Do Spires Dream of Electric Sheep?

When I conjure a vision of a Victorian city in my mind I start with the sky: a blanket of smoke woven from a loom of towering brick built chimneys.

An industrial chimney is built first and foremost for a function: to carry off an exhaust gas, and to allow the intake of fresh air. Later, once you have a chimney that will do this right, you might turn your attention to adornment, to designing a chimney as an aesthetic task, and to making a statement. But then, much later, if the chimney loses its function it becomes two things: a vestige and a symbol of an industrial past. In the modern day the stacks of the industrial revolution are reduced purely to their secondary, aesthetic, function acting as iconography for industrial heritage. These are the dormant, sleeping, dreaming spires to the empty cathedrals of industry and they have no value beyond sentimentality.

And yet…

Running down the canal the other day I looked properly at one of the old chimneys just South of Spaghetti and I noticed something: the stack was crowned with phone masts. It seems obvious really: the stack affords rare height in a flat area, so of course the phone companies would want to use the redundant chimneys to house their antennae. The dreaming spires are stirring. Stopping briefly to photograph it I imagined signals pouring through those masts: photos, emails, calls all pumped high into the sky, drawing fresh bits and bytes behind them together knitting together a blanket not of smoke but of data, a digital smog from that loom of towering brick built chimneys.

Dreaming Spires

After the boys of summer

Howard Wilkinson reports on the mystery of the summer of 1983. The summer we’ll never hear about because Anna couldn’t step up to the plate.

We are always open to receiving work from new contributors, so we were very excited when Anna Weston wrote to us:

I am just emailing you with regards to an opportunity, and I was wondering whether you would accept a very high quality guest article on your website?

We sure would, Anna!

This would be written specifically for your website, and will therefore be very in line with your site.

Well that sounds OK, but tautological. We can work with you on style if you like, Anna.

You may even request a specific topic if you would like

Er, no we’d prefer you to come to us with something. We want you to actually have some interest in what we do.

that relates to my client within the travel industry.

Well this sounds odd, but we do have an idea for you Anna.

Hi Anna,

Great to hear from you, we’re all well thanks.

As you’ll know from your research, the website is an ongoing love letter to a battered city – we write, film, photograph, draw, make and record things about Birmingham. So it’s sort of heritage, culture, psychogeography, identity and the brummie race memory. With a few jokes.

We’d love something that talks about Brummies abroad, it would be really great to put together an article about brummies going to the seaside (whether in the UK or abroad). Perhaps something about popular package holidays from the 1980s or about brummies going to Butlins or Pontins? It needs to be a story set in the 80s really. The 70s at a push – that’s what our readers really love to hear about.

Can you give us 3,000 words on “A Brummie Postcard from 1983” – for Monday please (hope that suits your deadline). We might be able to get you some contributors to interview if you need them, some real brummies who really went on a holiday in 1983. They’ll probably have photos and stuff that they can use, we think that’ll work well don’t you?

Really glad we can help you out on this one, it’ll be great to work with you.



We’re buzzing about this now.

Hello Howard,

Thank you for your reply. You’re suggestion sounds interesting, however, it is not something we can provide for you unfortunately. Our articles’ are usually around 400 words, also the theme needs to be more modern. If you’d be interested to have a smaller article about Brummies abroad with some background information, I’m sure that could be doable (though not necessary for Monday as I’m still waiting to receive anchor details from my client).

Kind regards,

Anna Weston

Well, that’s a fucking disappointment.

Hi Anna,

Well, this is a bit disappointing. We’d already lined up a few people for you to talk to with some great memories: Danny has a story about Weston in 1983 that’s, well, it’s hilarious, and also young Midge has a great story about eating a paella in Marbella (can you think of anyone else who’d had one before 1983? We don’t think you can).

Are you sure you can’t work an angle on this? A then and now might be more modern. I think Midge would go to Marbella again but he’d prefer Puerto Banus.

400 words doesn’t sound like it would fill a page, we’d have to ask the web designers but I don’t think it’s big enough for the space. How about 2,500 words? Work with us here.

Howie x

We really like this change of gear. Sending Midge to Marbella would be great, such a colourful piece! And I bet it’ll be great for Anna’s SEO project.

