When my dad first arrived in England he lived in Bartley Green and even Bradford for a short while before moving to Stoke on Trent and then finally settling down in Alum Rock in 1968. We lived on Edmund Road for a short while but then dad bought a house on Parkfield Road, number 90, where we lived for about ten years. In 1979 we moved again to a house on Hancock Road, which was considered to be a better part of Alum Rock.
During our time on Parkfield Road there was a mixture of people but there were quite a few Asian families. However on Hancock Road there was only one other Asian family with the rest of the neighbours being from either Black or White backgrounds. Soon after we moved out of Parkfield Road many of these families started to move out and more and more Asian families started to move in.
Me with my mother Rashida Begum and father Mohammed Sharif, Parkfield Rd 1969
I do remember my childhood being really nice. I grew up with my Dad’s three cousins and my Mum’s three brothers. I remember all these men sitting playing cards! I spent a lot of time with my Mum’s brother who use to take me and my brother to Ward End Park. I remember all these long hot summers and horrible cold winters because there was no such thing as central heating and we didn’t have hot water – you had to boil the kettle or put the emersion heater on.
October 1965 (Birmingham City Council)
On the Alum Rock Road I remember Tesco’s and Boots and Woolworths, all the proper shops, all these English shops. We used to go shopping on a Saturday with my Dad and it was nice, there were lots of different types of shops, a lot of good choice. I think there was only one shop that sold Asian clothes and in general, very few Asian owned shops.
I remember the one on College Road, Zimidaara Store and I am assuming that’s where my Dad must have been buying meat from.
We used to eat normal Asian food, curries and rice probably once a week but it was mainly just chapattis and curries. We never went out to eat, everything was home cooked, not like things now. Even during Eid we'd get together for meals at home cooked by Mum.
I remember the Saturday treat was going to town with my Dad. We used to go to Lewis’s, the big shop in Corporation Street, and buy sponge cake and biscuits. The biscuits were to die for, I have never had any biscuits like that since, they were just beautiful.
By the time I was eight or nine I started to listen to music and that was accepted in my family, probably because I was the first child growing up. I used to like Abba, I still do actually. And then I did start listening to a bit of Asian music like Mohammed Rafi songs which I found at my uncles’ house. When I got a bit older it was things like George Michael and Duran Duran. George Michael is still my number one. I watched Dallas and Dynasty and Coronation Street on the television because they were on before 9 o’clock. Dad used to watch the news at 9 and just before that we all went upstairs, we didn’t really stay up late. My parents weren’t into Asian movies. I was probably in my teens the first time I watched an Asian film. On TV there was a programme called Nai Zindgai Naya Jeevan, on Sundays on BBC 2, I think that was the only Asian programme on the television at the time when we only had three channels to start off with Channel 4 coming much later on.
A lot of our time as children was spent with cousins from Stoke. During school holidays we would go to Stoke and stay with them and then they'd stay with us during the next holidays. When we lived on Parkfield Road we used to spend a lot of time playing with the neighbours and when we moved to Hancock Road I remember my brothers playing football and cricket on the road.
My Dad worked at the G.P.O., General Post Office, and my Mum was at home looking after the family. We spoke our own Punjabi language; we grew up speaking that at home which is a good thing really because we all still know it. When my children were younger they did know their own language. My older ones still does and I think that's because she spent a lot of time with my parents early on in life, but once the two in the middle came along and started school, they all conversed with each other in English so speaking in their mother tongue has become a problem. I still speak to them in my own language and they will answer me back in English so I know they have understood it, but they wouldn’t speak it. When they do go to Pakistan, they do find it difficult but they do pick it up. It's a shame really. I do think it would have been nice if they could have spoken it fluently.
In terms of religion, I remember fasting when I was growing up but I don’t really remember praying namaz. My Dad used to be at work but he did used to come back early on Fridays to pray. As children we didn't go to a masjid to read the Quran and Urdu as there weren't any nearby. Instead my brother and I went to someone's house on the corner of Couchman and Anthony Road, to learn to read along with two other local boys. As I've got older my focus on my religion has got stronger. Knowledge is far more readily available now through the TV and through books. I try to pass on as much information as possible to the kids about our everyday religious duties and every Friday we sit together as a family with a few other grow- ups including nephews and nieces where we try to learn a little more.
