Monday 3rd January 2005

I had planned today for the best part of the past two weeks giving rise to an excellent opportunity to get out of the house and make most of my last day of leisure. Returning to work tomorrow morning, and with that a return to reality, routine. The chosen destination was the Midlands, because of the splendor which is the BullRing shopping complex. First setting foot on the mall on Saturday 29th May last year, I was amazed at the sheer size, in comparison to the main shopping centres I know locally. (Namely Oracle and Centre MK. I know towards the end of May I gave assurances of giving some review of Britain’s second city and Europe’s largest shopping development. This was my opportunity to repay that debt, while generating some more financial debt for myself in the process.

Pre booking my tickets on the last day of 2004, meant I was prepared for the journey. Hoping to make use of Chiltern Railways fantastic Just £15 offer. As usual the restrictions placed upon the usage, meant it was only valid after 11am on a this bank holiday the train would be leaving High Wycombe at quarter past midday. Completely unpractical for a shopping trip, so I opted for conventional cheap day return which worked out to be £7.50. This was not just another day of window shopping, the purpose of my trip was to get a winter jacket. Not the doorman security bomber jacket variety, yet something more elegant and classy affair. Wearable both everyday over my suit but also when out on a the tiles (even if this will be quite a rarity).

Apart from buying the ticket, there was little preparation that needed to be carried out. I planned to leave Wycombe around 8am and get back by 7.30pm at the latest, in order to not miss the out my daily fix. With the timing and day set, it was a case of just getting my things together the night before. I packed my DAB Portable Digital Radio to see exactly how practical it is on the road. There was the small task of locating all my PINs for my credit cards in order to actually verify the purchase of goods. Reference to my entry from Wednesday 15th December will shed some light on my views on this new anti fraudscheme. Yet I feel forced by the banking community to adopt a procedure for which I have little confidence. Maybe in practice I will find the system much more robust. Time will tell.

Waking early, I forced myself out of my bed, with no signs of light outside. Getting ready quickly, my sister gave me a lift to the station. Getting there just before 8am, I had a short wait for my train heading North. Considering purchasing a newspaper, I decided against doing so. It would be filled with images and more reports from the Asia Pacific. This is not to come across as heartless for the plight of millions, just not today. Today, was a day away from the reality of the disaster. Time for myself. I knew, there would be points throughout the day when I would be reminded of the fact, I should be grateful for how lucky I am and my circumstances. Therefore, I chose to listen to the radio, just for some music to pass the time before my Clubman arrived on platform two. Unfortunately, I was not just in a black spot but in a blackout area. Possibly due to the same reason that mobile coverage is so bad in a town forged in between two valleys. So, defeated I backed away the device and continued to wait for my train. The town was dead, as was the station with a few early birds scurry to catch the train to London. Two other passengers were waiting for my train, and had come to sit down. Both reading tabloids of some descriptions, which I tried my best to avoid the headlines and concentrate on the platform clock, ticking away. The station announcer, gave the news I had been waiting for, my train was about to arrive, so with a smile I looked eagerly down the track, across into the distance. A journey, I used to make on a daily basis. Upon boarding the train I was again attempted to listen to the radio, hoping for a more successful outing that on the station platform. Disappoint was the only result, no station was audible. It was not until we were on the outskirts of the town, that I started getting a distinguishable signal. My first choice was to find a station playing back to back pop music, thinking it would not take long to find. I was wrong, so I decided to listen to BBC Asian Network but yet again there was nothing appealing to be heard. So, against my better judgment, I tuned into the Breakfast on Five Live knowing all to well what the main subject of discussion. However, the tone was light hearted, almost jovial reflecting my mood on this last day of my Christmas break. What was more surprising or rather refreshing was that they discussed a subject that I would experience for first hand later in the day. Apparently, I am not the only doubter of the effectiveness of the new system and more importantly there are the concerns over the transfer of liability. The show was followed by Richard Bacon sitting in for Victoria Derbyshire. This focused directly on the crisis, but more so on the magnificentresponse of the British people. With some high profiled guests, the discussion moved more towards whether there were more worthy causes both at home and abroad, which do not receive the blanket media coverage. Africa was seen as a shining example of a continent ravaged by war and corruption that need the aid to stand on its own feet. Although the talk was rich with stirring arguments, I decided that I needed to relax more and let other being deal with the outside world, even if just for one day. The British countryside was rolling by my window, green, warm and bright. Today was going to be a good day. Even though the day had started out quite chilly, it felt quite mild. The journey was going well, and my carriage slowly had a few more passengers, as we cut across Banbury and Warwick. It was at this point, I decided to listen to music again, and randomly scrolled down the available stations. Switching over to Core and hearing a great song. Now rap is not one of my favourite genres of music but the artist is even less favoured. Many of peer group would disagree, but I am deeply offended by his music, image and general outrageous outlook on life. The only song, I have in my collection is ‘Stan’, but that is more to do with the soothing calm vocals of Dido thank anything else. On this occasion, I was forced to listen because of the sampled a rarely heard but much loved song from the late 1980s. It came to my attention in early November on PopJustice but unfortunately they are still processing their Archive for September to December 2004. I will link to the article in due course, but I have to give credit to changing to context of the song, to such a topical subject of war (among other others)

