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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Bowels of the Earth

I went out shopping for shoes yesterday. It was a bank holiday so town was packed. A while ago I discovered a new parking space bang in the center by all the shops, just up a backstreet off the main street. I was up and out and in the car for 9.30am, like a legend, and got the spot when I arrived. It’s funny, I’ve known this row I parked the car on my whole life. I think most city centers probably have a version of the district it sits within. A dilapidated shoppping ‘arcade’, head shop, military surplus store, the work of accomplished graffiti people on run down facades, tiny art place behind glass shop front with an installation on display, comic book store, sex shops, gambling machine place. There was even a vinyl record store near my car. Manchester has a huge one of these- the Northern Quarter they call it. Belfast’s is just a few streets, which then extends into the still artsy but yuppified ‘Cathedral Quarter’. I’ve always felt like an imposter in these areas. I’m not mean enough for the mean streets. Debenhams is where I belong, trying on polo shirts like the sleepwalking capitalist slave I am.

But with all the positivity being up and out so early brought me I did spent some time around there, sticking another £1.20 in the meter on the street for an hour. The main thing I wanted to check out was the book shop. The inside of it took me by surprise. It extended back and back and back. It had a great ‘bowels of the earth’ feel, like what you want from a second-hand bookstore- the feeling you could discover something rare and precious. Having a wee adventure is always nice. Here’s a photo of the place:

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Amazing

Good Stuff

Good Stuff

I like coffee- it’s delicious- but I’ve never understood the ‘I need my coffee’ thing. It’s never done anything particularly dramatic to my system in terms of an energising effect. Then it gives me the jitters if I drink even the one cup too quickly. But these Starbuck’s ‘doubleshot espresso’ tins have been a revelation to me. They leave you properly switched on mentally- where it’s all working- you’re not just still scattered but now in a caffeine-y way. Then they somehow eliminate physical sluggishness even when you’re wrecked, like coffee never does usually. And all of it with no jitteriness whatsoever. I would recommend anyone reading this to try one, because they’re really special. I buy around six of them when I do a big shop and just hold them in reserve in the fridge. If you know what’s going on with them and can recommend other things like it, great.

Je Suis Charlie

Not really. No one cares if I’m Charlie or not. Al-Baghdadi, or whoever, himself would smile and roll his eyes and go ‘yeah mate, you’re Charlie’. ‘Excuse me but I am Charlie’ I’d insist in a squeaky voice. ‘Ok, you’re Charlie’ he’d reply, looking at his watch. ‘Listen, I’ve got to split’ he’d say, ‘but you’re Charlie yeah?’ I’d aim a scoffing smile at him acknowledging his piss-taking, but my stomach would be dropping. ‘Yeah’ I’d say, with whatever defiance I could muster. ‘Alright dude, I’ll speak to you later’ I’d hear him shout from the hall then, and the front door would bang shut. Fuck, I’d think, sinking into the sofa.

The BBC was funny on the day of the sieges. They immediately followed the hysteria of that main story with the news that Abu Hamza, the mad cleric with hooks for hands, has finally been imprisoned and won’t see the light of day again. It really felt like they were sticking the finger up to radical islamism. I didn’t see it but apparently they also showed a cartoon of Muhammad, summarily doing away with their years-long policy of not showing images of Muhammad under any circumstances. They just needed someone else, France, to take the initiative. It was like the time back in school when I saw a couple of kids bullying another kid walking in front of me and my friend and I wasn’t sure what to do, until this sports star guy from my year caught up with them and told them to cut it out, and I backed him up with a weak ‘yeah’.