A hundred thousand tables

This guy only needs to get up there to ask for an exchange on a shirt from Ciro Citterio.

 

A hundred (or more) tables but I’m not hungry.

How hungry can one town be? How much lunch can one town eat?

But here they are and here they eat. Here where the echo of a phone shop rings. Here, where the escalators drew you up into the Aladdin’s Cave of Sports Direct. Now: above us only sky; domes and light — but in the light the spectre.

Pallasades.

This space is still anchored in its past. I can see it as through Google Glass: ghosts of shops — shops we never loved, not really. Enough remains (the ramp, Tesco, the Bullring link) to place me in space/time. For now though there is lunch.

I am not hungry. Why am I not hungry? Because the shops are not the ghosts. I am the ghost. I am the past. This map is only mine. At Foot Locker, turn left. Vision Express where I first became blind (or rather, had my failing eye sight certified). And on. Nickelby’s. As a Birmingham ingénue, an England ingénue in fact, I bought some terrible clothes there. Just beyond, they had Internet once. An internet café where (I think) my wife sent a reply to the email that sparked our marriage, sparked my life.

I am a ghost. Ghosts do not eat.

But Grand Central lives. Grand Central eats.

Birmingham: let’s do lunch.

Green eggs and Birming-ham

Yeah I’ve been here a while. And now I’ve got kids: brummie kids. And so I guess that makes me a brummie dad.

I was so proud the first time my eldest counted to FOIVE. Just the other day I took the kids to Sutton Park and they wanted a game of HOIDE and seek.

But it’s not all fun being a brummie dad. The other night I was reading the boys a bedtime story. It was an old favourite by Dr Seuss, but it came out all wrong:

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8 Brummie games that changed the UK home computer scene

The Commodore Amiga is 30 years old today but while journalists line up to rain plaudits down on this iconic machine the most important part of the story of the Amiga — and all the other classic ‘80s and ‘90s home computer systems — has been lost. We’re talking of course of the role of Birmingham in some of the most important computer games, ever. Read through any top 10 list of computer games during the 8 and 16 bit eras and you’ll find Brum’s fingerprints all over it. Are we talking about hot development houses, based out of tastefully restored Digbeth workshops? No. Are we talking about corporate giants, with satellite offices in a prestigious business park in Bickenhill? No. And anyway, being that near to the airport means they’re in Solihull.

No. We’re talking about the shit tonne of licensing and admin running out of Perry Barr. Yep, Perry Barr is where all your electric dreams were builded.

US Gold were based in Holford Industrial Estate in Perry Barr, former home to the Kynoch Works, and they were responsible for bringing games from American developers such as Capcom into your UK bedroom. These were the unsung heroes who checked all the orders, who filed the paperwork, and possibly moved inventory around, we don’t know. Their work put the power in your hands — the power to save princesses, drive cars, or fight your way to the top. Here’s our rundown on the best computer game admin done by Birmingham temps:

Out Run

Out Run, Amiga version. Tyres from BTMR, Tyres R Us, Brookvale Trading Estate
Out Run, Amiga version. Tyres from Tyres R Us, Brookvale Trading Estate

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101 Things Birmingham Gave The World. No. 76: The hollow promises, lies, and shattered dreams of fame and stardom

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Yesterday I was happy to play

For a penny or two a song

Till a fellah in a black sedan

Took a shine to my one-man-band

He said, “We got plans for you, you’d never dream”

You’re a Star, Carl Wayne’s theme song for Birmingham-based television talent show New Faces, tells the story of art constrained by commerce, of authentic culture packaged by a star system. The narrator finds success of a sort, measured in his new possessions and receives acclaim from all around but his song is a confidence trick. The only positive emotion he has is in the first line, and is already linked to the past: “Yesterday I was happy to play”.

Musically too this is dour stuff, its leaden rhythm is hidden by a sing-along hook in the chorus. This is a cathartic song. Such melancholia makes You’re a Star a strange anthem for a show like New Faces that fetishises stardom, a show whose very MacGuffin is the pursuit of fame. Yet this is perhaps the greatest trick of stardom, that it hides its shame in plain sight. Indeed New Faces‘ great rival, Opportunity Knocks, achieved much the same feat of doublethink with Kiki Dee’s Star, which camouflages the lines “They can build you up / And they can break you down / With just the right words” behind the jauntiness in an almost Smithsian way.

