101 Things Birmingham Gave The World. No 1. Tennis

Tennis, invented in Birmingham

Ever climbed Murray mount, “come on Tim”, or knocked a sponge ball against a wall while grunting? Then you have Birmingham to thank for the gift of the only sport that doubles the price of a certain fruit for two weeks every year. Yes, Cliff Richards’s favourite game was invented not in the white trousered environs of the Wimbledon croquet club, but up a back street in Edgbaston not a high lob from the old Firebird pub.

The rules of modern lawn tennis were drawn up by Harry Gem and his friend Augurio Perera who developed a game that combined elements of rackets and the Basque ball game pelota. The rest is, for the English at least, a posh and annually disappointing story.


The Wasteland

It’ll come as no surprise that I was a bookish child, I rarely left the house to go out and play and would opt to stay in the massive musty smelling Austin Maxi that my father drove rather than go play in the the sun on whatever day trip my parents would take us on. Evesham or Stourport all enjoyed from the the smeared window of a car built like a tank glanced at by bored eyes while turning the page of whatever comic or book I head stuck my head in. Its why I’m such a good traveller now, I either sleep or read during the boring bits.

So the memories I have of the the little strip of green known locally as the Kala’s I am suspicious of, I never really went outside so why are my memories so strong? So vivid? Are they borrowed from my school-friends’ stories? Squirrelled away in my mind that expects a Wonder Years montage of important childhood memories. Its more likely that the fantasy of being so bookish and anti social are an exaggerated construct to assert my difference and nerdy credentials. Yet, I still don’t know how to ride a bike but can read on almost any transport without feeling ill in the slightest.

The Kala’s has a magical sounding name, and it suits because its a fairy tale sort of place. The name actually comes from the industrial estate it run behind, the bizarrely name Kalamazoo on the Bristol Road where Northfield and Longbridge meet. Its a strip of forest about a football pitch in width that ran parrall to the train lines, a tiny crack of green, a lush hinterzone of my childhood. the grey of the adult world always visable but forgotten trapped between that and the dangers of the railway, we’d all seen the videos but played on them anyway.

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Requiem for a piss stained short cut

It was a shocking moment when after nineteen years of living in Birmingham I realised it will never be finished. The building work will never be done, some part will always be being demolished for another part to be built fresh: no one will ever take a step back, with their hands on their hips, and turn around with a ‘TA-DAA’. The ubiquitous cranes will always be part of the skyline, they’re not visitors they’re residents.

Cities are the bodies of our collective souls, and like bodies they change, regenerate, and can be easily marred. Ever see Ground Zero from up high? It looks like a fuck-awful scar across the face of pretty girl.

The Queens Drive staircase is an access staircase that travels from the bottom of Station Street up to the passageway that connects the Pallasades to the Bull Ring, with an exit to New Street station halfway up. And it’s to be closed soon.

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Skinner in the Underworld

Going Through Hell is Mike Skinner’s first single from his last album as The Streets. It’s an oddly poetic title that has a lot of resonances, including echoes of the Greek myth Orpheus when our titular hero walked through hell to return his wife, Eurydice, to the Land of the Living. It wouldn’t surprise me if this was completely intentional, Mike Skinner strikes me as a smart guy.

The image of a Greek hero is also apt, an all-conquering hero after many trials and tests returning home but finding this his hardest test yet is an old rote. It was, after all and as he kept reminding us the last time he would be performing in his home city. And I don’t use the word ‘hero’ lightly. The gig tonight was a story of someone facing adversity, and overcoming it with aplomb. The adversity being the crowd. When I first got there the crowd was notable by its diversity, a massive age range. But as the venue started filling up, the mid-twenties gym rat started to swell the ranks, polo-shirted skinheads stinking of Lynx deodorant. In the half an hour between the support acts and The Streets starting things were already getting unruly, plastic cups being launched and people leaving the dance floor with worried and angry looks. At the point where two guys were carrying a obviously paralytic girl to get some air I knew something was up.

