Welcome to Freedonia

Mask on, gloves off. As covid restrictions drop, and we head into ‘normal’ (whatever that is), we wanted to see if normal was, normal. We sent our ‘normal’ correspondent Danny Smith to see if the pubs are on track, or lost without trace.  We did not pay him billions of pounds. 

In the 1933 film Duck Soup an incompetent huckster becomes leader of a tiny country through borrowed wealth and inherited money and proceeds to bumble it into war and potential ruin.

Why mention that? 

No reason.

Welcome to ‘Freedom Day’ where the only thing stopping you acting exactly how you want is common decency, and to paraphrase Voltaire – common decency ain’t that common. 

a pub door with two posters 'Long Live Local' and 'We're Closed'
Long Live The Local

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I Don’t Want to Go to the Taj Mahal

Charlie Hill’s I Don’t Want to Go to the Taj Mahal is a book about  work, identity, sex, politics, drugs, homelessness and dissolution,  but we feel it’s mostly about Birmingham at the end of the twentieth century. Enjoy this exclusive excerpt, and then go get more.

Working in a Victorian factory in Digbeth that made pelmets and curtain accessories, I bet every day with poor Irishmen in Bartletts bookies. During my first shift, I noticed a strong smell of almonds so I asked the gaffer, a bull of a man with mildewed suit cuffs and dried egg yolk on his tie, what it was. He pointed to two enormous open vats in the middle of the floor and said “those are cyanide baths”, and I heard them hissing. 

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Brummie of the Year 2021: Nigel “Ian Buckells” Boyle

For many of our 18 years we have asked and answered the question: who is the most quintessential brummie of the moment. As we celebrate the moment of our 18th birthday, it’s time once again to crown a new champion for our city.

We didn’t announce a Brummie of the year in 2020 because… Covid, I guess. Shall we say it was Covid? It was Covid. But the thing is, The Brummie of the Year, the award itself, was always there waiting patiently… much like this year’s winner. Step forward (fourth) man of the hour, Nigel Boyle, aka Ian Buckells off of the very brummie telly bollocks Line of Duty.

Brummie of the Year 2021 Nigel Boyle as Ian Buckells in Line of Duty

He was there in 2020, when you were so busy looking for toilet roll you didn’t stop to ask “who is the best of us?”. 

He was there in 2019 when you thought we’d forgotten about this feature but we said it was Stephen Duffy

You didn’t see him much between that and Kevin McCloud’s controversial crowning in 2015 but he was there somewhere,—probably playing golf. How about back in 2005 when we gave it to a Red Panda? He was around, serving beer to underage kids in The Inbetweeners.

So why Nigel Boyle? And why now?

Nigel is as brummie as they come, that’s a given, but here’s the sizzle reel for how he embodies brummie ambition and attitude as it is today in 2021:

  • His signature character, Ian Buckells, never blew his own trumpet. He just quietly got on with being a bit crap until he was in charge of… well everything. The OCG. Major police investigations. All of it, and he always looked a little worried about it all and like he hoped you’d fuck off and leave him alone a bit. That’s hardcore brummie posturing.
  • Buckells turned out to be the final boss in long running police procedural The Line of Duty, which is Birmingham to its core. Crimes in the first series took place on our estates and in the old Aston fire station—and the original AC12 mezzanine leans were near the escalator that goes both ways in Millennium Point.
  • For extra brummie points, the show moved production for its later seasons (following the public money trail that had probably brought it here in the first place). How brummie is that?
  • Despite being filmed in Belfast, the reality of the show remained in a sort of Birmingham of the imagination (you can still maps of Sutton Coldfield Constituency, where someone got merced in season 1, hanging on the investigation wall right at the end)
  • Nigel, who was born in Moseley, trained at Birmingham School of Acting (now part of Birmingham Conservatoire) and is so proud of his city right now
  • As far as we can tell, Nigel has buggered off to London. 100 Brummie points, our kid.

So that’s why it should be Nigel. As to why it should be now…we’ve got a book to sell, to be honest, and we needed your attention for 5 minutes.

You can back Birmingham it’s not Shit: The Book on Kickstarter today.

This is Bollocks. Total bastard bollocks

Is this controversial? Maybe. Is it satisfying? If it’s not then you’ve not really been paying attention. Ian Buckells is the best of us, in a lot of ways, and Nigel Boyle is Ian Buckells, Fourth Man, H, and Brummie of the Year. Definately.

Cheers, Nigel.

Nigel as the barman in The Inbetweeners

Paradise Circus Live – full live show

Like an old Monty Python cash-in LP: for lockdown listening the full live show the Paradise Circus troupe did at the mac a little while back. 90 mins of hyperlocal satire now available to listen to in your home.

