We all know that Birmingham isn’t shit. We’ve spent nearly 20 years telling people, showing the world, and often undermining our case. We lay out the ineffable reasons why we say ‘Birmingham: it’s not shit’ and attempt to eff it.
We’ve compiled 50 of the biggest things, places, people and feelings that delight us about the second city. Jon Bounds, Jon Hickman and Danny Smith will take you down Dale End and up The Ackers. If you want to find out more about Aston Villa’s sarcastic advertising hoarding, the Camp Hill Flyover, or even come with us on a journey up the M6 and find out why all of our hearts leap when we see Fort Dunlop, then come, meet us at the ramp.
Birmingham: It’s Not Shit — 50 Things That Delight About Brum
I’m not going to argue that the German Market isn’t shit. Its shiteness is self-evident and widely talked about. It’s easy to slag it off, so first I will. There are crowds of people with no idea how to act or move in crowds. There’s the eye-damage from stray umbrella spokes. And there’s overpriced tat and foul tasting sweets sold from the same five or six stalls repeated over and over again. Over and over again like a twisted parody of the shops in your pisshole suburb’s high street. The high street that you’ve just come from on a bus that manages to be both clammy with condensation and uncomfortably full of coat. To drink, there’s headache beer and migraine wine liberally over-served to once-a-year drinkers. The weather is almost consistently a mixture of sleet and hail, so perfectly calibrated for its bleakness it’s enough to make you believe in an intelligent creator; and that he hates us.
For the longest time, people loved the German Market. To all Brummies it’s ‘The German Market’ no matter how hard the PR hacks push its real name, or how large they print the words on the banner. People would meet after work, parents would bring their kids, and hating it became akin to labeling yourself Scrooge McBastard and filming yourself buggering an elf on a shelf. But hate it I did. It’s unfair to label me a contrarian because that would imply some reactionary element, I’m not a contrarian, I’m just a weirdo.
But the German Market lost its shine. The prices, that were always a little high, carried on inflating while peoples’ wages were stretched a little further. Its popularity grew but the infrastructure to support it lagged. The local shops came to resent the two full months of having a carnival full of office drunks on their doorstep, and there’s only so many wooden croaking frogs you can buy your other half for Christmas before they start pissing in your morning coffee.
Birmingham’s new motto seems to be ‘fuck it, put up a statute’. The latest is Tat Vision’s immortalisation of the ‘Four Lads in Jeans’ outside All Bar One. Tim Mobbs is ready to defend it with his life and discovers a new awful discourse at Grand Central.
At the dawn of the 2010’s, I was in my early twenties and knocking out 80,000 word dissertations and contributing bits of writing towards various music publications on the internet. Even back then, over a decade ago I knew that the idea of pursuing journalism, or indeed writing longform in exchange for money, was about as far-fetched as becoming a pop star. Like the music industry, it was obvious that the trade (or at least the idea of it being an accessible career path) was dying, if not dead already.
Even after the Brexit referendum, when half of the population seemingly snorted cocaine off of a toilet in Wetherspoons and the other half smoked the kind of weed that makes you think writing “cockwomble!” on a protest banner is both hilarious and worthwhile activism, writing about anything seemed futile. Everything was too nuanced, people’s attention spans were too short and nothing seemed like it was worth fighting for. That was until I saw local artist Tat Vision’s statue, Four Lads in Jeans, unveiled at Grand Central. Or, more accurately, when I saw the online response to it.
The Paradise Circus view on the legacy of the Commonwealth Games.
Adrian Chiles does not miss when he (often) praises Birmingham for not being boastful. Stephen Knight and all the other creative collaborators around the Commonwealth Games resisted the call to bang drums and blow trumpets while shouting loudly and removing bushels. Instead they just sort of got on with it, and produced something very special. Continue reading “Pulling our legacy: and being not shit”
Birmingham has gone bull crazy during the Commonwealth Games, as well as rhythmic gymnastics crazy and admitting Birmingham is OK crazy. These are all good things, but why is our latest bull the first to really represent something about us, and what next?
“It’s been years since there was any bull baiting here… colourful markets remain.” says Kojak in the 1981 short film Telly Savalas Looks at Birmingham. At the time he was talking about the ‘old’ 60s Bull Ring. Not the old, old, one. He was talking about the concrete walkways and sidings, the bridge next to the island by the Rotunda, the one featuring the lost nine-tonne bull sculptures cast by Trewin Copplestone. The ones that many a kid thought looked like dinosaurs.
