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28 very public people interviewed by 16 artists

Very Public People

Agnieszka Olejek / Annette Susan Dicken / Tukka Singh

Contributors Ania Bas / Jo Hallington


Agnieszka Olejek Owner of The Beauty Salon Interviewed by Ania Bas at The Public

I came over from Poland to the midlands, to my sister. It was straight after my A levels, I was 19. It was 7 years ago. In West Bromwich you feel like at home, you meet many friends, who also left the country. Parts of the town feel like little Polish colonies. Back in Poland I worked as a model. It wasn’t glamorous at all. I made it to the finals of one of the miss contests in the country but I decided not to take part in the end. It wasn’t my thing, all this smiling, and all this looking nice.

Here in UK I used to work as a cleaner a lot, I was cleaning schools, offices, private homes, medical centres. But I quickly did a beauty course, I am doing nails. This is how it all started. I have just opened a beauty salon: now I have a hairdresser, a masseur and tanning facilities all on my premises. On top of it all I am a fitness instructor. From early childhood it was my dream but I couldn’t afford it in Poland, it is a very expensive course. Here this was possible. I was a bit concerned whether my English was good enough,


Agnieszka Olejek Continued from previous page...

but I gave it a shot and by the end of the course it only me and one other person finished it out of the group of over 20 people. Only the two of us passed the final tests. I was shocked! I have more dreams. I want to open a shop with Polish food next. I think there is still a scope for it. People long for their food. I long for my home country food. Now I have to slow down a bit. I am going to have a baby soon, but as soon as the baby is a year old or so, I am going back to school. I want to do another level for a private fitness instructor. And next, ah, I wish to have my own gym! And I want to learn Spanish as soon as my English is up to scratch!

Having your own salon it is not as simple as cutting hair, and counting people coming through the door. It is all about connections, people need to be satisfied with their haircut, with their nails, with their clearer complexion. It is about emotional bonds, not about exchange of service for money. Regular clients are amazing, some bring us sweets, small presents. It is so nice! I am not a big fan of cooking, cleaning and sitting at home. Being mum is going to be a major challenge. But I am sure the baby is going to give me extra energy, it will all make sense. It feels all very distant still though it is just a few months away.

“I am not a big fan of cooking, cleaning and sitting at home. Being mum is going to be a major challenge. But I am sure the baby is going to give me extra energy, it will all make sense.�


Tukka Singh Baby clothes seller at West Bromwich Indoor Market Interviewed by Ania Bas at The Public Most of my customers from Monday to Friday are retired people or unemployed people. It is a working class area. Wealthy people do not come to shop here. They are looking for major retailers, for big shop chains, not small sellers in indoor markets. Retailers want to move into big shopping parks, malls. People who come to shop in West Brom come for what they need and go back home. All locals. Merry Hill is more of a social thing, you go there for a walk around, you eat, you meet friends. You have so much variety there. People here have their routines, same faces on Monday, same

faces on Tuesday. People who come for fruit and veg, people who have their toast and tea. Routines keep people going, my grandfather was like that. It is upsetting to see major shops disappearing from the high street; this is what brings people in. There is a mix of cheap and cheerful but also quality and main brands. Now only a few are left. More and more smaller companies are going for on line selling. This is the future but it is not helping the high street. I am going to launch my website and online selling soon, this is where all my competition is, I have to join in to stay in the business.

“People here have their routines, same faces on Monday, same faces on Tuesday. People who come for fruit and veg, people who have their toast and tea. Routines keep people going, my grandfather was like that.�


Annette Sue Dicken Funeral director at Webb & Son Interviewed by Jo Hallington

I didn’t really choose to work in the funeral business I more or less drifted into it. I was born in New Street in 1946, I lived above my father’s shop, and went to school not far away and I went to work not far away. Eventually I had my own business in New Street, a bakery. When I decided to sell the shop and run a florists Webb’s said that I could run it from their offices, they had a spare room. So I went to Webbs, started doing the flowers and it all evolved from there. First flowers, then arranging the funerals. So I started to learn as much as I possibly could about it. And I liked it.

I have been based an awful lot at New Street in West Brom. Growing up on New Street you knew everyone on the street and people in the surrounding streets. So it has been sad saying goodbye to everybody as people have gradually moved away and the street has disappeared. It used to be very busy, lots of shops, lots of processions there and lots of street parties. This was nice. You could play in the street, it was safe, and you could go to the Sandwell Valley. Now there is nothing left of my father’s shop.


Annette Sue Dicken Continued from previous page...

“Perhaps you look deeper into things then most people. Death is part of your everyday life. Death never frightened me.”

Over 40 years there were changes to my profession, changes in paper work, but it is a very slow business to change. A bit of an old fashion profession where respect is very important. When I started here 41 years ago people would choose a hymn and an organist would play some background music. In more recent years people can bring a CD with their own kind of music. There is probably more choice. More caskets to choose from too.

Some people arrange their funerals while they are still alive, we do some pre paid funerals, when people would come in pay in advance and make their wishes in advance. It is easier if people do that, the family knows that this is what the person wanted. We have the code of confidentiality with our clients; we do not talk about any individual funerals. We do keep quiet about people’s lives.

I do not always tell people what I do unless it comes into the conversation because people either ask you a lot of questions or it stops the conversation a little bit, but once people get to know you they are all right about it.

Doing this job changes you. I think you feel more for families, if you see somebody upset you try to help them and perhaps you look deeper into things than most people. Death is part of your everyday life. Death never frightened me.


Very Public People

Design Alice Ralph www.aliceralph.com

Very Public People 7  

Very Public People started with a series of talks with people of West Bromwich for people of West Bromwich throughout February 2010. Majorit...

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