Sunday, May 07, 2006

Where I come from

I left the Staffordshire village where I was brought up in 1985, and though my family and a couple of friends still live there, apart from a few months after university, I've never been back for more than a visit. I was there this weekend. Norton Canes is old enough to be in the Domesday book, it has an ancient heart, and grew first as a pit village in the early 20th century, and then, more recently, as a dormitory town, for Cannock, Walsall and Birmingham. The first act of the Blair government in 1997 was to give the go-ahead to the Birmingham Northern Relief Road, Britain's first and so-far "only" toll road. It was this decision - not because it was the right thing, but because it would have cost more to get out of the contracts, apparently - that led me to leave the Labour party; I sign, I see now, of things to come, decisions being made for fiscal decisions or to not upset vested interests, rather than because they were the right ones. I wrote a poem about it called, appropriately, "The end of the road". The jury is still out on what effect having a motorway cleaved through a part of the country with some of the worst bronchial conditions in England, but for the village, it meant that for the first time in my lifetime it had some real investment - roads, signage etc. The village looks better than it ever has; caught now in a triangle with the old Watling Street, Norton Pool, and Cannock Chase, its reached a pitch of development. I read once that it was the largest village in England - not picturesque, with hardly a pub or a cash machine or shops or cafes - its a place where people live, and some work, and commute - every drive has two or three cars in it. Kids I was at school with still live there, married others from the village, bought houses down the street from their parents. It is a down-to-earth place, but its also stifling. It is mostly white, reasonably well-off, and, Last Thursday, 550 of those villagers voted for the British National Party, which, despite coming 3rd, received a shocking 30% of the vote. It is where I come from, but has never been where I belong. I'm shocked, but perhaps worse than that, I'm not surprised.

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