Getting back from BCU at Perry Barr on the train. A productive meeting. I was in a good mood, however I had a gig at my brother-in-laws that evening, so I couldn’t duck into a pub for a celebratory drink as I’d have to go out as soon as I was back at the flat. I had my iPod, and I felt like listening to something to make me pound the streets. Only one thing for it. The ‘Who’s Better Who’s Best’ compilation.
I stuck it on shuffle – ‘The Kids Are Alright’ took me through Aston, then ‘I’m A Boy’ came on when the train went from Duddeston to Birmingham New Street. I had a perfect birds eye view of the factory units and the back-street pubs, imagining the revelry going on, the forming of plans, the possibilities and celebrations going on through the night. My seat gave me a fantastic view of Fazeley Street, which restored any lost bearings I would be bound to get in the urban vistas, I could see the screenprinters house, on the side with the intricate graffiti, the beacon of Fazeley Street facing the other way.
Primed and in love with the city and The Who, I was even more ecstatic when ‘Who Are You’ came on next. The train was slowly pulling into the city. Pulling into back home. I bounded off the train and ducked and weaved in time to the music, a swivel on my hips and mouthing the words, taking the steps up to the Victoria Street exit two at a time. ‘And tell me who the fuck are you?’ I mouthed to myself, head down in case none of the commuters thought I was addressing them directly. And as I got out onto Victoria Street – ‘Substitute’ – yeah. The walk to the Mailbox wouldn’t take long at all now. ‘Sub-sti-tute!’ I wanted to shout, but I was wary that I was probably looking a bit of a prat anyway, so I didn’t want to draw any more attention to myself than I was already doing, so I sang it as heartily as I could under my breath (which probably sounded stranger to be fair.)
Up through the Mailbox. And then I was aware of that smell, that smell that seems to define Birmingham and Birmingham-ness everywhere I go. That cloying, sickly sweet smell. Skunkweed. Dank Cheddar. Whatever you call it, it was in my nostrils, and I looked up to see where it was coming from. The guy in front of me, walking with purpose to his destination, in hoodie and jeans. The joint was tucked behind his left ear, and there I was, his shadow, ready to pick it up and hand it to him gracefully lest it fell out. I wouldn’t pocket it for myself. That’s not nature’s way. We were both going the escalator, him in front. I was wondering where he’d go to – perhaps Tesco’s, to the local flats? ‘I Can See For Miles’ came on, the driving, threatening guitars and bass and swirling drums. As Daltrey whispered ‘I know you’ve deceived me now here’s a surprise’ we got out on the forecourt that joins the restaurants to the bars. He picked up the pace slightly and headed towards the Ramada Hotel, and ran up the stairs to the top floor, where Café Rouge and Miller and Carter are. ‘I know that you have cos there’s magic in my eyes.’ He’d get to the summit and reach behind his ear for his treat. And then he’d spark up and inhale greatly in the smoking area. He’d do a direct turn to his right, and from his high vantage point, he’d overlook Brindley Place, the Hyatt, the Symphony Hall, the Malthouse and the ICC and beyond, into the distance, into the city, into the universe. Master of his destiny. Freedom of the city.
‘I can see for miles and miles. I can see for miles and miles. I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles.’
‘You Better You Bet’ was the last song. I got myself back down to the planet and sung heartily.