Three Towers, Five Ways – Part 02
When I lived near Five Ways in Birmingham through ignorance I missed out on seeing the local tower Perrott’s Folley, which was immortalised by JRR Tolkien in Lord of the Rings, although when Bill Clinton moved in just down the road to the towering Swallow Hotel – the whole of the Swallow Hotel, pictured in the Google image – I set off to visit him.
Standing outside the hotel at Five Ways – with my carrier bags of dehydrated vegetarian mince, bake beans, and Swiss Rolls from the adjacent supermarket – I stared up at the high floors hoping to spot old Bill, our local celebrity, although I didn’t see jack through the recently-reinforced bullet-proof windows. To satiate my curiosity I asked a question of the old Bill, as to whether they could confirm that the you-know-who resided within. They gave me a none-committal answer with a nothing-to-see-here manner that flew in the face of the large crowd of onlookers milling about and the heavy police presence.
Despite the official word-on-the-street it was widely known that this was where he was staying, which amused some as they thought the name of the hotel sounded vaguely sexual, as my neighbour Bill was the toast of the town. Nobody cared about the rest of them, not even Tony Blair. Local radio stations were awash with growing rumours that he was going to put in an impromptu appearance with his saxophone at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club (he didn’t) and local paparazzi were there to capture sight of him enjoying a pint by the canal in a man-of-the-people story which set tongues a wagging when his bodyguard proceeded to publicly smash his pint glass when he’d finished with it.Other widely reported G8 Summit stories included that Birmingham painted its grass green, to give a good impression to the visitors; that local prostitutes had to be “officially” procured for the Russian delegates; and that a local radio reporter was so keen to get a word from Bill’s dollybird wife Hillary, whilst she was doing a touristy walkabout, that the police had to have a word to tell her that there were marksmen on the roof and that: “If you lunge across the barrier with that microphone one more time they WILL shoot you!”
But despite all that going on, with surely the biggest thing to happen to Five Ways in its 433 year history, since Calthorpe road was added anyway, and I didn’t catch so much as a glimpse. Two towers: two fails.
I will have returned downbeat from this second tower, to the third, to my tower, just down the road from Five Ways where dreams go to die and stories end.
Although, I now realise, they don’t. My tower was seventeen floors high and as Tolkien’s tower was also just down the road from Five Ways I considered that it was entirely possible that I should have been able to see it from where I lived. So I had a think about angles and directions, and then completely failed to dig out a photograph I thought I took out of the window, but in the end I did manage to find some photos on the internet that were taken from the top of Perrott’s Folley.And in this picture, pointing in the right direction, it shows you that if you look carefully, as I imagined, you can indeed see my dark tower from Tolkien’s, so the converse must also be true and as my tower was facing in the right direction I’ve somehow gone from “never, ever” having seen Sauron’s tower, to the fact that I “probably saw it every day” for three long years, out of the window. Result.But back in 1998, unaware of evil towers on the horizon, a few days after I failed to spot Bill Clinton, I was suddenly awoken on the Sunday morning by possibly the greatest example of “If Mohammed won’t go to the mountain…” since the day when the Islamic figurehead declined to go rock climbing. As when I peered out of my fifth floor window I found that the horrendous noise was the Presidential helicopter buzzing me – at eye level – about twenty metres away. Seriously. How many people can claim that they were once woken up by Bill Clinton? OK, that’s possibly not the most exclusive boast there…
The helicopter carried on and landed on a sports field for a nearby posh school. It was the end of the G8 Summit and it had come to collect the President from his nearby Five Ways residence and to transport him to Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country house. Over a hundred of us forewent breakfast and rushed to get a good vantage point on a grassy green bank and even though we were a hundred metres away we even got our own police babysitters to make sure there were no troublemakers and that we didn’t get too close. I don’t know why as there was a railway line and a canal in-between us, but I gather that there is precedent for American Presidents having trouble with people on grassy knolls.
And after an age old Slick Willy himself finally appeared. I found a picture claiming to be from the event on the internet. Believe it, or not, that’s Bill Clinton waving at me right there. Tony Blair was here too, but in Bill’s showbiz shadow, nobody cared about him. Not even in 1998.So as I’ll go on reading the works of my former radio hero Stuart Maconie, not that he’s ever likely to know how grateful I am to him, and I hope to be further intrigued as he finds good reason to tour the country, to places that you may have once been, and throw in interesting things you just didn’t realise at the time. But it’s reassuring to know, that if I ever do get enough to fill a book of my own, that I do have some stories that he hasn’t.