Saturday, 19 January 2008

Celebrating Regionality - Birmingham

I had a quick trip to Birmingham on Thursday, which reminded me of my promise to post some articles about my experiences of places I've lived in over the years. I've kept it quiet until now, but have to confess that I'm originally from Birmingham. I'm not proud to be a Brummie and I'm glad to say I don't speak with much of an accent, unless asked to - not many people do! Of course whenever I mention Birmingham, everyone goes 'Ah you're a Brummie', or 'You're from Brum (or Brummagem) then'. It's usually accompanied by them trying (and failing) to talk with a Brummie accent - but more about that later. I confess that I'd no idea how Brum, Brummie or Brummagem originated. That's where the power of the internet comes in - I can now reveal it's definition from here:

"Brummagem" first appeared in the 17th century as an alteration of "Birmingham," the name of a city in England. At that time Birmingham was notorious for the counterfeit coins made there, and the word "brummagem" quickly became associated with things forged or inauthentic. By the 19th century, Birmingham had become a chief manufacturer of cheap trinkets and gilt jewelry, and again the word "brummagem" followed suit--it came to describe that which is showy on the outside but essentially of low quality. Perhaps the term was something of an annoyance to the people of Birmingham way back when, but nowadays "brummagem" is usually used without any conscious reference to the British city. [Merriam Webster's Word of the Day Oct 5, 1999]

Further definitions from the same source include:

brummy/brummie n. 1 [1920s+] a counterfeit coin. 2. [1940s+] a native of Birmingham. brummy/brummie adj. [20C] second-rate, tawdry. From - Cassell's Dictionary of Slang (1998)

Some of the definitions closely match my feelings about the place - so did I decide for myself, or did I know about this subconsciously all along? I also wonder whether the 'second-rate' label definition is connected with Birmingham's claim to be England's second city. However, much is being done nowadays to try and improve Birmingham's image, especially in the city centre where the old Bullring Shopping Centre has been transformed into a Mecca for retail therapy. A lot of the buildings from my childhood have disappeared and I hardly recognise the place now. One of the most amusing examples of Birmingham's re-branding is the website, 'Birmingham: It's Not Shit' - which has been 'Mildly Sarcastic Since 2002' ;)

4 comments:

  1. Fab post! I left Brum in '94 and moved back ten years later. It had changed so much I had to buy a map!! And don't get me started on the Bull Ring...

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  2. A fascinating read especially about the origins of the words 'Brum' etc. As a non driver originally from Peterborough and now living in the north west, I have passed through or changed trains at Birmingham New Street Station many a time. When my parents were more mobile we used to meet up in Birmingham so I got to know a bit of the city centre. I loved the main museum and art gallery.

    My snowdrops are out now so I am off to have a close look at them. You must have a lot of patience and good concentration to count all of yours !

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  3. Have you ever read Agatha Raisin by M.C. Beaton? I am asking because she (Agatha Raisin) is from Birmingham and always trying to hide the fact. A very funny British Cozy Detective series. I am absolutely addicted to it...

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  4. Hi Deb - thanks for stopping by! Yes, the Bull Ring's still awful isn't it! I went there for the first time in a couple of decades last year - I kept on thinking to myself - 'I'll just pop along to such and such a shop', only to find it wasn't there. There was only BHS, M&S and the Odeon left from my original city centre. And the Rotunda's changing too!

    Anna - thanks for your memories of New Street Station. I used to sit there as a student waiting for my train back to Newcastle, thinking it must be one of the most depressing stations in the world. I believe it was designed to link in with an underground network that never happened, hence why it's all below stairs and gloomy.

    Julia - thanks for finding me a new Brummie author! I can also recommend 'That Was Lost' by Catherine O'Flynn - Booker long listed last year (don't let that put you off) AND she went to my old school. Also 'The Rotters' Club' by Jonathan Coe - it's set at the same time as when I grew up in Brum in the 70s and some of the characters live in the same suburb as I did. It's quite wierd to have the high street you went to for 18 years described in a novel!

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