101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No. 94: The Orwellian Nightmares of the Daily Mail

Orwell House, Sutton Courtney, Oxfordshire

Eric Arthur Blair’s 1984 provides such a compelling vision of life in a totalitarian state that it has become the founding text on which fears of undemocratic control are built. Its ideas are strong and can be easily adapted to suit almost any political purpose.

The left will shuffle in their donkey jackets and point to the opprobrium hurled at immigrants or the poor, look hard, over a plate of custard creams, and cry ‘two minutes hate’ at the right wing press. Libertarians call almost any attempt to do anything ‘Big Brother’. But it’s the likes of the Daily Mail that have taken the contents of the book most to heart.

‘Orwellian’ is a phrase that the Daily Mail use a lot, there are over 30 pages of search results on their website. Its use is often combined with the word ‘nightmare’ and almost always followed by a story about how a local council or the BBC has ‘banned’ the the use of a word. Or talking about black people. Or in one ‘news story’ I came across: broccoli.

Read more ›

Tagged with: , ,

Rebound

At school, that term, or at least that week, the obsession was small rubber balls, an inch across and patterned with a muted tie-dye, with a thin piece of elastic through them which was tied to a plastic ring. The elastic stretched around – I’m now guessing – six to ten feet, the balls were very bouncy.

No-one ever took toys to school, I don’t know if they weren’t allowed, but it didn’t happen. Once a kid brought a Beano in and there was a whole line of nine year-olds sitting on the brick line at the edge between the playground and the grass looking over their shoulder. We mainly played games that involved running, in different combinations. It wasn’t until I moved from the Churchill Road ‘annex’ to the big school up the road that we played football. And even then it was football if we had a ball, football with a can, or a stone, or sometimes even just our minds. Sometimes if there was nothing round ‘stick rugby’ was the game. Stick rugby was just throwing a stick around and running into people: none of us knew the rules of rugby.

The balls, were a break with the tradition of aimless games of tig and tag, or kiss chase. They were sold in the shop at the top of the road our school was on, on the corner with Hamstead Road, a old mock-Tudor house with only the front parlour space open as a shop. Ice cream freezers outside in the summer and metallic plates advertising the Evening Mail covered in a wide mesh to hold the days headlines.

Read more ›

Tagged with:

The Wall in the Head

Christopher Bealand’s new novel is out this week, it’s ‘a black comedy about love, loss, the death of dreams, failure, bad TV, bad jokes, brutalist buildings. And Birmingham.’ And we have an extract so you can see that for yourself…

“Belinda the main, but absent, character in The Wall in the Head says she has written a book about ”love and architecture” and this too is a book about love and a book about architecture – or at least our relationships to them both. More than that it’s a book about our connections to place and people, and how they shape our feelings and actions.

“It’s a love letter to brutalist buildings and the sheer hope for humanity with which they were built, it’s a love letter to the places that are left behind by trends and culture and Birmingham as a prime example of that. It’s also a love letter to the idea of love and laughter but far more classy than those words painted onto the living room wall of your new city centre flat.

“Christopher Beanland has written an incredibly funny and moving book set in a decaying version of our past hopes, and you’d be a fool to miss it.”

Jon Bounds

Buy The Wall in the Head here.

The Wall in the Head by Chistopher Beanland – Chapter Two

I yanked the fridge door and it opened with a surprised gasp. Inside, a fragile light flickered in the dark. The fridge was empty, wiped, it stank of surgery – I’d cleared it out this morning in anticipation of my death. I didn’t want to seem like a monster – no one needs the spike of rotting food in their nostrils when they’re clearing out a dead bloke’s house.

I went upstairs to my desk, looked out of the window at the caramel street lights of Moseley, at the trees swaying back and forth in the high winds. I flicked on the computer and started writing about what I’d done tonight, but the words didn’t come easily. Words hadn’t come easily since Belinda had to ruin everything. When I could manage no more I lay down on the bed, staring at the ceiling. Sleep hadn’t come easily either, but tonight it ate me up. The duvet enveloped me; my eyelids slid shut like they were greased. I succumbed to the darkness and the solitude it promised.

*

This is a dream:

