Another weekend exploring Birmingham on a budget – this time with the benefits of the Birmingham Weekender Festival as we wandered around.
First stop after a beautiful stroll down the canal into the city was the IKON gallery, as I introduced Karl to the Vanley Burke exhibition (which I have previously reviewed) before it disappeared. I love this space which is free to enter and it was great revisiting the Burke exhibition and getting to notice some of the detail I missed the first time round.The gallery is providing one of the venues for the forthcoming Birmingham Literature Festival. This weekend the space outside provided one of the venues for the Birmingham Weekender events. One of the acts on there we enjoyed was The Choir With No Name. Looking at this choir it was obvious this was a scratch choir with a purpose for the participants. They gave a great performance of a range of songs from the sixties to the present. Whilst there were aspects of the performance which could have been a bit more polished they were very good and any odd (and they were very few and far between) deficiencies in quality were certainly made up by passion.
From there we wandered through to the new Library of Birmingham via the Birmingham Rep where Karl played dressing up. Like Manchester’s redesigned library this is a building which is intended very much to be a community destination. It has a very contemporary design but is also quite classic. As we went exploring we saw signs to “The Secret Garden”. This got us interested and so we headed up to the seventh floor, (squeezing in to lifts which are a tad too small, and listening to random Shakespeare quotes within said elevator). The secret garden was more than we expected. It really is a beautiful space where plants and seating provide a place to chill and be whilst looking out over the ever changing city. On a fine day like we had it was a wonderful place to be….and being a public library it is free. As somebody who used to enjoy sitting and reading up on the Tate Modern members room rooftop terrace when I was in the south I was excited to discover this space. There is a Coke machine in the nearby corridor if you want to pick up a drink whilst you’re up there. One of the things I loved about this though was it was a non-commercial area.
Then it was off to the Museum and Art Gallery to have a wander round and pick up a snack. One of the things we wanted to do was visit the Edwardian Tea Rooms. Now, we were a bit worried about what the price would be and were ready to be really careful. Yet, we were surprised. For under £14 we were able to get a great lunch. Karl got a big bacon butty with door steps of bread and a tasty, healthy, fresh salad together with a drink whilst I got one of the best tea and scone combo’s I’ve ever had. The tea came out in a huge metal tea-pot and I was worried how I was going to get through it, but in reality it was enough for two large cups. There was a lovely tea strainer to use and the tea was not bad. It was the scones, cream and jam which got me though. I was completely bowled over.
There were four small scones who came out on a log tray with a small glass jar with strawberry jam in and another with clotted cream. The scones were still warm and were just the right consistency, so they weren’t dry or too crumbly. The one drawback was our cutlery holder was out of knives so we had to go and raid a nearby cutlery tin.As we sat in the comfortable arm chairs looking at the art on the wall and the museum gallery above we reflected on whether this was value for money or not. Now, it was a little more expensive than you would normally pay for lunch but not that much more. We sat and reflected how much you would spend in Starbucks for a drink and sandwich or cake and the difference was not as much as you would think. Additionally, the butty was much larger than you would get and the scones were something you would not pick up in an average coffee shop. Yes, this is a treat not an every weekend thing but in an otherwise free day it was well worth the investment.
After eating we wandered round the museum which gave an enlightening insight into Birmingham’s past. The thing I found most interesting was reflecting on the reason why migration has been so central to the city…..the fact it was not given a royal charter and so had more freedoms to offer religious dissenters and others who may have been viewed as undesirable at various points of our history as well as being a manufacturing centre.The history’s past wealth does have the shadow of slavery hanging over it and this was acknowledged in an appropriate way without dwelling on it.
Overall, I enjoyed wandering round and feeling that this museum was rooted in the same kind of values as those in Liverpool and Glasgow. Social history has been important and remains so.After we left this magnificent building we headed round the corner to Victoria Square where we picked up some more of the festival. We found seats on artificial grass and were able to enjoy the Hackney CollieryBand playing their contemporary brass. The band had a new Sax player who was particularly talented. The sound quality wasn’t always great, as is often the case with such events where the PA can be a bit dodgy but the music was great and the mixed age crowd had fun.
So far loving exploring this new city which has so much to offer in terms of history, culture and art.