When we’re unemployed, we’re called lazy; when the whites are unemployed it’s called a depression – Jesse Jackson
35 minutes or so driving west from Welford and you hit the Birmingham city boundary. The airport, railway station and National Exhibition Centre take up what swathes of Warwickshire are left after the motorways took the rest. Shakespeare’s County now exists only in those villages that have somehow dodged the destruction. Like Welford they keep up the pretence of timelessness.
Five to six miles before the city appear the outer suburbs of Sheldon and Yardley. Former villages themselves, they found themselves swallowed up in the 1930s house building boom. They are, in the main, without character, soul-less, full of people perfectly content to tick off each day as they get older and eventually die. Any excitement comes from Quiz Nite down the pub or treating the family to a KFC or (luxury indeed) a table in one of the many local curry houses.
On to the inner city – Hay Mills and Small Heath. An expressway to the south hurries traffic into the city centre but the A45 is the old gateway from the east. The city expanded out this way in the latter part of the 19th century to house the families of the men who kept the factories and foundries going, the Brummie working class. When the Irish started arriving after the War the Brummies looked down their noses at them as they sought basic accommodation. ‘No dogs or Irish’ read the signs.
The Windrush generation, beginning in 1948, saw an influx of West Indians to do the menial stuff – bus conductors, hospital porters, labouring. With the crumbling of the British Empire came the Indians, Pakistanis and East Africans. For a while the signs read ‘No blacks, dogs or Irish.’ Then the native Brummies started to up and leave for the outer suburbs leaving the new immigrants to it.
I drove slowly up the road. For fully two miles the area has been fully colonised by the new immigrants. From the start they worked harder and longer, especially in retail. They earned their right to stay and theirs is now a thriving and self-supporting community. As I crawled along it was a riot of traditional dress and costume, every business now owned by the ‘new’ immigrants. Where Welford is – to all intents and purposes – 100% white, this part of Birmingham is 100% new immigrant. (A misnomer really – many are now second, third even fourth generation). I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised to see a sacred cow wander through the slow-moving traffic.
But towards the city end of Small Heath is a white enclave – Birmingham City Football Club. Since 1875 the club has been resident in Small Heath. Everyone is welcome to attend matches but few of colour do. They’re not interested. Instead the white Brummies, like homing pigeons, perpetually find their way back there on match day.
I lived in Small Heath from 1953 – 1956. My Irish parents then moved out to Sheldon. There Mum still lives.
And when I retire? Yes I’d stay in Jersey if I can. Welford needs money I don’t have. Sheldon, no chance – I’d die of boredom. Small Heath? You betcha! Full of life and interest, near enough to Digbeth in the post-industrial city and a string of great, traditional bars. And the Brummies, wherever they originated, are as welcoming as any.
So which is the ‘real’ England? And where would you live given a free choice?