When we heard there was a big new shop opening in town, we called Danny and asked ‘Are you free?’ He was. We can’t remember whether we sent him to a big clothes shop that used to be the Palisades, or a big clothes shop that used to be the Pavilions. Either way, we were sure he’d hate it.

Stepped on a snake and slid back down to Birmingham. Tired, grumpy, and trapped in a city I escaped two years ago. The continuing adventures of a man lost in his own city. Hoping that the next leap, is the leap home.

Two hours of sleep is the worst amount of sleep, worse than no sleep at all. It’s halfway through a sleep cycle and will leave the average people emotionally fragile, feeling like they’ve fallen up and then down a steel staircase. So I’ve had two hours of sleep and am a decidedly average person. The gig is to go to Primark, but not just any Primark but the world’s Biggest Primark opening today In Birmingham. Before that the biggest was in Manchester, but it really is ‘the world’ with stores all over Europe and — for some reason — America.

There was one in Dubai but that turned out to be fake.

I originally pitched it as a ‘spend all day doing something horrible and write about how, surprise, surprise, horrible it is’ sort of thing, but honestly that went out of the window after the third hour awake wondering about the logistics of knocking myself unconscious. At this point I’d be lucky to last half an hour before trying to start a mannequin fight club and crying over the baby’s shoes for sale, worn or not.

It’s early in the morning on a bright Thursday. Bright but the sun’s not had a chance to make a difference to temperature. Since I was a kid I’ve practiced a form of divination, a system I invented on cold spring mornings like this waiting for the bus. I would predict what kind of day it was going to be from which of the buses I caught into town. The 61 means a great day (this is the good bus because on the way home it turns on to Frankley Beeches Rd which is a slightly shorter walk to my house). The 62 is neutral (although when it became the bus I caught to work its meaning went from neutral to mildly bad). The 63 is bad mojo because that was the bus I used to catch to school and, you know, fuck school.

Twenty years later and the 62 doesn’t exist any more, but my brain still runs in those grooves. Today I have no choice but to catch the 63 which tells me one thing: and when I turn the corner and see the bus pull out from the stop and drive away I don’t know what to think.

The city centre is empty at nine not all the shops are open yet and the commuters by now have commuted. I know I’m here when I see the yellow jackets, at least three different camera crews five or six paparazzi and various other journos milling around the crowd milling around the crowd loosely penned in outside the store. Opposite the crowd is a contingent from B-side Breaking festival fronted by a hype man having medium success engaging a crowd of about 250, almost entirely made up of women wearing Mickey Mouse ears.

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Human beings are strange animals. One of our oddest traits is the belief that certain objects are made not of earthly or man-made materials, such as iron, carbon, cotton, or paper, but of fucking magic.

Some items are thought to bring us good luck, such as horseshoes, or rabbits’ feet, or particular types of coin, whilst other things, such as wood (when touched), or salt (when thrown over the shoulder), are thought to ward off bad luck. Not only that, but combinations of apparently unrelated items are either thought to bring about very, very bad luck (new shoes on the table, walking under ladders), or signs of impending very, very good luck (bird shit on the shoulder, black cats crossing your path).

Then, of course, there are the other items, such as a fridges, that are seen simply as white boxes that keep stuff cold and are not thought to contain any magic properties at all. Although, in the case of fridges, the question of whether or not the light goes off when you close the door remains a mystery.

It’s all very odd and arbitrary. But in Birmingham, as you’d expect, things are every-so-slightly different.

Whilst we Brummies might hold with some of those strange superstitions and beliefs, what sets us apart is that we also, as the accounts in this series of 101 things more than capably demonstrate, have long been in the business of creating, with our enquiring minds and ingenious hands, what others around the world perceive to be magic.

Take, for example, the Brummie engineer, Oliver Lucas: In 1910, he invented the car horn, and that is the perfect example. Here are some things it can do:

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Everyone has a guilty secret tucked away in the hardest to reach cupboard of their kitchen. Is yours a donut maker, a Breville or a pasta machine? The answer will depend very much on your age, your class, and when you reached key milestones in your life course but most certainly you have them. Did you marry in the 1970s? You have a fondue kit. Were you a student in the noughties? You have a chocolate fountain. Hit 30 in the late 1990s? That sudden paunch made you invest in a smoothie maker (but didn’t make you stop to think about quite how much sugar there is in a smoothie).

Let’s go through the Kay’s catalogue of the mind and think about some of the other ridiculous single-use gadgets that have come into our homes, been unboxed, used once and then packed away to the high shelf: bread machine, cup cake maker, slow cooker, rice cooker, coffee percolator, milk frother, ice cream maker, food processor, coffee grinder, spice mill… an endless list of useless crap. Most of these things duplicate things that our main appliances already do: the cooker, the kettle, a fucking knife. We buy, we use, we realise our mistake and we swear we’ll never again be seduced by the marketing patter of ‘convenience’, the marketing patter that started here in Birmingham.

