Wednesday, February 2, 2022

A Walk on the Wild Side

After exploring the enchanting Badger Dingle last weekend, we found ourselves in the thick of it on Saturday night, having been the nominated taxi service to two teens heading to their first gig in Birmingham's industrial heartland Digbeth, now slowly but surely shaking off its dark and dangerous reputation.

I love this part of Birmingham.  Currently the high street is a building site whilst tram lines are laid, as plans for the West Midlands Metro extension continue at pace.  As easy on the eye as Birmingham's Bull Ring and surrounding area is, something of the character of the city is always stripped away when restaurant franchises and chain stores dominate.  As of now, Digbeth is walking that tightrope between darkly creative underbelly - still wearing its industrial heart on its sleeve - and relentless progress and gentrification.  I know for some, gentrification of the area can't come soon enough, but for now, I'm enjoying experiencing the palpable excitement that a simple walk around Digbeth offers.  

I've visited a few times in recent years, most memorably at the first (and to date, only) Peaky Blinders Festival in 2019.

In September of that year, I took my partner in crime and fellow Peaky obsessive Vix to this fully immersive festival where little set dressing was required.  Naturally we stopped for a pint of Guinness in one of the Victorian Irish pubs Digbeth is famed for.  In retrospect we should have opted for Thomas Shelby's favoured Irish whisky, but we needed to have our wits about us, as became clear upon entry.

Firstly I was ordered to leave behind my camera (something which outraged me at the time as there was nothing on the festival website to suggest cameras were not welcome when smart phones were!)  This necessitated a detour to the Bull Ring where we managed to find a safe for me to deposit the offending item.  

Smart phone camera on standby, our first experiences on entry were somewhat surreal.  I was taken to one side by a gypsy, who took a keen interest in my jewellery whilst trying to relieve me of cash in some kind of gambling game (memory fails me here).  

We were also soon approached by a BBC director, keen to get the two of us on camera to discuss all things Peaky.  I wonder whatever happened to that footage?  We also chatted (and shared chips) with celebrity Brummie chef, Glynn Purnell, although neither of us recognised him at the time.

There were showgirls and Burlesque performers...

We drank beer, watched bands (including Slaves and Anna Calvi)

...hung out with Thomas and Alfie Solomons...

...received series secrets ahead of transmission from writer and creator Stephen Knight, pictured here from behind (centre)...

...admired the architecture and graffiti art...

...observed illegal boxing...

...supported the Suffragette Movement

and generally had the most amazing day.  Little did we know that Covid would emerge at the end of that year.

So, back to Saturday night.  We started out in Digbeth, but its dimly lit streets, shady characters and broken glass seemed less inviting before the nightlife had really come alive... we headed on foot into the centre of everything...

where no one had apparently heard of Covid.  The bars and restaurants were full to bursting with no masks in evidence.  By 7.30 pm (still some way off witching hour), people were dancing and singing in the streets.  Talk about the roaring twenties!

Whilst photographing this juggler (more on him shortly)... 

...a man handed me an artificial rose, immediately followed by a small laminated note asking for financial support for his family. I explained that I wasn't carrying any cash and he promptly took the rose from my fingers and moved on. 

Back to the juggler.  I'm not sure if it was part of his act or not, but every so often, he would drop one of his batons, which landed with a clatter near to his peacefully sleeping (and healthy looking dog).  This would immediately send the dog off into a spiralling rage and he would charge at the nearest pedestrian.  Clearly, whilst the baton had dropped, the penny hadn't for this poor sleep deprived canine, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the real culprit was his owner.

Birmingham's famous Bullring


The reflective beauty of the metal clad New Street Station

Heading back towards Digbeth, we spotted this establishment.  After the fiasco in the House of Commons this week with our PM being forced to (yet again) apologise for parties in number 10, this is definitely a sign of the times; a load of old waffle and a PM on shaky ground.

Digbeth was by this time, coming to life.  There was ground shaking music and packed pubs and beer gardens.  We were happy to observe Birmingham's wildlife from a safe distance.  Incidentally and disappointingly, the teens reported back that no checks were carried out relating to the required negative lateral flow tests or proof of vaccination status upon entry to the concert.  I can only guess that this is typical.

How cool was this guy's patchwork outfit?!

The final series of Peaky Blinders airs this month, ahead of a planned film to bring this chapter in the life of the Shelby family to a close.  I was lucky enough to put in a stint as Filming Assistant on season 6 last Spring before restrictions had been lifted.  Miraculously, for once, the press failed to get wind of the fact that filming was taking place at the Black Country Museum, so it was allowed to proceed uninhibited and I feel so lucky to have witnessed these iconic actors walking the cobbles and filming key scenes.  But no spoilers here.

After a bleak and stormy weekend, the sun appeared on Monday, along with a teaser of spring-like weather.  The balmy temperatures on Monday were perfectly timed and enabled me to try out my new wool jacket.  I say new, but of course, it's vintage.  I've been searching off an on for a Harris Tweed jacket after visiting the Hebrides several years ago, but they command eye watering prices and ebay and our local charity shops have failed to turn up trumps with anything close in my size.  Naturally, all it took was a passing comment on Vix's blog and hey presto! one turned up in a Walsall charity shop (those folks have taste).  Vix sent me the photos and my jaw hit the floor.  

It was the exact size and shade I was looking for; a 1970s beauty with football buttons, ticket pocket, elbow patches and sewn up pockets.  A perfectly preserved piece of  vintage loveliness, pictured here teamed with a Breton top, second hand Zara jeans, Clarks boots, Turtle Doves recycled cashmere wrist warmers and second hand leopard print, bead-trimmed Anokhi scarf.

