Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Second City Limits

Despite being the second largest city in the UK, the idea of showing a young lady a wide range of cultured entertainment over a weekend in Birmingham might have seemed unthinkable just a few years ago. And yet I seemed to manage it with a reasonable amount of success upon the visit of a certain princess who arrived in town from a heavily-delayed rail journey unconvinced that a good time could be had north of Watford. Things started relatively quietly with an evening meal at Bella Pasta before the princess consumed enough house red and Jackie D's to consider sharing a room with me again at the nearby Burlington Hotel (cheapish rate obtained through Late Rooms, natch).

Breakfast wasn't included in the price mind, and the next morning the Full English was nearly met with Dead Kenny's Full French when faced with the bill. So a bit of fresh air was needed and the princess showed once again an unerring knack of locating retail emporiums catering for pervy peeps of all persuasions with a series of kinky boots no more expensive than a rasher of Burlington bacon. A quick capuccino later and we had a mooch around Ikon Gallery, not the most exciting of exhibitions currently and there were more people in the cafe than there were interacting with David Cunningham's slightly spooky speaker-feedback installation.

It was then back to the hotel for some improvised entertainment of our own which we managed to sustain through two back-to-back episodes of Cagney and Lacey and one instalment of The Rockford Files. What's with that Cagney and Lacey thing? What kind of focus group came up with the idea that what the majority of housebound viewers on a Saturday afternoon want straight after an episode of Cagney and Lacey is another episode of Cagney and Lacey? A case of Gless is more, presumably. Anyway, I have no idea whether or not the child molestor got off. But I know we did, and so did half of the office workers in the building opposite as a certain horny halfwit forgot to close the curtains before hiding that Cumberland sausage he saved from the breakfast hall earlier.

The princess certainly enjoyed the jumbo she was chomping on, but less about the pre-screening hot dog and more about the film that followed, eh? Which at 6.15pm at the UGC in Broad Street was the slash fiction that was Jane Campion's In The Cut (starring Meg Ryan's gash, if the pre-release hoo-hah was to believed). The film began with a spaced-out cover of 'Que Sera Sera' which wasn't exactly Doris Day, and neither were the sweaty but not especially explicit sex scenes between Meg Ryan's buff-but-neurotic teacher and Mark Ruffalo's moustachioed cop. Despite the arresting presence of a pair of handcuffs and some vague sub-dom references Princess wasn't especially impressed with the film, her verdict being that the film wasn't dark and pervy enough and that Mr Ruffalo needed a shave.

I actually enjoyed the film as I was watching it, it certainly had a hazy, dream/nightmare feel to it, and the acting and direction was for the most part superb. But like the nightmare I had where my employers hired hitmen to seize me in the urinals (painful, I can tell you) and chucked me out of a multi-storey window, it all kind of falls apart under any kind of meaningful scrutiny. Things particularly went a bit King Dong during the final third, as the McGuffin that obfuscates Meg's perception of the murderer's identity was so obvious even the DPP couldn't have fucked it up. Even worse, another character undergoes a bizarre personality transformation for no purpose other than to hurl a raw red herring onto the griddle: it's a cheap stunt phoned in from another, inferior movie. A diverting film then, if not an entirely convincing one - but any movie where Meg Ryan gets on all fours buck-ass naked and Jennifer Jason Leigh keeps her kecks on has to go down as a genuine curio, if you ask me.

Anyway for some strange reason Meg's minge gave me the taste for some raw fish so we headed to Shogun Teppanyaki near to the canal for a Japanese meal. The waiter had the demeanour of a man who had been told too many times already that night that he looked like the firm-but-fair commandant from the TV series Tenko and I cast a nervous glance or two at the koi carp basking in the water feature on the way to our table, wondering which poor fella would battered alive for entrees. I relaxed a little though when the princess eased my social embarrassment by asking for a knife and fork as I'm all fingers and thumbs when it comes to chopsticks. Given our relative cluelessness of Japanese cuisine we opted for the eight-course house menu and were seated on a communal table surrounding a griddle where the showman chef strutted his stuff and kept us entertained with good-humoured banter and egg-shell target practice in between feeding us delicious selections of meat, fish, rice and beansprouts. Not the most intimate or cheapest of dining experiences at about £40 a head (including drinks) but well worth it for the experience or a special celebration (there seemed to be a disproportionate amount of birthday parties in attendance). It was also worth it to discover that Yakitori isn't just a name of a weblog.

A few drinks later, and it was back to the hotel room to get reloaded. Matrix:Reloaded that is, on the pay-per-view widescreen TV. The film seems to have had a lot of bad press recently but I found myself entertained enough to (just about) keep awake through it, although Monica Bellucci's rubber outfit was chiefly responsible for my surprising alertness at this late hour. Couldn't quite get my head around that gubbins with the Architect fellow though - anyone fancy having a go at explaining that one for me, before I go and see the third and final installment at the flicks later this month?

Anyway, you know what they say, morning glory follows Sky TV at night, and so before you know it I was doing my Trevor Howard routine (you know, decaying and six feet under) waving the princess off at the station back down to the safe bosom of Bournemouth. She's considering coming back up to Brum again, and this without recourse to balti pies or the Bescot Stadium. The freedom of the city should by rights already be mine, what do you think?


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