Aston has played a major part in my life.
Although me and my brother, Darryl, grew up in Moseley and Springfield we spent a lot of time `Down the Lane',
along the Ladypool Road in Sparkbrook where Our Dad came from and where we had relatives and
the family bookmaking business. We also spent much time in Aston, for Our Mom comes out of Whitehouse Street,
which runs just off the Aston Road North. Born Sylvia Perry, she grew up in the yard at the back of the
Albion pub and behind the rear wall of their terrace of blind black houses was the playground of
Saint Mary's Church of England School. Unsurprisingly, that was Our Mom's school -
as it had been that of Our Nan, Lily Perry, nee Wood. Our Nan's mom came from Worcester and her dad was
from Tewkesbury. A boatman, he was in a reserved occupation during the First World War and had been
sent to Birmingham in 1915. Because Great Grandad Wood had relatives in Whitehouse Street, he and Our
Great Granny settled there.
In the succeeding years, the Woods became a major family in the street. Granny and Grandad had twelve kids and when they married, most of them lived locally. In one of the front houses of Our Nan's yard lived her sister, Nancy Cotterill, with her husband and sixteen children; whilst further up the street were Uncle Bill Woods, his wife and six kids, and another sister, Mary Hodson, with her husband and one son. Granny and Grandad died just before the street was cleared, but one of my earliest memories is of going into their house with Our Mom. I recall going down a step into the one room which they had downstairs and the table in the middle of the room, and I have a vague recollection of a steep staircase in the corner.
Even after Gran and Granny died and the other Woods were moved out with everyone else, Aston featured large in our lives. Our Nan had been given a maisonette in nearby Rupert Street, Nechells and me and Our Kid often stopped with her during the school holidays. When we did, of a dinner-time (it wasn't lunch then) we would always traipse down Avenue Road to the Midland Wheel where Our Winnie worked. She was another of Our Nan's sisters and together they would take us to a coffee house were we would have bacon butties and play the 'one-legged pirate'. It took Our Mom weeks to work out that we meant the one-armed bandit. They we'd pop along to meet another of Our Nan's brother's, Our Georgie, who worked in Eastwood's Scrapyard in Whitehouse Street. Usually, they'd take us into the little room of the 'Albion', swearing us to secrecy from Our Mom, and whilst they had a drink we'd have crisps and Vimto.
If Aston meant family it also meant one other thing in our lives: Aston Villa. Neither me nor Our Kid had a choice who we would support. With a Villa mad Mom and Nan and a Dad who was also a Villa fan, even though he was from the Blues territory of Sparkbrook, we were born to follow the Villa. The first match I can bring to mind was in 1966, when I was nine. Our Nan took us although we lost 6-2 to Chelsea we were there - Villa fans for life.
Its 35 years and more since Our Granny and Grandad Wood died and since redevelopment laid waste Whitehouse Street and destroyed the great shopping centre of Aston Cross. But still Aston means much to me. We still go down to the match and before we do, we go into the `Albion' for a drink. We sit at the bar and Our Mom sits in Grandad Wood's chair and says hello to him and we bring the old end alive for our kids. We tell them of the Great-Great Granny Wood, of what a wonderful mother and granny she was and how she laid out the dead of the street, brought the babbies into the world and had remedies for this and that; we tell them of their Great-Great Grandad Wood who may have been small but would fight anyone; we tell them of Thompson's the pork butcher's, of the `Havelock' with its sloping bar, of the billiard hall, of Floyd's the fish and chip shop, of the `Astoria' Picture House and ATV, and of Thompson's the greengrocers. Above all we tell them of the Aston people, of hard-collaring and community-minded folk who'd never back down from a fight but would give you the world if they'd had it. I'm proud to have Aston in my blood.