School Reunion part one #indielove

I am going to a school reunion at the end of this month. My secondary school, Holly Lodge, recently had an open day and a lot of ‘old’ girls and boys went along to see the new buildings. I was away that weekend, or I would have gone. I loved school, really, I would wake up every day and look forward to going. So after a few had posted on the Holly Lodge Facebook Page, somehow plans were made for some of us to meet up again.

As some of the girls are coming up for the weekend, I offered to give them a mini guide of what to do in Birmingham while they are here. Simon Calder must have heard about this as he pipped me to the post in this article, 48 Hours in Birmingham.

As I think I know the city better and have an interest in promoting all things indie, I was not swayed and here is my guide, for a group of fantastic fiesty fifty something ‘old’girls’. We will not be wearing purple nor wearing red hats. However this is a Warning to you, Here Come the Girls!

Visit the Christmas Market, early. It is so busy later on and it gets a bit lairy for my liking. I do however recomend a sausage for lunch. DSCN9189A ride on the carousell may be fun though ladies!

Time for tea or coffee. Avoid the horrid chains and visit some of the best indie cafes there are. Yorks, Cherry Reds, (see also hereUrban, Six Eight (at the back of Rackhams) and Brewsmiths are all different and all fantastic for tea or coffee. In my view the best cake is at Six Eight, not don’t got to Druckers almost next door. Really no, don’t.

The music at Brewsmiths is fantastic and the furniture an eclectic mix of scrubbed pine and vintage. A bacon butty and a muc of builders tea is my choice here, yet there is an amazing rage of teas and seriously good coffee.

Urban is also another favourite, New York loft style. Good coffee and tea although I don’t rate the food. But squashy sofas upstairs and good music make it a favourite of mine.

Six Eight cakes are to die for. Seriously, go.

Yorks is also loft style and have an interesting range of teas.

I have not visited Home is yet, but it is on my list as is Cherry Reds.

So that is coffee and cake sorted.

My next post will be shopping and why you have to visit the Crafty Muthas.

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Cinemas and why I avoid them

There are only three places I enjoy seeing films, they are, in this order:

The Roxy, Miramar (with Tim and Jo-Anne for company and after a fab meal at Coco’s)

The Electric Cinema, Birmingham (only if I get the big sofa and a loved up couple don’t sit next to me)

At home

I just hate going to the cinema. I recently wrote a blog post,  A guide to cinema etiquette about why I hate going but the family persuaded me that I would enjoy seeing The World’s End. As it was into the second week and has a 15 rating, most of the things that annoy me would be absent as it is a bit of a geeky film. This not to say that geeks will not break any of my rules, they are just less likely to. And I was right, none of my rules were breached.

Yet now I need to add more reasons not to go.

It is mind numbingly expensive.

£7 per adult. £21 for the three of us. We usually go for a morning showing for many reasons, one of them is that it is cheaper (£4).The other is to avoid the idiots who share a brain cell. While it is more expensive to go to The Electric, especially if you go for the sofa option, I do not resent a penny when I go there, as it is an independent, and the risk of any of my rules being broken is limited.  Except for last time, but my glares worked eventually and they left.

The food is of appalling quality and very expensive.

We chose to go for a 12.30 showing and I made the mistake of saying we would get food there. I would not be breaking my no eating during the film rule as we always get in to the cinema before the ads start. I had forgotten (I go so rarely) how much cinemas charge for crap food. (I have just looked at the nutritional values of the hot dog I ate and now know why I felt so ill later). Two hot dogs, one nachos and two diet cokes came to about £20 and a migraine.

It was too hot. And I am not complaining about the weather.

We were told, as we show our tickets, that Screen 10, where our film was to be shown, had no air conditioning. Normally in the UK this would not be a major issue (as it is always cold and wet here), except that we are experiencing a bit of a heatwave right now in England. Sunny Birmingham has averaged 28 degrees most days and the nights have been muggy. The nice people at the Odeon would refund us if we were too hot and left the screening in the first hour.

Odeon people, you are charging a fortune for entry and crap food so spend it on the air con or close the screens affected.

