The Craft City Line

We’ve been out drinking for about six hours, we’ve lost a lot of people and one of us is bleeding. In a few minutes one of us is going to try to pick a row with a train driver. I am cool hunting in the suburbs of Birmingham, and it’s going poorly.


Here are two things that are hot right now: craft beer, and Birmingham.

So hot are these two things that when The Guardian ran yet another piece a piece on how Birmingham is cool now, craft beer formed a central part of its thesis:

“Two years ago, you struggled to get a pint of real ale, let alone craft beer, in most of Birmingham. Now, from Colmore Row, down John Bright Street, to Digbeth, the city centre is awash in the stuff. It’s as if a phalanx of hipsters, fleeing London’s housing market, have swept up the West Coast mainline to alight at New Street.”

Now that’s not true (we’ve had real and craft beer for at least two and a half years*) but it doesn’t mean it’s not interesting. If craft beer is a measure of how cool a place is, then just how cool is Birmingham? And what would be a fair test?

I’ve got an idea.
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Posted in culture, history, identity, place Tagged with: , , , ,

101 Things Brum Gave The World No. 69: Conference centres


Anyone who regularly travels by train between Birmingham and Coventry will know that the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) is a little like Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree. As the train pulls into Birmingham International station, every train regular is wondering, which land is at the NEC this week? If the carriage is suddenly full of perfume, giggling women and designer handbags, it’s probably the Clothes Show. If it’s wall-to-wall North Face, it’ll be a hiking event (or a Christian rock concert) and if there’s a faint pong of wet dog, you know that it’s the Liberal Democrat conference.

The NEC is the UK’s largest conference centre and it is fitting that it is in Birmingham, home to the world’s first ever purpose-built permanent exhibition hall.

Bingley Hall opened on Broad Street in 1850. Designed by local architect J. A. Chatwin, who also worked on the Houses of Parliament, Bingley Hall must have wowed the Victorian public. Its interior space stretched over an acre and a quarter and held 25,000 people in five rooms. It had ten entrance doors and had used nearly 12,000 feet of 21-inch glass in its construction. Of course, just a year later Birmingham-wannabe London launched the Great Exhibition and the rather showy Crystal Palace left Bingley Hall looking small in comparison. But, the Birmingham venue outlived its metropolitan rival by five decades, before also finally succumbing to a fire in 1984.
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Posted in 101 Things Brum Gave The World Tagged with: , ,

How Birmingham invented romance

Birmingham is the most romantic place in the world. You only have to look at the ‘love locks’ on the bridge from the back of the Mailbox to Gas Street basin to see that. They are all about permanence of affection, put there by young lovers to represent the unending commitment and ties to Capita of our city council.

Canal from Livery Street to Lancaster Street CC: Tim Ellis

Canal from Livery Street to Lancaster Street CC: Tim Ellis

Greetings cards were popularised by a man called Cole (underling to our 101 Things Birmingham Gave the World star Sir Rowland Hill, inventor of the stamp and the post) – he pioneered it with Christmas cards, but it was Valentine’s Day cards that were really to benefit from the anonymity of the postal system. So, without Birmingham you would be forced to do your wooing face-to-face with all the intendent problems that creates (for us Brummies mostly the inability to sound sincere or sexy – known as the Mark Williams effect).

So, from poetry, through lovelorn graffiti, to the thrilling heartache of the futile gesture, Birmingham is the home of romance. Here are ten romantic moments — covering every romantic trope — that wouldn’t have got out of the starting blocks without the ‘big heart of England’.

To celebrate our love for you lonely people we’ve halved the price of the eBook version of 101 Things Birmingham Gave the World until Valentine’s Day — the lucky in love can buy the paperback as a delightful gift.

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Birmingham’s Unanswered Questions, No.3: Are wheelie bins a good idea?



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AFC Cadbury’s: how we’ll save chocolate

It’s a perfect storm, and it spells doom for the old Cadbury’s but not for chocolate.

It was inevitable that “they’d” say that Brummie chocolate makers were slow and lazy and needed some shaking up, and so now they have, with Cadbury-Kraft-Monorail or whatever they’re called announcing that they’re getting rid of 200 chocolate makers from Bournville over the next two years. And they’re shoving 100,000 sheets in their pocket on the way out the door.