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We normally use this intro to set up the article, to tell you why Danny is writing about what he’s writing about, but this time he raises the curtain on that himself. What we can do is say that even if you don’t find the idea of Birmingham raising its profile in the pornography-making world palatable, it’s a growth content industry and Brum becoming a hub for it is still ten times more likely than Andy Street persuading Channel 4 to do anything but tell him to go fuck himself.

Danny’s heart’s in the right place, even if that’s the last time in this article that a body part is correctly situated.

Stepped on a snake and slid back down to Birmingham. Tired, grumpy, and trapped in a city I escaped two years ago. The continuing adventures of a man lost in his own city. Hoping that the next leap, is the leap home.

The thing about editors and sub editors is that they can’t resist a good pun and practically demand a well placed innuendo. It’s also worth noting that a it’s a weakness of mine that I like to occasionally give them one. The other profession that loves a good pun is pornographers with titles like Hard Brexxxit, Shaving Ryan’s Privates and Mike Whitby: Second Largest in Europe. I’m sure you’ve got your favourites.

WARNING: this column contains RUDE things and descriptions of willies going in and out of vaginas (amongst other places) if that sort of thing puts you off your seventh helping of leftover turkey, don’t read it, or do, I don’t care honestly.

With these two facts in mind it was no surprise that when I saw the news ‘story’ from Birmingham Live that a porn film had been shot in the problematically-named ‘Ghetto Golf’ in Digbeth, that it wouldn’t be long before my editors wanted in on that action.

Sure enough, in came the What’s App messages.

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It may not have been snowing that Christmas, or any particular Christmas – snow and Christmas are interlinked so that we see it even if the day itself is clear. Even if we see ourselves carrying dining chairs up Hamstead Hill in the sun, across roads and clear dry pavements, there will be snow in our memories. There will be dripping gutters, splashing onto noses, wet but still comforting. There will be rutted slush in the gutter, darker grey on the frozen ends nearer the traffic fumes.

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At Paradise Circus we try our hardest to compete for web clicks, and we’ve noticed that glowing reviews of bars in the city centre must go down well considering how many the Evening Mail publish online. What time and when did we send Danny Smith to get all ‘wow Brum’ at a boozer? Erm, we’ll tell you after these messages.

Stepped on a snake and slid back down to Birmingham. Tired, grumpy, and trapped in a city I escaped two years ago. The continuing adventures of a man lost in his own city. Hoping that the next leap, is the leap home.

There is certain received wisdom in the pub industry, ways of doing things that can’t be deviated from. Edicts not learnt from working behind the bars, on doors, or in cellars every night, but from spreadsheets, focus groups, and uninspired middle management types. These are things that a successful pub must do to survive. Chiselled into laminated handbooks and handed down from on high to chain pubs up and down the country. They are:

Thou Shalt Always Serve Food – the gross profit on food is normally a huge amount more than can be made on drinks alone (unless you’re stinging people on cocktails but that scam is for another column). Also if someone orders food their stay is going to be a lot longer, which means more drinks sold. The bar is already classed as a food preparation area the same as any kitchen so serving food needs to be so the paperwork is already done.

Thou Shalt Always Cater To Families – families are money walking through the door. Drinks, particularly the huge mark up on kids drinks, more food, and the fact that larger family groups are an incredible pain to move once settled which means they stay for hours. Families bring in the cash, so the regulars are being told not to shout “oi cuntychops” across the pub, or spend time grumbling at the sheer affront of not being able to use the play equipment naked for a dare*. Regulars buy the cheapest beer and haggle over the price of peanuts like it was a market in Marrakesh, they do not bring the cash.

Thou Shalt Always Have Wifi – how else can you attract the panini-buying, expensive coffee drinking ‘digital nomad’ type without guaranteeing friction-less internet access?

“But won’t this turn all pubs into coffee house bland, cream wallpaper, bore holes with identical menus, music, and zero atmosphere?” I hear you ask, and you’re right it can, will, and has. Gentrification of our culture is inevitable when profit is our only goal.

“Is there a point to all of this one that preferably relates to Birmingham and has either a bad pun underpinning it or finishes on a dick joke?” I hear my editors ask, and yes, in a bit, leave me alone.

You can imagine how warming it was to my anarchist cockles when walking across town I saw a five foot A-board announcing:

“NO KIDS
NO WIFI
NO FOOD
Just Good Quality BEER!”

Why does a board outside a pub need its address on?

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You’ll never see the back streets in the same way I do. They change, things change fast round here, but even if they don’t your connection will not be the same. I won’t be able to show you the old pubs, the thick green leather stapled to the heavy wood, the splinters and the tears. But when it’s time, I’ll share a pint with you anywhere.

The streets have a new brick, clad with a special kind of fresh decay. There’s a new corner around every corner. The roads have moved themselves, move traffic differently. I won’t be able to show you the back ways. I haven’t kept up and that’s soon to be your problem — if you chose to care.

