Left Coventry yesterday, and let the sat-nav lady direct me to Midland Street, home of Birmingham Accordians. Midland Street sounded like a perfectly good address for an accordian shop in our second city, but, as I got closer, the neighbourhood got more and more run down. By the time I got onto Midland Street, a dreary, weed-strewn cul de sac in the back of beyond, I assumed the sat-nav lady was mistaken (it wouldn’t be the first time). I went under a smoke-blackened railway bridge, with each arch of the bridge occupied by a different ‘metal bashing’ business, and passed a canal full of abandoned shopping trolleys. I was just about to turn round when, beyond some vacant lots and piles of fly-tipped rubbish, I saw a house on its own and a sign, Birmingham Accordians.
I walked in to find a guy mending an accordian in a little workshop. I climbed the stairs to a showroom, hardly any bigger, with accordians of all shapes and sizes - and a few concertinas - displayed on shelves all round the room. A man was sitting on a chair, with an accordian, while his wife looked on. It was a late Christmas present from her to him, apparently; he played a polka, as she brandished her credit card. I had to go downstairs again to find someone to help me; they seemed to have forgotten I was there. The guy in the workshop - think Manuel from Fawlty Towers - said his English wasn’t good enough to offer me any advice. He would find the boss.
A tiny concertina had caught my eye. Could the boss play something, so I could hear how it sounded in the hands of an expert? Er, no. He told me a long story about playing his father’s home-made accordian, which meant he couldn’t play any other instrument. Did he know the price? He had to check. He returned, eventually. £120. I said I’d take it. Did he have a book for beginners? He might have one “somewhere”, and went to look. Meanwhile, the guy from the workshop asked if I’d like a cup of tea, by miming the act of drinking. The other guy came back and said he didn’t have any kind of book for beginners. I should just pick it up as I went along.
The guy in the workshop drew a diagram, showing the chord names of each button. To represent each button on the concertina, he drew circles on a piece of paper, using a ten-pence piece as a template.
Strange, mis-shapen men wandered in and out, and the boss disappeared for minutes on end. A downstairs room was laid out with a tiny stage and a couple of dozen chairs, ready for some kind of performance. Everywhere there were accordians, with labels attached, ready to be mended.
The boss wrote out a receipt and then searched for the card-reading machine, which took at least two minutes to authenticate the sale. I left with my concertina and a smile on my face, after one of the more surreal shopping experiences I can recall. I am now the proud owner of a squeezebox; I hope I can “pick it up as I go along”…