Standard Issue writers are penning a letter to their hometown. Comedian Karen Bayley’s note is to the much-maligned Birmingham.
This is how I feel when I talk about the much-maligned city. Standing in the dock clutching a bible swearing to tell the truth.
I’m a bit of a hybrid: I hail from the Black Country, but was brought up in Brum (yes, there is a difference, try calling a Manc a scouser; same thing – we just can’t be arsed to explain.)
You can’t mention Birmingham without talking about the accent. The easiest to mimic and hardest to replicate. I’ve yet to watch a whole episode of Peaky Blinders without shouting at the telly. And FYI , no one in Birmingham says “Yow.” Although, I must hold my hands up to hypocrisy here as I do refer to the accent being a contraceptive in my act. Anything for a laugh. (People often say I don’t have a Birmingham accent, but after a few glasses of wine, I can “Alright bab” it with the best of them.)
But, wherever I am in the world, if I hear the dulcet tones and flattened vowels I feel a tingle of warmth. The test to find a real Brummie is to ask them to say toothpaste. If they don’t pronounce it tuth-past they are a fake. Oh, and while I’m on the subject of pronunciation, it’s BIRM-ING-HAM. Southerners please note, there is a “g” and we use it.
“Laugh with us, laugh at us, we can take it; we’ve been doing it for years and probably have enough jokes about Birmingham to fill the newly built library.”
Birmingham has been transformed but has taken a bloody long time to do it. There’s been no 60 Minute Makeover, no Peter Andre flexing his muscles while thrusting a turkey crown under your nose. The result, however, is fantastic. No peeling skirting boards for us now.
No, we can now boast a shiny new state-of-the-art library. (Insert joke here about how it’s not used by Brummies – although embarrassingly I stood behind a woman on the escalator on the opening day and heard her say, “Ooooh look at all the books.”) We’ve got the world-renowned Symphony Hall and how could you forget the Bull Ring (ahem – voted one of the best shopping centres in Europe). Only in Birmingham would Selfridges’ exterior be designed to look like a boob tube.
But it’s not the showy stuff I love the most. We don’t need to do the eyes, tits and teeth… ta dah look at us. It’s the people. We are one of the most culturally diverse cities in the country.
While chomping on your balti, thank us because it originated here: a visit to Sparkhill’s Balti mile is a must. We have the third largest St Patrick’s parade in the world behind Dublin and New York (thanks to another Brummie prerequisite; an Irish nan.)
But, most importantly, we have the Birmingham sense of humour: dry, self-effacing and sarcastic, but never nasty. It’s no coincidence that one of the best-established (and best) comedy clubs in the country, The Glee, is so successful here. And why there’s a list as long as my mic stand of comedians desperate to play there.
Laugh with us, laugh at us, we can take it; we’ve been doing it for years and probably have enough jokes about Birmingham to fill the newly built library.
But don’t patronise us. A brave American comedian once tried it at the Glee. Warning the audience, he said: “I have gigged in New York and a guy who heckled me ended being caught up in 9/11, so beware the consequences.”
With that, one voice came from the dark: “I’ll take me chances mate, cos you’re shit.”
Birmingham, I LOVE you. Tara a bit.