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Things to do in Birmingham

    Birmingham

    Finding things in Birmingham

    life as an adventure

    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.

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    Birmingham

    Things to do in Birmingham: Whisky Club

    Whisky Club begins

    Birmingham Whisky Club begins

    A bar manager once told me that every bottle on his back-bar had a story to tell.  This to me seemed to be a rather Romantic way of summing up the rich history behind the libations that lubricate most weekend evenings.  After all, even the cheapest of whiskies and rums require the kind of faith that most people would consider foolhardy – a product, which after being made, requires a certain amount of time to age/rest, it hardly seems like the wisest of business moves.  But that’s the beauty of alcohol and this was no better summed up than at my trip to The Birmingham Whisky Club.

    Set up by Amy Seaton, who wanted to learn (and drink) more whisky, and Craig Mills from the Whisky Shop, the informal monthly tasting sessions attract a wide range of people looking to learn more about whisky.  This month Pernod-Ricard’s Phil Huckle talked through six of the company’s Scotch whiskies, both single malt and blended.  Actually talked through the whiskies is an unfair description; Phil romped through the Scottish highlands and history, regaling the group with stories of British kings, illicit whisky production worldwide and photographs of stunning Scottish scenery.  I’ve been to a few rep talks about their products now and this was certainly one of the more entertaining.

    The evening was split in two, with the first three whiskies (Strathisla 12 year old, Longmorn 16 year old and Chivas Regal 18 year old) being sampled first.  Water is offered, both to sip throughout the evening but also to add to the whisky to open up the flavours.  Each whisky is sampled, then water added and a discussion ensues.  For anyone not used to tasting whisky (or not on a table with knowledgeable bartenders, as I was lucky to be sat with), Phil offered a few suggestions.  Having been given a bottle of Chivas Regal 12 year old (which I used to make whisky cake), it was nice to be able to try another in the range, with the 18 year old having more spice and richness to it.

    After the break it was back to the tasting and more tales.  The Glenlivet 18 year old seemed to have a wealth of them with name disputes amongst its history. Darker than the previous whiskies it had hints of fruitiness, particularly pear.  This was followed by the rich, sherry influenced Glenlivet 21 year old, which at £160 felt like a treat to be able to try.  But I’m a sucker for a good story so hearing about the origin of Aberlour distillery’s A’Bunadh cask strength Batch 39 whisky was a good way to end the night.  Released in limited-run batches this is the attempted recreation of a Victorian whisky found in the walls of the distillery, and at 59.8% ABV was the strongest whisky of the night, but had a nice sweetness to it.

    So what did I think?  For £20 the Whisky Club is a great value way to try a range of whisky and learn more about the product, particularly given the price of some of the bottles on offer.  For anyone not used to whisky tasting it could possibly be difficult picking out the different notes in the spirit, but advice from the speaker and fellow table members is sure to help. It would’ve been nice to see a little more interaction between the group as a whole and for a room of around 40 people there were disappointedly few women, but this is sadly a wider issue within the industry rather than the fault of the organisers.  Perhaps the idea of tasting six whiskies is a little too much for some and a spittoon might’ve been a welcomed addition to the table for those not wishing to drink so much, but it’s a nice position to be in where the only issue is too much of a good thing.  Overall an enjoyable experience and one to repeat.

    The Birmingham Whisky Club is taking a break over the summer, but will be back in September with a roster of events, including the monthly tasting events.  Check out their website for more details: http://www.thebirminghamwhiskyclub.co.uk/

    Disclosure: I received a free ticket to the evening’s event but was not required to write a positive review.  All opinions are my own.
    Birmingham

    The Birmingham Salon are back

    Very excited to hear the Birmingham Salon is making a come-back next month.  It’s always nice to have interesting discussions and debates happening in Birmingham and I always thought the Birmingham Salon had a nice edge to it which complemented other groups like the Birmingham Skeptics and Cafe Scientifique.

    Their latest talk is on the subject of morality in children, which looks pretty fascinating.  Here’s what they emailed out this morning…

    Nina Powell, researcher at the University of Birmingham will discuss her completed PhD thesis ‘in-conversation’ with Helene Guldberg, associate lecturer in child development at the Open University and author of ‘Reclaiming Childhood: Freedom and Play in an Age of Fear‘.