We love to send Danny Smith into the heart of the action. The big heart , obviously. But this time he’s sent himself. Here are some direct live What’s Apps from up town, where he’s now wrangling kids for the day job.
[9:02 am, 29/07/2022] Danny Smith: Being in town is weird, uncomfortable… This is exactly how I felt when Diana died… Everybody caring so much and me not giving a solitary shit… Civic pride is odd, what have we actually got to be proud of? The same bars and restaurants as every other major city… Highest portion of kids on free school meals (Northfield)… Knife violence… Homelessness… University’s that have essential priced out local students and now are funded by foreign students? I’m tired of celebrating how mediocre we are… Great things happen in Birmingham despite of the city and these should be celebrated like any flower that can grow between the cracks in concrete.
What can we expect of Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games opening ceremony? Sir Albert Bore on an open topped 11A? Roy Wood riding Brum the little car? Not wanting to spoil the surprise but we’ve got a leaked email from the artistic team…
We fancied getting a real insider’s view of the Commonwealth Games, so we suggested our Contributing Editor get in there. After failing to qualify for anything he had to get a day job, and then not give it up.
Elmore Leonard once advised that you should start a book by describing the weather, but fuck him, I’ll start what I want any which way I want. The weather Friday was grey, not necessarily overcast, not not anything, a void of a day, rain that was that spiteful invisible mist I’ve only ever experienced in Birmingham. I literally woke up screaming the night before but despite all that I was feeling good.
The city centre these days seems smaller, blander. More like a place that people seem to be traveling through rather than arriving. Maybe there is less in it now that I want to see, or maybe the chain stores and brands just get folded on top of each other in my head to save space. There’s a lot of building work finished or in the process of finishing, between the paving slabs you can still see the sand that escaped the appetencies’ broom. It all has the furtive hurried air of someone who’s changed the sheets in case the date goes well.
The library opens earlier but at ten minutes to eleven there is a smatter of people waiting for the upper levels to open, there is a standing flag for the Jobs Fair with a man in a suit directing people. I’m here mostly because the Jon’s banged their fists on the desk and demanded “get me Commonwealth content”, but it was also suggested I go at the last appointment at the jobcentre. As I’m early I head on down to the “Book Browse” and, well, browse the books. Come eleven, I’m directed to the elevators, I head up the escalators, the man in the suit stops me
Giant monsters are always analogies. Godzilla, in early incarnations at least, is agreed to be a 30 storeys high metaphor for Japan’s terror of the atomic age. Not just the destruction it could cause, but the ineffable effects of nature itself.
When King Kong first appeared in 1933 the story was worked on by Edgar Wallace, a writer who as a reporter had covered the Second Boer War and the atrocities committed by Belgium in the Congo. A liberal (capital L too, he stood for David Lloyd George’s party for parliament), he would have thought hard about the fear of Africa engendered in the European white working class. A fear that built the idea of racial differences in order to excuse the slavery and colonialization.
That othering would be crucial to ‘jungle pictures’ of the sort that were popular when RKO made the first Kong film, cinema providing new ways to exploit any cultural fears to make a buck. They did as much to promote the trope of the Great White Hunter as turn of the century literature had done, and the wildness those hunters faced would — perhaps subconsciously — reflect a fear of reprisals for the treatment of Africa.
Meanings evolve: Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla film seems less nuclear-scare than to reflect American nervousness in the face of increasing episodes of seemingly random terrorism — such as the Centennial Olympic Park pipe bomb a few years earlier — which conventional forces could not contain. Peter Jackson’s Kong is more about how much Peter Jackson loves the process of filmmaking that anything to do with monkeys, like much of his output.
But Kong had already had a re-invention: in Birmingham. In 1972 the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation commissioned the statue to sit in Manzoni Gardens. (Yes, it was cigarette marketing all along. But more darkly the company was named after Peter Stuyvesant, the last Dutch director-general of the colony of New Netherland, their colony on the east of the USA.) Nicolas Monro was one of the few pop artists working in sculpture, so taking the brief to make something ‘city orientated’ he chose King Kong because of its association with New York City and, he said, “for my own petty reasons”.