Despite basking in the post-gig buzz and reflecting on a superb evening, eventually the need to sleep overcomes us. Inexplicably, my rest is fitful and I struggle to get comfortable in the ‘super-comfortable bed’. Dreams consume my over-active mind – strange, nonsensical, illogical dreams – culminating in a belief that a serpent of some kind (maybe an adder, perhaps a simple and harmless grass snake) is loose in the bed.
There is no physical evidence for this belief to be true (because it isn’t), and yet I am unable to lie there and ignore it. I turn on the bedside lamp and get out of bed to check under the duvet and confirm the non-existence of the non-existent snake. Throughout the commotion, my better half sleeps soundly and with barely a murmur. Part of me hopes she will wake in order to double check that the bed is safe, but I quickly realise how ridiculous this thought is. I return to the bed with an uneasy satisfaction, and spend the remainder of the night in a mediocre doze.
The prospect of breakfast cheers my fatigued mood and we take a seat in the contemporary bar/restaurant attached to the hotel. The service, such as it is in a buffet environment, is nothing short of shambolic. Food and drink items run out without being replenished, and by the time fresh ones are provided the demand is such that they quickly disappear again.
As in the past, the extensive training that comes from having watched Michel Roux’s Service allows us to pick up on all these faults, and tut and mutter accordingly. A man who might be a maitre d’ takes on the task of preparing vacated tables for new guests, and starts by wiping bits onto the floor with his hand. Eventually he sees sense, gets a cloth from the workstation, and proceeds to use the dry cloth to wipe the bits onto the floor instead.
We decide we have eaten our fill and head back to the room.
With no shops open, it is surprising just how many people are out and about in the Bull Ring and surrounding streets. Where are they all going when there is nowhere to go to yet? That includes us, obviously, but at least we must look like we don’t know what to do. Everyone else walks around so purposefully, but what is that purpose? There is a Big Issue seller already out on New Street, which seems very early for a Sunday. We walk to Chinatown to browse an oriental supermarket and see if there are any new or unusual foodstuffs that take our fancy.
Heading back toward the Bull Ring, a woman sits in a doorway and asks for spare change. A discussion ensues (between me and my better half, it should be said, not with the woman. That would be insensitive…) about being able to tell whether people begging are genuine or not, particularly in a city where Big Issue sellers are out before the shops even open.
The conversation moves on to how best to deal with such people politely, and that offering food is a good way of trying to help without inadvertently funding drug habits etc. To confuse our moral compass even further, we follow this by going to the Selfridges food hall to marvel at products that neither we nor anybody we know can afford to buy.
The hotel chain have a policy of refunding your money if you don’t sleep well, and it occurs to us that we could try and claim back the cost of our stay because of my disturbed (and, in some ways, disturbing) night. However, I am reluctant. Partly because only one of us slept badly, making it hard to accuse the hotel of doing something wrong, and partly because there is a long queue behind us waiting to check out and I have no wish to attempt explaining my fevered slumber with something – “I couldn’t keep my snake under control” – that sounds like a bad innuendo.
The rich potential of a Sunday afternoon in Birmingham (<cough>) escapes us and we prefer the thought of sitting on a bench in the cold, staring at a hedge (I would say ‘bush’, but there is no need for more potential innuendo, especially with the number of ‘adult’ shops there are around), to dragging ourselves round more dull shops. This makes us a natural target for a woman with several teeth missing, who approaches us and says she is homeless, and asks for some money to get something to eat.
Mindful of the large box of doughnuts obviously in our possession, saying we have nothing to spare seems disingenuous at best and so, inspired by our earlier conversation, we offer the woman a sandwich.
"No, don’t worry about it,” she says, and walks off.
We board the train bound for home. There are four people in the carriage, including the two of us. This is welcome, of course, but also seems a little unusual. Maybe after our ‘peculiar’ morning, we simply expect more people to be going home too.