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On Holiday By Mistake

Routine crushes me, most of the time I can feel its weight on my chest. When it really takes hold I start getting odder and odder thoughts compelling me to something dumb, dangerous or both. I can mitigate these brain whispers by smaller and regular spur of the moment decisions: change the way I walk home, buy gum instead of crisps or split up with my girlfriend and quit my job. Saturday was an example of one of these mild but weird decisions.

I went to Coventry

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A Christmas Carol

The life of a blogger is nothing if not glamorous, only last week I was backstage at the dress rehearsal for 3P’s marvellous version of The Nativity. Even before the performance, the squash was flowing and more than a couple of biscuits were passed around. Amid all the revelry the pre-performance jitters were in evidence: the third Wise Man had to be cajoled to climb out of the book cupboard and several shepherds had to be persuaded from kicking their prop sheep out of the window altogether.

The performance was a masterpiece, including a entirely improvised bank robbery sub-plot and a song and dance number that went on for three or four extra verses because none of the cast could remember how to end the song. I’m proud to be a part of such a game changing version of the Christmas story, which this year focussed completely on the story of the shepherds as 3P has no girls in it to play Mary. Granted, my role was to stand in the wings and push the correct performer to his mark at their cue. I got pretty good too, I now reckon I can shove an average-sized seven year old with an Olympic degree of accuracy.

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Grit and wisdom

Given last years hysterical SNOWPOCOLYSE response from the media, its good to see the novelty has worn off. Of course the reaction was purely from the media, and it was disingenuous to say the least to see the TV news swing from headlines inferring that the poor are eating their young to a slideshow of people sledding, building snowmen and generally larking about, in the same show.

It’s not even newsworthy to mention how the snow has suddenly become not that newsworthy, which is good, because the implications of that could cause a recursive news feedback loop which would by 2015 see Nick Owen reading the news from his inside his own lungs.
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Take That, legal system

I hate Howard Donald, I hate his surprising lack of talent, I hate his weird under-bite that reminds of a duck’s face and even his name which, upon reflection, is where I really get the duck association from*. I also hate that he was one of the many people overjoyed at the news two rich inbreeds will be spending our money on a wedding. This in a time of what were told is aggressive austerity. People are angrily shouting about their indifference and spending a lot of time stating how much they couldn’t care less. We haven’t had such an explosion of poor wit since the Pope’s visit.

Not that Howard the Donald Duck is massive royalist that I know of, he was overjoyed along with a whole slew of people because he was able to bury the news of his Super Injunction underneath a whole bunch of flag waving jingoistic piffle. For others try here.
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Glam Racket

The opinions of Danny Smith do not necessarily reflect the views of the publishers of this blog, its affiliates, or any sane adult human beings. He currently lives in your cupboard, watching, always watching.

Is it weird to be nostalgic for a period of time you were never part of? Some would argue all nostalgia is this way: that your memory or perception of the events you pine for are rose-tinted by time. But, I yearn for a bygone age where men were men but dressed like women and women had massive lady-bush growlers that would require their own bottle of shampoo. I talk of course about the seventies—era of Glam Rock.

I suppose I’ve been thinking about it because one of the godfathers of Glam, Roy Wood, got his own star on the increasingly hilarious and ever-tenuous Birmingham Walk Of Stars. Seriously, if anything symbolises the flaw in Birmingham’s self-perception better than the Broad Street Walk of Stars, I’ve yet to see it. Our struggling middle-child attitude of trying to emulate the success of others by copying what they do, our lack of confidence to trust in the emerging talent this city has in droves, our willingness to be what others want us to be rather than being proud of what we are. And it’s all set in concrete and littered on an area of Birmingham that resembles a boozy crèche for the mentally violent and sexually weird four nights a week.

That’s not to say I don’t respect Roy Wood, or any of the Star recipients, although if I hear I wish it could be Christmas everyday with its usual frequency this holiday season I may climb a clock tower and start picking people off.

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