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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Number 11: satire and the skewing of the spectacle

Number 11 by Jonathan Coe is now out in paperback, like many of his works there’s Birmingham in the prose.

If you’ve watched a football match recently, you’ll have noticed that it looked not like football should: but something more pristine. Perfect grass, shining at you at the right colour,  the crowd static, the players all so universally healthy: so universally quick that the speed of the game is uniform and appears slow. Every game has the lustre of a meaningless pre-season friendly. Don’t all new bands look like bands created for a film, walking like a duck, but not quite being Chuck Berry.

Is the spectacle broken? It might be possible that the angle of incidence no longer equals the angle of reflection. It might be possible that recuperation no longer quite works in the end game of capitalism. Maybe Debord was wrong.

I tried to pin this down, find the point where the spectacle stopped working, and it might be the brief career of Jet  – a band that looked so much like Kasabian (already an indie band created for a Russell Brand romp-com)  – who had a big hit with a song that sounded exactly like Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life. Exactly like it. Lust for Life had only been a revival hit a few years previously, but Jet’s song hit the charts and no-one said anything: especially not the music press that had sped up retreading of trends as if the kids were screaming because they wanted to go faster. Rather than because they were alienated.

Like the continual racist apophasis about how we can’t talk about immigration, the bastardly now hide in plain view. Tom Lehrer said that when Kissinger won the Nobel prize ‘satire died’, but maybe it not dead but turning in on itself.

Jonathan Coe’s Number 11 presents as satire, but the majority of the content isn’t exaggerated or taken out of context: TV does lie, tax avoidance and mega-wealth are inseparable and unapologetic, £160M new libraries do reduce service due to lack of money for staff and new books.

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Signing off

Danny Smith has been writing for us, in all our forms, for as long as we can remember.  He’s a blue-haired gonzo with a habit of going misty-eyed over cute kids, and having a red mist descend when seeing how privilege fucks those same kids over. In prose he can find the mould in the corners of even the most ‘laughing with canal-side salad’ press event. So much so that we as editors have a stock response to anything we don’t want to go to: “Send Danny.” But now he’s sending himself…

CC: vexsmila
Dead to us – Image CC: vexsmila

My life seems to be a series of leaving parties, that is to say I seem to leave a lot but never really arrive anywhere. But soon I leave Birmingham, perhaps never to live here again. It’s a good ol’ city, mismanaged on the whole but full of good people, funny people, mad creative, eccentric people, people of a sharp wit but kind tongue.

I have to admit this very nearly was a wry ‘Things I WON’T Miss About Birmingham.’ But I’ve mellowed as I’ve got older. I could write that article and light my way to Brighton with the bridges I’ve burnt behind me but we all know the city’s faults and it’s not that “we don’t shout about ourselves more”. In fact some honest reviews and critique would be a cool breeze in an atmosphere of twee stifling press releases rewritten for CoolBrum™ listicles and breathless praise .

As I said I’m not here to shake any trees, just to point out some peaches.

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The football train: Villa v Chelsea, 2nd April 2016

London to Birmingham by train!

Just after 3pm today, at Aston, despondent football fans shuffled onto my train. Barely anyone spoke, or would look at one another. It was as though they’d been caught stepping out of Taboo Cinema Club by their kid’s headteacher. All that is except for two.

A beautiful couple they were, not in colours nor in football casuals but in the high end label equivalents. They looked… preppy. As my ears tuned into their talk, I picked up her Sloaney vowels, his public school consonants. Chelsea. Up for the game, now off into Bullring for a bit of shopping. Designer treats, another polo shirt perhaps? Birmingham’s a destination now, ya? Make a weekend of it. Go to the Cube. Eat some salad by the canal. Laugh.

It’s not like they expected at all — Birmingham’s changed.

Pier Review: an exclusive extract

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Longtime Paradise Circus-ers Jon Bounds and Danny Smith visited every surviving pleasure pier in England and Wales, in two weeks. And then wrote a book about it: Pier Review. Brum’s own Catherine O’Flynn says, “Humour, nostalgia and a certain landlocked romanticism run through this coastal odyssey. Pier Review is an engaging and highly revealing sideways look at Britain from the margins.” 

We say have a look yourself in our exclusive extract. Join the guys, Danny first, in Swanage:


 

Looking around Swanage town we are overwhelmed with the food choices. I suggest the Wimpy we walk past. Wimpy was the English burger bar that existed in this country before McDonald’s. I honestly thought they had all closed and can’t think of a better metaphor for a dying English culture than eating in a now nearly defunct chain hamburger shop.

