Danny Smith: Non-essential

Something something largest unsafe reopening of a Primark in Europe. We sent Danny Smith to die for capitalism. 

Her voice is mournful, an acapella lament closer to a wail than a dirge. I don’t speak the language but it vibrates with loss and a pleading sorrow. The lady has lines on her face chiseled in by the pain in her voice. She’s wearing a hijab and blue nitrile gloves. Another glove is stretched over the McDonald’s cup she is collecting money in. The cup sits in front of the empty crate she is sitting on, head back to allow the long notes of fragile misery to escape her body.

Opposite the queue for Poundland trails down the street in impossible perspective like an Escher print.

During the last three months I think we’ve all had the fantasy of when lockdown ends, a shared utopian vision of happiness in the streets, greeting our neighbours and strangers with warm hugs and handshakes. Sunlit pub gardens full of smiles, and cider with ice in.
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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 and constantly dipping into her favorite delta 9 gummies stash. 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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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.

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Danny Smith: Danny does Digbeth

We normally use this intro to set up the article, to tell you why Danny is writing about what he’s writing about, but this time he raises the curtain on that himself. What we can do is say that even if you don’t find the idea of Birmingham raising its profile in the pornography-making world palatable, it’s a growth content industry and Brum becoming a hub for it is still ten times more likely than Andy Street persuading Channel 4 to do anything but tell him to go fuck himself.

Danny’s heart’s in the right place, even if that’s the last time in this article that a body part is correctly situated.

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.

The thing about editors and sub editors is that they can’t resist a good pun and practically demand a well placed innuendo. It’s also worth noting that a it’s a weakness of mine that I like to occasionally give them one. The other profession that loves a good pun is pornographers with titles like Hard Brexxxit, Shaving Ryan’s Privates and Mike Whitby: Second Largest in Europe. I’m sure you’ve got your favourites.

WARNING: this column contains RUDE things and descriptions of willies going in and out of vaginas (amongst other places) if that sort of thing puts you off your seventh helping of leftover turkey, don’t read it, or do, I don’t care honestly.

With these two facts in mind it was no surprise that when I saw the news ‘story’ from Birmingham Live that a porn film had been shot in the problematically-named ‘Ghetto Golf’ in Digbeth, that it wouldn’t be long before my editors wanted in on that action.

Sure enough, in came the What’s App messages.

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Danny Smith: Shiny cappy people

At Paradise Circus we try our hardest to compete for web clicks, and we’ve noticed that glowing reviews of bars in the city centre must go down well considering how many the Evening Mail publish online. What time and when did we send Danny Smith to get all ‘wow Brum’ at a boozer? Erm, we’ll tell you after these messages.

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.

There is certain received wisdom in the pub industry, ways of doing things that can’t be deviated from. Edicts not learnt from working behind the bars, on doors, or in cellars every night, but from spreadsheets, focus groups, and uninspired middle management types. These are things that a successful pub must do to survive. Chiselled into laminated handbooks and handed down from on high to chain pubs up and down the country. They are:

Thou Shalt Always Serve Food – the gross profit on food is normally a huge amount more than can be made on drinks alone (unless you’re stinging people on cocktails but that scam is for another column). Also if someone orders food their stay is going to be a lot longer, which means more drinks sold. The bar is already classed as a food preparation area the same as any kitchen so serving food needs to be so the paperwork is already done.

Thou Shalt Always Cater To Families – families are money walking through the door. Drinks, particularly the huge mark up on kids drinks, more food, and the fact that larger family groups are an incredible pain to move once settled which means they stay for hours. Families bring in the cash, so the regulars are being told not to shout “oi cuntychops” across the pub, or spend time grumbling at the sheer affront of not being able to use the play equipment naked for a dare*. Regulars buy the cheapest beer and haggle over the price of peanuts like it was a market in Marrakesh, they do not bring the cash.

Thou Shalt Always Have Wifi – how else can you attract the panini-buying, expensive coffee drinking ‘digital nomad’ type without guaranteeing friction-less internet access?

“But won’t this turn all pubs into coffee house bland, cream wallpaper, bore holes with identical menus, music, and zero atmosphere?” I hear you ask, and you’re right it can, will, and has. Gentrification of our culture is inevitable when profit is our only goal.

