First footsteps in Birmingham…and uninspiring intoxication (October 2008)

It may sound hard to believe, but aged 28 and finding myself in Birmingham I got more drunk than I had ever been before; in October 2008. In many ways it was a big occassion, and indeed one which I rose to and then succumbed to in equal measure being neither happier or sadder by the end, but definitely wiser. Until Tuesday 7th October 2008, I had NEVER stepped foot in the Uk’s second biggest city, Birmingham. I had often driven through it, or past it, and even once stopped on the outskirts to fill my car up with petrol, but I had never actually seen the city and it’s a place I always wanted to see (I did Cardiff, London, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Nottingham even all before I ventured into Birmingham). I had no idea it was this big.

It was all planned about 8 months in advance. As you’ll gather from knowing me, or even reading this blog, I plan things in advance largely based around football matches. With Northern Ireland due to play Slovenia in October 2008, and budget flights being my forte, it was a budget Ryanair flight from Birmingham airport to the random location of Trieste in Italy which caught our eyes. We booked it up for less than £50 return and that was it sorted – we would fly to Italy from Birmingham and then work our way to Slovenia. Once the flights were booked, everything else was forgotten for months and months. And then I thought – one of my best mates, Lee Adams aka Lock In Lee actually lives in Birmingham! I hoped I could somehow amalgamate everything into one – catch up with my hilarious mate Lee, perhaps enjoy the sights of Birmingham and make my way to Birmingham airport. Initially the flights were noon time, but as Ryanair often do, they changed them to 6.20 am, which meant an early start and a night time drive to the airport. Fellow South of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club mate, Graham Anderson was also booked on the same flights. Graham lives in Bristol and I at the time in Bournemouth, so it made total sense for me to pick Graham up on the way to save petrol and add conversation to a dull car journey through places such as Gloucester and Worcester, albeit via the Motorway 5. It was all sorted! Lock In Lee even booked two days off work and found us a £9 All You Can Drink Nightclub, plus two sofas for Graham and I to kip the night before our 6.20 am flight.

I told Graham how nuts me and Lee were as a gruesome twosome, doing ridiculous things such as going to Prague just for the sake of it, auditioning for Big Brother, not minding getting blowjobs in public and generally larking around. Everything was going well, I picked up Graham after work in Bristol, we got on the road from Bristol to Birmingham, got lost near Sellyoak and finally found our way down War Lane to Lee’s place in the Harborne area of Birmingham. The size of the city was starting to show, but I liked it. There I parked at Lock In Lees, plumped my stuff in his lounge, we watched some old DVDs and reminisced with some photos of Lee with Nottingham Forest players and I chilled out using Lime Bacardi Breezers. Graham must have felt he was too old for this sort of melarkey. It’s just as well he ended up being the sensible one. We needed some food and Graham and I ventured on a dark cold night just literally across a road at the roundabout and Graham got some pie and chips/fish and chips for me in a shop where they were looking for staff. I offered them to take me on, but then realised I didn’t live in Birmingham and also had 2 jobs in a location some 200 miles south. I decided I needed a few beers as well so headed to what looked like an offy for a carryout. It turned out to be a super market which didn’t sell alcohol. If you ever wanted a good example of an oxymoron then that’s it. Hardly super, and barely even a market! I was directed across the road and just as I came out of the shop I was approached by two youths. Suddenly realising I was up north again, in a completely different culture, I was intrigued by this normal behaviour of these youths. The first guy came up to me, well spoken and looking about 15 and gave me £3 and said in a classic Brummie accent “any chance you can pop in there and get me 10 Richmond Superkings?” I hesitated for a second thinking to myself, I could decline, but I’ve been that age and in that situation so I know what I’m going to do. I took the £3 and I thought to myself I really should encourage them not to smoke, but I drink, I’ve smoked before and if I say no, the next person will get the fegs for the guy, so of course I’d go in and get them for him! I also hung outside a local off licence in Ashbury Avenue, Bangor in the 1990s asking people to go in to get me a carryout. Then crossing by the roundabout another decent looking chap with his pretty girlfriend came up and asked for 10 Benson and Hedges Gold. I took his £2.50 as well. Both guys said “keep the change” and I went in and bought the cigarettes for them as well as my own beer. It was a kind of raw and vibrant welcome to Birmingham and reminded me of home in Northern Ireland. Whether they’re shy or stupid, the Bournemouth folk don’t loiter outside feg shaps and then ask ye to get them fegs. It was nice to have that cultural difference straight away. I didn’t tell Lock In Lee that story, he may recount it on here first.

