neatly place footwear. Have a warning light on the seat so person behind knows it’s about to move, like a reverse light. When it does go back, make it so the difference can be felt and it’s easier to fall asleep. To this end, we need a flap that comes out of the head-rest (rest?!) so the head can lean against it.


A clean roomy bathroom with somewhere to place toiletries is a must and a mini hairdryer would be handy for 60 second touch ups.

A shower room (pay extra and possibly book in advance) including towels and toiletries will be a nice addition.

Socks, toothbrush/toothpaste and headphones are good as a basic requirement with each seat purchase as are decent blankets, pillows and reading material. A bottle of water will be very handy.


A variety of choice of music and films and an in-flight radio station

This is not a description of the perfect airline as then I’d want 30 minutes from check in to plane (need 20 minutes to mooch around shops), unlimited luggage that a porter will carry, no delays, drink & snack immediately upon boarding, fine food restaurant for main meal, a large armchair in a suite on my own with a cinema screen that I don’t need wear uncomfortable headphones for. Come to think of that some off that is available on business class – but a complete waste of money, I’d rather travel 3-4 times a year than pay that once a year.

Book – This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann

I love Let the Great World Spin.

This one took a while to get into, despite it being as beautifully written.  I’m almost half way through when I realise that the author is writing about two different families, in different eras although I would have known that had I read the jacket first!

There’s two types of freedom, son.

The freedom to do what you want and the freedom to do what you should.

The story gives us the viewpoint of those men who endured ill-health and early demise to dig the tunnels beneath New York City so that the transportation we see today can be implemented. This is supplemented but the more modern story of those homeless – the forgotten society – who still make their homes underneath our pavements and the modern builders working on sky scrapers.

“The knowledge that he is the one who will pierce the virginity of

space where the steel hits the sky.”

 Because of my previous read, I read avidly to see where the generation connections may come; it’s a journey through history seeing what the successors know about their ancestors and how much has changed for them. The book centres on the racism that still exists in the early 20th century and in particular around a rock solid mixed marriage and their children.

An excellent, literal look look at New York’s underground.


Inspiration factor 7/10

Peyton & Byrne – cakes

When I came back to England via New York, I put a plea out on Twitter for ‘Cupcakes’ and I was introduced to these guys. I did try them from Heals when I was staying in a hotel on Tottenham Court Road at that time, 30 months later they seem to have excelled. I pick up each of the flavours when at St Pancras International station (a whole separate piece due on that) and here’s the verdict. 

Coconut & Raspberry

Coconut is in my top 3 of favourite flavours and whilst not keen on raspberry, most of the flavour came from the perfect raspberry on top. What makes this cake are the giant coconut flakes on top, just gorgeous to mop up the remnants of the light creamy topping.

What I love about Peyton & Byrne: more than anything is that their individual cakes look like cupcakes – albeit mini ones, not American size – but they call themselves fairy cakes! USA bakery cupcakes have large muffin size bases with two/thirds of the item being the flavoured cream. You cannot see the cake past the cream on these giant concoctions, which are in my opinion made for two, Or for two sittings.

Passion Fruit

The second of the four cakes picked up at Peyton & Byrne This one looks creamily glorious with the filling carrying on the flavour in the cake beautifully. It’s a fairy cake for sure; a moist base but not crumbly and with a light topping.

What I love about Peyton & Byrne: they are decidedly English which makes them extremely popular, especially with the tourists hence their placement at St Pancras International train station.


Again not being a fruit person, this wouldn’t be a first choice and yet I love it. This one tastes like it says on the tin with a pretty little flower on top. It’s bound to be a classic favourite with all.

What I love about Peyton & Byrne: Is that they are not a ‘cupcake’ shop. These fairy cakes are just part of the cake collection, all of which I’ll be trying on frequent, otherwise unnecessary visits to St Pancras, after all, it’s just a few minutes from my regular Euston.




I’m not a big chocolate cake fan (chocolate itself, I like more) so not the best to judge. However, the BF is and we tboth hought this chocolate creation is very rich and flavourful.


What I love about Peyton & Byrne: the topping, as with all Peyton & Byrnes fairy cakes is more frosting than butter cream so delightfully light.


I love Oprah but…

I really do, I think she’s an inspiration, particularly to a section of America needing inspiration but to all of us too. I admire anyone who strives to achieve their dreams (and far beyond in this case) particularly when there are obstacles thrown in their way. A non-supportive family is an impediment at a young age and I know I’m lucky to have the encouragement I did that lead me to believe I could and can do anything I set my mind to.

A lot of people don’t have that support and that’s where Oprah comes in. I’ve been 50/50 when it comes to the Oprah Winfrey show; I’ll watch it if the subject matter appeals to me or if someone I like is being interviewed. I’m not into the stories of abuse and gruesome murders but I can’t help but watch the transformations of women who have simply dressed to stay at home and watch TV and then they are transformed into ladies wot lunch. The same with houses that haven’t seen a lick of paint or any visitors since 1975 and the gay one (I assume) converts it to 21st century living by kicking the short floral curtains into space and putting bamboo blinds in their place. His main victim is chintz and he’s not keen on animal shaped fur rugs.

So it’s some years after becoming a fan of Oprah and just as her TV series ends that I pick up copy of ‘O’ magazine. Somehow, taking a rare (and I mean I cannot remember the last one unless I count travels abroad) morning off I unexpectedly end up watching back-to-back Oprah shows, enticing me to even more Winfreyness.

The magazine however, is not meant for people like me who just want to bask in the O great one’s glory as I do. This publication is for those who really need help and fair play to Ms Winfrey & her BFF Gayle King for giving it to them.

What strikes me first is the amount of advertising; it’s not unusual to have the first 20 or so pages of a glossy women’s magazine to be full of advertising but ‘O’ magazine goes beyond; it is full of product placements too. An excellent business decision but oh so obvious to the trained eye! I’m wondering if the average ‘O’ reader realises these are adverts and not the Great One’s recommendation?

Then there’s talk of ‘emotional mugging’ and apparently long ring fingers mean you are ‘at risk of osteoarthritis’ plus thick dark facial or body hair means you could have ‘Polycystic ovary syndrome’. Or just that you have thick dark hair elsewhere on your body I would have thought. Is this just making everyone hypochondriacs?

What stops me in my tracks is when readers are asked to pray, I mean you just would not get that in the UK’s ‘She’ or ‘Red’ magazines (I think).

If America doesn’t already know the answers then all this then all I can say is thank God for Oprah. Long may she reign in America, beyond the television show.