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My Birmingham
The backward glance to where one has been gives the assurance of making progress, without which there can be no future.

Terraces and trams.
Smug bow-fronts,
Are Brummy Birmingham's
Warm and sooty legacy
To a dead Edwardian age,
That flickers through my memory,
Page by wistful page.

The Bull Ring, week-a-day, filled with raucous cries.
Of barrow-boys and spivs and gypsy didikais
Escapologists and china-from-the-van,
"andy carrier!" bags
and the red-faced chestnut man.
Odours of the fish market,
fruit and flowers abound,
The smells of roasting spuds
and the lavvys 'neath the ground.
St Martin's-in-the-Fields, elysian in black gown,
Stared with sooted eyes, but not unkindly, down
On a human tapestry;
The noisy humoured shopper.
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 gods
And the hecklers setting the pace.
Soap-box dictators,
Hot roast potatoes,
The Sally-Ann beating their drum.
The Mormons and Baptists
And Seventh day Adaptists,
Cold Winter's night
Beginning to bite
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.
And when only the wind soughed silently round
The paper in gutter and doorway,
The old Market Hall,
Impressive and tall,
Winked across at the Army & Navy.

Gangs, my gang and them,
The others from the Grove,
The Fisher twins
And Hidden dens,
A childish treasure trove.
The fights, the sights,
In Elmdon's fields and Hobs Moats' tiny wood.
Of damming streams and sailing dreams
That no-one understood.
The days seemed longer then,
The sun seemed somehow warmer.

Things were realer when
They sold a penny ice-cream
At the shop on 'Horseshoes' corner.

The trolley-bus with spark'ed arm
Grabbed high, live wires
And hissed on tyres
With tall and stately calm.
Red plastic tokens, clutched in sticky hands,
Tickets, concertina bent, played in noisy bands.
Iron-shuttered school of sooty brick,
Tarmac fields a marble's flick
Away from factory vista.
Cream and green the tiled rooms,
'Click-clack, click-clack' the cracked bell dooms,
And cold the iron bannister.

Miss Skinner 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 and me.

Minds still 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 crazily,
That life was more
Than two plus four
And one plus one sometimes made three.

Stella was 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 of tricks".
Giggling girls with boy-friends fond,
Scruffy kids with string tied jars
Tiddler fishing beneath the stars.

Whilst lovers to the band-stand creep
And keeper's brothel slippered feet
Slither over fresh mown lawn
To catch a love before it's born.
Then fast they run past tennis nets
Before the sarky-parky narky gets.

In Olton Park long summer nights recall
The games that gave a fleeting touch,
The 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 Rink
(The Brummie's cultural palace).
A tram ride to the Lickey Hills,

The Terminus arcade,
The slot machines, roundabouts and fizzy lemonade.
The Sheldon, the Adelphi, Art-deco Tivoli,
Bred darkness dreams of derring-do in (k)nightly chivalry.
Tears with Lassie, Flash Gordon fights again!

Abbot fools Costello on a speeding train.
Down in the front row peering at the screen,
Wondrous flickering images of universal dream;
Manchu from the Orient,
Tales of Clicky-ba,
Villains on vile murder bent,
Classic chases in a car.
Cinematic living,
The vicarious kind,
Filling knowledge missing
In the spaces of my mind.

I never 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.

Energetic country dancing at the Mosely Institute,
Dirndl skirts,
'New look' flirts,
Folksy looking dancers being cute.
Town Hall concerts in the city hall,
Big band sounds, we heard them all;
Ted Heath, Joe Loss, Delaney on the drums,
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,
The turbanned, rollered women worked
Who filled us all with dread;
Such tales we'd heard, of mystic rites,
Of balls being blacked and awful sights
Of peni into bottles fed.
Then hosepipes littered the Coventry Road,
From last night's German raid,
The B.S.A. laid starkly low by death's sour-scyth'ed blade.
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 clank
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
As the women have him away.

The College of Art, in Margaret Street
Refuge, so they said,
Of classrooms full of lady nudes
- a thought to turn ones head.
Alas, thick thighed they were with bored and spotty faces,
Bulging tums, tired bums and non-erotic places.

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 beat;
Dunlop, Austin, Cadbury,
The Mail, the Argus, the Mercury.
Machine tools and chains,
Castings and cranes,
Pounding and pounding
To echo in brains
Where the pulse of the heart
Was so rich and so sweet.

New Street station,
Heart of a nation,
Had a warm and friendly face.
With a roast-potato engine in Stephenson Place
Snow Hill was a dark pit,
A smoky, clanking hold,
But Moor Street seemed to smile a bit
And trips to Blackpool sold.

'Blackpool' 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 glee.

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.

Like sequenced lights in mental flights,
One thought illumes another,
But Brum for me will always be
My Mum and Aston Villa.

These memories 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 1775

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