Sun and fashion frivolity however, provided little distraction from the very sad news we received on Sunday evening, that our friend Sandra had passed away.  Whilst not unexpected, it came a little sooner than we had anticipated.  Sandra, although originally from Durham, had made a life with her husband and three children in her spiritual home, a remote and stunning corner of County Donegal.  Consequently, we saw each other once in a blue moon, but those occasions were always filled with laughter.  We were still regularly in touch, chatting on the phone or virtually - sometimes during one of her many hospital stays - until late December, when Sandra said she would raise a glass to me.  In these circumstances, the word "bravery" is often used.  Sandra really did face her illness with a boldness and bravery I can't even begin to imagine being able to muster.  She was clever, sassy and funny, one of my favourite people and I will miss her dreadfully.  

So tonight, on the evening of her wake, I will raise a glass of whisky - Irish of course - to Sandra.


  1. Sweet memories! How fantastic was our day at the Peaky Blinders Festival? The camera fiasco, not recognising a top chef and insisting he try our chips telling him they were the best we'd ever eaten, being interviewed by the Beeb and snapped by NME, missing Arthur by seconds and numerous stops for beer!
    Your night-out looked fascinating, isn't it weird to be an observer rather than a participant? I'm disapointed by the lack of Covid checks at the venue though, very poor.
    The jacket looks absolutely wonderful, I love it with the Breton stripes, leopard print and cashmere mitts.
    I shall raise a glass of rum to Sandra later. xxx

    1. It really was a brilliant day. Weirdly I don't remember being snapped by NME. How can I not remember that? Clearly too much excitement! We were intending to at least go for a beer, but honestly, I've never seen anything like it. The bars were absolutely jam packed! Thanks again for sourcing the jacket - it's a great wardrobe staple. I need to organise my donation to the animal charity Sandra helped out at (her request). She was also a cat lover - another testament to her good character! xxx

  2. I'm so sorry to hear about your friend Sandra, and will join you in raising a glass to her, if something non-alcoholic will do.
    I remember the Peaky Blinders Festival, and your camera predicament from Vix's post, although at the time of course I didn't know it was you!
    I haven't been into Antwerp after dark for many years, a fact that I would have found beyond belief some 30 years ago. Not sure what the nightlife is like there nowadays and whether they've heard of Covid, but everything having to close down at midnight will probably drive the crowds into the streets. The lack of Covid checks at that venue is a bit worrying though.
    Your Harris Tweed jacket is gorgeous, wasn't Vix clever for finding it for you! xxx

    1. Thank you Ann...and non-alcoholic will do just fine! Birmingham was in a real celebratory mood, even for a Saturday night! I am really disappointed about the lack of Covid checks. This wasn't some obscure venue either. I hope it doesn't prove to be typical. I'm so happy with the jacket. I don't know how Vix does it! xxx

  3. i remember vix´ report about the festival at digbeth.... it sounded fabulous then - and your description made it even better!
    we had such quarters in berlin, incl. festivals, cool folks and real adventures - now (since the 2000 hit) its all business, bland chain stores and restaurants/pubs, boring people..... will say: enjoy digbeth as long its possible :-D
    i was guessing that there must be uncontrolled clubbing etc. out there - the high numbers do not come from all self isolation and wearing masks.
    the jacket vix found for you is a stunner!! and it suits your perfectly - and chic styling too!! this jackets are real wardrobe work horses - i was lucky, i got a harris tweed norfolk style (men) jacket for nothing 25 ago from a friend - still treasured by me :-D
    i´ll join the honours to brave sandra with a glass of sicilian red wine - its a comforting thought that there is no pain and illness where she is now.
    much love! xxxx

    1. Thanks for your kind comments Beate. Yes, the powers that be have decided to just let this thing rip now. Some people are still being responsible but I didn't see any evidence of that in Birmingham on Saturday night. The other variants are still out there. A friend has caught Delta this week and is quite poorly with it (fully vaccinated), so we're lying low until the numbers fall sufficiently. I'm so pleased with the jacket - it will have a lot of wear now it's in my possession. Those Norfolk style jackets are lovely. Lucky you! Sandra would definitely have approved of Sicilian red! xxx

  4. Hello Claire, so lovely to hear your tale and see your pictures of the Peaky Blinder Festival. I know a chap who worked on the audio-visual side of that festival(he setups up 'pop up cinemas' around Birmingham) & I remember him telling me all about the costumes. It must be all the more exciting waiting for the last PB series, you having worked as a filming assistant on it.

    It really doesn't surprise me about the non-covid checks. I haven't met anyone who's actually been checked on entry to a venue. That amount of people in one place still makes me feel faint:0 Hope the teenagers had a good time at their first gig though. My first big gig was the was actually meant to be Nirvana.

    Loving the tweed (well done Vix!). Raising an apple spritzer to your friend Sandra. Lulu xXx

  5. Hi Lulu, Your friend has a cool job! I agree with you. The thought of all those people inside makes me queasy, but more so now I know they aren't actually carrying out any checks at all. I'm just hoping that this is it and no other dodgy variant breaks through. The teens loved the gig. Caleb left his reluctant friends to go down into the crowds and nearer to the front which surprised and thrilled me (he's usually fairly reserved). I think he's got the bug! Shame about Nirvana, but the Cranberries were great too. Incidentally, I'm reading Dave Grohl's Storyteller at the moment, which is an entertaining read. Vix pulled a blinder (sorry, couldn't resist). Your virtual toast to Sandra is appreciated. xxx


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