After that it was finish another two quick Lime Bacardi Breezers and devour my dinner before we decided to do a Wetherspoon’s pub in Birmingham city centre before attempting to find and then get into the student nightclub which was allegedly £9 entry for all ye can drink. I didn’t believe it! Then as we waited right outside Lee’s for the bus into the city centre Lee revealed that “Birmingham doesn’t do returns.” I was surprised by this, so we just were meant to get a £1.50 single ticket into the city centre. The first bus stop had less frequent buses, that was on War Lane, so instead we dandered down the street to a bus stop near a roundabout. A bus for the hospital went past and then the next bus was ours. Lee told me and Graham “just do the same as me, I’ll get on first, drop in £1.50 into the box, say ‘one fifty’ to the bus driver and then collect your ticket.” It was just getting a bus ticket but it was a culture change. I enjoyed it, so much so that I didn’t listen to Lee and after Graham and Lee had said “one fifty please”, I simply said “same again please mate.” The driver knew what I meant and I had a single ticket, but Lee and Graham marvelled at how I could get a simple thing like that wrong, well not wrong, n=but just not to obey Lee, the local resident of the three of us! Graham and I remarked to each other “its like being in a different country and all we did was buy a bus ticket!” The bus journey allowed Lee to give us the briefest guided tour in the history of Birmingham as well as direct us to the correct road which would lead to Birmingham Airport for the journey the next morning. Oh yeah and I’ve lost track of time here…it was still barely 8 pm. We exited the bus in what appeared to be the busy pub area of Birmingham. A very high building eclipsed our moonlit sky and Lee pointed out the library opposite as “either the biggest library in Europe, or at least at one point it was.” Either way I was getting culture, facts and wisdom all in one. On route to the Wetherspoons Lee also pointed out a very high building which a relative (uncle, or grandfather perhaps) helped build and once had his photo took at the top. The building was good, but I wanted a beer, my first ever to be had in Birmingham. I chose a St. Austell Cornish Ale randomly at the bar in the Wetherspoons. The Wetherspoons itself was inside a shopping centre and probably the smallest Wetherspoons pub I’ve ever seen. There were some very pretty ladies in there, and Lee also knew a few people, including one geezer he hadn’t met for about a year. Come to think of it, that night was the first time I’d seen my mate Lee in the UK since April 2006 (2.5 years!!!) and yet I still class him as one of my closest mates and me to him as well. We did meet in 2007 however, but that was a speedy 4 days of carnage in Prague. I was now in Lock In Lee’s home city of Birmingham enjoying the beer. Graham was chilling out too, you could tell we were on a high, with no work for 5 days you always would be.

Lee made quite a few calls to the nightclub which was apparently £9 all ye can drink, mainly to confirm opening time, dress code and also whether the three of us could get in. The club was a student nightclub, and none of us were students!!! Though I did happen to have my student card for Bournemouth University on me, and even though it had expired nobody would have been any the wiser. Graham looked too old to be a student, which is a totally ageist and untrue comment. Lee has a punk hairdo, so is either an art student or too rebellious to even consider a government funded educational institution. The calls were made and it was confirmed that the nightclub (a 10 minute walk) was opening at 10 pm sharp and the dress code was casual (as we were) it was £9 all ye can drink and it was student identification on the door. Either way we planned to risk it anyway! Graham ordered me another beer, a Pedigree, my fourth beverage of the night, and we were well on our way to being intoxicated! Also in that Wetherspoons the fire alarm went off, as we waited to see if we could take our beers, leave the sofa and evacuate the manager shouted “Its OK, its a false alarm!”, I then was receiving text messages from my mate Dan Darch who was tuned into radio and telextext simultaneously checking the Milton Keynes Franchise FC Dons v. AFC Bournemouth score and keeping me updated. From a text of 1-0 Anderton, no further texts until a “we win 1-0!” had me smiling by the time we were to leave that pub.

