Wednesday, September 10, 2003

I went through Birmingham the other week. Not, I’m extraordinarily speedy to add, because I was visiting the middling city of our fair but occasionally xenophobic nation, but rather whilst undesirably passing (much like I might pass water whilst suffering with a bladder condition). And whilst I whistled hurriedly through the Brummie streets, I noticed two remarkable things. Firstly, there was no precipitation whatsoever falling from the skies. And secondly, the new Bull Ring Shopping Centre. And a huge construction it is too; a curving swathe of metal wholly adorned with thousands of silver-grey discs. A far cry from the old Bull Ring building: a typically sickening 1960’s design. Squares and rectangles of concrete and glass, fashioned together in a horrendous way that one would never imagine possible with such a collection of straightforward shapes.

A news item on the subject later that week replayed footage of the opening of the original sixties carbuncle complete with fanfare and enthusiastic midlanders. Surely, I thought to myself, these sixties disgraces seemed like attractive modern architecture to those at the time. Which makes me wonder how the new Bull Ring will be regarded in forty years from now. Like a big lumbering shit no doubt. The new Bull Ring is a classic example of knee jerkism – everything about it is an attempt to scream, “I’m not born out of the sixties, I am original and new godammit!”

Which is why it is poor fare indeed. The architects have taken the old building and deliberately made the qualities of the new one exactly the opposite. And so the new Bull Ring in fact is born right slap bang in the middle of the ricochet of all the dodgy sixties architecture you’ve ever cringed at. I suppose it will do the job required however; thousands will flock to the shops within, bringing with them their big fat wallets, no doubt encouraged by their curiosity of the dazzling façade.

In case I give the impression that I am just a Londoner jealous of a city outside of the Capital getting an apparently fetching bit of eye candy, I feel the need to add that I was on route from the beautiful northwestern city of Chester. And believe me when I say that our Roman occupiers did a much better job of designing attractive buildings then we often seem to be able to muster now. And so the trend of ignoring Roman ingenuity continues apace. After the Romans scampered back to Italy many centuries back, their sophisticated technology, farming, irrigation, transport systems, etc. (I refer you to the “What did the Romans ever do for us?” speech from Monty Python’s Life of Brian) was thrown out the window by us Brits and we embarked upon the grim life of the dark ages for the next few tens of generations. It is almost enough to make you believe that the Daily Mail was up and running and pushing out its own brand of backwards conservatism all the way back then.

Have you ever sat on the train and caught the eye of a fanciful lady or gentleman across the carriage only to then notice she/he is reading a copy of the Daily Mail? It’s a nasty moment I can tell you that for nothing.

I arrived back in London and on my route I did not fail to notice the collections of satellite dishes our country’s homeowners are amassing upon our exterior walls. And so the triple forces of technology, economics, and communications create a situation in which we actually pay money to adorn our buildings with odd silver-grey discs. To avoid such an unpleasant architectural scenario we must thus look to invisible ways of piping mass communication media into our living rooms such as cable. And so back comes bastard NTL into the conversation.

I genuinely despair.

But worse is to come and ironic too. For here I present you with news that my very abode is located within one of those 1960’s-style office buildings. So interesting it is indeed that the only reason I should be so reliant on the analogue cable service of the aforementioned NTL is because my landlords, in their infinite wisdom, feel that no silver-grey discs (or dishes as they are more commonly known) should be allowed to ruin the display of blue-coloured rectangles that my solidly rectangular building proudly displays upon my locale.

Is this a wise move designed to fend off the architectural rebounding of the Brummie town planners?

Will I ever get reliable television coverage of the football season?

Will the Bull Ring turn out to be as monstrous a building as its predecessor in forty years from now?

Why do you never get turkey soup?

Find out the answers to these questions and more in the next fabulous incarnation of Charging Through The Midfield.


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