Writings

The Guardian-The world is waking up to the brilliance of Birmingham

18 December 2014

No one should be ashamed of Birmingham, where I hail from. It looks quite nice now it's finally finished. They've even done up Winson Green Prison - never mind Alcatraz, Winson Green is a masterpiece.

 

It takes one hour and 10 minutes to get to the UK's second city from its first. I can understand the hurry because you need to get to the famous Rag Market where you can buy 10 string vests, a bunch of bananas and three pots of Vaseline for a fiver. You can even barter.

 

I bet you don't get that in Malaga or Belgrade, which are also included in Rough Guide's top 10 cities in the world to visit, alongside Birmingham. There may be other more glamorous-sounding places on the list, like New Orleans or Johannesburg, but they probably don't have a Balti Triangle, selling some of the best curry in the world, which you can get at 4am for four quid served by a man in a rickshaw.

The culture in Birmingham is incomparable. There are over 100 languages spoken: you can go into a shop and ask for a bottle of Pimms in Urdu and the shopkeeper will talk back to you in English.

 

Sadly I don't live there any more. Anyone who does anything of significance leaves Birmingham to spread words of the city's brilliance around the world. We have some great ambassadors: Frank Skinner, Jasper Carrott, Jamelia, Duran Duran, and even Ozzy Osbourne.

 

When I was growing up there it was rather grim and the only famous thing about it was the celebrity chef Rustie Lee, who stood as a Ukip candidate. As you drove in from the north of the city, the Fort Dunlop building was a filthy welcome. You'd think someone would bother giving it a good clean to entice people to drive in a bit further.

 

I once got in a cab and the driver said, "Sorry love I'm not going to drop you off in the centre of Birmingham, it's too dangerous for me, I'll drop you off in Wolverhampton." The accent was a form of contraception. I once went on holiday to Spain where someone mistook my Brummie lilt for Punjabi.

 

Birmingham has come a long way. It has got everything now: shops, restaurants, cinemas, cafes and gyms. I saw Malala Yousafzai open the new library that cost £188m so the people of Birmingham can read - it's even got clean walls.

You would never be this entertained in Hamburg.