The walk to the AYCD (All Ye Can Drink) Bar was about 10 minutes via a Fountain and a fake Summer Beach. It was too dark to take photographs and I missed a lot of the Birmingham sights due to lack of light, but I did see the bright red lights of the Kerrang! studio just before a Red Dwarf style entrance to a nightclub appeared from out of nowhere. Some very very cool and friendly bouncers looked at us knowing we weren’t really students. I flashed my student card, they then thought “well hold on, these guys aren’t gonna trash the place, we’ll let them in!” which they did and by handing in £10 I got my hand stamped and a £1 change, which all 3 of us donated to the charity box, which may even have been the students union fund. At any rate, this wasn’t a dream. With a “credit crunch”, “inflation” and “recession” all lurking around, who’d have thunk we’d of found an AYCD bar for nine quid? It was true, just hold on to your glass and it’s all you can drink, I got two glasses early on and kept them. Graham kept looking at me and checking I was OK, which was nice. Lee in his usual way just kept saying “let’s get cunted.” The problem was I was already cunted after a few beers and once inside the club, Lee took me to the indie room, knowing I would love the music. As The Charlatans “The Only One I Know” came on, I then requested Oasis and was treated to some vintage stuff from the DJ who banged on “Morning Glory” for a start! I was up jiving giving it more life than these 19 year olds around me. It was fantastic. The mid 90s hits kept banging out and I also tried to chat up the very few females that were in there. Kula Shaker’s Tattva came on and I texted John Hart who was on our flight the next morning to let him know it was all ye can drink! I was carnaged and knew it, even if I didn’t admit it to Graham and Lee. It was lucky Graham didn’t over indulge in the alcohol as he would be my guiding light for making the plane the next morning. It was probably gone midnight when I was caught dancing to Disco 2000 by Pulp, which I followed with bouncing for the most retro dancing to Live Forever witnessed in modern times. Even kids who were in nappies when Definitely Maybe came out, could still see the relevance to a line such as “maybe you’re the same as me; we see things they’ll never see.” Lee got his fix as well with Rage Against The Machine and The Cure getting airings to a crowd who were aged 18 – 22 in my opinion. Graham and Lee and I never looked out of place though! Graham was still looking after me and every time he asked if I was OK, I’d say “Yeah” before walking back up to the bar with my glass for yet more and more gin and tonics. I then made the mistake of moving on to vodka once gin had finished at the bar, and I dont like or drink vodka, I hate it, so that was me carnaged. Apart from lifting up the skirt of one of Lee’s mates (Imogen I think) and dancing with a Sex Pistols freak I dont even remember getting back to Lees that night. Well it would have been that morning…

Yeah the one where we had a 6.20 am flight from Birmingham to Trieste. That meant we needed to be at the airport by 4.20 am. We must’ve got in after 3 am though. And yes I was carnaged, I was sick and I was the one who had to drive to the airport that morning. Lee and Graham were the helping hand with black coffee and letting me rest my head for a brief time, and yes I had now done Birmingham and made it safely somehow in my car to Birmingham airport to the onward flight to Trieste, Italy for yet another adventure on life’s mazy corridor!

Who was there – Lock In Lee, Jonny Blair, Graham Anderson.

Bars Visited – Wetherspoons (Paradise Place), Snobs Nightclub.

Sick – In Lock In Lee’s toilet.

Cost to get smashed – £9. I had about 7 pints and 6 gin and tonics, then moved on till the Vodka.

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