Lately I’ve been working just outside of West Bromwich, county town of the Black Country Badlands. For me it’s been a step back in time, a chance to retrace and reconnect with my routes. I lived here until I was 18 and these are my people; cast Iron Curtain tendencies crossed with shopping centre etiquette dating from the days before malls were invented - and they all speak my language. Part anthracite, part broken English, Yam Yam is my mother tongue. Over time the grime gets in your nose, turns green snot grey and ends up being part of your DNA.
Standing on the site of a long vanished bus station is the Public art gallery. Inside it is like being in a very large box of Liquorice Allsorts; everything shiny, textural overload, multi coloured, only this one’s been rebooted with intel Pentium hardware. Good toilets though. Beyond the multi stories lies Dartmouth Park, annexed by the A41 and only accessible by bridge from the town and beyond it the encroaching darkness of the Sandwell Valley and a reminder that West Brom has surprisingly large swathes of greenery, not quite the glistening Albion the town’s team’s name evokes, more one suggesting a Midlands desert for the departed.
It’s a bit like being in a Kraftwerk song, maybe an English Autobahn or a Johnathan Richman Roadrunner, but one made of velour and lycra and held together by velcro.
After Lydiate Ash the land falls away but after Frankley service station it closes in once more with a ripper’s intent, pylons, so straight in the countryside peel away past Dudley, zig zag over Hill Top, sidestep past Tipton, converge on Wolverhampton. Driving in on elevated M5 battleship grey concrete past raised Black Country sea of neon advertising where only Coke adds life. On Trinity Way brightly painted skyscrapers scuttle past skeletal cherry pickers. Junction 1 approaches, away to the right brittle, football ground pylons and linking them all together are the piss stinking arcades, blind alleys, corrugated bus shelters and football chanting backstreets of this badlands flashback.