Mr. Bsag and I went to Walsall yesterday -- my first visit to the town. I'm not quite sure what I was expecting (it's very easy to have negative pre-conceptions about a lot of Midlands towns because they have been the butt of jokes for years), but I was pleasantly surprised. It is never going to be a tourist destination, but it has a very nice feel about it.
For a start, it seems to have managed to hold on to one or two independent shops alongside the usual high street suspects that spread like fungus over most British towns. I might be a vegetarian, but I still like to see proper, family-run butchers shops that appear to be doing a brisk trade. It was a lovely day, which always helps, but people were wandering around the pedestrianised streets looking happy and relaxed, rather than having that "MUST BUY CONSUMER GOODS" zombie-like expression that you often see around shopping centres.
Walsall also has a very nice art gallery, which proudly (and prominently) displays "Free Admission" under the name on the outside, so as not to deter shy and/or poor potential art lovers. I enjoyed a good wander around it, and took some pictures (one, two and three). They have an exhibition of Andrew Tift's portraits of Kitty Garman on at the moment, and they are really captivating. Kitty1 seems to be quite a woman, and the portraits show the intelligence and wit and life in her eyes beautifully.
There also seemed to be a lot of activities on for children in the streets (no doubt organised to coincide with the school holidays). There were several puppet shows, Punch and Judy booths (complete with a gaggle of kids sitting rapt on a blanket in front of the booth doing the full 'He's behind you!' thing), puppet making workshops, a giant monk puppet accompanied by two Medieval bagpipers, and a cheerful man riding inside a huge, papier maché crocodile. I have no idea what the latter two were about, but they were certainly entertaining, and the whole thing gave the town quite a lively creative air -- again, not what I was expecting from Walsall.
1 Daughter of sculptor Jacob Epstein and first wife of Lucien Freud. I hate describing women solely in terms of their relationship to men, but that -- unfortunately -- is how she is known. Judging by the look in her eyes, there's an awful lot more to her than just being a daughter and a wife. ↑