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    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*

    Birmingham

    Things to do in Birmingham: bake bread

    Where: Loaf HQ, Cotteridge

    When: day course, check the available courses here

    Cost: £75 (free for me as it was a Birthday present)

    What: See, taste, feel and understand bread in a way you’ve never before.  Seriously.

    A day course on the basics of bread; what goes into it (very little), what mass produced bread contains (lots of nasties) and how to make your own.  And by how to make your own, I mean how to make a lot of bread in a relatively short space of time.   We made loaves, buns, batons, ciabatta, wholemeal bread, white bread, glimpsed the wonders of sourdough, pizza and fougasse all in one day.  Oh, and went home with the dough for brioche, to be cooked the next day.

    Would I go again?Without a doubt.  The course was fascinating, not only to see the ease of making your own bread, but also the magic of it.  Call me silly, but to see flour, water, yeast and salt transform into dough and then left for a couple of hours double in size, is fairly amazing.

    The course is paced well, with enough time to make a mountain of bread, but also to chat to the others on the course, eat freshly made brioche for elevenses, cook and make pizza for lunch and ask questions.  And we did ask a lot of questions; from where to get the flour to what liquids to use and whether breadmakers are a good idea (yes and no).

    In fact, I enjoyed the course so much that three days later I’ve had a go at making my own bread from the booklet provided. What’cha think?


    Birmingham, Theory

    Things to do in Birmingham: Debate at the Birmingham Salon

    *This was originally posted on my old blog BeanHeartBatman*

    Where: The Studio, Cannon St, Birmingham
    When: monthly (I visited Tuesday 9 March)
    Cost: £5

    What: A group of people felt Birmingham suffered from a lack of debate and so the Birmingham Salon was set up to allow people to watch a debate and follow it up with discussion.

    February’s topic was appropriately titled ‘Whose election is it anyway?’ with guest speakers Dolan Cummings from the Institute of Ideas and Peter Kerr, senior lecture in politics at the University of Birmingham.  Both speakers talked about a broken political system.

    Dolan Cummings discussed the general malaise of the general public, who felt divorced from the political system and the conflict over whether MPs should be viewed as “one of us” or whether this downgraded them and they should be viewed as leaders.  His solution was to reignite politics in a way that inspires the public and becomes what they want.  He suggested a 21 topics which needed discussing, but were currently being ignored.

    Peter Kerr believed that to most people there was no difference between the political parties, with the major parties more interested in the cult of celebrity and battling over who could do less and shirk responsibility.  He pointed to membership numbers of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds having more members than the Conservative party.

    The audience, it seemed, myself included, believed that the general public were still involved in politics, but couldn’t find a place in the current system.  People spoke about the wider world, with reference to the recent Iraqi elections and the popularity of pressure groups on social networking sites and community groups.

    Go back? Absolutely.  It was nice to finally see a place that allowed for people to discuss current affairs and challenge the ideas of themselves and others.  The organisers were friendly and accommodating of new people.

    The next discussion is ‘Mr Science and Mr Democracy:
the pursuit of modernity in China’ on Wednesday 21 April at The Studio.  For more information, visit theBirmingham Salon website.