Right on my doorstep... ('Little Bits of Brum' part 1)

Edgbaston Travel Blog

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Being lazy. "What to do today?"
I left my job a little while ago now.  2nd July officially, but I was off on 'holiday' a good week or so before that.  It's a strange time.  So MUCH freetime.  Everyone else is still at work.  Life is a little quiet; a little still all of a sudden.  The calm before the storm?  Hmmm... but I have SO MUCH to do ahead of my planned trip around the World!... don't I?  Hmmm... well, I'm readin' lots.  Sort of.  The Wimbledon tennis championship has come and gone and I'm tellin' myself it's a worthy use of my time to sit watchin' 6 hour Ingmar Bergman masterpieces, listening to old radio plays of The Lord of the Rings for old times sake etc... Maybe I'm not being too productive right now.
Killing time, watching Bergman's monumentally long 'Fanny and Alexander'
Time for a stroll I feel.  Besides, I've gotta break these old walking sandals in better if they're to get me someways around the world without hobbling me.

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.
Home for the last 12 months in leafy Edgbaston. The car on the left's for sale and the flat's for rent...all comers may enquire! ;D)
  Supposedly there are more miles of open canal here than in Venice although whether this is true or not I could not say myself.  For the first few 'snaps' of Birmingham here are a few places that caught my eye, some for the first time as I strolled sandal-clad to and along a stretch of canal a couple of weeks ago :

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.
Perrot's Folley, Edgbaston.
  Visible to me now is the Edgbaston Waterworks tower.  The other, just further down the road from this first is 'Perrott's Folly', a peculiar residence or gettaway constructed by eccentric landowner John Perrott in 1758 (making  this year it's 250th anniversary, and one of the oldest buildings in Brum).  The reason for construction is unknown, with two stories being that he either a) built it high enough to be able to look down on his wife's grave, situated 10 miles away or b)built it to spy on his wife in her lifetime, suspecting her of infidelity with their gamekeeper. Both probably apocrophyl.

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 second 'Tower' at the Edgbaston waterworks just down the road from Perrot's Folley.
  Talking to my flatmate Diana some days later she casually mentions "Oh yeah, the keys to the Folly are on top of the fridge at the moment."  What, what, what???! Excuse me.  "Yeah, the keys to the tower are just sat there on the fridge, crazy huh?"  You're telling me girl!  10 years in Brum.  A literary pilgrimage I should have undertaken so long ago.  This rarely-open-to-the-public slice of Birmingham cultural heritage.  The very keys to Minas Tirith itself are...sat on top of our fridge?!!!! Too strange, but also true.  To explain, Diana is assistant to the Director of the Ikon contemporary art gallery in Birmingham and it is they, adopting the Folly for an art exhibition who instigated its recent (now concluded) reopening to the public for general access for the first time in approx 20 years.
The Dhammatalaka Peace Pagoda.
  They just haven't returned the keys yet!  If I get a chance, and Diana permits, I will ascend the Tower and let ya know all at a later date.

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.
The golden roof of The Peace Pagoda viewed this time from the Reservoir path.
  By coincidence the Pagoda is building up for its 10th Anniversary this July, and so its presence in Birmingham alines almost exactly with my own to date, though I have never known of its existence. 

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.
  This can only be achieved by a balance of 'good credit' built up by acts of goodness, or usefulness in one's mortal lifetime. 

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.
The urban imposes itself on the natural, although a strange harmony is achieved.
.. this last tale I know, for it is woven wonderfully, with fictitious narrative elaborations into The Glass Palace, a novel by Amitav Ghosh.  Recommended if you're interested in a little bit of the oft troubled history of Myanmar /Burma.

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...

Edgbaston Reservoir

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.
The entry point of the waters to Edgbaston Reservoir.
It was built in 1827 by Thomas Telford as a “top up” for Birmingham’s canal system and is still used for that purpose today. The 70 acres site is mainly open water and supports a variety of birdlife; it is also a valuable city site for animals such as newts and bats. A belt of woodland and grassland encircles the reservoir providing an oasis of natural beauty in an urban setting.'

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.
Edgbaston Reservoir, an 'urban oasis'.
  I honestly never knew there was such a beautiful, as the blurb rightly states "oasis" in the heart of birmingham and as I discover only 5 minutes walk around the corner from where I've lived this last 12 months! Aren't I terrible! :) Looking across the water I am very taken by the contrast of the verdant reservoir surrounds and the mirrored waters with the more familiar high rise blocks and the BT Telecoms Tower in the distance.

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...

St.Augustine's Church

A beautiful, postcard perfect little church that resides at the top of Melville Road, where I live.
  Nowadays completely surrounded by housing, flats etc, it is tucked away amidst the tree lined roads that stream off the main Birmingham throughfare (The Hagley Road) and sits upon a modest little circular island of grass, beautiful, silent and unassuming.  I am ashamed again to admit that I have never yet crossed the church threshold nor can I impart any of its history at this time, but in the coming days I shall do so for your pleasure, or that of later readers... but for now images can introduce you anyhow.  I must go and rest my weary feet from my strolls, though some were a week or so ago as the sandals took their toll upon m'toes.  For it is they that are blistered and broken-in, not the soles of my footwear :(

Stevie_Wes says:
Very observant Dave :) unfortunately I have not yet, and am unlikely to get up there. Life's been just a little too hectic getting ready for the big trip... the same being true of my flatmate Diana (the lady who temporarily had the key) as she;s preparing to go and study at Bard College, New York and leaves the UK around the same time as me.
Posted on: Aug 16, 2008
blurbmoi says:
You have a lot of fancy pictures my friend and keep up the greatly dramatic blogging;-)
Posted on: Aug 15, 2008
irmayu says:
well, i am in similar situation...i quit my job, do some little travel around and now i am prepared for something new
[new apartment for shore]...
wish you a good luck
Posted on: Aug 15, 2008
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Being lazy. What to do today?
Being lazy. "What to do today?"
Killing time, watching Bergmans m…
Killing time, watching Bergman's …
Home for the last 12 months in lea…
Home for the last 12 months in le…
Perrots Folley, Edgbaston.
Perrot's Folley, Edgbaston.
The second Tower at the Edgbasto…
The second 'Tower' at the Edgbast…
The Dhammatalaka Peace Pagoda.
The Dhammatalaka Peace Pagoda.
The golden roof of The Peace Pagod…
The golden roof of The Peace Pago…
The urban imposes itself on the na…
The urban imposes itself on the n…
The entry point of the waters to E…
The entry point of the waters to …
Edgbaston Reservoir, an urban oas…
Edgbaston Reservoir, an 'urban oa…
St.Augustines Church.
St.Augustine's Church.
The Dhammatalaka Peace Pagoda.
The Dhammatalaka Peace Pagoda.
Paddling on Edgbaston Reservoir.
Paddling on Edgbaston Reservoir.
Edgbaston Reservoir... the best pi…
Edgbaston Reservoir... the best p…
The entrance to St.Augustines Chu…
The entrance to St.Augustine's Ch…
The relief above the church entran…
The relief above the church entra…
St.Augustines Church.
St.Augustine's Church.
Perrots Folley, the inspration fo…
Perrot's Folley, the inspration f…
The Edgbaston Waterworks.  One of …
The Edgbaston Waterworks. One of…
photo by: Stevie_Wes