Is it strange that I’m from Birmingham but I don’t know anybody from here? It’s like I’m a stranger in my own city, local but foreign.
I went to school here and had my first job here, at a local pub, I went out – to the same club nearly every Saturday. Then I went to university for five years, four in Leicester with a year in Europe, and one in Sheffield – it was kind of expected that I come home, to my parents. I hadn’t kept in great contact with my school friends because it was all very much “out of sight, out of mind”, but we all tried to meet up throughout the years at Christmas and every Summer. Anyway, then something happened in the family and I really fell off the social radar.
Some time went by and I snapped, and really pushed myself to get back out there and meet new people. I do still talk to people from my childhood, but now my friends are French, Spanish, Mexican, Portuguese, Slovakian, Yam Yams, Polish, Londoners, from Manchester, Norwich, Italy, Brazil, Ireland, Ecuador, Germany… One day a realisation hit, I don’t know anyone from here. I work, and my family are basically still here, but other than that – nobody. It hit one Summer’s night at Pub du Vin, surrounded by about 15 other people, friends of Daniel’s – I was the only Brummie.
Over the last five years I’ve discovered more about my city than I’ve learnt in the 25 previous. All of it shown to me by non-natives – and you know what? It’s wonderful. From the Moseley Arts Market, to Digbeth’s Architecture Festival, pubcrawls in the Jewellery Quarter, Ladywood, Harborne – it makes me love the city even more. Tiny festivals and gigs that you probably wouldn’t even know about unless you weren’t from here and you were looking for it. That’s Birmingham’s biggest drawback I think, nothing is advertised – you have to look really hard, know the right people and be on the right mailing lists to find anything out.
I wonder if I do it on purpose though, there’s something inside me that has an aversion to the local, to the comfortable knowledge that my school friends remember buying joss sticks the Solihull Indoor Market, that we know that you can get to the Stratford Road down that gully on Baldwins Lane, that the Oasis Market is really mainstream these days, even that the Number 5 bus used to be the Number 4, and you can’t stop calling it that. Is it because I had a bad time during that last year of school? Maybe it’s the family issue that makes me get out there for the Now and forget the past. I just can’t do it, I can’t very easily take myself back to that time, it’s like I was a completely different person. And at the same time I love how multi-cultural my social life is, French cheese and wine nights overlooking the BT Tower, Eastern European potato or beetroot salads on sunny Summer’s evenings, and Mexican Day of the Dead parties in the University.
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