Adventures in Academia

Part Five: Stirchley Shenanigans
Todd and I go for fish and chips.
31 January 2022
The fish and chips bag, which is decorated with an anthropomorphic salt shaker and vinegar bottle looking at a grinning fish on a bed of chips. At the bottom of the bag it says 'FRIED TO PERFECTION BY EXPERTS'.

It was a Friday at the end of August, so of course there was nobody around in the CS building. Everyone was swanning off to fancy virtual conferences, stuck on the continent confuddled by our kafkaesque post-entry testing restrictions, or just staying indoors watching award-winning Netflix shows. Of course, Todd and I had no such things planned, as our dedication to working on our very important research is unparalleled across the field.

However, even such hard-working individuals as ourselves must occasionally pause for light nourishment. And since it was (fish) Friday, what better meal to have than a classic fish and chips? I immediately proposed this to Todd and he agreed with no hesitation.

But there was a problem! Todd was still at his new house in Stirchley, as apparently the allure of being in the same building as me was not enough to drag him away from his new battlestation, which had primarily been used to run Emacs up to this point. I pointed out that he had boasted numerous times that the closeness of his new house to the canal was infinity, and thus he could bike onto campus with relative ease. Unfortunately, it turned out that Todd's bike, which had once belonged to Noam Zeilberger and later Nicolas Blanco, had carelessly been left at Todd's old house near Harborne during the moving process. This left Todd stranded in Stirchley, Birmingham's latest up-and-coming neighbourhood!

We wracked our minds for several minutes trying to resolve the situation, when suddenly we had a moment of serendipity. I could just bike down the canal to Stirchley instead, and we could sample what culinary delights Stirchley had to offer. So this was exactly what I did: I got on the bike and proceeded towards Bournville. While the towpath is a very scenic route and you get to see the trains go past, it is very bumpy at times and there's always the small jeopardy of being pushed into the canal by yobs. It just adds to the excitement!

Soon enough I arrived at Todd's house, and propped my bike up outside before knocking on the door. As I entered I was immediately baffled by the presence of a fusebox at eye level next to the door. Of course, this makes perfect sense: for a fusebox to be useful and the fuse switches to be switchable, it would be sensible for them to be at a level at which all people could access them, not people with freakishly long arms like me. And yet, it seems like such a perversion of the natural fusebox order that I was briefly staggered by its placement. How could this have happened? Had it been installed by Napoleon? If I had been slightly more of a madlad, I would have ripped it off the wall there and then, but I surmised this might have made Todd and Alice lose their deposit. Even then, I still might have done it for the banter, but I also might have humiliated myself if I failed to get it off the wall, so it wasn't worth the risk.

The front internal wall of Todd's house: on the left is a door and on the right is a fusebox about halfway up it.

The fusebox that dared challenge the way of things.

Before we could set off, I had to store my bike somewhere safe. Just because Stirchley is up-and-coming, it doesn't mean there won't be ruffians coming-up-and-running off with my bike! Todd, the gentleman that he is, offered the crevice under the stairs as an ideal bike storage place. Unfortunately, the doorway was a bit narrow, so I had to do a seven-point-turn to get it in. Even when it was in, it wasn't in all the way because the bike was caught on something, so I had to wiggle it around a bit, and knocked something off the wall. I didn't bother to investigate as the bike was now safely wedged in and it wasn't my problem any more.

It was time to leave. We strode around the corner and were already at our destination, the aptly named Stirchley Fast Food. No doubt we would receive our food in a fast manner, otherwise Advertising Standards might be having a word or two with them! We entered and nobody else was there, so we would get to order straight away. Unfortunately, there was also nobody behind the till so we had to poke our head around to see if anybody was about, which of course there was because the place was open and they wouldn't be able to make a profit if nobody was able to make any orders.