Now you’ll be forgiven for thinking I’m about to claim that Birmingham invented Saturday night television (it played a hand in that, of course). Possibly you suspect I’m going to say that New Faces, filmed firstly at the ATV Centre off Broad Street and then latterly at the Birmingham Hippodrome, was the first television talent show and therefore the precursor of the blockbuster global formats X-Factor, Pop Idol and, er, Fame Academy. Sadly not: Opportunity Knocks predates New Faces by many years.

Perhaps you think I will make the case for Birmingham inventing the light entertainment public vote, which is so ubiquitous in the modern talent show era? To be honest we bodged that one. The theatre audience at New Faces could vote live via push buttons wired to Marti Caine’s ‘Spaghetti Junction’ scoreboard but the rest of us at home had to write in on a postcard to place our vote. Uncle Bob and his Opportunity Knocks lot responded to the postcard innovation with a telephone vote meaning that the London show could give results on the night while here in Birmingham we had to wait a week for the postal votes to be collated. In any case, these are all petty side issues compared to the real issue at hand: how Birmingham invented the whole sham that is fame itself.

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101 Things Birmingham Gave The World. No. 73: Running a marathon

Batman at the London Marathon

In 2015 running is a spectacle and it’s a big business. The Great North Run and the London Marathon are sporting mega-events: televised and commodified, they’re about much more than running. They’re about cities, landmarks, tourism, charity, personal achievements, narratives and mythology. Ultimately they are about ways of constructing those things for us and about controlling the meaning of them.

The London Marathon constructs achievement in a particular way: completing the distance of the run, attaining the sponsorship required if you are taking a charity place, and then performing all of this in a specific place in the service both of an officially sanctioned view of London and of a corporate sponsor. Looked at through my cynical eyes, runners in the London Marathon are extras in the service of this year’s sponsor (currently Virgin Money) and of the Mayor of London because the most significant and persistent symbols we see in the televised coverage of the race are the sponsor’s logo and the landscape of the city: the runners are just a device that drives the story, and that provide a frame for the more important messages of our sponsors.

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Wondering stars

In an old episode of BBC science programme The Infinite Monkey Cage the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson described how as a young boy growing up in New York City he never saw the stars in the night sky; in a city, when you look up you just see more city. When he eventually saw the wonder of the stars it was in the New York planetarium. That was where he found his love of science, and that was how his life’s work in cosmology began.

Tyson is quite the poetic scientist, and I found his story captivating. The city exists, he seems to suggest, only between its highest penthouses and the ground below them — all the sky above is lost.

Of course New York is a very different cityscape to Birmingham, but there’s something in what he tells us about wonder, about knowledge and enquiry, that is relevant to us.

Our skyline thrusts ever upwards, fuelled by the speculative construction of inner city apartments. Meanwhile the social housing of the past is being brought back to the ground. The clear message here is that the vista of the city is a reward for success, in the starkest capitalist terms. This tells us that only winners are now allowed to look down upon the mighty work of Birmingham. Perhaps they are able to see the sky from up there too. Perhaps they can wonder at the wandering stars; for them they are reserved.

What Birmingham lacks in height it makes up for in light. The modern city, even a modestly risen one like ours, still beats back at the night sky with a haze of halogen. Part of the deal with cities is that, though they may rob you of nature’s riches, they give back to you what you need for an enriched life. They do this through civic works, as New York did for Tyson when it gave him the wonder of stars through the planetarium.

In BMAG today they exhibit a model of one of many master plans for what is now Centenary Square. The classical architecture of Baskerville House and the Hall of Memory are mirrored by sympathetically designed buildings. The Hall of Memory’s twin is a planetarium. In that square today you will find the new Library of Birmingham.

A library, like a planetarium, is a place of wonders, a place to enrich our lives and light the sparks of promise in us all. A library can unlock the mysteries of the sky above us, too.

The deal is the city takes the natural world from us but gives it back to us in some way so we too can wander through it and wonder; the building itself isn’t the wondrous thing.

The library at night is lit up like a galaxy of the stars it obliterates from view. Tonight perhaps it’s lit in a regal purple? Look upon it and despair and wonder what’s inside.

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.

train

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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Outfoxed

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.

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