If you enjoy it, please bung a little something to Brum Baby Bank. Oh, and you can buy our book, which has more of (in some cases exactly) the same.

Paradise Circus Live is old fashioned revue with a local twist – a host of satirical sketches, stand-up, songs, games and monologues. Jon Bounds and Jon Hickman bring a version of their popular Birmingham miscellany, Paradise Circus, to the stage with biting satire of the media and Birmingham itself — all refracted through a thick lens of Marxist critical theory. It’s funnier than it sounds. Hickman is not from round these parts and Bounds will take him through what it really means to understand Birmingham.

Learn just how to be a local Breakfast Show DJ, what happens at a Birmingham City Council meeting about promoting the latest Big Plan, and how to write a broadsheet article about Birmingham in an editorial meeting down in that London. Help us to find King Kong, discover who won the 1972 Snooker World Championship (which was played 60ft underneath the BT Tower) and work out how much the Council has paid to Capita during a stirring rendition of Mr Blue Sky.

Mark Steadman is at the piano with comedy songs like his famous 11 Bus song which mentions all of the 280 stops in order (11A of course). We may even end on some ELOke.

Paradise Circus Live may finally prove that Birmingham is not shit, or die on stage trying.

Listen now:

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Boris Johnson’s Christmas Carol

Thatcher was dead: to begin with. There could be no doubt about that. Johnson had been to the funeral himself, sat near Osborne who was failing to hold back the tears. She was as dead as a doornail. Or less metaphorically, the 96 football fans who her government smeared and denied justice after Hillsborough.

It was a cold afternoon in early December, and after cancelling another interview, Johnson was heading home for an evening with a good Russian vodka given to him by a close friend. The knocker on the door of Johnson’s temporary accommodation seemed to form a face, the digits 1 and 0 became a winking eye and a nose that seemed to follow the average wage down a graph. And was what was once a letterbox a handbag?

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Deep Impact?

We last visited Digbeth’s Impact Hub as it launched a few years ago when hardly anyone knew what it was, and those that had a little bit of a handle thought the claims being made for it were outlandish and dismissive of the existing spaces and activists in Birmingham. Despite that – and may be very much because of that ambition – it has grown into a space that is one of the building blocks of what might be termed a revival of Brum’s thinking social-conscious. And now it’s gone. 

Danny Smith went back to talk to driving-force Immy Kaur to find out what’s next and talked to her for a long time…

I arrive a little early and Immy is having lunch with a bunch of people at a big table near the kitchen area. Even while eating she is talking about the breakdown of the site, I get the impression that she never really stops. The people around the table all are unconsciously deferring to her, and I mention it although I know she’ll hate me for noticing.

Last time we talked I mentioned the bells she wears on a bangle around her wrist, I notice she’s wearing them today too. She must be both busy and stressed. The Impact Hub has been running for five years and has now been hit with a huge bill to vacate the premises they spent a fortune turning into the friendly industrial space it is today.

Did you wear the bells especially?

No, someone tweeted at me the other day – in response to your blog post – that they hadn’t heard them on me for a few weeks. Because I’ve been running into work everyday. When I run they bang on my arm and hurt me so I’ve been taking them off, and I got my running bag and took them out and put them back on.

 

So, Impact Hub: why is it closing?

Two main reasons: one is that it’s getting too expensive in Digbeth… 

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Eye-opener – leaked email reveals the code behind New St advertising screens

Big brother, is watching you apparently. We’re all scared of the Bladerunner-ish techno future where the big screens outside New Street station target you personally with adverts that you ignore on the way to get a train. But how do they actually work? This leaked email from one of Birmingham’s many top PR/social media/smart city conglomerates could reveal all… 

To Andy Street
From: Andre.De.Jong@zaphiks.in

Re: Code

Hey Andy,

How’s the shop doing? Nearly time for one of those adverts with the anthropomorphism, eh?  It gets earlier every year. Or are you in charge of the buses and sorting out the ever increasing homelessness problem on the streets now? I forget. And you do too, also. 

Anyway, I know it’s a bit late but, I’ve finally finished the code that makes the eye screens around the shopping centre on top of New Street Station check the crowds and respond with appropriate advertisements. Glad we kept the PR about them vague, but assuming that the tech to actually detect faces hundreds of yards away and check their sex and age and that exists and is plugged in, this should work. 

It’s a Beta or maybe earlier than that, Feta or something.  Continue reading "Eye-opener – leaked email reveals the code behind New St advertising screens"

Wow Brum! 48 Hours in the Jihadi Capital of Britain

For many years England’s second city has been seen as a cultural backwater, but following significant inward investment it has over the last decade been quietly changing for the better. It is the youngest city in Europe, it boasts a burgeoning foodie scene, a world class shopping experience, and was recently hailed by BBC Radio 4 as ‘The Jihadi Capital of Britain’. We sent Florrie Canaffordan-Internship for a weekend in ‘Brum’ to see what the city has to offer, bab.


