The peculiar thing about Birmingham is that it's a very topsy turvy city. There is no centre from which everything else radiates. There is, of course, a city centre, but everything is hidden below and above each other. You need to know where to find it. One moment you'll be in a state-of-the-art shopping centre, then suddenly China town will be below you, or the brick work of a railway embankment or canal bridge will ascend high above you. There is everything in a very small space. It is no less diverse as you travel across it: jump on a train from student-central Selly Oak, with its rows upon rows of terraces, and on your way to the centre you'll pass allotments, the Botanic Gardens and the leafy loveliness that is Edgbaston and then descend beneath a mass of roads and warehouses. Keep going and you'll pass the deprived yet captivating areas of Duddeston and Aston, canals and flyovers, and suddenly find affluence all over again. Then Birmingham ends, there are fields (of brussel sprouts) and then... Lichfield.
On Sunday, Rachel and I went to Lichfield for an adventure. We knew little about the place, other than that it lies at the end of the invaluable Selly Oak to Birmingham New Street train line. Turns out, it's quite the gem.
Formerly more important than Birmingham, Lichfield is a small city steeped in history - it is, for example, the birthplace of Dr Samuel Johnson, author of the first dictionary - quietly tucked away in the Midlands. We arrived at about 1.30, finding first a shopping centre that felt oddly reminiscent of Exeter years ago. There was an Adams. I suspect if we'd have looked closely enough there would have been a QS and a Peacocks too. Rachel was keenly looking out for a C&A. Then suddenly the brick work ages dramatically, the pedestrianised streets become paved, the tudor houses come out in force, and there are cloisters. It is the type of place that can get away with having a hat shop.
The world is a better place because hat shops still thrive in places like this.
But, in truth, it took us several hours to find all of this, despite being just minutes walk from the train station. This is because it was lunchtime, and no adventure would be complete without a good sit down meal. Fortunately for us, there is the Kaspico cafe, which, you see, serves fantastic food at bargain prices. A roast, for example, will set you back £4. So will a Honey Roast Pork Shank with lots of lovely vegetables.
Guess what I had?
The shank was so large that the couple next to us felt inclined to wish me luck before I started, and we are fairly sure that the staff behind the counter took bets as to whether I could polish it off. It was enormous; but I was not defeated. On leaving, the cafe owner even asked me if I had managed it. I like to think that I left them in awe.
On we went (slowly), through the market square to the cathedral, a truly inspiring piece of architecture. And on, to the house of Erasmus Darwin, now a museum to the doctor, inventor, poet and influential evolutionist. His house looks out on his herb garden and, behind it, the giant cathedral. We tried to do the museum as quickly as possible. Running out of time but genuinely interested, we desperately tried not to let down the man at the welcome desk, who had valiantly put so much effort into explaining what we could see and learn, how best to structure our visit, and how to use our audio guides. All we had really wanted was to pop in and look around in a few minutes, but he had seemed so happy that we'd picked up the audio guides. The look on his face as we left was one of genuine hurt and crushing disappointment. I promise here and now to go back and do his museum justice.
Anyway, then we had to go home: back to the train station and back to studentville.
(Via the fudge shop.)