Birmingham German Christmas Market twatfest

I don’t blog much these days but sometimes I feel compelled to write about something. It’s cheaper than psychotherapy, and I enjoy writing when I’m in the mood. Increasingly, however, I don’t have time. I’m learning chess (badly), improving my guitar playing and I have a large mandolin. I also commute. Hot damn.

As I write, Birmingham’s annual (themed) Christmas market is in full spate attended by thronging masses of over-eager shop-whores hungry for polished rocks, cheap wooden toys and various incarnations of fried meat slurry and sugar. Repeat this formula hundreds of times, add glitter, noise, novelty clothes made in Asian sweatshops by enslaved women, and you can imagine the Bruegelesque scene.

The marriage between this and alcohol is a miserable pairing, leading to once-a-year drinkers puking in the street, and the looming threat of casual violence. Sometimes it’s a bit more than a threat.

I tripped over this witch’s tit of a situation last Friday while drinking in my local. Admittedly, I should have seen it coming and stayed well away, but I’m a creature of habit. There’s little point visiting a pub in central Birmingham during the season of good swill. They’re massively overcrowded and, not to put too fine a point on it, full of hideously stupid ‘revelers’* who can’t revel (and become unraveled) without getting tragically pissed. It compensates for a complete absence of social graces.

I was seized with the urge to pee, so a friend looked after my rickety (and hard to get) bar stool, but when I returned from the gent’s cattle shed, a blazing hooley had already broken out between him, a craggy looking escapee from Jeremy Kyle, and her shriveled git of a hubby. Yelling and screaming she took exception to our very being – for no reason I could see. ‘Get your fucking hair cut, ponytail man!’ she shrieked like a harpy on a sugar-rush. I ignored her.

That wasn’t what she wanted of course, so she grabbed my hair, releasing a cascade of washed-out blonde locks, eliciting howls of rage from me. ‘Call the police I’m being assaulted’, I implored the critically overworked and underpaid bar staff. They were flummoxed and did nothing.

Not that I blame them one iota for someone’s utter lack of basic potty-training. The climax to this bitter harpy’s wargasm was to sling her pint over my friend and I. He caught most of it in his mush, and I got the comet’s tail on my hair and clothes.

My hair is now shiny and manageable (Because I Deserve it!), thanks to a gratis beer shampoo, but pride and confidence in fellow H-Saps is somewhat tarnished. Downright rusty in fact.

To cap it all, her Hell-hubby asked me outside for a fight. I doubt he’d have played fair, so I graciously declined his offer to get myself killed. A group of nearby lads looked ready to start a fight, fueled by oceans of German lager and a massive brain deficit.

Happily, once the scumbag duo from Hades saw that things were unlikely to go their way they cleared off. Welcome to Christmas. Peace, love and joy to all beings. But not those twats thanks very much.

I’m unsure how Christ would have reacted to this birthday bash, but I suspect he would disapprove of the turn things have taken. ‘No, no, NO!’ I can hear him say in loud Aramaic, ‘Do I really have to go through all this crap again just so you can understand what I meant?’ Sense is wasted on the stupid. If he’d stuck to carpentry none of this would happen.

*My spell-checker thinks this should be 'revealers'. And indeed, much was ingloriously revealed to me that I'd rather not know.

Other is the mother of evil

We can handle a crisis here in Birmingham UK. Coping is in the DNA of the place, and although dreadful things happen here as surely as they do elsewhere, it’s a multicultural city and we’re good at conflict resolution. Anything less would feel like social and economic suicide.

Enter Brexit. Enter Chilcot. Enter a rudderless ship of state where the mainstream media profits from the strident, nefarious narratives of difference and division. These things challenge the delicate balance of local communities, threatening to detonate the cultural bridges people have worked so hard to build over generations. It’s a cliche, but a forest takes centuries to grow and just a few months to chop down.

Recent upheavals have created a change in our mental weather. Not long ago the outlook was sunny, but storm clouds are gathering on the near horizon, and a cold front begins to divide Remain from Leave, Have from Have-not, Homed from Homeless. More worryingly, perhaps, it divides Christians from Muslims. The apparently educated from the great unwashed. Fingers stab across the margins of society.

Some people have already stopped talking to each other and are asking, ‘Was it you? Did you do this thing?’ I thought you were my FRIEND! This is extremely dangerous. Social and economic divisions are slow, invisible poisons. They begin with the green-eyed language of suspicion and soon erupt into verbal or physical violence.

