Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Walsall - Redressing The Balance

In 2001, I came across an article written by a man called Theodore Dalrymple (well that’s his pen name anyway) describing my place of birth, Walsall in the West Midlands, as possibly the ugliest town in the world, “like Ceaucescu’s Romania with fast food outlets”. I was extremely angered at this, not just because I come from there, but also because I still have relatives there.

Walsall may not be the most salubrious place in England, but there are worse places, if not in the United Kingdom as a whole, then certainly outside our beloved island.

When I read the article, a scarlet mist descended and I found myself interrogating Mr Google, my favourite internet knowledge base, and came across something even worse. Another person, this time a resident of Walsall, had actually gone to great lengths to highlight how hideous he thought the town was by creating a web site called, full of hideously grotesque pictures of the worst aspects of the town. My blood boiled and in a fit of pique I added a comment to his website, excerpts of which appear below:

When I first heard about Theodore Dalrymple’s article about Walsall I was shocked and incensed. His comments about the town were cruel, upsetting and inaccurate. To liken Walsall and the Black Country to Ceaucescu’s Romania is at best insulting and at worst downright vindictive. Although I no longer live in Walsall I was angry enough to seek out Mr Dalrymple via the web so that I could protest about his article. My investigations led me to your “Ugly Walsall” website, which, frankly, took my breath away. For a resident of the town to dedicate an entire website to bringing the world’s attention to “Ugly Walsall” is unbelievable and I ask myself whether Mr Dalrymple may have chanced upon the site searching for inspiration to write his article. Perhaps; perhaps not.

Obviously you feel that you should bring the worst things about the town to the attention of people surfing cyberspace, but if you really cared about the town and its people, I would have expected you to at least balance the bad with the good. Your site, by name alone, gives the casual visitor a completely negative impression of the town. Wouldn’t it be more constructive to have a site dedicated to the town but show its good points as well as the bad? If I were thinking of relocating to Walsall and came across your site, I would think again. Perhaps that’s what you want. I’m sure if you walked around the more pleasant areas that you could fill a web site full of pictures of “beautiful Walsall” despite your denials that such areas exist.
Walsall may have its problems but no more than many other towns and cities in England. Graffiti-covered buildings, littered streets and boarded up shops can be seen in many towns across the UK. It is unfair to focus on Walsall and its people.

Now the author of the web site felt compelled to publish my remarks, which surprised me to be honest. He regarded my comment as “constructive” simply because I had made positive suggestions. To me it was obvious that there are nice areas in Walsall – I’ve seen them; I know. Thankfully, the web site vanished along with its creator who managed to get a writing job based on the strength of his web site. He maintained it for a little while after his departure just giving me the opportunity to add one final comment wishing him luck in his new venture, though I added a sting in the tail, mentioning that I hoped his views of Walsall would be consigned to that compost heap in cyberspace.

In the interim years, I’ve noticed with interest that Walsall has been trying to shake the image created by one-sided articles and web sites such as I’ve described and I regard that as a good thing. There are areas in the town that have failed to shine and still live as a sickening reminder of the town’s industrial history. However I am pleased to say that something is being done about it.

I appreciate it will be a slow process but something is happening.

So why, after all of these years am I mentioning it again now?

Well I was browsing blogs to see if there was anything interesting about Walsall when I came across something from a young lady who also still has relatives there, who reignited the irritation I felt when I first heard the name Theodore Dalrymple. In fact, she did worse than that – she actually put a link to the story on the BBC, thus enabling the casual viewer to read about this so-called hellish town just north of Birmingham. Did she give a balanced viewpoint? Nope! She was scathing describing it as “a complete hole”, saying “it’s grim in Walsall” and saying that it “evokes images of The Waste Land; it is just an ugly, charmless town with nothing much going for it”.

Upon reading this, I felt the old red mist rising again and was compelled to leave a comment, only to discover that she had restricted comments to, presumably, those who know her.

