Two weeks ago, we took a short trip into Birmingham central (usual apologies about timing apply due to lack of access, and usual assurances of this not happening in future can be ignored). Mainly because there was a sale on at Debenhams. Ok, there was a sale on everywhere due to the imminent official end of summer, but this particular sale included Le Creuset pots, which Cilla has had her eye on for years. 40% off is too much to pass up a look at. So we missioned into the centre of town in an attempt to find something called the Bull Ring. Without a map book, of course. Or knowing exactly what it was, or what it would look like. Sometimes half of the adventure is playing at naive tourists, figuring we’ll stumble onto it.

Which we did, of course. Thanks less to my superb navigational skills than to the fact that it is a major Brum landmark, and is hard to miss. Provided you’re moving vaguely towards the centre of town, you’ll run into it eventually. But next time, we’ll take the bus: parking in the centre of town is plentiful but it suffers from something I seem to be encountering a lot here in England. It works like this: Directions to where you want to go are clear, and excellent. Until you get within spitting distance of your destination. At which point, the signs disappear, and you’re left floundering around, usually in heavy, impatient traffic, until you pick a direction that feels right, but isn’t, and you find yourself on the far side of where you want to be. So you turn around, follow the clear directions, until they disappear again. There seems to be an assumption that all the natives have a natural talent to find what they’re looking for, provided that they’re reasonably close. Perhaps they home in to the vibes or something. I’ll have to investigate this further. But I digress…

Anyway, apart from the pots (which were still exorbitant not to snaffle) what we did manage to find was the famous Rag Market. And the Indoor Market. And another one, whose name I’ve forgotten. Which, unexpectedly, made me feel more at home than I could ever have imagined. Birmingham is a thoroughly cosmopolitan city, home to people from all over the world. And the markets bring that out in a very demonstrative way. The salespeople are from all over the world, selling goods from all over the world. It’s Muizenberg, St Georges Mall, Cape Town Station and Greenmarket Square all rolled into one, with more curry. Or rather, Greenmarket Square before it turned all touristy. The mix of people, and the easy, relaxed, yet bustling atmosphere made me a little wistful – it struck me that this is the sort of place South Africa wishes it was. I’m aware that this is a blinkered, newbie view, and the race riots a few years ago make it obvious that what appears on the surface is not necessarily a good indication of reality. But it has promise, and merits further investigation.

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2 Responses to Birmingham

  1. Jill says:

    I’m so glad you have such good thoughts while shaving, and that you can somehow remember them until you can get to the laptop. Ot maybe you dictate them into a machine, which would look funny. Birmingham sounds like my kind of place, what with shopping and curry.

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