Funny things coincidences. Before I read this this rather lovely blog about the West Midlands, I was formulating a post in my head about Walsall following a conversation with my son earlier today and an even earlier conversation with my daughter. The blog being written inside my head was about my love for dirty, dingy,scruffy, unloved and almost unloveable Walsall and by Walsall I don't just mean the town centre but the Borough, which encompasses some pretty diverse neighbourhoods all with quite distinct identities.
I know what you're thinking; the Mad Old Baggage really has lost her marbles this time. Love Walsall? Not Mad but Stark Staring Raving Monster Loony Old Baggage! Allow me to explain.
Despite the fact that my accent is now once again firmly local to Walsall, the southern twang picked up during 20 years in London having been 'lost' since my return to Aldridge, a town I actively loathed as a teenager, neither of my children have a local accent. Daughter has a slight tinge of the Midlands in the way her sentences run but Son is accent-less I've always put this down to Son having spent the first 8 years of his life in London and Daughter having a posh sounding Dad because it's certainly not because the common denominator that is me. I mean have you heard me on the radio? Sometimes if I break into dialect they look at me as though I'm a beast from another planet. So it was no surprise to me when I said something to Son today and he he responded in exasperation by telling me 'Mom, you're so Walsall sometimes.' I retorted that there was nothing wrong with that to which he scornfully said 'Mom, Walsall is a dump. Have you looked around the town recently?'
He's right of course. Teenagers always are. Walsall Town Centre is a dump. With nearly a third of shops empty, there is an air of desolation and despair about the place. What shops there are tend to be of the bargain basement variety, only Walsall could boast about having the largest Poundland in the country, or they're charity shops or burger/pizza/kebab fast food outlets. All the heritage buildings such as Shannons Mill or the BOAK building have been conveniently raised to the ground by the Walsall Firestarter. There is little to be proud of there.
Then there is the local council. Least said the better there because I do not wish to provoke more angry emails from Councillors advising me that criticism of the council is not allowed. However let it be said that in Walsall we are blessed with three political parties, none of whom are prepared to leave behind party dogma, history and divides that happened 20 odd years ago and work together for the benefit of the people they are meant to serve.
There are lots of reasons to dislike Walsall and to laugh when outsiders make it the butt of jokes so why did I automatically say that there was nothing wrong with being Walsall?
I have waxed lyrical to the point of reader boredom about Walsall's Green Spaces. Don't worry, I'm not off on one again although I will say, they are very special and would do many a council proud. There is envy for our Green Spaces by similar types of local authority and with good reason. Walsall's Green Spaces are bostin'.
The real reason there's nothing wrong with being Walsall, is the people of the town. We're multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-everything and I like it that way. What I really like though is the directness of people in the Borough, the dry and self deprecating humour and the practicality within. I love the way when Aiden was trying to elicit sympathy whilst wearing a sling and he said something along the lines of 'she hits me when she gets angry' to shop assistants etc, they all without exception replied 'well you must have done something to deserve it'. I love the way people, complete strangers usually, will strike up a conversation, in a shop, on the bus, at the bus stop, anywhere and you don't automatically think they're a nutter. I love the generosity of the people in welcoming newcomers to the Borough be they northerners, southerners or from further afield. I love the generosity of giving, just look at the response during the coldest days of winter for the homeless shelter. I love the way people still hold doors open for you or hold the lift or pick things up that you've dropped and run after you in the street. I love the general friendliness of the people of Walsall. It took the long suffering Aiden to open my eyes and make me see that it is an unusual thing. It's precious.
Sure Walsall has more than its fair share of problems and also its fair share of bad folks but on the whole it's not a bad place to live and a whole lot better than some places that I've lived. Yeah I'm so Walsall and I'm proud of that.