Focusing on the fact that I’ve now lived in the West Midlands longer than I did London, I felt that I needed to mark the occasion with a blog post. Anyway, here’s the article reproduced below…of course if you’d prefer, you can view it here.
A London Politico’s View of Birmingham, its New Library and the Source of Milk
Yesterday I was involved in an argument with someone who lives near me. Following some heated verbal exchanges, the other person ridiculously asked me whether – given that I’m a Londoner – I knew that milk actually came from cows rather than just appearing in supermarkets. Getting short shrift and a few choice words, he then chose to apparently insult me by calling me a “London politico”.
Today, the new Library of Birmingham opens to the public. By stating that you might be wondering what the connection is…well let me explain.
The new library looks wonderful. Costing Birmingham City Council £189m to build, it towers above the city’s Centenary Square and looks – as Oliver Wainwright in the Guardian suggests – like “a gigantic stack of boxes, wrapped in a filigree skin of metal loops”. It has ten floors, each offering a different view of the city, and incorporates an amphitheatre and lots of exciting spaces for the general public to use. If estimates are met, a staggering 3.5 million people will visit the library each year. The largest public building of its type in Europe, it forms a part of what was the City Council’s daring plan to reinvent the centre of Birmingham. But as Will Hutton in The Observer notes, it has instead become something of a last hurrah for local pride before civic Britain is well and truly culled by the impact of the Coalition’s cuts to local government.
Interestingly for me, the opening of the library also coincides with the day that marks the fact that I will have lived in the West Midlands longer than I did in London.
Some may be underwhelmed by that fact: apologies if you are. But for me, it has significant ramifications not least because as a proudly defiant Londoner who has clung onto his London identity and accent for more than two decades, having lived longer in the Midlands than in London has prompted me to question where I belong and where I call ‘home’.
A few years ago in an article for Speak Out magazine (published by brap, Birmingham’s leading equalities charity) I wrote about how it was interesting to see how my three children – all born in the West Midlands – had developed a strong emotional attachment to Birmingham and the West Midlands. It was clear that I didn’t have that. Not only did I not have it, I also didn’t seem to want it: I was happy to be nothing more than a refugee Londoner existing in the second city.
Despite not having not lived there for 23+ years, my emotional attachment remained with Bermondsey in south London. Despite the passing of time, I continued to identify Bermondsey as ‘home’: the place Chaucer’s Tabard Inn was once situated; the place where various Dickens characters hid in dark doorways and shadows; the place where the mighty Millwall FC have its ground and with whom I’ve had a lifelong love affair.
Yet whilst my heart continued to tell me that home was still in Bermondsey and in London, my head began to overcome my protestations to tell me that it was in fact in Birmingham.
Denying this for years, I’ve recently started to think differently. Given that I live and work here, that I hopefully make a positive contribution to Birmingham society, and – as the years creep on – that I may eventually die here, I’ve started to face facts. Birmingham is without any doubt whatsoever, home.
Interesting then that the day before I come to make this public declaration, I get told by someone who hardly knows me that I don’t belong here. For him at least, there’s no room for a London politico amongst all of Birmingham’s diversity.
Still, it made me question whether somewhere can be home if others don’t think you belong or more precisely, don’t want you to belong.
With that in mind, I declare that as of today Birmingham will be the home of this London politico: no ifs, no buts. And to Birmingham being my home, I intend to visit its new library very soon with the express intention of finding out once and for all exactly where milk does indeed come from.