The same essay about Albert Bore every day

Duran Duran get pilloried for claiming, on their 1995 covers LP Thank You, that ambulances won’t come to their houses because they are black. But they’re right, try to dial 911 from South Birmingham of the late ‘70s: it’s unlikely that any of the emergency services will turn up.

It’s also true that if you phone the Capita-run call centre for some bin bags or to pay your council tax it’s likely you won’t get anything useful. They’re not discriminatory, just a bit crap – hamstrung by both council bureaucracy and  inertia driven by the commercial profit motive.

And while Sir Albert Bore didn’t sign the Capita contract (that was a Tory/Lib Dem joint production back in 2006), he is judged for presiding over the aimless ‘looking for it’ that followed. In an era that started to demand big personalities and decisive action, it was all too easy to assume that Sir Albert’s reticence to ‘find’ the contract was nominative determinism.

“He’s called ‘Bore’, he must be dull.”

“Solihull’s council leader is way more exciting, even if the place is cold and he’s sliding downhill.”

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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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Bournville: A Star Wars Star Story

We’ve just heard that the lead in the new Star Wars film, Rogue One, is from Bournville: Felicity Jones, formerly of The Archers. So we feel we need to do some jokes, but there’s a problem: one of us has never seen Star Wars, one of us has never listened to The Archers. Here’s how we got on…

JH: Mate, the lead in the new Star Wars is from Bournville. What do we do about that?

JB: Is she?

JH: Apparently.

JB: I don’t know what she looks like.

JH: Well nobody does mate it’s another new film and we’ve only seen one trailer, today. It’s not Daisy Ridley.

JB: Isn’t she the new one?

JH: No she’s the new one from the old new film. This is a different one.

JB: Oh, right you mean the one from The Archers. Felicity Jones.

JH: I don’t know what she sounds like.

JB: Yes. I checked it now, I think it’s the same one.

JH: OK. So The Archers, that’s an angle, right?

JB: She played one of the ‘working class’ Grundys — is there anything really farmy-mucky in Star Wars?

JH: They’re all farmers mate.

JB: No they’re not, some of them run a pub.

JH: The Cantina?

JB: No the Bull

JH: What planet was that on?

JB: Huh?
So what is this film about then?

JH: It’s the set up to Star Wars. She has to find some secret documents.

JB: The fourth film?

JH: No the first one, with Mark Hamill in it.

JB: The new one?

JH: No the old one. Not the new old one, the old old one.

JB: What’s the secret document?

JH: Looks like she found the Capita contract.

Five Things Felicity Jones is Rebelling About in the Next New Star Wars Film

  1. Lack of pubs
  2. Stirchley’s border creep
  3. Dairy Milk recipe change
  4. Cross-city line delays
  5. She wants to paint her door another colour

Finally: Birmingham Mail, without the “content”

Fed up with pesky ‘news’ content spoiling your enjoyment of the adverts on your local paper website? Feel fed up no-more, with Evening Mail blocker: all the ads, all the page furniture, all the recommend articles about weightloss — but none of the ‘local news’. Save MBs of download time!

Heavyweight pages from the Birmingham Mail

Simon Howes recently posted the above picture online — it’s a demonstration of the page load from the Birmingham Mail under two sets of conditions. First we see the hard work needed for your computer to load as it should — with all links to external click bait and whatnot — and then we see how it looks with just the “content”, via an adblocker. Which got us thinking: the ads are really getting bogged down by all that news… what if we could just turn that off? Surely we could hand that 9.3% of processor time back to the stuff that matters… back to ad trackers, and flash popovers.

We’ve written a browser extension (for Chrome only at the moment) which will strip away all those churned press releases, all those homilies to mixed use development, all those funny bits that they were inspired to write from somewhere…

Don’t waste your time looking at photos of how the Scott Arms looked like in an only slightly bygone age.

See the Birmingham Mail as it should be: download the Evening Mail News Blocker now!

A modest proposal

for preventing the problem of the gentrification of our inner cities, and for making this trend beneficial to the public

By Howard Swift

Nothing can be more melancholy than seeing our once vibrant and battered brownfield spaces caked with checked shirts and reappropriated early-modernist design. The pastel colours, the exposed brickwork not as an opportunity, a canvas, but as a faux-individualistic statement.

