Today at Cafe Blend – Adventures in Birmingham

September 20th 2010

My fondness for Urban Coffee Co is very well documented. Nevertheless, particularly when I’m having a full on writing day (that is a short day with two breaks) the day is generally more productive with a change of scene so 2-3 coffee shops is ideal.

In Glasgow and Edinburgh where until now I have gone for all my full on booking writing jaunts it’s easy as each has two or three of the fabulous Bean Scenes plus a couple of other places for lunch. In Birmingham, as yet, there is only one Urban so when I’m recommended Cafe Blend by two people, I decide to go and investigate.

My first guess that this is going to pricier because it’s opposite Harvey Nicholls is correct.

Verdict

Con – View is the car park opposite and it’s on a very busy road near a very busy New Street Station

Pro – nice vibe

Con – Unsatisfactory service; I’m assuming the young lady was an untrained student but the words ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ didn’t trouble her lips once. My planned greeting of ‘here you are, I’ve heard all about you!’ seemed inappropriate. The student never offered me any choice and I was automatically served a small coffee.

Pro – they offer NY cheesecake

Con – they don’t stock Kissme CupCakes (but hopefully will do soon)

Pro – I love the comfortable bench seating with a table by the window. It’s a huge plus to have comfort and a desk

Con – the coffee is average but I get used to it

Pro or Con – Cafe Blend is way too close to Harvey Nicks

Gratitude – August

Wow, it’s a hard month to be grateful but alas, there is always something:

  •  5 days in Glasgow for book writing & getting to 32000 word target
  • Meeting the lovely & talented Marsha Moore
  • Having a light work month so more time for writing
  • Match of the Day is back!

Adventures in Glasgow-August 2010 Part 2

Sunday I miss breakfast at the hotel. I don’t like eating early, before 9am but it’s there for the taking. I just don’t know where the time goes.

I’m looking forward to Sunday afternoon tea today at Cup, scene of gorgeous lunch last time but I’m not hungry enough. I delay until Monday, when it’s quieter I reason and then promptly forget.
Instead I pay a short visit to Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery, opposite the local Bean Scene (and what I am looking at as I write this. Well obviously not that precise moment or everything would be spelt incorrectly)

I don’t fancy spoiling the day by going downtown to the cinema tonight so stay west and complete my word target

Words up to 5000
Lunch: Off Shore
Cupcake: 1, Waitrose

Monday
A bonus day. Same as yesterday, miss breakfast, go to Cresswell St Bean Scene and write 1000 words. It’s a struggle to reach the word target for the second day running.
Yes I have been to the same coffee place each morning and it’s absolutely nothing to do with the guy who works there. Nothing, I tell you, it’s simply my favourite Bean Scene.

I finish early and the vintage place is still not open at 12.10 so I take a little, OK quite a big walk into Partick and back to the museum for more Glasgow story gazing. It’s really quite good in there.

I didn’t go to Cup today either; maybe I know it will never be as magical as the first time. I’ll go on my next Glaswegian visit.

After buying my movie ticket, my plan is to take a look at the ‘other side’ of Glasgow where Caledonia University is. There is nothing there, not even a coffee shop. Where do these students go? There are hundreds – OK many many places around University of Glasgow.

Cupcake: 1 Waitrose lemon & lime 7½/10 photo
Movie Grown Ups 7½/10
Words up to 6500

Tuesday

My last morning visit to the morning Bean Scene and they remember my order! I managed to get the same seat each time too; I’m beginning to wonder why no-one wants to sit there but I do arrive early so there are not many customers around.

What I’ve noticed on this trip

People just take up the whole pavement and many times I’ve had to wait until they move out of the way for me to pass or more often, I just step into the road. This isn’t just once or twice but several times on a walk. Why?
There is definitely a divide between attitudes; warmth towards a stranger in the West End rather than anywhere else. I know my place.

Big plus is there was no rain to speak off. The umbrella didn’t come out once. In fact we had glorious sunshine most days.

Words 7000

New frocks

New Frocks

Adventures in Glasgow – August 2010

Wanted some vintage coffee tins but found this perfect one; my daddy used to drink Camp coffee!

Wanted some vintage coffee tins but found this perfect one; my daddy used to drink Camp coffee!

Another jaunt to Glasgow for book writing, this time for 4 nights so word target is 7000.

Bean Scene visits
Cresswell Lane, West End 4 (each morning)
Woodside 2
Kelvin Grove 2 (nearest to hotel)

Which one do I love most?

I think it’s fair to say I love Glasgow now.

