There are two kinds of people in this world: shower people and bath people. Me? I'm shower people. I have biannual baths to remind myself how much I dislike them, and they last approx nine mins each. So to say Moseley Road Baths had their work cut out when they invited me to take a soak in their Slipper Baths, would be an understatement.
However, this isn't your average tub. This is a 1950s cast iron enamel bath sat in their newly refurbed, purpose built and iconic glazed brick cubicles, which feature terrazzo marble flooring. This isn't just a bath, this is a step back in time.
In the hope that I'd last double digits I bought myself a £9 Lush bath bomb called 'Goddess', because the name made me chuckle, even if the price made me wince, and jumped on the 50 bus so I could smell of hashish on arrival.
Moseley Road Baths always takes me back to my childhood. My memories of swimming here involve feeling absolutely freezing, post-dip, when changing in the poolside cubicles. Hurling my Knight Rider t-shirt and tracky B's back on, way before I was dry, and waddling off to find my mom with that knackered, chlorine-d look that only kids get. It's a hell of a building and needs preserving at all costs.
Everywhere you look, there's history. There are nooks and crannies and even whole sections that are yet to have a lick of refurb love, but it's getting there.
I signed a worryingly long waiver and was informed that I would have a separate changing room, should I need it, and of course an individual bathroom with click closed door. There's no lock but a member of the MRB team sits within the vicinity to insure you're not disturbed by anyone else but them. They'll check you're alive and well at the 30 minute mark with a little tap tap, then they'll let you know you're done, after an hour.
The bath is run for you and ready at your scheduled plunge. You can add hot and cold as you choose but I'm of the opinion that the professionals know best. So in I went with that slow, hunched, body-lowering system that I assume we all use, internally and eternally grateful that nobody was watching what must be one of mankind's least attractive postures. You know the one.
Crikey it was hot. I felt my face go beetroot in seconds, slight waves of panic rippling over me that, like Elvis, I might die in the bath at the age of 42.
Reader, I did not die. I remembered Bart Simpson asking if hell was like a hot tub and you'd get used to it after a while and... sure enough, I did.
The silence was beautiful. To know the chaos of that stretch of the A435 was happening metres away but to not hear a peep of it, was divine. To be removed from the madness, if only for an hour, felt like an immediate mental health boost. To picture others who had done this ritual since the Edwardian conception of the building — who had wandered the stunning corridor area — made it a Birmingham bucket list tick I didn't even know was on my list.
And, yes, I do have very effeminate feet. No, you're not the first person to notice.
You don't have to soak in silence, either. There's a hidden speaker in the room (I won't say where) that you can connect to with Bluetooth and play your own music. I can't lie, I did hurl a double-handful of cold tap water over my head as I rummaged around — outside of the tub — for my phone, before popping Roberta Flack on, who duly lulled me into a state of absolute relaxation, after I lowered myself back in.
I didn't fall asleep, but as paid-up member of Insomnia Club I struggle to fall asleep in a bed, let alone a bath, but I did reach a state of deep serenity that I categorically did not think I would, or could, achieve.
If you're like me and baths tend to turn you a darker shade of burgundy then maybe take a cold bottle of water with you (which I didn't) and a fresh set of clothes (which I didn't), because pulling on your shirt post plunge — Knight Rider or not — isn't the cherry on the cake you deserve.
At just £10 (£8 with concession) Moseley Road Slipper Baths is a delightful way to spend an hour and, I suspect, is a refurb and reopening job of such genius it will pay well into coffers and could, fingers tightly crossed, help keep the building operating for another 116 years.
The Slipper Baths are bookable every Friday from now until September 29. Should they prove successful they are likely to be a longer term fixture. My bath was free but I've made a £20 donation to the Moseley Road Baths CIO charity.
GET A LUNG FULL
Sure you may expect to find a dying E.T and a wailing Elliot in these domes but what you'll actually discover is an immersive installation by artist Michael Pinsky that explores the impact of pollution on our environment and health.
Midlands Arts Centre in partnership with Edgbaston Stadium have launched Pollution Pods: five interconnected geodesic domes each imitating polluted environments from a city from across the globe.
Starting from a coastal location in Norway (drink it in) visitors will pass through increasingly polluted cells, from dry and cold locations, to hot and humid. Each pod contains a carefully mixed recipe (yuck) to emulate international cities’ varying levels of atmospheric conditions and smells, including London, New Delhi, São Paulo and Beijing.
Michael Pinsky, the man with the plan, is an award-winning British artist, whose international projects challenge the status quo on climate change, urban design and societal wellbeing. He explores issues which shape and influence the use of our public realm to create ambitious and provocative installations in galleries and public spaces.
"Birmingham is undergoing a transition from being a city devoted to cars to becoming a place that prioritises pedestrians," said Michael, somewhat optimistically. "This process will inevitably give rise to tensions as people's experience of the city undergoes change. However, this change is imperative if we aspire to inhabit a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable environment. I hope that the Pollution Pods will help people in comprehending the vital significance of this transformation as they journey through replicas of some of the most toxic cities in the world."
You'll find Pollution Pods at the Edgbaston Stadium piazza from September 14 to 24. Do book in advance, it's £2 with under 12s going free.
BOOK NOW: MUSEUM COLLECTION CENTRE
If Moseley Road Slipper Baths (above) is our city's newest Bucket List activity then one of our oldest but absolute best remains the Museum Collection Centre. One of Brum's genuine off the beaten track gems the chonky 1.5-hectare Nechells-based site holds 80 per cent of Birmingham Museums’ stored collections — over 800,000 individual objects from taxidermised tortoises to bin lorries — all under one roof.
