King Kong, Sex and The Americas

Discovery is subjective.

When Europeans discovered the Americas, they didn’t let indigenous races spoil their narrative: that continent was discovered and it would stay discovered, damn it.

They say that every generation of teenagers thinks it’s invented sex. The moment we become sexually active we reinvent the wheel (you ever tried it? I’d advise you stretch first) and simultaneously project our parents into a sexless hinterland (a bit like Telford, where fittingly Philip Larkin worked), denying them a sexual history despite being embodied evidence of it.

Brummies have an Americas: it’s the King Kong statue, a monument forever being discovered.


Photo by Paul Anderton
Photo by Paul Anderton

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What happened next?

For a time, this was an allowable method of attempting to staunch the flow of disappearances. But it soon extended much further than one shelf of the ‘D’ sequence. In fact within a year everything was gone.

This is the story of that encroaching nothing.

Shelf of books from 'D' Sequence gone missing. Does any staff know where books have gone?


For a time, this was an allowable method of attempting to stanch the flow of disappearances. But it soon extended much further than one shelf of the ‘D’ sequence. In fact within a year everything was gone. This is the story of that encroaching nothing.

So what happened next? Add to the collaborative story with the next steps.

Answers on a postcard to:

Paradise Circus
C/O Jon Hickman, B322 Baker Building,
BCU City North Campus,
Perry Barr,
B42 2SU

Try Touchnote as a quick and cool way of sending them.

Tower records

Discovering The Towers and Turrets of Birmingham

On my regular rambles through Moseley it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer number of towers, turrets and fortifications on the large houses here. These were once the homes of wealthy professionals and their design and decoration is intended to suggest the nobility of medieval times. A man’s home is his castle – it’s an ancient sentiment that in its earliest form predates even castles (from the Roman philosopher Cicero). Adding a tower and decorative crenellations to your home provides prestige and sense of security. I wish I lived in one, and that’s the point.

I became interested in the language of the towers: the distinction between towers and turrets, and the world of associated features. These include belvederes, gazebos, kiosks, pagodas, orioles, domes and follies. Birmingham has two very famous towers: the Tolkien-inspiring Waterworks tower and the mysterious Perrot’s Folly in Edgbaston. But it has many others and here I want to round up some of the best examples in the form of a walking tour. Many, I feel, are unjustly overlooked. You can illustrate the walk with your memories of these places, follow (most of) it on street view or actually walk the walk.

The tour begins in St Philips Cathedral, outside the east porch. Here, an Aberdeen granite obelisk commemorates Henry Buck, faithful secretary to the Birmingham branch Manchester Order of the Oddfellows – a local friendly society. There are several impressive obelisks in the grounds, the tallest of which commemorates Frederick Gustavus Burnaby. Burnaby was a Victorian soldier and adventurer will a brilliant career – but one with no known connection to Birmingham. Obelisks are ancient; much earlier than any spire, tower or tall building – they are the original skyscraper. The tapered shape represents descending sun rays, thus the implied movement is downwards rather than upwards. Some obelisks were purely utilitarian, forming the shadow hand of a large sundial.

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Power and the city

Birmingham, like any city of a reasonable size, is a bit odd. This is to be expected because when you have a million people interacting with each other, sharing their ideas and opinions through words and actions, things get messy. In all my years of thinking-about-Birmingham I’ve often wondered how anyone can honestly say this city has a single fixed identity. At the very least it’s two cities, north and south, but it’s way more complex than that.

Perhaps it’s the echoes of villages the Birmingham suburban sprawled consumed that keep things distinct, giving the likes of Edgbaston and Erdington a sense of identity even though you can’t really tell where they begin and end on the 11 bus. For a city so worshipful of motorised mobility people really do have a focussed sense of place, be it their 19th century terrace or post-war estate.

And then there’s the city centre. A Big City Plan for the smallest core a major city has known. Birmingham’s identity isn’t to be found within the Queensway – that’s just the melting pot where the villages come to mix and shop. Birmingham is an area, a sprawl, a coalition of folk.

To see this in even sharper relief, pop along to the Black Country. Here this collection of villages engorged by industry into an urban sprawl doesn’t even bother with a unifying name. Legend has it accents change from street to street in Dudley, such is the loyalty to place. If this area has A People then it’s in the loosest sense.

