Number 11: satire and the skewing of the spectacle

Number 11 by Jonathan Coe is now out in paperback, like many of his works there’s Birmingham in the prose.

If you’ve watched a football match recently, you’ll have noticed that it looked not like football should: but something more pristine. Perfect grass, shining at you at the right colour,  the crowd static, the players all so universally healthy: so universally quick that the speed of the game is uniform and appears slow. Every game has the lustre of a meaningless pre-season friendly. Don’t all new bands look like bands created for a film, walking like a duck, but not quite being Chuck Berry.

Is the spectacle broken? It might be possible that the angle of incidence no longer equals the angle of reflection. It might be possible that recuperation no longer quite works in the end game of capitalism. Maybe Debord was wrong.

I tried to pin this down, find the point where the spectacle stopped working, and it might be the brief career of Jet  – a band that looked so much like Kasabian (already an indie band created for a Russell Brand romp-com)  – who had a big hit with a song that sounded exactly like Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life. Exactly like it. Lust for Life had only been a revival hit a few years previously, but Jet’s song hit the charts and no-one said anything: especially not the music press that had sped up retreading of trends as if the kids were screaming because they wanted to go faster. Rather than because they were alienated.

Like the continual racist apophasis about how we can’t talk about immigration, the bastardly now hide in plain view. Tom Lehrer said that when Kissinger won the Nobel prize ‘satire died’, but maybe it not dead but turning in on itself.

Jonathan Coe’s Number 11 presents as satire, but the majority of the content isn’t exaggerated or taken out of context: TV does lie, tax avoidance and mega-wealth are inseparable and unapologetic, £160M new libraries do reduce service due to lack of money for staff and new books.

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Posted in culture Tagged with: ,

What time and when is our new SEO strategy going to pay dividends with pageviews? Everything you need to know

Friend of the show Dave Harte used to do a bit about how the most popular posts on his hyperlocal website was called “When are the supermarkets open over Christmas?”. This is the sort of ‘content’ which successfully remediates the local newspaper onto the web. Forget live-blogging, periscoping, and making things ‘interactive’ — what people really want is useful information delivered in a timely manner.

This is an example of what academics call a ‘news gap’—something people want, which isn’t being provided by the mainstream, commercial media companies. Hyperlocal websites tend to go around sticking their finger in these news gaps in a metaphor which becomes quite difficult to complete because, having evoked the idea of a little Dutch boy plugging a big dam, I need to flip it to a little Belgian boy pissing into a tiny font which then feeds his endless stream of piss.

I digress.

It turns out that this noticeboard stuff SEOs really fucking well, so inevitably the “proper” newspapers have piled in. This is a common feature of the relationship between hyperlocal and mainstream media: once the news gap can be shown to turn a buck or two, the big guys put a six lane motorway over it on a viaduct, destroying anything that remains of our figurative landscape.

And so, the other weekend we were searching for the start times of the England V Germany friendly and we found SEO laden copy from national newspapers, including our local’s big brother the Mirror. But they can’t just tell you the info, they’ve got to make it into a bit of a story: because they are newspapers, but also because if it’s too short the nugget of fact you need will appear in the Google preview — and then there’s no ad revenue. Here in Birmingham, the Evening Mail keep a category of these SEO landing pages, so you can see for yourself the sort of thing they are optimising for here:

MailSEO

We’re expecting “What time and when are Birmingham’s St Georges celebrations? And are they racist? Does it offend the moslems, Stew?” to land today.

But a big UB40 concert, a sponsored ‘zombie walk’ resembling the Tory party conference, or a new series of — Liverpool filmed — Peaky Blinders, doesn’t come round every week, it just feels like it. We have to have things that people want to know all the time, things that are hard to find information out online… only problem is we don’t know the answers either.

When will we find the Capita Contract in Birmingham?

