Birmingham wouldn’t have been top of our list of destinations on our world tour if it hadn’t been where our friend Carrie is currently living. I must say though, it struck me as a vibrant, culturally interesting city – which was a lot more than I expected.
It was of course lovely to have a proper catch up with Carrie, with whom I shared many a gloomy coffee in Mozambique as things started to go from bad to worse in the last few years. We are both ‘get things done’ kind of girls, and shared many frustrations as well as some successes. We also share a deep frustration and sense of resignation about the future trajectory of the country we both love, and having seen the writing on the wall, both decided to leave.
Lauren and I went up on the train on Friday, and stayed over Saturday. Friday afternoon I took Lauren to Bounce, a trampoline park. Google wasn’t quite accurate with its estimates, so instead of the forecast 20 minutes on the bus to get to the place, it took nearer to an hour, but we got an interesting insight into some of the less salubrious suburbs before being deposited at an industrial park on the outskirts of Birmingham. She had the place to herself for the first half an hour, and then obviously schools finished and there was an influx of kids. There was a big group of black kids at a birthday party and it was funny and a bit sad seeing her excitement turn to confusion as they had broad brummie accents and no clue where Mozambique was. Nonetheless, she made friends and by the time we were leaving they were all shouting goodbye and one of the mothers came hurrying over with a party bag.
We met up with Carrie after another interesting couple of bus rides during rush hour, with Lauren insisting on going ‘up top’ on the double decker, and me trying to follow our route on google maps so I could take a guess where to jump off.
Being Birmingham, we went for an awesome curry, and spent the evening catching up on each others’ news.
The next day, we reconvened at the local caff, for bacon sandwiches and more ‘nattering’ (acc. To Lauren who had her head, as usual, stuck in a Wimpy Kid book). The owner of the café came and sat with us and had our life story out of us before we finished our first cup of coffee.
The weather was bracing but largely dry, so we decided to go for a walk along the canal. There are lots of canals in Birmingham, including three that all join together at a sort of ‘roundabout’ in the city centre. I’d just been reminiscing about happy family holidays aboard a canal boat (and telling the story of mum falling in heavily pregnant with my brother, dad getting it stuck horizontally across the canal, and the time cows chewed through the rope overnight sending us floating downstream) when we came upon a series of locks. We explained the logic of the locks and how they worked to Lauren, and just as we finished we were lucky enough to get a live demo. A lovely couple let Lauren help with the whole process, much to her delight.
Once we got to the centre we visited the Staffordshire hoard at the City Museum – well worth it. It’s the largest hoard of Anglo Saxon gold ever found, and dates from the 7th/8th centuries. It was found in a field in 2009 and includes items made from in total 5 kilos of gold, 1.4 kilos of silver and 3,500 garnets. Some of the materials came from India, China, North Africa etc. There is nothing comparable in terms of content and quantity in the UK or mainland Europe and no one really knows why it would have been buried where it was.
We oohed and aahed and enjoyed the very cool interactive displays for a while, and Lauren dressed up as an anglo saxon child of the kingdom of Mercia (it’s fair to say she was humouring me at this point) before heading out for a last coffee and then a final goodbye (for now) before we got back on the train to London.
We came away with a much-improved image of Birmingham, which seems to have a full repertoire of cultural and quirky events (if you don’t believe me, google ‘Birmingham Big Sleuth Bears’) and a vibrant city centre. It was of course sad to say goodbye to Carrie, but lovely to see her happy and settled, successfully transplanted from Beira to Birmingham.
And we will be back, if only to see the bears 😊.