Sunday, March 25, 2007

Reflections on a Birmingham weekend.....

Spent Friday and Saturday having a me weekend in Birmingham.
Went down for no other reason than to hook up with friends, pop into Nostalgia & Comics to pick up the latest care package of goodies to review next month and generally have a good time. Louise and Molly stayed home and had a big girly weekend, reaching it's height with a mammoth late night dancing on ice spectacular.

I stopped in the Travelodge at Five Ways, positioned just outside the city centre, at the entrance to Birmingham and at the end of Birmingham's very own "Golden Mile" of nightclubs, bars and eateries.
Of course, at midnight, coming back to the hotel, "Golden Mile" takes on a whole new meaning as you step around the rivers of piss that seem to be coming from every doorway.

Friday night was a me night. Since the cinema at Five Ways was literally 50 feet from the door of the Travelodge it seemed rude not to visit and since the timings worked so well I managed to get Hot Fuzz in at 6:45 and 300 at 9:30.
And at some point I must write about them, but not here, here is for more general Birmingham stuff. But to summarise; Hot Fuzz is great, but not as great as Shaun of the Dead and 300 looks very pretty and impressive.

On Saturday it was into the city centre for shopping and comics.
Nostalgia & Comics is surviving well without me it seems. (How is that possible?)
Lovely to see everyone, lovely to meet the new staff member Lee. On Dave's advice I popped down to the basement to see what's been done - Lee is plowing through it and having a reorganise. It seems my basement in safe hands, albeit younger and probably less likely to obsess over it hands than mine. And I really must stop thinking of it as "my" basement.
Again, just like last time, it's strange going back to Nostalgia & Comics. After so many years of being staff, it's a bizarre feeling to walk back in on a busy Saturday and have nothing to do but browse the shelves and catch up with what's been going on with the staff there.
The urge to put your bags down and help out behind the till or to tidy shelves is really strong, yet at the back of your mind is a voice telling you that you can't do that, because you're not part of the gang anymore, not staff, you don't belong.
This isn't to say it's not an enjoyable experience to go back, just a strange one.

Anyway, this is the second trip back since moving up to Pocklington 5 months ago.
This time Birmingham seemed even bigger, noisier and rushed than the last time we came down. The buildings crowded around, almost leaning over me as I wandered down Broad street. The noise of the crowds, the traffic, the city itself seemed much louder this time.
It hasn't taken that long for the city mentality to change to one of a small town mentality. The strangest thing about my afternoon shopping trip? Not recognising anyone, not saying hello to anyone. I know this is hardly unusual for Birmingham but in Pocklington I'm used to walking around and meeting people I know, saying hello, stopping to chat briefly. It's obviously something I've managed to get used to very quickly.
But it was nice to mooch around, I even managed to nip into Selfridges and gaze longingly at the laptops in Micro-Anvika. I desperately want a sub-notebook laptop to write on, but the very small ones I want cost over a grand. Bah.

Second time down Broad Street after the shopping trip was to go out for the evening. I timed it just right to catch the population change over that happens on Broad Street. I walked in against a tide of with families wending their way home after a hard days shopping.
But they were all going out of the city centre. To be replaced with the gangs of threatening young men & under-dressed young women ready for the start of another Saturday night to regret the following morning.
The boys were all dressed in regulation nightclub finery; too much polyester in the shirts, too much neck and not enough brains. The girls are wobbling unsteadily on heels they shouldn't wear, looking like they're visiting a bizarre hybrid of porno shoot meets 70s nostalgia night.

It's not even 6 o'clock and already the air is a threatening mix of hideous perfume, testosterone, alcohol, ignorance and despair. I've never felt threatened walking in what I always thought of as my city. But suddenly, walking down Broad Street before the Saturday night spectacle of drunkenness and violence, I realised it's not my city anymore. I'm an outsider, a visitor, a tourist. And in realising that, I looked at the place afresh and felt uneasy.

Of course, given that I was off to see the England match with friends the first half was going to be spent in a crowded pub full of morons shouting abuse at the big screen. Although after 60 minutes of absolutely, desperately, depressingly awful football I could see their point. For some reason that none of us would be able to tell you we stayed till the end, finally leaving to go to the nice pub.
The journey back up Broad Street just after midnight was more fun. I'd been on the gin all night so was feeling okay. Gin and me are old friends, it keeps me smiling but never makes me wobble or feel overly drunk. So the trip back was more a casual stroll to look at the sights.
And what terrible sights they were. The night was still young on Broad street, the street was as busy as the Bullring had been earlier in the day, queues outside the clubs were packed with the same polyester shirted young men and under-dressed young women, all eyeing each other with a mixture of derision, longing and overwhelming despair. I've always disliked nightclubs for that; the sense of the meat factory. The feeling that everyone is desperately hoping that tonight will be the night to remember, that this night won't end up like every other night, drunkenly staggering home, picking fights with strangers or angrily crying at some perceived slight.

But aside from negotiating the late night version of the "Golden Mile" getting back to the hotel was a pleasant walk.
Then home this morning. And coming back up to Pocklington felt exactly like it should, it's home. Birmingham is now just a place I used to live. Great to visit, lovely to see friends, but not home.

1 comment:

  1. do you miss the shop? miss the stress and the hassle (sometimes!) miss the customers? the knowing without a doubt that you belong their? and knowing that every goth/emo (plus any other genre passing through) kid wants to be in your shoes and would kill to work there?!