Drawing close to Birmingham, I had to make a decision. Either disembark at Moor Street or the next final stop, Snow Hill. As we pulled in towards the city, the train came to a stop for a few minutes, and I could make out the strange silver elephant, sticking out against the backdrop of the city landscape. I decided it was best to take off at the first opportunity and suffer the consequences. I quickly packed away my radio and headed out, with what seemed the majority of the crowd off the train. It was a mild Monday morning, with little traffic outside. Although I did not feel sleep, I was blind to the architecture surrounding me, mainly because I was trying to get some bearings, look at the street signs and follow the other pedestrians. I turned around to be shocked to see the Selfridges building, to my left. Within a ten second walk from the station, I was in the middle of the BullRing complex, I never knew that it would be such a stepping stone away and had envisaged a struggle to get there. The day was panning out to be better than expected. The next stop was to head over to the main city terminal. Apparently the 1854 original was compared to Grand Central station in New York. Personally, I doubt it. I got there just as Nav was coming into the station, so I only had to wait a few minutes before he arrived. Before the rush set in we headed across to the centrepiece of the day, with a newly constructed BullRing link, which connects the station with the shopping centre. Our adventure was just about to begin.

When I had met Nav last Wednesday, he was sporting a black wool overcoat. This was exactly what I was looking for, or had been looking for since September. Just with work and everything, had been unable to get around to making the purchase. By putting it off, I waited until the January sales to find the ideal garment. So, now in Birmingham, I was sure I would be able to find what I was looking for. Preferably I wanted a designer name, but that was not essential, the feel and look was more important. The jacket had to forefill to important criteria. Be wearable in everyday work mode, on top of my suit but also be suitable to wear on a night out on the town. Our first stop was the flagship store of the BullRing and the newest of only four department stores in England. The city centre was still quiet, as we headed to Selfridges. Looking around at the sale items, I was extremely disappointed with the quality of the merchandise on display. I understand that the store want to attract a certain breed of clientele but is it really to arrange the shop floor in such a way to provide their ‘unrivaled shopping experience’. To myself personally, there is clutter and no order to the presentation. Plus, with many big brand names wanting prime spots across the floors and play top dollar for the privilege, you feel bombarded by the name, rather than the product. No which is truly more important? The one jacket we did spot, was priced £572 reduced from £1000. Sorry but that is just slightly out of my price range. Disappointed and surprised by the lack of jackets available, we headed out to search around the rest of the shops.

