Birmingham

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I was in Birmingham, England yesterday, for no important reason. This is the polished bit of their city center, where the nice shops and the good shopping center are. Isn’t it nice. It was a 20 degree day as well, with a warm breeze. I sat at that cafe and drank two beers. Two icy cold Stella’s, in those classy rounded pint glasses with a stem. It was lush. My walk to the museum afterwards took me past all the heavyweight Victorian-era monolithic stone buildings, with their carvings and engravings. Belfast city center has ’em too, like Birmingham it was also a player in the industrial revolution. But Birmingham is more impressive in that regard I’d say. The museum was a washout for me. I was pretty tired, didn’t really didn’t have the energy. But it was a good one, I’d go again. A series of rooms took you past a real bounty of stuff on the walls, mostly religious, as is the way of it it seems, moving backwards through the centuries- the last room being chock-full of 14th century Church ‘triptychs’ and ‘diptychs’ produced by individuals who were probably certifiably insane by modern standards. I exited the museum and immediately slumped down on the steps outside, basking in the full glare of the sun for a few minutes. In my knackered state I had the less than inspired idea to tilt my phone when taking this picture of the town hall to my left:

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It looks like a snap in a cheesy language-learning school textbook: ‘Marta and Elena took a bus to the city center. Marta loved the town hall, but Elena wasn’t so keen!’

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Near-Death Experience

I taught English in Vietnam for 18 months three years ago. On balance it was a brutal experience that I wasn’t equipped to handle, but that’s a separate story. It’s day two of my write something every day resolution and I’ve had to turn to prompts. ‘My scariest experience’ jumped out at me. It was thus-

I went with my girlfriend to a seaside town called Vung Tau two hours (by hovercraft, no less) from Ho Chi Minh City. We surfed and swam and played pool and ate out then caught the hovercraft back the next day. When I got home I realised I had forgotten to get my passport back from the guesthouse people. I would have to make the trip again to retrieve it, which I did, alone, the next week.

The heat was terrible on the day I went, as it was every day in Vietnam. I got the passport, then crossed the empty sand and weed-strewn coastal highway to the beach, to have a lonesome swim in the sea. Nobody on earth knew where I was. I wanted to add to that effect by swimming out beyond the waves.

[This is starting to look very stupid of me actually, but there you go]

There were smatterings of Vietnamese folk chilling on the beach all up and down the long stretch of coastline. I stowed my t-shirt and shoes under a plastic deck chair and swam out. I was surprised at the size of the waves up close, as you tend to be. They were forming in scary swells a distance from the beach and crashing down from a neck-craning height above me. But I pushed on and swam underwater and got past the area where they were breaking until I turned round and it was quiet and the people on the beach were very tiny. I drank that feeling in for a minute or two treading water then started to head back in, aware that I’d have trouble on the return leg where the waves were breaking but not worrying myself about it.

When I got to that area however shit got real without warning. A huge wave broke right on to me, leaving me gasping in the wash, then exerted powerful dragging forces while the next one loomed up behind. People on the beach remained tiny and after fighting to escape two or three big waves and their aftermath I quite suddenly reached failure and could no longer bring any force to my stroke and started to flail. I was being overcome, and I thought ‘fuck, I’m going to die’. It was a really lonely moment and scary but I also felt incredulous- can’t fucking believe this.

A last ditch attempt to save myself was to see whether my feet were anywhere near the bottom despite being so far from the beach, it might have been one of those weird beaches. I pointed my feet down expecting fathoms below me and it turns out I was standing at neck-height amid the crashing waves. So that was that. But still, scary stuff for a minute.