How are we to cope with Keith from Moseley’s Prince of Wales turning from whacky local character with a thin grasp of planning law to a perfidious influence on independent culture at the exact point he owns not two pubs but three? And worse the third in an area which prides itself on its down at heel quirk.

To some the chain is a signal of hatred, but its main value is that the process of gentrification is complete: up-dos and animal print (that is with prints of animals, not their markings) is the new normal. We must tackle the issue at source, or joux.

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Three Hipstermen (from Paradise Circus Live)

FIRST HIPSTERMAN (Craig):

That was, literally, a lovely flat white?

 

SECOND HIPSTERMAN (JB):

..and those artisan chipotle fish tacos were really quite something too.

 

THIRD HIPSTERMAN (JH):

Best I’ve had since I went to visit my more successful friends down in Islington.

 

FIRST HIPSTERMAN:

Who’d have thought, eh, that three years ago, we’d all be sitting here, in Birmingham, in a crowd-funded pop-up streetfood bazaar, watching a circus skills workshop, eating a fine selection of ethically-sourced Italian meats served on a piece of slate, eh?

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He made a comment about a black security guard: the found poetry of the Evening Mail’s Facebook updates

FullSizeRender

He made a comment about a black security guard,
Remember this, cult TV fans?
I don’t remember seeing this in any nativity story,
Will you welcome Tyson Fury to Birmingham?
Continue reading “He made a comment about a black security guard: the found poetry of the Evening Mail’s Facebook updates”

Review to a Kill: The Resorts World Birmingham Is Not Enough

Editor’s Note: The PR Who Loved Me.

We have rules, you have to have rules or everything falls apart. But you can bend them…

Despite our rules, we still get offers — a lot of offers: “Come to the opening of this”; “Help us celebrate that”; “Hot new band blah blah”. We normally bounce them back: “nope”; “read the manifesto”; “in the nicest possible way, please fuck off”. Sometimes we bait them for a bit, for lols, or just to prove a point. And on a few occasions we are just brutally honest “we love free lunch, and will come to your launch and eat but you are not going to get a write up out of it” (PRs normally say “fair cop, in the nicest possible way please fuck off”).

So what did we do when a PR type invited us to a ‘premiere’ of the new James Bond film at the launch of casino-hotel-shopping-thing Resorts World Birmingham?

Well, we are interested in Resorts World Birmingham because we don’t really get it and because it’s in Solihull not Birmingham. So we thought it would be fun to send our Special Features Editor. You see, when we’re offered something we don’t want to do we ask Danny. Danny said yes, but then he disappeared into the deep cover of his day job, leaving us with tickets to an event which promised the chance to rub shoulders with “important Solihull and Birmingham MPs, Dion Dublin and Jasper Carrott”.

So we thought about it again and then thought “Spectre is a spy movie. We could send someone pretending to be Danny instead” so we asked Harry Vale, who spends quite a lot of time pretending to be Danny anyway, if he’d like to go to the pictures with the tab being picked up by some venture capitalists. As he’s a good lad, he said yes.

We gave Harry a secret mission to go with his secret identity, and it was all going swimmingly… but then things got serious and the PR types offered to send a limo. This was clearly a big deal.

We were nervous but, like Bond, now too balls deep in the deception to pull out. So we decided to keep the British end up and carry this thing through. And now here is a report from the field agent, who is most definitely called Danny Smith, 0011A, license to thrill.


After pro wrestler, video game designer and astronaut, secret agent was definitely what I wanted to fail at when I grew up. Endless Bond marathons on ITV had promised exotic adventures and beautiful ladies (Danny Girls I would call them, as I am Danny Smith) all of which convinced me that spying was what I had to do.

My credentials include beating GoldenEye on the N64 on the second hardest difficulty, and managing to talk at least one woman into bed, so when Paradise Circus offered me a top secret, for my eyes only infiltration job at Resorts World Birmingham (It’s Definitely Not Solihull™), I couldn’t say no.

For Your Lies Only

The day began with J sending me my mission by email. This message will self-destruct, I was told, in a confusing mixture of spy franchise universe references. My job was to infiltrate the exclusive (Birmingham) IMAX premiere of Spectre and see what the new shopping centre was like. I donned my best and only suit, grabbed a plus one, a beautiful femme fatale (or designated driver, as she’s known in the biz) and waited for a driver to pick me up.

