Elephants loose in Birmingham? And not in one of my books?
Well, yes and no. Like the ones in my books, these aren’t actual elephants. Unlike the ones in my books, they are at least concrete – or rather, metal – and often life-sized. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Akamba.
Back in the day this was a small, exotic garden centre selling a range of sub-tropical plants like ferns and bamboo from a small sliver of land in the suburb of Acocks Green. It was deeply mysterious, with trees lacing overhead and a network of ‘paths’ created through the jungle-like undergrowth, plus tribal music playing quietly on hidden loudspeakers, and a tiny shop selling African crafts.
It was one of those hidden gems that only the locals know about, but it was obviously very popular because soon after we first visited, it closed its Acocks Green premises and moved to a much larger site on the southern fringes of Birmingham, near to the new town of Dickens Heath. And here it remains, although there have been big changes recently (and I’m not just talking about the elephants).
Nowadays the garden centre part of the business is something of an afterthought, and this is primarily a ‘venue’. There’s a large café/restaurant with a stage area which can be hired out for events; there’s a vast outdoor beer garden/cocktail bar area; there’s a tropical house and bird walk for the kids. And everywhere you look there are metal sculptures of animals, looming out of the bushes in a quirkily entertaining way.
As an unusual venue it must be right up there at the top of the list. Perfect for book launches, was my first thought – especially anything set in Africa, the jungle or the tropics. Even the restaurant is done out like a colonial tea-house, with lamps formed from (metal) antelope heads and pendant lights designed to look like weaver-bird nests. It’s very atmospheric, and tremendous fun. And if you’ve got a spare few thousand pounds, you can even buy an elephant.