A Travellerspoint blog

Around Birmingham

snow -6 °C

Friday was yet another poor effort on my part. I’ve joined this book group, which meets a couple of times a month in Birmingham, once to talk about the monthly book but the other to just socialize. All a very good idea; unfortunately, I turned up to the Friday night social in a pub, found the group and immediately fled. Too many people, all crammed into a small space, plus it was noisy and dark. So, I instead went across the road to this Malaysian café I’d spotted and had the worst Malaysian chicken curry of my life (it was as if it was Watties Chicken tonight, not at all what it should have been) and made a beeline for my hotel in Wolverhampton.

No plans to go far this weekend – I had a few people lined up to see about places to stay – so I had a very pleasant Saturday morning, coffeeing and wandering through the Wolverhampton Art Gallery, which was surprisingly nice, given Wolverhampton’s reputation. Someone said to me that just as most of the UK seems to look down on Birmingham as inferior (a rather harsh judgment), Birminghamites look down on Wolverhampton. It had quite a nicely balanced mixture of art, from the moral paintings of one FD Hardy (who has had a lot of his works collected by the gallery) through to the surrealism of Roland Penrose via a whole collection of Pop Art (and an interesting set up in which kids were invited to create their own). There was also a Georgian Gallery which collected various artefacts among the paintings, to give them context. For example, there was a painting of the famous actor David Garrick, alongside sheets of a play he’s said to have annotated and a wig he wore and so on. Bewilderingly, there was a huge collection of landscape paintings by a couple, who weren’t even local, whose work I found completely lacking in interest. Still, a very pleasant morning, followed by nice cake in the Gallery café.

Then it was time to head off to look at houses. I really thought I had one, the first place I went to; we talked for an hour, she was happy with me being short term, I was happy with her living in London. She had one group to see and would then call me – she never did. I did have a place that was seducing me, an apartment right in the centre of Birmingham, on what is the main pedestrianised street above a supermarket – but they wanted a LOT of money for it (just not quite enough to make me dismiss it completely!)

In the meantime, I had a room booked at the Best Western George Hotel in Lichfield, so I could get a feel for the place. On the way there, I had a bit of a disaster, not even sure quite where; all I know is that by dinner time, I realized I had no idea where my shoulder bag was, the one with my book in it (no problem), the same one that had my MP3 player in it (now, that’s a bit of a problem, I liked my purple Sony NW-3000 and most of the music on it) and which also had my camera in it (now, that’s a real problem). So, although I had taken some pictures of Wolverhampton’s finest – the Art Gallery, the library, the Barclays Bank that looks a little like a castle – they’re gone.

The George is a lovely old fashioned hotel, which helped me calm down, and had a good carvery restaurant, which helped a little more. About three in the morning I found out what Lichfield is like; a bit like central Birmingham with its screaming marauding drunks. Going back into town, I checked with the stations at each end and the train operator to see if (fat chance!) someone had handed my bag in. Interesting experience – each person I spoke to said “oh, you should talk to” someone else, until I came to a dead end.

Then it was off to the theatre, not the cinema, the theatre. One of the groups I’ve joined had organized a lunch at an all you can eat multi-national food place and then for us (all 24 of us) to see Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. I was a little disturbed by the young age of some of the audience – the security guy reckoned there were kids of 8 – given the subject matter of the play and the way in which it ends. Even those of us who knew that were a little caught out by the gunshot which terminates the story. Good group of people – we went off to a pub afterwards, thereby putting an end to my plans to wander around the river at Worcester; I didn’t get to the Ye Old Talbot (great bed and breakfast for under twenty pound, on a Sunday night) until after 9:30. At that stage, I counted myself lucky to find dinner.

Monday may have hit the international press – this was the day that it snowed, and brought a lot of England to a halt. It was also the day I had booked tickets to go to London, a hostel and to see A Mid Summer Night’s Dream (I don't think that fact made it to the newspapers). Strangely enough, when I caught the train in from Worcester, I had no idea this was happening. I was talking to people at work, who were full of news about trains being cancelled all over the place, how the tube (i.e. the UNDERGROUND train system in London) was not working but nonetheless decided I’d go into New Street (if I could) to see how I’d get on. Sure enough, the slow train I had a reserved (cheap) seat on was cancelled – but (and this I don’t really understand) they were cancelling two out of every three trains, to give the third a shot at making it. So, I was put on a fast train but still feeling a little sick at the prospect of it all being a waste of time, and then feeling even more sick when my laptop just died on me, went to sleep and would not wake up or restart or allow itself to be shutdown – I had to let the battery discharge completely so it would go into an out of power shutdown. Everything I have done is on this laptop and, although I did back up, that was when I left Singapore. So – memo to self: be better about backing up!

Thanks to it being a fast train, we actually arrived in London before the train I was supposed to be on would have. I could catch a train up to where my hostel was, and by the time I got there, enough of the tube system was working to get me back to Covent Garden. All good.

Not so fast! I got to the theatre, only to find that too many of the cast and crew could not make it, so the show was cancelled. (“I hope you didn’t come all the way from New Zealand for it” was the cheery response.) So, they gave me a wine, and I chatted to the very nice woman from the RSC while I drank it, then went off to a restaurant she recommended – a proper French bistro, Côte Bistro, and it was amazing. The food (a cassoulet) was good, the ambience was good, and the waitress was a real charmer. To cap things off, they gave me a brimming glass of some sort of lemon-flavoured liqueur. Even my hostel contributed, by being quite special – it is a mansion in Swiss Cottage, formerly occupied by the Palmer family (of Huntley & Palmer’s fame). I picked it because it was the top-rated hostel in London on the hostelbookers website (and cheap!). So, out of the wreckage, I actually had quite a decent evening.

On the Tuesday, since I had an appointment with a real estate agent and a potential flatmate in Lichfield, I bunked work (I did do a couple of hours in the public library) and went straight from London to Lichfield. By about 8:00, I had a place to live – the owner of the property the real estate agent was going to show me took off on holiday so I couldn’t do anything there, but the fellow looking for a flatmate was OK with me moving in the very next day. So, it was back to Wolverhampton for one last night (in yet another hotel, the Britannia), buy some sheets’n’stuff, dig LOTS of cash out of the machine and I moved to Lichfield. It is going to be a fairly quite house – my flatmate says he tends to like to keep to himself, and has another house (in which his family lives but is too crowded and noisy for him) just a few miles away. No worries, with all the adventures I have planned, its not like I’ll be sitting at home very much. We did have a small adventure on my first night: he is an architect and designed the renovations, including the stairs, so only had himself to blame when he could not navigate the corners with the bed. His cover story was that everyone has flatpack stuff these days, so the thought of taking real furniture upstairs didn’t occur to him.

Reading this week: obviously, I had to abandon Quicksilver but I picked up a half price copy of Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road where the Wheelers think that the mediocre life of work, two kids and a house in suburbia is not for them, because they’re special. No movies.

Posted by NZBarry 11:15 Archived in England

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