I left my heart in….. Birmingham?!

11 Jun

Two things have always set me against considering the city of Birmingham with any fondness. My first trip there in about 1983 for a start; I was only 4, and it was the biggest, noisiest, busiest place I could remember ever visiting, and I did not enjoy it, other than seeing Spaghetti Junction… The second reason is that the University of Birmingham rejected my application outright many years ago, probably due to the Oxbridge application contained in the same form. I was disappointed, as I was hoping like hell that a normal Uni would accept me, so that I could avoid the Dreaming Spires nightmare.
Since my late teenage years therefore, Birmingham has always been a gateway stopping place or transfer point for any journey I have taken, either on long tedious yet very cheap coach journeys in younger days to go back home, or in latter days, use of the train for my home as an adult, as well as for work.
Unfortunately, the place got a further negative connotation when my Dad became ill. Arriving into Birmingham New Street from the North, and the subsequent change in direction dictated I would get the sinking feeling of being utterly helpless to see my Dad rapidly fading in front of me, while at the same time having to joke along with him that it was all fine, and that cancer was like a common cold these days. On one particular morning, a very bright early February Saturday as I recall, I spent the entire time from Sheffield to Birmingham with a card open in front of me not knowing what to write. Coming past the Bullring on the journey on to the South, with the sunshine glistening off the curves of the building, I realised that whatever I wrote would be the last thing I ever wrote for my Dad, as he had been given only a few weeks to live by this point. I ended up writing “Dear Dad” and then just signing it, a lifetime of regrets, too lates, and pointless hope filling the blank gap between the perfunctory words.
So sorry Birmingham, but that memory, coupled with the journey home after his death, and then his funeral, did make me think you a Godforsaken place.
In the newfound spirit of trying new things, I have just spent a very pleasant couple of days in the city. I must confess this was not the aim of my trip, but has been an unexpected bonus. Let me explain…
My Dad absolutely loved cricket. It was his kind of sport he liked, slow, complex, little physical effort and terribly English. I think he played at school, but had no further impact on the game after the late Fifties.
And so, I therefore decided to come to a Test match, and Edgbaston just happened to be looming as I made this decision, leading to clutching tickets for Days 4 and 5 of the match against the West Indies only 24 hours later. Many, many times, Dad and I spoke of going to Headingley to watch a match, given my proximity to the ground, and his love of all things Yorkshire. We never made it to the ground, something which I have deeply regretted for the past few years. Undoubtedly, he would have turned up looking ridiculous in an ill fitting blazer and man from Del Monte hat, trying to look like he had been born in the Members Club. He would have fallen asleep just at the point in play when a century or end of an innings was due, or moaned about the torrential rain or blazing sun, whichever weather condition happened to be prevailing at the time.
As I took my seat for the opening of the 4th day, the England team came out of the pavilion, to the strains of “Jerusalem”, in glorious sunshine. A more perfect moment for my Dad couldn’t have been possible, and his absence from my side, and life in general hit me hard at this point. There are times in life when people feel that they have been dealt a particularly harsh hand, and this was definitely one of them for me.
By the end of that day’s play, and with composure suitably restored, I felt glad to have made the effort to come, and adding another achievement to the list of things I really want to do in life.
Taking up some local intelligence on places to eat, I ended up in a rather excellent curry house in the evening. My Dad had a particular foible for ordering a table full of food, and normally the hottest, spiciest food on the menu at that. While at first, he would receive raised eyebrows in new places, this invariably turned to applause and accolades from waiters and other diners upon finishing his mammoth feast.
Being unashamed to confess my inability to handle a hot curry, I passed on this element of tribute, and opted instead for the large volume of food option. Feeling suitably pleased with myself, I devoured the nicest Balti I have ever eaten, complete with pilau rice, and a naan bread of roughly the same size as Luxembourg.
As I was dining alone, I received a few sideways looks, at this slightly unusual disregard for social mores. Then, remembering the reason for my visit. It is safe to say I became bloody minded. Having finished both rice and Balti, themselves sufficient to fill any hungry grown man, I set about the large quantity of naan bread which had thusfar been hanging on its stand in the middle of the table. I duly finished it, which gave me a sense of achievement, as well as almost instant indigestion, but worth it for the looks on the faces of others, when I had just consumed my bodyweight in bread. Walking out of the restaurant, I reflected that of all the things I have ever done in my life of which my Dad had been proud, this one would have got a gold star, and probably even a manly handshake.
I now sit in the cricket ground for the final day’s play, freezing cold, and feeling a little frustrated that I am sat watching an empty pitch, being one of no more than 100 spectators, and drinking weak tea which is extortionately priced. But I do realise one thing. All of these grumbles made by me now, are exactly what my Dad would say. Sometimes it is alarming when you realise just how close the acorn fell from the oak tree, but today, I am actually quite enjoying the feeling. So, rain has stopped play, it is unlikely that anything will happen today, other than me getting wet, failing to finish the crossword, and eventually going home tired. But I am happy with that, because sometimes life isn’t perfect, and springs unpleasant surprises and challenges on you. It is how you face up to them, which dictates if you go for a duck, or score a century.
Walking around Birmingham, I have been surprised to find it really rather a beautiful place, where the people are friendly, and I will be leaving later feeling I could stay longer. But this time, I know that I will come back soon to visit, not just pass through.

2 Responses to “I left my heart in….. Birmingham?!”

  1. suzyq47 June 21, 2012 at 12:46 am #

    Your post made me cry , not for Birmingham ,(as I have never been a city lover) but because I too lost my Dad recently (to me) and you put how you feel into words so eloquaintly ! loved your post

    • madmannomore June 22, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

      Thank you very much!
      Talking to people about it, the sense of loss is always there, whether the person has died 2 months or 20 years earlier. In my experience, the rawness subsides over time (it has been 3 years since my Dad died), but every now and again, as I described in this post, there are moments when the loss hits you again, like a runaway lorry.
      However, while there is no “good” aspect to it, I am finding that the passage of time is at least allowing me to do things like go to the cricket, as I would have wanted to do with my Dad if he was still here, but which would have been too upsetting as recently as last year to do.
      Not sure that a tribute to anyone should ever involve eating an entire family sized naan bread though. I wont be doing that again! x

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