Birmingham is still haunted by the dripping spectre of the 1974 pub bombings when the Provisional Irish Republican Army, who have never formally admitted responsibility for the act, murdered 21 people. We’re wonderful when we’re pulling together for the common good. Yet do I fear our nature.

When the drums of division beat, innocents die. Those innocents rarely matter to the mainstream media or people living in the Westminster bubble, until it’s far too late.

Oh, they’ll condemn random acts of violence against ‘decent, hardworking property-owners’. Not that they’ll dress it in those terms. That would be tasteless. But not as tasteless as their tacit support for the mechanisms of social division which define so much of our lives. Red top papers, Sky News, lapdog journos on the fat payrolls of power brokers.

We must all do something to challenge the corrosive language of otherness before it overtakes and destroys everything we hold dear. A storm is brewing.

Into the cultural void leap people made of straw

ImageI was chatting to a young friend of mine, born and bred in Birmingham as far as I know, who was educated in Aberystwyth. He can be forgiven for looking so cool and feeling on top of the world at the moment because he’s in love with an Estonian woman – she’s about his age and he describes her as ‘Cultured, man! She’s read Kerouac, Herman Hesse – the lot. When did you last meet an English girl like that?’

Probably, to answer his question, the last time I had a steady girlfriend; which is now more years ago than I care to remember. And then there’s one of the barmaids in my local pub: she reads everything. In her own words, ‘I’m not educated, John, but I still like to read. I go to plays but my boyfriend’s not interested and says he gets bored.’ She was referring to an abortive attempt to get her man to appreciate Macbeth: not the Bard’s biggest box office hit even when it was freshly minted. The girl loves Camus, but knows little about poetry. I count her as a friend but she doesn’t know about this blog…

I live near the centre of Birmingham, here in the UK, and meeting a smart, interesting educated women is about as common as finding a tightly rolled wad of £20 notes wrapped in silver paper with a purple ribbon around it. This was where our conversation took us: if you have intellectual pretensions (as they are acidically called) you can forget about finding peace of mind here in the Midlands. You will be deemed undatable, ‘weird’ (a ‘fuck you’ word if ever there was one) and more to the point, you will wake up one morning wondering what the hell you’re doing here!

Although there are a few small theatres nearby I can’t summon up much enthusiasm for endlessly revisiting ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’. I studied the play at school and I saw it in Norwich many years ago. Where do I go to see new performances by local playwrights? Where, thinking musically, are all the exciting new unsigned bands? Where is the ‘vibrant urban culture’ I keep reading about in glossy magazines – funded by even glossier adverts – but never experience?

It doesn’t exist. Even my 20-something Birmingham friend says so, and he’s about as cutting edge as they come. Most British cities seem to be built around service industries, suits and most of all, popular culture. They don’t cater for independent thinkers or creatives. If you listen to Rhianna and watch The Voice, you’re in. If you read (and love!) poetry and don’t have a TV, then you’re a ghost.

And that’s the heart of the matter: pop culture has wiped out all attempts to generate a truly dynamic and exciting cultural scene in English towns. Arts Council funding is being silently slashed on a yearly basis, and all that remains is a hollow vessel full of marketing ‘messages’, attempting to sell our towns and cities as wonderful places to be. They have, in fact, become endlessly tedious places to be having had the heart and soul ripped out of them years ago. In short, if you want to see an interesting play, go to London – and good luck paying for your train fair and your hotel, because you will be fleeced into financial oblivion.

British culture has become an oxymoron, because the truth is it can only thrive if people are truly committed to it. Not so in England where the arts are – in a detatched kind of way – considered airy-fairy and useless. Unlike, of course, a multi-million pound call centre which is ‘useful’ and ‘provides jobs.’ Great. Some people (like our current Prime Minister) are so interesting they might as well disappear up their own fissures. They will make you fissures of men…

I will be 49 this year and I have given up any heartfelt hope of meeting a soul mate. Smart Midlands women don’t discuss poetry or art. They drive fast cars, dream of trips abroad and pay their mortgages. They chase promotions and talk about soap operas. They visit chic bars which I cannot enter without bursting into flames. Or perhaps I watch too many vampyre movies. To be ‘clever’ is always extended into being ‘too clever by half’.

You may well read this and accuse me of negative gender stereotyping. Fair dos, but I have no such goal and I’m only speaking about my everyday experiences based on observation. That this has somehow become a cultural taboo means we are all much poorer for our loss of soul and collective denigration of spirit – but I least I know where Estonia is.