I must admit I had my reservations about this assignment, but we journalists must always go where the story is! A little research ahead of my trip quickly convinced me however that Brum is – whisper it! – literally so super hot right now. Here is the story of my weekend in the second city, as told through the regurgitated clickbait listicle format. Enjoy, and don’t forget to click on the ads!

Getting There

Birmingham is a little over 100 miles north of London and is also easily accessible from most other major UK cities. Initially I had planned to jump in the MG and take the M40 through the family seat in Oxfordshire, but groovy new local by-laws instigated by Brum’s City elders have recently banned women from driving. So I hopped on the Chiltern Trains service for a very reasonable £20 return (plus another £20 for my chaperone, of course!)

Where To Stay

Brum has a range of hotels to suit any taste and budget, but if you’re willing to spend some time and effort on the encrypted Dark Web ahead of your visit, you can find some amazing best-kept-secrets at real bargain prices. We opted for a boutique Terrorist Cell located on the Hagley Road, just a mile from the city centre.

Canal Trip

A little-known fact is that Brum boasts more canals than Venice! Regular boat trips will provide you with tours around this engineering marvel of the Industrial Revolution. Friendly guides provide running commentaries about a different kind of revolution, pointing out buildings that line the route which are occupied by Imperialist aggressors such as Price WaterHouse Coopers and Deutsche Bank. The guides are incredibly knowledgeable and are able to point out significant security weaknesses in each building, which made for an informative and fun way to spend the afternoon.

Drinking

In need of refreshment following the boat trip, we headed for The Victoria on John Bright Street. This is a charming city centre hostelry that serves the local theatre crowd from the Alexandra, just across the street. The current production there is a newly-adapted version of Rent, in which homosexuals are publically flogged before going to hell. Tickets are hard to come by, but you may rub bloody shoulders with the cast in between performances. The interior of the pub itself has recently been renovated to it’s original Victorian splendour and has for the last 6 months refused to serve alcohol. Try the artisan peanuts!

Eating

The Ultimate Burka Bar just off Broad Street serves fantastic home-cooked food in a thrilling atmosphere, as the restaurant runs daily Open Mic nights for Hate Preachers. The staff all get in on the act, too, and dress in hilarious traditional English attire. Our waiter’s costume was that of a disgruntled EDL protester, complete with seven empty cans of Stella Artois trailing in his wake. It was all just so authentic and gave a real taste of Britain’s lost identity! We opted for the house special, which came served on a genuine, reclaimed Afghani IED.

Shopping

Wickes in up-and-coming Stirchley is located 3 miles from the city centre along the Pershore Road, easily accessible via public transport. This place is a treasure trove and a real hidden gem. With help from the friendly staff I was able to purchase most of the components for a nail bomb at a very reasonable price (Londoners will be shocked at how far their money goes here!) Sadly Wickes did not stock the fertiliser Google said I needed, but thankfully the charming Wyevale Garden Centre just up the road in Bournville were able to help me out. Pro-Tip: Pay in cash, do NOT use your debit card.

Sight-Seeing

After picking up the fertiliser we took the opportunity for a spot of sight-seeing around leafy Bournville itself. The area is dominated by the Cadbury chocolate factory, and all the homes and gardens here are a monument to the faded and defeated power of 19th Century infidel crusaders. Utterly charming!

…and with that my weekend in Brum came to an end all too quickly. I was amazed at the vibrancy of this landlocked city Caliphate and will certainly be recommending it to my friends. All that is left to say is: Manchester, you have a lot of catching up to do, bab!


“Jihadi Capital of Britain?

On 24th March 2017 at 07:34am the BBC Radio 4, Today Programme broadcast the following

See also:

The same essay about Albert Bore every day

Duran Duran get pilloried for claiming, on their 1995 covers LP Thank You, that ambulances won’t come to their houses because they are black. But they’re right, try to dial 911 from South Birmingham of the late ‘70s: it’s unlikely that any of the emergency services will turn up.

It’s also true that if you phone the Capita-run call centre for some bin bags or to pay your council tax it’s likely you won’t get anything useful. They’re not discriminatory, just a bit crap – hamstrung by both council bureaucracy and  inertia driven by the commercial profit motive.

And while Sir Albert Bore didn’t sign the Capita contract (that was a Tory/Lib Dem joint production back in 2006), he is judged for presiding over the aimless ‘looking for it’ that followed. In an era that started to demand big personalities and decisive action, it was all too easy to assume that Sir Albert’s reticence to ‘find’ the contract was nominative determinism.

“He’s called ‘Bore’, he must be dull.”

“Solihull’s council leader is way more exciting, even if the place is cold and he’s sliding downhill.”

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