Our journey how takes the roll call of a standard High Street in any medium sized British town. Next, River Island, GAP, FCUK and USC. All not quite having, what I was looking for. Sure most of them stocked winter jackets but the style and image was just not for me. Can you really see me wearing a hooded jacket? Please. Debenhams did have a fantastic Thomas Nash jacket with a minor flaw. It was not long enough to wear over a suit. However, I kept the jacket in mind, hoping to return if something more suitable could not be found. Nav suggested we change tack and look to support the independent retailer. So, once again, we tried several shops in the BullRing with the aim of finding a jacket. The first store we went into was a small shop selling suits with a few winter jackets at the front of the store on sale. Although the jackets seemed ideal, the one I wanted, in a dark blue was just slightly too big. Even having my suit on underneath, I could not justify the purchase. We looked around at the other jackets, but the sizes just increased to copy with the larger man on the street. It was at this point, having spent a good solid two hours searching that we ventured outside of the shopping complex, to New Street. We headed into Burton first but there was nothing there, apart from a small selection on a rack on the first floor. All highly unsuitable. Heading back into the street, we headed back towards the station, noticing the increase volume of pedestrians. The people of Birmingham were slowly waking up on this Bank Holiday. It was then I saw the store, labeled simply ‘kf’, we headed in to be greeted by a smartly presented Asian man, about our age. This at first seemed like a good sign but we were to be disappointed. Heading towards the back of the store, I noticed the some jackets hang up. Standing next to them, was another salesman. Again, Asian, but how do I put this, less appealing to the eye. The first jacket, was a deep purple colour and by Lambretta. Thankfully it was the right size, but just note the right cut. Nav pointed out the jacket behind and picked it up. We were duly informed by the employee that this was ‘by a different company’, in his rather light brummie accent. These were not at all the appropriate way of dealing with a customer and he seemed to just not quite be bothered. I was surprised that the next words out of his mouth were more constructive, offering me to try on the jacket in the changing rooms. I declined and headed over to the mirror and put on the jacket. It felt comfortable and once glance in the mirror reassured me that this was the jacket I wanted to get. When it comes to buying things, I become quite decisive once I have picked up the perfect item. Unlike women, who still tend to fuss, or consider the big dilemma of do I have the right shoes and handbag to go with this, I just tend to go with instinct. If it feels right, and more importantly if the price is right, I will make that purchase. Sure, the jacket was not some major designer label, but that is not a big issue for me. I would much rather be wearing something comfortable and suitable. Nav, in his own way was advising me against making a rash purchase there and then, but rather to ask for the jacket to be kept for an hour or so, while we continued to shop around. My feeling was we had wasted enough time looking around and I was conscious of the fact that I had dragged my friend around all these stores for nothing. Taking off the jacket, I headed back to the sales assistant. I thought the fact that I informed him I was willing to make a purchase. No joy, this did not change a thing, the poor customer service continued. Perhaps the research is true and poor management is to blame. Who knows? But to be honest, I completely detest the cut of his jib. On his own personal blog, Nav takes the discussion one step further by using rather strong language to describe our experience in this store. So if you are offended by such words, look away now. Purchasing the jacket on my credit card, I was looking forward to entering in my pin instead of having to sign the conventional authorisation slip. To my disappointment, although a chip and pin terminal was available, I was requested to sign to verify the transaction. Then, to make matters worse, I was given a useless bag for my purchase. Those stupid plastic carrier bags, which have the rope attached to close the top. I am sure I could find a much more suitable use for this piece of string.

It was lunchtime and I was hungry. However, I was not in the mood for the traditional fast food. We headed over to Pavilion Central and their Food Court on the top floor. Busy, with long queues we walked around and decided it was best to head further out of town to find somewhere less rushed to have lunch. Then Nav suggestion Subway and I agreed. I remember seeing a branch somewhere, but could not remember exactly, so headed back in the direction of New Street station. It was just outside, underneath the may walk way between the street and train station. This was the first time I had been to the fresh eating establishment since the summer and I was looking forward to it, for some strange reason. One of the few places you can go, not spend a fortune on food and leave reasonably full.

When I met up again with Nav later that afternoon, we still had few hours grace before both of our trains departed back home. While working in Swindon, Nav had told me of his religious lunchtime routine. He would head over to the local Greggs. The dream was taking shape. A extra strong coffee would be purchased along with a large custard slice. Then, returning to the office, he would scoff this down, with the beading eye of his manager just a metre away. Having created such a delicious picture, I too wanted to have a piece of this dream. Going back into the BullRing we searched frantically for the local in store branch. It was some distance away and once got our bearings we headed across to the lower floor. To our disappointment, all the custard slices had sold out and none of the alternatives seemed at all appealing. So we had to make another decision. With less than an hour to go, I suggested we grab a cup of tea or coffee (I am strict drinking of tea only!) The first outlet had been Costa, but we opted to head outside to Borders bookshop for something less crowded and actually read some books at the same time. Outside stands the magnificent Saint Martins Church in contrast to the contemporary shopping centre which almost overshadows it. Opposite was the Spiral cafe from our Italian coffee loving friends. It was at this point in the early evening, I was able to stop and take stock of the day. What I had seen, experienced and the thought of going back to work tomorrow began to hit home, as the sun had set across the city skyline. The conversation took very much a similar route, with the future, jobs and what our careers hold coming to the surface. I was glad to have met up with Nav, particularly as I see so little of him these days, with his life firmly set in Leicester and Lincolnshire. Hoping that the time would not pass us by I kept looking at my watch, almost erratically, not wanting to miss my train home. This must have distracted my ex-house mate to death but it had to be done.

Before we left, I wanted to ‘record’ the moment and as I had not bought along my digital camera, my camera phone was the second best option. Taking photographs of the Christmas Tree and Selfridges building. I will upload them later this week, but be warned the quality will be of substandard. With the customary handshake, I said goodbye to Nav and headed to Moor Street station. My last words to him, was I was looking forward to reading his blog entry on the days events. He promised that something would be put something together by at least Tuesday night. With that I headed for the journey home.

It has taken me several evenings to write this blog entry and I still have not completely finished, so will offer the final part, the train journey home later in the week. When I checked my credit card slips when I got home and looked again at the bag my jacket had been placed in, I was shocked. The store from which I had made this most significant of purchases, was called, Kensington Freak. Is someone, somewhere trying to tell me something?

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