Birmingham Buddhist Vihara and Dhammatalaka Peace Pagoda is the only traditional Myanmar style Pagoda in the Western hemisphere. It is a Buddhist temple in the centre of Birmingham, near the Edgbaston reservoir. During Birmingham Heritage Week, we were able to visit as the Pagoda was open to visitors. We had the opportunity to go inside and speak to one of the monks at length, which was quite illuminating.
The Dhamma Talaka Peace Pagoda was opened in 1998 and is the only such building in traditional Burmese (Myanmar) style in the Western hemisphere. There is a monastery (vihara) where monks reside and a Dhamma teaching hall in the grounds. The Buddhism practised is of Theravada tradition. The pagoda complex is managed by Birmingham Buddhist Vihara Trust, a charitable trust registered with the Charity Commission for England and Wales. Birmingham Heritage Week
The inside of the Peace Pagoda
Once inside, we spoke at length to one of the monks living in the grounds. The monastic life is not for everyone, he told us, but he enjoys the routine of the centre and the time he can devote to his own studies. I was quite moved by the peacefulness of the peace pagoda. Coming from working in commercial law, where restoring our client’s material possessions takes up the majority of our day, to a place which represents the antithesis of my work had quite an effect on me.
The base and walls of the pagoda are octagonal. The interior focuses upon a gold-painted shrine on which there is a large marble statue of the Buddha in meditation posture, sculpted in Burmese style in Mandalay. Images of the Twenty Eight Buddhas were created on site by a Burmese workman and mounted round the inner dome. The entrance is reached by a gabled arcade. Teak doors on three sides of the building are carved with temple guardians and two traditional lion statues at the arcade’s entrance provide protection from evil elements. The inner dome supports a gold-painted stepped spire in the same style as the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, rising to an ornate umbrella feature above which is mounted a crystal bud. Wikipedia
Koi in the pond behind the Pagoda
The grounds contain the monastery but also a Buddhist Academy. There are numerous retreats and lessons available which I hope to take part in. As Buddhism is a philosophy and Catholicism is my religion, I hope trust Jesus will not be vexed by my doing so. Please do go and visit the Pagoda if you can, even if just to see it from outside the grounds.
Welcome to the October edition of Five Favourites. See below five album covers which have marked me this month, for one reason or another.
Superimposition – Eddie Palmieri (1970)
This is not only an excellent album but also has the most wonderful cover art. The picture itself is of course superimposed on Mr Palmieri’s face and shoulders, which is most splendid. The superimposed image looks like a drug trip dream, it bursts with colour to contrast with the black and white of the artist’s visage. I am as impressed with the art as I am with the music.
Metamatic – John Foxx (1980)
Reminiscent visually and musically of Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle, this is a must mention cover. Metamechanics (French méta-mécanique), in relation to art history, describes the kinetic sculpture machines of Jean Tinguely, but apart from this I could not find any dictionary meaning for the title word. The cover is very cool indeed, Mr Foxx, stood smartly with shiny shoes, touching a square of painfully bright light – just excellent. How unsual!
Pink Floyd – A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)
Another excellent album with a wonderful cover. I see I mentioned Floyd in the last Five Favourites as well. I love the endless rows of colourful beds. I imagine the image was computer generated but a part of me wants to think about Sid and Roger dragging all of these up and down the beach. Of course they were both departed from the band by then but you’ll humour a dying man.
Gary Numan – Telekon Live (2008)
It is a wonder to me that Telekon was released in 1980 and the live album was recorded 28 years later. Perhaps Mr Numan ran out of money. In any case this album cover is identical to the studio version with the addition of the word ‘live’ – which is very frugal and economic, which is a tendency I appreciate in a person. Well done Mr Numan!
Grace Jones – Portfolio (1977)
A reference to Jones’ very successful modelling career, Portfolio is an excellent cover art. Almost baring her teeth at us, a flawless young Grace stares out at us in a striking pose, about to unleash her disco stylings, joined with legendary producer Tom Moulton, on the world. They would go on to make three albums together, which formed the initial cannon of her disco works before she moved on to higher things.