I can see. I’m part of the world I’m seeing – I’m participating, not just observing. I look down and I see hands. I twist them around, tensing and flexing. I’m alive, alright. It’s Birmingham. I’m watching a blonde-haired woman sleep. She’s lying on a bed in the middle of a roundabout overlooked by two tower blocks. It’s daytime but there’s no one else around. Just her. She’s dozing peacefully, curled into a ball, with golden locks falling across a face painted with a honey glow of serenity. I don’t think it’s Belinda. I think it’s someone else. I’m not sure. I wouldn’t put a bet on who it was – I can’t see well enough. It’s a dream; things are a bit fuzzy, misleading. It’s like watching through cataracts. I turn around and I see a new scene. A skyscraper stretching upwards into the sky like a sentinel. It’s made from concrete; its hue is deep grey, with jagged lines running up and down it, and different-sized blocks around the bottom. The Mids TV HQ. The studios and the bar at the bottom, the office tower stretching upwards. The office tower I just jumped off. Tension, fizzing, refracted sunlight, pickled emotions, streetscapes grey and green, no people, bridges red and brown, a heartbeat jumping, my heartbeat jumping. The same blonde woman is sleeping on the same bed below; she wakes and points up to the Mids TV Tower. Next scene. A thinner tower without windows – the BT Tower. The blonde woman is standing by it, wearing a knowing expression, looking a little like a witty English teacher? I turn a final time. One more scene. The same woman on a bed in the middle of an open-topped atrium space. There’s nothing surrounding us at ground level apart from twelve slender pillars. Above about the third storey there are concrete sides of a box with windows facing inwards to create a courtyard – but the roof is open and sunlight falls in like it’s being shovelled down onto us by a giant gardener. The woman wakes up, stretches her arms and sits up on the bed. She lights a fag. She turns and swings her legs down over the edge of the bed. Her face. A sudden crash-zoom in on her face. She looks at me, helplessly. She stares right into my eyes. Her mouth doesn’t move – but this sound comes out of it: ‘Donald.’ There’s a drummer in my chest, hitting so hard I can hardly concentrate.

*

Read more ›

A story of ice

Nicklin, Phyllis (1967) Tame Valley, Perry Barr Midland Counties Dairy Ltd.

The car didn’t slow down as it mounted the pavement outside the dairy, wobbling as if stepping onto the kerb without knees. It didn’t slow down as it started to envelope the lamppost, bending it slowly over as it did so. Then it did, it stopped. It was lucky for the driver that he hadn’t been going that quickly in the first place. His seatbelt held him, but at the price of a cracked collarbone and an arc of a bruise around his right eye.

It was a crisp night, around midnight, and the sparkle of the tarmac on the Aldridge Road had begun. The bus driver (a 113, returning to depot) that saw the impact assumed that the car had hit a patch of ice. He told the car driver as much when he sat him down on the empty bus, watching him shake and offering him a cigarette for his nerves. The car driver didn’t smoke, but he took one anyway. He shuddered, fag in mouth then hand, and decided that the ice was a good story, it became his story.

Read more ›

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No. 93: The Safe Hand Grenade

It’s possible, but unlikely, that when the kids of today play ‘war’ they mime sitting in command centres programming drones, or pretend to work on high-level AI routines for infiltrating ISIS on Instagram. It’s more likely that they continue to use the main two traditional imaginary weapons: guns and the hand grenade.

We could talk about Birmingham’s influence on the gun until the cows come home, but as the cows all live out in Warwickshire barn conversions we’d have to rig up some sort of notification system. So, let’s talk grenades, and in particular the famous one known as the Mills Bomb.

Read more ›

Tagged with:

Non-uniform day

School uniforms are odd, especially for teenagers. You take the group that are producing the largest smells and the greatest number of secretions and you develop a system where they wear the same clothes every day. Shirts for two days, unless you spill something, trousers all week, blazers for a least a year. Dry clean only.

But non-uniform days are worse.

As a teenager, my eyes swelled with frustration as I didn’t know what ‘Gallini’ was, nor why everyone would be wearing it tomorrow. Without the internet, and Tower Hill library was no help on this, how would I have known?

Read more ›

Out of the Woods: why Brum’s edgelands are the hottest place for new tech start-ups

As Digbeth’s Silicon Canal flows slowly to the self-operated lock of recuperation, Jeyklan Hyde investigates new disruptive businesses and collectives coming out of the edgelands of Brum. From her hub of a boutique flat-roofed pub, she meets Brumtreprenuers taking traditionally working class culture and adding that 5G spin…

Birmingham’s social media scene, oh yes, you heard of it about ten years ago, and then nothing happened. Birmingham never made the app that banged its own drum or blew its own trumpet, apart from Dion Dublin’s Digital Dube, so we just stopped paying attention. You might think it’s not worth bothering, that the gig economy here just means UB40 tribute acts earning a bit to top up their dole, but if you actually go there…well, it’s worth it, I mean if you’re there already.

“These new shops they have where people do eco shopping by buying muesli from bins: it’s very trendy and expensive now but they used to have one of those on Bearwood high street. There’s nothing new, you just have to find a way to sell it.” says Andre De Jong the CEO of TwosUP, the start-up that is promising to do for half-smoked fags what AirB’n’B did for spare rooms.

That’s not the only sharing economy success that could take the déclassé parts of our major cities by storm. Crossbar is described as ‘Uber: but for backies on your mate’s pushbike’. Drivers are rated on speed, courtesy and if their trackie bottoms are so low slung they’re likely to get caught in the chain. Fire up the app and you can see how close they are to you and which small parade of shuttered shops they’re hanging out at the front of.

And after you’ve finished a hard day sweating your assets, you need BathNite, the service that answers the fundamental question of working class Sundays: ‘The water’s still hot, want me to leave the plug in?’.

