Thursday, 13 August 2015

The Cafe, Library of Birmingham

Intellectual endeavour should always be fed by copious amounts of coffee and cake, with the occasional sandwich thrown in for good measure. This is a library that knows its users and whacks a café right by the entry doors, clearly knowing from years of experience that any research student worth their salt will never, ever pass up the opportunity to eat instead of work.

This is the best people-watching spot ever. Tucked into the corner overlooking the cultural centre of Birmingham, watching people schlep to the theatre, the Symphony Hall and the eateries is one of the best ways of passing time I have ever encountered. Cities, to this market town dweller, are an endless source of fascination, and no little envy. Sit right by the window and watch life passing you by.*

The latte is hot, foamy and drinkable, and no one ushers you on, so you can sit and muse for hours, if you so please. Perhaps on the big questions. What is truth? What is the nature of Being? Is there such a thing as 'right' and 'wrong'? Is Love indeed a Many Splendoured Thing? Is the café all that will be left of the hacks and cuts to the services and resources this £188 million library?

*Got to be careful doing all this sitting and watching. These days I think I'm coming off creepy.

Garden Room, The Anchor, Tintern

Since Tintern Abbey is not in the care of the National Trust or English Heritage, there are some drawbacks - an entry fee, gift shops selling the most unbelievable old toot and the most disgusting public toilets I have seen in a long time. Plus, this rather odd extension to the Anchor pub. The original building has all the charm you might expect - a plethora of dark wood, uneven floors and real ales. The Garden Room is a (very) modern addition and has all the charm you might expect - a plethora of blond wood, hard tiles and stainless steel.

Still, the place probably has to cater for coachloads of the very young and the very elderly and had the merit of being affordable. I had an egg and cress sandwich, a reasonable pass at one at least, served in the packet with no accompanying crisps or salad. Though, in fairness, where salad is concerned, who cares? And there was no coy attempt to pad out the actual sandwich with bundles of damp cress in an effort to hike the 'green' credentials of the place.

Drew's quiche salad was a better offering, adorned with a bright green salad, luminous yellow sweetcorn and shiny pink and red-hued beetroot. A little psychedelic, in fact; but, then, the Abbey itself is not without its hypnotic, psychoactive qualities. The great merit of this place is the view it provides of those astounding ruins that no photo*, no painting can do true justice. Sit on the farthest bench, watch a flock of birds swooping over those Gothic arches 'neath a lowering, late summer sky and ponder the fleeting nature of existence, the winking out of small lights in a great darkness.

*Not even those on the websites which, inexplicably, no one has thought to call the Tinternet.