“Is there a point to all of this one that preferably relates to Birmingham and has either a bad pun underpinning it or finishes on a dick joke?” I hear my editors ask, and yes, in a bit, leave me alone.

You can imagine how warming it was to my anarchist cockles when walking across town I saw a five foot A-board announcing:

“NO KIDS
NO WIFI
NO FOOD
Just Good Quality BEER!”

Why does a board outside a pub need its address on?

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Danny Smith: The seven wonders of Birmingham Christmas

Christmas comes but once a year, apart from for Roy Wood, who must have a terrible time getting his bins collected. Like everyone else in Brum, are we right, we’re here all week. Try the rotting fish in the black bag on the street corner. Anyway, Christmas, web clicks, we asked Danny to riff…

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.

Birmingham changes over Christmas. The wolf of capitalism takes a long German shit right in the middle of its chest, and it’s filled with day drinkers, night shoppers, and a huge homeless population seemingly invisible to the other people. For a sensory seeking freakman like me it’s a wonderland of lights, smells, noises and human drama, but for others it’s a scary wall of people, muggers, confusion, and overload.

Since getting back I’m still not entirely sure of the bus routes and times, luckily West Midlands travelXbus has an app now. Let me just check it.

That’s cleared that up.

If you do make it into town here are the seven must sees. (Yes, I’ve written a listicle. Shut up. Your face is out of ideas.)
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Danny Smith: The A38 killed my dog

Like a bad penny, licked and then pushed quickly into a chip shop slot machine, Danny Smith returns to Birmingham. Delighted to have him back, we wanted him to stay in Northfield, its streets his alma mater and tell us all about it. The first thing he did was get the bus out.

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.

Vigor is a classic range of wool rich moquette fabrics providing comfort, appearance and durability developed to meet the specific requirements of the bus & coach interiors market

I’m on a bus in Northfield, it’s Saturday: so it’s full, and only getting fuller. Only the people getting on seem to confused by the whole bus business and are approaching it with the time consuming trepidation of first-time flyers on a steampunk zeppelin. The bus is waiting for an usually long time.

Luckily buses now have TV monitors and cameras so, if you do get mugged, you get to take home the footage. CCTV just blurry enough for it to be of no use, apart from to bring back the lovely traumatic memories, like photos of a ride at Drayton Manor.
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Subterranean, homesick, Blues (although we don’t think he goes down much)

We sent Danny Smith down the re-opened Costermongers, Brum’s finest underground alternative drinking hole near a market, because he was going anyway. 

The weather today isn’t really weather just an unremarkable middle ground between everything. Spring is the ultimate liminal season. Probably best to put your head down and plough through till summer.

I’m in Birmingham and my feet have already began taking me to Costers, like there are ruts in the road. No conscious decision, like the newly reopened pub is the bottom of a steep hill.

The door is ajar and a sign proclaims “WE ARE OPEN!” as if the sign itself can’t believe it either. But the dark dark staircase still leads to the dark dark door and behind the dark dark door is two people behind the same old bar. A six foot viking type a couple of stone away from being intimidating and a vaguely familiar girl with a slightly grown out undercut and a comfortable hoodie. The guy had definitely spent more time on his look today. They continue their conversation somewhat performatively and I oblige them with a tip of the tongue blank the viking was having. (‘Westlife’ btw). They hand me Export I have no recollection of ordering, and in fact distinctly remember vowing never to drink it ever again. Time will make a liar of us all.

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#Savetheflapper save our souls

“I curse any nights sleep in these flats to be ruined by the ghosts of a thousand lost nights of noise and lights and friends.”

The beautiful darkness inside the Flapper captured on a bright day.

Either you die a mouthy prick who gets barred for throwing the garden furniture into the canal, or you live long enough to see your city turn into a nameless suburb of Blandtopia. I’m drinking in the Flapper steeling myself for another bitter goodbye.

Me and the flapper have history, serious history. I remember being ten on a school trip to the canals in Birmingham. As a class we walked past and I remember the yellow building with arcade games in the window (it was a Firkin pub back then). I asked my teacher, Mr Goode, if we could go in and he just laughed. Possibly because even back then he could see the type of person I’d become. I remember because it was the only thing that day that I saw that I gave even half a shit about. Honestly, when it comes to the canals in town, it still is.

