21 January 2014

Panic and settle

Newman University is right on the very edge of Birmingham, in Bartley Green. When you come in through the main entrance, a plasma TV shows the next buses and an energy certificate for the building. There is a Starbucks kiosk and when you go into the library, to the first floor, the front wall is complete glass, overlooking the Bartley Reservoir and beyond it, the edge of Worcestershire. As you go back into the campus, the new development of the front fades into its own history, red brick from the late-60s and early-70s, like the core buildings at the Open University. My office is in the newly renamed Oxford Hall, tucked away from where students might normally come, in a corridor that has been quiet for the last three weeks. I asked for a standing desk, and the maintenance man, a certified pipe-fitter who has been with the University for years and years, cut the legs down on a narrow table they had in the shed, and I soon was standing to work.

Birmingham as whole feels familiar. I get off at University Station from Birmingham New St, but instead of going left towards the University, I go right towards Harborne, where we are living. The new terrace house on Victoria Rd is nothing like the terrace house in Taman Sri Minang. There are no bars on the windows or gates. You turn one lock on the front door and one on the back. After we cleaned it up and the refrigerator was replaced, the house warmed up and suddenly felt inviting. The boiler is on all day, pumping hot water into the radiators, and the Pihlajas sit in a single reception room, under blankets, watching Japanese television on YouTube and waiting the winter out.

After looking for schools for a week, we put the girls on a waiting list at the local Church of England school and enrolled them in the closest school with open space, a comprehensive primary school on the top of Tennal Rd away from the middle class safety of Harborne. Where there are more Asians and the white people wear track suits and can be ruder than those in Harborne. All the language of British class and race came back quickly: Asian means Southeast Asian, Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi. There are no East Asians. 

The school seems good, I said to a woman in a green coat waiting with her daughter today, and she said, It's improving: another euphemism.

Last year, 2013, has just disappeared. It's simpler to leave it out when answering questions for insurance companies and on applications for various things. Our last address was in Booker Ave; Taman Sri Minang was just something that I imagined. I bought a bicycle from a man that met me in the Birmingham Airport bus station, and I took it away without thinking too much about the interaction. I bought a car from a dealership in Kidderminster, two train transfers away in the countryside. In two weeks, I have made more big decisions than I can, and am starting to feel the stress in moments of panic. I keep faking stability for the girls, for Naomi in particular who cries in the morning. I'm sorry, but you must go to school. I want to let you off, to let you stay back. I want to let all of us off, but we can't. Get up again, go again; this year will be our year, I promise.