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    Birmingham

    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.

    Internet

    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.

    Birmingham

    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.

    Internet
    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.

    Birmingham, Theory

    Birmingham Salon: Pursuit of modernity in China

    Thursday’s Birmingham Salon was a bit like going back to university, having forgotten to do the assigned reading. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fascinating talk from Alan Hudson, Director of Oxford University’s Leadership Programmes for China, but it more importantly, it highlighted how little we know about China’s rise to economic stardom.

    Admittedly, this possibly not a subject ever featured on Mastermind and unlikely to be featured in a pub quiz, but Alan Hudson’s speech was thought provoking never the less. He spoke on the issues facing the cities of China; mass urbanization as over 300 million Chinese moved from the rural areas into cities, how Chinese officials intended to shape every aspect of city life from planned to lived spaces (i.e. the need for street vendors, but them making things cluttered) and how Chinese society suffered from a kind of managerialism which is becoming more evident in British society.

    Sadly, due to unforeseen circumstances, there was no other side to form the debate, but it almost felt like it would’ve been redundant as Hudson’s talk seemed more observational and theoretical than debatable. Yet, the audience did an excellent job of challenging his points, pointing out logical flaws and challenging Hudson’s criticisms of the views from William Hutton on liberal culture and liberal economies. All in all a fascinating discussion on a lesser known topic, with a lot learned by all.

    The next Birmingham Salon will take place on Tuesday 8 June. Check the website for more information.

    *This was originally posted on my old blog BeanHeartBatman*

    Birmingham, Theory

    What happens if a successful candidate in local elections resigns?

    A candidate in the constituency I live is running both for MP of the constituency as well as local councillor in a ward nearby.  Whilst I know this is possible, although I question how one person can do both effectively, I was more shocked to hear one of the candidate’s supporters suggest (how true this is I don’t know) in the event the candidate won both elections they would resign the councillor position.  This sounded like a great waste to me and I needed to understand the implications – could this waste taxpayers money in the event of a by-election or votes if the candidate with the second highest votes was subsequently elected?

    My first stop was Twitter, that being said it wasn’t greatly helpful.  So I called Birmingham City Council’s election line.  The person on the phone asked me who I was and I couldn’t help but answer “a concerned resident of Birmingham” – it had to be done.  According to him at least, I couldn’t be given the information unless I was a candidate.  So I emailed.  A day and a half later I had no response, so I called again.  I was once again told this wasn’t the sort of thing they dealt with as they weren’t in the Back Office (?! I’ve no idea what that means).  I kicked up a bit of a fuss and got put through to the mysterious Back Office where a nice person consulted a colleague and said they thought it would result in a by-election, but to call the Electoral Commission.

    So I did.

    And spoke to a lovely person who was the most helpful person I spoke to during all this.  They mentioned a few things and then said they’d look into it and email me back. Sadly I have a difficult email address so I didn’t get it until I emailed in and checked the spelling of my Irish-variant surname.  At the same time I got a response from Birmingham City Council.

    The email from Birmingham City Council confirmed that if a successful candidate resigned “This would therefore trigger a by election [sic]. There is no provision for the candidate with the second highest number of votes to be elected.”

    This was backed up by the email from the person at the Electoral Commission who said the failure to sign the declaration of acceptance would, according to the Local Government Act 1972, be dealt with in the usual way according to rule 89.  This, after reading it, backs up the comment from Birmingham City Council, thankfully.  You can read it here, if you’d like.

    Oh and the cost of a by-election.  According to the person at Birmingham City Council; “As for the cost of a by election this would be approximately £20,000.”

    NB: I’ve contact the candidate in question a couple of times to check whether they are intending to resign from the councillor position if elected to both, but as of yet I have had no response.

    *This was originally posted on my old blog BeanHeartBatman*