24 June 2011

Ghost Town

24th highest vacancy rate for shops etc in the country. Over a quarter of the units available in Walsall Town Centre are empty. Can’t say I had noticed the plethora of ‘to let’ signs, boarded up windows and the general air of doom that envelopes me when I alight the bus.

This is the bus that has to wait to get into the bus station and then wait again once in, to park up and unload. Bad design, congestion, whatever the cause it’s bad for Walsall. The station itself, a concrete bunker that couldn’t look any better even if the sun shone all day every day. Grey, faceless and downright dangerous to anyone who attempts to cross the road.

Then there are the car parks. The only place you can park free of charge in Walsall is Tesco’s and if Mike Bird has his way that will not be for much longer. Free parking at Christmas didn’t bring in the expected numbers, so instead of looking at why people don’t want to come to Walsall, everyone seems intent on making it even more unattractive. They’re now talking about charging blue badge holders at the same rate as fully able drivers. And not just in the town centre but at the hospital too.

Why on earth would anyone want to come to Walsall to shop? Come by bus and wait and wait and wait, then take your life in your hands. Come in a car, wait for hours at the Arboretum Junction if coming from the north, get charged though the nose to park it, even if you’re disabled. And then once you’re in, browse the empty shop units, the fast food bars, the half empty market stalls and the precious few decent shops that remain. If you come early enough you can watch the rats at play at the top end of Park Street. Come at any time of the day for your head and shoulders to be used as a pigeon toilet.

The marvellous New Art Gallery, brilliant leather museum, our peregrine falcons and now even red deer are not enough to entice people into a place that conjures up in my mind all the fun of a cemetery, one which has had its services contracted out and is thus forlorn, ill-kept and uninviting no matter how much you once loved what is there. And there’s the rub, I used to enjoy shopping in Walsall ten years ago when I returned to the area. All the shops I needed in a compact area, easy to walk around, a decent market. The problems with the bus station were worth putting up with and I presume the drivers didn’t mind because they could park free of charge if they were in the know or got in early. Now I avoid the Town like the plague. I can go and have much more pleasant experience in Birmingham or Lichfield or even Tamworth.

To paraphrase an extremely famous headline, will the last person to leave Walsall turn out the lights….if they’re not already off of course.

19 June 2011

Wide eyed and tickletless

I've always loved athletics. At 9 years old I became a Birchfield Harrier and was so proud to pull on the club colours. I was a decent enough sprinter and long jumper but obviously never made it to the big time although I did continue to run and jump until my late twenties.

My love for the thrills and spills of track and field has meant that I've attended many meetings at various stadia over
the years and since returning to the Midlands in 2001 that has become easier because of the amount of
meetings held at the NIA and Alexander Stadium.

When Manchester was awarded the Commonwealth Games for 2002 armed with a credit card and a large limit, I applied for tickets galore to watch the track and field and through the vagaries of the ballot was allocated none. I was disappointed to say the least but thought that when London was awarded the 2012 Olympic Games, justice would finally be done and I would achieve a life long held dream to watch the sport I love at an International Games in my own country and the city in which I lived for nearly 20 years.

It wasn't easy. First I discovered that in order to purchase a ticket my Mastercard was useless and so I applied and got a brand new shiny Visa card that I didn't really want. I poured through the timetable of events and chose the days when I wanted me and my two children to attend. I was careful, I knew I didn't stand a chance of getting tickets for the session when the Men's 100 meters would be run and in case I couldn't afford the prices for such a session. I stuck to the low end tickets and applied for quite a few.

Of course I knew weeks ago I hadn't been lucky in the ballot because no money had been taken from my card but on Friday I finally received the confirmation email that I had no tickets. I was informed of the second chance, first come first served for tickets that were still available and so I clicked through and examined what tickets could be obtained as long as I was sitting with my fingers on the send button at 6am later on this week. One session of two hours duration, cost of tickets £65 per person and plenty of others with 'good availibility' for tickets costing hundreds of pounds each. I cannot afford these. Not wanting to miss out on the Olympic experience for my self or for my children I thought well try for something else but there is precious little else and at prices that are not exorbitant. No availability at all for track cycling, diving or swimming.

