Now we get down to some words, at last. In this case I can’t be quite sure who wrote them. Probably me, but I’m not quite sure. The theme of ‘space left over’ by the planners is one of my pet themes, but “you get the feeling that you’d be mugged by the environment before the human villains got to you” reads more like Gavin. The captions certainly look like Gavin’s work — but they would have been done separately, and often in desperate rush by anyone who could be press-ganged into doing it.
Prince Charles is probably bumming and so are the skaters: they have enclosed part of Birmingham’s Central Library Square and built a poncy modern shopping precinct. Whether the architecture fits in with the Victorian surroundings is debatable, but there’s no question about the skate effect: that area is wrecked.
We visited Birmingham to inspect the damage on the day of an opening party in the centre. All manner of entertainments had been provided: there was a band playing in the main lobby, and an inflatable champagne bottle billowing outside. The guests were wined, dined and wowed, by the glitter, the band and… how novel: hundreds of kids putting on a spectacular display outside.
There were so many skaters there. People had come from all parts of the city and were swarming all over what remains of Birmingham’s main skate meeting place. The security guards from the party looked bemused (maybe this was one of the official side-shows?), and the police didn’t seem worried, so, for a day, everyone co-existed. One type of person gathering for their kind of fun, by written invitation, behind the glass in air-conditioned splendour, everyone else, by unspoken invitation or tradition, having their various kinds of fun on the remaining communal ground outside.
There were the usual momentary conflicts: some bloke had decided to wash his car at the side of the square (seriously) and was stressing. Sure enough, someone (Skully, naturally) nearly rode into it, put out his hands to stop his board hitting the car, and left dirty palm prints on the glass. Granny Stress was there too: concerned lest we hurt the venerable Victorian fibreglass litter bins by putting them on their sides and board-sliding the bottom edge. Everyone else just watched and smiled in astonishment and wandered on. Another Sunday side-show, like the jugglers and buskers, but with no-one hassling for money.
The posse moved off, heading for Aston Banks, Birmingham’s most famous street spot. Now the effect wasn’t quite like Münster on World Cup Saturday: there weren’t that many skaters, and there was no traffic to be brought to a halt — but that many skaters on the move is a rad sight and a rad noise. It’s a distinctly urban phenomenon, you need to get more skaters together than most towns can muster, but it’s so rad. The crowd round the handrail is so deep that nobody outside would see what’s going on in there. The Bank’s security men watch their tv monitors and are probably relieved when they work out that it is just a bunch of kids skating their wall. The street is solid from end to end with skaters all just hacking along together, revelling in their city and staking their claim as self-appointed free-men.
The security guard at Aston soon tried to crush such aspirations, though. Why, is a mystery to me… In the eyes of anyone apart from a skater, the Aston Banks would look like a real shit-hole. One of those evil windswept spaces between sixties buildings where you get the feeling you’d be mugged by the environment before the human villains got to you. Crumbling, dank and decaying, the only thing Aston Banks attract is the litter from a two mile radius… and skaters. They are as near to Nirvana as you’re likely to get in Brum.
But as far as everyone else is concerned they are indeed an eyesore and right now they are being redeveloped (wrecked). Normally that would mean that even the security guard wouldn’t bother to emerge from his lair to tend them, but when that many skaters come rumbling over the hill you have to be seen to do something. We lasted about ten minutes.
Having done his duty he retreated. We went round the corner and sessioned the railing of a car park and a gap in the paving where a tree had once been. The type of gap you’d do something over on your way to somewhere else. Not today: that gap was sessioned for nearly an hour solid. That’s a crucial example of the posse mentality: skating on your own’s one thing, skating in a group’s another. With so many people there to stoke and inspire you, everyone can really get into skating some of the simplest things. The standard of skating was rad, and it got radder.