Iron Man

We had been in touch with Paul, Shane’s university friend, who lives in Birmingham. He had given us a tourism tip for the place we were moored. It was a short walk across a park to St Nicholas church, the oldest in Birmingham, as a passer by informed us.

Spire of St Nicholas Church from across the park

Before we even reached the church we found a notice about one of the nearby historical buildings, a grammar school originally built on stilts. Suffragists had been protesting and setting fire to buildings and this had been a target, but the activists left a message in stead of setting fire. In the grounds of the church are two timbered buildings, the Merchant’s house and the old Grammar school. Sometimes there are tours but not today.

We were warmly welcomed into the church and I admired the floor tiling and the flexible layout of the seating for people in wheelchairs and the strong charitable ethos. The building was very warm and people were welcome to come in and have a cup of tea and there was a full food bank box with specified most wanted items. There were further claims to fame inside the church of a former preacher there. It’s not every church that has train motifs on its walls or windows and that is two we have seen in a week. Replacing the horse drawn transport whether for people or goods, the steam engines were sometimes known as iron horses.

Plaque in remembrance of the author of the Thomas the Tank Engine books in St Nicholas

When we emerged, Paul had arrived to meet us and while we found the grammar school he peeped inside the church.We walked back to the boat and Paul pointed out a mooring spot near a shopping opportunity, a very new development and I managed to secure some fairtrade de-caff coffee which is not always easy to find. Then we proceeded to another spot where Paul was able to guide us around his familiar stomping ground.

Shane and Paul at the University of Birmingham

He led us on a tour of the university buildings, before buying us lunch. I was unsure as to why the students Union had mermaid bunting, but assume it was connected with the fountain there. Paul was unsure as to why Faraday had a statue to him (the artist stated it was for Faraday, not of Faraday – in honour of him) in the university grounds, as he didn’t know of a link to Birmingham but there are several places in Birmingham named after him and the statue was a centenary gift from Eduardo Paolozzi.

After lunch we cruised into the centre through some modern but canal themed buildings and some just modern and some just canal themed, and moored up by the giant plastic giraffe, and if you think that sounds weird, the Cube is stranger, and not even a cube…

Coming into the wharf at the centre of Birmingham

From the blue skies of morning, the afternoon was clouded over and rain was forecast for the evening. We didn’t mind returning with full stomachs at the end of the day and managed to get to our restaurant in the dry. We reprised our visit to the lovely Iranian restaurant of Shiraz, delicious food rich flavoured with fresh herbs and savoury and fragrant, not hot. The Iranian tea and yogurt drink were delicious and the lady serving was very attentive and considerate, moving us to a more comfortable table.

Today we are still travelling through Birmingham. This morning we went through the Farmer’s Bridge locks. In the summer last year we went through these and I was working them but there was also a volunteer setting them ahead and opening gates. Today there was no such help and Shane undertook the winding and running ahead and was soon hot. He got the occasional help of a push on a gate but mainly people just watched, and filmed or waved. It was a colder day and while mostly the high buildings provide cover, a strong wind swung Bartimaeus sideways at one point. Twelve are close together and Shane thought we had completed them and got on the boat, only to see another round the corner. I got off to do the last two to warm up and while I was doing them a woman said she was very jealous of me – didn’t say why but it was cheering anyway.

After lunch we had a quick walk into the centre for exercise and exploration. The Christmas German market had arrived and we passed through the bustling shopping area and enjoyed the cries of the market stall holders trying to get rid of their wares at reduced rice, before packing up.

I saw a few new statues I didn’t remember, not of the famous or typical heroes, but in honour of “ordinary” people: the war memorial to the thousands of civilians lost in the airraids over Birmingham; a statue in cast iron naming all the people “cast in order of appearance” in it representing a cross section of modern Birmingham, and a bathing girl, looking a bit underdressed for the November dusk.