My Birmingham by Paul Fulford
Those distant days of my childhood in the 1950s are remembered in black and white but are far from drab. The hustle and bustle of the old Bull Ring market hall, roofless after a Second World War air raid, the shell of an unexploded Second World War serving as a charity collection box near its entrance, are recalled vividly.
As are the crowded aisles between stalls serving everything from vegetables and fruit, fabrics and hardware, to pleading-eyed puppies in cramped cages. And the weekly visits when, not yet of school age, I was taken by my gran by bus to buy from the fish market lives eels which she carried home wrapped wriggling in newspaper before they were despatched on the wooden kitchen table and served later with over-boiled potatoes and a claggy parsley sauce.
I remember the back garden of that house that I shared with my grandparents and parents,especially the chickens kept in a pen, before we moved to a sparkling new flat on the Lyndhurst in Erdington as Birmingham built new estates to tackle the chronic post-war housing service.
The optimism and vision of the 1950s and 1960s saw central Birmingham transformed, not always for the best. But there was a buzz about the place. A sense of freedom. A sense of civic and community pride.
The 70s saw turmoil and trouble, not least the pub bombings, but there remained a vibrancy about Birmingham, perhaps fuelled for me and my friends by copious quantities of mild at the now-demolished Norton in Pype Hayes, where I now lived with a mother who toiled long, hard and badly-paid at Hardy Spicer.
Paget Road Seconddary Modern School gave way to Brooklyn Technical College gave way to a very short spell with the Civil Service before a job as a trainee reporter on the long-gone Sutton Coldfield News and the building of a newspaper career that has just ended and during which I witnessed the ebbs and flows, the high points and low points, that any city experiences… though for us local football fans, there have certainly of late been far more lows than highs.
Now, almost six decades on from my first memories of my city, I see a Birmingham about which there’s enormous cause to be optimistic. Yes, there are challenges, not least because of the Government’s savage spending cuts. And, yes, there are big social and infrastructure challenges. But there’s a sense of purpose and determination that I’m not sure I’ve known since the 1960s, with new businesses springing up, new buildings appearing and a new generation of entrepreneurs with fresh vision and drive.
I see a city that has long been famous for re-inventing itself doing just that again. I see a city that has always welcomed newcomers continuing to be a cultural melting pot. I see a city that has every reason to be optimistic and confident. Let’s hope so because now self-employed and working in an area reliant on a bubbling hospitality sector, I need Brum to thrive. And I’m sure it will – as it historically has managed always to be.
Paul Fulford was until recently food critic and communities editor of the Birmingham Mail. He is launching his own food-related website at www.paulfulford.co.uk and will be working as freelance PR in the food and drink sector.