The Evening Mail ran an article about how to spend 24 hours in Birmingham, a few months ago. It sounded fun, so we sent Harry Vale to check out their recommendations. Eventually, after we got him to ask John Chillcot and Pete Townshend for some advice on deadlines, he submitted this. It was worth the wait, a gonzo journalist Jack Bauer, pissed off and hungry in the rain. In the meantime, the Mail took the times off the article, so he was also performing something of a public service in checking out the logistics. Thanks to everywhere he visited for looking after him.

I couldn’t wait to delve into Paradise Circus’ Scrooge McDuck-esque expenses vault and spend all their money following the Mail’s itinerary to the letter. I’d be a tourist in my own city, rediscovering the hidden gems (that haven’t been bulldozed or cordoned off), discovering other gems that weren’t hidden but I just hadn’t heard of them, and gems I’d heard were a bit shit but I’d go anyway, because the Mail told me to.

CC: Elliott Brown
CC: Elliott Brown

I picked a humid, wet day to do this, which is just how I like my 24 hour adventures to be. I nudge the missus into giving me a lift, but she rolls back over, murmuring something about a “kidney infection” (the oldest trick in the book), so I jump in a minicab and mentally calculate how much this is going to cost as we slowly slip through the Hagley Road traffic. My taxi drops me off at Broad Street and I head to Marmalade, to try their eggs Benedict. The Mail suggested I get there for 8am, but I am slightly late. Luckily, it doesn’t matter, because the Mail are stupid and the place doesn’t open until 9.30am. This has thrown my whole day out of whack, because they’re sending me to the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter at 9am.

Guess what doesn’t open at 9am? If you said the largest municipal library in Europe, you’d be right. If you also said the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, you’d also be right. Now I don’t know what I’m doing, I feel like I have to work to plan, I need to stick to the schedule. The Birmingham Mail promised me 24 hours in Birmingham and now I’m standing in the rain, confused and hungry. I head to the nearest pub, grab possibly the worst coffee in the world (it looks like the stuff that Papa Shango cursed Ultimate Warrior with) and try and work out an alternate plan.

So my new plan: go back at 9.30am, ram breakfast down my throat as fast as possible, then jump in a cab to the Jewellery Quarter. I’ll spend as much time as I can there, then bus it to the Botanical Gardens at 10.30am, my next scheduled stop.

Guess what’s not open at 10.30am?

Continue reading “24”

Review to a Kill: The Resorts World Birmingham Is Not Enough

Editor’s Note: The PR Who Loved Me.

We have rules, you have to have rules or everything falls apart. But you can bend them…

Despite our rules, we still get offers — a lot of offers: “Come to the opening of this”; “Help us celebrate that”; “Hot new band blah blah”. We normally bounce them back: “nope”; “read the manifesto”; “in the nicest possible way, please fuck off”. Sometimes we bait them for a bit, for lols, or just to prove a point. And on a few occasions we are just brutally honest “we love free lunch, and will come to your launch and eat but you are not going to get a write up out of it” (PRs normally say “fair cop, in the nicest possible way please fuck off”).

So what did we do when a PR type invited us to a ‘premiere’ of the new James Bond film at the launch of casino-hotel-shopping-thing Resorts World Birmingham?

Well, we are interested in Resorts World Birmingham because we don’t really get it and because it’s in Solihull not Birmingham. So we thought it would be fun to send our Special Features Editor. You see, when we’re offered something we don’t want to do we ask Danny. Danny said yes, but then he disappeared into the deep cover of his day job, leaving us with tickets to an event which promised the chance to rub shoulders with “important Solihull and Birmingham MPs, Dion Dublin and Jasper Carrott”.

So we thought about it again and then thought “Spectre is a spy movie. We could send someone pretending to be Danny instead” so we asked Harry Vale, who spends quite a lot of time pretending to be Danny anyway, if he’d like to go to the pictures with the tab being picked up by some venture capitalists. As he’s a good lad, he said yes.

We gave Harry a secret mission to go with his secret identity, and it was all going swimmingly… but then things got serious and the PR types offered to send a limo. This was clearly a big deal.

We were nervous but, like Bond, now too balls deep in the deception to pull out. So we decided to keep the British end up and carry this thing through. And now here is a report from the field agent, who is most definitely called Danny Smith, 0011A, license to thrill.

