I was recently given a copy of a West Midlands publication called “The Bugle”. It’s a local newspaper aimed at what was once known as “the Black Country”.  Most of the old metal bashing heavy industry and pottery and glassware companies have long since gone so it’s not a lot different from anywhere else these days, although there is still much pride associated by families living in the area sometimes for generations and the ‘Black Country’ accent can still be heard, mostly from older people although you have to listen carefully to hear it as it’s likely to be drowned out these days by the multitude of  accents and languages from Eastern Europe and Asia.

A friend told me of an interesting conversation with a call centre operative which, upon giving his address, the operator said he had not heard of the town and asked where it was. When told “it’s a town in the black country,” the operator told him he was being offensive and racist and cut him off. As we know, calls at the centre are ‘recorded for your security and training purposes’ and within a few minutes he received a very apologetic call from the call centre manager, who had listened to the call and informed the agent that the ‘Black Country’ was a historical and established name for an area of what is now in West Midlands County and not a racist or any sort of offensive comment. More training required it would seem, but the short of it was that my friend did get a better price on his yearly insurance.

Such ignorance, though, is not only limited to call centres. I had reason to buy a part for a forty-year-old Austin car and rang one of the biggest car part factors in the Midlands. The young man who answered the call only knew how to operate the firm’s parts lists computer programme and asked me for the car’s registration number. Surprise! the system didn’t acknowledge 40-year-old registration numbers; I tried again ‘’it’s for an Austin,‘’ I said.

What’s an Austin? he said.  Well, fair enough, the last Austin was made in the 1980s, and you can’t expect a teenager to know the name of an obsolete car manufacturer. Except that the parts factors are based in one of the south Birmingham satellite towns, all of seven miles from Longbridge – at one time home to Austin and in its time a major employer and one of the largest car companies in the world, never mind Europe.

Anyway, I digress. What I’d noticed in the ‘Bugle’ was an historical article about the number of people who were actively involved in their local community. Although many people do volunteer for all sorts of reasons these days and for all sorts of charities and good causes, it’s often for the short term. Not so years ago judging by the photographs. The pace of life was slower I hear you say, and people had more time to ‘do’ things, like run clubs, scouts, cubs, guides, brownies, support the darts, cricket and football teams, etc… but that’s not the case now, everybody’s working long hours and Mom doesn’t stay at home looking after the kids and getting dad’s dinner on the table for when he gets home, she’s out working long hours just like everyone else; presumably working long hours doing manual work in factories as most of those people did, doesn’t count?. Well fair enough, pound rich, time poor as the saying goes.

However, walk around any town shopping mall or shopping destination of choice any day of the week, and it’s full of people of all ages, school-age kids, (is school optional these days?)  young mothers with children in tow, older people with grandchildren in tow presumably doing caring duties and if they haven’t got grandchildren they are pushing even older people around in wheelchairs, more caring duties it would seem and before you ask, I’ve been there and done that, too. There’s obviously no shortage of money, as the fast food outlets, cafes, bars, and restaurants are always busy, as are areas of local interest sites (let’s not forget the garden centres!) which are often full to bursting from 11 am. County and Regional shows held sometimes over three days, in mid-week too, full to capacity with punters. So much so that an acquaintance said recently, when I was a young ‘bloke’ the towns were busy, but all you saw were women with young children and older people, the young and middle-aged were working in shops and offices. Doesn’t anyone work these days?

Good question. Trains are packed early morning on the commuter lines, as are the roads, and it gets worse as you approach school times as we all know. But then traffic doesn’t thin out that much, it’s busy all day, every day, courier vans, taxis, small trucks, large trucks, coaches. A trip on the motorway and you will always see the same type of cars zooming down the third lane on their way to goodness knows where and for what. So, who on earth are all these people driving around towns, cities, shopping malls all day and every day? The roads are full to bursting with cars often with one occupant, where are they all going and what are they doing when they get there? Surely, they can’t all be dynamic young sales reps tearing around and down the motorway to their next sales meeting or conference. I mean for goodness sake, we have things such as phones, texting, video conference calls now, but then one phone looks just like another device these days, perhaps it’s the kudos of swanning around in the Audi that causes much of the traffic.

Well, many people work shifts, you say, yes but a company with a hundred workers is considered large these days, and many deliveries operate to industry on a just in time basis. That explains why business doesn’t carry any stock these days, but that can only be part of the answer.

Then the blessed weekend arrives. You can’t miss it as radio DJs witter on about the weekend starting from midday on Wednesday. It’s a bit like on TV where according to them there are only two seasons these days. It’s all so hectic, events for November being advertised already. It’s only July for goodness sake. A couple of years ago we visited a large garden centre on a beautiful summer day in the middle of July with a clear blue sky and temperatures in the mid-twenties, only to be met at the entrance with a Christmas Grotto and Carols being played. It’s all so hectic, and we are all so busy!

[to be continued tomorrow]

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