You are not logged in. Signup to contribute or login! Not recieved your activation email? Click here to send it again.

Disunited kingdom: Mike Parker column, Zone '01


This appeared in Midland Zone magazine in May 2001

Disunited Kingdom

During a recent training weekend that I was on, I got chatting in a break with a group of lesbians from London. They were complaining about the absence of a proper national Pride Festival these days, and how the capital's replacement for it - the Mardi Gras -was both a rip-off and pitched almost exclusively at the boyz. I suggested that they came to Birmingham Pride, still defiantly free, resolutely community-rooted and, what's more, with a lesbian chairing it and a majority of women on the main committee. I might as well have suggested that they travel to the Moon. They looked aghast. "Birmingham? No, I don't think so. We'll go to Brighton Pride. That's nice."

Now I'd hate to stereotype either southerners or lesbians, but, what the fuck, I'm going to. Suffice to say that these women were all sipping herbal tea during the coffee break in question, having already kicked up stink after wholemeal stink about the right kind of soya milk, the ingredients of a vegetarian stock cube and whether any meat had ever touched the kitchen implements we were using. Despite the apparent health-giving benefits of the vegan diet, there'd been migraines, tears, lie-downs, mood-swings and neuroses galore. I have never wanted a bacon sandwich, crispy and butter-melting on stodgy white bread, as much as I did that weekend.

But it was their airy dismissal - instantaneous and absolutely automatic - of Birmingham that really set my teeth on edge. Of course they'd never come to Pride in Brum - why on earth should they? And of course they'll go to Brighton for their annual fix of Pridery instead, as at least they'll be able to get a good cup of fennel piss there and there'll probably be an M.E. support group on hand if they start to feel a little bit oppressed.

As well as making me want to smear Bovril over their pillows, it also got me thinking about the geographical divisions on our little island. It's not just a simple north-south thing either - the split in Britain is very much more complex, and interesting, than that. Birmingham, and the West Midlands as a whole is, of course, firmly on the "other" side of the tracks. For ease of reference, let's call it B-list Britain (I'm talking Londoncentric perception here, not implying any second-rate status). The East Midlands, with the notable exception of Nottingham, is also on the B-list - and Nottingham only scrapes across the divide by virtue of its reputation as a heaven for chi-chi clothing shops.

So where constitutes A-list Britain? London, obviously - although there are distinctly B-list enclaves in the capital, to which no Guardian reader would ever venture. Most of the Home Counties, with the notable exception of Essex, and the entire south coast, save for Portsmouth and Southampton. The West Country is A-list extraordinaire, although it gets a little iffy if they venture as far as Cornwall. But there are safe havens for the precious darlings even north of Watford (Watford itself, I'm afraid, being distinctly C-list). Nottingham, as I've mentioned, but only for short shopping expeditions. Leeds has become something of a new entry on the A-list charts, thanks to Harvey Nicks, posh folk on Emmerdale and its proximity to Range Rover country. York and Cheshire are other northern outposts, as are large swathes of rural Scotland and the most A-list city in Britain, Edinburgh.
The B-list is pretty much everywhere else. Brum is the capital of untrencly, gravy with-everything Britain, for ever destined to raise eyebrows and sniggers, regardless of whatever
aspirant middle-class initiatives the city council keep coming up with. Bradford, Derby, Blackpool, Stoke, Hull, Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield and Southampton are all
irretrievably, gloriously B-list. So is the whole of Wales (though Cardiff is trying very
hard for promotion, but is hopefully forever destined to fail). Some places straddle the boundary - Glasgow, for instance (West End and the Burrell A, everywhere else B), and Manchester about ten years ago (but back with us now).

This divide can be seen in practically every area of life. In music, comedy and the media, for example, there are two distinctly different circuits co-existing side-by-side: the A and
the B-list destinations. Taking daytime Radio 1 as a moot example, Jo Whiley's aimed at the A-list, Mark and Lard at the B. We in the B-list places occasionally totter over the border to have a look at life on the other side, but the folk over there will do their damnedest to make sure they don't have to return the favour. And thank fuck for that really. Because it keeps those pompous, self-important pillocks behind the little Berlin Wall that they've built for themselves.

What all this is supposed to be saying is a big warm welcome to our visitors this month who have come to Brum for Pride. But I wouldn't mind betting that the vast majority of them will be fellow inhabitants of the B-list map of Britain. And if any of our brethren from the A-list map have struggled here too, then welcome to the wild side. Just don't ask for camomile tea in Mr Egg - they'll take it as a personal insult. A fab, funky fifth Pride to us all. Even Londoners.

Contributed by: Midland Zone, 10

Click here to read the full interview with this contributor