I have never understood the appeal of going home every night to eat dinner, sit in front of the telly and fall asleep, repeating over and over, living for the weekend. For me, I think every day can be an adventure, even if it’s just people watching in a coffee shop. Birmingham is notoriously quite bad about shouting about all the great things going on in the city. So I thought I’d try and write down some ideas, as much to remind myself, but also hopefully as help for others. I should probably place a caveat here; these are very much the things that interest me, and there are so many other things out there, that I haven’t covered because I wouldn’t know the first place to look.
There’s not a lot I can do at the moment, as I’ve been struck down with the lurgy, but the good folk at Flatpack Festival have released their line-up and I’ve been having a look through it.
Returning for a ten-day festival of cinematic invention and audio-visual delights, #flatpack12 has yet another a great line-up this spring. Running from 13-22 April 2018, Swedish witchcraft, animated sushi, teenage mermaids, silent trapeze and Shakespearean puppets are just a few of the delights. And if that’s just a few of the selected highlights, then you know there’s going to be so much more creativity in store.
I love living in a city for so many reasons, but one of which is the richness of live street art and music that you can stumble across – sometimes it’s part of a festival and sometimes it’s just because. Last night whilst I was ambling around the city centre, trying to decide what I should do for dinner, I spotted three people setting up equipment for a gig. It’s not uncommon to see people playing around this area in Birmingham, but usually it’s a soloist with maybe a single amp, mic and possibly a guitar; a drum kit and enough kit for a full gig is quite unusual. That, and the make up of some of the band, made me want to stick around to find out more. Plus, I still hadn’t decided what to have for tea.
Unsurprisingly it turned out they were a rock band, and the man in front of me was right in his assertion they looked like they were going to be worth sticking around for. Once they’d told the group of bemused onlookers who they were, I did a quick online search and turns out StOp,sToP! have quite the following. I stuck around for a few songs, ignoring my rumbling tummy, and thoroughly enjoyed their rendition of Proud Mary in particular.
In a week when terrible things have happened in our fellow second city, armed police patrol the streets and trains, we’re told trauma centres are on high alert, and the country’s threat level is raised to critical, a rock band plays a free gig in Birmingham city centre. It feels ridiculous and defiant, and as the crowd sung and danced along, it felt like the right.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to the press screening of Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes ballet, on behalf of Polaroids & Polar Bears, a local arts and culture magazine.
I naively assumed it was about the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale about the girl who wears the cursed red shoes and didn’t bother to look anymore into it because I was supposed to go with my mum and I figured she’d know. Only she cancelled on me as she had a meeting, so I ended up going with my friend Ian. Turns out it’s based on a film, which I’ve never seen – but my friend Louise has righted that by getting me a copy for my birthday.
Anyway, if you want to read my thoughts on the ballet, head over to Polaroids and Polar Bears!
There’s something about the crisp winter darkness and the sparkle of lights that feel magic, hopeful. And the Magic Lantern Festival being held at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens didn’t disappoint. I loved the creativity, weaving round the path seeing the different stories and the simplistic fun of a Saturday night that involved soya lattes and toasted marshmallows, rather than crowded bars and badly poured drinks.
I hope it returns next year…
I like any excuse to learn something new, and Pecha Kucha Night is a great way to hear about a whole range of topics in a short, fast-paced evening. Developed around a presentation style in which 20 slides are shown for 20 seconds each, the talks are deliberately concise and yet still fascinating.
Teaming up with Birmingham City University’s ReThink Media conference, PKN Birmingham volume twelve’s location was the newly opened Curzon Building which has fantastic views over the city. The seven speakers presented on a range of topics, from bread stamping to podcasting and operatic soprano Lily Pons.
To my mind, the great thing about PKN is that the short, sharp presentations have enough time to spark the interest of the audience, but if a topic doesn’t grab you, then they’re also quickly over. Thankfully all seven topics were fascinating with everything from storytelling in colonial Mexico via artwork stamped onto bread, through to popular podcasts and the future of cameras.
Rocio Carvajal’s talk on “The language of food: Bread stamping in colonial Mexico” was a speedy run through Mexican bread stamping from a historical perspective, but also her efforts to recreate this artistry and examples of her work, which we then got to eat after! I also enjoyed the camaraderie of the organisers who seem genuinely passionate about spreading interesting ideas in the city – evidenced by them allowing a presentation by Mark Stedman, founder of Ignite Brum, which runs a similar-format event of “five-minute presentations with slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds”…although Mark was at PKN to talk about his passion for podcasting.
The presentations on the night were recorded and are available to view on PKN Birmingham’s website and they have a number of other events lined up for the rest of the year. There’s more info at; http://pkbham.uk/
One of my favourite discoveries since moving is the discovery of how close I am to the Birmingham & Worcester Canal. It feels like this marvel in the city; cutting right through the heart of it, as it largely follows the cross-city train line, at least from Bournville to town, but yet it feels impossibly serene, even as the trains go chortling past.
I must have walked it a dozen times now, it takes me right into the centre of town, to the Mailbox with it’s bustling canal-side cafes. But mainly I like the feeling of peace that comes with the five or so mile walk. The space is used by people walking their dogs, joggers and those cycling, so it’s prudent not to wear headphones as to avoid a collision.
And it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve repeated the walk, something about the tranquility hidden amongst the city buzz makes it feel like an adventure, simultaneously exciting and soothing.
People talk about mindfulness and its benefits, the idea of focusing awareness on the present moment, learning how to live with more appreciation and less anxiety. It’s something I struggle with; my brain is seduced by ideas, curiosity, and learning and I’m not good at doing nothing. But walking along the canal feels like having a purpose, doing something, but also time to notice all the little things, like the smell of the chocolate as I pass the Cadbury factory, the ducks and geese, the canal boats sailing past, even the litter.
It is, for me, the perfect balance.
My favourite bit of the walk is an aqueduct near the university and Selly Oak. From South Birmingham into the city centre there are plenty of little bridges that loop over the canal, those old Victorian ones with brick arches that make me think of the Railway Children. But this is a modern bridge where the canal flows over the Selly Oak bypass. It is, I’m sure, even if you understand science and engineering more than me, an impressive feat of engineering, but every time I walk on it, it reminds me that science is real-life magic.
The Edgbaston tunnel is another highlight; a long, narrow tunnel which reminds me of the entrance to a pirate ride at an amusement park we used to go to when I was younger. For ages the lights on the tunnel didn’t work, and someone had helpfully laminated a sign with the contact details of the local councillor who we should report it to. Whether or not the sign was successful, the lights seem to have been fixed, although it’s still not something I’d want to walk through in the dark.
All of these photos were taken when the seasons where transforming from winter to spring. I wonder what it’ll look like in autumn/winter?