September 14, 2013

Birmingham in the mizzle

It's pretty rancid, if you'd go by what a former England captain thinks

I know very little about architecture. This is not surprising, since I know very little about most subjects, but in the Hughes cranial library, the architecture annexe is particularly sparsely stocked, consisting entirely of dust, empty shelves, and a slim pamphlet written in felt-tipped pen, entitled, "I Don't Know Much About Architecture, But I Know What I Like".

Still, it seems to me that in the last few years, the city of Birmingham has gone in for some spectacularly foul outdoor erections. For example, the ugly 1970s Brutalist public library, an inverted pyramid of brown concrete, has this month been made redundant by an even uglier enormous black library-box, decorated with chicken wire and topped with a shiny golden chimney that surely belongs on a Las Vegas crematorium.

Even good old Edgbaston has not escaped. I wasn't there at the unveiling of the titivated stadium in 2011, but I imagine that when the velvet curtain fell, all you could hear were polite coughs from the assembled guests, and honks of disapprobation from horrified taxi drivers processing, aghast, along the Edgbaston Road.

I won't dwell on the corrugated metal chassis or the plastic blue rectangle overshadowing the dingy glass entrance, other than to say that with the addition of a few empty trolleys, the place could easily pass as an out of town shopping centre.

Inside, one quarter of the Edgbaston Mall looks as though it is going to a Come Dressed As A Proper Sports Stadium party, but this towering super-pavilion, the kind of thing a child might come up with if challenged to use all of the bricks in her construction set, only shows up how poky the rest of the place is. It's a ground frozen in mid-metamorphosis that will either emerge as a 21st-century super-venue, or remain a hideous mutant.

'It's pretty rancid," declared Michael Atherton on Wednesday. He wasn't talking about the stadium, however; he meant the weather. These were the sort of metereological conditions more suited to a Scandanavian detective series set on the shores of a desolate fjord than a festival of cricket. The grey sky was indistinguishable from the grey tower blocks on the grey horizon, and those brave souls clinging to the face of the West Stand, like a colony of puffins on a mid-Atlantic rock, were the subject of considerable and heart-felt admiration.

Actually, the much-hyped precipitation was a bit of a let-down, an apologetically faint spray that had us squinting all afternoon to see if it had just stopped. It hadn't. Spectators were struggling for ways to describe it, but that doesn't excuse one woman's resorting to "mizzle", an utter abomination spawned by the forced coming together of two perfectly innocent words. I reported her to a steward for committing a crime against the English language amounting to a breach of the peace, but he told me to chillax.

Still, though the rain was feeble, the cricket was full-blooded and thrilling. You can learn a lot in 15.1 overs, and on Wednesday we learnt the following:

1. That some people think booing Mitchell Johnson puts him off. It doesn't.
2. That you have to get Jonathan Trott out two or three times before he will leave.
3. That in the flesh, Shane Watson looks scruffy and confused.
4. That Aleem Dar does not know how to operate an umbrella.
5. That the Million Dollar Maxwell really does exist (I saw him getting off the coach)
6. That you haven't lived until you've seen Birmingham in the mizzle.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here