Hello Howard,

Thank you for your reply, but I don’t think this would go well in our campaign unfortunately. I hope you all the best with finding a suitable writer for the story.

Thank you for your time.

Best wishes,

Anna Weston

I am Jack’s sense of disappointment. What does paella taste like? What happened in Weston in 1983? These are the things we yearn to know. These are the questions that will always go unanswered.


Your opinion on Birmingham’s place in the World needed

After yet another survey created to create news and prop up a failing business (this time Trinity Mirror itself) ‘slates’ Birmingham, it’s time to have a proper scientific survey that will produce proper results. So we’ve made one, please take it here:

Continue reading “Your opinion on Birmingham’s place in the World needed”

So farewell then Central Library…

 So. Farewell
Central Library

John Madin’s ziggurat
You were a huge
With books in.

But that was not
Your only purpose.

You stood for
Ambition and
Birmingham’s ideals.

But you weren’t
Or “iconic”,
So the philistines
Pulled you



E J Thribb (40 years into a 100 year lifespan)


Saturday Bridge

Just where Sandpits becomes The Parade the road becomes Saturday Bridge. In a car on the B1435 you probably wouldn’t notice it at all, so brief is the time you spend above the canal, so integrated into the road the bridge has become. From the top of a bus or the pavement you might get a glimpse of the NIA at the far end of the canal and realise that for a second you were borne over water. From beneath, on the towpath, Saturday Bridge is more evident.

Saturday Bridge
Picture CC ell-r-brown

As I run down the towpath I can see the cars fly over on Saturday Bridge and as I approach it the route is briefly slightly restricted by the bridge structure itself. Down here on the waterside, the bridge also tells me its story. A plaque on the wall says it got its name from the practice of paying boat workers at this point on the canal on Saturdays. I pause to reflect on that for a moment and I become aware that a few feet above me one can often see a queue form down Saturday Bridge, waiting for the Job Centre Plus to open up. Fate has served me up a tiny, quirky piece of irony, its own geographical comment on the post-industrial economy of Britain and Birmingham.

Now jog on.

A Bull Ring Notelet

Bull Ring notelet

My good lady Fiona was digging through the detritus of her youth and came across a heartfelt letter penned by a teenage chum. The letter was written in a notelet, a sheet of A4 paper folded to A6, with an illustration on the front. The illustration is of the old Bull Ring shopping centre, a marvel of its age, rendered in a delicate pencil. The letter would have been sent in the 80s, a couple of decades after the centre was completed, so I presume it was nabbed from the bottom of an old drawer without a second thought. It certainly didn’t relate to the prose written inside.

File next to “postcards of the Queensway“.

Heard it through the…

Brian Homer and the Central Library edition of Grapevine

Grapevine was a community newspaper established in the 1970s. Launched in Handsworth, it masqueraded as a listings magazine (to encourage readership) but was conceived as a space which could address the gap in coverage of community issues in the city. Looking back at projects like this remind us that the issues that Birmingham’s burgeoning hyperlocal scene are engaging with are not new, and that their work is part of an ongoing canon of alternative media work. It’s worth folk looking back over this history to make the links.

The team who published Grapevine went on to develop a range of other community media projects including the Handsworth Self Portrait.

Pictured is Grapevine’s Brian Homer with an edition of the magazine that highlighted the controversy around library redevelopment projects some 40 years ago – another issue which resonates within contemporary Birmingham. To read their coverage of the Birmingham Central Library, see the digitised pages in the Scribd viewer below.

Grapevine 73 by Brian Homer

The Stirrer has a time-bending review of Grapevine’s final issue if you’d like to get a sense of what the magazine was about.

Lennon’s Guide to the Mythical Fauna of the English Midlands Pt2

Part one is here.


The Wump-Tay (pronounced ‘wump-tay’) is a large, ectoplasmic spirit-form with shape-shifting powers that enable it to take the form of any object it desires, so long as it’s a noun. It can grow to the size of a double-decker bus and usually assumes the style, shape and mannerisms of a double-decker bus.

