Sunday, April 25, 2004

Sun and the City

Around this time each year there is the ‘sunshine weekend’. The weekend, when, after the long winter months, the sun really breaks through, showering down promises of summer.

It’s the first weekend, when you can go out safely without a jacket, when evenings in a beer garden become attractive and when you can sit out in the sunshine and feel the warmth spread to your bones.

This was that weekend.

I spent Saturday in the city centre, shopping and getting the old barnet trimmed and coloured (well hey you didn’t think it was naturally this colour did you?). Exchange Square was absolutely packed. Crowds covered the sloping benches, watching the big screen, kids jumped from stone to stone in the water feature/stream beneath your feet, passers-by stopped to discuss the new sculpture being erected and drinkers at The Wellington Inn and Sinclair’s Oyster Bar pubs, spilled over far beyond their outdoor seating area.

This has to be about my favourite bit of the recent changes to the city centre. However, the catalyst was so terrible, that it still feels slightly bittersweet. Rejoicing in the wonderful new layout and structures that replaced some truly hideous carbuncles comes tinged with an underside of guilt.

I suppose that a more productive way of looking at it is that good things were made to form out of bad. Although the bombing can never be redeemed it can at least be recovered from and triumphed over in a way that says that this city will not be held back by such things.

The new M&S and Selfridges building that stands on the site of the bomb blast is top to toe glass. If buildings could speak I reckon this one would be saying “Screw you!” as it flicked the finger at those who choose the path of violence and destruction.

I’m not sure what the Wellington and Sinclair’s buildings would say. They’ve seen it all. The Wellington dates back to the 16th century and Sinclair's is part Georgian. Back in 1972 they were raised by several feet to accommodate the building of the concrete jungle that was Shambles Square (oh if ever a name were more appropriate!). Following the destruction of the square by the bomb blast, these timber-framed buildings were dismantled piece by piece, wooden peg by wooden peg, then shifted over towards the cathedral and lovingly reassembled – piece by piece, wooden beam by wooden beam.

I suspect they enjoy their new location better. They now have a wide vista and sit proudly, asking to be admired. They overlook the newer buildings with slight detachment, the older relatives who have seen fashions come and go and sit back secure in their own identity.

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