A piece by Craig Deeley
I’m very happy to have been asked to contribute a monthly thing for This Is Birmingham. I say ‘thing’ because I’m not sure what to call it: a blog, an article, a column, therapy?
This first piece is just an introduction. So as Lionel Richie once said as he stalked that blind girl in the 80s, “Hello”.
I could sum up myself in one sentence by saying that I’m a Brummie-vegetarianish-gay-stand-up-performer, but I suspect the word count needs to be a bit more than that.
I was born in Winson Green, in George Street West, above a chip-shop. This fact proves that pre-natal influence is real. We then moved to Devonshire Street: thinking back, it reminded me of Coronation Street, as there was the Devonshire Arms pub (aka ‘The Devon’) at the end of the road, a corner shop, a park known as ‘The Rec’, a factory employing a huge number of local residents (the REAL – Rowlands Electrical Accessories Limited) and daily altercations between neighbours. Our address was 6 back of 76. This was a very common style of address in Brum, and I never really understood how it worked; were we no.6 or not? What did no.76 have that we didn’t? It was a two-up-two-down Victorian terrace with an outside toilet and questionable wallpaper, although that wasn’t down to the Victorians.
Although I was only about 3, there are vivid memories that stay with me: the corner shop owner, Floss, occasionally used to let me get behind the counter and help her serve customers. She had 2 fingers missing and used to joke to me that the bacon-slicer did it. Strange to think that corner shops doubled up as delis in those days. I remember heated arguments between neighbours because of children chalking in front of their house or footballs hitting windows; arguments which would be completely forgotten the next day. I remember watching our dog Teddy catch a giant rat in the outhouse. Teddy was a nasty little mongrel who never let anyone nearer her except my dad. She never had puppies of her own, and would steal my fluffy toys and sit on them behind the sofa. I remember a fun-day at The Rec with a pram race. My dad pushed my aunt in an old pram of mine. It collapsed half way round and she tumbled out. Health and safety didn’t really exist in those days. I also remember going missing for hours and a search party from Devonshire Street was organised to look for me. I was in The Rec. The search was pretty much over before the group decided how to split up.
My maternal gran lived over the road in the house that my dad and his siblings had been born in. Over the road lived her sister. A few doors down was her brother, occupying the house that he and his siblings had been born in and where their parents lived after marrying.
In 1974 Devonshire Street was to be demolished so we moved house and ended up on the Handsworth / Smethwick border which is where I lived until I went off to university in 1987. I came back in 1992, and never left.
Every generation sees Birmingham in a different light. They see a new skyline. It’s not perfect – there are things I don’t like about it: I get genuinely upset when I see pictures of some of the beautiful old buildings that were torn down, with the best intentions at the time, but in my view recklessly. There are things I love about it – our sense of humour, the city’s will to move forward, its rich heritage.
For the last 10 years or so I have been heavily into genealogy. This is more than a hobby for me, and at times it can take over your life. There’s a real challenge in breaking down brick walls in your research, and a certain joy in looking at censuses and documents with your ancestors’ actual handwriting on it. I’ve spent days sitting in the central library trying to find where ancestors are buried and then going on a grave-hunt. You can find amazing coincidences and twists of fate. You can solve family myths and legends. My research confirmed, for example, that I am a 3rd cousin of Olympic diver Tom Daley. His great grandfather Jim Daley and my granddad Harry Deeley were brothers – although they had different surnames. This is one mystery I’m yet to get to the bottom of, but I’ve been told that when my ancestors, the Daleys came over from Roscommon in Ireland during the 1840s, they would give their name in an Irish accent, which would be transcribed as Deeley, and because they couldn’t read or write, there was no way for them to correct it.
My make-up is Welsh, Russian-Jewish, East Anglian and Eastender but the over-riding element is Brummie, and that’s why finding, and being asked to be involved with This Is Birmingham is a real treat for me and hopefully mildly amusing for you. I’ll do my best.