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    Co-working venues: Costa Coffee, High St, Kings Heath

    So after a bit of a break in our co-working, Liz and I thought we’d try the newest kid on the block – Costa Coffee which opened fairly recently. One of Liz’s friends had said that Costa was a good place to work from, so it seemed like a good enough endorsement to check it out.

    Costa Coffee, High St, Kings Heath

    Opening recently in the site of the old Clarks shop store, which has moved a few doors down, Costa is the first real chain coffee shop on Kings Heath High St in amongst all the little independents.  Kings Heath was once the barometer by which the recession was supposedly being measured, if the flurry of national interest was to be believed, so the fact that we’ve now got a chain coffee shop (although we’ve had a chain pub for a while, good ol’ Wetherspoons) surely means something, but who knows what.

    Well this is going to be a short section. We initially thought there was internet. After all if the little coffee-shops up and down the High St can manage it, surely a national brand like Costa would consider it akin to offering milk with your tea. Apparently not. Which is a great shame, as Costa is by far the best venue we’ve found for plug sockets and had plenty of tables that looked perfect for a laptop and mug of coffee.

    And anyone that knows me know that I tend to want to know why something isn’t as it should. So I checked the internet on my phone (thank goodness for 3G), the internet was a bit unsure whether Costa offered wi-fi….their website certainly didn’t say. However it did lead me to the number of their PR manager. Hey, I was writing a blog on Costa and I couldn’t find a lot of contact info on the rest of the site, so maybe their PR manager might like to comment. Except they were on holiday – what if I found a rat in my tea?! Yup this is utterly ridiculous but it seems kinda odd way to run a press office to me. Still, I know that Kings Heath Costa doesn’t have wifi, but I still don’t know what the official position is on the matter. And seriously, it’s 2011 and if both Mc Donalds and the little indie cafes on the High St can manage wifi why on earth can’t Costa. Bad Costa, bad.

    Food and drink
    Costa is probably my favourite coffee shop of the big coffee-shop chains. When I had to cut caffeine and dairy out of my diet for a while one of the Costa chains were really accommodating and that’s the kind of thing you remember. And they actually manage to make reasonably decent tea, even if it is just a tea bag, but it comes in a tea pot so win for them. Oh and they do skimmed milk, which makes Liz happy.

    Food wise I didn’t partake this time round. I’ve always found the food on offer a bit typical of coffee-shops and honestly, trying it would be a bit like reviewing Mc Donald’s – it’s going to be the same wherever you go. Except its sandwiches and cakes and stuff and all perfectly pleasant, but I just find them a little uninspiring. But the same goes for Starbucks, Costa, Nero and whatever other coffee shops I’m missing. Nice, but nothing new and exciting and also feels a bit pricey when over the road I can sit in and have a baguette, crisps and can of drink for about the same price as their sandwich or a freshly made sandwich from one of the indie cafes.

    General atmosphere
    I’ve always preferred Costa over the over coffee-shop chains, so I’m glad that if we had to have one on the High St this would be it. And it seems like other people like it too. Even though we were in early afternoon on a weekday it was pretty busy with lots of different people, but nicely busy which is probably helped by the fact it’s got a good sized floor space. There are some comfy sofas for heart-to-hearts which are a bit rubbish to work from if you have a laptop, but thankfully there are plenty of normal tables and chairs for that. But only if you’re writing a novel or something that doesn’t require the internet (I know, broken record, but come on this is 2011 every coffee shop should have wifi by now). It’s got that kind of cosy coffee shop atmosphere and isn’t too noisy, even with a good number of people inside.

    So, to sum up; it’s your usual chain coffee shop, but one of the better ones. Co-working wise it would be good for a meeting, but the lack of internet really lets it down. Everything else, is fine.

    Check out what Liz thought here.


    Vampires, boybands and writing for a magazine with a rather dodgy name

    So, last Saturday night I spent the evening with the fellow writers, artists and editors of the second issue of local literary mag, Dirty Bristow.

    It’s probably worth mentioning now that Dirty Bristow isn’t exactly your typical literary magazine (the name should be the first hint). They actually describe themselves as “dedicated to resurrecting the magazine as a fetish object, giving creative people the room to let their minds go. No ads. No rules.”

    Basically some time last year they announced the topic, Beast, and then let us write away for several months. I ended up writing an article on why vampires are the new boybands. Actually it was a bit of a continued rant I’d had at my housemates about why first boybands then vampires appeared to be pushing this really disturbing idea of need-you-forever-die-without-you kind of love that seems to be so toxic. So maybe I got a little feministy, but that’s not a bad thing.

    And the guys were good enough not to laugh at me (at least not to my face) and print it. They also printed some other cool articles and some copies even have a cassette – remember those?! I’m yet to find something in the house that will play it, but I’m looking forward to listening to the four cover-songs on there as soon as I get to my mum’s (aka the land of antiques) where I’m hoping she has a tape player.

