Digbeth, where boys become men.
A chill winter morning near the markets. Ordering my sausage with tomato sauce on white at the sandwich van, which is positioned next to the outdoor fruit and veg markets. The women behind the counters are dressed in paper overalls and hats, their bronzed arms and hands working a busy trade. Ruddy faced men in hi-vis jackets stand in front of a purple-coiffured lady, heavily rouged and eye-linered, a vision in fake fur inhaling sharply on a Superking menthol. Behind her stands a gangly youth in a tracksuit with bum-fluff and tired, yet eager eyes. He plucks up the courage to get my attention;
‘Mister! Do you know about pubs?’
I shoot him a look that implies that I am in fact a man who knows what he is talking about in that area.
‘It’s my 18th today, and I want to celebrate by getting a drink. Do you know if they’d accept copies of birth certificates?’
I imply that they should do, and the best place to try his luck would be any of the pubs in Digbeth.
‘That where the Custard Factory is? Aw, cheers Mister! I’ll think of you when I get my first one in!’
I wish him a happy birthday and good luck, and we cheerfully bump fists. On his way he goes, and navigates his way to Digbeth High Street. He will walk up past the HMV Institute and South Birmingham College taking in the sights and sounds, but with one thing on his mind. And that thing is in the distance. Oak beams, closed curtains, whitewash. His destination. And he will pause for breath, the £10 note in his hand burning, outside the red door. He will inhale deeply, and push his way through, and the regulars will nod in acceptance, as another one joins the throng. He will walk nervously to the bar, and will garble about the crumpled copy of the birth certificate that is burning a hole in his pocket, trying to evade the subject of his quest. Smiling, and with good nature, the barmaid will pull him a pint of Carling Cold and she will say ‘That one’s on the house.’ And he will stand in amazement, with the golden chalice in his hand, and he will lift it up to his lips, and inhale deeply. Swallowing, the liquid will warm his stomach and invigorate his senses. It will be an excellent birthday.