Still, we arrive at Best Western Premier Moor Hall Hotel & Spa in Sutton Coldfield, a wood-panelled Edwarian pile built by a scion of the Ansells’ brewing dynasty, in my Fiat 500 – at least it’s Italian – and, after a solid night’s kip, wake to panoramic views of the wooded golf course.
Next day, Birmingham’s romantic flow continues with custard. The old Bird’s plant is now at the heart of dynamic 15-acre city-centre site of workshops and towering railway arches teeming with arty types, creative’s and live musicians, alongside indy retailers and budding entrepreneurs.
The latest building to be tarted up, Zellig – all light, bright and white – exhibits a doppelganger for ubiquitous cherubs in Venice’s Renaissance frescoes. The sculpture, the portliest of seven male nudes suspended in midair, is modelled on a naked Clive Dunn from Dad’s Army. Take that, Pietro Lombardo.
It’s not the only similarity between the cities, both need to hark back to past glories. Venice for tourist euro and Birmingham – through small business hubs such as Zellig – to its days as the ‘City of 1,000 Trades.’
One has never gone away. The Jewellery Quarter – the equivalent of Murano glassworks – might be past its peak but still employs 2,000 people. They produce and sell 40 per cent of the country’s handmade jewellery in an area of 200 listed buildings spanning three centuries, peppered with restaurants, pubs and cafes.
We amble past the old (Thomas Fattorini, 1827) and the new (Diamond Heaven), bathing in the warm light of history before ending at the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, where the workshops of Smith and Pepper have been pickled in aspic, tools still on benches, since the company closed its doors in 1981.
‘It’s one of the most romantic parts of Birmingham,’ says guide, Clive Heeley, who has worked in the trade since 1976. ‘Not only because people come for engagement rings, but because of the sense of community. Its changing but there used to be a fantastic camaraderie. Everybody trusted everybody.’
It’s an idyllic past I’m happy to exploit to underline Brum’s credentials as a city of love. I take Becca to Vittoria Street where we gaze at a magnificently solid building with a cool brick and glass extension. ‘The School of Jewellery,’ I explain. ‘My grandmother was a student in the 1920s. Grandpa collected her here every day when they were courting.’ Becca’s eyes look suspiciously watery – as do mine – and for once it’s nothing to do with the weather.
In Venice, we’d toast their memory with an overpriced Bellini at Harry’s Bar. Not today. Instead we head to the Old Joint Stock, overlooking the cathedral, a strikingly beautiful pub, hewn from Grade II listed banking hall dating back to 1864.
‘Can you do a Bellini?’ I ask the waitress.
‘Nah. What’s that. A cocktail?’
‘Prosecco and peach juice.’
‘Ooof, two of my favourites. Sorry. You prefer a pint?’
So no Bellinis for us, then. But instead we had pints and homemade pies. Pies of the type that Venice can only dream about.