    If you fancy reading my article or if you hate the sound of it and want to read everyone elses or if you want to look really cool and have a magazine they don’t sell at Smiths, then go here my good friends!

    Birmingham, Books

    Birmingham Book Bloggers and Tweeters

    Just over a couple of weeks ago I attended a meet up for Birmingham Book Bloggers (#brumbookmeet), hosted by the lovely Jen (@BhamLibrarian) and Zoe (playingbythebook) at Cafe Blend.

    The basic idea was a loose one – a meet up for people who are interested in books and bookish things who blog, tweet or review them online and are near the Birmingham vicinity (here‘s the original blogpost at playingbythebook).  As someone who occasionally blogs about the books we read at book club and a few other book reviews I figured I could justify popping along.

    Six of us turned out for the first meeting and had a great chat about Birmingham, books and bookish things in Birmingham.  From that we’ve created a Google calendar to collect together bookish things in Birmingham.  I’ve added the events from the Waterstones website, a couple of book groups and some other events.  But I’m sure there has to be more events in Birmingham about books and bookish things.  So if you know of any please let me know (comment or email).

    Next meet up is Sunday 24th July from 6-8pm at The Victoria, John Bright St.  Join us?


    Co-working venues: Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath

    On the back of the success of the first co-working venue review that I did alongside my friend Liz – and inspired others to do the same, we thought we’d chance a second.  We ended up picking another venue quite close to the other one, more out of ease for us, but at some point we will venture further a’field.

    Kitchen Garden Cafe, York Road, Kings Heath

    The KGC can pretty much be summed up as a hidden oasis off a busy High St.  Part garden shop, party cafe it’s really got this quaint, magical quality to it.  Artwork for sale adorning the walls, a programme of live folk and craft in the evenings, a play area for children and an environment of quirky it’s really very cute and a bit of a hidden gem – though thankfully fairly well known amongst locals.

    I met Liz there around 11am, who bumped into a friend who was already working there.  The cafe has a reasonable number of tables, but does get very busy.  We sat in the back of the cafe, in order to find a plug for charging the laptops (note to anyone thinking about co-working anywhere, generally it’s wise to charge up before you go) and there were plenty.  Unfortunately this is also the area with the toys for children.


    Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath

    Kitchen Garden Cafe, Kings Heath

    Kinda hard to judge this one as I’ve been a few times and so my computer picked up the net no problem.  Then again, even if you’ve not been before they usually have little slips of paper with the internet password freely available.  And it’s your standard way of finding the network, enter the password and away you go.  No complaints from me.

    Food and drink
    Food wise, the KGC is a little pricer than your usual cafe, but then again this is because the food is freshly made on site (from the counter you can just about see into the kitchen) and where possible they use seasonal, fairly-traded, local and/or organic food.  And there’s a notable level of quality to the food because of it.

    A while ago they removed sausage sandwiches from the all day menu and I never really forgave them for it (though they are on the breakfast menu served to midday), so I couldn’t tell you what breakfast or dinner at the KGC is like, but lunch wise its pretty good.  This time I had the Home-made Haddock Fish Finger Sandwich which at £5.95 is pretty pricey for a sandwich, but the fresh battered fish is delicious and in all fairness I rarely feel it needs another side – although I have ordered a side of chips with it before.  It’s the kind of sandwich which is just so delightful that I never really mind the fact that its £6, it kinda feels worth it.

    General atmosphere
    The KGC really is a delightful place.  Unfortunately it isn’t great for co-working.  Why?  Easy answer is children.  It’s an incredibly child-friendly place, which is fine if you’re there for food and a catch up, but if you’re planning on working there it can be problematic (particularly when kids are crying for periods of time, but cafe etiquette is another blogpost).  Generally I can work through most noise, but if you plan on taking any calls it just won’t work.  I had to go outside to call anyone and whilst I could leave my laptop with Liz, it was a pain and whilst there’s a very safe, comfortably atmosphere to the KGC its not exactly recommend behaviour leaving your stuff.  The music is a little louder than it needs to be too.

    I love the KGC for lazy lunches, tea and cake, folk on a Sunday and somewhere to show off when friends come to visit the city.  But for co-working, it just doesn’t really feel like its really up to it.

    Check out what Liz thought here.

    Birmingham, Books

    Asked to write my first ever guest blogpost!

    I completely forgot to mention it here, but I’ve written a guest blogpost over at Urban Coffee Company‘s website on how to survive a book club.  Its about what to look out for if you’re new, have been going to book clubs for a while or are running one yourself – as well as trying to dispel the idea that book clubs are just retired old ladies discussing stuffy historical romances.  Kind of apt timing really, given my previous post here was about attending another book club.

    It has been up since last Wednesday, but check it out here and let me know what you think.

    Birmingham, Books

    Infiltrating another book group

    Not quite as exciting as the title makes it out to be, but earlier in the week I attended another book club other than the one I currently run.  I’ve attended two book clubs a month before, which is a bit of a struggle reading two books chosen for you, rather than the ones you want to read.  At least it is for me.