I made my order for a small fish and chips, with mushy peas. As the man totted up the total, I got my card out to pay. But this was the wrong move to make, as the man told me they only accepted cash. The quest stood on a knife-edge, as I don't carry much cash around with me any more as I was born in 1997. Fortunately, I had a random £20 note in my wallet from some previous event of other, probably from a birthday, so I was able to get the man to break it for my £5.50 meal. Relived that I had withstood the ordeal, I stood back from the till and allowed Todd to order.

But Todd was in a frenzy. He had realised that he didn't have any cash on him, as he had been born in 1996. This meant that he wouldn't be able to order any fish and chips with his current assets. We considered shipping him off to a nearby cashpoint and got out google maps to find out where it was. But then we realised that there was a much simpler solution to the problem, which was for me to use the remaining £14.50 of cash in my wallet to buy Todd's too. This stretched our friendship much further than it had ever gone before, but I decided it was time to take the plunge. I strode back up to the counter and slapped down the the tenner I had got the man to break the £20 into for me, so he could break it again for the next £5.50 transaction.

With both orders in the pipeline, we rested against the wall waiting for the food. As we waited, someone wearing a UoB lanyard entered the shop, and from his stance and aura we could tell that it was a Professor. If this godly being was frequenting Stirchley Fast Food, then we had clearly made the right decision. The man examined the menu behind the counter as if deciding what to eat, and then turned and left the shop. We waited for a bit in case he came back, but he never did. In fact, we never saw him again. Who had he been? What were his goals?

At this point, we still hadn't received our food. The fish and chips had been sitting wrapped up on the top of the counter for a while, but the man still hadn't offered them to us, and my mushy peas were nowhere to be seen. Suddenly the man emerged from the back room and got out a tub containing a green substance -- surely my mushies. He scooped some out but then returned to the back room with them. We waited some more, and I wondered if I was ever going to get the peas, but then the man returned and gave us the stuff, before vanishing again. We absconded instantly.

To eat the fish and chips, we opted for the nearby Hazelwell Park, a space I had often gone through on my cycles down the Rea Valley Route. But until this day I had never paused within it: it was time to change that! As we approached the park, we observed that we would have to cross a small bridge across none other than the River Rea itself. Todd suddenly became possessed by the spirit of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien CBE FRSL, presumably due to our proximity to Sarehole Mill, and uttered 'Get to the bridge of Khazad-Dum!', a quote originally attributed to Gandalf in Peter Jackson's film adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring. If he had been expecting me to guffaw, he would have been disappointed, since I did no such thing and actually ignored him completely.

The bridge from Hazelwell Park to some housing estate. The bridge is bordered by low grey brick walls, with black railings atop them. The area is surrounded by greenery and trees, and a river runs beneath it.

The Bridge of Khazad-Dum. Balrog not pictured.

After crossing the bridge and managing not to lose any of our party duelling a vicious creature from the bowels of Stirchley, we located a bench and sat upon it. I equipped my trusty fork from my bag and immediately tucked in. But another shambles had befallen Todd, and he did not have a fork, trusty or otherwise! He was forced to debase himself by using fingers instead, and dropping bits of fish everywhere.

After the wait we had endured to collect the fish, it was in fact delicious and we chomped happily. Even if we had not been able to taste the food due to contracting some sort of respiratory illness, we would still have been able to infer that this was the case as everyone who walked past said that it smelt very nice. Since these people would have no reason to lie to us, I reasoned that they were a good source of true facts, and their comments therefore justified my ability to tell if I liked food or not.

As we continued to eat, a very strange scenario unfolded in front of us. A lady left the path and started inspecting the bushes directly in front of us. We watched in interest as the lady entered the bushes and became concealed from view, expecting her to emerge at some point. However, we never saw the lady again.

A load of green leafy bushes

The site of the mysterious vanishment.

It was time to return to Todd's house. As we walked back down the high street, we ran into someone who had previously commented about the niceness of our fish and chips smell. She asked if we finished our fish and chips, and Todd said 'Yeah, we're done now'.