We feel rather sorry for Solihull. It’s much maligned as a bastion of the middle class, of “small ‘c’” conservatism, and of big ‘C’ (and big ‘U’, ‘N’ etc, am I right, kids?) Conservatism too. But more than that we feel sorry that it’s got an airport, but it has to call it “Birmingham” because essentially we’re bigger and bullied them into it. It’s not as bad as RyanAir calling it London Birmingham Airport, but we still feel bad. So here’s a solution—it should be named after a person. A person who’s from Solihull, but who people probably assume comes from Birmingham anyway: it’s the best of both worlds. But we couldn’t think of anybody really famous from Solihull, so: SLX? RHX? If you feel you would like some discussion, then here’s a video:

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A place of civilisation needs symbols, it needs to have masculine and feminine sides, it needs to be fertile to reproduce. In ancient times the mother earth was worshiped for her bounty, but the patriarchy would fight to have the phallic symbol usurp that as a symbol of fertility. In modern times the penis-like skyscraper thrusts into the air, affirming the planners’, the owners’ robust physically—whether they have it or not. London has the large, the shiny, the spiky: the shard. Birmingham under Mike Whitby planned a similarly feline penis, threateningly about to overcome the matronly Venus of Willendorf -ian form of the Selfridges building. Luckily it failed, and our symbol remained the understated but cylindrical Rotunda. But what of the Brummies of the past? How did they bring life to the settlement? With a traditional May Pole? We’re not sure, as the one above is a latter, …

South, pacific Read more »

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History has a habit of repeating itself. Patterns and ideas recur throughout civilisation not as part of a linear progression, an evolution of thought, or postmodern callbacks and pastiche – time and time again we see freestanding memes experience convergent evolution and arrive in the world fully formed, identical but without a clear connection. This process seems to lead us to the psychogeographic false friends of Watford Gap, Staffordshire and Watford Gap, Northamptonshire. We all know Watford Gap as the green line that separates North from South – not so much a boundary as a buffer, isolating London and its surrounding parishes, spa towns and dormitories, protecting them from baths instead of baths, gravy, and cakes named after towns. But the North is, of course, a many splendoured thing and some places are more northern than others. Are Midlanders northern? In the classic North / South divide sense they …

North by North West Midlands Read more »

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When Jon H went to see the sparkling new Library of Birmingham for the first time he said: Somewhere a laminator is waiting to make some signs (set in Comic Sans) to stick up around the place, to clarify functions and to formalise the new codes of the new building, the ones an architect and a designer can’t plan for. What he meant was that the true test of the building would be when people started to really use it. We’re glad to note that it’s happening (no Comic Sans just yet). Welcome to the real Birmingham, New Library, we’re happy to have you, you’re lovely.

I’ve been playing around with slit-scan photography lately and at the tail end of a long and boring coach journey I thought I’d try recording the journey into Birmingham as a slit-scan. The app I was using was limited to 2044 pixels so I couldn’t do the whole thing at once but these five pretty much cover the view from Birmingham Airport to Digbeth Coach Station. (click for full size) A bit of explanation is probably in order. The camera (in this case an iPad) is held firmly against the coach window. Any movements are those of the coach itself. It was set to take eight 1x480px photos every second and stack them in a row. So what you’re seeing is sort of like a movie, and sort of not at all like a movie. When the coach is moving quickly you see a lot of noise …

Birmingham Airport to Coach Station in pixel-width strips Read more »

We couldn’t have thought of two better people to send to the new Library of Birmingham preview tours than Ben (his take here) and Handsome Devil Danny.  Were we right? You decide… Meeting Ben for coffee in Paradise Forum before we go on a tour of the new library of Birmingham felt weird, a slight betrayal. Like going on your first date with someone new in the pub where your ex works. And looking back squinting in the sun, I swear I saw the old concrete bitch scowl at me. The small reception around the back of the library is bright and sterile, yet to be scuffed and smudged into utilitarian invisibility. The other people there have nearly all picked up their security badges, me and Ben find ours. Where other people have Radio WM or Birmingham Post printed in the space marked for ‘occupation’ ours is left blank. …

There’s more to life than books you know, but not much more Read more »

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Life in the sun just feels better. I think there is a strong case that the notion of the Judeo-Christian God always watching over us is just a bastardisation of the visceral good feeling of being in the warm summer sun. So the sun is shining and everybody in England runs outside as naked as they can get away with, to drink as much free vitamin D through their dappled, pasty, flesh as they can. And I’m alright with this. I’m outside my favourite pub in Birmingham: canal side, listening to the geese honk up to the balcony for scraps and fag butts to be thrown down, presumably to eat. This is Birmingham and finding out that our waterfowl need nicotine patches wouldn’t surprise me. I’ve always loved this place, even during the brief period when me and my friends were so barred the staff would phone …

Drink in the Sun Read more »

I didn’t really visit New Street Station very much as a kid. For a start we didn’t go into town that often, and when we did the train was very much more expensive than the bus. The buses, at least for a time, were 2p to anywhere*. There were lots of muggings on the trains in those days and they were very much grottier than the buses. I can still smell the mixture of piss and ripped seat foam that permeated the Walsall to Birmingham line. I don’t think many of my generation have ever got back into using the local trains. New Street Station became a place for longer trips—one I’d still get the bus to get to from Great Barr. The odd day trip, most memorably to an all-but closed Llandudno—”Change at Crewe” the guard bellowed as we got on the wrong train back—and then …

Waiting Room – Tips for sleeping on New Street Station Read more »

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Photo CC Ingy The Wingy With considerable local fanfare, the new New Street Station opened to the public this week. The re-development is still only at the halfway stage but the changes visible so far have already made a surprising and positive impact on the layout of the city. I experienced this first hand on Monday morning when I got off the bus in front of the old main entrance (which is now a building site), and strolled down the new walkway for a quick nose around before heading north on another bus. I expected the short walkway to deliver me inside the new station concourse, but as I neared the other end I noticed sunlight and buildings. When I eventually emerged on what I discovered to be Stephenson Street I stopped, genuinely amazed. Up until this point it had never occurred to me that the New Street …

New Street Station: Platform to the Stars Read more »

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