I believe that the lady in question has a right to her opinion, just as I have to mine. But what particularly annoyed me about this was the fact that she doesn’t want to take responsibility for what she writes and allow people, like me, to comment on it. Had I been able to do so, I would have eloquently suggested that perhaps she should be a little more balanced in her view and perhaps read about how Walsall is trying to change its image. After all, she was happy to dig up Theodore Dalrymple’s awful view of the town and point the residents of cyberspace to that alone.

C’est la vie. I’m just irked by this again. And what’s more I am happy to accept comments on this article. I’m sure that there are people out there who are adamant about their negative views of the town despite the efforts involved to make the town a better place.

By the way, to redress the balance a little more, just follow the link below:



Anonymous said...

I'm a Walsall resident.

The web does present rather a dim view of the town, yes, but you misunderstand Ugly Walsall- the creator of which I was in contact with at one time. It was intended to shame the council into tidying things up, and in that way, it worked.

For the record, Walsall is OK. I have lived there most of my life. Unfortunately most web searches throw up football or the kind of articles you mention.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Thanks for your comment, stymaster. I think the reason that I was so angered by uglywalsall was that it was totally one sided, which is effectively what I said to the author. Whether it shamed the council or not, it did leave the casual visitor with the impression that the town was a train wreck - which it isn't. Every single place in the UK with one or two exceptions, has an ugly side. I would have preferred to have seen a site that was more balanced saying something like "Walsall can be ugly - but look at this beauty"

I felt that if anybody thinking of moving to the town or investing in it may have been put off by such sites. And as for Theodore Dalrymple - don't get me started ...


Anonymous said...

Your suggestion that you are 'extremely angered at (Dalrymple's comments), not just because I come from there, but also because I still have relatives there' makes literally no sense at all, though it is typical of the sort of mindless non-thinking which characterises much of modern British 'debate'.
If you came from Mogadishu, and 'still had relatives there', would you leap to the defence of that city? If they demolished every decent building left in Walsall and replaced them with Domino's Pizza franchises, would you still defend it?
Your 'coming from there' is clearly irrelevant. Your blindness to what has been done to 'your' town is the issue.
No sensate human, who has visited Walsall, or many of our other post-industrial towns, could fail to see how ugly they are, with their chewing gum-covered pavements, uniform shopping malls and general air of squalor and filth.
My wife's home town of Coventry was destroyed not by the Luftwaffe - they left a good percentage of its fabuolous old buildings standing - but by the council which demolished them and rebuilt in concrete.
The same process happened in the town nearest to where I grew up, Tamworth. In the 1960s, this was a pretty little market town; now it is revolting. I have relatives there - they all feel the same way, as do my wife's family in Coventry.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Thank you for your comment, Dalrymplist.

Perhaps you are right in that my argument "because I come from there" is a little weak, but that's probably because it is an emotional response rather than a logical one. As I said "red mist descends" and when that happens, arguments begin to become illogical.

Having grown up in Walsall I am still attached to the place despite its faults. Furthermore, as I have said, there are places in Britain that are truly awful and far worse than Walsall. What I object to is the cruel words that have been used to describe the place; "worse than Ceaucescu's Romania" is frankly insulting and, although the "UglyWalsall" site probably had a positive intention, I fear that it had the opposite effect. The purpose of my post was to highlight that despite its faults (and it does have them), Walsall is trying to improve. I found the Dalrymple article offensive and the "UglyWalsall" site one-sided. I stand by that. Many towns are ugly, some far more so than Walsall, so is Theodore Dalrymple going to write an article about Britain being like "Ceaucescu's Romania" or is another person going to post an "UglyBritain" web site? As I said, I wrote to the author of "UglyWalsall" and basically said that there are areas of beauty in Walsall so why not show these as well, in a kind of "Walsall is ugly in places but can be beautiful - like here"? I prefer balanced arguments. Perhaps you don't have any emotional ties with Tamworth and don't like balanced arguments. I do have emotional ties with Walsall even now.