Goodbye Pavilions*

Really, nobody gives a fuck. Today it’s a empty space, a ghost town, but has it really been anything more? Does anybody have any fond memories of the place? Devoid of shops you can see the artless early nineties post-modern design, which looks a lot like the pastel flourishes of late eighties blandness. Even the Evening Mail’s frothing gang of wow merchants can’t summon the energy to care in this hilariously empty “news” article.

Six years ago I’m at a public exhibition speaking to an Argent representative about the redevelopment of the Central Library, they’re pretty vague but they’re talking about turning the whole area into their other achievement Brindleyplace and the Gas St Basin. I swear for a little bit, and leave.

Recently it’s been used as a shortcut to the bus stops opposite Moor St and a place for the bus drivers to eat their lunch. My fondest memory was an art installation that used some of the empty units a few years ago. Culture in the gaps.

past times

My good friend wrote “Capitalism disappoints” and stripped of the shops the Pavilions echos with emptiness and exposes this disappointment. Places like this aren’t built for anyone to like they’re built so not to offend, mixed use developments and the such are tin crowns waiting for the cubic zirconia of retail ”experiences”. And they’re spreading. Costume jewellery for a beauty contest where we aspire for second place.

Continue reading “Goodbye Pavilions*”

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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Pier Review: an exclusive extract

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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.

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

Outsiders: back with a vengeance

I’m here in a new bar, but it’s an old bar. The bar that was here before is old and gone, the new old bar is a lot like a bar that used to be in its place years and years ago. It’s dark and humid but the walls are yet to condense into sweat. I’m here as a homecoming, or at least to test a theory about home. Maybe home isn’t a specific place, maybe home is wherever you hang up who you think you are and stretch into the person that your skin hangs on.

So I’m here with the freaks, long hair, short skirts, denim, one-eyed, leather, awkward, coloured hair crowd. The music is loud and the drums rattle through the new sound system like fireworks in a metal bin. I’m ill and achey, but I have a writing problem, the drinks are cheap and it’s my favourite crowd to be alone in.

“We’re back home!” someone shouts, I wish they hadn’t. It kind of steps on the point of this article and sounds hack and untrue, but they do. And anyway, it is kind of home, if not here where else?

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Meet the new Bore, same as the old Bore

I have an obsessive nature – not addictive, thank god – but definitely obsessive. Whenever I am reminded of 1976 classic Carrie the voices echo about my brain for days. I have spent hours researching Michigan J. Frog (the frog in the cartoon that only dances for one man until it drives him mad) Did you you know he had a name? I did, because I have thought about him about three times a day for the last ten or so years. That’s more than some people think about their god.

This obsessive nature means that I stay away from certain things, things that tickle my pleasure centres in that special way that be it in a dangerous life destroying way like gambling or hard drugs that could have me out doing unspeakable things and burning bridges, or smaller things, hobbies or small chunks of pop culture that could have me memorising league tables and waiting for Saturday match day.

I’ve never been bothered by football, but politics does it for me. The Venn diagram where ideals, manipulation, and power overlap, that flicks my switch. Like a 4D chess game crossed with a soap opera with a cast of the worst people in the world. Which is why I stay away, I dabble, much like the casual football fan I’ll follow the big matches but at a local level not so much. I’m just not prepared to put in the work of crushing banality that local politics is made up of.

So when I was asked to cover the hustings for the leader of Birmingham City Council I was hesitant. Normally I only get sent to things that either of the Jons don’t mind getting banned from. But I went. And it was as boring as I thought it would be. One of the things that’s clear is that despite being the being the biggest local authority in England, being its head affords you very little power. In fact it seems the whole machinery of the local council is powerless, with its committees, sub-committees, panels, boards and commissions, all layered on top of each other and threaded together like a cake made by a boring drunk spider.

So on a rainy Thursday evening I found myself at the CBSO. Looking around the room, I felt a bit out of place, my hair is a weird pink colour, but it wasn’t just that my hair was pink, it was that my hair had any colour at all. The crowd were made up of mostly middle aged white people. The people of colour I did spot were Labour councillors themselves so don’t count.

Oh Gawd, what will Danny do next?

Hate the German market? Buy a candle and shut the fuck up

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People complaining about people complaining that Christmas gets earlier every year gets earlier every year doesn’t it? And as well they might, it seems the only thing stopping the lights going up as soon as the kids go back to school is Halloween.

One of the biggest proponents of this christmas creep in Birmingham is the Frankfurt Market, known locally as the ‘German Market’ the ‘Christmas market’ or just ‘the market’ by most of Birmingham who seem to unwilling to split hairs at that point but will delight in telling you that most of the people that work there are “Polish anyway”. The Market has been a fixture of Birmingham since 2001 and time was you couldn’t say a word against it without being labelled as a grinch the equivalent of a 60ft mecha-Scrooge with orphan-killing eye lasers. Of course I publicly coated it off every chance I could get.

But recently people have started grumbling, the odd bad sausage here, the occasional commuter gripe there. So taking advantage of Twitter’s new ‘poll’ function I asked the public.