Capita plc, commonly known as Capita, is an international business process outsourcing and professional services company headquartered in London. If you want to know what that means it means that they’re a bit like Sodexo but with more computers andRead More »

When's the new series of BBC One sitcom set in Birmingham Citizen Khan on TV and is it Islamophobic? Everything you need to know

Soon there will be a new series of the BBC One sitcom set in Sparkhill, Birmingham, Citizen Khan that stars comedian Adil Ray on television, on the BBC One channel and iPlayer. Wikipedia says that Citizen Khan “is a family-basedRead More »

Which No. 1 to Acock's Green does that chap who stinks of piss catch, so I can avoid him?

If you’ve ever commuted to Acock’s Green in Birmingham, England, in the morning on the Number One (No. 1) bus, operated by Travel West Midlands, then it’s possible that you’ve at times caught a whiff of piss. Unlike farts, itRead More »

When do they put near dated cheese in the Whoops fridge at the Asda?

Asda Stores Limited is an American-owned, British-founded supermarket retailer, headquartered in Leeds, West Yorkshire. Asda run a number of stores in Birmingham. The company started in Leeds but was bought by American giant Walmart in 1999. It is one ofRead More »

What time does Select and Save on the Stratford Road close?

Select and Save is a supermarket on the Stratford Road in Birmingham. It’s at 870 Stratford Road in Sparkhill. It’s not the only Select and Save (or Select & Save), there’s also one in Moseley, but we don’t know whatRead More »

When and on what day do The Yenton clean their pipes?

The Yenton is a pub on Sutton Road, Erdington, Birmingham.  Their website says “At Sizzling we believe the people of Erdington deserve more from their local pub. And it’s our job to give you just that.” “We’re a friendly bunch and weRead More »

And is this going to prove to be our revenue strategy for a successful future? We’re not sure.

Insert Google Ad here

Posted in In the news Tagged with: ,

Signing off

Danny Smith has been writing for us, in all our forms, for as long as we can remember.  He’s a blue-haired gonzo with a habit of going misty-eyed over cute kids, and having a red mist descend when seeing how privilege fucks those same kids over. In prose he can find the mould in the corners of even the most ‘laughing with canal-side salad’ press event. So much so that we as editors have a stock response to anything we don’t want to go to: “Send Danny.” But now he’s sending himself…

CC: vexsmila

Dead to us – Image CC: vexsmila

My life seems to be a series of leaving parties, that is to say I seem to leave a lot but never really arrive anywhere. But soon I leave Birmingham, perhaps never to live here again. It’s a good ol’ city, mismanaged on the whole but full of good people, funny people, mad creative, eccentric people, people of a sharp wit but kind tongue.

I have to admit this very nearly was a wry ‘Things I WON’T Miss About Birmingham.’ But I’ve mellowed as I’ve got older. I could write that article and light my way to Brighton with the bridges I’ve burnt behind me but we all know the city’s faults and it’s not that “we don’t shout about ourselves more”. In fact some honest reviews and critique would be a cool breeze in an atmosphere of twee stifling press releases rewritten for CoolBrum™ listicles and breathless praise .

As I said I’m not here to shake any trees, just to point out some peaches.

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Posted in future nostalgia

Bournville: A Star Wars Star Story

We’ve just heard that the lead in the new Star Wars film, Rogue One, is from Bournville: Felicity Jones, formerly of The Archers. So we feel we need to do some jokes, but there’s a problem: one of us has never seen Star Wars, one of us has never listened to The Archers. Here’s how we got on…

JH: Mate, the lead in the new Star Wars is from Bournville. What do we do about that?

JB: Is she?

JH: Apparently.

JB: I don’t know what she looks like.

JH: Well nobody does mate it’s another new film and we’ve only seen one trailer, today. It’s not Daisy Ridley.

JB: Isn’t she the new one?

JH: No she’s the new one from the old new film. This is a different one.

JB: Oh, right you mean the one from The Archers. Felicity Jones.

JH: I don’t know what she sounds like.

JB: Yes. I checked it now, I think it’s the same one.

