Friends & Family
The backward glance to where one has been
gives the assurance of making progress, without which there can be no
Are Brummy Birmingham's
and sooty legacy
To a dead Edwardian age,
That flickers through my
Page by wistful page.
The Bull Ring,
week-a-day, filled with raucous cries.
Of barrow-boys and spivs and gypsy
Escapologists and china-from-the-van,
and the red-faced chestnut man.
Odours of the fish market,
and flowers abound,
The smells of roasting spuds
and the lavvys 'neath
St Martin's-in-the-Fields, elysian in black gown,
sooted eyes, but not unkindly, down
On a human tapestry;
The spik'ed helmet copper,
And the swanking sort of
swagger of a Brummy pageantry.
Sunday, in the
Ring, was religion's market place;
Shouting the odds
For their different
And the hecklers setting the pace.
The Sally-Ann beating their drum.
The Mormons and
And Seventh day Adaptists,
Cold Winter's night
And making one's fingers all numb.
The drunks from the Bull and the
old timbered Crown.
The police in thick woollen gloves,
Sang as they
stamped their feet up and down,
To the tunes that everyone loved.
when only the wind soughed silently round
The paper in gutter and
The old Market Hall,
Impressive and tall,
Winked across at
the Army & Navy.
Gangs, my gang
The others from the Grove,
The Fisher twins
A childish treasure trove.
The fights, the sights,
fields and Hobs Moats' tiny wood.
Of damming streams and sailing
That no-one understood.
The days seemed longer then,
seemed somehow warmer.
They sold a penny ice-cream
At the shop on 'Horseshoes'
with spark'ed arm
Grabbed high, live wires
And hissed on tyres
tall and stately calm.
Red plastic tokens, clutched in sticky
Tickets, concertina bent, played in noisy bands.
school of sooty brick,
Tarmac fields a marble's flick
Away from factory
Cream and green the tiled rooms,
'Click-clack, click-clack' the
cracked bell dooms,
And cold the iron bannister.
was the art teacher. Art was my favourite lesson; it was the only subject I was
ever even remotely good at and I did so want to impress Miss Skinner. English
was incomprehensible, I mean, fancy having rules for just talkin'. Maths and
Algebra might just as well have been in Serbo-Croat. Somehow no-one managed to
connect education with pleasure, or life, or happiness, at least not inside my
head they didn't. Education involved pain and suffering and basilisk eyes that
missed nothing; except for Miss Skinner. We could have been happy, Miss Skinner
closed we were let out - set free!
To run and jump and scream and shout and
spend our energy.
'Twas then we found
As round and round
We whirled so
That life was more
Than two plus four
And one plus one
sometimes made three.
blonde with blue eyes. I gave Stella a jewelled anchor with a lover's knot. It
cost the enormous sum of three shillings and I passed it via a third party
during class. We never actually spoke, Stella and me, but she played the
starring role in all my dreams, especially the wet ones. But, Stella was the
unattainable - a year older.
Rowing boats on
Small Heath pond,
"Come in number nine, your time is up",
"We haven't got
a number nine".
"Are you in trouble number six?
We don't like them sort
Giggling girls with boy-friends fond,
Scruffy kids with
string tied jars
Tiddler fishing beneath the stars.
to the band-stand creep
And keeper's brothel slippered feet
fresh mown lawn
To catch a love before it's born.
Then fast they run past
Before the sarky-parky narky gets.
In Olton Park
long summer nights recall
The games that gave a fleeting touch,
glances met that meant so much,
And games that were no games at all.
The Onion Fair
at Aston Cross,
The Hippodrome and Alex.
The West End dance hall and the
(The Brummie's cultural palace).
A tram ride to the Lickey
The slot machines, roundabouts and fizzy lemonade.
the Adelphi, Art-deco Tivoli,
Bred darkness dreams of derring-do in
Tears with Lassie, Flash Gordon fights again!
Costello on a speeding train.
Down in the front row peering at the
Wondrous flickering images of universal dream;
Manchu from the
Tales of Clicky-ba,
Villains on vile murder bent,
chases in a car.
The vicarious kind,
In the spaces of my mind.
walked down those marbled steps; I danced, usually with Cyd Charisse or Mitzi
Gaynor. I was the narrow-eyed Private Dick of the latest thriller, with one
hand pushed inside my jacket resting on my forty-five automatic and ready to
blast my way out of danger. Sometimes I would hit those marbled steps with
six-guns blazing from both hips - I always shot from the hip, seemed more
casual, if you know what I mean.
country dancing at the Mosely Institute,
Folksy looking dancers being cute.
Town Hall concerts in the city
Big band sounds, we heard them all;
Ted Heath, Joe Loss, Delaney on
Ellington and Basie,
Ella singing racy,
And ogling Lita
Roza with my chums.
In the plating
shop at the B.S.A.,
Where men were feared to tread,
rollered women worked
Who filled us all with dread;
Such tales we'd
heard, of mystic rites,
Of balls being blacked and awful sights
into bottles fed.
Then hosepipes littered the Coventry Road,
night's German raid,
The B.S.A. laid starkly low by death's sour-scyth'ed
Five hundred souls lie buried there to this very day,
And in the
silent reach of night,
Or so the watchmen say,
You can hear the
Of a capstan crank
And the shrilling drills at play.
And if you
listen very hard you'll hear the peal
Of a young man's squeal
women have him away.
The College of
Art, in Margaret Street
Refuge, so they said,
Of classrooms full of lady
- a thought to turn ones head.
Alas, thick thighed they were with
bored and spotty faces,
Bulging tums, tired bums and non-erotic
But this city
was alive, with a strongly pulsing heart,
Forged on Trojan anvils into a
mighty Midland mart;
Vulcan, with Thor's hammer, measured out the
Dunlop, Austin, Cadbury,
The Mail, the Argus, the
Machine tools and chains,
Castings and cranes,
To echo in brains
Where the pulse of the heart
Was so rich
and so sweet.
Heart of a nation,
Had a warm and friendly face.
roast-potato engine in Stephenson Place
Snow Hill was a dark pit,
smoky, clanking hold,
But Moor Street seemed to smile a bit
And trips to
was standing on the platform of Moor Street Station in the dark and cold of the
early, early morning; we'd had to catch the first bus to get there on time and
the conductors always teased us about not being awake. On the platform we
stamped the cold out of our bodies, still blinking the sleep from our eyes and
shivering with anticipation. Blackpool was sea and sand, donkey rides and rock;
jaw breaking, teeth rotting rock with the name BLACKPOOL right through it.
Without the name it simply wasn't potent magic. Side-shows on the front, Punch
& Judy, bands, noise and then, that holy of holies, mecca of meccas, the
South Beach Fun Fair with 'IT', the 'thing' with which we terrified each other,
hurling dares and double-dares with reckless and malicious
IT was, of
course, the Big Dipper with its stomach churning, rock regurgitating plunge
into a seemingly bottomless pit. Oh, God! It was marvellous. It terrified us
and we loved it. And then the train again. In the darkness, rocking, sleepy,
sick and pallid with satiety, happy-sad; sad because things always seemed to be
only just starting when we had to leave to catch the last train to catch the
last bus home.
lights in mental flights,
One thought illumes another,
But Brum for me
will always be
My Mum and Aston Villa.
are from my childhood and teens; I started work at the B.S.A. aged 14. They are
of a Birmingham into which I was born and which I recall with much affection.
They are my memories and I ask you to forgive my indulgences, but they
are all part of what makes me the person I am.
I am also
reminded that having a good memory is reliant on others having a bad one. "I
know of no way of judging the future, but by the past." - Patrick Henry