‘I’m not eating in a fucking Wimpy,’ Midge says flatly. Granted, he hasn’t eaten much in the last three days and is probably
looking forward to an actual meal.

‘Come on, it’s perfect, look,’ I say, gesturing to the menu of food that all looks terrible.

‘Definitely not, no.’ Midge storms away.

Jon shrugs, his apathy for food balancing almost neatly with his love of obscure British brands.

Wimpy made it from America to England 20 years before McDonald’s and quickly spread to India, Japan, Ireland, New Zealand and South Africa. It was the only game in town as far as chain restaurants or American-style dining was concerned. From my youth I remember a mascot that consisted of a hamburger dressed as a Beefeater (and I half remember a Spectrum computer game starring the squat tower warden).

Even back then Wimpy had been erroneously marginalised as an English knock-off of McDonald’s glamorous authenticity. Since then, you still see them around the country, cowering in service stations like beaten dogs or looking confused on some backwater high street, sticking out like a pensioner wearing their slippers to the post office. The most English thing about Wimpy is not the table service that they seem to have a child-like stubbornness in keeping, but their tenacity to stick around, refusing to believe in defeat because of their once brief but almost worldwide dominance.


We head into town, make a circuit of the eateries, and choose to eat dry fish and chips. Due to some complicated system we manage to confuse the waitress enough for her to bring cans of cider we haven’t ordered. We obviously look like the cider-before-lunchtime types. We eat quietly, drinking ginger beer, aware perhaps that we’ve snagged the best table in the restaurant. There are regulars, old guys and gals on permanent vacation, or those who quickly gain a routine while on holiday, who want the table. It’s the one with the sea view. We have our heads down, writing. The table is fairly silent. I exchange a few Internet messages and think of the people I’m missing. Of people back in Birmingham essentially. Heinz sauces will do that to me. I squeeze some red out over my chips and feel guilty.

Nothing is as English as Heinz ketchup in the sauce game, except perhaps HP. The HP bottle really is iconic – the round-cornered square, the unusual colour and the name that has nothing to do with the taste. It’s from a time before modern marketing, much like large parts of Swanage.

postcard to birmingham

I went to school within smelling distance of the HP factory in Birmingham. On a day when the wind blew from Aston Cross towards the park, you could feel the tang of molasses in your nostrils. I used to swear I could tell whether it was original, fruity or curry flavour production that day. The illuminated HP sign shone like the chip-shop equivalent of the bat signal, except this one shone across the M6 as opposed to the rooftops of Gotham City; it meant you were home. We won’t see it when we complete our trip, as it’s been taken away. The factory closed and production moved to a cheaper facility in Holland, despite Heinz saying that they’d do no such thing when they took over the local company that had been making HP sauce for decades. The demolished site is now being rebuilt as a modern factory, with the usual mixed-use plans for a hotel alongside. Like many a modern building, it seemed to go up too quickly to have a lasting impact; construction without toil seems so temporary. The HP sign is in the storage warehouse of the local museum, the brand’s association with a place now historical and intangible.


‘Jon, have you noticed we’re getting stared at?’ I say loudly,hoping the other patrons get the hint.

‘It’s probably the jacket,’ says Jon, once again referring to the thin bin-liner bomber jacket he’s wearing. Despite its complete lack of practical value he hasn’t taken it off since we left Birmingham. ‘It was designed by Paul Weller for Liam
Gallagher’s fashion label, thus making it the most mod piece of clothing ever created.’

‘Both Paul Weller and Liam Gallagher are fucking pricks, though, Jon. You’re wearing a prick’s coat.’

Jon looks hurt briefly then shrugs. Midge shoots me a look and I’m suddenly aware of the numerous pairs of eyes on me from the other people in the chippy, mostly elderly with either raised bushy eyebrows or jowl-wobbling heads. I try to look sorry but then shrug as well.


I haven’t bought Heinz products since that day; there’s no orchestrated campaign, I just feel uneasy. Little choices that we can all make, little remembrances of things past. Forget the fossils in the museum opposite, forget King Arthur, forget the ‘Ralph Coates museum’ that I can’t believe exists but am sure I saw a sign for. The reminders of history are all around us. And reminders of the present too. There’s a piece of Banksy graffiti near where we get back into the piermobile. The sauce signal is calling us onward.

SummerDaleCover-2

If you fancy following what happened next, Pier Review: A Road Trip in Search of the Great British Seaside is out now.

