Hello, my name is Benji and I’ll be your host for the coming week. It’s been suggested to give me “hell” by Jon, I’m sure you’ll not want to disappoint.
My first visit to Birmingham was at the age of eight or nine years old, my family were involved in running a church in Wiltshire and we came to visit a famous preacher (I can’t remember which one) who was speaking in the city. Memories linger of the old Bull Ring, markets & vivid inner city smells.
Fast-forward ten years, I’ve left the leafy town of Calne, Wiltshire, the home I grew up in and was settling into life in Canterbury. My parents had always joked that as the final child to leave home they’d ring up and tell me they’d moved but not tell me where. I think this joke traumatised me slightly, I’ve always been fearful of coming home and finding everything I own having vanished from my flat or coming home and discovering someone has stolen my front door. Keys have a strange significance to me and my next thing I want to own, having collected a front door, washing machine and sofa, is a set of stairs.
In a twist of irony the conversation on the phone played out something like this:
Mum: Hello dear
Benji: Hello Mum
<insert banality about studying theatre & English lit at degree level & was I eating properly>
Mum: We’ve some news.
Benji: Oh yes?
Mum: We’re moving.
Benji: Oh, hur hur, good one Mum, you’ve always joked about that…
Mum: We’re moving, dear, we’re moving to Birmingham.
Records don’t exist that document my response to this bombshell.
It turned out that my Mum wasn’t being entirely correct with her assessment of “Birmingham”. Turns out she needed to say “Black Country” or more specifically “Halesowen/Cradley Heath”. Not wishing to allow the zombie hand of the Black Country/Greater Birmingham debate to clutch me through the dirt of its grave I’ll stop telling that story.
Over the course of the next few years I moved away and to the Birmingham and Black Country area a number of times. Eventually I settled here around five years ago and have stayed. I’ve lived in the same tower block with almost the same postcode. (It changed an “E” to a “G”)
Here’s the question my anywhere-other-than-Birmingham based friends ask me: Why stay? Why Birmingham?
Birmingham captured my heart and my imagination. I’ve lived, loved, worked, slept, cried & made and lost friends here. I’ve found a community of bloggers/tweeters/gamers/online/offline/real/unreal people who feed my soul and mind in ways they probably don’t realise or understand how much I adore them for it. I’m not sure if Birmingham creates these people, warps their minds slightly or if these kinds of people are drawn to Birmingham like characters in a Steven King novel. “We don’t know why we ended up here, we just knew we should move here”. Birmingham is the canvas onto which I paint my life, the set around which the dance of my social engagements happens. I love it’s concrete, it’s skyscraper, it’s nooks, crannies, leaky fountains but above all, it’s people.
What do you think? What’s your story? How did you get here? Why do you stay?
If you’re not here, why not?
I’ll be here all week. Make sure you try the cake and don’t forget to tip the waiter, that nice Labour government has made sure their pay can’t be topped up to minimum wage from their tips any more. ;-)