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TOON TOWN

25-06-2009

Bournville

Want to know where a world of tranquillity and civilised urban planning exists? Laurence Inman reckons he’s found it, right here in the heart of the grimy metropolis.

I’m sure my ex-colleagues in the last proper job I had won’t mind my saying so, but they were, collectively, the most boring, stupid, unadventurous, surly, dull, unsavoury, brain-dead, heart-dead, sense-dead morons that it’s ever been my bad luck to encounter. It was to avoid breathing the same air as them that I left the profession and joined the circus.

They were particularly fond of ganging up on anyone they thought might be getting above themselves intellectually. If any idea veered away, however slightly, from the norm laid down by such a one as, for example, Mary Whitehouse, they would raise their shaggy eyebrows, stop sucking their spit-dripping pipes and whistle in mock-astonishment.

And it was so easy to wind them up. ‘The only things I’ve seen recently which come anywhere near capturing the zeitgeist are Family Fortunes and Mr and Mrs.’ ‘Emmerdale is the Greek comedy de nos jours.’ These mots would have them spluttering into their PG Tips.

My favourite was after seeing Who Framed Roger Rabbit ?

‘No film since La Regle Du Jeu has so successfully explored the nexus between reality and perception.’

Actually, I think that’s probably true.

My favourite sequence is when Bob Hoskins has to drive through that tunnel into Toontown. As soon as he’s swallowed up, reality as we know it slips away and is replaced by garish streets which hop to music, buildings which lean curiously to watch him and various animals bobbing and dashing about at impossible speeds.

I wanted to be there. I wanted there to be a magic tunnel somewhere. At one end was the dreary workaday world, cramped houses, filthy streets, grimy pubs, dejected people, a run-down and boarded-up universe.

But at the other end, green fields unfolded, space expanded, people smiled and the sun shone warmer.

Hold hard, my memory whispered. Synapses twitched. I realised that there was already such a place, and you could only reach it via a tunnel, and it’s in South Birmingham.

Walk west along Bournville Lane, leaving the British Oak (or the BO) the old baths being broken up by weeds, the dust-pile which Stirchley has become. In a few hundred yards you enter the tunnel under the Worcester canal and the main railway line to Bristol.

On the other side is a vision of what urban life could be like.

Open green spaces. Parks. Gardens. Wide roads. A village green. No pubs. No high-rises. No disaffected gangs. Houses which were not designed by psychological torturers.

D H Lawrence used to rage against the imaginative sterility of most urban planning, particularly the hellish mining towns of Nottinghamshire. They could have been like Italian hill-villages with only a modicum of vision and feeling.

But no. Money had the last say. Just as it did in Birmingham in the sixties. We’re spending another fortune putting that right.

Why can’t we do things properly the first time ? After all, the perfect example is right on our doorstep, on the other side of that magical tunnel in Bournville Lane.

Laurence Inman comperes at the Retort Cabaret on 5 July, at the Kitchen Garden Café, York Road, Kings Heath. Doors 7pm for 7.30 start.

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