Posts Tagged ‘city’

Birmingham and I

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010


This is what you get when you put me to bed with a laptop.

I used to live in a beautiful little welsh valley town with a population of just under 3,500 which swelled to over 40,000 during the summer months. It was a town where 95% of the population is white and about 60% of the population is middle-class with the kind of lifestyle within the working classes that mirrors a few Enid Blyton/Viz stories (depending on your age and alcohol intake). My happiest memories were watching fish jump out of the river, sliding down the mountain into the bracken on pieces of cardboard, then eating my squashed white bread and jam butties and being in ‘clubs’ which were basically corners of someone’s dad’s shed, which we earned by mowing the lawn or picking up leaves. My brother’s favourite moments were catching the fish, punching me in the arm and throwing darts at my Sindy dolls.  Yes, it was nearly perfect (and we were the poor(ish) people).

In the next picture my brother kicks me

In fact, it was so perfect that when I grew up and got married, I determined I’d give my family the same kind of upbringing. I use the term ‘grew up’ loosely because I actually, stupidly, got married at 18 – not pregnant and no one tried to stop me! I had three kids and sadly divorced. I say sadly because although I am happily remarried now I feel that if I had understood life more I may have made more effort to make things work. I was not properly tooled up for the task at hand. Fortunately, neither myself nor my exhusband are total arses and we continue to have a pretty great relationship (this means I don’t call him a dick and he doesn’t call me a bitch – to our faces) and he’s a wonderful father to our three kids.  I stayed where I was, giving the kids the best I could afford, which wasn’t much but it was my best and eventually bumped into Beardieboy on the Internet one night, talking about music. It turned out we’d both performed on virtually the same circuit. We got on like a house on fire. This means we were happy chatting without the need to jump each others bones. It was all good. We started talking on the phone and eventually arranged to meet…

I’m going to skip the bit where we jumped each others bones, got sprogged up, got a business and then decided to get married. Maybe that’s for another day. Suffice it to say we did do that and then tried to sell the house in wales to move here. This is the house that I lived in for 20 years and raised 4 children in. By the time we’d sold it I was a heap of nerves, I was moving to a polluted pit of overpopulated, underfunded greyness and I was leaving my friends, family and fresh air behind. I was horrified, I questioned what kind of fruit-loop I must be. I photographed every inch of my house as if I’d never taken any photographs within the walls before. They basically led me weeping from my empty home and I cried the entire way to Birmingham.

A close up would show teardrops on the carpet.

A close up would show teardrops on the carpet.

I arrived, I moved in, unpacked and hated it. I hated you lot. You were all rude, all pushing and shoving, all in a  hurry, all didn’t care. I couldn’t believe how hung up on colour and culture you all were. I couldn’t get over how you all defined yourselves by these things and not by your individual nature. I was confused. I was Welsh yes, but mainly I was me, a creative being, frustrated by daft barriers of my own making, a mother and a musician and someone who was never happier than when feeding and comforting others. That’s it. I arrived here to find complex characterisations of people, by themselves and each other. People who defined their person by the fact that they were white Muslim, Pakistani Muslim, Irish catholic, black, Somalian black/Muslim, Sikh, white, Chinese, etc, etc. I was no longer surrounded by Johnny Saw (carpenter), Maggie who makes pots, Pete the Milk, Joanie Bigmouth (yes it’s true, she was the local fishwife, god love her). Suddenly I was surrounded by people who defined themselves by their religion or colour and I was confused. I didn’t know where I fit in, I didn’t know any welsh people,  I didn’t know anybody that wasn’t introduced to my by Beardieboy. I did know some musicians by this means, but it’s hard to find common ground with people who are as close to Napalm Death as you are to Alanis Morissette.

I remember the first time I took a stroll down City Road. I had my toddler in a buggy and I realised I couldn’t breathe such was the air pollution. I wept imagining what it was doing to my child’s lungs, came back and rummaged for an inhaler and never walked down that road with her again. The same happened when I went up Bearwood Road at home time. I couldn’t get over how dirty I was after a day shopping. The city is a dirty place. And the litter…don’t get me started on the litter. Cripes people, pick up some rubbish will you.

Our business ground to a halt overnight. I am not joking either. One day we were happily moving rich people from one big house to another, smiling and wrapping up their bone china, and the next day recession hit, and along with 10 other removals companies a week, we simply stopped working.  Fortunately we’re hardy buggers and Beardieboy immediately started driving HGV for the only growth business in the recession – Poundland. He’s never been out of work since, thankfully and I immediately got my job and was only out of work for the time it took to check I wasn’t a secret cat burglar.

I got my job working in the heart of public service, in the heart of the biggest court in Europe, in the heart of the second city and I loved it. I don’t talk about it, it’s my job. I do, however care about it. Through my job I’ve got to know the best and the worst or Birmingham, literally. I have learned about the driving forces behind city crime, community division, the risk of falling into the educational abyss, cigarettes, whisky and wild wild women. I’ve learned how cultural identities help people create communities in what would otherwise be a heaving pit of humanity lacking any cohesion. I’ve come to see how it can be positive for some people to identify themselves in this way in the absence of ‘the village’ and how it can cause strife. I love the diversity in this city, in my office, amongst my friends. I always have enjoyed diversity on the level of personalities but now there’s an extra dimension within culture/religion/ethnicity.

I find the city’s architecture fascinating. It’s such a challenging city. So chopped up by trends and ages but somehow it works. It’s exciting and forward thinking. Brummies are not afraid of a challenge. Not just in building but in so many ways. If you don’t believe me take a look at http://www.justdoit.org to see how many different organisations need you to make a better Birmingham.

I saw all this and set about making a life for myself here. I set about finding people who valued their own individuality and other peoples’. I’ve used social media for its most perfect purpose. I’ve found people I have got to know, and people I am getting to know and have noticed people I’d like to get to know and you are probably one of them if you’re reading this (especially if you’ve read this far).

I’m back writing and singing and am at the point of ‘putting myself about’ along with Beardieboy with our ‘Less for Murder’ project. It’s a strong project. We like it and so do others. I’m hopeful.  I’m even more hopeful for my eldest daughter who is displaying the result of being brought up surrounded by musicians and has a fearsome untapped talent that is jumping up and down to be heard. I’m just as excited for my son who is about to begin reading for his degree at Birmingham City University and for my youngest, who will grow up  remembering nothing of her birthplace, other than as a location we visit to see friends and family. Only my eldest has shown no interest in the city, but that’s ok. I remember hating it when I arrived. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

I am still welsh in my heart, the valley will always be mine. I still gasp for fresh air and feel my skin is suffocated by the pollution but I am hopeful and excited by this city and I feel I have a place in it, not just a nameless, faceless body in an unremarkable home but I have a place being me, being constructive and creative and contributing. After two years I’m ready to start taking part.