Birmingham

I got chatting to a woman on the train. When I found she lived in Swanston I cadged a lift there from Nupton, saving about forty minutes waiting in the cold or clanking along in the bus. I almost warned her not to trust strangers, but am delighted with this stranger’s kindness.

I must get a notebook. The train recording voice kept repeating something like If you have a pushchair, please step onto the platform first then remove the pushchair backwards. I love “Please do not behave like an idiot” notices and announcements. Presumably they had a pushchair accident recently, perhaps with shopping (please God not a toddler) falling onto the line. We could condense announcements: Please remember to take all personal belongings, including pushchairs, if you are leaving the train. “I knew there was something I had forgotten” is not an excuse.

I can more or less remember the words of the recorded voice, repeated at each station, but not of the plummy young accents in the train to Birmingham. They were gossiping of a girl who, desired by a young man, made out with another woman to mess with his head. I could have noted the details, and the words they used- something like “psycho bitch” in tones of approval, but if I try to remember now I would write the kind of thing I myself would say enthusing about her. The character would flatten out. Or the man who sat beside me. He wanted to tell me how he did not understand the ticket machines. He had not used them before. He had left his travel pass at home, so had to pay £12 for a ticket. He has family in “Cov”, but he likes his flat in Birmingham, where he has lived for twelve years. He smelt a little, but not the worst I have smelled. I wondered if people from there generally called it “Cov”.

A woman on the bus got the Metro free paper. The front page story was of a rapist aged 17 who had attempted to murder his victim to cover up his crime. “That’s somebody’s son,” she said. “Seventeen, and his life is blighted for ever”. I hope that is a commendable ability to see the suffering of all involved, rather than a patriarchal valuing of the boy even when he does something so vile. She did not comment on the woman involved.

I went to Birmingham to meet Lucy. She was delayed by snow, and I hung around a bookshop. I hated “The Chimp Paradox” so much I almost bought it to challenge my preconceptions. A psychiatrist, Steve Peters, simplifies brain physiology to argue your frontal lobe is your human part, rational, compassionate and humane, and the limbic system is your “inner chimp,” the emotional part which thinks and acts without our permission. You have to tame your inner chimp. I am with Mary Oliver, You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves and Walt Whitman, I know I am solid and sound. Like all people. It behoves us to know ourselves, and have all parts in concert, but there is no “rationality”, not even any analytical thought, without emotion. Reason is the slave of the passions, and if I subdued my “inner chimp”, or “soft animal”, I would merely become the slave of someone else’s.

3 thoughts on “Birmingham

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