Friday, 22 October 2010


Some 18 years ago, I started my tourist guiding career working on the open top double decker buses run by the much-missed “Guide Friday” company in Birmingham.

The concept of guided tours of Birmingham was something of a novelty then and the small team that worked on them in that first season was really instilled with a sense of pride and excitement in a City which for too long had been the butt of jokes.

Well, fast forward. Almost by accident, I spend years tour managing all over Europe, qualify as a Blue Badge Guide in the Heart of England and then London and carve a small business for myself doing specialist tours of all sorts of unusual places for more “discerning” clients.

But - among my peers at least – I’ve always been thought of as a “Birmingham Guide”. Despite this, in recent years Birmingham has rather reduced in importance for me and the number of tours I do of it as a proportion of my total work is nowadays quite small.

So this last week has been something of a change for me, as a party of US musicians booked me for five consecutive and identical days entirely in Birmingham for successive groups. Their itinerary was great, too: a coach tour, a City Centre walk, lunch at the Old Joint Stock and afternoon visits to the woefully-unvisited Saint Mary’s Handsworth and the splendidly renovated Aston Hall.

And do you know what? I’ve rediscovered my wonderful, impressive, unequalled home city. People are stunned by the greenery, the housing, the historic characters, the cultural heritage and the welcome. The staff at Saint Mary’s and Aston Hall have been so fabulous to deal with they’ve been like a breath of fresh air (after the sort of characters you get “welcoming” you at places like Blenheim).

Service isn’t always geared to international visitors and I wish shopkeepers in suburban strips like Stirchley and Bournbrook would tidy up their premises. But the coach driver (from Chauffeurs of Birmingham, a new firm to me) was exceptional.

Yes, it it’s not actually all that bad at all. I’m proud to be a Brummie again!

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