There had been a storm the previous day so the temperature had dropped a little, I was in a cotton dress and I had a fan with me. And my cold expensive cola. So I just about coped with the heat.

I eventually stopped grumbling and to the relief of the family I really enjoyed the film. It was funny and sad and thought-provoking. A bit laddish, not unsurprisingly, and hey we have all been there, wishing we could go back to some fixed points in time when we didn’t have a care in the world.  I liked it and I could happily watch it again. But not at the Odeon Birmingham Broadway Plaza. #indielove is not just for shops and coffee houses, it seems it is for the cinema too.

Problem at Pollensa Bay (aka another holiday disaster)

Earlier this week I was reminded of one of our many holiday disasters, see 9 Reasons Not to Travel, when there was a cruise ship on the telly box.  We were eventually shipped off Majorca by the Thomson Nightmare Dream, which is another post for another day, but this captures the last few hours of tranquillity before our epic journey home.  I wrote the following a few years ago after a creative writing workshop, led by Brendan Hawthorne at Bleakhouse Library in Sandwell

It was the only plane in the sky that day

Waves were lapping against the wall and I was lulled into a day dream by the soft murmur of voices in the cafe behind me. The clatter of plates, the clink of glasses, the smell of warm dough, made my stomach rumble as it baked in the pizza ovens. The sunlight sparkling on the sea, but all was not right with the world.

The sea plane broke this spell, its engines roaring as it took off over the bay, swooping birdlike across the landscape. It was the only plane in the sky that day.

IMG_1409

All other flights were grounded worldwide because of the volcanic eruption in Iceland.

I had been told that these planes regularly took off for practice flights. They would scoop up the sea then letting it tumble out, high on the hills, rehearsing for the regular summer fires they dampened down.

This was my first sighting and I grabbed for my camera trying to focus on the yellow dot in the glare of the sun. I had seen seaplanes in movies, the golden age of travel, ladies in their furs carrying hat boxes, men with trilby’s and neat moustaches. That must have been how this bay was when Agatha Christie set a short story here. Now I too was experiencing my own problems in Pollensa Bay.

Uncertainty had dominated the last three days. Sky TV updating us of the situation. Tears and tantrums from some, disbelief from all as the reality unfolded. No one could tell when or how we would be going home. Schoolchildren were delighted to have an extended break. Parents worried about their jobs, the car parking, goldfish and house plants. The lobby reverberated with the tap, tap, tap of fingers spelling out messages on their laptops, Blackberries and Apples, sending out an SOS to the world.

I had come down to the sea to get away from the buzz of anxiety, the speculation and constant information underload. Pine Walk was an escape from all this. Children searched for treasure with nets in rock pools, oblivious to the crisis that was unfurling, while parents huddled behind windbreakers wearing sweaters with shorts on the beach. In a few months they would be doing much the same in Rock or St Ives.  Meanwhile for Easter, families rented stucco villas as older couples wallowed in step back in time luxury at an Art Deco hotel, all taking early evening strolls after their siestas, to build up their appetite. Just as well heeled travellers just arrived by steamer from Barcelona may have done, in the halcyon days between the wars.

Similar journeys to those intrepid travellers of the thirties were now to be experienced by the world weary tourist. By land and sea from Spain to England, almost nonstop through France, with glimpses of cathedral spires in Barcelona, rush hour ring roads of Lyon and the well ordered allotments of Calais. No flights home for us this year. Departure lounges lay vast in their emptiness, floor polishers echoing around the shuttered mall. The baggage carousals, silently still, no lone suitcase revolving, unclaimed. Planes grounded in their hundreds on the runways, stretching out as far as the eye could see, white crosses marking casualties not of war, but of nature.

Still travelling

I started this blog to document my round the world trip with my husband. That was October 2011 and now we have been back in our home in Birmingham England, since February 2012.

