Tonight I find myself in England’s second city; Birmingham, and in particular in its commercial heart.
I still recall from my youth, the TV show Candid Camera, which was I suppose a forerunner of reality TV in that it relied upon the reaction of ordinary people to a variety of spoofs and setups. One that has always stuck with me was of a man dressed as a matador stopping people in the city to ask for directions to the Bull Ring, the joke being that although there is such a location in Birmingham, it is not used for bull fighting. (The name does refer to a hoop of iron in the market where bulls were tied for baiting though, so neither nation has the moral high ground when it comes to animal welfare).
Nowadays it is a very different type of market, its name concatenated now to Bullring, it is a shopping centre overlooked by an apartment block that continues the circular theme. The Rotunda was built as an office block in the 1960’s but was redeveloped at the same time as the present retail centre was constructed. Opening in 2003 the present day Bullring became Britain’s busiest shopping centre the following year.
The Selfridges store, which is one of the main attractions of the centre, won architectural awards for it’s sheath of aluminium discs, which was apparently inspired by the sequins of a Paco Rabanne dress. It seems to me that a more appropriate simile would be coinage.
Which hints at another market. Standing nearby as a sort of mascot to the centre, and the city itself is a large bull, which is rather reminiscent of that which stands outside the New York Stock Exchange. Ironic since I spent the evening watching the Oscar-nominated film The Big Short, which tells the story of the role of the banks in the global economic crisis.
I enjoyed the film enormously, but couldn’t help but feel some unease afterwards. Aside from all the glitzy retail units I felt like there were more homeless people on Birmingham’s streets than I’ve seen in some time, and mostly within a few yards of shops were small fortunes are paid for designer labels
And there was another reason for my unease. The work that brought me here. I’m delivering training in a bank.