The day before this we found out that the bastards changed the Creme Egg recipe too, and that’s caused an almighty stink. Turns out we sold the farm and it’s all gone wrong.

Well here’s a thought. There are 200 people leaving Cadbury’s with £100k each. That’s a small battalion of Oompa Loompahs with £2million between them, turfed out onto the street right next to Stirchley, the pop-up food centre of the universe, where the rents are cheap and the confidence is high. If just one of them set up an artisan chocolatier we could be on the way to recovering our heritage. £100k must go a long way in Stirchley. This could really work. Imagine if they teamed up. Real Creme Eggs, real chocolate, owned by Brummies and nearer the pubs. I give you: The Chocolate Quarter.

Down the road in Bournville, they’ll whither on their vine, cutting corners and costs and hiding behind their brand but in Stirchley our rough diamonds will bring the romance back to Milk Tray.

AFC Cadbury: real Roy of the Rovers stuff. But with chocolate.

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101 Things Brum Gave The World No. 68: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Scrambled Creme Egg

Trap one in the gents at my work is always locked. No one ever goes in; no one ever comes out. I call it Willy Wonka’s shithouse. To myself that is – it doesn’t really come up much in conversation.

That, rather than the two films, the West End musical, or the use of ‘Oompa Loompa’ to describe the spray-tan aficionados on Broad Street, is how I know that Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is truly part of our popular consciousness.

Cadbury World, without ever explicitly saying so, plays on the ubiquitous idea of a chocolate factory being an exciting and magical place, staffed by smiling, singing and dancing workers in primary coloured uniforms. The real Cadbury workers will be in hairnets and white coats, worried for their jobs after the Kraft takeover, and unlikely to do much singing as there isn’t a pub for miles. I’ve no idea what is in Cadbury World, the attraction, but chocolate rivers and sweet-laying geese are less likely than a moth-eaten tableau of Mr Cadbury’s Parrot and some large sepia photos of Bournville looking pretty similar to how it does now.

A capitalist bait-and-switch on poor parents looking to fill the long dark half-term of the soul the place may be, but Birmingham has every right to trade on Charlie Bucket and co. For without Birmingham, there’d be no Cadbury’s and without Cadbury’s there’d be no Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in any medium.
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Posted in 101 Things Brum Gave The World Tagged with: ,


When Fox News rented a quote on ‘creeping sharia’-like issues from terrorism ‘expert’ Steven Emerson he duly provided by saying, amongst other things, that there are

actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in

Brummies, Brits and other onlookers, following the script of the Twitter-storm, kicked out against the inaccuracies in Emerson’s argument with the most visible content coalescing into the Twitter hashtag #FoxNewsFacts.

Whilst I didn’t join in it was nice to see my Twitter streams alive like this as it’s felt like a long time since my particular network had come together in play. You see I’ve felt for a long time that Twitter is different these days (that is: it’s a bit boring these days) but for a few hours last night it could have been 2009 again: Twitter could be fun again. Nobody was selling me anything or live tweeting their way through TV shows I wanted to watch later; everybody was sharing, creating, and pushing back at the folly of an auld enemy.

But then feelings of doubt came to me. My first read of #FoxNewsFacts was that a large group of Twitter users were collectively satirising Fox & Emerson for their positions. For example when I saw a tweet that recast the BT tower as a minaret I saw the writer imagining Emerson as he tries to read the cityscape by applying Islamic symbolism to all that he surveys. Many jokes and tweets used this sort of inversion: take a Birmingham idea, apply Islamic symbolism — Joke! What started to feel problematic for me is that to construct these jokes one has to reach for a bag of shorthand symbols of Islamic faith (and symbols of Birmingham too, but those are much less sensitive to deal with). As the joke stretches and the meme adapts, as imagery is taken and jokes are “done” the available stock of symbols becomes depleted. To play a hashtag game like this writers must always reach for novelty at every turn. This can lead to purpose becoming lost: the practice becomes a rush to make new jokes about faith and place, the game’s objective becomes winning the Internet, not satirising Fox & Emerson. Furthermore as Internet memes spread, and therefore adapt, new audiences and players come into contact with them and may bring new intentions. Thus you may have players with altogether different sympathies, for whom the target is to ridicule a faith  and a city rather than to satirise the inflammatory speech of the right.

