Joined by the Children

City history and culture fascinate me. We intended to soak up as much of the atmosphere as we possibly could before the next rural stretch of the journey. We wanted to visit the Birmingham Library and take a few pictures of the library building for my architect graduate son Simeon.

The tenth most visited popular attraction in the UK – a library. Good news for readers and writers.

As the largest public cultural space in Europe we were both disappointed to be too drained by a stubborn chest infection to explore it fully. Nor the Birmingham Oratory which was to play a major role in the life of J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, a parishioner there for about nine years during his childhood. One of the Oratorian Fathers enabled Tolkien to win a scholarship for the prestigious King Edwards’s school whose fees would have been crippling for his widowed mother.

So much for the Jewellery Quarter, a fashionable urban village regenerating the city’s original artisan roots where there was live jazz and open-air barbeque. This is where James Watts – the industrial pioneer and inventor resided between 1777 to 1790.

Our plans for The Pen Museum as one of the highlights of The Pen and Voice Tour also scotched, we accepted life’s message to rest and prepared for our next visitors. Down at the wharf-side, plied with plenty of coffee, Andrew Farmer paid no regard to the weather. He paints in all conditions, even fog and snow. His masterful observational skills captured the signature lighting at Gas St Basin, whether brilliant sunshine or the rich glow of an evening’s sinking sun.

Ironically, his last few hours with us were spent on a first-time try at locking down on his last morning upon The Edith and Florence narrowboat as we emerged from the city descent of Farmer’s locks.

Simeon had boarded an overnight coach from Newcastle to New Street for a mere £5.60. Awarded his BA final last week, attending his year Reveal Exhibition and turning 21 years old, he roughed it overnight to join our cruise.

It was a wonderful reunion with both of my children from their respective lives. Sim and his sister Esme joined us that morning as we headed out to the infamous Spaghetti Junction and a duck’s eye view of the 1960’s monstrosity from the waterway beneath.

Every towering pillar and sweeping concrete carriageway’s underbelly on view.

What are the uglier or unwanted aspects of a special occasion you have long awaited – and how did you make the best of it?

This is the essence of ‘As If’, ‘keeping on, keeping on’ (in the words of Alan Bennett). Or picking yourself up after a ‘facer’ as my Mum would say.

Gill x

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