Sunday, December 3

Livin' It Large... In Birmingham

A friend and I drove all the way to Birmingham, that place you pass on the way to Manchester. Now, I've only been once before but that was pretty limited in that I was restricted to the ICC Hall for those Bollywood Star auditions, and although that day was fantastic I don't think it was because of being in Birmingham. In short, this was going to be my first experience of the real Birmingham.

We had a couple of native tour guides to show us around; they came pretty cheap at a box of Celebrations each. We even had a surprise visit from someone who didn't live there (and if you really want to know who they were, I'm sure all three will be along to populate the comments list for this post). So yes, in terms of hosts we were well looked after.

The weather was crisp but dry so we didn't have that particular worry to... uh... worry about. We hit The Bullring first (which, if you actually think about it, is a pretty absurd name for a shopping centre really), where my London friend and I begun our window shopping. I think he'd agree with me when I say we were very satisfied, with the Mobile Shop Effect clearly holding in Brum as well as London, although The Bullring in general held its own too.

We walked along some of the back street canals, visited The Mailbox (where I paid tribute to Sonia Deol's new home) and ended up lunching on pizza (and like most of the day, lunch was on our most gracious and generous counterparts). Although it was nice so far, there wasn't really anything that smacked of Birmingham.

As I mentioned we had driven down. This turned out to be pretty annoying since it meant having to travel in separate cars - this being accentuated by Birmingham's horrific Saturday evening traffic. Still, at least we didn't have to pay twice for parking; brummies seem to only have to pay for one vehicle. Well, as long as the second car is fast enough to nip under the car park's exit barrier before it closes, that is. Cunning eh?

I always like to visit a local mosque in any new place I visit, and so our hosts obliged by stopping off at one on the way to our final destination. Unfortunately it wasn't Birmingham Central Mosque, but the one we did go to had the local vibe I was looking for anyway so it was all good.

We ended up at Star City. This place had been described to me as the sleazy destination for secret boy and girlfriends to hang out in (and for others to perv), and so obviously I was eager to check it out. After three quite "interesting" games of pool, I realised that it wasn't really anything more than any other hang-out and it may have been slightly over (or under depending on your viewpoint) played. Having said that, we were there pretty early.

We had a flying tour of Alum Rock, but again this seemed to have had its much publicised rudeboys and cars missing from its streets. On returning to Star City, a couple of us (the ones who weren't cowardly chicken) went on one of the fairground rides which had been set up in the parking lot. Although the ride itself was pretty tame it was still amazing since we were able to see Birmingham at night from quite a high distance, and the view was stunning.

Alas we had to end the evening relatively short since we had to be back in London by a reasonable hour so that's all we had time to do. I must admit that, even though it was a nice day out, I'm still not quite sure what makes Birmingham Birmingham. But perhaps that's the point; that Brum actually doesn't have an identity of its own? That could be why it's such a bland forgettable place... But seeing as I have some good friends there and it's only two hours away I guess I can just imagine it as a suburb of London whenever I inevitably go back to visit. After all, in a place like that it becomes more about the people you are with than the location itself.