Richard Lutz reviews the past seven days in his city.
If there is one pleasant memory from childhood that never fails me, it is playing miniature golf. In the sweet early evenings of a New England summer, the whole family would head up to the little course with its windmills, its bumps, its double decker greens and the excitement of totting up the scores. Somehow my sister, brother and I would always tie for first, which would get us an ice cream.
Across the road, next to the honkytonk open air wrestling ring, would be the legendary Leaning Tower of Pizza where you ordered your pepperoni and they would shout out your name on an outdoor loud speaker when it is was ready. My parents let us give our names. And five minutes later the speaker would squawk out “Pizza for Elvis Presley” or “Two tomato and onions for Doris Day and family”.
Miniatiure golf, or mini-golf to Brits, is good times and my wife Jane and I headed down to the new souped-up 36 hole course this week in my nearby park. No ice cream for the winner. It was a straightforward money bet. We chose the red flag course (easy) rather than the evil-looking black flag course (difficult) with its waterfalls and crazy angles.
I found my wife is a great putter and somehow could manage the water traps better than me. It was a close match and I am too much of a gentleman to advertise the scores. Let’s just say it was a photo finish, there was a giggling pair of young lovers behind us not playing too intently and we both got an ice cream out of it. We are now contemplating the nefarious black flag course.
The miniature golf is in Cannon Hill Park – 15 minutes down a hill from my home. It is full of folks from various parts of the world; half the United Nations is probably represented in the families, teenagers, wild but energetic tennis players and little kids using this piece of urban green. If I had more courage I would grab a clipboard and make believe I was doing a poll or something and ask everyone where they come from as they chat away in Swahili, French, Arabic, Gujarati and Farsi.
The little kids, many from hot climates, are still bundled up against the cold…well, cold for a family from Mali or Bangladesh. Fairly warm for a Brit. The little kids eye the ice cream van and, this week especially, the giant swan pedaloes that are ready to be launched like a weekend armada on an unsuspecting city very soon.
This haven of trees and meadows is, of course, in stark contrast to Birmingham city centre. I spent three hours looking upwards and sideways in a event called Street Wisdom. It was akin to slow-walking where a guy would say; “Spend the next ten minutes sitting on a bench and tell us what you saw.” or “Next, look for something that attracts you and then something that repels you.”
It makes for an intriguing afternoon as you re-assess your city. The highlight was not walking past a demolition crew taking apart the old library. I took a pew and watched a giant drill gnaw into floor four and let hugh chunks of concrete crash to the rumble beneath. This huge machine, which resembled a prehistoric bird pecking away at a cliffside, left the empty ruined rooms naked and open to the city. Some had bookshelves tilted at crazy angles, half-pinned to the collapsed walls. Some still had crummny remains of blinds trying to block out light.
Passers by sat with me and watched this demolition tear apart the building, allowing a new one to be built in a city that is always changing.