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 …

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

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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.

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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 …

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

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: …

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On the last day of October 2014, as trick or treaters took to the streets of the city suburbs for Halloween-themed fun, something genuinely terrifying was in the air. It wasn’t the fact that Halloween has become, over the last few years, a poster child for the creeping Americanisation of our culture. Nor was it the fact that, just like the manner in which we’ve all apparently just rolled over and accepted that ‘High School Proms’ are now a thing, or that it’s OK for the FA Cup Final to kick off at 5.30pm, that we just don’t seem to have the energy to fight this kind of bullshit anymore. It wasn’t even that we allow the economic machine to hijack dates on our calendar as merely points at which they can market disposable plastic shite to us. Nor was it the fact that we not only …

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No. 90: Saving the world from Climate Change Read more »

They were the best days of your life, ‘they’ will tell you. ‘They’, being everyone except Bryan Adams who is definite on the point of June, July and August of 1969 being better. What ‘they’ will neglect to tell you is that those days wouldn’t be how they are without the city of Birmingham. Bryan however, never stops going on about Brum’s own postal reformer, and world cup winner, Sir Rowland Hill. You see at the age of twelve, before inventing the post and the stamp to go with it, Hill became a student-teacher in his father’s school. In 1819 he took over the school, called Hill Top, and moved it from town to establish the Hazelwood School in Edgbaston. He called it an “educational refraction of [our man] Priestley’s ideas”, and it became a model for public education for the emerging middle classes. It wanted to …

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No. 89: School Read more »

Yes, this hot take has taken two years. There’s been a lot to work out, and we’ve had our top team on it. In no way has this document been cobbled together from publicly available sources and Wikipedia the day before it was due. You see, from the moment the vote was sealed it was obvious that Birmingham was responsible for Brexit — only one of the ‘core cities’ (big ones) to vote to leave, only place idiotic enough to vote for a Tory mayor, amnesiac as to where its previous round of redevelopment came from as it sucks up to the far east for its latest batch — but there had to be something deeper. For Brexit wasn’t just the vote, it was years of confusion and ignorance, it was the death of the fourth estate as a bulwark against the stupidity of our governments, it …

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No. 88: Brexit Read more »

Jonathan Meades :: Birmingham, Heart Bypass from MeadesShrine on Vimeo. Jonathan Meades likes Birmingham. Even for a public intellectual he’s a contrary bugger. He spends the first chapter of his recent autobiography bemoaning the fact he wasn’t a good looking enough child to attract the attentions of any paedophiles. In his 1998 BBC programme Heart By-Pass: Jonathan Meades Motors Through Birmingham he fixates on Birmingham as the home of the car, the place where the first integrated garages were built. And, he says, “the first city to authorise one-way streets”. And that’s our evidence, which seems rather flimsy. Except that delving into the history of the one-way street reveals just how bad everyone else seems to have been at it. An attempt was made in 1617 to introduce one-way streets near the Thames in London, where people were no doubt told which direction to Lambeth Walk in, …

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The history of popular music is the story of youth, sex, drugs and revolution. It’s also the story of the ruthless exploitation of naïve young dreamers by savage and unscrupulous media professionals, a long process of vertical integration by global entertainment conglomerates, and the development, packaging, and marketing of products to carefully constructed and controlled sets of audiences. As Hunter S Thompson said, “the music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” Or, as Les, former bassist with the luckless band Creme Brûlée from The League of Gentleman, put it with more slightly more brevity, “it’s a shit business”. However, what people mean when they talk about ‘the Music Industry’ in these negative terms is often the large and successful parts of the recorded music …

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No. 86: Prog Rock Read more »

The amount of time that we spend airside seems to go up year by year, increasing at a faster rate than the processor power increases on new computer chips. It really needs a ‘law’ — and, considering it seems like you are stuck in a place that pretends to be holiday when it is not, maybe we can call it ‘Keith Barron’s Law’. Whilst we have the response to existential threats of terrorism to blame for this it really couldn’t have all happened without Birmingham. You see, the reason why we have to get ourselves to the airport so far in advance of our flight is so that we can be screened – for bombs, nail clippers, bottles of water and moisturiser. The fact that we are processed and dumped airside swiftly is just a happy quirk of the system that works very well for the small town …

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No. 85: Airside Shopping Read more »