So I have been back longer than I was away, yet my blog is still called travellingcoral and so it will continue to be. I was a traveller before my blog and I continue to travel. I may not be flying thousands of miles and living out of a back pack, yet I am still travelling. I carry my camera everywhere and look at my own country, my town, my city, as a traveller does. I have become a tourist in my own country. I see England and the UK differently now. And this is why.

When we were in Melbourne last year we met a man called Rob in Federation Square. He was in in 70’s and we got chatting as we sat on the deckchairs there. He gave us lots of tips about what to do and see in Melbourne. He told us of his work back in the 60’s and filled us in about the history of Melbourne. He was so proud of his English Heritage and of Melbourne. By coincidence we met him again the following day in the Botanic Gardens.

Now that place is huge, and the chance of bumping into someone are slim. We were meant to meet him I am sure of that. He then offered to give us a guided walk of the gardens and surrounding areas, which we were happy to do. Again his pride of Melbourne was impressive, sharing his knowledge of the history of the city and the country with us gave him joy. It was a brilliant day.

I struck me then that most Brits don’t seem proud of their heritage, are not very knowledgeable about the history of where they live, and are more likely to criticise the country rather than big it up. Rob wasn’t the first person we met who wanted to show off their city. Tim and Jo Anne who we met in Northland invited us to stay at their home in Wellington and took us to The Roxy Cinema after dinner at Coco’s. The next day they took us on the cable car to the Botanic Gardens. Tim also gave us an insiders tour of WETA.

Barb and Pete who we met in Haverstock took us to see our first Kangaroo in the suburbs of Lysterfield, Melbourne, picked us up to go to the Victoria Markets and invited us to share Christmas Day with their family.

Since I have been home I have revisited Weston, Stratford upon Avon, The Cotswolds, Winchester, Brecon and Hay on Wye. The family visited Sarehole Mill during the Tolkien weekend. I visited my daughter in London and went to a concert in Hyde Park.  I have started a list of places I have never visited in my own city including the Barber Institute. I visited the Love and Death exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery which also has the Staffordshire Hoard.

English: The Round Room at Birmingham Museum &...

English: The Round Room at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery Source – FlickR (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whenever possible I big up Birmingham  I met a family at a food festival in Birmingham who were here for the World BMX Championships They were really impressed with how beautiful the city is. And it is! They admitted that they had thought Birmingham was a grey and dirty city that they bypassed on the M6 to get to Manchester or the Lake District. When I told them that Birmingham hosted the biggest Christmas Market outside of Germany the mom was immediately making plans for her friends Christmas shopping trip. To Birmingham.

So I am still travelling….. are you?

Beer and Bread

Regular readers will know that I endeavor to shop locally whenever I can. I think it is important to buy local, to support local traders and to protect the environment by not using a car when I can walk.

However today I made a 6 mile round trip to buy a loaf of bread. My new Aussie friend and I went to Stirchley, a suburb of Birmingham.

I had visited the Stirchley Community Market earlier in the week with two of my foodie friends but had got there too late to get some bread from Loaf Online. To overcome our disappointment we indulged in delicious burgers from The Meat Shack and bought some interesting beers from Stirchely Wines. This has to be the best off license in Birmingham,  run by a very customer focused man, who tweets when the bread is delivered.

Despite the cold torrential rain , yes this is summer in England, we practically had to beat a path to his door and form an orderly queue for the bread. One he has tweeted the customers come.

And this is what I bought.

While I admire Stirchley and its traders and community for fighting back against the big retailers and giving people the opportunity to buy local good on the high street, there’s a bit inside me that is sad. I am sad because I cant buy bread like this on my high street. who tweets to tell his customers what special beers have just come in and that this week the bread will be olive and sun dried tomato.

Mary Portas wants to support local high streets to revitalise and a lucky 12 have just been announced as Portas Pilots. Stirchley Happenings knows what it is doing and is a blue print for other local communities. Bearwood can learn a lot from them.

So, I and many other Bearwood residents will beat a path to Stirchley Community Market once a month. We will plot how we can do something similar for our community, because Bearwood deserves a high street that reflect its community, one that provides social space for local artists and artisans to sell what they make.

In the meantime, Stirchley, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ll be back!