When my ex husband and I were in our twenties and the children were only babies, we lived for two years in Runcorn Road in Balsall Heath. The property we lived in, a splendid terraced house, was then owned by Shape Housing Association. Shape only owned short life housing which meant we could stay there for a little while because the property was due for demolition and the land for redevelopment.
I loved living in Balsall Heath. A notorious red light area, the only thing that annoyed me was that I would often get curb crawled, even if I had the children with me. I got into the habit of taking a note book out of my bag and writing the car registration down and then they’d speed away. Furiously pushing the children ahead in their buggy I’d shout after the drivers, “Do I look like I’m on the game?!!”
My children went to Tindal School which was and still is a community school and offered impoverished mums like me, a great deal of support. Tony was working teaching art part time in Bridgenorth. We were as poor as church mice and I was pretty down for a while but Balsall Heath saved me, it saved my life. The nursery at Tindal was great, they would take the children for the morning and send me home to sleep, which was just what I needed. My son Jesse had a lot of friends there and when we arrived at nursery my daughter Becky would inevitably take off all her clothes and climb into the large white Belfast sink in the corner where she was very happy playing in the water while someone watched over her. That wouldn’t happen now of course but nobody seemed to mind in those days. The school children were almost entirely asian making my children practically the only white children there and I think their early experiences at Tindal enriched their lives immeasurably and taught them all sorts of skills they may not have gained in any other school. I went back to visit Tindal School a little while ago and it was great revisiting those times. It is now a school which mainly teaches children whose parents are seeking asylum. The head teacher told me how heart breaking it is, to get the children settled in, only to see the families later dispersed somewhere miles away.
When I lived in Balsall Heath I occasionally used to pop over to The Victoria Inn at the end of the road where I would share a drink with the Evening Mail columnist Maureen Messent and that helped too, since she and I had some great conversations. She was particularly fond of our daughter and I believe she may have lost a child herself although this was never confirmed.
Opposite us were more terraced houses which were occupied by mostly older people who had lived there all their lives. We made friends with lots of neighbours. Next door to us were a brother and sister who had lived with one another for all of their eighty five years together, they were fascinating to talk to, they were from a different century and going into their house was like time travelling. I joined a writing group called Women and Words and developed a massive crush on the facilitator, a beautiful, gamine woman called Myra who encouraged me with my writing. We held poetry readings at The Old Moseley Arms, my poems were pretty popular and all the while my confidence in my writing was increasing.
As we were getting ready to leave Runcon Road to buy our first house in Yardley (261 Jeannie) two families moved in to squat at the end of the road. They were travellers and had nine children between them. They came into our garden when we weren’t there and took our children’s toys but we understood, they had no money. They were made unwelcome by most in our community but me and Tony made friends with them. Their children would steal our milk off the door step and Tony would go and knock on their door and ask for it back. One day one of the little ones brought sterilised milk to Tony and he said, ‘mine’s pasteurised!’ He could see a line of stolen milk running all along their hallway.
One of the travellers knocked our door one evening and asked us if, when we left, we would leave the front door on the latch so that they could move in and have a house of their own. We knew how unpopular this would be with our neighbours, nevertheless, we left the kitchen window open for them and my mum and dad’s bed, the bed I had been born on and which had been passed on to me by my mother, we left that for them too, they didn’t have two sticks to rub together. We occasionally called by to collect our post from them and although in the main it has to be said they were rogues, we had developed a friendship based on a sort of mutual respect.
I sometimes drive down Runcorn Road and recall those times. The houses are all gone now to make way for a car park but when I drive by I get all the echoes of my children’s early years, running through my head and hear the sound of children’s laughter up at Tindal School.