Hand on heart I'm not Birmingham's biggest fan, fourteen years of working in the city centre pretty much put paid to that. But beyond the mainstream fashion stores and identikit restaurant chains there's some wonderful pubs and an art gallery & museum so good it'll take your breath away (and it's free). Tania and I decided it would be an easy place to meet (an hour and a quarter by train from her home in Nottingham and a mere 20 minutes from Walsall) and a good destination for a cultural day out so that's exactly what we did yesterday. How gorgeous is Tania's 1940s dress?
After meeting up in the labyrinthine New Street Station we headed to the handful of vintage shops left in the city. The first one, in the Bull Ring, was one of those re-purposed and retro-inspired places, fine for the kids but not really our thing. Cow in Digbeth is of a similar ilk although we found one or two proper vintage pieces and some gorgeous tooled leather bags to admire. My only purchases were from Credit Crunchers, which doesn't claim to be a vintage shop but always has one or two authentic pieces at good prices - a 1960s pig skin waistcoat and a crazy 1970s Victorian-lady-on-acid blouse with a groovy Parisian label.
After a couple of hours of admiring clothes both vintage and new (we're liking Zara, all bright colours, ethnic embroidery and 1970s inspiration) the pub was calling. To ring the changes we had lunch in The Old Joint Stock, a regular haunt whenever Jon & I do a Brum pub crawl. Wetherspoons' prices they ain't but look at all that ridiculously over the top Victorian opulence and, if you sign up to the website, you can claim a pint or a medium size glass of wine for free. An independent newspaper poll voted it one of the 25 top pubs in the UK and you can see why. The grilled veg salads were massive, in retrospect we could have shared one and had a plate of chips on the side.
|My presents from Tania - Indian block printed fabulousness!|
After exchanging pressies and the obligatory bloggers selfie in the ladies' loo we made our way to Birmingham's Museum & Art Gallery.
|Photos of me courtesy of Tania|
I've loved this Joseph Southall fresco of affluent shoppers on Corporation Street, Birmingham since I was a child. We even had a print of it on the wall at home.
|Life imitating art|
Lucifer by Jacob Epstein is another of my favourites, he's a bit of a looker, isn't he?
Birmingham Art Gallery has the finest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the world. Although it's been a few years since I lasted visited, seeing these world famous pieces in the flesh never fails to make me squeal with delight. Those faces! That hair! The colours! The detail!
Two of my favourites, I do love a sorceress!
Morgan-le-Fey (1864) by Frederick Sandys
Medea (1886 - 1888) by Frederick Sandys
Once we'd exhausted the Pre Raphaelites we moved on to the Staffordshire Hoard. Despite it being found in the field adjacent to our regular mid-week car boot sale, other than seeing it on the news I'd yet to see any of it in real life.
It was phenomenal! We couldn't get over the intricacy of the craftsmanship or the profusion of garnets. I loved exhibit no. 2 the most, a huge gold brooch unusually worn by and buried with a woman.
An Anglo-Saxon dressing-up box? Yes, please! Of course accessories are everything, wouldn't a leather belt with a bejewelled sword and that huge brooch would make the world of difference to our shapeless sackcloth smocks?
Pre-Raphaelite art and ancient jewellery? Could it get any better?
Actually, yes it could! With mummies, death masks and amulets from 7000 BC (I know, it blew our minds, too) Ancient Egypt was our next stop.
We loved the Eye of Horus amulets but were a bit freaked out by the mummified cat.
The dishes and tools for applying cosmetics and the sandals were over 3000 years old! The jewellery is incredible, almost contemporary in colour and style.
|I'm wearing a 1970s cotton maxi dress Curtise sent me two years ago, it's taken me that long to fit into it. The Mexican-style retro basket is a recent acquisition (I'm blaming Lynn and her jelly shoe obsession!)|
After exploring Ancient Greece, Rome, Cyprus, Iran and Syria we made our way back to Birmingham's more recent history, sighing over some of the clothing exhibits on display.
How fabulous is the 1940s patchwork dressing gown in the Make Do & Mend case? I'd wear that out. The bejewelled costume from the Handsworth Carnival was a triumph and the pieces commemorating The Oasis, Birmingham's legendary alternative market were, for me, a teenage flashback, perfect for a bit of Boy George stalking back in the 1980s.
All cultured up we made our way towards New Street Station stopping off at Bacchus, one of Birmingham's most glorious real ale pubs, for a restorative glass of plonk.
Arriving at the train station we hugged, kissed and ran to our respective platforms with minutes to spare, arriving home according to Tania's cheeky man, Q, stinking of booze and garlic.
We're hoping to meet up with Curtise in the second week of September, who's up for joining us?