Brummie directions, as you know, can only be given with reference to pubs and islands. This works for us. This is a good system, or rather it is until the thing which we need to find is the actual pub itself. It is difficult to find a pub in the same way that it is difficult to find my glasses: I need the glasses to find my glasses, and I need the pub to find the pub. Such is the chicken and egg riddle of finding one’s way around Birmingham.
I’m looking for the pub now.
It’s a city centre pub, and this makes finding its whereabouts doubly hard. Firstly because there are no traffic islands, so I can’t orient myself to those and secondly because it’s not really in a bit of town that has any pubs. I’m lost, and nobody can help me.
The pub is called Tilt.
I first heard of Tilt on a text message. Apparently it’s my kind of thing.
“Where is it?”
“Near Martineau Place. In an arcade thing that didn’t really work out.”
“Ah. Birmingham’s famous Failed Development Quarter.”
Martineau Place is one of Brum’s many mixed use developments and it’s always felt jinxed. It’s currently anchored by two Poundland stores, one on each of the corners that face onto Corporation Street. Inside things have come and gone — mostly gone.
There are spaces in the city which are designed to be a terminus. Shops are a terminus. Pubs are a terminus. We run to them. We pop to them. We are at them, we are in them or perhaps we are down them. We never travel through them.
Run with me now, run with me through the pubs.
One of my regular city centre running routes pushes me through—never to—the Arcadian.
Launched as a confusing architectural proposition of East-meets-West in the city’s China Town, time and use have added to the Arcadian’s cocktail of ideas. Originally its anchor tenant was a cinema which enjoyed a symbiosis with chic bars, chain pubs, High Street restaurant names, and hole-in-the-wall Chinese cafés.
The cinema is now an apartment block stuffed into a multiplex outline whilst those chic drinking holes, still wearing their first fit out, stand as a tired testament to spent 90s optimism—Blair’s Bars. Even the few pubs which have changed hands recently wear this tired air on top of their fresh decor, as though a consumption sits deep in the development’s bones.
The Arcadian is a split level open air mall. I run across first floor wooden walkways, and plunge myself down steel staircases. I choose the path through here because sometimes a runner seeks a certain distance or must complete their exercise within a certain time and we pick the paths that give us the outcomes that we most need; I choose this path because it feels transgressive, to enter a destination but always with trajectory, to derivé but never to arrive; I choose this path because its mishmash of signs and ideas lend a dramatic backdrop to my run, because running through here is weird, like running through the set of Bladerunner.
In 2015 running is a spectacle and it’s a big business. The Great North Run and the London Marathon are sporting mega-events: televised and commodified, they’re about much more than running. They’re about cities, landmarks, tourism, charity, personal achievements, narratives and mythology. Ultimately they are about ways of constructing those things for us and about controlling the meaning of them.
The London Marathon constructs achievement in a particular way: completing the distance of the run, attaining the sponsorship required if you are taking a charity place, and then performing all of this in a specific place in the service both of an officially sanctioned view of London and of a corporate sponsor. Looked at through my cynical eyes, runners in the London Marathon are extras in the service of this year’s sponsor (currently Virgin Money) and of the Mayor of London because the most significant and persistent symbols we see in the televised coverage of the race are the sponsor’s logo and the landscape of the city: the runners are just a device that drives the story, and that provide a frame for the more important messages of our sponsors.
We’ve been out drinking for about six hours, we’ve lost a lot of people and one of us is bleeding. In a few minutes one of us is going to try to pick a row with a train driver. I am cool hunting in the suburbs of Birmingham, and it’s going poorly.
Here are two things that are hot right now: craft beer, and Birmingham.
“Two years ago, you struggled to get a pint of real ale, let alone craft beer, in most of Birmingham. Now, from Colmore Row, down John Bright Street, to Digbeth, the city centre is awash in the stuff. It’s as if a phalanx of hipsters, fleeing London’s housing market, have swept up the West Coast mainline to alight at New Street.”
Now that’s not true (we’ve had real and craft beer for at least two and a half years*) but it doesn’t mean it’s not interesting. If craft beer is a measure of how cool a place is, then just how cool is Birmingham? And what would be a fair test?
It was a shocking moment when after nineteen years of living in Birmingham I realised it will never be finished. The building work will never be done, some part will always be being demolished for another part to be built fresh: no one will ever take a step back, with their hands on their hips, and turn around with a ‘TA-DAA’. The ubiquitous cranes will always be part of the skyline, they’re not visitors they’re residents.
Cities are the bodies of our collective souls, and like bodies they change, regenerate, and can be easily marred. Ever see Ground Zero from up high? It looks like a fuck-awful scar across the face of pretty girl.
The Queens Drive staircase is an access staircase that travels from the bottom of Station Street up to the passageway that connects the Pallasades to the Bull Ring, with an exit to New Street station halfway up. And it’s to be closed soon.