It’s Saturday, you haven’t had a treat In ages so you decide to hit the shops. You bought a new top to go out in a couple of weeks ago but that was someone’s birthday so it’s special so doesn’t count. And you bought sensible work shoes for the winter, but you needed those so they didn’t count either. So girls, the best person to shop with – much as you might deny it – is your Mom*. Guys, it’s probably your wife or girlfriend. You want someone that’s always going to tell the truth.
1. Plan, plan, plan. Even if it’s just in your head. Write that list of what you want and what you need. Write down which shops you want to try for each item, and make sure you’ve got enough time to try things on. Create a route, because let’s face it you’re going to get annoyed if you have to go back to the shop next door to the one you started in. Even if you’re just mooching, you need to be in the right area for lunch by the canal.
2. Transport. If you take the bus or the train you’re risking having to stand up on the way home with your six hundred shopping bags. I would always choose to drive. There are always places to park for free on the outskirts of the centre whether down a side road or on a housing estate. Plus driving takes the weight off, sling it all the in boot and off you go, door to door.
3. First shop. You’re all glowing from the drive in, excited about bargains and all the clothes you haven’t seen since – last week. Browsing through and trying things on, you probably spend longer than you should in here. For me it’s usually meet my Mom in Marks and Spencer and grab the essentials and head up towards the Bull Ring.
4. BullRing. Here is where it gets hardcore. There are hundreds of people, with buggies and crutches and iPhones and friends and obviously all clamouring for that same sparkly dress you’re after so here is where your route planning and list comes into play. You need a smart work shirt from Oasis or Zara or Mango, don’t bother with Forever 21 and TopShop. But remember, it is always worth having a quick squizz round H&M (although I do prefer the Pavillions one).
5. New Street. Then if you’ve got any energy left head up New Street towards White Stuff and Urban Outfitters, you’ll also find a quieter Oasis there. There’s always something going on as well, from street performers to farmers markets. There used to be a Shared Earth ethnic fair-trade shop at the top that did lovely little earrings but now unfortunately it’s closed down.
6. Lunch. Decide in advance so that once you get to Victoria Square you know whether you’re heading up to Brindleyplace or down to the MailBox. Or for something different, remember that there are little cafés and pubs in the Colmore Row area, York’s Café does beautiful artisan breads and cakes and Ginger’s next door offers heavenly cocktails. The Old Contemptibles is just cheap and cheerful too, normally quite quiet on a Saturday and bang next to Snow Hill for all you Solihullers and Kidderminsters. And of course the statutory panic when you realise you might have left a bag in the restaurant.
7. Calling it a day. Knowing when to jack it all in is essential. It’s the eleventh or twelfth denim miniskirt you’ve picked up but it’s still not quite right and you’re running out of shops and you had a glass of wine for lunch and can’t really be bothered anymore. So go home. Head back to the car, pop it all in the boot and remember that traffic out of town will be a bit quieter than on the way in.
Personally, once lunch is over I really can’t be bothered anymore. And I don’t go every Saturday, obviously – and I just bought two pairs of boots so I can’t go again now until after I go to Mexico! But Birmingham has this reputation of being ugly and only good for shopping. I won’t go into the ugly part right now, but it is – really good for shopping. You’ve got the BullRing, Pallasades, Pavillions, High Street, Corporation Street, New Street, The MailBox and two enormous markets. It’s full of chain stores, there’s hardly anything independent, but that’s the charm, it’s got everything from a Zara to a Superdry to a Harvey Nicholls. Get your independent fix at lunchtime on the canal, or in Digbeth or in the Jewellery Quarter.
* Here in Birmingham we say Mom rather than Mum. Mum sounds too posh to me. It’s a nightmare at Mother’s Day, I refuse to buy a card with Mum on, because my Mom is Mom.