24

The Evening Mail ran an article about how to spend 24 hours in Birmingham, a few months ago. It sounded fun, so we sent Harry Vale to check out their recommendations. Eventually, after we got him to ask John Chillcot and Pete Townshend for some advice on deadlines, he submitted this. It was worth the wait, a gonzo journalist Jack Bauer, pissed off and hungry in the rain. In the meantime, the Mail took the times off the article, so he was also performing something of a public service in checking out the logistics. Thanks to everywhere he visited for looking after him.

I couldn’t wait to delve into Paradise Circus’ Scrooge McDuck-esque expenses vault and spend all their money following the Mail’s itinerary to the letter. I’d be a tourist in my own city, rediscovering the hidden gems (that haven’t been bulldozed or cordoned off), discovering other gems that weren’t hidden but I just hadn’t heard of them, and gems I’d heard were a bit shit but I’d go anyway, because the Mail told me to.

CC: Elliott Brown
CC: Elliott Brown

I picked a humid, wet day to do this, which is just how I like my 24 hour adventures to be. I nudge the missus into giving me a lift, but she rolls back over, murmuring something about a “kidney infection” (the oldest trick in the book), so I jump in a minicab and mentally calculate how much this is going to cost as we slowly slip through the Hagley Road traffic. My taxi drops me off at Broad Street and I head to Marmalade, to try their eggs Benedict. The Mail suggested I get there for 8am, but I am slightly late. Luckily, it doesn’t matter, because the Mail are stupid and the place doesn’t open until 9.30am. This has thrown my whole day out of whack, because they’re sending me to the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter at 9am.

Guess what doesn’t open at 9am? If you said the largest municipal library in Europe, you’d be right. If you also said the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, you’d also be right. Now I don’t know what I’m doing, I feel like I have to work to plan, I need to stick to the schedule. The Birmingham Mail promised me 24 hours in Birmingham and now I’m standing in the rain, confused and hungry. I head to the nearest pub, grab possibly the worst coffee in the world (it looks like the stuff that Papa Shango cursed Ultimate Warrior with) and try and work out an alternate plan.

So my new plan: go back at 9.30am, ram breakfast down my throat as fast as possible, then jump in a cab to the Jewellery Quarter. I’ll spend as much time as I can there, then bus it to the Botanical Gardens at 10.30am, my next scheduled stop.

Guess what’s not open at 10.30am?

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Hate the German market? Buy a candle and shut the fuck up

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People complaining about people complaining that Christmas gets earlier every year gets earlier every year doesn’t it? And as well they might, it seems the only thing stopping the lights going up as soon as the kids go back to school is Halloween.

One of the biggest proponents of this christmas creep in Birmingham is the Frankfurt Market, known locally as the ‘German Market’ the ‘Christmas market’ or just ‘the market’ by most of Birmingham who seem to unwilling to split hairs at that point but will delight in telling you that most of the people that work there are “Polish anyway”. The Market has been a fixture of Birmingham since 2001 and time was you couldn’t say a word against it without being labelled as a grinch the equivalent of a 60ft mecha-Scrooge with orphan-killing eye lasers. Of course I publicly coated it off every chance I could get.

But recently people have started grumbling, the odd bad sausage here, the occasional commuter gripe there. So taking advantage of Twitter’s new ‘poll’ function I asked the public.

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The scallop line: the true boundary of Greater Birmingham

It’s going to be fun to stay in the WMCA. The West Midlands Combined Authority that is. It would be called Greater Birmingham if those from the Black Country could see beyond their mounds of faggots, scratchings and closed heavy industry. Sorry to piss on their chips (we know they’d rather have mushy peas) but we’re going to call it Greater Birmingham anyway.

But a bigger problem is where it covers. At the moment it’s just a portmanteau of councils who are taken in by Tory devolution rhetoric, but there is a real Greater Birmingham and we can find it. Language and culture are more effective indicators of statehood than anything as gauche as economics, or the whims of business leaders. 

Defining the boundary of Greater Birmingham is too important to leave to our ‘betters’, who are useless (and will farm it out to Capita, who will fuck it up). The People’s’ Republic can only be defined by the people. But who are those people? Where do we draw the lines?

Paradise Circus can settle this easier, quicker and cheaper than Capita with a few simple questions about chip shop dialect. Half a million only, and we’ll chuck in a free website. 

Our methodology is that Birmingham’s influence, our Greater Birmingham orbit, extends to our shared cultural and culinary heritage: to wit. 

“Where do you get potato in batter if you ask for scallops at the chippy?”

So we asked. And amongst other things* we got this:
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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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