Read more ›

Tagged with:

Danny Smith: Primark and prejudice

When we heard there was a big new shop opening in town, we called Danny and asked ‘Are you free?’ He was. We can’t remember whether we sent him to a big clothes shop that used to be the Palisades, or a big clothes shop that used to be the Pavilions. Either way, we were sure he’d hate it.

Stepped on a snake and slid back down to Birmingham. Tired, grumpy, and trapped in a city I escaped two years ago. The continuing adventures of a man lost in his own city. Hoping that the next leap, is the leap home.

Two hours of sleep is the worst amount of sleep, worse than no sleep at all. It’s halfway through a sleep cycle and will leave the average people emotionally fragile, feeling like they’ve fallen up and then down a steel staircase. So I’ve had two hours of sleep and am a decidedly average person. The gig is to go to Primark, but not just any Primark but the world’s Biggest Primark opening today In Birmingham. Before that the biggest was in Manchester, but it really is ‘the world’ with stores all over Europe and — for some reason — America.

There was one in Dubai but that turned out to be fake.

I originally pitched it as a ‘spend all day doing something horrible and write about how, surprise, surprise, horrible it is’ sort of thing, but honestly that went out of the window after the third hour awake wondering about the logistics of knocking myself unconscious. At this point I’d be lucky to last half an hour before trying to start a mannequin fight club and crying over the baby’s shoes for sale, worn or not.

It’s early in the morning on a bright Thursday. Bright but the sun’s not had a chance to make a difference to temperature. Since I was a kid I’ve practiced a form of divination, a system I invented on cold spring mornings like this waiting for the bus. I would predict what kind of day it was going to be from which of the buses I caught into town. The 61 means a great day (this is the good bus because on the way home it turns on to Frankley Beeches Rd which is a slightly shorter walk to my house). The 62 is neutral (although when it became the bus I caught to work its meaning went from neutral to mildly bad). The 63 is bad mojo because that was the bus I used to catch to school and, you know, fuck school.

Twenty years later and the 62 doesn’t exist any more, but my brain still runs in those grooves. Today I have no choice but to catch the 63 which tells me one thing: and when I turn the corner and see the bus pull out from the stop and drive away I don’t know what to think.

The city centre is empty at nine not all the shops are open yet and the commuters by now have commuted. I know I’m here when I see the yellow jackets, at least three different camera crews five or six paparazzi and various other journos milling around the crowd milling around the crowd loosely penned in outside the store. Opposite the crowd is a contingent from B-side Breaking festival fronted by a hype man having medium success engaging a crowd of about 250, almost entirely made up of women wearing Mickey Mouse ears.

Read more ›

Tagged with:

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No. 92: Car Horns

Human beings are strange animals. One of our oddest traits is the belief that certain objects are made not of earthly or man-made materials, such as iron, carbon, cotton, or paper, but of fucking magic.

Some items are thought to bring us good luck, such as horseshoes, or rabbits’ feet, or particular types of coin, whilst other things, such as wood (when touched), or salt (when thrown over the shoulder), are thought to ward off bad luck. Not only that, but combinations of apparently unrelated items are either thought to bring about very, very bad luck (new shoes on the table, walking under ladders), or signs of impending very, very good luck (bird shit on the shoulder, black cats crossing your path).

Then, of course, there are the other items, such as a fridges, that are seen simply as white boxes that keep stuff cold and are not thought to contain any magic properties at all. Although, in the case of fridges, the question of whether or not the light goes off when you close the door remains a mystery.

It’s all very odd and arbitrary. But in Birmingham, as you’d expect, things are every-so-slightly different.

Whilst we Brummies might hold with some of those strange superstitions and beliefs, what sets us apart is that we also, as the accounts in this series of 101 things more than capably demonstrate, have long been in the business of creating, with our enquiring minds and ingenious hands, what others around the world perceive to be magic.

Take, for example, the Brummie engineer, Oliver Lucas: In 1910, he invented the car horn, and that is the perfect example. Here are some things it can do:

Read more ›

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No. 91: Pointless kitchen appliances

Everyone has a guilty secret tucked away in the hardest to reach cupboard of their kitchen. Is yours a donut maker, a Breville or a pasta machine? The answer will depend very much on your age, your class, and when you reached key milestones in your life course but most certainly you have them. Did you marry in the 1970s? You have a fondue kit. Were you a student in the noughties? You have a chocolate fountain. Hit 30 in the late 1990s? That sudden paunch made you invest in a smoothie maker (but didn’t make you stop to think about quite how much sugar there is in a smoothie).

Let’s go through the Kay’s catalogue of the mind and think about some of the other ridiculous single-use gadgets that have come into our homes, been unboxed, used once and then packed away to the high shelf: bread machine, cup cake maker, slow cooker, rice cooker, coffee percolator, milk frother, ice cream maker, food processor, coffee grinder, spice mill… an endless list of useless crap. Most of these things duplicate things that our main appliances already do: the cooker, the kettle, a fucking knife. We buy, we use, we realise our mistake and we swear we’ll never again be seduced by the marketing patter of ‘convenience’, the marketing patter that started here in Birmingham.

Read more ›

Tagged with:
Top