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 …

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No. 90: Saving the world from Climate Change Read More »

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. 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, …

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They were the best days of your life, ‘they’ will tell you. ‘They’, being everyone except Bryan Adams who is definite on the point of June, July and August of 1969 being better. What ‘they’ will neglect to tell you is that those days wouldn’t be how they are without the city of Birmingham. Bryan however, never stops going on about Brum’s own postal reformer, and world cup winner, Sir Rowland Hill. You see at the age of twelve, before inventing the post and the stamp to go with it, Hill became a student-teacher in his father’s school. In 1819 he took over the school, called Hill Top, and moved it from town to establish the Hazelwood School in Edgbaston. He called it an “educational refraction of [our man] Priestley’s ideas”, and it became a model for public education for the emerging middle classes. It wanted to …

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No. 89: School Read More »

Yes, this hot take has taken two years. There’s been a lot to work out, and we’ve had our top team on it. In no way has this document been cobbled together from publicly available sources and Wikipedia the day before it was due. You see, from the moment the vote was sealed it was obvious that Birmingham was responsible for Brexit — only one of the ‘core cities’ (big ones) to vote to leave, only place idiotic enough to vote for a Tory mayor, amnesiac as to where its previous round of redevelopment came from as it sucks up to the far east for its latest batch — but there had to be something deeper. For Brexit wasn’t just the vote, it was years of confusion and ignorance, it was the death of the fourth estate as a bulwark against the stupidity of our governments, it …

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No. 88: Brexit Read More »

Jonathan Meades :: Birmingham, Heart Bypass from MeadesShrine on Vimeo. Jonathan Meades likes Birmingham. Even for a public intellectual he’s a contrary bugger. He spends the first chapter of his recent autobiography bemoaning the fact he wasn’t a good looking enough child to attract the attentions of any paedophiles. In his 1998 BBC programme Heart By-Pass: Jonathan Meades Motors Through Birmingham he fixates on Birmingham as the home of the car, the place where the first integrated garages were built. And, he says, “the first city to authorise one-way streets”. And that’s our evidence, which seems rather flimsy. Except that delving into the history of the one-way street reveals just how bad everyone else seems to have been at it. An attempt was made in 1617 to introduce one-way streets near the Thames in London, where people were no doubt told which direction to Lambeth Walk in, …

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No. 87: One-way Streets Read More »

The history of popular music is the story of youth, sex, drugs and revolution. It’s also the story of the ruthless exploitation of naïve young dreamers by savage and unscrupulous media professionals, a long process of vertical integration by global entertainment conglomerates, and the development, packaging, and marketing of products to carefully constructed and controlled sets of audiences. As Hunter S Thompson said, “the music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.” Or, as Les, former bassist with the luckless band Creme Brûlée from The League of Gentleman, put it with more slightly more brevity, “it’s a shit business”. However, what people mean when they talk about ‘the Music Industry’ in these negative terms is often the large and successful parts of the recorded music …

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No. 86: Prog Rock Read More »

The amount of time that we spend airside seems to go up year by year, increasing at a faster rate than the processor power increases on new computer chips. It really needs a ‘law’ — and, considering it seems like you are stuck in a place that pretends to be holiday when it is not, maybe we can call it ‘Keith Barron’s Law’. Whilst we have the response to existential threats of terrorism to blame for this it really couldn’t have all happened without Birmingham. You see, the reason why we have to get ourselves to the airport so far in advance of our flight is so that we can be screened – for bombs, nail clippers, bottles of water and moisturiser. The fact that we are processed and dumped airside swiftly is just a happy quirk of the system that works very well for the small town …

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No. 85: Airside Shopping Read More »

You’ve seen him on the motorway: coming in off the junction, he could drop in safely behind you and still keep the needle at 70 but instead he drops a gear and punches it past you to win a racing line on the last yard of the slip road. Firmly in front of you now, he jerks the saloon straight and into your lane, robbing you of the stopping distance you’ve calmly maintained for the last fifty miles. With nobody behind you, your foot is coming over to the brakes to get some space but before you hit the pedal he jerks right again. Now he’s into the half car length between a white van and a people carrier in the middle lane—and your heart is in your mouth. He won’t make it. But he does. He bursts through to the fast lane where once again he …

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No.84: Wankers Read More »

Stalwart vessels of early British satire, Ronald Barker and Ronald Corbett had a fine line in jokes about the perceived work ethic of the country’s factory fodder. “An aerial photograph of the track at British Leyland,” they announced, “was spoilt when somebody moved.” You see, it had become an establishment trope that the car workers of Britain – and those in Longbridge, Birmingham in particular – were not industrious and prone to stoppage. That was of course untrue, the workers of those car plants were hard-working: not a house in Birmingham wasn’t freshly painted in mini green at least once a year. But there was media and establishment bias against the workers of Longbridge, and that was often focused on one man: Derek ‘Red Robbo’ Robinson, of Northfield (you wouldn’t want to live too far from where you worked in those days, the cars were terribly unreliable). …

101 Things Birmingham Gave the World No. 83: The Great British Worker Read More »

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When Charles Henry Foyle invented the cardboard box, in Birmingham, in the late 19th century, he by turn invented supermarkets: for would they be able to pile ’em high and sell ‘em cheap if they didn’t pile neatly in cartons and boxes? They, including Jack Cohen who came up with that motto and founded Tesco, would not have been able to. That the real idea turned out to be to pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap, force other smaller retailers of ‘em out of business, before using your virtual monopoly of ‘em to control both supply of ‘em and the eventual higher price of ‘em isn’t Charles Henry Foyle’s fault. He just originated the process that made manufacture of brightly coloured containers to put ‘em in cost effective. They call it the ‘folding carton’. Charles was lucky to be in Birmingham. Birmingham as we’ve discovered is a …

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