Monday, 5 December 2011

Work avoidance

I'm not avoiding you lot, honest! It's just been one heck of an autumn. As countless people have now said to me wistfully, becoming a parent, getting a new job and moving house are generally considered three of the most stressful things to do, and we have done them all within the space of a couple of months. I know! What can I say, other than that it was unavoidable? Not for us the long, cold separation of husband-working-away-from-wife and wife-at-home-with-newborn-infant. The job surely came at the providential moment, and what else could we do but answer the call? We see it as a letting go - love is proven in the letting go, as C. Day Lewis wrote in another context - and, at the same time a leap into the unknown.

That said, our new town is becoming a little less unknown. My move to a Midlands university persuaded us that Birmingham was the place to go - against all stereotypes and its dreadful reputation - and we have not been disappointed. Birmingham is in point of fact a magnificent city of a thousand hues, from its green and leafy outskirts to its pug-ugly, greying 1960s architecture. I can leave the latter but I'm very grateful for the former.

Actually, there us much less of the 1960s greying architecture than I had feared. Birmimgham is still filled with the civic grandeur that the Chamberlains brought to town. Moreover, the square and lawns around the Anglican cathedral make a welcome Georgian contrast with the pedestrianised steel and glass splendour of the far more recent Bullring Shopping Centre.

And then there is the city's heart, or rather its belly: le ventre de Birmimgham, with its crowded fruit and veg market

where they sell amazing produce at £1 a bowl, and its glorious meat and fish market where you can buy everything from finest, unplucked game to dull-eyed, staring sheep heads.

This isn't the plastic-wrapped cosmopolis in its low-fat pomp; rather, it is like something lurching out of the Middle Ages, vulgar, red-raw and ponging to high heaven but deeply human to the core. I bow to this temple of food as often as I can.

But the true religion of Birmingham is its Catholicism: it is extraordinary how it seeps out of all its pores. From the magnificent St Chad's along one of the Queensways, to the Oratory on the Hagley Road.

It was no mistake a pope just had to come here to beatify the first English beatus who ever walked these streets.

So, you see, with all that, and my many parental and professional duties, I might be excused even light blogging, were it not for the temptation of the soap box. And what do I feel like ranting about at the moment? Er, perhaps I must leave that for another time. Duty calls me away ...