    We read A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.  Personally I was fairly apathetic about the book, which surprised me as usually I come down on one side of the fence, but this was pretty meh.  I just didn’t care about the characters, I didn’t hate the supposed annoying main character, and I thought the book could say more about the environment it was set in.  But I just didn’t get the humour, which I’d say is fairly integral to whether you like the book or not.  This is a modern classic and yet somehow I managed to miss it whilst studying American literature for two years.  That said if Wikipedia is anything to go by publishers rejected the book during Toole’s lifetime for being fairly pointless, which was my summation before I’d discovered that piece of trivia.

    Anyway, the book club is The Birmingham Book Club and Popular Culture Meetup Group, which has over 700 members, thankfully about 30-40 people attend the book discussions – which is still twice as many people than any other book club I’ve ever been to.  That said it runs smoothly and pretty much like most book clubs; whilst everyone introduces themselves and their feelings on the book at the beginning, the main contributors to the discussion number about 15 – or at least did do at this meeting.

    The discussion did feel a bit more akin to English Lit seminars at university rather than a chatty informal discussion about books, which certainly makes this book club different to the one I run – both of which I really enjoy.  It’s nice to know if I can manage to read two books a month of someone else’s choosing without distracting myself with my own to-read pile that I can have the best of both worlds.

    They’re meeting on Tuesday 12th June at 8pm in The Victoria Pub to discuss The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories.  I’ll be at the University of Birmingham’s annual happiness lecture, but you should go.


    Co-working venues: Loco Lounge, High Street, Kings Heath

    One of the perks of my job is that I can work wherever there is internet.  Whilst this generally means I work from home or work, it does mean that some times I park up in a coffee shop for a change of scenery – and occasionally some co-working (which is just the snazzy way of saying sitting with other people who are also working from the same place).  Far from being a bit of a doss, co-working gives you the opportunity to bounce ideas off people – and have them look after your computer when you go to the loo.

    My friend Liz (who runs a proof reading business) and I are going to test out some of them and so some reviews and such, to weed out which ones are good to work in and which ones aren’t.  Here goes…

    Loco Lounge, High Street, Kings Heath

    Loco Lounge, Kings Heath High St.

    A fairly new addition to Kings Heath High St, this relaxed cafe bar is one of a number which has sprung up around the country over the last year.  It’s going for that shabby-chic look, but does appear to be a little out of the box (the “rips” in the wallpaper are deliberate).  Overall though there is a good floor space with plenty of seating – from comfy sofas and padded benches to wooden table & chairs.

    I met Liz around 10.30am when it was a little quiet, but then quite a few coffee shops are during weekdays, excluding lunchtime (it picked up around then).  Did mean we got the pick of seats, although if you needed one with a plug it looked like you might be restricted to one table – charge up before you go.

    Connecting to the internet was a little difficult.  The server didn’t seem sure about it and asked the manager.  Rather than the usual connect via a password, this required you to set up your own username and password via U2com.  Fair dos.  Problem with this is that it takes an age to load the page to sign-up.  I signed up fairly easily, but it failed to tell me I had 15mins to validate it and after the allotted time tried to kick me off.  This resulted in some jiggery-pokery with my computer and logging into my emails via my phone, but got there in the end.  It tried to get Liz to sign up twice, only to tell her the username was in use and then never required use of the validation page.  Also the connection did drop off a few times and was slow.  Not quite the days of dial-up, but not great.

    Food and drink
    I’d been to Loco Lounge a few weeks before and had a panini for £6.50, which was really tasty but a bit steep considering ‘served with house salad and fries’ means a pinch of both.  So this time I was a bit wiser and ordered a bacon butty (£3) and a bowl of fries (around £2 I think), which was a much more value-for-money serving.  Food was tasty and arrived in reasonable time, but I do find the menu a little uninspiring for lunchtime where the choices are a few sandwiches or brunch.  Plus it’s quite pricey considering there’s a raft of coffee shops and food establishments in Kings Heath with menus with more variety at better prices being equally if not tastier.  Drinks wise, pints of Diet Coke price wise were nothing out of the ordinary and I was having a stay away from dairy, so can’t comment on the tea or coffee.  Overall drinks seem reasonable.

    General atmosphere
    Overall Loco Lounge is nice enough.  The internet is a bit of a hassle, but then this is something which won’t be a surprise to those used to working from coffee shops.  No one hassled us to buy more drinks and the venue is nice, but I’m not sure I’d be comfortable wandering to the loo and leaving the staff to look after my laptop, as it’s a little vast.  Food wise I find it a bit disappointing; the menu looks like it’s trying to be concise and all-things-to-all-people and just doesn’t really achieve it, particularly as it just feels too pricey for the High St.

    I’d go back for drinks with friends and a catch up (still need to try the cake) and at a push maybe to work, but it’s not a patch on my usual work-away-from-home.  And whilst the food is fine, I’d rather go to somewhere else on the High St for better value.   Drinks yes, food somewhere else.

    Check out what Liz thought here.