Danny Smith: The Wasteland

It’ll come as no surprise that I was a bookish child, I rarely left the house to go out and play and would opt to stay in the massive musty smelling Austin Maxi that my father drove rather than go play in the the sun on whatever day trip my parents would take us on. Evesham or Stourport all enjoyed from the the smeared window of a car built like a tank glanced at by bored eyes while turning the page of whatever comic or book I head stuck my head in. Its why I’m such a good traveller now, I either sleep or read during the boring bits.

So the memories I have of the the little strip of green known locally as the Kala’s I am suspicious of, I never really went outside so why are my memories so strong? So vivid? Are they borrowed from my school-friends’ stories? Squirrelled away in my mind that expects a Wonder Years montage of important childhood memories. Its more likely that the fantasy of being so bookish and anti social are an exaggerated construct to assert my difference and nerdy credentials. Yet, I still don’t know how to ride a bike but can read on almost any transport without feeling ill in the slightest.

The Kala’s has a magical sounding name, and it suits because its a fairy tale sort of place. The name actually comes from the industrial estate it run behind, the bizarrely name Kalamazoo on the Bristol Road where Northfield and Longbridge meet. Its a strip of forest about a football pitch in width that ran parrall to the train lines, a tiny crack of green, a lush hinterzone of my childhood. the grey of the adult world always visable but forgotten trapped between that and the dangers of the railway, we’d all seen the videos but played on them anyway.

I’m certain of this because I’ve still got the flattened pennies and the image of one of my best friends face burnt onto my retina from the first time he set of one of the detonators we stole from the tracks. The second time he did it was in the playground on a dull November morning and although I wasn’t there at the time, I do remember him being led away in handcuffs by the British Transport Police.

The Kala’s were where, and possible still are, where the city kids of south Birmingham go play when ejected out of the house on the long summer afternoons. There is a brook that runs through it with even quaint rope swings over the steeper banks, a sight even then that seemed out of odds with the housing estate building yard, and factories that surrounded it.

It was a kids place, a Neverland where we never even considered that our parents could find. If they tried it would be easy to believe that adults couldn’t even see it. Even though they themselves as youth probably paddled in the brook and made dens.

A strangely innocent place, when we hit our teenage years and looked for places to drink and not be disturbed in our petty hedonism, no one ever suggested there. An unspoken pact of purity. Or maybe we never even thought of it. Our burgeoning adult minds unable to remember, invisible to the proto-adults that we were.

I remember my friend setting a fire that burnt a lot of it down, as we ran and ran we could hear the fire engines and waited for a knock at his bedroom door that never came with breathless fear. When talking to others about the Kala’s many people have the same story. It seems Pyromania is common amongst the young of south Birmingham and the regular burning down of this space absorbed into the natural part of the woodlands cycle.

I want to go back, but think I never will. I want the verdant dubious memories of my youth. A wasteland of empty gas bottles and crap graffiti would crush a part of me that, real or not, I obviously need so much.