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- Is This Tomorrow is a dystopian/utopian reading group which have read the likes of Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale and Brave New World. Their next meeting is on 6th June to discuss Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange.
- On the first Wednesday of every month, Stirchley Baths hosts a book club from 10-11.30am. The advice, according to the website, is simple; “Just turn up and enjoy a book with a cuppa.”
- On the second Saturday of the month from 11am to midday, Stirchley Readers meet at the library for their regular book club. It’s an all ages group, so feel free to bring your kids.
- Book Marx, the best name ever for a Marxist book club, meet every Wednesday evening (aside from the second Weds) at Artefact
- According to their website, Stirchley Primary School will be starting their own book club
in the spring term but I suspect that will only be for pupils.
- Artefact have also hosted the first Slow Food Club book club and there’s another one due in June, I believe.
I have a few thoughts on this, but this is a placeholder until I get time to write them up
Sometimes you have to know when to admit defeat. After battling with a migraine since about 2am in the morning, and trying my best to do a day’s work, my colleague took pity on me / was sick of the sight of me (delete as appropriate) and told me to go home. So instead of an evening catching up with a friend and going to see Hair the Musical at the Alexandra Theatre, I went home to bed. Turns out this was probably a wise idea as the bright lights, big songs and colourful stage would probably not have done much for the monstrous headache I had. Thankfully my friend Jo-ann was still able to go along, and she was kind enough to write up her thoughts. So over to Jo-ann…
So I agreed to attend Hair on a whim as I didn’t really know much about the show apart from the scandalous banning of it back in the day. I did some cursory research on the cast and saw it featured some X Factor contestants etc. I saw plenty of posters advertising this 50th anniversary touring show around town and was excited to see a modern take on the hippie generation.
On taking my seat I was impressed by the set design and stage lighting. I certainly felt ready to go on a colourful trip back to the late 60s. The cast emerged onto the stage and the show began. From then to close it was a production full of song, colour inclusivity and hope.
Firstly we were introduced to Berger (Jake Quickenden) who charmed and enthralled the audience from the get go with his free-loving positive spirit. Through the various top tapping songs we meet other tribe members and learn about their entangled love lives and dilemmas.
The ensemble cast whip their way through the songs with no off notes and dizzying dance routines. The set design adds to the counter culture vibe and successful ingrates the musicians into the production. It’s the songs that carry you through this show for sure.
The cast interact with the audience throughout the show and this draws you into and at some points I feel like I’m under the influence. I thought I only knew one song but I was sorely mistaken as I found myself singing along to most of them, over the years they must have just seeped into my brain.
The cast were all excellent but special shout outs to Woof (Bradley Judge), Jeanie (Alison Arnopp) and Dionne (Aiesha Pease) whose characters and voices really impressed.
The underlying story is still relevant today particularly given Extinction Rebellion’s recent protests across the UK, but this is light hearted way to engage with some profound issues.
The critically-acclaimed 50th anniversary production of Hair – The Musical is on at The Alexandra Theatre from Monday 29 April – Saturday 4 May 2019, with tickets available at atgtickets.com/birmingham
This was a press event. Photos and their copyright belong to Johan Persson.
I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library…
Jorge Luis Borges said that, and I think if he’d made it over here, he’d quite like Stirchley. It turns out that not only do we have two libraries, but we also have a small press and a raft of book clubs. Not bad for a small suburb. Have a read to find out about the smallest library in Birmingham, and the best named book club too…
Built in 1905 from red brick in Flemish bond with stone dressings, the Grade II listed building on Bournville Lane sits next to Stirchley Baths and plays home to the local library. As well as being able to borrow books, the library has free WiFi, a children’s library and the ability to print and photocopy (at certain times).
But things haven’t always been plain sailing for the library. Under threat of closure, the council have agreed to keep the library open, with the support of volunteers now known as Friends of Stirchley Library (FOSL) group. The group are responsible for covering some of the shortfall in reduction of hours, as well as fundraising to help keep the library going and host some very fun events including Lego Club, late night openings and the occasional silent disco. To find out more about FoSL or to get involved, visit their website.
This photo of Stirchley Library is from Fiona Cullinan aka Katchooo over on Flickr.
Books and a brew
It seems that for such a small space, Stirchley has a *lot* of book clubs, ranging from the very general to the very specialist, so there should be something to suit everyone. Here are just a few…
Side note, as far as I know, none of the book clubs above have read Slay and I actually took this photo at Kafenion in Bournville. But if you want a (young adult) book which is about a boyband who fight demons, think One Direction meets Buffy/Supernatural, then I can highly recommend it.
The littlest library in the land
This adorable little find is nestled away on Bosbury Terrace, just behind Stirchley High Street. Part of the Little Free Library, “the world’s largest book-sharing movement”, Stirchley’s one is in fact the only Little Free Library in Birmingham. Which surely means Stirchley has Birmingham’s smallest library, right?
Run by Elenor, a confirmed bibliophile and a part-time librarian, it’s home to a handful of books and regularly topped up – but feel free to return a book once you’re done. Follow their adventures on the Little Free Library Stirchley facebook page.