Up until very recently our Eids were spent at my Mums’ brothers. As a child I used to be really happy because my uncle would come round and take us to the Variety Stores and buy us a toy each. Getting a toy in those days was a big thing.
When I was six my Mum, my Dad, my uncle, my cousin, the whole load of us, went to the Variety Stores to buy me a doll. It was one of those walking dolls, it was a big doll, I’ve still got her. I remember her being £6. It was a lot of money in those days and I was only six but everybody had to go, we had to all go and buy it. I remember having one Teddy Bear, a little orange one called Gambit – of The Avengers, which I’ve still got. I looked after it but my brother poked his eyes out.
I went to Shawhill Primary School and then onto Longmeadow Girls Secondary School. At Shawhill I remember a really nice teacher called Mr. Green. The school was pretty mixed in terms of the children there. I was friends with a girl called Afia who lived on Edmund Road and Farah, the three of us used to hang around together and I remember a boy called Ashley. We all got on well as we were growing up and never experienced any form of racism, it was never something we thought about.
Longmeadow Girls School, Shard End prior to its demolition in 1991.
In 1979 I started going to Longmeadow Girls School. Although there were other schools in the area I think my parents preferred that I went to a girl’s school. I just remember my Dad taking me on a bus on the first day and after that I started going by myself. It was quite far, it was the other side of Shard End. I remember that in my class there were three Pakistani girls, including me, a few Black but mainly White. There were more Pakistani girls in the years below me and just a few in the years above me but is was mainly White. We went to Pakistan when I was in the fourth year and that set me back and I didn’t really bother to catch up because I knew I wasn’t going to college. I did quite well at school but after school, that was it, home. I did want to go to college and did challenge it but it was pointless because in those days, once your parents had decided that was that. I guess it was because I was the eldest and no one else was going to college at the time.
I knew some girls who had gone onto further education and others who had run away and got married. I never understood the idea of running away from home but I think it was mainly to do with boys. They probably met somebody and thought this is it, we'll get married and obviously it didn’t work out for many of them. Most of them were sort of like brought back home and then they were married off and years later you'd see them again with a few kids but they'd be fine. I remember one particular girl who ran away and the police came round to our house asking if we know anything. They did eventually find her and she came back home but then was married of by her parents when she was 15.
For me the year after leaving school was really horrible because there was absolutely nothing to do. I spent most of my time stuck in my bedroom, apart from coming down to do the housework, just being a rebel really, not wanting to talk to anyone, not wanting anything. My Dad decided he wanted to go to Pakistan and I was seventeen and went with him and stayed there for six months. I loved it. Dad wanted me to come back with him but I made the decision to with my paternal uncles and aunts and I visited my Mums’ relatives not far away. I met lots of cousins the same age as me and we just got on really, really well and up to this day we are still close friends. I liked living the village life. It was lovely to go out with the animals, like taking the cows out, taking the sheep, the goats out, I just loved it.
When I came back to England it felt far worse than before because again it was the same thing, I had nothing to do. Soon after though, I got married. At that time you'd have to apply for your fiancé to come over from Pakistan. It was just a a matter of fact thing, I wasn’t asked, it just happened. I was asked by my parents to sign an application to get him over to England and that was it. When I was in Pakistan all the girls said, ’You are going to marry so and so’, and I said,’ No I’m not’ and they said, ’Yes you are’ and that's how I knew who I was going to be marrying. I'd seen him a few times and spoken to him so I agreed to do the paperwork and as part of the process I then needed to find a job.
I worked for a year at the AK Centre for a really nice gentleman called Mr. Ahmed. There was me and another girl and two boys and another English boy and girl who were the admin. We were all employed by a scheme called East Birmingham Jobs. Our main job was to go out to the community and tell people that there is a centre there to help you. We did a couple of weeks training and then we got on with the actual work that was 1987 to 1988. I really enjoyed working there, I learned a lot. The six of us worked together well, we all got along and it was really nice.