Would Genting – the Malaysian lads making this wonderful new addition to Birmingham’s growing range of shops and spas and casinos – send a limo, or hire a local Uber? Bit of both, it turned out. A lovely chap called Azeer showed up in a fancy Mercedes Something, which did look a bit like a car that Bond would have driven in the Dalton years. Flashy, lots of buttons, but ultimately forgettable. No ejector button or champagne, but a bottle of Nestle mineral water and free mint imperials; I was already feeling like the member of high society I was going to pretend to be.

The driver dropped us off at the parking for plebs, not the VIP parking I was promised/demanded, and I sat awkwardly as I decided whether to open the door for myself or wait for him. I decided Bond would wait. Or snap his neck and shag the nearest parking attendant with a pulse. Out of respect, I waited, awkwardly thanked him and went looking for the red carpet.

Quantum of Solihull

Resorts World Birmingham is a shopping centre (in Solihull) with some luxury extras. There’s a hotel, a spa, none of which I was allowed into or bothered to sneak into. I accidentally missed (or stealthily avoided, if you like) the red carpet and went looking for the cinema. I passed many wondrous sights, like a Next, and a Thornton’s, and a Nike shop. A shop that sold tiny red telephone boxes and post boxes. Small replicas of England that only exist in the backgrounds of Bond films and the minds of soon to be disappointed Birmingham (not Solihull, guys) tourists.

There are fancy touch screens, that are basically massive iPhones turned sideways. They didn’t work. None of them worked, but they looked cool. Empty units promised bars with a million beers from around the world, and even a future branch of The Works, in case you need to find a closing down sale whilst in between gambling and watching a film.

Genting Casino Royale With Cheese

Ah, the international casino. We were directed here after being refused entry to Cineworld because we didn’t have tickets. It’s the night of the Spectre premiere, so I was hoping this was going to be something special. Instead, it’s basically a high street bookies, but with way more machines. The clientele are slightly more higher class than the ones in your average Ladbrokes, in the sense that they’re fully dressed and aren’t shitting on the floor, but it’s not exactly Bond. Remember that scene in Casino Royale when Bond loses all the money to Le Chiffre in a tense game of Lucky Larry’s Lobstermania 2 (the best of the long-running Lucky Larry series in this spy’s opinion)? Remember when a very angry-looking, but well dressed member of security approached him and asked him to stop making a scene and if he’d consider filling out a self-exclusion form? DER NER NER NEEERRRR.

Bored croupiers desperately tried to grab my attention, but I only had coins on me, and this didn’t seem like the sort of place that had minimum bets of 5p. We finally managed to escape the grip of the flashing lights and depressing drone of the gamblers, and went to meet our Spectre contact on the red carpet. A lovely, excitable chap, who kept asking me about my blog and my work, and because I’m definitely Danny Smith, I had to talk about “my blog”, which they were very excited about (and I was happy to thank him and take credit for) and my book, Pier Review, which is a book about piers and a travelogue about childhood memories of the sea? Or something? He bought it, because I am an awesome spy.

Live and Let Dine

We got to the High Line bar, which was really nice and dark and had loud techno music, which really set the mood for an intimate, VIP Bond setting. They had an ice block with “Spectre” and “Cineworld” written on it for some reason. Attractive women with not many clothes on kept giving me wine and tiny pieces of food.

“Would you like an artisan sourdough flatbread slice with basil and crème fraîche?”

“What?”

“It’s a tiny pizza.”

“Yes. Yes, I would.”

Soon I’d created a small cardboard graveyard of various miniaturised snacks. Taking them down like nameless henchmen. I headed to the bar and asked for a vodka martini, shaken not stirred, and got a laugh from the barmaid and a look that told me she’d heard that 50 times already that night and wanted to die. I felt awful and empty after that, like I’d just watched Quantum of Solace, so returned to my femme fatale. My contact showed up again, and was again lovely and laughed at all my jokes. The innate pressures of the spy business were getting to me now, I was too inexperienced, it was exactly like the bit in Casino Royale where Bond had bitten off more than he could chew and was getting his bollocks pulverised by Hannibal, but in a socially anxious sort of way in a dark room surrounded by Q-list celebrities.

