Years ago, I worked for around six months in the centre of Birmingham, somewhere in the shadow of the old Nat West Tower and directly opposite the – then brand new – Copthorne Hotel.
Returning to the area a few years ago, I couldn’t find any way to reconcile my memories with the reality: – the development and construction work in the city centre has been tremendous and the landscape has changed both along the skyline and at ground level.
In the 70s and 80s, I must have slept uncomfortably on a bench any number of times while waiting at Digbeth, but now I no longer travel much by coach, so haven’t seen the refurbished Coach Station. The train station at New Street, however, is as inhospitable as it ever was.
It’s also even less navegable than it used to be, before the polished chrome banner of Grand Central was unfurled above it.
Nearby, the Selfridges building bubbles out into the blue
– or perhaps more often it balloons out against solid grey.
Despite the glorious bronze bull, the current Bullring is completely at odds with my memories of a slightly sleazy indoor market.
The Nat West Tower has been demolished and I gather that the Copthorne, too, is scheduled for replacement. As I said, the Hotel was brand new when I worked opposite, teaching the basics of word processing, databases and spreadsheets to diverse professionals from business owners and directors to secretaries; the company provided lunch for students and teachers at the Hotel and it was the poshest place I’d ever eaten.
It’s true that I know nothing about architecture, but how anyone can believe that the hula-hoop façade of the new Library is preferable to the practical Brutalist functionality of the Tower, I’m not sure.
As for the sweeping curve of steps down from Paradise Forum into Chamberlain Square, it is also long gone, but is preserved in my memory in a slow-motion scene of the moment when a treasured necklace broke and the beads bounced and danced, scattering down the progression of stone levels towards the Museum and Art Gallery.
This long ramble through the centre of Birmingham was prompted by a couple of the signs on the current construction outside the new library.
Some of the ‘improvements’ to the city are not at all to my liking, but they are part of someone’s approved plan and if I were the City Council, I don’t think I’d really like them to be associated with spectacular set-backs.
Although the underlining is trying hard to compensate for the phrasing, I really think the line breaks could have been better chosen there. Or perhaps we could just lose the set-back completely: a ‘spectacular al fresco terrace’ sounds a lot more appealing to me.
Returning to the sign that opens this post, I can’t help wondering if the copywriter has ever heard of Joni Mitchell. Perhaps the same person who proposed the name Grand Central is aiming to re-brand the city taxis and make them yellow.
(You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone)
Despite our protests – and we did protest:
24 hour sit-ins, coverage on television, letters
in The Times – but still, despite all this, the council sold
that plot at the top of Paradise Lane. George says
a multi-storey carpark on the edge of town will ease
congestion in the High Street, but I reckon
we should take a wider view.
I always do my bit for Mother Earth. I buy
organic at the Eco-drome – it’s not much more
than twice the supermarket price. I’ve told George
he’ll miss it when there’s only Granny Smiths
and Golden D’s; we have to take a stand
although it means we can’t afford
his favourite brand of whisky now.
I’m afraid that George resented my participation
in the Tree Camp; I know he wasn’t sure
I ought to give the house key to the Organiser,
but it meant we all could use a decent loo
and bath from time to time. He doesn’t see
you can’t do press conferences thick with grime
from squatting in a nest at 40 feet. (And as we live
so close, it was ideal for charging laptops, mobile phones
and digicams.) Still, that’s all over now.
Even the environmentalists agreed
the elms were too far gone to save.
Last night, while I was busy swotting up on killer bees
for Mr H’s talk – it helps if someone in the audience
has done their homework and can start the questions – George
went out. He didn’t tell me where, which is unlike him,
but I heard the door slam and a car start. (He must have called
a taxi, though he knows we should use public transport.)
The meeting was a great success. It went on rather late
so we went straight to Women’s Poems by Candlelight
at the Recreation Ground, stayed up to greet the dawn,
then fair-trade coffee round at Maxine’s. Of course he’d gone
to work when I got home. I hope he isn’t late tonight:
I want to tell him all about the ‘Underpass or Bridge?’ debate
– they say a bridge is safer after dark, but haven’t thought
that hedgehogs can’t climb metal steps…
It’s odd, you know; the house seems very quiet today.