“Is this seat taken?” With a egg and bacon bap in one hand, a small coffee in the other, I am hoping to sit for a few moments at the outdoor market below the Bull Ring in Birmingham’s central shopping district. I’ve usually been taking my morning coffee at Costa on New Street, but meeting folks for 10-pin bowling soon, I decide to find somewhere nearer to the Leisure Box. This way I can take my time knowing that my destination is less than 5 minutes away.
Below the major shopping zone of the impressive Bull Ring, on the lower side of St.Martins Church lies some very grass-roots level indoor and outdoor flea markets. Vendors sell discount home items, clothing, luggage and shopping trolleys, cell phones, sell-off bric-a-brac and the like as well as fruits and veggies and inside a fish and meat market. I approach a vending caravan near to the pavement to order my late breakfast. They have a collection of tables and chairs nestled under a tarp.
We’re having a rainy week in Birmingham. Of the next 7 days, only one is not calling for showers to some degree. It’s raining now, as I try to find a space under shelter.
“Don’t sit on that chair,” an older gentleman replies, “this one is dry.” The chair I had indicated towards was at the periphery of the shelter and had been permeated by moisture. He stands for me to be able to get by to the chair he has offered, which is behind a table and sits between him and another, less talkative, customer.
“Thank you very much. Another lovely day we’re having.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Do you live in Birmingham?”
“Yes, I live 30 minutes outside though.”
“Do you come into the centre quite often?”
“Aye, about 3 times a week. I wouldn’t come so often if I had to pay full fare, but it’s very reasonable to come in, there’s a scheme for pensioners.”
“The government does some things right, don’t they.” It seems to me that providing seniors with affordable transportation not only improves the lives of pensioners, it also has benefits for NHS (National Health Service). Active people stay more well than do non-active people. If seniors can afford to get about easily, they will get about more often and this increased activity level helps them to maintain their mobility, it keeps their minds more active, it benefits their mental health, and overall it is very good for their well-being. I have no doubt that giving them access to public transportation not only improves their quality of life, it also saves money for public services.
“You’re not from here, are you?” he asks.
“No, I’m from Canada. I’m just passing through. I’m spending 10 weeks in the central UK. Are you from Birmingham?”
“No, I’m from Blackpool. I moved here 12 years ago.”
“I might visit Blackpool, it’s on the water, isn’t it. What brought you here then?”
“I retired when I was 65. I have no family and I thought, now is the time to move if I ever will. I knew a church minister who had just moved to Birmingham. With only him as a contact, it was more than I had other places and it was enough for me to decide to move here. I knew it was a bigger city so it would have lots of things to do and lots of people. So I did.”
“Was it a good decision?”
“Oh yes, I had no reason to stay in Blackpool. I like it here. I miss the water though, and the fresh air.”
“I grew-up on a river near to the ocean, and you always do have a draw to it, don’t you.”
He looks me in the eye. “Yes, you do.”
“Do you come to the market area often?”
“Oh yes, every time I come into town.” This market area for sure has the cheapest offers downtown. He sits here watching the comings and goings of people to the Bullring sipping a 50p coffee. Nearby, coffee starts at four times that in most shops.
He points to a table on the walkway where an Islamic group preaches and offers pamphlets to passers-by. He makes a comment that I don’t quite hear. “I don’t remember noticing Muslim recruitment groups other places,” I add, “They also have another location nearer to New Street with loud speakers. Do you think some people become Muslim from a recruitment drive?”
“I suppose so,” he answers, “there are Christian ones too.” Yes. I know this, I’ve noticed a few crazy ones yelling at the crowds brimstone and fire and such. Not a positive representation going on for Christians. I’ve seen the same kind of representation at Dundas Square in Toronto. I would think these representers are an embarrassment to most Christians, not to mention they are certainly are a deterrent, they tend to have a repellant nature. “YOU HAVE TO ANSWER TO GOD,” a black man angrily yells down New Street in the manner of a lunatic. Finger-pointing and judgemental, his hostile rantings will help no one. Pedestrians cross the street to keep a wide birth, he seems more like a time-bomb than a missionary.
“Are you Christian?” he asks me. Funny, just yesterday I wrote about my disagreement regarding the doctrine of Jesus being the only way to God. I tell him of this and explain that I am too well-traveled to accept a mono-cultural religion as being the only way. Agnostic, I believe there are many ways to God. I just cannot accept that one group is correct and all the others are wrong.
“I can’t explain why,” he tells me, “but there are a chosen people, and they are the ones who seek Jesus. I can’t tell you why if someone has never heard of Jesus they won’t go to heaven, but I know they won’t. There are a chosen few, anyone who looks for Jesus is chosen.”
Of course I cannot go for this. Any God who would choose people and put the chosen above the unchosen, is a God who is unfair and unjust and I cannot accept that as possibly being true. The people who came-up with these written ideas were misguided and lived in an era when humans were not considered equal to one another. Not to say that humans are considered equal to each other now, but they should be.
A little gust of rain lifts the tarp sending a pocket of water splashing onto the seat I nearly sat in from the start.
Time to move-on to my bowling meet-up, I thank Trevor for his sharing and for welcoming me to sit with him. “Traveling Mercies,” he wishes me as I depart. “My Mother always says that when I leave!” “Well, remember me to your Mother then,” he adds.
I will. I will remember him to lots of people.
St.Martins at the Bull Ring stands between the major shopping centre and the market area below. Trevor and I were sitting just a few metres from St.Martins on the outdoor walkway.