Right on my doorstep... ('Little Bits of Brum' part 1)
Edgbaston Travel Blog› entry 3 of 7 › view all entries
July 14th, 2008 – by: Stevie_Wes
I'll keep it short... he says. I make no promises. This is just a snapshot of how someone who's about to open up his horizon lines to the whole, wide world inevitably realises how much of the minor points of beauty and interest that he has ignored, or failed to spot in the last 10 years of his tenure in Birmingham.
Birmingham is pretty much in the heart of England geographically, and was a major industrial /manufacturing centre until the latter half of the 20th Century. Having been such an industrial heartland and connected to the coal-mining 'Black Country' areas of Wolverhampton and Dudley etc it possesses many, many miles of canal that were used for transporting materials and goods the length and breadth of the country.
The Two Towers
Having got a little lost along said canal, I am glad to set my eyes upon a couple of the more famous structures that punctuate the Birmingham city skyline, in Edgbaston anyway. The Two Towers. Well one of them I can see from here anyway. Yep, the Two Towers of literary fame in Tolkein's 'Lord of the Rings' (Minas Morgal & Minas Tirith) are inspired bizarrely by two tall, redbrick constructions that dominated the skyline of his neighbourhood in Birmingham, and the young Tolkein would pass on his way to school every morning whilst living with his aunt for a time following the death of his mother.
These two buildings are only 10 minutes walk from my current residence, and yet even with this proximity, in all my years in Brum (and my sis and I having had a love of Tolkein deeply instilled in us by our father's enthusing) this is the first time I've set eyes on The Towers.
The Dhammatalaka Peace Pagoda
Strolling away from the towers, in mild drisle now amongst the rows of houses and corner-shops I espie something glinting and golden in the distance. This turns out to be the pinacle of The Peace Pagoda. Birmingham is great at doing this! On a quiet residential road basically in the middle of nowhere tucked between 'not very much' and 'nothing of interest at all' sits a squat, but charming gold-leaf perfect replica of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar (Burma). It's main 'spire' anyway. I stare through the iron bar gates in baffled curiosity and a kindly gentleman (Robert Black, a trustee of the Pagoda) passes by and invites me in to introduce me to the Pagoda and a little of its history.
I am shown around the main meditation hall, and given my first lesson in ritual norms of Buddhist tradition. The importance of seating at different heights. A hierarchical system whereby nobody may be seated higher than Buddha himself, and certain monks will sit higher that others and so on and so forth down to the people sat upon the ground. How you must never sit with the soles of your feet facing anyone in South East Asia (least of all Buddha), nor step over anyone, both of these acts a highly insulting gesture that implies these people are 'beneath you'. "Phew!" I have gained my first cultural-survival tip for my journey! This pagoda is representative (spiritually) I am informed of the more South East Asian forms of Buddhism, Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Vietnam etc (Theravadin) which are some of the oldest forms, and divest themselves entirely of the act of prayer as a means to gaining self-improvement.
Robert flicks a switch and a gaudy, large halo of a seemingly infinite number of brightly coloured, oscillating L.E.D. lights suddenly fans out from behind Buddha's head and flashes and undulates patterns in a fairground-ride, casino manner. Birmingham's mosques, gurudwaras, hindu temples and now I see pagoda's alike slightly revel in this (I always feel slightly gaudy & unecessary) display of what I assume is a representation of 'spiritual radiance'. All chosen deities, godheads and spiritual leaders with equal power to command "the miracle" of eeeeelectricity via the wonder of the National Grid. Believe it people. The guidebook I am later given informs me that some relics of Buddha reside here in a crystal casket (no, not yet the subject of an Indiana Jones movie), once the possession of the last King of Myanmar, King Thibaw who in his lifetime was exiled to Ratanagiri in India by the invading British forces, and where he was kept under virtual house-arrest until his eventual death.
Robert asks if I've visited Edgbaston Reservoir which is just behind the site of the Pagoda, "Why no I haven't!" but I promptly do another day...
I tell ya what, on this one I'm gonna sit back and let Birmingham City Council introduce you to the site :)
'Situated close to the city centre, Edgbaston Reservoir is a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation.
And very pleasant it is too! The sun is up on the day that I happen to be back in the vacinity of the Reservoir, and the 2.8km walk around the water is one of the most relaxing acts I have undertaken since my liberation from the world of work. There is a vibrant group of canoeists out on the water splashing and paddling around and at the other end of the Reservoir people glide gracefully around in their little mini-rigged sail boats whilst the clouds skid overhead.
As I walk along the far Reservoir wall, I look back over to where my stroll began and there as if to orient me, and guide me home is the spire of St.Augustine's Church itself a minutes walk from my front door...
A beautiful, postcard perfect little church that resides at the top of Melville Road, where I live.
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