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101 Things Brum Gave The World. No. 75: Batman

I’m the goddamn Batman
Jim Lee: All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder no.1

Jim Lee: All Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder no.1

Why claim Batman?

Birmingham isn’t short of its own, real, superheroes after all. The Statesman is a Bromsgrove bank clerk by day and at night prowls the city in mask and ever-so-slightly too tight T-shirt ready to thwart drunks and burglars. Malala Yousafzai is a symbol of peace and hope all over the world with a seeming immunity to bullets. And Birmingham’s Lunar Society were a team-up of some of the country’s greatest free thinkers, geniuses, and crusaders for equality.

So, why claim Batman?

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Danny Smith: Disappearing World

This week, Danny writes a eulogy for Birmingham’s last independent bookshop.

Some things, like grotty flats, go with a bang: a big showy controlled demolition surrounded by smug men in yellow jackets who pretend that playing with explosives doesn’t give them trouser tents. Some things, like the Central Library, go with a fight: even if all that fight actually consists of is an echo chamber of social media, people showing each other photographs of what was and what could have been. And some things, like dear Readers World, slip off in the night like a pensioner on the morphine train to oblivion: creaky middle finger raised in rigor mortis.

“THIS SHOP  IS NOW CLOSED  NOT OPEN EVER DO NOT BANG ON THE WINDOW OR DOORS”

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Deep Impact

Brum’s Twitterati have been tying themselves in a tizzy asking the question “So what the heck is an Impact Hub and why is it so epically awesome?”. Normal people probably don’t care, but might find the answers interesting anyway.

We sent Danny Smith out to get us pictures of the Spider-Man, but he came back with this.

Before Christmas a Kickstarter began and the link got passed around with some curiosity. The copy seemed to be all buzz words and no clear explanation. The question “What is an Impact Hub?” was on everybody’s lips. Not in a good way. Fans of the English language were in varying degrees bemused and angry at its obtuseness (shut up – that’s a word). This, coupled with the truly huge goal set, its relentlessly upbeat nature, and its seemingly discounting of all the hard work that already goes on in the city popping up in people’s various social media streams generated more bad feeling culminating in a few posts where this bad feeling was thrown about.

I went down to meet Immy, the author of the Kickstarter, to have a chat and look around their new space (it’s nice). Immy is small and passionate and when she gesticulates small bells tinkle from the bangles on her wrists.

Various things were said during the interview that were ‘off the record’ but none of these were to protect her or the Impact Hub, they were in general explaining when various people and organisations had screwed over her and the project as a whole.

IMMY: It’s been a real steep learning curve for us, from the moment we did go more public and found out how unprepared we were for what was going to come. There’s a portion that have been really supportive and really great but then,  psychologically you think more about the gap, about the people that are saying “what’s going on?” and I think it overtakes that. For me it’s a big learning curve because we put it out there like “wow we’ve been doing this for two years” and we were a little “wow look at the amount of talented people”.

ME: Cards on the table I was going to write a column that was a take-down of the language, which is pretty impenetrable, and also I wanted to poke fun at how excited you were at everything.


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2014 reviewed by Brummie kids

From Ebola to ISIS, 2014 has been a pretty shit year. Danny Smith is no stranger to shit years, having grown up in the 80s, so we sent him to find out what Brummie kids today made of it all. This piece was originally written for and published by Contributoria.

I grew up scared. This isn’t a ‘woe-is-me’ tale, I was a weird little kid born during the tale end of the Cold War and somehow, possibly through harrowing TV shows like Where The Wind Blows and Z for Zachariah, I absorbed the horrors of the nuclear bomb. I remember clearly looking at maps trying to work out the blast radius from the centre of the city to my house and my school. Would I be vaporized in the first detonation? Have my clothes melted to my body with thermal radiation? Or would I be forced to fight severely-mutated former friends for fetid water? Actually, I knew the last one wasn’t true – I knew I would kill myself before then. I was eight. As I said, I was a weird little kid.

But I’m not sure which is worse: gleaning what information I can by cultural osmosis, with all the myth and hearsay that involves, or having access to truly terrifying, peer reviewed, Wikipedia articles. Today we have unparalleled access to information, streams and screens spitting it right in our faces. So much, it could be argued. that its actually harder to filter the signal from the noise: leaving us information rich but data poor.

This past year has been tough for anyone who follows the news, the summer soundtrack was a percussive rhythm of images and stories of schools and hospitals being shelled into rubble in Gaza. While pop culture seems obsessed with zombie fiction and other pandemic diseasecore a genuine outbreak of an infectious disease has killed thousands of people. A whole aeroplane went missing. Read that last sentence again. that’s the year we’ve had.

My school contacts let me down but I was able to visit a scout troop in south Birmingham and ask them some questions. Scout ages are from 10 and a half to fourteen, with Explorers — a little older — there as well. The names have been changed, and picked by them. They’re disappointingly mundane considering on the same night they came up with team names for their games such as “Currybomb” “Epic Ninja Friends” and “Just Bob”. Continue reading “2014 reviewed by Brummie kids”