Birmingham Under Snow

I’m sure you’ve seen it in the papers – snow, ice, winds, and “arctic” temperatures in England (arctic here being below 0). Bristol has largely escaped most of this weather; when London received near 8 inches at the beginning of December, we escaped with a few inches of rain. We’ve gotten used to checking the UK weather website, seeing a page full of warnings and scoffing – either they were not going to happen or were minor to Canadian standards.
Last Friday, the night before heading to Birmingham to see The Pogues, the worst storm since the 20’s was supposed to hit England. We were catching a bus at 05:55 and we were a little concerned about the transport system. At midnight, the sky was clear and the tension eased, thinking we had missed the storm again.

Snow in Bristol

Sometime between 0:00 and 04:30, it snowed. About 2 inches – big deal, right? For Canadians. It was the first big snow we’ve had in Bristol; we walked enjoying the muffling effect snow has on the world, eating snowflakes, and throwing snowballs. On the side roads, the snow was thick, but it was warm enough out that the main roads had melted and it didn’t seem icy.
We arrived at the bus stop downtown to see a great line up of people! It was the first Saturday after term had ended, so of course transport would be busier, but this was a tad ridiculous. One bus arrived shortly as we did – a bus to Leeds – a bus apparently an hour delayed. Cue fear.

Need not worry – our bus was a mere 30 minutes late and we arrived in Birmingham by 08:30.

Birmingham Cathedral

Bristol has its charms and some areas are quite beautiful but it was largely built do to its location to the Severn.
During WWII, a great deal of work on airplanes was completed here and subsequently it was bombed. Both reasons contributing to the lack of historical and architecturally grand buildings. Maybe because of the Christmas decorations,  snow, or that it is much more of a financial centre, Birmingham was beautiful and much more European (although  Bristol Cathedral is FAR nicer than Birmingham’s).

We wandered around the Birmingham City Centre, listening to buskers play Christmas carols and seeing people shuffle through the snow with umbrellas – they use umbrellas! Using an umbrella rarely occurs to me in the rain let alone using one in the snow. In fact, ever since Venice, I hate umbrellas. They make your hand cold, drip water on you, have a tendency to turn inside out, you have to deal with soggy nylon after it stops raining, and get in the way of everyone around you. But here, they use them in the snow, like it is going to melt as soon as it makes contact!

German Singing Moose Head

We went through the Bull Ring, a massive shopping centre with only three official floors, but all the stores have two floors, 6 floor shopping centre – it was massive!! We also went through the Bull Ring Markets, a series of outdoor and indoor stalls selling furry headless deer at the butchers, imported trainers, wrenches, mesh tank tops, rolls of furry fabric, and buckets of Peter Gabriel tapes.

Umbrellas vs Snow

From there we wandered around the Christmas Markets and Craft Fair which put Bristol’s to shame. Rows upon rows of gingerbread, ornaments, crepes, kouchen, knit animal toques, ham/pigs on spit, haribo candies, and outdoor beer gardens with singing German moose heads. It smelt delicious and it was entertaining to watch all the vendors drawing people in. One lady selling Pretzels had samples I wanted to try, but she was large, scary, German lady I felt had samples just to lure you in. We went into the Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, it was fantastically large, free, and had sculptures that I was allowed to touch!

It was time to check into our hotel, we had to travel one train stop to reach it and one train stop to get back into town to see The Pogues, no problem! We walked into the train station and hell had broken loose. By this point, about 4 inches of snow had fallen in Birmingham; no shovels or sand in sight – I saw one man with a hand broom out.

5 inches Snow and the Fountain Still Runs!

Most trains were up to an hour delayed or just cancelled entirely. The first train we boarded was 45 minutes delayed and just as they shut the doors, they announced that the train manager would be another 20 minutes, as he was stuck on another train. We sat in the train for 15 minutes before they cancelled the train and let us out. We managed to grab another train; every time we needed to get a train, we caught one within 5 minutes. Others were not so lucky, we talked to several people on the train that were just riding the rails, hoping to get somewhere that would have a connection open (it was so chaotic, they were not checking tickets so people hoped on willy nilly). One man had been to Manchester, back to Birmingham, to Leeds, back to Birmingham, and was hoping to head to Westbury to get to London. I hope they all made it home within a reasonable time period!!

Through all the chaos and lack of ability to deal with it, The Pogues still made it! It was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen –

Palm Trees and Snow at the Christmas Market

they were so old but still so lively! The crowd ranged from 12-70, with most in the 55+ range. You do not expect a crowd
who can get seniors discounts to mosh, jump, and throw things at the band – but they did, one lady destroyed the back of my shoe from her moshing!
Shane MacGowan was smoking, drinking, I believe now officially missing all his teeth, and completely inaudible through speech but didn’t miss a beat while singing. They played two encores, tributes to past contributers: the late Joe Strummer (died 8 years ago yesterday) and Kristy MacColl (10 years the night of the concert); had the arena singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Spider Stacey’s wife promptly followed by a lively song featuring a kazoo and Stacey and McGowan using cookie sheets and their heads as percussion instruments (MacGowan horribly off beat, denting it with his head, and throwing it into the crowd..), and they did play ‘Fairytale of New York’ with fake snow a-blowing!

They were one of the bands I had admitted defeat to and yet I got to see them, amidst the chaotic state of the British transport system and Shane MacGowans liver. I am almost certain that the man will drop dead on stage – if their North American tour this spring makes it to Canada, I’de recommend seizing the opportunity.

(With much of their roots being from the British punk scene, many members of The Pogues can come across as ‘knackered wankers’, however they have done a great deal of work in the help with Haiti and especially in the Justice for Kirsty campaign. Feel free to check out a version of ‘I Put A Spell On You’ (featuring Shane MacGowan, Nick Cave, members of The Clash, Pretenders, Sex Pistols, and Johnny Depp) with all proceeds going to Haiti survivors at http://www.concern.net/blogs/posts/song-haiti and the Justice for Kirsty campaign at http://www.justiceforkirsty.org/)

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