Category Archives: Midlands tourism

33 different faces of Digbeth

The idea of snapping faces developed during today’s photowalk around Digbeth, a district just south of Moor Street Station in Birmingham that’s a little bit arty, a little bit gritty and with a whole lot of industrial heritage contained within. Thanks to Matt & Pete’s Photo School for running the two-hour walk – more photowalk events can be found here. A night-time walk is apparently imminent.

Travels around my garden

What do you take holiday photos of? And can that be applied to your own backyard? Well let’s see. In a new destination, seeing it with Alice-in-Wonderland eyes, I take photos of:

The main attractions

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A tour of Birmingham’s ring road (drives me to despair)

Pedestrian-free zone

Who said local tourism had to be glamorous?

As part of the first Still Walking festival, urban planner Joe Holyoak’s Walk the Queensway tour was the first walk of the event to sell out. I’m not sure of the attraction for others but for me it was an excellent follow-up to last weekend’s Architectonic, Concrete Walls 1958-1980 exhibition of photos in Brussels (which sounds incredibly pretentious now that I write it down but more down-to-earth words will come in a future post about the Atomium).
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Time travelling to Stirchley Swimming Baths

I’m interested in all kinds of travel, even the trips you take inside your head. So when the opportunity to visit a local landmark – Stirchley swimming baths where I learnt to swim as a child in 1977 – came up, I was first in line.

Stirchley Baths -37

Or rather 20th in line. It seems I wasn’t the only one on a nostalgia trip. Here’s the queue for the Stirchley Baths Open Day. The baths were built in 1910, closed in the 1980s and are about to be converted into a community centre thanks to Tesco’s 30 pieces of silver.

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The most amazing video you will ever see about Birmingham

This appears to have gone out on Sky 3, I’m not sure when, but is Pure Fried Comedy Gold.

Someone in my Twitterstream pointed it out a while ago but their video link seems to have been removed, so catch this one while you still can – it’s the only one I could find.

http://rd3.videos.sapo.pt/play?file=http://rd3.videos.sapo.pt/46H7EmOPmH01O9PQA3yT/mov/1

It features an amazing but quite scary cast of regulars of The Sportsman pub in Brum as they expound on their favourite pub subjects of cider, eating rabbits and lightbulbs, and falling off a bridge onto a railway and into the path of TWO trains.

You’ll have to watch it to get the visual punchline to the story.

Tourism slogan: “Visit Brum – if you think you’re hard enough.”

Enjoy.

Buying a bit of Birmingham

WaB xmas trees-1.jpg

A recommendation for anyone travelling into Birmingham city centre to do their Christmas shopping: walk three minutes up the High Street from the Bullring and go visit the We are Birmingham shop for some unique local presents.

If you want to buy into something made in Birmingham rather than mass-produced, this shop offers a route to market for the area’s arts and crafts talent: from record vinyl bowls to quirky jewellery to Birmingham t-shirts.

It also offers gigs, sofas for a sit-down other happenings. There’s an art gallery in the basement so you can get your cultural fix without having to walk all the way to the Ikon or BMAG.

And it’s something Birmingham can be proud of.

Here’s their website for further info: We Are Birmingham.

Check out the cute knitted tree decorations I bought there last week, only £2 each.

My B30: Stirchley Community Market

Following on from my joy at my postcode getting a blog called Fuck Yeah Stirchley – thanks to a mention on The Archers – comes the joy of Stirchley Community Market – which earlier this month had its own feature in The Guardian, and fresh from which I am in the door.

Somehow the Stirchley of my childhood – home of skinheads, teds, Bottle Bill, flashers along the River Rea, and getting duffed up in the park – has turned into a name to drop and a place to feature. Even Birmingham City Council’s cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture Martin Mullaney was at this little postcode car park market, tucking into a jambalaya and talking about Brum’s potential to become a gastro city.

Why? Why is Stirchley suddenly so, what’s the phrase?, on the radar?

I’m not sure. Maybe someone knows someone at the Guardian – certainly, it’s interesting that the Guardian feature notes the presence of a scriptwriter from The Archers, so there’s a serendipitous link there.

Perhaps it’s the hint of trendier Moseley and Kings Heath vibe, that one of the stall-holders put down to people buying in Stirchley but missing the B13/14 vibe. The Guardian says Stirchley’s “movers and shakers” (lol) are graduates of local universities “who have settled in the area and seem determined to improve it”.

What else can explain bare-footed tuba players and organic veg stalls being held in the car park of Stirchley United Working Men’s Club, of which my dad was a member, where we shared a father-daughter Sunday pint and where his funeral wake was eventually held.