It’s because I stay away from the city centre and only spend time in the areas I like, namely the West End and a little bit of Woodlands. I delve into the city centre twice to get to the cinema and both times, whilst the films are worth seeing, I dislike being there.

If only they built a Cineworld at the other end of town – or will that spoil it?

It’s a rare occurrence that there’s no rain when I arrive on Friday afternoon so I decide to walk to the hotel, with a stop at M&S for hotel room goodies to break up the journey. A random few drops of rain arrive during the final leg of the walk but nothing to wet the umbrella over. I’m home and dry.

There’s something very pleasing about familiarity so walking into the hotel is like coming home. I even recognise the guy on the desk although I’m guessing his recognition of me is politeness.

Early Friday evening is to achieve the word target in the local Bean Scene and then fish and chips. This time I have everything sussed for a traditional Friday – bar the cinema, I give that a miss for tonight.

Words: 1000

Saturday Straight to the West End for writing at Bean Scene in Cresswell Lane. Next door I discover De Courcey’s Arcade, which contains a now obligatory cupcake bakery. The staff reveal that it may not have opened when I last visited.

The best sighting is yet another vintage clothes store in Glasgow. However, I do like Just for You because I receive personal shopper service. Almost immediately the owner begins collecting frocks for me to try whilst insisting throughout I’m a size 8 and me arguing I’m 10-12. Also, her stock ranges between Karen Millen and designer – no Top Shop in here (how is that vintage anyway?). Obviously I love Top Shop, even though I should have grown out of it at least ten years ago but there’s not an awful lot of point in buying second hand Top Shop or Miss Selfridge.

The lady does me a deal so I buy the second dress that I love but don’t need along with the first dress that will be very handy indeed for all these functions I have to go to for my charity project work. We become ‘firm friends’ and I go back each day just to say hello – not to see what else has been bought in, honest guv.

Cupcake: De Courcey’s Arcade strawberry & vanilla 7½/10
Lunch: Off Shore near the university again (I keep wanting to spell it Off Sure)
Movie – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – 8/10
Words up to 3000

Part 2 to follow

Adventures in Birmingham: August 2nd

Two weeks of too much going on meant too much going out means getting back into writing and reading mode. I haven’t got back into my book a week habit (that’s reading, not writing one) since before the world cup.
So having said all that about Birmingham being so fantastic there is rarely a need to London, this weekend a few of us are going to see Hair, the musical in London.

I say Hair was the first production I was in whilst at primary school but in a few ways, this is not strictly true; firstly, my debut production was the nativity, 3 months into my school career and I was picked, not auditioned, to play Mary, largely a non-speaking role. I’m sure there may have been another nativity or two before Hair. Now that I come to think of it, I don’t remember a production, just rehearsing so maybe it was just part of dance class or the like? My memory is only of waving scarves and swirling around the floor to the tune of ‘this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius, the age of Aquariuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuus’. That’s all I remember, or I could have imagined it all. All I knew at the time was that I was singing about a star sign, growing up as the youngest of 4 sisters and just one brother, I knew about star signs at an absurdly early age.

So, having spent the weekend easily – well not easily, it was bloody hard, I just mean in the end I topped the target of 1000 words on my book – I start as I mean to go on by picking up a new book to read.
I generally don’t like chick lit (maybe pick up one a year) but this seems good so far, The Truth About Melody Brown by Lisa Jewell.
Best of all my Radio 2 boys are back after a holiday, Mark Radcliffe & Stuart Maconie 8-10pm, sadly now only on Monday to Wednesday having been replaced with live music on Thursdays. When I say ‘live’ I mean recorded at some point in the past. If you’re going to replace the best thing on radio, now that Wossy has gone (Ken Bruce & popmaster a close 2nd) replace it with something better. Nope, that’s not possible; there is nothing better than these two.

These are my reading hours even though I get mightily distracted, not always by the music but by their muso chatter in between perfectly chosen records from now, from the past and most importantly from the future. If I am out, as much as I say I’ll pop in for a quick drink after work (strictly speaking it’s not my ‘after-work’, just everyone else’s’), it inevitably gets to at least 9 before I think of trying to make an exit, even though I rarely drink. (allergy reasons)

Cocktails in an island

Back to Birmingham, this leads to Tuesday, the only night I’ve committed to be Out with the Girls and my third attempt to get to the Island Bar. Living in St Pauls, going to the other side of the city is like going to the dark side. For a start it’s a good 25 minute walk but I make it and a lovely time is had by all, with the first time I looked at my watch being 9.28. Bang on cue then.
It’s nice in there although it took me 10 minutes to ask for my mineral water as the solo barman was busy making something green with herbs. I should have asked for some pink colouring just to make it as fancy as the others.