There was a sly brilliance to Jones grafting her persona onto the glossy sounds of disco as it prepared to finalize its transition from the underground to the mainstream. Portfolio encapsulates Jones’ keen eye, and ear, for detail and the ability to usurp trends to her own clever ends. Albumism
My legal crony, whom I visited in Hull, was hesitant to go to the Deep. Whether this be due to the fact he had convinced himself it cost £1000.00 to get in, or that he viewed the activity as childish, I shall never know. However, I am glad that St Nick came to his senses as I was quite keen to go and do a childish activity in otherwise adult Hull. The Deep was founded in 2002 as part of the Millennium Project and is the only one to make a profit, a fact St Nick tells me at every available opportunity. I was deeply, ho ho, impressed with the whole place.
Stamp showing the tip of the Deep
Open since 2002, The Deep operates as an education and conservation charity and in recent years has become an international player in marine conservation. Forging partnerships with key governing bodies, conservation organisations and other reputable zoos and aquariums we are working to make an impact in the protection of our oceans. The Deep
Making new friends
The first impressive part of the Deep was the building itself. I’ll include a photograph below to keep you in suspense but it is a work of architectural genius. On entering, you either climb what feels like 15 flights of stairs or take a lift up to the top floor, and work your way down. The above was one of the first friends we made.
The Deep is home to the UK’s only green swordfish, which I captured in motion above. We asked one of the stewards, (or would you call them fish handlers?) how they stopped the sharks in this large tank form eating the other fish. They told us that they went to extreme lengths to keep each fish species fed on their favourite foods so as to keep them satisfied. However, as with the circle of life, we were told that when some of the older fish get weaker and separate from the group, the sharks tend to pick them off as an extra snack. How moribund!
Blue poison dart frogs
There was a non watery section in the middle of the Deep which included these beautiful poison dart frogs. Matthew tells me they were so named because the indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest would coat their spears and darts in the oil secreted from the frogs’ backs, which is rather poisonous. A great sustainable hunting tool.
The spectacular finale of the tour of the Deep included a tunnel under the main aquarium and several viewing spots up and down the main aquarium also. This was particularly wonderful and where we saw the above turtle swimming at us slowly, almost nefariously, possibly trying to out swim the shark.
In all, this was somewhat childish an experience in that it propelled one back to their own childhood when parents, bereft of ideas but able to dispense income, took one to aquariums. Indeed there were myriad children plaguing the place, though we did go on a weekend. This is well worth a visit and two hours of anyone’s time and may be the best thing I have done in Hull sober.
Charles Borromeo was the Archbishop of Milan from 1564 to 1584 and a cardinal of the Catholic Church, and has been made so by his uncle, Pope Pius IV, in 1560. He was a key figure in the counter-Reformation movement alongside Phillip Neri and St Ignatius of Loyola (coincidentally St Ignatius is my favourite church in Rome, or at least one of them). I had the pleasure in August of spending a Sunday morning in Hull, where I decided to go to a Catholic church rather than throw caution to the wind and go to the beautiful Minster.
St Charles Borromeo, Hull
From a rather unassuming exterior, perhaps a hallmark of Hull buildings outside of the Old Town or Queen Victoria Square, the interior is something of a miracle. With beautiful features, a resplendent altar and I believe the part above the altar is called an apse. This for me was a glorious explosion of colour and a lovely depiction of the dove of peace.
Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church is the mother church for the city of Kingston-Upon-Hull. From out of this community grew all the other parishes in the city which were created as the Catholic population multiplied and expanded.
Built in 1829 it is the oldest post-Reformation Catholic Church in the diocese of Middlesbrough. It is also Grade 1 listed. It was recently included in Elena Curti’s book, ‘Fifty Catholic Churches to See Before You Die’ which explores some of the great architectural treasures of our nation.
The present church was built in 1829. However, the church as it is seen today is really due to the work carried out in the late nineteenth century under the direction of Canon William Sullivan. St Charles Hull
Mass times at the time of writing are Sunday 10am and 6.30pm. I would encourage you to visit this lovely church, in the centre of Hull and near the wonderful Hop and Vine pub. I had a great time and was able to see some beautiful art and sculptures.
Its origins go back to 1779 and to chapels in Posterngate, destroyed in the Gordon Riots, and to North Street (1799). The present church was built in 1829 (architect John Earle), widened in 1835 (architect JJ Scholes), and substantially altered in 1894 (architects Smith Brodrick and Lowther). The mission/parish was known in its earlier phases as Saints Peter and Anne and then Saint Augustine. Middlesborough Diocese
While watching the excellent documentary series Explained on Netflix, I came across an episode about hurricanes. Within this there was a description of how climate change was affecting coastal communities in Puerto Rico and how their heritage was being lost to climate change. Among the losses feared in the near future was the home ground for Bomba music. This music is both a traditional Puerto Rican drum consisting of a barrel with a goatskin head. and a genre of Puerto Rican dance accompanied by drums and other percussion also : a song sung by a soloist and chorus to accompany a bomba drum. Its origins are rooted in the island’s history of African slavery but today has evolved into a community expression of Puerto Rican culture and is inextricably linked with protest culture in the modern world.
