Steve Moore: Incomers

Railway Station, Dudley Port, Tipton, 1968, Photo: Alan Price Provided by: Community and History Archive Service, Sandwell

Smethwick Rolfe Street, Smethwick Galton Bridge, Sandwell and Dudley, Dudley Port, Tipton, Coseley…

Less alliteration than J.B. Priestley’s Wednesbury, Wednesfield, Willenhall, Walsall, but my first experience of the crawling train to Wolverhampton.

A new millennium, and possibly a new job in a new millennium city. It is after rush hour. I am heading away from the big city and into the Black Country. The blinds have not been drawn down. All through my journey south — from Yorkshire through the East Midlands and now the West Midlands ­— the accents, age groups, and attitudes have been changing.

At Sandwell and Dudley, a group of older teenage girls get into my carriage, sprawling themselves vibrantly about the six seats in front of me; two pairs facing each other, with another two across the aisle. Some of the time they aren’t speaking English. The older white woman sitting diagonally opposite tries to catch my eye.

I do not say, “What joy to see the young people so full of life!” Instead I avoid eye contact. I am an outsider and potential incomer. I stay strictly in observer mode. I have never been to Wolverhampton before; as someone more interested in politics than football the only thing I know about the place is that Enoch Powell was once their MP. I have never been through Smethwick; the only thing I vaguely remember is an infamous by-election in the 60s where the race card was played to curry favour with a fearful white majority.

I have never been to the Black Country before, but I recall the story of Queen Victoria’s entourage being so concerned about protecting her from the sight of billowing black smoke and a ravaged landscape between Birmingham and Wolverhampton that they ordered the window blinds of her railway carriage be lowered.

Now the view out of the window is of Thatchered dereliction and shiny tin logistics centres.

The singing rhythms of what I later realise must have been Punjabi are punctuated by sudden staccato bursts of Anglo-Asian slang. Both are fantastic to my ears, as yam-yam will be in the years to come. My neighbour gets up to leave the train at Coseley. She chooses to assert her territorial rights, tutting her way through the teenagers, who politely part to permit her passage.

We will both have a tale to tell. The girls will have a life to lead.

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