Shops, restaurants and Tories
As you know, this week, Birmingham's International Convention Centre will be the venue for the Conservative Party conference. No doubt many will welcome this for it's going to bring extra revenue and business for the second city though, I'm afraid, we'll have to contend with Harriets and Henrys wandering around the place carrying copies of The Times and The Daily Telegraph.
And so, to a degree, that's all happy and good.
But, sadly, the city centre has still got a long way to go before it can put itself on par with other major European cities.
Let me explain.
On Saturday afternoon I went for lunch with a friend at the canalside near Broad Street. Having forgotten about the conference we were startled to see the ICC cordoned off with checkpoints. There was so much activity going on, so many police officers and sniffer dogs swarming around the place, you'd think the city councillors were having another staff development day!
Anyway, it was my first close up of the new library sandwiched between The Rep. and Baskerville House. Now I don't know about you but I can't be the only one who thinks it looks rather shambolic in terms of structure. It seems it's squashed rather incongruously, amongst neo classical architecture that has graced that end of Broad Street for over a couple of hundred years.
Did the library have to go there - a giant piece of lego edifice that baffles as much as it amuses the general public? What will the Tories from all over the country - especially those from the shires of middle England - make of it, I wonder? This our second city.
And it's not just Broad Street. The Pallasades, The Pavilion, New Street and Corporation Street have, over the last ten years, been looking decidedly crestfallen and dejected. They're sitting isolated, neglected under the shadow of the great Bullring that has clearly taken all the trade, all the punters. I ask you, do people these days really shop in New Street? And be honest, but when was the last time you bought something from Corporation Street? These places are littered with low quality, fly-by-night retail stores and pound shops selling everything and nothing.
And Martineau Place, outside Sainsburys and WH Smith. Can there be anything more sad than that barren piece of ground that once enjoyed the hustle and bustle of shoppers? Now it sleeps unperturbed like some land that time forgot. Even my own poem wedged in the concrete ground in bronze lettering - celebrating the spirit of the shoppers - is poetic irony in motion.
I suggest that anyone arriving for the conference keeps away from these black holes - they're dead and, to be honest, not particularly aesthetic. Not even the interior of House of Fraser looks particularly inviting.
But then you might also want to rethink where you eat. On Saturday afternoon, my friend and I wanted brunch in a restaurant next to some canal boats. It was 12.15. The chef, we were told, doesn't do brunch after 12. Instead the waitress tried to cajole us into having a rump steak.
I felt we were in the sixties when shops closed on a Wednesday afternoon so that retailers could do their accounts. And talking to the waitress was like talking to an old fashioned market trader who says he can get what you want but if he can't get, you don't want it. You're better off having this instead!
I don't want to sound like a traditionalist but I think if Birmingham wants to be taken seriously it has to look serious and mean business and that also means giving the customers what they want. Not what shoddy retailers think we need.
This is, I believe, the 21st century, is it not?