After the years contract my Dad didn’t want me to work anymore and with the original application getting rejected, I had to go to Pakistan to get married. I was excited about going back to Pakistan to be back with all those people again and I ended up staying another six/seven months. As for the marriage, it was all matter of fact and I accepted it that way, I was use to the idea so to me it was just something that happened. I got married one and a half months I arrived in Pakistan and then I stayed there with my husbands’ family. I knew everybody and I really enjoyed my stay but then had to come back to England because i'd received a date for an interview for my husband's visa.
When I came back I discovered I was pregnant and I had my daughter exactly nine months after my return, and my husband came to live in England two months after she was born. We lived with my parents in Hancock Road for about two years. I was 19 by then, sort of 1992. I then started looking for a house which my family was dead against because they didn’t think we could buy a house and look after it. We searched and searched and then I ended up living just literally around the corner from my parents. My husband was working at Riaz Travels, we didn’t have much money but we had enough to buy a house near where Dad and Mum lived. It was £29,000 and we got a £23,000 mortgage and that's where we still live. We were going to move a few years ago as I wanted a bigger house but the children liked to see their cousins and grandparents who live around the corner and said they didn’t want to move away, and my husband definitely didn’t want to move out so I ended up staying.
As a family we've been back and forth from Pakistan quite a lot. I’ve got four children, the eldest is 23, the second one is 20, my son is 18 and the youngest is 11. I started taking my kids to Pakistan when they were little, my eldest daughter has probably been about six times and the others have been there three or four times. I always said to my children that they would be getting married within the family, you can’t be sure these days but at least it wouldn’t be a shock for them if it did happen. My eldest daughter actually got married to someone from Pakistan. I have always said to my children that when it's time for them to get married, their choice in a marriage partner will be a mutual decision. It’s won't just be something that they will decide and it won't be something I will decide, it has to be a mutual decision. My daughter wanted to get married a few years ago to her cousin; I actually stopped her and said she should wait for a few years and see how she felt then. She did wait and after a while she still felt the same so last year she went over and got married to her first cousin. He is not over yet and she's now working. Although it is more difficult now to get him over to England she is quite happy.
I have got one boy; he has finished college and is at home now looking for a job. He didn’t want to go to university. I do talk quite openly to my children about things like marriage so whenever the time comes nothing will be forced upon them. Although quite a few people have moved away from the traditional concept of marriage within the family, I'm probably more of a traditionalist. People do say to me “Oh my God you're born and brought up in this country and you're thinking like that?” And I always say, “Well there is nothing wrong with thinking like that.” You shouldn’t totally dismiss things that’s all I say. I'm quite open minded and but I know people who say, “Oh we're definitely not getting married from Pakistan". Even my sisters, who actually also ended up getting married to someone from Pakistan, thought like that. I don't believe that if someone is from Pakistan they are going to be bad or if they are from here they are going to be good. It’s just about the individual people you meet.
When it comes to fashion I'm again more of a traditionalist. I see a lot of people in full hijab but then also see them doing lots of other things. I think that if you have genuine intentions then as long as you are modestly dressed then that's ok. Some girls have a scarf wrapped around their heads and people think they are good, but that's not always the full picture. As long as my girls know the rights and wrongs of what they should be doing and what they shouldn’t be doing, within reason they are able to wear what they want. They have that choice as well as the choice to go out and eat with family and friends occasionally even though I prefer to cook at home for the family.
As for the area as a whole, I suppose things have happened in the area which are not very nice, and it’s always those kinds of things that stick in people’s minds. So from that point of view you can’t really blame people as such because the area has had some bad publicity over the years, but I suppose it would be same if it was a different area let’s say for example, Handsworth. There's probably nothing wrong with it but when we were growing up, it was like meant to be a really bad area and those thoughts have actually stuck in our heads.
I don't think Alum Rock is not as bad as it is portrayed on the outside. I’m glad that I was brought up in this area. I did think of moving out of the area and then loads of people were saying to me that it’s good to be near family and you were brought up here, these are your roots. Now I am really glad I made the decision to stay because you feel safe within your own community. You were brought up here, your family lives here and I think that’s a lot more important than going to some fancy area and living in a fancy house.