A1 Coje Pa’ La Cola
A2 Chinito Boogaloo
A3 Sorongo (Ritmo Sorongo)
A5 Boogaloo Pa Los Pollos
B1 Sacame De Aqui Written-By – Luis Delgado*
B2 Mini Falda
B3 Que Te Lleven Las Olas
B4 Tiempo De Amor
B5 El Prestamista
B6 Que Se Pare La Bola
Sorongo, the title track is so exciting. The lyrics are simple and reflect a common question – Dimme Sorongo dimme Sorongo, que es lo que el blanco tiene de negro? Which translates as tell me Sorongo, what is white about Black men? The style of drumming as well as the infectious piano lends itself beautifully to bomba dancing, which can be viewed in the video below. It is said that you can feel Bomba music in your soul.
The second song I wish to highlight is Sacame de Aquí which means get me out of here. This is perhaps my favourite song on the album. It is slow and has some of the most touching lyrics I have heard. I shared it with my ex who is fluent in Spanish, as well as three other languages (at least) who was equally moved by it. I listened to this most recently on a train fleeing from Bristol, back to Birmingham, having been chased away by the most wicked cold. The song was highly apposite. The pain felt by Rafael Cortijo is so plain and jarring to me. This track went straight through me and remains as affecting as on my first listen. My Spanish is still good enough to be able to translate the lyrics in my head:
Hay veces en la vida
Que es impossible seguir juntos
Hay cosas en la vida
Que no tienen solucion
Viviendo de la nada
Que nada, nada, nada sacará
Overall this is one of the key albums of the Bomba genre, and a seminal one at that. Although Bomba music has been around for 400 years, it has only been recorded recently. This 1968 album is an excellent place to start and can be found on Spotify. It has invigorated and moved me in many ways over the last few weeks. I recommend it highly.
Arriving in Hull after a busy day in Manchester, having completed a 100km cycle (with 5 massive hills), gone to town and had lunch with an old friend and taking a 2.5 hour train, I was understandably shattered. Chowki was close to my colleagues’ home in the Avenues which was a boon. We ate well and were impressed by the level of service, at times being waited on by two different waiters. The only disappointing aspect of the evening was the fog horn Hullean leviathan a few tables away from us whose loud-some grunts and squeals permeated the entire restaurant. While Hull is an underrated city, the same cannot be said for some of its populace.
We ordered two starters and two mains. The first starter was on the Indo-Chinese menu, this was the chilli pork. They did not have any ribs but had only the chilli pork in stock which was fine by us. You will note the photograph above is not pork but paneer, which was the second starter. The initial photograph was blurry so I did not attach it. The pork was delightful, on the sweeter side of chilli with a great kick. It was cooked well and was as plentiful as the above picture. The paneer chilli fry dry was delightful as well. Paneer has this rubbery texture which I enjoy enormously. The spice level was balanced and the value was hard to deny given the portion size.
I believe the above was Nick’s dish which was the Railway Lamb Curry, so called because it was once cooked by the chefs working on the Indian railways in the 1900s, presumably in India. Lamb on the bone gives loads of flavour to this spicy dish. The main spices are ginger, garlic, turmeric and coconut milk, curry leads, coriander seeds, fennel and cumin seeds as well as Kashmiri chilli. From Nick’s satisfied hums and rhythmic foot taps, I can tell that he enjoyed the dish. I found the small morsel which was offered was highly flavourful, beautifully cooked and the texture was excellent.
Finally, I had the South Indian garlic chicken, a classic Indian take away dish. It is not clear form my research whether this is a staple dish in India or whether this is a dish made for the less sophisticate British palate but it was divine non the less. This dish is made up of garlic, ginger root, cumin seeds, cinnamon, paprika, turmeric and green chillies. This was just superlative. With the pilau rice it was just great, soft flavours, chicken which melted in the mouth and a good level of spice, as well as a large portion size. This was a winning meal. We also had some naan bread which is pictured below.
Overall this was a superb meal, in a good location, which was economical and had great portions. Hopefully you shall visit on a quieter night than Nick and I did.