Bumming around Brum

A stalwart of the Birmingham Gay scene

I’ve  just spent the weekend in Birmingham and am on a train returning to London. This time there *is* a Coach B and my reserved seat actually exists!

The Ibis Hotel turned out to be a very good choice. It was clean, modern and reasonably priced. It was also centrally located near the main “Bullring” shopping area and just a few minutes walk from Birmingham’s Gay Village. It is always a bit of Russian roulette picking a hotel in the UK – you never know what you’re going to get. Small rooms definitely – but quite a few places are filthy and gruesome. And the price you pay isn’t always an indicator of what standard you can expect.

One of the innovations I liked about the Ibis was that they served breakfast until 12noon on weekends. I’m not a morning person and like to sleep in when I stay at a hotel. Especially as I am usually feeling a bit delicate after the night before! Swanning down to breakfast at 11am is perfect for me.

The hotel also has a bar as part of the reception area – selling booze as well as soft drinks and snacks. A very sensible idea. I bought more than a couple of Diet Cokes from them at all sorts of hours! Bottles of water too – the fact that there’s no light beer sold in the UK always means I get back to hotels completely smashed and a little unwell. I still haven’t worked out how, in Australia, I can have 10 2.5% strength beers and feel merry whilst here I only need to have 3 5% strength beers and I feel nauseous. The maths just doesn’t add up.

During the day times in Birmingham I walked around and did lots of shopping – mostly window shopping – and yesterday I caught a bus to Merry Hill – a humongous shopping centre about an hour away from Birmingham and owned by Australia’s Westfield corporation. I first went to Merry Hill in 1997 – it’s been a long time between visits. GBP1.70 for a one-hour bus ride – how’s that for good value?

I bought some more clothes – this time for work – from Primark (aka Primani). I so wish we had something like Primark in Australia. The price, the range and the fact that you can get jeans and pants in your exact leg length. I’m a short arse really – I need a 30 leg length which is virtually impossible to find in Australia. At Primark I can get pants in my exact waist and leg measurements without a problem.

I’ve stocked up on casual shirts, socks, underwear, work pants and jeans from Primark over the last week. GBP6 for a pair of jeans and GBP8 for good work pants – seriously, you can’t beat Primani (as they jokingly call it over here). And the crowds prove it – every cash register is staffed and there is always a minimum queue of about 30 people – in the London store it is often double that. You just have to be patient. People don’t buy one or two things on a visit to Primark – they buy 10 or 20 things.  They carry around these enormous bags stuffed with every kind of clothing item. It is kill or be killed when you are shopping there – at the Marble Arch store, I had to wait in a line of 20 people just to try on something for size.

But it hasn’t all been shopping whilst I’ve been here. I have been impressed with Birmingham’s Gay Village. They have more dedicated Gay venues than Sydney does. Sydney is supposed to be one of the world’s biggest Gay cities on a per capita basis. Sydney’s Gay scene has been in decline for a number of years. Birmingham’s village seems to be thriving. I also liked that a lot of the people on the Gay scene here look like real people – not plastic buffed up androids. There are all ages and body shapes in abundance here and that is really refreshing and a change from Sydney.

They had a clever idea on Saturday night – Birmingham’s Big Gay Night Out. They literally bus people in from smaller towns for the night. 10 bus loads descended on the village and the price of the coach ticket also included free entry to 3 of the clubs that have cover charges. It’s a really good concept – good for the punters and good for the venues.

I must say that the drag I saw in Birmingham was absolutely awful. Clearly that’s one area where Sydney is miles ahead. Badly dressed, badly mimed show tunes as spot numbers just doesn’t cut it anymore. It might have been acceptable 20 years ago but the scene has moved on. They call it “cabaret” over here. I call it a damn cheek. It’s just tacky drag done without any style, flair or choreography.

I’m now only 30 minutes from arriving in London again. I only just booked my hotel with my UK pre-paid mobile phone when I got on the train – don’t you just love modern technology? A netbook, a pre-paid wireless broadband modem and phone – why didn’t we have these when I first started travelling all those years ago?

And how did we ever do without them?

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