Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/10/31/bodkins_brum/
Bumpkin's Brum — Roving Reg blogger hits the road
He wears skintight jeans and he’s off to Birmingham!!!
The sun glows a kind of burned cheese’n’onion Pringle yellow as it flops behind a rain-washed terrace, the wind sighs through a neighbour’s sickly privet hedge, a minicab driver irritably sounds his horn, unable to walk the five yards to his fare’s front door: Birmingham, the UK’s biggest city beginning with “B”, is my new home. And I love it here.
Birmingham’s a strange place, a place full of Brummies, but a place which never fails to challenge one’s ears with its indecipherable English dialect. It’s like an limitless small ads section in the local paper, with each page more intriguing than the last: “For Sale: Small cardboard box. No Timewasters.”
I settled on Birmingham because it was the only place I could afford the rent, and of course it’s an ideal base for my work at The Register. My days here are spent working on paradigm-busting podcasts, and listening to my boss Phillipe — with his hilarious tales of life in the Strategy Boutique — strumming his guitar to whalesong while he dreams up his next data centre whitepaper. It’s like I’m part of a movement, not a bowel movement or anything, but a real world-redefining upsurge which encapsulates everything that’s cool, strange, interesting, symbiotic and even evolutionary.
Don’t get me wrong, I have always loved London. It’s a city where skintight jeans are accepted without question and are often obligatory, or perhaps mandatory, or perhaps both. I grew up there, perambulated its fog-shrouded alleys a million times, dived headlong into its backstreet clubs where shouty people with guitars paid homage to the city’s relentless drizzle and slate-grey skies. To me, it was an epicentre, a ground zero of vibrant ethnicity, an artistic melting pot at the eye of an alternative cultural maelstrom. Yes, it was difficult to leave — my train got held up for three hours at Watford (Kosovar Albanian immigrants had stolen the copper wire from the signalling system) — but it’s a decision I don’t think I’ll ever regret.
I’ve travelled the Black Country in its cramped, malodorous public transport system, and seen parts of the UK not many people have seen unless they too have been there. The days thundered by in a haze of motorway service stations, fried breakfasts, and soot-blackened trees. Highlights included snaffling a hand-woven silk shirt for a quid from a Serbian gypsy woman with an emaciated child at each breast, who told me (the woman, not the kids) it was the last family heirloom she had to sell before prostituting herself on the streets of West Bromwich; being chased by a Wolverhampton dosser dressed in a Dolce & Gabbana plaid dress; and going vintage shopping in a Solihull thrift shop where a ten-year-old kid clad in an original 1970s Bay City Rollers outfit sold me the entire stock of slighty-worn fake Armani boxer shorts for fifty pounds. In Smethwick I hooked up with some locals in a wooden clog-chewing competition. My Young Person’s Railcard adventure led me once again to Birmingham, where I fell in love with the place all over again.
My best friend here is a girl named Peaches. We spend our days traipsing around the Pound Shops — her in skintight jeans, wrapped snugly in her trust fund with a shock of blonde locks tingling at the merest sight of an expensive hairdressing salon. We buy deep-fried battered black pudding from Brummie-accented Darfur refugee street vendors, run breathless through the Bull Ring, marvelling at its energising force, and source Bolivian marching powder from Maltese pool-hall owners. Nights involve supping cheap lager at our local — The Aston Alcopop Arms — and throwing a few shapes to vintage INXS platters on its jukebox, or catching the latest hoodie rumble down at the battle-scarred shopping centre.
Yes, Birmingham is a place where I finally feel at home. Driving round and round and round Spaghetti Junction at night in an unlicenced minicab (the novelty still hasn’t worn off!!!!) and gazing out over the grimy chimneypots — their peaks reaching ever heavenward, bare lightbulbs twinkling out of the endless windows of low-rent accommodation like electric fireflies sealed under glass, their dismal glow captured on the surface of the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal and the skeletons of shopping trolleys consigned to a watery grave by glue-fuelled council estate yoof — there’s no place I’d rather be. ®