“The road you can talk about is not the road you can walk on.”
Lao-Tse – Tao Te Ching
At about 2.10pm the bus is driving through Winson Green.
For the uninitiated, Clare and I are indulging in a spot of guerrilla ethnomethodology aboard Birmingham’s legendary number 11 bus. Some youths board the bus and sit behind us. This doesn’t concern us, however, as everyone else on the top deck is sitting behind us, too. That’s what happens when you sit on the front seat.
Before long, we notice a suspicious, burning odour coming from behind. This isn’t the typical, pungent, herb-based burning odour that’s commonly associated with philosophy students, jazz aficionados and the top deck of a double decker bus, though. This doesn’t smell like anything exotic, illegal or monged. No, it smells like someone is baking a jacket potato.
“Kids nowadays,” says Clare.
We’re driving through Winson Green, and Winson Green – of course – is best known for its prison. In fact, to most Brummies, ‘Winson Green’ means prison. In this respect it joins a long list of locations that seem forever lumbered with deep-seated incarceration associations. Notorious places like Strangeways in Manchester, Alcatraz in San Francisco and Portmeirion in Wales.
Which is a bit of shame, really. If you manage to separate the word from its links with the local lock-up, then Winson Green itself is quite a pretty name for a place. It wouldn’t seem out of place in Trumptonshire, alongside Camberwick Green and Chigley.
Of course, things like that are always easier said than done. This place and its prison seem to be neuro-linguistically fused in the popular imagination. It’ll take more than Zen detachment and baked potatoes to sever those tethers.
The fact the 11 bus drives straight past the prison probably doesn’t help.