In September, Birmingham is where it’s at!

This time last year almost to the day, I commented on how much was happening in Birmingham at that time – the Library of Birmingham had its gala opening, the FourSquares weekend took place across the city, I volunteered at a literary festival… it seemed like every week there was something new going on.

The city is a work of art
Certainly true of Birmingham!

Two years does not a representative sample make, but this September has turned out to be even more eventful. I finished my final placement of first year in the first week of the month and since then I’ve been busy almost every day.

For one thing, I have begun my new job of regular nannying for the family I’ve been babysitting for since I moved here. I’m picking the children up from school once a week and taking them either to my flat or their house, cooking them dinner and generally being around until their mum gets home. At some point I will probably also start taking them to school one morning a week but that’s not needed at the moment.

Aside from my various jobs and the attendant self-employment paperwork wrangling, I’ve been doing lots of exciting things. The first weekend of September saw the start of the British Science Festival, which conveniently for me and other science-loving Brummies was based at the University of Birmingham this year. On the first day I wandered into the city to see what was going on and ended up visiting an animal-petting session where I met a tortoise, two guinea pigs and (from a distance, mostly due to the throng of children between me and the table) a tarantula, a python and a gecko.

The animal handler displaying the tortoise's undershell
The animal handler displaying the tortoise’s undershell

I also spent a bit of time chatting to some scientists who were manning the Science Grrl stall, giving out postcards to children who then went around meeting female scientists and getting their signature. It was great to see so many young girls talking excitedly about what kinds of science they enjoyed, and what they wanted to do for a career – one girl announced she wants to be an astronaut!

Then I made my way across to Digbeth, with a small and inevitable detour into the vegan shop to buy some delicious supplies, to see the City of Colours street art festival. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and was surprised by how many people were there. It was difficult to move in some places, there were such large crowds thronging through the narrow alleys and crossing the bridge into the Custard Factory where most of the art was being done.

I’ve always liked graffiti art; not so much the rather inane tags that claim ownership of disused walls but the real artwork that brightens up the otherwise grey city landscape. Digbeth is exactly the sort of area that suits a celebration of street art, and there were some magnificent pieces being done. Some were already finished, and others were in progress as I walked through. I was pleased to see several women involved; somehow I think street art is often presented as being an exclusively male activity, potentially because of the perceived link with gangs. Regardless of the artist’s gender each painting was a vibrant splash of colour and all added together they transformed the landscape.

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This is becoming a long post and I’ve only covered one day so far! Over the next week, which was last week, I went to several of the Science Festival events including an interesting lecture on hypnosis (relevant to my career as well as fascinating) and also hosted my brother for one night and my friend Heidi for a few days. Heidi and I headed to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery with a couple of people from my Meetup.com study group, to see an exhibition of photography from the Middle East, and then Heidi and I also dropped into the Rowland Emmett’s Marvellous Machines exhibition which was quirky and oddly compelling.

It was Heidi’s first visit to Birmingham so I tried to show her the highlights in a rather short space of time, and we also visited a variety of cafes to scope out good venues for future study dates or discussion events for the Meetup group. Due to slightly unfortunate scheduling, I had to abandon her for a morning to explore on her own while I spent four hours in the hospital’s blood labs, learning a bit more about the blood screening tests. This involved, unsurprisingly, a lot of staring down microscopes, which I hadn’t done since secondary school, and I found alarmingly, drastically more difficult than in the past. I’m going to the opticians’ on Thursday as it suddenly dawned on me that the near-constant headaches I’ve been having and my previously-undiscovered inability to focus down two lenses at once might be related. We’ll see.

What else? Goodness, there’s been a lot going on. My mum stopped off for an hour on her way home from Paris and we had a drink at my new favourite cafe, Cherry Reds, and yesterday afternoon I toddled back off into the city to the Library to hear Malala Yousafzai in conversation with Lauren Williams, the 2014 Young Poet Laureate. It was really interesting; Malala is obviously an inspiring and impressive young woman but she’s also funny, extremely erudite and, although it’s often easy to forget, still in many ways a child. I’m now reading her book which makes an excellent introduction to the history of Pakistan as well as being a well-written account of her life.

Now we’re up to date so all that remains for me to say is that this morning I went into uni to sort out some administration related to my newest job, as a student ambassador for my faculty. By the sound of things it will mostly involve shepherding people around at open days and interviews, and wearing bright yellow t-shirts, and should be pretty flexible around our availability. I think I probably have enough jobs now… and on that note, off to collect the boys from school!

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