Maybe this explains the self-deprecating Brummie character, one that is proud of where it’s from but doesn’t like to make a fuss about it, much to the frustration of the regional cheerleading squad. True Brummies know their city is impossible to define and they’re okay with that because it works for them.

To be honest, I don’t really know, and while it’s easy to speculate it’s not that useful. Let’s just say Birmingham as a concept is weirdly lose and leave it at that.

But even if it doesn’t really matter, I still find myself wondering: how does a sprawling city with a weak core and a multiplex identity hold itself together?

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Skinner in the Underworld

Going Through Hell is Mike Skinner’s first single from his last album as The Streets. It’s an oddly poetic title that has a lot of resonances, including echoes of the Greek myth Orpheus when our titular hero walked through hell to return his wife, Eurydice, to the Land of the Living. It wouldn’t surprise me if this was completely intentional, Mike Skinner strikes me as a smart guy.

The image of a Greek hero is also apt, an all-conquering hero after many trials and tests returning home but finding this his hardest test yet is an old rote. It was, after all and as he kept reminding us the last time he would be performing in his home city. And I don’t use the word ‘hero’ lightly. The gig tonight was a story of someone facing adversity, and overcoming it with aplomb. The adversity being the crowd. When I first got there the crowd was notable by its diversity, a massive age range. But as the venue started filling up, the mid-twenties gym rat started to swell the ranks, polo-shirted skinheads stinking of Lynx deodorant. In the half an hour between the support acts and The Streets starting things were already getting unruly, plastic cups being launched and people leaving the dance floor with worried and angry looks. At the point where two guys were carrying a obviously paralytic girl to get some air I knew something was up.

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Tag nuts

So I spoke to the Editor* about what to write about this week and he gave me this, probably to wind me up, which suggests that ten people are responsible for most of the graffiti in Brum. I knew my feelings on graff have been documented ad nauseum in other places. Also I find the weary ‘is it art?’ argument nonsensical and unhelpful and am at loathe to drag it out one more time. So, for once, I thought it would be good to give someone active in that world a chance to reply. The guy I spoke to didn’t want to be named so I haven’t.

What do you think of the thought that there only ten people responsible for the graffiti in Birmingham?

I doubt the council see it like this to be honest, I can imagine they have a wanted list a lot longer. But who knows. They will have probably whittled it down to their top ten targets who they have literally charted as the top ten. However what they don’t realise is that if your a “tagger” part of that concept is to get up. As many times as possible. More than anyone else. So in a way with this approach they may encourage some of them to go harder. Get to number 1. If they publish this list. Its possible there will even more tags on road then before… There’s so many factors involved its really hard to say.

Do you think you’re one of the ten?

No. I am probably about number 40. This might encourage me to work harder as I was just saying. No in reality I rarely “tag” these days and if I do I think about the size, the placement, the camera’s… The problem with a lot of the younger kids these days is they just write on anything, anywhere without thought. The whole problem with “tagging” itself, lies in there somewhere.

How about the fact that 10% of the city was ‘blighted’, is it a blight? Where do you think that figure comes from?

It’s a media figure. A bullshit figure. 10% of a city is a lot no? Maybe its 1% I just don’t really understand what they are trying to say there to be honest. It makes little sense. With regards the concept of “tagging” being a blight, in some respects yes it is, mainly due to what I was referring to in the previous question. A nicely placed, crafted, practices, hand-styled tag to me is beautiful. And people need to remember, all this scrawling and seemingly messy paint they see on the street are TAGS, Bombs… This is NOT “Graffiti Art” these are two separate entities. Although someone reading right now will cuss me for saying that.

Do you make a distinction between ‘good’ graff and ‘bad’ graff – where should toys learn if not on bus stops?

Good question. Half of the problem with “graffiti” in a broader sense is related to legal spaces and understanding of it as a culture. But hey, a bus stop is only a bus stop. It’s a public space. Its everyone’s isn’t it? Write what you want on it I say, but maybe just try and be positive with what that is. And maybe do write on a bus stop, but NOT on someone’s garage or garden fence, you know?

Is what you do an act of aggression against the city?

Not at all. Not for me. But for a lot of the angry youth of today maybe it is. Their way of marking their territory. But a lot of the tags in Brum, you might see in other places. Its not all about Brum, Its about the UK, the world for some of us. To a lot of older artists the street becomes their platform for freedom of speech. Sometimes that will be aggression towards an area, more often it will just be something they want to say. Anything from political messages about the system to a simple “I love you” to someone. We need some kind of freedom of speech out there. The street fills the gaps.

