Having visited Birmingham on numerous occasions, I now feel the need to bring forth a few pearls of wisdom for the benefit of others. My apologies if that sounds a bit messy.
Birmingham is called Britain’s ‘second city’, however I wouldn’t take this as any indication of quality. I think it only gets on the podium because of how many people it has crammed into it. Unless you know where to look it appears to be a barren, soulless place that, unlike Liverpool or Newcastle, doesn’t even have any working-class bonhomie to endear itself to nation’s psyche. Indeed, the only thing to be said for Birmingham is that, geographically, it is in the middle.
The casual visitor to Birmingham has probably arrived there through no fault of their own. It is most likely that they have been sent there by their callous employers to spend several days of brain-numbing tedium by manning a trade-show stand at the National Exhibition Centre. Had they been given a choice in the matter then they’d probably have found something better to do, like nailing their testicles to a wall.
The NEC is the UK’s largest exhibition venue and it is about five miles from the centre of Birmingham. They built it in Birmingham partly because it is ‘in the middle’, but mostly because Birmingham had bugger-all else to keep the population employed after we scrapped the motor, steel and ceramics industries in a fit of Thatcher’s pique.
If you take a look at the NEC website you’ll see that it hosts such exciting extravaganzas as ‘The Workwear and Corporate Clothing Show’, ‘Embedded Systems Expo’ and even ‘Aesthetics Today’. The vast NEC site comprises around twenty exhibition halls the size of aircraft hangers. Any of these are capable of becoming temporarily transformed into nylon carpeted paradises for the statically-charged benefit of those whose lives revolve around corporate clothing or embedded systems.
Having said that, I find it hard to believe how the NEC could ever be transformed into anything that would keep the Aesthetes happy. Perhaps the organisers booked Birmingham by mistake, it’s easily done as it is next to Barcelona in the big book of exhibition venues.
So if you have been forced to glad-hand stand visitors, like a grinning buffoon, for eight hours, where do you escape thereafter for some more interesting activities? Preferably with some infinitely more stimulating company i.e. your own.
For food, Birmingham excels in Indian cuisine. This is because the city invented the ‘Balti’. This means you get to eat your curry out of the saucepan it was cooked in. This saves money on the washing up, hence it is very cheap. The famous area where the best food is to be found is called the ‘Balti Triangle’, indeed it inspired Barry Manilow to write a song about it.
For sporting entertainments there is speedway racing at Monmore Green in Wolverhampton (North Birmingham) and greyhound racing at Hall Green (South Birmingham). The latter also has an excellent restaurant enabling you to dine in comfort, whilst you spunk your expenses budget away on sluggish hounds that have probably been dining on porridge.
For the aesthetes amongst you that are bitterly disappointed that ‘Aesthetics Today’ is being held at the NEC, there are three great art galleries in Birmingham.
There’s Birmingham Art Gallery, and the Water Hall Modern Art Gallery which is right next to it. Then there’s the Barber Institute of Fine Arts which has a very eclectic permanent collection housed in an interesting 1930s deco building.
All of these galleries usually have excellent temporary exhibitions, except for Birmingham Art Gallery which seems to concern itself more with patronising exhibitions driven by tedious concepts such as ‘diversity’, ‘inclusion’ and ‘youth’. For example they had one about ‘hair’, possibly because the local youth are now serving their apprenticeships in hairdressing rather than engineering.
Although these exhibitions reach new lows of drivel they no doubt get the gallery the Arts Council funding they’re after. So, on the plus side, the gallery does get to maintain the best collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings in the world.
For the ‘not so aesthetically minded’ Birmingham also boasts a wide array of massage parlours, should the urgent need for a rub and tug arise.
For my other travel guides to the UK click here.