It’s probably no wonder I feel slightly strange and bemused about the national press attention and slightly weird market demographics. But I’m not unhappy. Just a little weirded out.

This feeling is compounded by being served a beautifully handmade Lemon and Earl Grey cup cake by a former prison offender who makes cakes as part of his rehabilitation.

It would seem that Another Stirchley truly is possible!

So here, in lofi mobile camera glory, is the newer, hipper, hippier and right-on Stirchley.

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• The next Stirchley Community Market will be held on 28 September.

The poetry of Spaghetti Junction

Yesterday I went on my third monthly Birmingham Flickrmeet for a bit of socialising and a bit of snapping, but mainly because I’ve never been to the ‘notoriously confusing’ Spaghetti Junction as an end destination. Going in a group of about 15 seemed a safe way to venture into its scary underbelly.

And, y’know what, for all that it is an edgy urban concrete jungle, it’s certainly not the eyesore that people make it out to be. In fact, I found it to be quite a poetic place in the July sunshine.

Below is a favourite photo of mine from the day (there are lots more in the Birmingham Flickrmeet pool)…

Spaghetti Junction -62

(The full set of Spaghetti Junction photos are on the Flickr photo-sharing site or you can see them on this slideshow: Spaghetti Junction Flickrmeet.)

Underneath this early 1970s construction, renowned as the bane of those who must traverse it, I also found many treasures, delights and disturbing objects:

  • Teenagers fishing for perch
  • Artworks on the supporting pillars
  • A ‘typo’ underneath the Aston Expressway
  • Vivid yellow and black striped caterpillars
  • The gravestone of DC Michael Swindells who was stabbed on a canal towpath while making an arrest in 2004
  • Crackling pylons
  • A mother and two children out for a walk
  • Three police officers on dirt bikes
  • And, of course, the sweeping majesty of the roads above

There’s a travel metaphor here, I’m sure, regarding only seeing the surface and judging a book by its cover. If you can, it’s worth exploring maligned places like Spaghetti Junction more deeply. But safely.

And that’s why Birmingham Flickrmeets are so great and so useful – for when else would anyone dare wander there or, another example, the canals of Aston in the deserted industrial backend of Brum? Behind the headlines of gang warfare, you’ll find plenty of fascinating scenes of nature, urban artwork, barge life and the UK’s industrial heritage.

I’m starting to think of the Flickrmeets as an option for local adventure travel. What do you think? Underbelly tourism?

Personally I like the overview of Spaghetti Junction as well – not the M6 route so much, but the maze of dipping, curving through-roads. It’s kind of like driving your own car on a roller coaster and perhaps even it looks a little bit like a ricketty fairground ride in some of the photos – like this one from Pete Ashton:

Motorway Quadriptych

So, if you’re in Birmingham on (I think) the second Sunday of each month, bring your camera and join a Birmingham Flickmeet – or look for one in your own town – you never know what you might see.

But I think if you came to Birmingham and did this, it would signify a traveller rather a tourist moment – as Benedict Allen said in this earlier post:

“It is crucial to record. The difference between a traveller and a tourist is that a traveller simulates that experience (for others) and records it.”

My postcode has a brand new blog – thanks to The Archers

fuckyeahstirchley homepage

Is it local journalism? Probably not but it was amusing to see how The Archers* triggered a chain of events resulting in a new hyperlocal blog and a deep funk theme tune for my own small but dear postcode in south Birmingham. How it happened in a minute, but first, please welcome:

fuckyeahstirchley

And a round of applause for my B30 neighbour @graphiquillan who set it up, and the various contributors and curators who have made Stirchley look rather interesting if not downright pretty.

How B30 was reborn online on the night of 10 June 2010:

