I meant to write this last week, but, as you will see, I got a little distracted yesterday morning by writing my previous post. Which was in no way related to anything about my life in the UK and travels and all the rest of the things that this blog is supposed to be about. But, hey, sometimes you just have to wake up one morning and write a viciously vindictive blog post before you can face the day. We’ve all been there, right?
Anyway, on to actual London life. One of my wonderful Irish friends has been visiting me since last Wednesday. Its been great having her around, though difficult juggling catch-ups with work and life commitments etc. We’ve had some lovely little adventures, though, out to Brighton on Sunday for a scratch show (which almost became a trip to Sutton because we got on the wrong train) and last Thursday we went to visit the artist we worked with last June as part of the Cork Midsummer Festival. He happens to live in Birmingham, which is a place I had never been (and my Irish friend had never been either) and neither of us had seen him for many months, so we decided to make a little excursion together.
I didn’t know much about Birmingham, to be honest. I knew their accent was called ‘Brummy’ and I had a feeling it was kind of an industrial place and there was a university and when I was looking for jobs last year, there was a position for a creative writing facilitator in one of the local prisons that I was sorely tempted by (but, of course, in the end, I went to London). I knew it was not a place that most people were excited about visiting. But, it had been a long time since I had been outside of London, and an even longer time since I had been outside of London to somewhere brand new (I think October last year was the last time I went somewhere new), so I was actually terribly excited. My English housemate found it slightly amusing/confusing.
Been scared off using the trains by the exorbitant last-minute prices, my friend and I decided the only option was the National Express, which is the UK’s national bus service. It took us two and a half hours on the bus, but I can’t really complain because I slept the whole time. I felt bad about not chatting to my friend, but I couldn’t actually help it. Something about the movement of buses and trains is very lulling to me – I’m like a baby. If I’m in anyway tired, its only a matter of minutes after I get into a fast-moving vehicle before my head is thrown back, my mouth is open and a little piece of drool is making tracks down the side of my face. I woke up in time to watch our approach into Birmingham, which I had been informed would show me the true awfulness of the place. I’m not going to lie. The drive past all that industry was pretty disheartening. But, I think, because I had been warmed and because I knew I was only going to be there for a few hours, the industry didn’t upset me as it might have. It just kind of fascinated me.
When we got into the coach station, we got a message from our friend saying his train had been delayed. We decided to do some shopping in the meantime. I had done my usual Spring/March trick of dressing for the weather I wished we were having, instead of for the weather we were actually having; and had dressed in a long-ish, cotton skirt with no stockings and a light jacket. The weather forecast for that night was 6 inches of snow. So, my immediate aim was to locate and purchase some warm stockings. We headed to the Bull Ring, which is the local shopping centre. I don’t quite know how to describe the Bull Ring. It kind of looks like an alien pod. Or a Pixar character. Or a conceptual art piece gone wrong. Or one of those things with the pins people used to have in the 90s and you’d put your face or hand or whatever into them, and it’d make a relief of your face/hand/whatever on the other side. Or, like its made out of glomesh. Whatever it is meant to look like or mean or inspire, it is the most oddly fascinating buildings I have come across in recent years. If the weather hadn’t been hovering around the zero degrees mark with a gale force wind blowing, I suspect I would have stood in the street and gawped at it for several hours. I don’t know if that would have helped me make sense of it, but I also don’t know that I would have had any power to resist. I mean, I’m serious guys, I think this shopping mall might actually have magical powers. Or the ability to hypnotise you. Or, at least, a magnetic force field that draws you, against your will and better judgement, into its capitalist bosom. Here, a picture:
We finally located stockings in the lingerie department. However, in Selfrdige’s Birmingham, a single pair of stockings will cost you more than the return bus journey to London. That’s right. Apparently, everyone in Birmingham is the wife of a Russian oligarch or some such. Well, that’s the conclusion we had to draw from the price tag on the stockings. We hurried out of Selfridge’s and into the next-door ‘Rag Market’, which, by its name, sounded much promising. In fact it was. It was much more similar to the Bull Ring we had down the road from my house in Dublin: a large warehouse type space with many different stalls set up inside selling everything from animal-shaped phone covers to mou-mous to Strictly Ballroom inspired fashions. I got 3 pairs of stockings (one made out of wool) for 9 pound. I was very happy.
We went outside and caught the end of the fresh food market, where the bargains continued. 3 rounds of cheese each costing less than a pound, and a huge bunch of grapes that were each, individually, the size of large lychee. I absolutely adore markets like this and I am sorry I have not yet located one in London (there are markets. They’re just middle-class snooty organic artisan handmade markets, which are still nice in their own way, but are, also, hellsa lot more expensive).
About this time our friend called and we met up with him. We took a taxi back to his house, which was probably the most charming thing I’d ever seen. He has a beautiful black rabbit named Doris that rambles freely across the living room and kitchen, as well as gorgeous artifacts from various shows, travels, friends and just general living, artfully arranged. There is amazing retro furniture he found on the street. There is a bird house made out of a toy camper van. Out the back there are chickens. We had a beautiful afternoon eating cheese, enormous grapes, drinking wine and catching up. We had pots of tea and drank them out of gorgeously delicate tea cups, which was appropriate considering our project together last year. He introduced us to a song about the National Express (to which we did an impromptu dance number), which can be found here: (song from 37 secs in). Which is a hilarious big band number. He also gave me a great idea for a new show/story, which involved me marrying his rabbit. It was great.
Around 9pm we made our way back to the coach station and got back on the (now much more amusing) National Express. Despite feeling wide awake (having drunk at least 4 cups of tea during the afternoon), within 20 minutes I was dosing again and managed to sleep most of the way home. Of course, when I actually got back home and into bed, it was impossible to fall asleep. Meaning I got about 5 hours sleep before work the next day. Awesome.
All in all, though, it was a fabulous little trip and I very much enjoyed Birmingham. It seems a delightfully eclectic place and I would like to go back on a day when they weren’t expecting 6 inches of snow and wander around a bit.