    Some recent research argues that ‘ground-floor’ and some sophisticated moral cognition develops as early as 14 months of age. Drawing on her Phd research Nina will argue that the case for an innate moral understanding that expresses itself before the age of 6 or 7-years-old is at best limited, and at worst, grossly misrepresented in some research. The implications of such misrepresentations of moral development are efforts to increase moral understanding in the early years through schooling and parenting interventions, as well as an overall problematic view that ignores the complexity and changeability of human beings and the way we think about morality.

    If children are moral, then what implications does this have for parental responsibility? Should the age of criminal responsibility be lowered as some have argued? Is the distinction between adulthood and childhood, as presently conceived, acceptable given these new theories?

    They’re meeting on Thursday 12th July at 7pm in The Ropewalk Pub in St Pauls Square, Jewellery Quarter.  It’s an interesting move having had previous discussions in The Studio on Cannon St, which is a nice space for meetings and conferences but always made the discussions a little too formal.  The Ropewalk is a nice pub so I’d imagine the discussions will flow a-plenty and give a lot of food for thought – particularly to anyone who went to the Cafe Scientifique talk last month about how far neuroscience has come in understanding the child’s brain.

    Birmingham

    Birmingham + food + magazine = Edible Brum

    Birmingham has been getting some food press recently about its foodie exploits, so the launch of a new magazine celebrating this seemed fairly apt.

    Edible Brum is a darling of a magazine created by the team behind the Warehouse Cafe (a fab veggie restaurant in town) and features an array of articles from local food heros.  It’s got an interesting collection of articles, from one by Loaf‘s Tom Baker (whose Bread Basics course I went on a few years ago and would highly recommend) on the state of bread and where to get a good loaf from, to an exploration of indie coffee shops (including two of my favourites and one I’ve been meaning to try for a while), interviews with top chefs and a host of other articles.  Oh and there’s an article by a certain bar showing you how to make your own seasonal rhubarb cocktail too.  I was around when this was being created and its pretty delicious – sloe gin and rhubarb liqueur, of course it would be!

    I’ve already made a mental list of things mentioned in there I need to seek out and I’m already looking forward to the summer edition.  Have a read of the first issue below…

     

    Lifestyle

    Making paper garlands for Christmas

    The German Market is back in Birmingham and the John Lewis advert nearly had me in tears, so it has got to be time to prepare for Christmas.  And what better way than with some crafting!

    Cut outs ready to new sewn (by machine)

    Cut outs ready to be (machine) sewn

    Last weekend I wandered down the first of a series of workshops being held by Oh Buttons at the Jewellery Quarter branch of Urban Coffee Company.  The first session was the simple yet hugely delightful paper garlands workshop.

    Being a bit of an emo-kid I decided on doing a garland of stars.  Hannah from Oh Buttons had brought along a bunch of Christmassy papers and pieces of inspiration.  So once we had our idea and sketched it out, we had to cut out 24 pieces 8-10cm in length.  I’m pretty sure you could do smaller or larger pieces if that’s the affect you were going for, and I’ve seen versions with much more intricate paperwork than I’ll ever be able to manage.

    Anyway, once the cutting was done it was onto the sewing.  Sewing machines always make me a little nervous, even my own, but feeding through the bits of paper to make the garland was pretty therapeutic.  And the good thing was that a little gap sort of needed to be left in them so they’d have some movement…so there really was nothing to worry about!

    And behold the finished product!

    Star paper garlands

    The finished product - paper garlands sewn and displayed!

    I’m pretty pleased with mine and I’ve already hung it up in the house (as you can see).  I’ve got some butterfly templates which I picked up from a papercraft shop years ago and once I can find some suitable paper I’m going to try again and make some for my bedroom.  But first I think we need more to add to the Christmas decorations in the house!

    Hannah is running another three sessions on Sundays in the run up to Christmas.  The one this Sunday (20th Nov) is on felt Christmas tree decorations, then after that its things which can be made as gifts – embroidered brooches on the 4th Dec and Phone/MP3player cosies on the 11th December.  Sessions are two hours long, only cost £10 (more than reasonable in my opinion) and they’re good fun and easy to remember so if you want to make them again you can.