A notoriously mischievous spirit, the Wump-Tay will often lie in wait at bus stops preying on rush-hour commuters and other gullible types. Typically, a would-be passenger will glimpse the diabolical double-decker parked some distance ahead and make a frantic dash for it. The creature will watch the hapless victim approach, and—at the very last moment—slam its doors shut in the poor schmuck’s face and drive off at great speed, often without signalling. A similar tactic occurs late at night. Shrouded in mist, the Wump-Tay will slowly and seductively approach a desperate-looking soul waiting for the last bus home. As the victim clumsily fumbles for the right change, the mist will clear revealing an ominous text scrawled on the Wump-Tay’s destination blind: Sorry – Not in Service.

For a number of years the Wump-Tay was absent from Birmingham’s streets after the local council sold it for an undisclosed fee to the Toho Film Company of Japan. It went on to star in several popular monster movies of the period including Godzilla vs. Wumpt-Tay the Ghost Bus (1973) and Destroy All Buses! (1974). The Wump-Tay eventually returned to the West Midlands after being fired from the set of 1977’s Mecha-Bus vs. Omni-Bus ’77 (1977) for allegedly slamming its doors shut in the face of a studio head.

The origin of the Wump-Tay remains a mystery. One popular legend claims it was the vengeful ghost of a classic 1965 Daimler Fleetline double-decker whose life was, quite literally, cut short following a surprise altercation with a low-bridge.

Continue reading “Lennon’s Guide to the Mythical Fauna of the English Midlands Pt2”

Lennon’s Guide to the Mythical Fauna of the English Midlands Pt1

The city of Birmingham is famous throughout the world for its rich industrial heritage, its vast canal network, and its large population of supernatural creatures. The following is a brief overview of some of its more popular and enduring myths. People from Birmingham often call themselves ‘Brummies’, a word etymologists claim can be traced back to the ancient Midlands art of preserving dead bodies known as Brummification. The origin of the word ‘etymologist’ however, still remains shrouded in mystery.

The original Brummies were dead local aristocrats whose bodies were painstakingly preserved using bandages, motor oil and a secret recipe containing 11 herbs and spices. This, of course, was something only the super-rich could afford due to their innate ability to keep up with monthly repayments over several thousand years.

The practice was introduced to Birmingham by ancient Egyptian undertakers at a time when the city still had strong commercial links with the Ptolemaic dynasty. Writing in the 1st century AD, the Roman historian Tacitus described a large British settlement “some CXII miles north of Londinium, so long as you leave the M XLII at Junction VIII.” He scornfully referred to it as “The Pyramidlands” although reluctantly acknowledged that the area “had more camels than Venice.”

Birmingham’s links with ancient Egypt remain visible to this day. Many public spaces still feature ornate statues of sphinxes, obelisks and dog-headed industrialists. The area now known as the Balti Triangle, for instance, once had a third dimension and formed a massive pyramid. In Victorian times, the construction of the city’s famous canal network was only made possible thanks to a generous donation of water by the river Nile.

It was during the Victorian era that ancient Brummie remains first became a regular feature at local museums. Unfortunately, many of these exhibition pieces were accidentally brought back to life by clumsy trainee curators out to impress their bosses. These bandage-wrapped fat-cats would inevitably embark on a violent campaign of destruction, often fuelled by rage, sour grapes and a frustrated sense of entitlement. “These days just about anyone can call themselves a Brummie,” said one embittered 19th century Tutan-ka-Hooligan who preferred to remain bandaged.

It’s worth remembering, of course, that the 1867 Municipal Titles Act famously abolished the archaic property restrictions that prevented ordinary folk from calling themselves ‘Brummies’. Sadly—due to the institutionalised misogyny of the patriarchal ruling elite—the legislation forgot to include women. This situation was only partially alleviated by the 1918 repeal of the Institutionalised Misogyny Act.

A detailed account of a more contemporary resurrection rampage appears in Sarcopha Guy (Rameses House, 2004), the autobiography of revived Brummie bad-boy Ozzy Mandias. Unfortunately, the book has yet to be translated from its original hieroglyphics.

Continue reading “Lennon’s Guide to the Mythical Fauna of the English Midlands Pt1”

You can also look inside

On a clear morning you can see forever. As long as forever is the tower blocks of Perry Barr being pushed into the centre by the surrounding hills, as long as forever is the take away detritus huddling against itself and the kerbs of Broad Street, as long as forever is taken to mean Alpha Tower not angular enough against the skyline.

You can also look inside.