C H R I S T M A S I N T H E C I T Y
Last week Matt and I were in Birmingham. The day before Christmas Eve we travelled up to my parent’s place – a small red brick house, that sits on a wide road, lined with tall trees, in the very south of the city. Until I was eighteen I’d lived my entire life in this house, on this road. Sleeping in the same room, under the same window, with the same view out over our garden. Of course I’d been on holiday, I’d seen life on a couple of different continents, but for the most part my life had been lived here. And so returning always feels peculiar and nostalgic; reminiscent and alien all at once. Like a glove that both fits and doesn’t at the same time.
Something I discovered upon going to university (and leaving Birmingham) was the reputation that proceeded the city. The accent first and foremost (and enquiry into why I didn’t possess this accent). But also the assumption of industry and concrete and greyness and smog. Which I’ll be honest, there is some of, but there’s also Brindley Place and Winterbourne Gardens; the IKON Gallery, MAC and German Markets at Christmas. There’s Selfridges and Grand Central; the Custard Factory and Hippodrome (not to mention the Cresent, REP and Symphony Hall). There’s Moseley Village, Kings Heath park, Cadbury World; Birmingham library, the Botanical Gardens and Town Hall. Just 30-40 minutes from where I live there’s also Stratford Upon Avon and Leamington Spa; Packwood House and Baddesley Clinton. Further south still there’s the Malvern’s.
These are places and spaces I grew up in. Cultural markers in my conscious, that will always feel somewhat like a loved but occasionally irritating family member that only you can complain about. The West Midlands – whilst being somewhere I don’t wish to live now – is (and will likely always remain) somewhere I feel a peculiar loyalty and kinship to.
Whilst with my parents we walked a lot. On Christmas Eve we did 7 miles in the Lapworth countryside, stopping for lunch at The White Swan in Henley In Arden. (Generally there needs to be a pub lunch involved if I’m going to walk that far). In this beautiful low beam, log fire heated old tavern, we had tiny handmade mince pies and pizza topped with apple and pulled pork (shamefully my vegetarian principles really go out the window in the holidays). And it struck me how rarely I see such obviously Tudor buildings in the South West.
Afterwards my walking boots rubbed my achilles raw but I hobbled on – only committing to other excursions if I could wear my normal shoes or Mum’s walking boots – those are the leather lace up boots I’m sporting in these images. Safe to say this was not the last walk we did.
But besides walking we did remarkably little. Which perhaps is how it should be over Christmas. Family came round. We watched bits of Christmas TV. Every evening there was a supper of miscellaneous Christmas-themed cakes and chocolates. And certain afternoons were left entirely to reading. In fact it was over Christmas that I began to realise just what a family of readers I came from; choosing to watch A Christmas Carol, The Great Gatsby, The Importance of Being Earnest, The Miniaturist and Little Women. It seems our choice of Christmas TV was largely based around book adaptations. We also gave gifts of books, borrowed from bookshelves and purposefully handed each other things we really-would-recommend-you-read. I came up to Birmingham returning a couple of books belonging to my sister and seem to have come home again with quite a handful more. Matt on the other hand does not read for fun. And I’m not sure anything makes you notice the water you’re swimming in, quite like a fish out of water.
Still he had his fun when it snowed. It’s safe to say that in the five to six years (I’m losing track) since I’ve moved down to Cornwall, I haven’t seen snow. Growing up in Birmingham, snow-days (a.k.a days off school due to snow) seemed to be a yearly occurrence – although generally they occurred around Easter. Matt on the other hand had seen but a handful of snow days in his childhood – what with Cornwall being around ten degrees in winter! So the following morning we were both quite delighted with the white world we woke up to.
Family were due in the afternoon, so we hastily headed out; walking a route from my house that took us through a couple of city parks. We threw snowballs and took snaps as we went; quickly building ourselves a small snowman, when we realised we only had about 10 minutes left. Without a spare carrot or scarf, our snowman simply received a few twigs for features – although looking back at these photos, I think they gave him quite an expressive little face.
During these days I also managed to take a few bits of film which I’m currently compiling into some kind of Christmasy montage. So (whilst I’m now editing) please let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to feature – details of my time away, what I got for Christmas or New Years Resolutions and plans for 2018?
P.S. Just wanted to say a quick thank you to those of you that have answered my survey. It has been so interesting to hear your thoughts and I’ve also been so humbled by your words of kindness and encouragement. Genuinely thank you so much, it is beyond lovely to know people are enjoying what I’m doing here.