JH: OK. So The Archers, that’s an angle, right?

JB: She played one of the ‘working class’ Grundys — is there anything really farmy-mucky in Star Wars?

JH: They’re all farmers mate.

JB: No they’re not, some of them run a pub.

JH: The Cantina?

JB: No the Bull

JH: What planet was that on?

JB: Huh?
So what is this film about then?

JH: It’s the set up to Star Wars. She has to find some secret documents.

JB: The fourth film?

JH: No the first one, with Mark Hamill in it.

JB: The new one?

JH: No the old one. Not the new old one, the old old one.

JB: What’s the secret document?

JH: Looks like she found the Capita contract.

Five Things Felicity Jones is Rebelling About in the Next New Star Wars Film

  1. Lack of pubs
  2. Stirchley’s border creep
  3. Dairy Milk recipe change
  4. Cross-city line delays
  5. She wants to paint her door another colour
Posted in misc Tagged with: , ,

The football train: Villa v Chelsea, 2nd April 2016

London to Birmingham by train!

Just after 3pm today, at Aston, despondent football fans shuffled onto my train. Barely anyone spoke, or would look at one another. It was as though they’d been caught stepping out of Taboo Cinema Club by their kid’s headteacher. All that is except for two.

A beautiful couple they were, not in colours nor in football casuals but in the high end label equivalents. They looked… preppy. As my ears tuned into their talk, I picked up her Sloaney vowels, his public school consonants. Chelsea. Up for the game, now off into Bullring for a bit of shopping. Designer treats, another polo shirt perhaps? Birmingham’s a destination now, ya? Make a weekend of it. Go to the Cube. Eat some salad by the canal. Laugh.

It’s not like they expected at all — Birmingham’s changed.

Posted in future nostalgia Tagged with: ,

Finally: Birmingham Mail, without the “content”

Fed up with pesky ‘news’ content spoiling your enjoyment of the adverts on your local paper website? Feel fed up no-more, with Evening Mail blocker: all the ads, all the page furniture, all the recommend articles about weightloss — but none of the ‘local news’. Save MBs of download time!

Heavyweight pages from the Birmingham Mail

Simon Howes recently posted the above picture online — it’s a demonstration of the page load from the Birmingham Mail under two sets of conditions. First we see the hard work needed for your computer to load as it should — with all links to external click bait and whatnot — and then we see how it looks with just the “content”, via an adblocker. Which got us thinking: the ads are really getting bogged down by all that news… what if we could just turn that off? Surely we could hand that 9.3% of processor time back to the stuff that matters… back to ad trackers, and flash popovers.

We’ve written a browser extension (for Chrome only at the moment) which will strip away all those churned press releases, all those homilies to mixed use development, all those funny bits that they were inspired to write from somewhere…

Don’t waste your time looking at photos of how the Scott Arms looked like in an only slightly bygone age.

See the Birmingham Mail as it should be: download the Evening Mail News Blocker now!

Posted in misc Tagged with: , ,

The Paradise Circus Cut-Out-and-Keep Guide to Regenerating Birmingham

Hot on the heels of the news that another area of Birmingham will have its architectural significance airbrushed from history in order for it to be regenerated into another identikit mixed use development with a fucking Costa at the bottom, Paradise Circus presents a simple three step process to the Birmingham regeneration process.

STEP 1: Manufacture A Design Issue

Sure, the lollipop is an enduring design and represents cosy familiarity with the human/confectionery relationship — but its form creates a barrier to the free movement of flavour and satisfaction.

lolipop1

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Posted in Architecture Tagged with:

A modest proposal

for preventing the problem of the gentrification of our inner cities, and for making this trend beneficial to the public

By Howard Swift

Nothing can be more melancholy than seeing our once vibrant and battered brownfield spaces caked with checked shirts and reappropriated early-modernist design. The pastel colours, the exposed brickwork not as an opportunity, a canvas, but as a faux-individualistic statement.

