An iconic symbol jutting out from my four years at Birmingham University was Mick’s Café, in Dawlish Road, Selly Oak. A ten minute walk from the campus, Mick’s was a place where students and locals could fill their bellies on a mountain of good, cheap, fried food. Jon Marks and I would often dine there in year one.
Service was so quick that you couldn’t read through the copies of the Sun and Daily Mirror scattered around the tables. The food was capped with magnificent portions of chips that were five or maybe six inches high. Plus a big mug of tea. All fully inserted within my size 28 waistline. Ketchup use was massive. Staying awake in afternoon lectures presented challenges.
Mick’s was immortalised by an annual charity event for students known very simply as the Mick’s Café Race. Participants drank a pint of Guinness in the Mermaid bar, ran the mile or so to Mick’s and ate a ‘belly-buster breakfast’. Then ran back for a second pint. Vomiting was usually a consequence.
The mythology impressed me. Toying with the idea, I tried a practice run. Halfway through the meal, my guts were saying ‘not for you’. But then I could never down a yard of ale. Two and a half pints of lager in one, massively-extended gulp. Big Dad and a few others could. Most of my attempts ended up down my shirt.
The other dining memory from Birmingham, is, inevitably, its Indian restaurants. The best curries I have savoured were served in in the so-called ‘Balti Triangle’ zone of Birmingham, encompassing Sparkbrook, Sparkhill and Balsall Heath. But those were enjoyed post-university.
My curry virginity was sacrificed somewhere in Selly Oak, where the very air was perfumed with odours that were utterly foreign to a boy from Basildon. Wasn’t a great fan at first, but curry house ‘sketches’ were steadily woven into the litany of tall tales. Big Dad had the worrying notion that toilets in such establishments were best deprived of their ballcocks. Andy fell asleep with his face in a vindaloo. A few mad buggers attempted to eat the hottest option, with phal sauce. Shamefully, the idea of ‘doing a runner’ was something that most of us tried out.
A more ethical method of eating but not paying was engaged in by John Madden and I in Manchester. In a Moss Side Indian establishment, where staff were in short supply, we sat upstairs waiting for somebody to take our order. We were pissed. We noted all the leftover food on the tables that had yet to be cleared away. The same light flickered in both brains. It was still warm. Every mouthful a taste of free glee. Nobody seemed to notice. Then off for more beer to neutralise any invasive bacteria.
It remains my favourite food. There came a day 43 years after my first curry when Maureen was away. I tucked into curried breakfast, lunch and dinner.