After pro wrestler, video game designer and astronaut, secret agent was definitely what I wanted to fail at when I grew up. Endless Bond marathons on ITV had promised exotic adventures and beautiful ladies (Danny Girls I would call them, as I am Danny Smith) all of which convinced me that spying was what I had to do.

My credentials include beating GoldenEye on the N64 on the second hardest difficulty, and managing to talk at least one woman into bed, so when Paradise Circus offered me a top secret, for my eyes only infiltration job at Resorts World Birmingham (It’s Definitely Not Solihull™), I couldn’t say no.

For Your Lies Only

The day began with J sending me my mission by email. This message will self-destruct, I was told, in a confusing mixture of spy franchise universe references. My job was to infiltrate the exclusive (Birmingham) IMAX premiere of Spectre and see what the new shopping centre was like. I donned my best and only suit, grabbed a plus one, a beautiful femme fatale (or designated driver, as she’s known in the biz) and waited for a driver to pick me up.

Would Genting – the Malaysian lads making this wonderful new addition to Birmingham’s growing range of shops and spas and casinos – send a limo, or hire a local Uber? Bit of both, it turned out. A lovely chap called Azeer showed up in a fancy Mercedes Something, which did look a bit like a car that Bond would have driven in the Dalton years. Flashy, lots of buttons, but ultimately forgettable. No ejector button or champagne, but a bottle of Nestle mineral water and free mint imperials; I was already feeling like the member of high society I was going to pretend to be.

The driver dropped us off at the parking for plebs, not the VIP parking I was promised/demanded, and I sat awkwardly as I decided whether to open the door for myself or wait for him. I decided Bond would wait. Or snap his neck and shag the nearest parking attendant with a pulse. Out of respect, I waited, awkwardly thanked him and went looking for the red carpet.

Quantum of Solihull

Resorts World Birmingham is a shopping centre (in Solihull) with some luxury extras. There’s a hotel, a spa, none of which I was allowed into or bothered to sneak into. I accidentally missed (or stealthily avoided, if you like) the red carpet and went looking for the cinema. I passed many wondrous sights, like a Next, and a Thornton’s, and a Nike shop. A shop that sold tiny red telephone boxes and post boxes. Small replicas of England that only exist in the backgrounds of Bond films and the minds of soon to be disappointed Birmingham (not Solihull, guys) tourists.

There are fancy touch screens, that are basically massive iPhones turned sideways. They didn’t work. None of them worked, but they looked cool. Empty units promised bars with a million beers from around the world, and even a future branch of The Works, in case you need to find a closing down sale whilst in between gambling and watching a film.

Genting Casino Royale With Cheese

Ah, the international casino. We were directed here after being refused entry to Cineworld because we didn’t have tickets. It’s the night of the Spectre premiere, so I was hoping this was going to be something special. Instead, it’s basically a high street bookies, but with way more machines. The clientele are slightly more higher class than the ones in your average Ladbrokes, in the sense that they’re fully dressed and aren’t shitting on the floor, but it’s not exactly Bond. Remember that scene in Casino Royale when Bond loses all the money to Le Chiffre in a tense game of Lucky Larry’s Lobstermania 2 (the best of the long-running Lucky Larry series in this spy’s opinion)? Remember when a very angry-looking, but well dressed member of security approached him and asked him to stop making a scene and if he’d consider filling out a self-exclusion form? DER NER NER NEEERRRR.

Bored croupiers desperately tried to grab my attention, but I only had coins on me, and this didn’t seem like the sort of place that had minimum bets of 5p. We finally managed to escape the grip of the flashing lights and depressing drone of the gamblers, and went to meet our Spectre contact on the red carpet. A lovely, excitable chap, who kept asking me about my blog and my work, and because I’m definitely Danny Smith, I had to talk about “my blog”, which they were very excited about (and I was happy to thank him and take credit for) and my book, Pier Review, which is a book about piers and a travelogue about childhood memories of the sea? Or something? He bought it, because I am an awesome spy.

Live and Let Dine

We got to the High Line bar, which was really nice and dark and had loud techno music, which really set the mood for an intimate, VIP Bond setting. They had an ice block with “Spectre” and “Cineworld” written on it for some reason. Attractive women with not many clothes on kept giving me wine and tiny pieces of food.