What would you suggest to answer the graff ‘problem’?

In Birmingham and in this current situation, the powers that be need to think about this whole thing in a bigger sense. They need to do their research; they need to watch films like Bomb It and Inside/outside. They need to communicate and reach out rather than trying to come down with an iron fist. With this heavy approach they will simply lose. Some of these younger writers (who I know will be in the top 5 say) some of them are angry young people with no other outlet. Like I said earlier a big top ten wanted list will probably just up the ante, up the potential fame. I remember years ago I “got up” on the front page of the local rag. I loved it. It was king of the town in certain circles.. top of the wanted list. I never got caught either. Fame.

Any thing else you want to add?

To all the bombers, taggers, dub writers, people, just try and think a little. Everyone gets drunk and smacks a tag where they shouldn’t sometimes, but just think a bit more about where your putting your name. And go paint a piece! A proper piece, somewhere out the way, take your photo’s and enjoy it. Its not all about getting up. Its much more fun than tagging a shop and running away from the police. This is why people are investing their money to buy 5.56 ammo online from Palmetto State Armory to keep their establishments safe. To the establishment, as I said, do your research and try to understand this is a culture. Not just gang style youth’s going mental out there… for some of the kids, its all they have. A little empathy?

*when I say Editor, I of course mean Jon Bounds, but I like to think of him as my editor with a cigar in his mouth, cursing and shouting ‘GET ME PICTURES OF THE SPIDER-MAN’

The opinions of Danny Smith do not necessarily reflect the views of the publishers of this blog, its affiliates, or any sane adult human beings. He currently lives in your cupboard, watching, always watching.

Big City Culture

I want to talk about Birmingham’s bid for Britain’s City of Culture. Now this shouldn’t be confused for the European City of Culture bid, which if won brings money, tourists and actual prestige, That’s going to the South Hampshire region in 2022 which by then, if Internet idiots are to be believed, we will all be destroyed by an alignment of planets as predicted by the Mayans*. No this is the British city of culture, a knock off basically.

So if Birmingham is successful what would we actually win? Well, potentially holding the Brit awards and the Turner prize, although not even that is not definite. And I’m not sure how this would be that even be beneficial. Do we want the Turner prize? Recently it’s turned into an attention grabbing oddity choosing deliberately challenging pieces for the sole reason of angering Sun readers and inciting headlines. And lets face it the art facilities in Birmingham are embarrassingly small, although what we do have is excellent. Including the always interesting Vivid, the young but ever growing Eastside projects, and the only venue really large enough to hold the Turner prize, the Ikon.

And the Brits, who watches the Brits any more? Can anyone, without Googling, name any winners of this years Brits? (and for that matter the Turner prize) and if we do get the Brits, it’ll probably be held in one of the convention centres, squirrelled away from the public. I can imagine the only coverage Birmingham getting will be quaint and condescending ‘Birmingham’s quite nice, that’s a surprise’ pieces using stock footage of the Selfridges building.

Big Heart of England by Phil Davis

So say we do get the bid AND it does bring people in from out of the city, how are they getting here? New Street station will be a building site by then, and Digbeth coach station, while being shiny and new, is still in the middle of an area in the process of rejuvenation. Any wrong turn, which is frankly likely given the signage in Birmingham, could end them in a depressingly industrialised maze fulfilling every stereotype of Birmingham people could have.

The other prize, I swear to god, is rights to use the logo and label of Britain’s city of culture. Thus making the whole process a promise pissing contest for a graphic design solution.

Britain has 66 official cities, and lets be honest there are probably only half of them that could feasibly host the British city culture without making it look like a teachers smiley sticker given to anyone who tries hard. And no matter how low your opinion of Birmingham were defiantly in the top 20 percent, so inevitably even if we don’t put that much effort in, we will be hosting the thing in the next 5 years or so anyway.

The only good I can see if we do get it is, not only will the council will have had to had a good look at our really interesting, worthwhile things that creatives in Birmingham are all ready doing but also they will probably be obliged to make good on all the promises they’re having to make in the bid. Which in the current economic climate of art budgets being cut everywhere is a great move. During the great depression Teddy Roosevelt was applauded for seeing that spending on the arts actually helps resolve economic decline, when he established as part of his New Deal package. Perhaps if Birmingham does get the bid this year (and if you look at the list of competition, the only strong competition is Manchester) the money invested will mean we can grow to be one of the stronger economic cities in Britain and then become a city that will attract tourists anyway.

