New Year. New Opportunities.

I got onto the towpath at the Gas Street Basin, bag full with laptop, books, cds, chargers, everything. It was going to be a tough one this, as I had two libraries to go to, and people to meet. I didn’t know at the time if I would be going to the Flatpack launch party at the Jekyll and Hyde that night. I knew that I definitely wasn’t going to the film screening at Birmingham Cathedral (a shame, as I thought it was a lovely setting for events, having seen the fantastic Will Self prowl the floor there last year at the Birmingham Book Festival.) I had timelines to draw, proposals to finalise, and washing to put out.

No time for a drink at the Wellington on Bennetts Hill later either, as I had been thinking about a quick run later. The first job was for the while all I could focus on. Meeting my friend Lizzy with some flyers for her film screening next Thursday at Café Ort. Around me, people walked purposefully with coffees in hand. They were focused and knew-what-they-were-doing. I decided to blank out the world until I got to the ICC, and listened to the latest Metalheadz podcast.

The music ebbed and flowed in time with the ripples in the canal made as ducks swam over to the brown sliced bread that had been thrown in earlier. A bird swooped over my head and into my vision as the dub effects soared and eddied into my brain. The air was sweet with the wood burning smell made by the barges, combined with the sharp yeasty belch that comes from the air conditioning unit at the Tap and Spile. The music echoed in my ears as I went under the bridge, and I emerged out, now onto Brindley Place. If I squinted the sign above the entrance to the ICC looked as though it was hovering in mid-air, and I took the steps over the bridge two at a time. Above the sign was a banner, featuring two businessmen locked in discussion, perhaps on their way to a meeting or a lunch. ‘New Year. New Opportunities’ the sign read. ‘Opportunities.’ The word denoted hope and possibilities, and I said it to myself rather like David Brent would in ‘The Office’. Over the next few weeks I would be writing about Birmingham’s re-birth, spurred on by the festivals that were going to celebrate and re-think the city. ‘New Year. New Opportunities.’ The podcast stopped of its own accord, and I went into the ICC.

Outside the ICC I was faced with the most recent developments with the New Central Library. The cage around the windows was nearing completion, and I marvelled how the structure was coming on. All under the shadow, the watchful eye of the Hyatt and the ICC. A familial influence I thought, the phallic Hyatt and the maternal ICC’s offspring. The new addition to the family, who they will watch over and nurture through its development, echoed by the imagery of a father and daughter reading over an exploding book, a book of ideas. The library was nearing completion, and I wondered what pictures were in my archive of its construction, the entire gestation period. The fence around the construction site showed, the city transformed, the architects’ vision of the library in its callow youth, with the inhabitants of Birmingham traversing, children and adults, ideals of multi-cultural unity,locked in conversation and wonderment. all under a glorious red sunset. The new opportunities.

For the while, no humans were there, they were all still using Paradise Forum, under the Central Library. Contractors in hi-vis jackets piled into Eat4Less, students from the Food College queueing in McDonalds and Greggs. Outside, the wonderful view from the entrance of Victoria Square, the fountains and the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and The Town Hall. I looked up at the Central Library behind me, flanked by its two fast food chains. I thought that the current library knew that its time was up, but was gracefully accepting in the face of its forthcoming demise, and had been happy that it had had a good life during its existence in the city. Sure, it had been maligned and denigrated, but it wore its scars and insults as badges of honour, and had many supporters and defenders, including me. When I saw Lizzy, she commented on how in 2013, she would see the Library taken down brick by brick, the cranes and diggers in action. She knew it would be an end of an era. But as the old died, the new would arrive. There would be a commemoration at some point, and a toast would be raised to this fine example of Brutalist architecture, and its cosy, inviting interiors. This lovely, slightly eccentric old uncle of the city, ready with his digestive biscuits and tales of the 70s. Under the eye of Paradise Forum we talked, and I pocketed the flyers.

It was time to get on with it, and I made my way down to Tesco’s for a bottle of water – 42p for 2 litres would set me up for the day. The buskers weren’t out yet, and there was no market, just a youth on a bike barking at some young girls sitting on a bench to my left in the distance. I wondered where he was going today, but I carried on with purpose, avoiding the ladies with their surveys. It was still quite early. Not even the chuggers were out, the boys with their quirky little dancing and the girls with their endearing flirting. Even Tesco’s was calm, apart from when I swore as I nearly decapitated myself when I lent over the escalator rail to gaze at the meat aisle, and just dodged an oncoming beam. Would a headless man in Tesco’s be cause for alarm, the head rolling in the aisle just before the pick and mix? I didn’t think so, it hadn’t even registered with the short, natty suited businessman behind me who chewed his bottom lip in thought. It wasn’t a problem. My head still intact, I got the correct bottle of water I was looking for, and went back down the escalator, trying to read the headlines of the papers. Cheryl Cole, in a low cut dress, had thought that she had pulled one over on Simon Cowell by joining the new BBC1 flagship show ‘The Voice.; Simon Cowell’s hair had inexpertly cut out as part of the collage and positioned underneath Ms Cole in her womanly finery, probably designed to make him look like he was the underdog in this situation. I thought that in reality though, he wouldn’t care, and nor did I as I paid for my water. The cashier was lovely.

Outside, I headed up Temple Street, as I thought the barking youth may be about, and I didn’t want any confrontation. I was going to take a left and make my way to the right of the Library, past the Council Houses, but the wind was taking me in the direction of Pigeon Park, to Urban Coffee Company on Church Street. Tomorrow, as part of the Flatpack Festival, the coffee shop would be hosting a free event called Dust in the Attic, an archive programme of short films programmed by the fringe festival Filmbug, which I was looking forward to going to. However today, the shop was crammed full of businesspeople, all locked in discussion, in meetings, or in lunch. I put my coffee and flyers on top of a folded up copy of the business section in the Telegraph and got to work. When I’d finish, I’d get to the Gosta Green campus of BCU, and then head back to the flat to hang the washing out and have some beans on toast. Then get back to the library.


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