“Would you like an artisan sourdough flatbread slice with basil and crème fraîche?”


“It’s a tiny pizza.”

“Yes. Yes, I would.”

Soon I’d created a small cardboard graveyard of various miniaturised snacks. Taking them down like nameless henchmen. I headed to the bar and asked for a vodka martini, shaken not stirred, and got a laugh from the barmaid and a look that told me she’d heard that 50 times already that night and wanted to die. I felt awful and empty after that, like I’d just watched Quantum of Solace, so returned to my femme fatale. My contact showed up again, and was again lovely and laughed at all my jokes. The innate pressures of the spy business were getting to me now, I was too inexperienced, it was exactly like the bit in Casino Royale where Bond had bitten off more than he could chew and was getting his bollocks pulverised by Hannibal, but in a socially anxious sort of way in a dark room surrounded by Q-list celebrities.

I made a bad joke, that he was contractually obliged to fucking love, and escaped to the rooftop bar to get some air and check out the amazing views. If you like trees, motorways, and red neon, you’ll love Resorts World Birmingham (Because No One Knows What Solihull Is™). Unfortunately the bar wasn’t finished and was taped off, and various bits of the floor were unfinished, knackered-looking and wobbly, a bit like Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again. A tiny, shit green laser spat out the 007 logo and a gun the that looked like it was drawn by a child. Bond themes played over the roof speakers, but the crap ones, and now the celebrities started pouring in. TV’s Dion Dublin – star of Homes Under The Hammer – was there, as was Jane and the Lost City star Jasper Carrott. They really helped give the evening a shot of glamour and style that you just couldn’t attract at a non-Genting backed gala.

Spectre? I hardly touched her!

After more tiny food and free drinks, it was time for the film. Or rather, it was time for 8 people to stand in line and talk about how awesome Genting, Cineworld, Resorts World Birmingham (Because There Isn’t A Casino In The Bull Ring, Is There?™) and Hollywood blockbusters are. Everyone from Genting’s IT people to the chap who arranged the free popcorn got a namecheck and round of applause and it was at this point that I realised this was less a VIP gala event, and more a couple of celebrities who had literally nothing else to do, the lord mayor, and the employees of Genting at this thing. Sales figures for Spectre and Star Wars VII got cheers and applause. The design of the building, which honestly screams first draft, got a round of applause. It was all a bit sad, but I’m a guy writing this in his underwear, surrounded by empty crisp packets listening to Nobody Does It Better on repeat, so it’s hard to judge. Not impossible, but hard.

Bond wouldn’t be here. Bond would be at the Everyman Cinema, or the Electric Cinema, pretending to like the uncomfortable seats and tiny screens. Alas, I’m merely Danny Smith 00 agent for Paradise Circus, so I watched everyone talk about how revolutionary and beautiful the place was.

The urge to scream “THEY’RE JUST SHOPS” was pushed back down my throat by not wanting to upset Karen from marketing, who worked her arse off for this, and by the free popcorn and miniature box of Celebrations.

Spectre, then. Take the worst type of fan service-y references from Die Another Day, add a dash of Star Trek Into Darkness’s pointless attempt at a plot twist, and a sprinkling of Bond pretty much raping a grieving woman, and you’ve got a classic Bond film. Nothing made sense, the CG was shit, the main henchman was shit, Blofeld (spoilers, idiots) was shit, the theme song was shit. If you liked the old Bonds where he was basically a racist cock, you’ll love it. If you liked Casino Royale, you’ll probably hate it.

I left feeling like I should have a refund, even though I didn’t pay anything, and settled for nicking some more free popcorn, like the bit in Tomorrow Never Dies where he steals the GPS encoder, but nothing like that.

Never Say Never Again?

I don’t see the point in Resorts World Birmingham (SHOPS. CASINO. SPA. HOTEL. COME ON™), but then I don’t see the point in a lot of things this city does. If you’re ever in town and think “this is okay, but I wish this looked more like a dystopic, neon wasteland”, then Resorts World Birmingham is for you. If you wish the Pallasades was still a thing, but bigger, this is for you. It’ll create lots of jobs, I hope, and it gives the poor plebs of Solihull somewhere new to go, but otherwise it’s a bit like The World Is Not Enough. Looks fine, lots of pretty ladies, but I never want to experience it again.