The one advantage of the Paradise area redevelopment in Birmingham is that it is fairly small: a few minutes’ walk is enough to cross it all. That doesn’t make it any easier to navigate, because different routes seem to be closed at different times.
Inside the museum is a video showing how it will look one day. The problem is that the day may be a long time coming. A time line shows progression to the present, but from 2017 onward is a time without end. Still, what has been achieved is impressive, if not to everyone’s taste. The new library looks like building blocks wrapped in festoons of wire, not barbed thank goodness. Nearby the Conference Hall and Symphony Hall are the embodiment of restraint. Only inside Symphony Hall is a post-modern fantasy that, fortunately, does nothing to impair enjoyment of the music. Acoustics are among the best in the country.
Staying in the suburb of Acocks Green – “the village” to locals – we took advantage of the superb rail service to Moor Street Station: the fare for two with railcards is £3.70 return. Moor Street is as Victorian as can be but a step outside and the glistening facade of New Street and its shopping centre quickly come into view. Good signposting shows the way onward, with a choice of steps up and down or level for the less mobile.
On the way is a monumental Anthony Gormley statue, not yet painted as the ones by the Mersey estuary have been (against his wishes: he wants them cleaned).
The Town Hall, where some concerts are held, and the splendid museum are soon reached, and a few steps on brings the library and conference centre in view. On the steps of the museum it is possible to peer down into the Paradise amphitheatre, in part demolished and waiting for new life. It seems a long way from Paradise at the moment. Nonetheless, what is planned will be exciting and the works are of great interest. There are glimpses of buildings and monuments that will survive as well as those already finished.
Just a little beyond the conference centre is the Brindley Street canal-side area, a vibrant part of city life with bars, restaurants and docks for boat trips. While we were there the students were staging dragon boat races, presumably because interviews for prospective freshers were under way. The canal towpaths offer interesting, if a bit unsteady, routes beneath the city centre streets. Two girls in high heels were heard to comment as they negotiated variable heights of tunnel over the cobbles that it wasn’t what you’d want to do on a Friday night when half-cut. Silver travellers in flats would heartily agree.
Had we not been going to a concert at 5 pm we would have stayed much longer, and perhaps taken a boat ride. Certainly our appetites for a further visit were whetted. The one big difficulty is that the tourist offices have been closed (we hope temporarily) but in mitigation there is a very helpful Friends’ Desk in the museum where maps of the city centre, other museums and sights can be obtained.