Category: 101 Things Brum Gave The World

101 Things Brum Gave The World.

I’m not a psychoanalyst, but in the case of Francis Galton I’ll have a look. Grandson of Erasmus Darwin (erstwhile Lunar Society member, poet, naturalist, and inventor of the PA system), and hence cousin of Charles who was 13 years his senior, he devoted most of his life to promoting the idea that genius was hereditary. His other grandfather was Samuel ‘John; Galton, from Duddeston and also a Lunar Society member, who was a prominent Quaker and arms manufacturer who seems to have excelled in many things. Except ‘getting interesting nicknames’ and the pacifist bit of Quakerism. Francis’s dad, known as Samuel Tertius Galton, wrote papers on economics and his older brother Darwin Galton became High Sheriff of Warwickshire. Can you feel the familial pressure to succeed yet?

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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 …

101 Things Brum Gave The World. No. 73: Running a marathon Read More »

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As Philip Larkin said about sex, British satire began in the 1960s and it has never looked back. That Was The Week That Was, Beyond The Fringe, Harold Macmillan impressions and that time when the varying heights of John Cleese and the Two Ronnies taught us all about class. Life was changing: young upstarts with just a public school and Oxbridge education behind them were bravely taking on the ruling elites that they were born to join and things would never be the same again. But where would British satire be without the Cambridge University Footlights Dramatic Club, the comedy hothouse that produced Douglas Adams, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Stephen Fry and, erm, Tim Brooke-Taylor? Displaying all the quiet entitlement of a cat lounging on clean washing, Footlights alumni have inhabited every matey TV panel show and chortlesome Radio 4 smug-in for four decades. And where would …

101 Things Brum Gave The World. No. 72: British Satire Read More »

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Amid the hoo-ha around the fracas, it’s easy to overlook that the current brooha-ha is the result of Birmingham’s influence. Yes, Birmingham invented the mechanisms of modern TV, yes, Birmingham was responsible for the growth of the motor car, and yes Birmingham has made Jeremy Clarkson more upset about concrete than a patsy who’s about to take a swimming lesson from the mafia. But we have an even more direct role in the ding-dong than that, because way back in 1977, just after we invented The Star Wars, Birmingham invented Top Gear. Those clamouring for a more serious, Reithian, look at the automobile industry need only to look back at the first series: hosted by a woman — Angela ‘Short Fat Hairy Legs’ Rippon no less — it featured endless investigations into safety, re-run after re-run of colour-bleached footage of crash test dummies. The dummies drove cars, …

101 Things Brum Gave The World. No. 71: Top Gear Read More »

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Hmmm – what to read…? Celebrity cellulite hell; top-ten handbags-to-die-for; how to bake the perfect chocolate cheesecake; how to lose 15 stone in three days; how to perform the perfect blow-job; how to maintain the will to live…. Amidst today’s flim-flam of celebrity, lifestyle, fashion and beauty publications consumed by much of British womanhood, there does exist progressive, political, publishing on women and their rights: and it is Birmingham, through one of its own daughters, that can proudly take the credit. Long before there was Spare Rib (the late-lamented tribune of 1970s British second-wave feminism) there was The English Woman’s Journal (1858-1864). This pioneering periodical was co-founded by Birmingham lass (albeit quite a posh one), Bessie Rayner Parkes, who was born in the city in 1829. 
Her affluent, middle-class parents were Joseph Parkes, a solicitor of a radical political bent, and Elizabeth Rayner Priestley, granddaughter of scientist, …

101 Things Brum Gave The World. No. 70: Feminist journals Read More »

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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 …

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

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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 …

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

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The world of Roxy Music is distant and fantastic: dream homes, smoky nightclubs, crunching gravel drives. Only occasionally is it specific (Acapulco, Havana, Quaglino’s of Mayfair) but it’s always exclusive territory. By being unspecific, Roxy could be anywhere and everywhere… the point was that they were somewhere you weren’t. A decade later, Duran Duran used the same trick: pop fans were transported far from the grey lagoons of Birmingham, Leeds or Newcastle. Aged 15, I entered these Transtopias after opening the gateway of Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure LP and goggling at the gothic, befeathered form of Eno grooving with a guitar, first L-R in a five-strong line up of guitar wielding band-mates. His flamboyant costume also made an impression on the young Morrissey: catching sight of Eno’s jacket hanging from a tour bus parked behind the Manchester Apollo in 1973 brought the unattainable to the banal. …

101 Things Brum Gave The World No. 67: Roxy Music Read More »

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This is one for the guys, ladies you might want to sit down. Remember when you were learning how to ‘do a standing up wee’? The hardest thing was getting your little soldier to hit the target. Now then: what did you aim for? That’s right! There was some writing near the back of the pan. Now you probably couldn’t read at that age, but very soon you could and one day you’d be having a jimmy and you’d finally decode that writing: ’Armitage Shanks’. From that day on you’d see those letters every time you went for slash for they are the motto to which we urinate. The connection between those words and relief is so strong that I often need to stop several times to spend a penny when I drive past road signs in Staffordshire. But there wouldn’t be an Armitage Shanks to shoot …

101 Things Brum Gave The World. No. 66: Pissing Read More »

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‘Does it have a mini-mart? A small supermarket, fits inside a garage, sells antifreeze and pasties, that type of thing?’. The words of Alan Partridge back in 1997. One of the most loved traits of Partridge is his ability to highlight the absurdity of the banal. Partridge is in thrall to modernism but the modernism of the mundane is all that he can access, hence his affection for the supermarket-cum-garage. I’m Alan Partridge arrived during a tipping point for the forecourt shop. In the 1990s a petrol station with a supermarket was a sophisticated new metropolitan invention and as such it was a staple of stand up comedy routines – the gold standard being Eddie Izzard’s surreal queue of murderers waiting at the late night petrol station’s hatch to buy a Twix. Petrol dispensing was, though, still an artisanal affair in many places in 1997. For example, …

101 Things Brum Gave The World. No. 65: Little Tescos in Petrol Stations Read More »

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