    Now, to try and convince my housemate to let me put up more decorations…

    Birmingham, Books, Online stuff

    My thoughts on Library Camp 2011

    I felt a bit of a fraud on Saturday morning turning up to Library Camp, an unconference for librarians, until I realised that I had actually spent some time looking after a library.  And I made cake, which actually seemed to be more of a prerequisite for attendance than a library career.  Thankfully everyone was so utterly delightful that I think as long as you are passionate about libraries and had cake you were greeted with welcomed arms.

    Photo of part of the timetable by smilylibrarian from flikr

    The first part of the unconference was the pitching for sessions, duly written on post-it-notes, groups and organised into sessions.  It’s a shame we could only go to five, but when the disappointing thing is too many interesting sessions you know you’re on to a good thing.  Thankfully lots of people tweeted throughout the day so it was possible to catch up on other discussion and people have subsequently blogged their thoughts on them too (like this one from Jennifer Yellin).

    It’s hard to pick favourites, but I really enjoyed the two on advertising and what libraries can learn from retail, which isn’t surprising given that I work in communications and marketing.  Bums on Seats made some really good notes on these two sessions.  The retail session seemed to focus on a lot of practical things that could be done in libraries – displays and books facing outwards, although the idea of having books in categories seemed to split opinion.  Personally I think opening times are one of the biggest barriers to people using the library – something which I mentioned on twitter and seemed to get some good responses.  The last session on advertising was the one I understood the best, having experience in public sector marketing and it seems that some of the problems the librarians found were similar, if not worse, to those I found in the NHS.  Sadly it sounded like the will to market was there, but with little support from their corporate communications teams (one team has to email tweets to the webmaster which are frequently changed and lose meaning)

    The other notable session I sat in on was one on Shared Reading  A group of about ten of us read a short story about a father and son, paused at relevant places, which provoked some really unexpected and strong emotional reactions.  I’m not entirely sure I can convey how powerful and moving this session was, but when a 45 minute session with a group of strangers nearly brings you to tears you might get the idea.  I’m determined to learn more.

    Discussions at lunch about further education libraries, children’s development and a whole raft of bookish talk were really interesting.  Plus I was given a free book by the lovely @JennySarahJones which I found out about thanks to the power of twitter!

    So what did I learn

    • Library folk are some of the nicest people ever and really like their cake.
    • Following a hashtag (#libcampuk11) on tweetdeck when its updated fairly regularly is rubbish, the twitter app was a lot more useful.
    • The cola cupcakes recipe from Hummingbird Bakery book was actually a hit – people even tweeted me to say so!
    • If the people at libcampUK11 are anything to go by, so long as the current government doesn’t completely chop the library budget to shreds, the future of libraries are in good hands.

    Initially I wasn’t sure how interesting I’d find the day or how useful I’d be, but in the end I left Library Camp inspired and hopeful – and determined to use the library more.  A big thanks to those that organised the event and to those in attendance for providing me with some really interesting ideas.

    Birmingham

    Do you like your men like you like your coffee?

    Some times I get some really random, but curious emails. My favourite one recently was about the Carte Noire Man Café which appeared in Birmingham for today only. Sadly I was working from home all day so didn’t get to pop in and see it, but it’s an interesting concept.

    The idea seems to be that all women need a bit of ‘me time’ and what better way to experience this than at a Man Cafe? A Man Cafe! My inner feminist is getting a little angsty about the concept, but I do like the whole marketing schtick around the “Men should be like coffee, hot sweet and strong” saying. Although I’ve been trying to figure which of expresso, cappuccino, latte macchiato, and creme intense relates to the choices at the Man Cafe of Mr Confident, Mr Romantic, Mr Cool and Mr Continental. I’ve also been trying to figure out if my choice of coffee also says anything about my choice in men too, but that’s probably not something for a blogpost.

    And because this song has been in my head for the last two days since getting the email, here’s a video for Supersister’s song Coffee; “I like my men like I like my coffee…”