After my weekend wobble I have been slowly regaining my impetus and moving in the right direction. I’m not interested in dwelling in the past – only about moving forward. With this in mind I decided to face a really stupid fear that’s been bugging me for months (well several years actually) and that’s going to Birmingham on the train.
There’s nothing inherently scary about Birmingham per se – it’s more about being further out of my comfort zone than I’m used to with my car miles away. In my head I’m still fat and immobile and at times it’s very hard to reconcile who I am now with who I was six months ago.
Birmingham used to be familiar territory for me. I grew up nearby and I spent most of my teenage years there on Saturdays, wasting time with friends and on occasion also getting pleasantly drunk.
Today though my objective was just to go to the Museum and Art Gallery and come back home. I decided to travel from Warwick Parkway and leave my car in Hampton Magna. It’s a nice little walk to the station and saves on parking fees.
By the time I was in Birmingham I actually felt quite relaxed. The Chiltern Railways line is better than I remember (I used to commute on it years ago before I moved to Warwick) and I travelled in a relaxed, quiet air-conditioned carriage with comfortable seating and plenty of legroom. I could even put the little lap tray down on the seat in front, which has traditionally been prevented by my huge stomach.
Before long I was at my destination, and wandered up from the train station to The Bull Ring shopping centre. This frankly terrible 80’s eye sore has benefitted immensely from regeneration, and although I’ve seen the end product before one can’t help taking a selfie with the big brass bull at the entrance.
When I got to Birmingham initially it seemed that little had changed. Moor Street Station seemed just the same, and so did all the shops – however a quick walk around the corner from the bull proved that nothing could be further from the truth.
New Street Station was gone – replaced with an immense new mirror fronted ‘Grand Central’ station. It looks REALLY good. I couldn’t get a good picture of the new facade, as the sky clouded over and made it look brutally depressing – but this is how I USED to remember it vs how it is now in photos I found online.
The mirrors covering it are quite slimming too, depending on where you stand under them. 😄
Look! I’m teeny tiny!
I instantly became more fascinated with what had changed and less concerned with my intended destination. As I moved around Grand Central I noticed the cinema I’ve wanted to visit for ages. The Electric.
It claims to be the oldest in the UK and from what I’ve heard from people who’ve been there it’s about as premium an experience as it’s possible to get at the flicks. I remember it being a porn cinema in the late 80’s – so things are definitely on the up!
However there was absolutely nothing on that I felt like watching, which was a real shame. Maybe another day…
I moved inside Grand Central for a look about. It’s a very odd sensation standing in the middle of something I knew as one thing for the whole of my childhood and now it’s incomprehensibly different.
Inside it was a cavernous and impressive space, full of premium shops and concessions. I’m sure there were also trains somewhere but they were cleverly hidden. It was all a far cry from its aging and draughty predecessor.
As I emerged from the back of it (I really had no idea where I’d come out) I instantly recognised the old New Street ‘ramp’. Anyone who’s lived in Birmingham will know (and probably hate) this old entrance to the station that smashed people into each other – all moving in opposite directions.
Sadly it’s still there.
As I ambled up toward the museum past the new tram network (none seemed to be running strangely so no pics) I began to grasp what some of the ladies from Slimming World meant when they said there was a lot of construction going on. The huge old central library is now a crater and the site is being slowly cleared for (snore) an office block.
Back in the 90’s this is how it looked. I used to sit on the steps close by the entrance to eat my packed lunch when I came here, and watch people go about their day until the cold concrete made my bum go numb.
Now the march of progress has taken what was admittedly a pretty damn ugly building and will replace it with… who knows? I’ll have to go back in 2018 to find out according to the advertising hoarding.
Things have moved on a lot I guess and we don’t necessarily need the library any more now we have the internet at our fingertips – but I can’t help feeling a twinge of sadness. I used to go there sometimes to look at the microfilms of old newspapers and travel back in time to specific dates in history to see what people had to say about Kennedy being assassinated or the moon landings.
Some things haven’t changed however – and the Town Hall and Museum look just the same as ever.
Although I don’t know much about him my great uncle was Lord Mayor of Birmingham from 1929-1930. Various places in the centre are named after our family – and I always used to smile a little bit when I went around Lancaster Circus on the bus back in the 1990’s. My dad still has his large, heavy truncheon of office with the crest of Birmingham emblazoned on it. I remember when I held this weighty teak police baton for the first time it filled me with a strange sense of pride and for some reason it’s remained in my memory ever since.
With a nostalgic smile I moved on to the museum and art gallery.
Pretty much as soon as I stepped inside I decided it wasn’t for me. The layout had completely changed and the museum side that I loved as a child (with big dinosaur bones etc) seemed to have been replaced with entirely underwhelming things.
On top of that it was HORRENDOUSLY hot, meaning I was soon sweating like mad – and for a big guy wearing a light blue shirt on this is NOT a good look. After a short 20 minutes I exited stage left and decided to wander elsewhere.
That elsewhere ended up being Birmingham Cathedral – which I initially wandered into to look at the stained glass, and kind of got trapped in the middle of a lunchtime service. As the lady vicar was talking and there were quite a few people there thought it only polite to sit and listen.
Although I’m not religious the tone of the service was well meaning and thoughtful. It was kind and inclusive and came with a message of love and tolerance, so I found I rather enjoyed the brief ten minutes I spent in there.
As it was an active place of worship I thought it would be rather rude to start taking photographs, and moved on instead to find something to eat. This turned out to be a punnet of strawberries, some turkey pieces and two apples, which I ate sitting in the middle of the bullring by the church watching people talking.
Most of them seemed to be families arguing oddly. I wasn’t sure why. At least two of them were in spirited disagreement about where to eat. Choice it seems is not always a good thing. I was in a pretty good mood in contrast – even though I’d found Birmingham to be largely underwhelming rather than the scary place it had become in my restricted fat man’s brain.
I finished my strawberries, drank my mineral water and headed back to the train. Before long I was on the express to London Marleybone, whizzing back to Warwick and my waiting car.
All in all internet I’m happy with the day. I walked almost 8km around Warwick and Birmingham, and my calf muscle (carefully stretched and medicated before I started moving) played the game. It didn’t pander to my fears and strand me far from home. I also didn’t overeat and I conquered a silly silly fear.
I moved another step forward.