How are we to cope with Keith from Moseley’s Prince of Wales turning from whacky local character with a thin grasp of planning law to a perfidious influence on independent culture at the exact point he owns not two pubs but three? And worse the third in an area which prides itself on its down at heel quirk.

To some the chain is a signal of hatred, but its main value is that the process of gentrification is complete: up-dos and animal print (that is with prints of animals, not their markings) is the new normal. We must tackle the issue at source, or joux.

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Posted in misc Tagged with: ,

Central League

I’ve never heard anyone scream when they’re really hurt. I don’t know why that is: maybe shock, maybe adrenaline, maybe you’re just that bit busy thinking about the consequences. I didn’t scream, but I groaned with the sheer inevitability. The explosion seemed centred just below my right knee. The pain both quick and flowing, flowing up and around, and then I hit the ground and one, two, three lesser pains of impact made me lose track of the first.

I knew it was coming. I wasn’t fit, I wasn’t concentrating. I hadn’t wanted to play.

I’ve not wanted to play much in the last year or so. As much as I love football, I love it as a game you can win. You can’t win as a reserve, all you can win is a chance in the firsts and that wasn’t happening for me. There’s really no point in turning out in the Central League. No skill, no one’s trying. There’s no single way it improves your game or your chances of playing in the first team. Bad pitches faced by empty stands. Twenty two men who are — basically — not good enough for some average football teams, pervaded by an atmosphere of death. Death because the ground smells of death when it’s empty, rotting everywhere. Death because the only people who can find time to sit watching this pantomime for two hours on a weekday afternoon are the retired and the lame.

BxmNILxIEAIG_ug

The pain of whatever I’ve done to my knee, my leg, was, is more burning than anything else. I can’t move it, much.
Read more ›

Posted in Fiction

Pier Review: an exclusive extract

IMG_1488

Longtime Paradise Circus-ers Jon Bounds and Danny Smith visited every surviving pleasure pier in England and Wales, in two weeks. And then wrote a book about it: Pier Review. Brum’s own Catherine O’Flynn says, “Humour, nostalgia and a certain landlocked romanticism run through this coastal odyssey. Pier Review is an engaging and highly revealing sideways look at Britain from the margins.” 

We say have a look yourself in our exclusive extract. Join the guys, Danny first, in Swanage:


 

Looking around Swanage town we are overwhelmed with the food choices. I suggest the Wimpy we walk past. Wimpy was the English burger bar that existed in this country before McDonald’s. I honestly thought they had all closed and can’t think of a better metaphor for a dying English culture than eating in a now nearly defunct chain hamburger shop.

‘I’m not eating in a fucking Wimpy,’ Midge says flatly. Granted, he hasn’t eaten much in the last three days and is probably
looking forward to an actual meal.

‘Come on, it’s perfect, look,’ I say, gesturing to the menu of food that all looks terrible.

‘Definitely not, no.’ Midge storms away.

Jon shrugs, his apathy for food balancing almost neatly with his love of obscure British brands.

Wimpy made it from America to England 20 years before McDonald’s and quickly spread to India, Japan, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa. It was the only game in town as far as chain restaurants or American-style dining was concerned. From my youth I remember a mascot that consisted of a hamburger dressed as a Beefeater (and I half remember a Spectrum computer game starring the squat tower warden).

Even back then Wimpy had been erroneously marginalised as an English knock-off of McDonald’s glamorous authenticity. Since then, you still see them around the country, cowering in service stations like beaten dogs or looking confused on some backwater high street, sticking out like a pensioner wearing their slippers to the post office. The most English thing about Wimpy is not the table service that they seem to have a child-like stubbornness in keeping, but their tenacity to stick around, refusing to believe in defeat because of their once brief but almost worldwide dominance.


