CJ Stone in the Independent

Back to Brummagem

My first article in the Independent appeared in the Saturday Magazine, on Saturday 22nd March 1997.

It was the first of a series a columns collectively entitled "Going Home", about my return to my home city, Birmingham, in early 1997.

The story is called "Back to Brummagem", Brummagem being the local name for the city.

It's not, as it sounds, just a nickname. The name "Brom" or "Brum" appears as a prefix for a number of places in the area: West Bromwich and Bromsgrove, to name but two. So Brummagem is probably the original name, and "Birmingham" the tarted up version.

People from Birmingham call themselves "Brummies."

The reason I was going back there was that I was in need of a place to stay, having lost my council flat in Whitstable.

It was the Whitstable flat that was the setting for my previous collection of columns in the Guardian, Housing Benefit Hill.

After I was forced to move out of there, I lost both my home, and my source of income.

Housing Benefit Hill was a very successful and durable column, lasting from September 1993 to September 1996. That was followed by CJ Stone's Britain, which I was still writing at this point, but it was nowhere near as popular or so enjoyable to write as Housing Benefit Hill. Quite soon it petered out, and that was the end of my relationship with the Guardian.

At the time of these columns, however, things were going very well for me. I had columns in the Big Issue, Mixmag and the Guardian, as well as in the Independent.

You can read the first Independent story, about what took me back to the city of my birth, here.

The second story was called The family Stone. It was about a day with my Mum and Dad (pictured below). "In the game of Happy Families, Mums always hold the trumps." You can read that here.

The third story was called A modern city at a knockdown price, about a dog with a dangerous arse and the Birmingham tendency to want to always be remaking itself. You can read that here.

Mary and Eddy Stone outside their house in Marston Green, Birmingham. Photograph courtesy of Helen Stone.
Mary and Eddy Stone outside their house in Marston Green, Birmingham. Photograph courtesy of Helen Stone. | Source

Something for nothing

These were very difficult columns to write, mainly because the editor insisted on making constant changes. He wouldn't let a single column through without drastic alterations in the text. It was very hard work.

Something for nothing was the last in the series. I'd made all the changes he wanted in all the stories, but the last one he rejected altogether. I include that here, so you can decide for yourself if it was worthy of being read or not.

I rang the paper one last time. The editor was away, so I spoke to one of his assistants. He was worried because the deadline was due and there wasn't a story in place. I told him my problem. He said, "just send me a story and I'll publish it."

Which is what I did.

You can read it here.

Back to Whitstable

My time in Birmingham lasted less than a year. It wasn't all that successful. I went to a party one night and ended up getting punched in the face. I won't tell you why, but suffice it to say, I deserved it.

After that my flatmate had had enough of me and asked me to move out. I ended up back at my parent's house for a while, after which I bought a live-in vehicle. It was this vehicle that became the basis of my next book, the Last of the Hippies. I travelled all around the West Country, collecting stories and writing the book.

At the end of this period, a year or so later, I was still in need of a place to stay. My son had gone to London to live with his Mum, but he wasn't happy. He had a girlfriend in Whitstable, and he wanted to move back there.

I met him one weekend, and we talked about the problem. We both decided it would be best if we moved in together. Which is what we did. We got a flat in Whitstable, Joe went back to his school, and I took a job as a car park attendant in Canterbury, which I wrote about in the London Review of Books. I include that here for the sake of completion. Unfortunately you have to be a subscriber to read the entire text.

The next three stories were written during the time I lived in that flat and reflect some of my interests at the time.

I thought I'd messed up his life, but Joe still talks to me

  • CJ Stone split up from his wife, lived in a commune and went off the rails. Yet somehow his son grew up unscathed
  • Saturday 22 May 1999

Joseph was born some time in the early hours of 15 September 1980. It was 1.30 in the morning. Or at least I think it was. I have a clear visual recollection of the clock on the delivery room wall - one of those standard, circular hospital clocks with clean black figures and hands - and it reads just after 1.30am. I can even see the slim, red second-hand ticking round. It's just that I can't be sure whether it's a real clock or not. I may have made it up.

Read more here.

The biker dads

  • Middle-aged men in Britain are intent on kick-starting old love affairs - with a certain Harley-Davidson. By CJ STONE
  • Saturday 31 July 1999

Driving used to be a pleasure. Right now I'm inching forward in first gear, watching the tail lights of the car in front flicker on and off, tasting the traffic fumes like bitter porridge, steaming in this damp, heavy heat, seeing yet another red light up ahead, yet another set of road works, waiting, waiting - moving - waiting. Where's the pleasure now?

Read more here.

Style: Whitstable - the new Chelsea?

  • Not if the town can help it. CJ STONE on the spirited fight against DFLs (Down From Londoners)
  • Sunday 12 December 1999

Jarvis Cocker is definitely one. Ulrika Jonsson was thinking of buying a house here, so she's one too. The place is Whitstable in Kent, and both Jarvis and Ulrika are DFLs. That's the term Whitstable people use to describe visitors - Down From London.

Read more here.

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