Friday, 12 March 2010

Brumantics (Adventures in the West Midlands)

This month, my quest to mould the young minds of Britain took me to the West Midlands, home of Jasper Carrot and Kerrang Radio (which was enough to make me warm to the place).

My experience of Birmingham up until that point had been limited to two distinct and different situations – Seeing the grim edifices of grey buildings speeding by as a passenger in my mother’s car on my way to Aberystwyth University (with all my worldly possessions in the boot) and partying with my friend, let’s call her Melissa (a glamour model who often wears outfits which appear to be made entirely of cling-film). I’d experienced Birmingham as a city which looks bleak on the surface, but whose fa├žade hides a thriving, thrusting culture of night life – gigs, clubs, after-clubs, after-the-after clubs – Melissa and I had been known to perplex her then-boyfriend by staying out in Brum for the best part of 60 hours (I suspect the cling-film mini-dresses played some role in the various invitations to underground establishments).

In short, I had no idea what West Midland inhabitants under the age of 18 who were awake during the day and slept at night would be like, but on Wednesday 9th March I took the campaign to a local secondary school and found out. Turns out, they’re pretty much like all the other students I’ve encountered on my UK tour – Bright, sweet, but lacking in self esteem.

The more of the country’s young people I encounter, the more I realise I am right when I assert that lack of body confidence is a country-wide phenomenon. A fundamental lack of confidence which manifests itself in negative body image does not discriminate by location, class, race or gender. When I see what Mark would call “the light bulbs going off” i.e. my audience relating to what I am saying about how we all feel as though we aren’t good enough most of the time, half of me is relieved and the other is full of dismay on their behalf – I’m yet to meet a young person who is nonchalant about their body.

On Thursday I was lucky enough to visit Birmingham University and meet the fantastically beautiful, personable and dynamic Women’s Officer, Esther Akinnuwah, who had invited me there. Call me easily impressed, but I loved the Brum Uni S.U. From the outside it has an archaic kind of grandeur, but there’s a bit in the centre which reminds me of the inside of a space shuttle (not that I’ve ever been in one, you understand) and is a hive of activity, housing a little shop and a Subway (place where they make sandwiches as opposed to underground train system – Now that would be impressive).

Everyone has a “mental age” and I’m pretty sure that I stopped maturing emotionally at University. I haven’t really changed essentially since then, other than my penchant for drinking wine that costs more than £2 a bottle (not much more, mind) and the fact that I’ll no longer subject my mini-skirt clad bare legs to temperatures below 20 degrees c (how we ever walked along the seafront clad in the skimpiest of garb battling gale force winds and torrential rain, midwinter, and simultaneously managing to eat a kebab I shall never know). There is something tangible in the air at Universities – It’s an enthusiasm, a thirst for knowledge (not just academic knowledge, but just for knowing stuff about people, about life) – It’s full of people who haven’t yet had all their spirit squished out of them by the realities of adult life. I bloody love it.

I realised on the train coming home why they call it “luggage” – It’s indicative of all the energy you’re going to expend having to “lug” it around. The noise I made when my bottom finally hit my familiar sofa back home was undeniably sexual (a bit like when Monica takes “the” agonizingly painful boots off in Friends). Again, I’m cream crackered but, again, it was well worth the trip.

Thanks, Brum, for having me.

Also this week: The Herts & Essex Observer were kind enough to print a piece on my recent trip to Bishop’s Stortford High (accompanied by a photo of me doing something a little peculiar with my right hand – It’s a sort of Sybil Fawlty saying “oooh I know” style gesture), Body Gossip launched an official web page for the education campaign (hurrah! Go to www.bodygossip.org/schools) and an article I wrote in January for Hub Magazine hit the shelves. To see the online version, go to http://www.hubmagazine-sw.co.uk/src/HUB_Spring_2010.html and cyber-flick to page 10.

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