We head into town, make a circuit of the eateries, and choose to eat dry fish and chips. Due to some complicated system we manage to confuse the waitress enough for her to bring cans of cider we haven’t ordered. We obviously look like the cider-before-lunchtime types. We eat quietly, drinking ginger beer, aware perhaps that we’ve snagged the best table in the restaurant. There are regulars, old guys and gals on permanent vacation, or those who quickly gain a routine while on holiday, who want the table. It’s the one with the sea view. We have our heads down, writing. The table is fairly silent. I exchange a few Internet messages and think of the people I’m missing. Of people back in Birmingham essentially. Heinz sauces will do that to me. I squeeze some red out over my chips and feel guilty.

Nothing is as English as Heinz ketchup in the sauce game, except perhaps HP. The HP bottle really is iconic – the round-cornered square, the unusual colour and the name that has nothing to do with the taste. It’s from a time before modern marketing, much like large parts of Swanage.

postcard to birmingham

I went to school within smelling distance of the HP factory in Birmingham. On a day when the wind blew from Aston Cross towards the park, you could feel the tang of molasses in your nostrils. I used to swear I could tell whether it was original, fruity or curry flavour production that day. The illuminated HP sign shone like the chip-shop equivalent of the bat signal, except this one shone across the M6 as opposed to the rooftops of Gotham City; it meant you were home. We won’t see it when we complete our trip, as it’s been taken away. The factory closed and production moved to a cheaper facility in Holland, despite Heinz saying that they’d do no such thing when they took over the local company that had been making HP sauce for decades. The demolished site is now being rebuilt as a modern factory, with the usual mixed-use plans for a hotel alongside. Like many a modern building, it seemed to go up too quickly to have a lasting impact; construction without toil seems so temporary. The HP sign is in the storage warehouse of the local museum, the brand’s association with a place now historical and intangible.


‘Jon, have you noticed we’re getting stared at?’ I say loudly,hoping the other patrons get the hint.

‘It’s probably the jacket,’ says Jon, once again referring to the thin bin-liner bomber jacket he’s wearing. Despite its complete lack of practical value he hasn’t taken it off since we left Birmingham. ‘It was designed by Paul Weller for Liam
Gallagher’s fashion label, thus making it the most mod piece of clothing ever created.’

‘Both Paul Weller and Liam Gallagher are fucking pricks, though, Jon. You’re wearing a prick’s coat.’

Jon looks hurt briefly then shrugs. Midge shoots me a look and I’m suddenly aware of the numerous pairs of eyes on me from the other people in the chippy, mostly elderly with either raised bushy eyebrows or jowl-wobbling heads. I try to look sorry but then shrug as well.


I haven’t bought Heinz products since that day; there’s no orchestrated campaign, I just feel uneasy. Little choices that we can all make, little remembrances of things past. Forget the fossils in the museum opposite, forget King Arthur, forget the ‘Ralph Coates museum’ that I can’t believe exists but am sure I saw a sign for. The reminders of history are all around us. And reminders of the present too. There’s a piece of Banksy graffiti near where we get back into the piermobile. The sauce signal is calling us onward.

SummerDaleCover-2

If you fancy following what happened next, Pier Review: A Road Trip in Search of the Great British Seaside is out now.

Posted in culture

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101 Things Birmingham Gave the World

Birmingham was the crucible of the Industrial Revolution, but it gave the World so much more…

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Described for you in text as we can't draw.

  • Interior of the Council House, which you can tell because of the sign that says ‘Council House’.

    There is a newspaper — why? no-one knows — on a desk, the headline reads “More Council Budget Cut — they can’t even afford the museum”.

    A man is on the phone, it is Leader of the Council John Clancy. He has a name plate.

    “Yes you can light up the Library in the colours of the Belgian flag. No, I know we said we couldn’t afford the electric for Paris, but this time  it’s 1/3 extra free.”

     

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Service Birmingham & Capita’s Auto Redacter

It's best for commercial confidentiality.

Code by Nick Moreton

Paradise Circus grew out of the famous, now mothballed, Birmingham: It's Not Shit that chronicled and championed the real Birmingham since 2002.