I was meant to pop in for a drink before we went to see Cherry Ghost at the Alex the other week, but somehow it never happened. They offer cocktails at £3.50 all night on a Monday, I guess we’ll be doing that next month, when I may gear myself up for a drop of the hard stuff. It’s a recently developed alcohol allergy although I’m not a big drinker anyway.

Coffee & Live Music

On Friday, seemingly the coffee shop to the stars had some welcome live music from Pandemonium Peoples Front Skiffle Experience; ‘bringing back skiffle to its coffee bar roots’. They can only be described as skiffle meets folk and runs over the punk on the way. As everyone knows, I’m in there most afternoons to write and although Friday is a day off, I felt it a good enough reason to be at Urban. I’ve loved live music in coffee shops in the evenings since my early days of travelling solo to New York. If one is not a drinker this a fabulous way to enjoy life music and on a Friday, a great end to the working week/start to the weekend. If not every week it will be great to have this at least once a month.

It’s a little loud for a coffee shop ambience as we had to SHOUT TO BE HEARD but otherwise, fantastic.

Flower children

Four of us meet at Snow Hill on Saturday morning to catch a train to London. Why Snow Hill and not the brilliantly fast Virgin train from New St? Because Chiltern trains are running an offer, buy 2 tickets, get four so against my better judgement, I’m persuaded by my three companions that it will be fun if we’re all together.

As it turns out, that was the only negative as apparently there was some maintenance work going but the horrendous delays were not mentioned either when purchasing, on the boards or at any time during the very long journey. Nor that we had to change in deepest darkest West London (barely) and jump on a tube. In total we spent over six hours travelling, more time that we went in London. I think I’ve convinced the others to stick with Virgin and book weeks in advance to get the deal in future.

The ‘day’ in London however was perfection; brunch, coffee, show, coffee & cake before heading back. A great last free Saturday for me before Match of the Day returns. Next weekend, I’m staying in Birmingham, probably.

Adventures in Birmingham – introduction

Possibly the first in a series to remind us of what makes Birmingham a great place to be.

Before I begin, if you are new to me, my blog or to planet earth, this is what I’m about.
Originally from Bedford (c45 miles north of London, don’t mention Luton) I moved to Birmingham a year ago but it’s my 3rd stint of living here. This time, I came via a period in New York, my 2nd home of 2 decades standing where I attended writing school (no, I know, you wouldn’t think it). This time round the US immigrations department have taken it upon themselves to believe that I worked there illegally but of course I didn’t. (I think that’s the reason but I’ve never had anything in writing, they don’t have to give me that, it is America). Still I’m locked out of the USA until they change their mind.

Why would I work if I didn’t have to? In any case I was far too busy going to see Martha Stewart’s TV recording in the morning, bumping into Kevin Bacon in the afternoon, waiting in line at Staples whilst they printed 200 ‘no parking – filming’ signs for the latest Angelina Jolie movie being shot, deliberately walking past the school around the corner every day where John McEnroe sent his kids, just in case and manoeuvring around the red carpeted streets where there was a new SJP film premiere. Not all in one day but that’s how it is and I’m far too exhausted to work after all that.

In any case, 4 years as a freelance consultant (really, it’s not that interesting to talk about here) working 18 hour days, pretty much 7 days a week just to keep going, I had a stash of cash, the UK was going to the dogs (#skyfail, #BTfail) and I left.

I’ve been writing for 2 years now (yes I know, you wouldn’t know it) and whilst I was in New York, started a blog where amongst other things, I posted a weekly journal for my friends back home.
I thought it would be fun to do that now, albeit a lot shorter as I do work, blog, write articles for other websites and oh, I’m in the middle of writing my first memoir-based book.

If writing this helps (local) people realise why when I come back from NYC, I feel Birmingham is the place to live and not a little place called London village.

All roads lead to cake.

First adventures in Birmingham post follows

Glasgow May 28-31st 2010 (Part Two)

Light Rain

Breakfast is included and although I’m not one for early eating, I’m not one than can resist food either. I feel a little self-conscious walking into breakfast with a kilt-like skirt, probably not the best choice for an English girl in Glasgow. I’m a little irked that the waitress assumed I did not want haggis but it’s a pleasant enough experience and demonstrates even better value for money. Scottish breakfast minus haggis apparently equals Irish breakfast, complete with potato scone. Or bread as I know it.

Light rain is projected and I find myself pulling on my in case it’s really cold, roll neck sweater. The strange this is last night I was cold coming back from the coffee shop but I knew I would be. Glaswegians were walking around like it was summer without coats. Curious.

