by Bill Drummond

“Mr. Drummond I presume?”

“Yes”

I am being greeted with a warm wide smile and an outstretched hand.

“Welcome to Birmingham. My name is Umar. Will you be making your bed here?”

“I had hoped to. Is that okay.”

“We would be honoured. Do you want a coffee?”

This conversation was happening on the pavement in Coventry Street, Small Heath last Friday morning. I had been unloading my van of the timber, tool box and MAN MAKING BED painting, when a couple of men came out of an estate agents and approached me. I was assuming they were going to want to move me on. Instead I got the above welcome.

“But how did you know my name?”

“Simple, I saw the words MAN MAKING BED put them into Google and now I know all about you. I know you are making 40 beds on streets around the world and four of them are to be in Birmingham. But why did you choose Small Heath? Did you think we needed a bed more than other parts of the city?”

“No I just got a map of Birmingham and basically put four crosses on it - North South, East and West. Small Heath was the East and the first one.”

What I did not know about Small Heath was that it is almost a completely Muslim area of the city. And it being Friday most of the folk passing me were on the way to Friday prayers at the mosque down the road.

I grew up in a religious household where “games of chance” were very much frowned upon.

The fact that I sell raffle tickets so that someone can win the bed has never sat comfortably with me, but it is the only way that I have been able to make it pay its way.

And somehow I argued to myself, it made the whole process more democratic. But from my basic understanding of Islam, I knew “games of chance” are not only frowned upon, they are considered “Satan’s handiwork.” Should I pack up and head to a non Muslim part of the city?

I sought Umar’s advice. He felt it would be okay if the proceeds were for charity. But to be on the safe side I decided not to charge the pound a ticket I usually do and just take peoples names and mobile numbers.

“What do I have to do to be the winner?” asked Umar ironically. “Keep you supplied with cups of coffee?”

The worst thing about Birmingham is that everyone wants to stop and talk, I don’t know how any work get done in the city.

 

Once I was set up I started to chisel out my mortis joints. Each person passing wanted to stop and ask what I was doing, have a go with the mallet and chisel themselves, put their name down to win the bed.

Maybe it was because it was Friday and the majority of them were off to the mosque, but the conversation kept drifting back to which of the Prophets were carpenters.

All were agreed that Noah was a carpenter. Some argued that Isa (Jesus) was a carpenter, where as others thought of him as a shepherd like Ibrahim (Abraham).

Others wanted to know what was in it for me. I explained I was a sort of artist and had an exhibition down in Digbeth.

Others then argued the bed did not look much like art.

I said it wasn’t but for me the fact that most of us are conceived in beds and born in beds and dream in beds and conceive our own children in beds and, if we are lucky, die in beds makes the idea of a bed a pretty powerful thing. And the idea of all that happening in this bed is maybe art.

Others just wanted to know if I could come and hang the door in their kitchen after I had finished making the bed.

Umar came back out of his office with another mug of coffee for me.

“Bill my friend, I am off to the mosque, but on my return I will take you for lunch. Do you like Arabic food?”

And that is what happened. I could spend my allotted amount of words just describing how great the food was at the Mindi House restaurant that Umar took me to. No point, just go there on a Friday afternoon after prayers.

I will be drawing the winning number at noon on Saturday.

If you want to know why I am making 40 beds on streets around the world, or what happened when I did it in China, or how the first was made in an effort to mend a broken heart, then come by Eastside Projects this Friday or Saturday and ask me.

• Bill Drummond is writing a weekly column for The Birmingham Post as part of his three-month residency at Eastside Projects, Digbeth.

His previous articles are on his arrival in Birmingham, his plan to create a cake circle in the city and the inspiration behind his lectures.