As a late teenager it was always a straight choice between Exposure and the Foundry then after, Eddies or XL’s. But on sunny days. No question, The Flapper. One of your mate’s shitty bands playing? The Flapper. Getting ID’d everywhere? The Flapper will definitely serve you.

But it’s going. It’ll go down swinging. But it’s going. BCC owns the freehold so could still block it but Birmingham city, partly through lack of funding, but mostly due its own incompetence, is skint. Birmingham City Council is a beaten dog with no master, cowering at anyone wielding a big enough moneystick. So poor it had to reach into its chest and pull out its very heart and sell it to developers for pennies. I’ll never forgive them for the loss of Central Library. And if they can’t see the value of a world famous historically significant and loved landmark, what chance does a pub the arse end of town stand? It’s worth fighting though. Sign the petition, show your support. Even if it is to show the developer wrong who said “All those people who come to defend that pub are like someone who’s got an old banger parked outside their house, and starts screaming when it gets keyed”.

The developers, Whitehorse Estates Ltd, claim the resulting block of flats will be addressing the badly needed housing shortage by offering two bedroom apartments for “young families and first time buyers” but similar properties in the area go for around 200k. I’m wondering who these first time buyers are. Maybe they’re the ‘london professionals’ we hear about in that article that the broadsheets write now and again. My favourite quote in the above linked article is from the developers describing a three metre wall as a “forgotten space” and a “den of iniquity of drugs and prostitution”. A three metre wall.

He also downplays its musical significance, but how many small venues are there left in Birmingham city centre? Two? Three? You don’t get big bands without small bands, and you don’t get small bands if there’s nowhere to play. Here’s the thing – when you chase all the artists, weirdos, musicians, punks, freaks, goths, and kids away they don’t come back. And all the vibrancy and excitement that drew people here in the first place disappears with them. Then the city becomes a Wetherspoons version of a city, sure it has all the features of the thing it’s replacing and certainly isn’t short of people there pretending it is, but the atmosphere will only ever swing between boredom to desperation and nobody will ever be proud of being there.

The Flapper is worth saving. I’ll say that again. THE FLAPPER IS WORTH SAVING. Every time I come back to Birmingham it’s a little more sterile. Another ‘flagship’ store has opened and another place with character, history, or heart has gone. Culture grows in the cracks and soon they’ll be nowhere left. Birmingham will be just another theme park to Mammon, a heartless temple of glass and brushed aluminium indistinguishable from the next city.

So fuck you Capitalism, double fuck you the cowards at Birmingham City Council, and triple fuck you Whitehorse Estates Ltd.

I fucking curse this ground. I curse any ‘cheeky’ glass of wine on your balconies to taste of cheap beer left in the sun. I curse any nights sleep to be ruined by the ghosts of a thousand lost nights of noise and lights and friends. And I curse your view never to be as beautiful as a summer afternoon with friends in the sun but only of a bland sprawling metropolis of cookie cutter developments occupied by wankers.

And people of Birmingham now more than ever we’re standing in front of a tidal wave of conformity and indifference. Keep being weird, keep being kind, and keep being you.

#savetheflapper

Goodbye Pavilions*

Really, nobody gives a fuck. Today it’s a empty space, a ghost town, but has it really been anything more? Does anybody have any fond memories of the place? Devoid of shops you can see the artless early nineties post-modern design, which looks a lot like the pastel flourishes of late eighties blandness. Even the Evening Mail’s frothing gang of wow merchants can’t summon the energy to care in this hilariously empty “news” article.

Six years ago I’m at a public exhibition speaking to an Argent representative about the redevelopment of the Central Library, they’re pretty vague but they’re talking about turning the whole area into their other achievement Brindleyplace and the Gas St Basin. I swear for a little bit, and leave.

Recently it’s been used as a shortcut to the bus stops opposite Moor St and a place for the bus drivers to eat their lunch. My fondest memory was an art installation that used some of the empty units a few years ago. Culture in the gaps.

past times

My good friend wrote “Capitalism disappoints” and stripped of the shops the Pavilions echos with emptiness and exposes this disappointment. Places like this aren’t built for anyone to like they’re built so not to offend, mixed use developments and the such are tin crowns waiting for the cubic zirconia of retail ”experiences”. And they’re spreading. Costume jewellery for a beauty contest where we aspire for second place.

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