So I've resigned myself to watching 2012 from my living room. What angers me
though is the little advert for 'one of our partners' within the email confirming the bad news. Thomas Cook, partner (read sponsor) still has lots of breaks available that are inclusive of tickets for all events. I bet they have. That's the rub, lots of 'partners' have been allocated thousands upon thousands of tickets to dish out as they feel fit and you can guarantee that there will be events at all venues at 2012 when empty seats will be conspicuous and conspicuous in their numbers because certain people lucky enough to have been allocated such tickets will be too busy enjoying the hospitality outside the stadium or because they just couldn't be bothered.

We get weasel words from Sir Seb Coe about how fair the ticket allocation was. Well no it wasn't. Like most ordinary people, I can't afford to be a 'partner' in order to secure a definite ticket because I'm not a multi-national company like McDonalds or Visa. I just have a love
of sport and in particular athletics, which I've supported as a paying fan for very many years. There are hundreds of thousands just like me. Large in numbers but with no voice.

The picture aside is of me with the big hair on the left with an athlete who ran at more than one Olympics; Pat Cropper. I was thrilled to meet her. It was taken in the hall of Redhouse School, Aldridge in July 1973. Pat was there to present us with the Runners Up Shield for the District Sports and me with my trophy for winning the District Pentathlon Competition. Innocent days.

15 June 2011

Happy Birthday Son

I originally published the following on my blog last June, on the eve of my son's 16th birthday. Unfortunately is was turned upside down, screwed inside out and generally distorted beyond reason by a couple of very sad and immature teenagers and so for my son's sake I removed it from the blog. I am now publishing it again because it is his 17th birthday very shortly and so I've been thinking about our lives together and also in the hope that in the last 12 months some maturity may have taken root.


It was a struggle your birth almost as though you knew that it was better to stay where you were, snug and safe, rather than make an entrance into a world that has sometimes been so cruel to you. Forty eight hours of struggle came to an abrupt end when they told me you were very distressed and an emergency caesarian was needed.

And there you were. Wrapped in a hospital sheet. Blood already drying on your skin. Thick and long black hair and those knowing seen it all before blue eyes which I knew would soon turn chocolate brown. My son. I looked at you and thought how much you looked like your cousin whose birth I had witnessed a few years before even though she had virtually no hair and what little she did have was blonde. There was no surge of love at that moment. We just surveyed one another, taking each other in. This was it I thought to myself. I am now a single mother, solely responsible for you. It was bloody scary.

A few hours later when I was stitched and soothed and high on morphine, we spent a little more time getting to know one another. I marvelled like any mother at how perfect you were, counting your fingers and toes, touching your skin, astonished by the sheer amount of body hair that you had and wondering if someone had slipped a baby gorilla into the cot by my bed when I wasn't looking. And like any mother I started making promises to you, the promises that mothers make to their newly born children; I'll try to protect you always, I'll be there for you whenever and whatever, I will try to make sure you never get hurt, I will never make you cry, I just want you to be happy in whatever you do. And I sang to you. All those nursery rhymes from my childhood came flooding back. You opened your eyes when I started singing and the look of concentration upon your face was that of an old professor listening to a protégée. Who said babies can't focus their eyes properly? They said that because they had not met you, for you focussed and you looked and you held my gaze and you drank it all in.

That rush of love? It came when the midwife suggested I put you to my breast. Not a rush of love because I successfully fed you. Oh no. The midwife gently attached you and immediately you spat my nipple out and turned your head away. Spirit! Independence! My son indeed. The love came at the moment when I saw that you were a truly independent human creature, your own person and you were starting as you meant to go on by doing things the way you wanted to and not the way convention dictated you did. It took four days before the midwife realised all of this which was immediately known to me and admitted defeat.

Tomorrow you are 16, a young man, moving on to another chapter in what has proven to be an eventful life thus far. That independent streak has never been more noticeable. You do your own thing in your own way and I admire you so much. You still struggle against convention and the world at large does not always understand you but we've come a long way my son. I didn't think that I could ever love you more than I did at that moment of love rush but I do because every day I have been blessed with that love growing stronger and deeper but at the same time readying myself for the day you will move away from me for as every day passes that time gets closer. Happy birthday my beautiful, wilful, independent son. I love you.