Opening to extremely limited numbers of people there are three free opportunities to take a look around, all running on September 16 (10am, 12pm or 2pm). You'll be free to roam, to observe collection care demonstrations, and meet museum experts. From giant HP Sauce signage that bedecked the old factory to 1920s X-Ray machines, this is equal parts fascinating and fantastical, as this video I shot last year may show. One hundred percent not to be missed. Book
With more than a month's notice consider yourselves forewarned: Mean Girls and bottomless brunch is heading for Millennium Point and booking ASAP is strongly advised. This is going to be more popular than a Plastics pool party. For £35 you'll be fed (burgers and wedges) watered (90 mins of unlimited prosecco) and entertained as the Lindsay Lohan cult classic returns to the biggest of big screens. A fizzing, survival of the fittest teen comedy that gets funnier and funnier the further you get from your school years, rally the squad and get this diarised, because it's going to be soooo fetch! Book
HERE COMES THE WEEKENDER
The always ace and completely free Birmingham Weekender returns August 26 and 27. Live performances, colourful installations, interactive experiences and energetic acts from local, national and international artists will take place at Bullring & Grand Central and Southside. Highlights include a giant swing set on Central Street, which will be open to the public after aerial duets from All or Nothing Theatre; and Lumini, a sculptural and sensory inflatable walk-through experience. Motionhouse will also perform WILD, during which folk will dance on a ‘forest of poles’ (pictured). More
Venue: Tutto Aposto at The Circle Lounge, Hippodrome, Hurst St; B5 4TB; web Choice: Roasted Heritage Carrots (£8.50) Chooser: Ange Adamo
I post a picture of the carrot dish (above) on Instagram and very quickly get a message from my friend, Ben. "I couldn't eat that," he says. "It's too beautiful. I'd have to water it and keep it alive and give it to my mom at Easter."
He's right, it is pretty. But to not eat this dish would be a crime against root vegetables and a crime against Ange Adamo, the chef and Simpsons alum who has taken up home at Hippodrome in the revamped and barely recognisable Circle Lounge. The cold hard truth is that theatre restaurants tend to be bang average. The desire (perhaps need) to be all things to all people usually results in food that does everything badly and none of it well.
Scratch that, because Ange, under her company name Tutto Aposto, has shown that it can be done. That a theatre restaurant can be so good you'll be looking for a show to see as an excuse to visit, rather than the other way round.
Ange is one of the nicest chefs working in Birmingham. One of those people that everyone goes out of their way to speak very highly of. But to borrow and bastardise a phrase from Jerry Maguire, this isn't food friends, this is food business and what she has done at Circle Lounge, with the help of Hippodrome, is create a skilled, honed and picture perfect Mediterranean menu of small plates which borrows from her Italian heritage, with moments of Michelin-starred flurries from her more recent years in fine-dining. This is serious food. This is serious business.
There are just seven savoury dishes across the menu compared to, say, 17 at The National Theatre's Lasdun Restaurant, where prices are about double. See that? That's a sign of confidence. That's a seismic shift from the carpet bombing, hit and hope menu techniques of days gone by. A small menu of small plates says "you'll enjoy this, trust me". And you will.
We ordered all seven dishes because we're growing boys and there wasn't a dud in the barrel. From the land plates, though, the carrot was king. The entirety of the carrot is used, even the peel which is roasted then dehydrated and blended with garlic powder and yeast, before added on top of tofu, kale, pearl barley and the rest of the carrot. There's gale force umami in that yeast crumb while the underused pearl is cooked in a rich house-made veg stock (any leftover courgette from the pork belly dish goes in there, for example) while a smidgen of vegan butter adds an almost coconutty quality. I think this might be one of the city's very best vegetarian dishes. A real jaw-dropper.
On meat the pork belly with n'duja and red pepper puree was a dreamboat. Three styles of courgette come with it (raw, pickled and roasted) a signpost if ever there were one of Ange's Italian roots where ingredient-led cookery is key. All iterations of the veg work well to cut through the fatty pork which has been marinaded for six hours in honey, n'duja and oregano before spending a day and a half in its own little steam room. Soft, melty meat with crunch from the courgette, an acidic pinch from the pickle and then a naughty, creamy, indulgent sauce with smokiness from the roasted Birmingham market red peppers. I can taste it as I type.
Be sure to get yourself an arancini while you're at it as they're Ange's signature staple — she makes 500 of them a week for six other Brum restaurants. She started crafting them when every arancini she was served in the city was meagre in size, unlike how they appear in Sicilly. Here, and just £7.50, they are fist-sized beauties, filling yet light, with basil and sweet heritage toms. I can picture punters missing the start of shows as they gaze at the sheer beauty of them.
Tuttu Aposto, I'm told, is Italian for "everything's okay" or "everything's alright". But at Circle Lounge, these days, everything's better than alright. Tutto Eccezionale. Menu
The What's Happening Weekender hits Dead Wax Digbeth on bank holiday weekend, 4pm to 12pm. Newly formed local promoters What's Happening Concerts have put together a 15 Artist bill that will spread over the weekend. Aug 25 to 27 —
There's now a supper club for dogs and their owners. First one is October 1 and it'll set you back £60. Unless the pooch is paying? —
It’s been the year of the unusual cinematic pairing, and Birmingham Botanical Gardens have followed suit with an unconventional, Bank Holiday double bill of creature features! Classics Predator and My Neighbour Totoro will be outdoor screened on Aug 26 and 27 respectively. £16.50 standard ticket —
The Prodigy at the Utilita Arena, anyone? November 23, from £36.10 —
Or Van Morrison, The Waterboys and loads more at Pairc Festival, Kings Heath, August 26 and 27? Details
WORDS: Tom Cullen
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