I made a bad joke, that he was contractually obliged to fucking love, and escaped to the rooftop bar to get some air and check out the amazing views. If you like trees, motorways, and red neon, you’ll love Resorts World Birmingham (Because No One Knows What Solihull Is™). Unfortunately the bar wasn’t finished and was taped off, and various bits of the floor were unfinished, knackered-looking and wobbly, a bit like Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again. A tiny, shit green laser spat out the 007 logo and a gun the that looked like it was drawn by a child. Bond themes played over the roof speakers, but the crap ones, and now the celebrities started pouring in. TV’s Dion Dublin – star of Homes Under The Hammer – was there, as was Jane and the Lost City star Jasper Carrott. They really helped give the evening a shot of glamour and style that you just couldn’t attract at a non-Genting backed gala.

Spectre? I hardly touched her!

After more tiny food and free drinks, it was time for the film. Or rather, it was time for 8 people to stand in line and talk about how awesome Genting, Cineworld, Resorts World Birmingham (Because There Isn’t A Casino In The Bull Ring, Is There?™) and Hollywood blockbusters are. Everyone from Genting’s IT people to the chap who arranged the free popcorn got a namecheck and round of applause and it was at this point that I realised this was less a VIP gala event, and more a couple of celebrities who had literally nothing else to do, the lord mayor, and the employees of Genting at this thing. Sales figures for Spectre and Star Wars VII got cheers and applause. The design of the building, which honestly screams first draft, got a round of applause. It was all a bit sad, but I’m a guy writing this in his underwear, surrounded by empty crisp packets listening to Nobody Does It Better on repeat, so it’s hard to judge. Not impossible, but hard.

Bond wouldn’t be here. Bond would be at the Everyman Cinema, or the Electric Cinema, pretending to like the uncomfortable seats and tiny screens. Alas, I’m merely Danny Smith 00 agent for Paradise Circus, so I watched everyone talk about how revolutionary and beautiful the place was.

The urge to scream “THEY’RE JUST SHOPS” was pushed back down my throat by not wanting to upset Karen from marketing, who worked her arse off for this, and by the free popcorn and miniature box of Celebrations.

Spectre, then. Take the worst type of fan service-y references from Die Another Day, add a dash of Star Trek Into Darkness’s pointless attempt at a plot twist, and a sprinkling of Bond pretty much raping a grieving woman, and you’ve got a classic Bond film. Nothing made sense, the CG was shit, the main henchman was shit, Blofeld (spoilers, idiots) was shit, the theme song was shit. If you liked the old Bonds where he was basically a racist cock, you’ll love it. If you liked Casino Royale, you’ll probably hate it.

I left feeling like I should have a refund, even though I didn’t pay anything, and settled for nicking some more free popcorn, like the bit in Tomorrow Never Dies where he steals the GPS encoder, but nothing like that.

Never Say Never Again?

I don’t see the point in Resorts World Birmingham (SHOPS. CASINO. SPA. HOTEL. COME ON™), but then I don’t see the point in a lot of things this city does. If you’re ever in town and think “this is okay, but I wish this looked more like a dystopic, neon wasteland”, then Resorts World Birmingham is for you. If you wish the Pallasades was still a thing, but bigger, this is for you. It’ll create lots of jobs, I hope, and it gives the poor plebs of Solihull somewhere new to go, but otherwise it’s a bit like The World Is Not Enough. Looks fine, lots of pretty ladies, but I never want to experience it again.

Tilting at Sarehole Mill?

Birmingham doesn’t have any of those picturesque wind turbines, but we bet a certain class back in Tolkien’s day would have been collecting to buy and close down Sarehole’s water mill  and move it to Hall Green. You see, the people of Cambridge Road, B13, are revolting.

The Council have told them that, as with the rest of the city, they need new street lights. Not so bad you’d think, it’s nice to get anything new in these days of cuts. The good burghers of Cambridge Road do not agree. Aghast at what the modern lamp looks like, they’ve cried out “not in my backyard” and taken out a crowdfunding appeal to buy themselves some prettier street lighting, more in keeping with their road’s vintage aesthetic.

In truth it’s not a terrible idea: the council offer a baseline service, the service users talk to the council about how much it would cost to do something they’d prefer, and then if they raise the cash they get what they want. It might set a precedent though for “nice” neighbourhoods to go private and enhance more things. We’ve heard of at least seven groups around the city who are keeping a close eye on things, and getting ready to go to Kickstarter with their own demands.

Continue reading “Tilting at Sarehole Mill?”