Were most people angry that Fox had ignored Birmingham’s multiculturalism or were they in fact angry that their city had been categorised as non-Christian? Were people upset that Emerson had used the city to push his Islamaphobic agenda, or that he’d suggested we weren’t all white? And most of all did that hashtag game eventually fall towards racism itself, to making the symbols of one faith the butt of the joke? Did it provide an alibi for negative stereotyping?

Independent publisher Birmingham Updates scored something of a coup last night by getting Emerson to apologise for his comments. As part of this process Emerson has agreed to make a donation to the Birmingham Children’s Hospital. His apology is an interesting read: he hasn’t recanted his ways, he hasn’t apologised for Islamaphobia; he has read the tweets and apologised for what he thinks we are upset about. And it’s pretty clear to me that he thinks we’re upset at being called Muslims:

I am issuing this apology and correction for having made this comment about the beautiful city of Birmingham.

I’m pleased that Luke at Birmingham Updates got something from the guy, but it’s a shame he wasn’t pushed harder. ITV and BBC news both built a story out of the apology but added no value to it (and didn’t even give a credit to the blogger for his work). Why did those journalists not clarify what Emerson was apologising for? What, at the end of the day, does Emerson think people are upset about?

You see, Steve Emerson, I’m afraid <<Je suis Mohammed>> on this one: I’m cross at you for everything you said. Like the bit where you talk about an Islamic police force in London: I assume you mean the young men of ‘Muslim Patrol’ who went to prison after their vigilantism was spotted and dealt with under the laws of this country? It’s not about you insulting my city, it’s about the dangerous lies you pedal. Your cheque to Birmingham Children’s Hospital cannot be big enough to excuse you while you continue to operate this way (oh, and by the way it better be a really big cheque).

And as for the rest of us. I’m still not really sure what to make of what happened last night but the more I think about it the less comfortable I am. Not in a “this is political correctness gone mad” kind of way. It’s just I can’t help thinking that a lot of people rather enjoyed making the wrong sort of jokes while the cover was in place. Maybe we should all go back in our boxes, maybe we should all just start tweeting press releases again?

Posted in clickbait, comment, place Tagged with: , ,

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.


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Posted in future nostalgia, misc Tagged with:

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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15 brummies whose best work is already behind them in 2015

Babu collects the Brummie of the Year in 2005 and then stops being interesting

Babu collects the Brummie of the Year in 2005 and then stops being interesting

Everyone else is doing a ’15 for 2015′ listicle so why can’t we? Here’s the 15 best brummies who have really let themselves go.

  1. Paradise Circus
    Not funny anymore: 2014’s satirical cartoon review of the year about wheelie bins did not hit the heights of the one about wheelie bins from earlier in the year.
  1. David Harewood
    Axed from Homeland, now likes London for a living.
  1. Jasper Carrott
    Bring back that sitcom with the disabled kid, or go home, Jasper.

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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…

all of this.

Order 101 Things Birmingham Gave the World: the Book now

101 Book cover

The PC Satirical Cartoon

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

  • A cabinet meeting in the Council House – there’s a sign above the desk that tells us this. The table is filled with nondescript aging men in suits.

    We are looking over one man’s shoulder at a clipboard with a list on it in a suitable handwriting font.

    The list is headed ‘Library Partnership/Begging Shortlist’ and says:

    British Library – they don’t know who we are (crossed out)

    Genting – already have NEC Arena (crossed out)

    Central Library – turns out we had it knocked down (crossed out)

    Wickes – Plus point:: ladders? (this is also underlined in red pen)

    Doug Ellis – he does like his name on things

    Malala – you get about a million for the Nobel prize (may have spent on sweets)

    Davenports – closed?

    Cockburn’s – ??

    The caption reads ‘Any port in a storm’.

    Drawn by 

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Service Birmingham & Capita’s Auto Redacter

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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.