Birmingham (UK): 1997


This is definitely not a UTT (Unidentified Tea Towel).  I remember very clearly the Thursday in May 1997 that I bought it; I remember where I bought it; I remember who I was with and I remember why I bought it.  I also remember the reaction of my friends when I told them I had bought it; they clearly thought this was the end of the road for me.  I have been expecting this tea towel to come to the surface of the airing cupboard pile for a while, somehow dreading it but also wanting to get it out of the way.

This is a classic tourist tea towel: ‘Birmingham’ emblazoned across it with a number of coloured sketches of the important buildings of the City, filling up the ‘canvas’.  It is bright and cheerful and also a good cloth for drying up.  I have never been to any of those buildings on the tea towel; I never wanted to; Birmingham wasn’t a place that I was visiting as a tourist.  I just needed a reminder of that day because I knew I would retain very few memories; I needed to be reminded that I had been there.  On looking at the tea towel more closely, I realise that I have been to the Museum and Art Gallery but I have a separate tea towel of that, for a later blog!

I went to Birmingham that day by train with Fee; only a true friend would have come with me and for that I am always grateful.  John, my husband, had died suddenly and unexpectedly, the previous November, in Sutton Park in Birmingham.  An unexpected death triggers an autopsy and then an inquest;  the Coroner allowed the funeral to go ahead with an ‘interim’ inquest, which I didn’t have to attend, but the formal proceedings took place the following May in Birmingham.  It doesn’t matter how many police dramas you watch on TV or how much the police try and prepare you for the formal proceedings of an inquest, it is never as you imagined. OK it was never as I had imagined. I was a witness, to confirm that I had identified John and to confirm what I knew about his health – it was, so I thought, excellent. Once you have a death certificate, you know the cause of death anyway.  What else could happen?  In the fug that comes with grief, if you know why someone has died, nothing else will make it any less painful; I didn’t think about anything else, I didn’t want to think about anything else.  I suppose what I didn’t expect was there to be a statement from the Park Warden who  found John throwing up, who called the ambulance, who stayed with him until the ambulance came and who had not been able to return to work since.  I didn’t expect to hear that an ambulance arrived within 8 minutes of being called  and he was dead by the time he got to the hospital four minutes later.  I didn’t expect to hear about the shocking state of his arteries, arteries that would have led to a heart attack at any time.  All those things creep up on you, intrude on your grief, pose questions that you don’t want to face: why didn’t he, or I, know he had clogged arteries? why were there no symptoms prior to his death? who was looking after the Park Warden? did the Park Warden ever return to work? I suppose the one thing that was helpful to know was where he died; that meant I could go visit if I wanted to.  I would have to wait till later in the year to see if the Barnacle Geese that had landed unexpectedly, which he had gone to look at, had returned another year.

The inquest was traumatic but as I always say, life goes on and that is where the tea towel comes in.  I said to Fee that I wanted to buy a tea towel to remind me of the day. She thought I was bonkers, and said so, but to be fair did not stop me.  I was a woman on a mission.  I am not sure how long I was prepare to search for one, but fortune came my way, and as we walked back to New Street Station, through the Bull Ring, we passed a Linen Shop and there in the window was my tea towel on display.  I was relieved to find it so easily but probably not as relieved as Fee who, I fear, felt we might be walking around till midnight looking for one.  Thanks to the Linen Shop in the Bull Ring, we got home in time for tea.

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2 thoughts on “Birmingham (UK): 1997

  1. wow, what an amazing and poignant memory Barbara. I’m glad i was there with you though I’d like to dispute my alleged reluctance to support your tea towel search. It wasn’t personal – I just wasn’t into any shops in those days. I probably wanted to go to a bar! I think that is a more typical reaction following a harrowing inquest………


    1. Actually we are both probably right and I’m not sure that we didn’t go to the pub but back in Leicester because I just wanted to get out of Birmingham (after getting the tea towel). I’m interested in your use of the term ‘bar’; that’s definitely not a 1997 term, it was the pub!! Barbara


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