My Birmingham by Stacey Barnfield
My Birmingham is a tale of two cities. On one hand you have the city marketing types like to badge as a ‘destination’ as it continues to reinvent itself to cater for weekend tourists and new industries.
It’s this Birmingham that occasionally lights up twitter on the back of a visit by travel journalists won over by its many charms, yet still can’t resist opening their online articles with tired old references to Spaghetti Junction, Duran Duran or post-war architecture, before begrudgingly writing about the good stuff.
This is the city that occupies most of my time through my job as editor of the Birmingham Post – the city’s premium newspaper (yes, I know I would say that), covering business, civic affairs and regeneration – of which there is plenty right now.
Birmingham is going through massive change, but isn’t it always? Paradise Circus, Snow Hill, Arena Central, Curzon Street, Five Ways; you name it, there’s a masterplan and artist’s impression for it.
It’s also a city with huge challenges; namely a council in financial crisis, a muddled public transport network and a strategy that, while bringing widespread benefit to the city centre, leaves the suburbs lagging.
And don’t get me started on the library.
But putting politics and investment pound signs to one side, there’s another Birmingham I know and love – the city in which I was born, raised and helped define who I am.
This is my hometown. It’s where I’ve forged a pretty good career and where I now raise my family.
My arrival in this city and wider world took place at Marston Green Maternity in the summer of 1973, during an episode of Crossroads. With this timing in mind it’s a relief I wasn’t named after Benny, one of the stars of the cult show. That said, Benny Barnfield… it’s growing on me.
It’s a little-known fact I was born on the day Bruce Lee died. It’s a widely-known fact I have none of the great man’s martial arts skills.
A few years in a Chelmsley Wood tower block followed before a fairly uneventful but pleasant childhood on Hob Moor Road in Yardley, with the exception of my greatest achievement to date: a 171-slab wheelie on my Raleigh Super Burner; truly a thing of beauty. Street slabs were the official standard of wheelie measurement in the Yardley of my youth. I hope this is still the case today.
And sticking with modes of transport in the mid 1980s, do you remember the old scratchcard-style WMPTE Daysavers which entrusted travellers to scrub out the date the ticket was being used? I’ve been told some bus users would attempt to complete their day’s journeys with the travelcards ‘unscratched’ so they could be used again. Appalling. Who would even consider trying such a thing?
Daysavers opened up a whole new world of exploration, usually involving the No.11 bus or, if mates and I were feeling really adventurous, a visit to the airport to muck about on the Maglev. Yes, readers, the Maglev – space-age travel right here in the West Midlands.
My first foray into paid employment was delivering the newspaper I now edit, along with the Evening Mail. I also washed cars at a local dealership on Saturday mornings to finance my misguided love for Birmingham City Football Club: a worthwhile investment if ever there was one.
BMX stunts, Maglev escapades and carwashing capers were interrupted by studies at Cockshut Hill School, before a few years at Solihull College of Technology honing my graphic design skills and sparking my interest and career move to the media industry.
As an impoverished student it’s during this period I discovered the ability to have a decent night out for a fiver. Yes, a fiver.
Birmingham’s best boozer – The Ship Ashore (RIP) – offered exactly that. For it was here, in the bit of town now occupied by Selfridges, that K cider was just £1 a bottle on Thursday nights.
So, four bottles of K and my bus fare there and back for almost exactly £5. Other pubs were available: The Pot of Beer, The Sacks of Potatoes, The Black Horse, The Pen and Wig, Quo Vadis, Sputnik… they’ve all been on my hitlist at one time or another. Then there are the clubs: Edward’s No.8 on a Friday, Snobs or the Hummingbird on a Saturday. It’s a strict routine many of you will have followed, I’m sure.
Some of the best nights out of my life took place in these legendary venues – well worth a separate blog article in itself, if I’m invited back…