  • A London chum of mine texted to say Stirchley had been mentioned on The Archers* that day. Kudos for Stirchley from Radio 4 and the longest running soap opera in the world!
  • I duly sent a message to Twitter to alert the Birmingham massive (well, a few Twitter followers).
  • Graphiquillan suggested there should be a tribute site called ‘fuckyeahstirchley’ and before my train had pulled into Birmingham from London, she had set it up and invited several contributors.
  • FuckYeahStirchley then went live with the tagline: ‘Stirchley. You know, the one that got a mention on The Archers.’
  • The content flowed in: recent pictures, old images, reminiscences… who knew there was so much out there on little old Stirchley.
  • There was Cartland Road in a rainstorm, shots of the cream-and-blue 45 bus, a Co-op milk float (the Co-op dairy is no more), 70s actor Robin Nedwell who was allegedly born here, the now-closed public baths, the DIY stores, and much more.
  • Someone else from Twitter then grabbed the audio from the show and the original Archers Stirchley namecheck was posted. Here’s the infamous line: ‘I think Jack liked having another Brummie in the village – someone to reminisce about Stirchley with.’ [Insert your own unknown suburb in here to imagine just how exciting this is.]
  • Then @PeteAshton, also of B30, went one step further and put it to music – posting ‘The inevitable Archers Reminisce About Stirchley megamixmashup thingy. With beats.’ – listen all the way to the end for a lovely TeamAmerica-Stirchley-Archers signoff flourish.
  • It got picked up by a writer on the show and distributed to The Archers community on Twitter at 6am the next morning: ‘Peggy Woolley mashed up by the Stirchley massive: http://bit.ly/arjMaj via @peteashton#archers‘.

And so the circle was complete. That’s how we roll in Stirchley (non-marina end). Fuck yeah.

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*The Archers (from Wikipedia): The Archers is a British soap opera broadcast on the BBC‘s main spoken-word channel, Radio 4. It was originally billed as “an everyday story of country folk”, but is now described on its Radio 4 web site as “contemporary drama in a rural setting”. With more than 16,000 episodes, it is both the world’s longest running radio soap and, since the axing of the American soap opera Guiding Light in September 2009, the world’s longest running soap opera in any format.

Birmingham’s UK City of Culture Bid 2013 is #intheroom but is it #inthebag?

Seven years ago, in 2003, I watched a news item on Birmingham’s bid to become European City of Culture on the tellybox. I wasn’t surprised when we lost out to Liverpool after listening to a list of big arts organisations ‘to name but a few’. It was a weak presentation that was all ‘tell don’t show’.

And, to be honest, the new bid to become the first-ever UK City of Culture in 2013 seemed to be going the same way.

I don’t pretend to know much about these Council-led things, but I do know that the Council and mainstream media seemed to be saying the same old things as in 2003. For example, while I like and admire The Dhol Blasters, they’re surely not news in terms of the city’s cultural growth – and yet here they are, rolled again yet again for local TV’s limited idea of how to demonstrate Brum culture.

But then today Brummies spoke up in their hundreds via the Twitter hashtag #intheroom. They wrote about what it was that they loved about their city, their cultural pioneers, their ideas about culture and why ultimately Birmingham should win.

Roughly 1,000 Twitter messages were pulled in throughout the day on the Birmingham Newsroom’s blog – and the coup was that they were to be seen live by the judging panel in Liverpool between 2 and 4pm this afternoon. (Tomorrow the panel decides, winner to be announced next month.)

Some of the posts were funny, some poignant, some statistical, some just lists of great goings-on. At times, the sheer volume felt quite emotional. People were still posting Birmingham’s good points via #intheroom when I checked at 11.30pm – long after the panel had gone home to sleep on their decision.

So even if Brum doesn’t win, it was kind of a unifying experience in that it let those who joined in see what it was that others saw in their city. It made us feel invested in something that could easily be seen as a city marketing exercise. It put the voice of the people directly in front of the judges and, I think, finally managed a ‘show don’t tell’ that was possibly more powerful and moving than that of an official document of evidence (good as I’m sure it was) saying that ‘Birmingham is very, very cultural indeed, thankyou’.

Birmingham DOES have a lot going for it. Take it from me who left for 20 years down to #thatlondon but is hugely enjoying being back in the city because there is simply so much more to do these days – like seeing the Birmingham Royal Ballet perform tonight with IamPete, or wandering through a staircase in Moat Lane Car Park last week as ExCathedra choir members harmonised with the brutalist architecture until it sang back, or joining in a game of Market Pong after the fruit and veg traders have gone home.

Check the Twitterstream for more examples of how Birmingham is thriving, or the Created In Birmingham blog, or More Canals Than Venice, or LiveBrum’s listings, or Traditional Arts Team stuff where I discovered a Balkan and Israeli folk dance night in the church at the end of our road that has been going since 1972!, or Getgood’s Digbeth Is Good blog covering the arty and alternative Digbeth area, or any of the other places people search for social-cultural goings-on…)

The #intheroom display was impressive. And it seems to have been noted. Someone on Twitter reported: ‘Just had word through from the Culture team they’re #outtheroom and blown away by the response online’.

We’ll see soon enough how blown away they were, I guess. But it may be that if Birmingham does win the UK City of Culture 2013 title, that it might just have been the people of Birmingham who have swung it for themselves.