The Plastic Hippo

September 13, 2013

Walsall in bloom

Filed under: Environment,Society,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 10:13 pm
Bridge Street, Walsall. September 2013

Bridge Street, Walsall. September 2013

There is something profoundly satisfying in shattering illusions and overturning unwarranted misconceptions especially when the reputation of home turf is at stake. So when an email from an old and dear friend arrived several weeks ago telling us of a long road trip from the Sussex coast to the west of Scotland and asking for a recommended hotel somewhere near the M5/M6 junction to break the journey, the reply was blindingly obvious.

One of the true tests of lasting friendship is that the length of time between actual contact disappears once reunited in the same room and the artificial etiquette of “is there a decent, cheap hotel?” is instantly translated to “can we come and stay?” The travellers arrived late on a Friday night and after the formality of the Beef Stifado in the slow cooker had been dispensed with; much wine, news and memories were shared. The preposterous notion of “an early start” the following morning was soon dismissed once it had been established that their itinerary was flexible and there were still three bottles of wine to finish. The Oban to Mull ferry could wait until Sunday. Our guests had never visited Walsall before and, like so many misguided souls, simply assumed we lived in a suburb of Birmingham that was once fairly good at making stuff. It was time to set the record straight.

After a late leisurely breakfast, I suggested a walk in the Arboretum. My dear old friend looked dubious. “Won`t that mean taking two cars and is there parking?” He winced when I said that we will walk. It took longer to round up the various children than it took to walk to the Arbo and once there, it is fair to say that our friends were “gobsmacked” as they say in the more polite circles of south coast village society. The Arboretum was full of summer and as we promenaded through the formal bits by the lake, across the extension and into the wilds of the old golf course, my now impressed dear old friend told me we were “lucky bastards” to have this on our doorstep. Returning from the rural idyll, I suggested we visit the New Art Gallery and my dear old friend once again asked about cars and parking. When I said that we will walk and maybe stop off for a pint of refreshment at the excellent Fountain ale house his expression bordered on the incredulous. “Do you mean all these things are within walking distance?”

As ever, the Garman Ryan Collection did not disappoint and the PR charm offensive on behalf of Walsall continued as we proudly indicated the locations of not one but two proposed multi-screen cinemas, the site of yet another supermarket and that jewel in the crown of regeneration; a new Primark. Walking back through the town, Bridge Street offered the charming vista of an entire parade of boarded up shops complimented by some delightful formal planting just steps away from our magnificent council house. It was a close call, but I think we managed to convince our visitors that Walsall was not in reality a dead town governed by a clueless, self-serving cabinet but merely a dying town governed by a clueless, self-serving cabinet free to act with impunity due to the absence of any credible political opposition.

We waved our friends farewell on Sunday morning with dire warnings of the vampire midges that infest the Inner Hebrides when the temperature rises above freezing. We advised that the only way to ward off such beasts is to construct a large statue of a wicker man and then set it on fire. They said that they had enjoyed their first experience of old commercial Walsall and would love to return as soon as we let them know when it will be open. Only very dear old friends can get away with such sarcasm.

A walk through Walsall town centre on a sunny Saturday afternoon can never do justice to the delights of an entire borough and a shortage of time meant that only a few pound shops could be visited and we could not engage with the intellectual discussions on art, politics and philosophy taking place outside the charming pavement bistros of Leicester Street. Sadly, exploring Barr Beacon, the Park Lime Pits, Merrion`s Wood and Cuckoos` Nook would have to wait for other days as would visits to outlying towns distinct and proud enough not to be called Walsall. For a borough with a bad reputation for decay, social malaise and woeful stewardship, this place is rich with areas of outstanding beauty cared for by dedicated and passionate public servants. Their reward for service from a clueless self-serving cabinet is contempt, redundancy and the threat of redundancy. One of these buffoons is now prattling on about the importance of green spaces for the health and wellbeing of citizens not because the land is part of a precious common wealth or a legacy for future generations but because green spaces are cheaper than leisure centres. Like his party`s short memory on tuition fees, the bedroom tax, the great NHS sell-off swindle, the gagging bill and the oppression of sick and disabled people, this didn`t stop him from voting with his new bosses for economic inequity and cultural ruin.

The good people at Britain in Bloom have wisely bestowed honours to towns in the borough that still take pride in their business districts. Brownhills, Darlaston and Willenhall have been judged as Silver and Aldridge and Bloxwich have been awarded Gold. This is a superb achievement and council officers and staff as well as business owners deserve hearty thanks and congratulations for winning such prestigious accolades. More importantly, perhaps, are the volunteers who give their time freely to make their communities a better place to live. They, and the rest of us, deserve better than a clueless self-serving cabinet who equate regeneration with bunging slave labour profiteers £8million to come and peddle tat in our town.

On Monday morning, our dear old friend sent a text informing us that they had caught the last Sunday ferry from Oban by the skin of their teeth. He said that we were wrong about the vampire midges but correct about the statues. It seems that as the ferry docked at Craignure, the locals began building a huge wicker man as a sign of welcome. I think one would look rather nice on Barr Beacon.

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