Will you care? I think so. Sometimes I feel such a deep connection to the roots of my caste I can’t believe you won’t. It’s often music that does it. Not in the simple proustian way, not always. I can feel the connection not only through chance hearings, yes, I catch Working In a Coalmine and am transported to the back room at Snobs as you’d expect, but there is something about musical culture that connects much more deeply. Music made by people I was, or am, or could have been – could have been because they were where we were. The rubble filled spaces that donkey jacket Dexy’s stood in were still the places I played football with a tennis ball, played cricket with a tennis ball, never played tennis with a tennis ball as we didn’t have bats or nets or flat ground. They took the train to Euston from the platforms I did, unsure of how to take the bigger city we reached. The platforms are the same now, but god only knows how to get to them. You’ll find them better than me.

The world is changing more quickly now than it seems it ever did. Even in the ‘80s I remember bomb sites, long-gone factories behind rough fences, compacted dust on which to park cars or cut through. The desire paths of our urban life, the secret passages and hollow ways through unwanted and overgrown spaces. Take the gulley, leave by the side gate to avoid the ticket collector, there’s a hole in the fence along here. The short cuts are the hardest to learn. We probably won’t share them, but there will be some.

We can go back, of course, we will. But my disconnect has become a fence without a hole, a song with a half-remembered melody. Maybe when I stumble across it it will connect us rather than divide us. Maybe we can discover new routes together, maybe there’s another version of Kiss Me that has the vibe of the country rather than just the rhythm of the factory. We can walk both, sing both. Maybe.

I’ll teach you what I can. Much of it will be wrong, or at least useless, configured for a town that isn’t mine really. Never was, I just lived in it and made my own maps. The winter darkness smeared with festive lights just highlights that as it obscures the way. But winter is a good time to sing together.

We can sing Mr Blue Sky at the end of the night, or the start of the game, or just in the street for no reason. I’ll sing with you anywhere.

It’s your heritage, your town now, if you want it.

Christmas comes but once a year, apart from for Roy Wood, who must have a terrible time getting his bins collected. Like everyone else in Brum, are we right, we’re here all week. Try the rotting fish in the black bag on the street corner. Anyway, Christmas, web clicks, we asked Danny to riff…

Stepped on a snake and slid back down to Birmingham. Tired, grumpy, and trapped in a city I escaped two years ago. The continuing adventures of a man lost in his own city. Hoping that the next leap, is the leap home.

Birmingham changes over Christmas. The wolf of capitalism takes a long German shit right in the middle of its chest, and it’s filled with day drinkers, night shoppers, and a huge homeless population seemingly invisible to the other people. For a sensory seeking freakman like me it’s a wonderland of lights, smells, noises and human drama, but for others it’s a scary wall of people, muggers, confusion, and overload.

Since getting back I’m still not entirely sure of the bus routes and times, luckily West Midlands travelXbus has an app now. Let me just check it.

That’s cleared that up.

If you do make it into town here are the seven must sees. (Yes, I’ve written a listicle. Shut up. Your face is out of ideas.)
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Don’t worry, we’ll be OK.

On the last day of October 2014, as trick or treaters took to the streets of the city suburbs for Halloween-themed fun, something genuinely terrifying was in the air.

It wasn’t the fact that Halloween has become, over the last few years, a poster child for the creeping Americanisation of our culture. Nor was it the fact that, just like the manner in which we’ve all apparently just rolled over and accepted that ‘High School Proms’ are now a thing, or that it’s OK for the FA Cup Final to kick off at 5.30pm, that we just don’t seem to have the energy to fight this kind of bullshit anymore.

It wasn’t even that we allow the economic machine to hijack dates on our calendar as merely points at which they can market disposable plastic shite to us.

Nor was it the fact that we not only buy this stuff, but that we then chuck it away — even though we know we’ll be buying the same plastic shite at precisely the same time again next year.

And it wasn’t even that the only thing that differentiates one plastic shite sales opportunity from the next one is how one now ‘naturally’ follows the other in a never-ending cycle, with the end of Halloween simply firing the starting pistol on Christmas, and so on.

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Like a bad penny, licked and then pushed quickly into a chip shop slot machine, Danny Smith returns to Birmingham. Delighted to have him back, we wanted him to stay in Northfield, its streets his alma mater and tell us all about it. The first thing he did was get the bus out.

Stepped on a snake and slid back down to Birmingham. Tired, grumpy, and trapped in a city I escaped two years ago. The continuing adventures of a man lost in his own city.

Vigor is a classic range of wool rich moquette fabrics providing comfort, appearance and durability developed to meet the specific requirements of the bus & coach interiors market

I’m on a bus in Northfield, it’s Saturday: so it’s full, and only getting fuller. Only the people getting on seem to confused by the whole bus business and are approaching it with the time consuming trepidation of first-time flyers on a steampunk zeppelin. The bus is waiting for an usually long time.

Luckily buses now have TV monitors and cameras so, if you do get mugged, you get to take home the footage. CCTV just blurry enough for it to be of no use, apart from to bring back the lovely traumatic memories, like photos of a ride at Drayton Manor.
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