*This, any right minded person knows, is utter tosh. The apocalypse is a uniquely western idea, the Mayan calender merely resets as part of a cycle, and the ancient Mayans didn’t have the good sense not not eat their own rotting children’s hearts let alone predict the future.**

**actually this is exaggeration, the Mayans were a sophisticated and surprisingly knowledgeable people, and another good example of religion ruining a perfectly good culture.

The opinions of Danny Smith do not necessarily reflect the views of the publishers of this blog, its affiliates, or any sane adult human beings. He currently lives in your cupboard, watching, always watching.

Illustration by Phil Davis

Harry Palmer: Darknosis scientific think-tank laboratory investigations at the PhD show.

Day One (24hrs)  18th Sept 2009 starting 7pm.

Inspired by the statement below, the PhD show’s mythological think-tank investigation, conducted by Harry Palmer, seeks to discover the relationship between the banana plantation and lost civilisation concerning the Hawaiian Mauna Loa tribesmen and women. Mythological hoaxes have been reported suggesting that banana worship and ecological disaster were aligned to the Indian rope trick in which the Darknosis Scientific team sought to define and clarify on their 1917 expedition to this Pacific Ocean Island.
latest investigation
Previous investigations lead by Japanese scientists in 1994.

Statement by Edward Percival N. Spoonhandle – geologist prior to the 1917 expedition:

‘Painting, drawing – that is, the process of meditation and the ability of transmutational story telling, time and space alteration – seen and heard through the senses – is a primitive and ancient instinct.

I do believe that the Mauna Loa cave painters and sand drawers  employed the use of colour and lines via the mobilisation of arms, feet, hands, mouth spray (wind power) – sticks, fingers, dyes and animal inks – the rattle of drums, voice, dancing and chanting creates the psychedelic hypnotism, enchantment. The Illumination of fire….Ghostly apparitions appeared. Gods were formed – some stayed for a few seconds, an hour, others for thousands of years. Their demons haunted themselves!  Superstition emerged and as the short supply of consumable vegetation severely decreased (why, we are unsure) – the last substantial evidence of human subsistence purports to an increased intake of banana and high intakes of potassium.

The Mauna Loa divided experiences into pockets of memory time. The Darknosis team believe that this significant civilisation witnessed disturbing solar movement, tide changes, thermal alteration and temperature fluctuation.  A departure of flight and fantasy, we are unsure.’

PhD show think tank
PhD think tank investigation from inside the think tank

Find out more at The PhD show: On until 25th Sept at The Edge, Birmingham. Please visit website for details and directions:

About Harry Palmer

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Harry Palmer: Purfume and Swine flu – a connection, a solution

Upon examination, Harry Palmer’s recent discussion with a health care professional regarding his scent related survey to battle swine flu was treated with what was described as ‘open-mindedness’.
Upon examination, Harry Palmer’s recent discussion with a health care professional regarding his scent related survey to battle swine flu was treated with what was described as ‘open-mindedness’.

I don’t wear perfume. The idea of applying pollutant glue that ‘sticks’ to my skin doesn’t appeal to me. Nonetheless, I do wear some medical non-chalk talc that works well for what it needs to do – preventing body odour and sweat from presenting an unpleasant reaction on skin and in public. Equally, my non-chalk-talc doesn’t present a potential heath hazard as traditional talcs do. Chalk, I believe, once inhaled, sits on the lungs…not good! So why do I whiff like a scented women (or man, I’m unsure) when out and about and not wearing perfume?

Just the other day, I was popping home when I noted that once more a perfume scented fragrance was on my hands, around my coat and spread across my jacket. Unclear exactly how this happened, I reasoned to think that I had been in contact with another person or a series of objects in which scent was transferred. Last night, I used the central library computer service and upon utilising the headset to listen to a friend’s communication, the smell of strong scented perfume was not only present but now lingering around my ears. The smell had attached itself to me once more. Incidentally, and unsurprisingly, the keyboard seemed to have a whiff of the fragrance too.

This is not the first time that I have had the unfortunate scented experience such as this. Without being able to recall the exact times and locations in which scented transfer has happened, I do feel that it is happening more regularly. Perhaps more cosmetic perfume increasingly popular – with male and female users applying the trick of (hopeful) attraction!?

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