The rain is mightily strange; there’s one drop every six seconds and it feels like walking under a shop canopy and drops fall of the end so hardly worth bothering with.

I’m too full for more coffee so a walk is called for, past Bean Scene, clocking potential coffee shops in the West End, specifically in area called Partick although of course I thought it was Patrick for first 20 minutes.

With the rain coming I settle for Big Mouth Coffee Co and finally get cracking on the book before discovering a bit more of the West End. I lunch at Off Shore by Glasgow University.  More book is written accompanied by lovely sweet potato, coconut and something soup and big chunks of brown bread. It was just what I needed both the meal and discovering this area. Glasgow is looking up and when I get back, I have a new attic room, twice the size with a decent bathroom. Although it’s another floor up, I have a bath.

I stroll the shops and grab a cinema ticket for later. After 2 weeks without a film to watch, I’m left with CopOut with Bruce Willis which is actually very funny and a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours.

I head back to pick up recharged laptop and head out for night cap and heading towards my word target at the local Bean Scene.

Cup

Sunday is a gorgeous day and I set off after a lovely bath and light breakfast to another Bean Scene in the Hillside area of the West End. Glasgow doesn’t seem to have many road signs and my map had a big subway line going over all the main road names. I didn’t even realise there was a subway until I saw an entrance this morning. Eventually I get there; it’s hidden away in a lane. Another thing that Glasgow has lots of and explains where people walking in front of me disappear into.

Pea & Mint Soup

Pea & Mint Soup & Cheese Scones

I love this neighbourhood. There is a Marks & Spencer Simply Foods and a Waitrose which I went in just for the fun of it. They have St Georges flag cakes just randomly placed in bakery. Un-sold I may add. Even though there is a Waitrose a couple of miles from my home and another 20 minutes drive away, I don’t have a car so it’s the novelty value. I saw someone carry a Waitrose bag the other day and assumed then there must be one in the city centre John Lewis. Disappointedly not but I found this when I took a wrong turn this morning. That’s pretty much how I discover most things; walking onwards even when I’m not where I thought I was going to be, what’s to lose?

That’s how I finally realised the steeple of the church like building I have been looking at from afar was indeed part of glamorous Glasgow university. Actually the rest of it composed of horrid 1970s tower blocks and more pleasant modern buildings but it is the size of a small village.

Hillhead also has a delightful place called Cup which offered afternoon tea but it’s a little early for that so I have soup; pea & mint with cheese scones. I’m able to sit upstairs which I note is quieter and thought it was as good as place as any to carry on writing so ordered a long cold drink to sip on. An hour later, it got much busier for late lunchers and it was time for me to get to the cinema for the only other film that I want to watch, the Bad Lieutenant with Nicholas Cage. Bad indeed. That’s 2 hours I’ll never get back.

I needed cheering up after that. I could have stayed in a gorgeous part of Glasgow, enjoying both the sun and the scenery whilst cracking on with the writing. I catch the last rays whilst walking back and get to the local Bean Scene again.

Sun with no rain

On the last, the warmest day I skip breakfast and have a bagel at one of the two final Bean Scenes. I just love this place and it has made my trips to Scotland all the more worthwhile. I found it strange that both wide doors at Bean Scene were open and they felt the need to put a fan on too. It’s 9 in the morning and barely 10c!!

Glasgow had emptied the ATMs on Saturday night at I had to visit three to get some cash, which it only dispensed in £20 denominations.

Still, I love this area. It reminds me of New York in that the houses are similar, with stoops and basements but then we have that in London. There’s a big social culture in NYC but the Scottish version involves drinking. Best of all, the decent coffee shops (the now famous on this blog, Bean Scene) open till late but not till midnight as they do in NYC. Just like one of my early visits to Starbucks (I know, gahhh!) in 2000 on Broadway that featured live music. This was my first solo visit to NYC so it was nice to hang out till way past 10pm and feel both safe and entertained. I was unfortunate not to experience such melodic pleasure in Bean Scenes either here in Glasgow or previously in Edinburgh.

I notice a fair few recycling points in Glasgow and it feels like there is one for glass on every corner. I‘m surprised they are not next to every regular trash bin given the amount of merry people in the streets each night. I have to say, it’s the drinking that made me slightly uncomfortable in Edinburgh and more so here.

Given the number of friendly Glaswegians I have met, heard, listened to and ready about over the years, I didn’t get the warmth I’d expected from the local people.

I imagine I will one day, but at the moment, I’m not sure when I may be back.

Cup