Our own publishing house
Did you know Stirchley had its own publishing house? Well, technically it might be based just outside of the suburb, but Splice is Stirchley in spirit and that’s good enough for me. Not only is Splice a small press, publishing three collections of short stories as well as novels, they also release reviews on their website and then literally splice the work of their published authors.
Listen to the second episode of the Republic of Consciousness Prize podcast for a discussion on one of Splice’s titles, Nicholas John Turner’s Hang Him When He Is Not There, which was long-listed for the RofC Prize. About 45 minutes in is devoted to an in-depth conversation between four writers about the ins and outs of the sort of books Splice publishes.
To find out more about Splice, head over to Splice’s website.
This is part of the semi-regular Exploring Stirchley newsletter. To find out more visit the Exploring Stirchley page of this website.
Green Day never belonged to me, they were always my sister’s band. We were both pop-punk fans, but I never got Green Day in the way she did. I understood the impact of Dookie and started to warm up to them around the time of Warning, but American Idiot sealed it for me. It was strong, slick and full of stories. It was hardly surprising to me that it would be the album that would be a musical, especially given the whole “punk rock opera” moniker it was given, but I did wonder how it would play out.
American Idiot the Musical kicks off with the titular song. It introduces the audience to a group of disaffected teenagers, fed up of the state of their country, mass media and the deal they’ve been dealt. During a series of songs from the album we learn that a trio of the group, Johnny, Will and Tunny are unhappy with their suburban lives, with Johnny’s revelation of a broken home and living in a world “that don’t believe in me” (Jesus of Suburbia). The trio plan to escape their lives, but on finding out his girlfriend is pregnant, Will stays at home, with Johnny and Tunny heading off to the city.
Struggling to adjust to urban life, Tunny enlists in the army and Johnny turns to drugs. Injecting heroin for the first time, we are introduced to Johnny’s alter-ego, St Jimmy, which gives him a new-found courage to talk to the girl he’s had a crush on. Meanwhile, Tunny is deployed to a war zone, and Will is struggling to adjust to life at home without his friends and the impending birth of his child, both needing relief from their situations. But for Johnny, things seem to be going well, at least temporarily; in a drug-fuelled haze he gets the girl, beds her and things seem to be going well. That is until St Jimmy and the drugs take over, and surpass the love he has for his girlfriend.
Back in the army, Tunny, now an amputee, is being tended to by a nurse, known as Extraordinary Girl, who he eventually falls in love with. Will’s girlfriend has their child, and grows increasingly impatient with his loser lifestyle of drugs and lazing on the sofa. Johnny is descending into an increasingly drug-addled state and threatens his girlfriend Whatshername followed by himself. She leaves him and realising what he’s lost he gets clean and tries to get a desk job before realising it’s not for him and heading for the bus back home. Will, sees his girlfriend with her new rock-star boyfriend but eventually she and Will call a truce and he embraces his child. Tunny introduces them to Extraordinary Girl and it takes a while for Johnny to forgive him for leaving him for the army, but finally, the trio are reunited.
American Idiot the Musical is a wonderful chaotic mess. The first fifteen minutes or so feel like an attempt to cram in as many of the higher octane songs as possible to set the scene; I liked the run through of songs but less so the toilet-humour antics, which just feel a bit like watching your parents try and pretend they know what teenagers are like. Thankfully the show seems to get it out of its system once the plot starts to appear. I mean sure, the plot is superficial but the split narrative about three young men who are all searching for meaning in their lives does work and particularly in the second half does have some touching moments.
Waterloo Road’s Tom Milner as Johnny has the unenviable job of playing the link in the trio, dealing with the descent into drugs and the grittier side of Billie Joe Armstrong’s vocals. It’s a hard thing to master and makes you realise just how skilled Green Day’s vocalist it, but Milner gives it heart. Perhaps the strongest performance of the night comes from local lad, West Brom’s own Joshua Dowen, who plays Tunny and delivers some of the most powerful vocal performances of the evening. Luke Friend, 2013’s X Factor third place runner-up, does a superb job playing the maniacal St Jimmy, the Fight Club style alter-ego who courts Johnny into the world of drugs and delusion.
Whether it is intentional that both Green Day and American Idiot the Musical are a trio of men, it does feel like the female characters are there less as characters and more as motivations for the male leads. But somehow, despite all the issues, I found myself absorbed in the story. Even the ending, cliched as it was, with Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) reworked so that it was more musical, got me. And maybe that’s the best way to think of it: “It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right. I hope you had the time of your life.” And maybe American Idiot the Musical wasn’t the time of my life, but it left me feeling nostalgic and hopeful. And that’s not a bad way to leave a musical.
American Idiot the Musical is on at the Alexandra Theatre from Tuesday 9 – Saturday 13 April 2019. Tickets are available via the Alex’s website.
This was a press event. Photos and their copyright belong to Mark Dawson.
One of the things I really like about the events at Impact Hub is that they always introduce me to new ideas or new ways of thinking about things.
I’d heard about the three-times divorce (triple talaq) in Islam and hadn’t really given it much thought, mainly because I knew I didn’t understand enough about the context. The screening of Shazia Javed’s 3 Seconds Divorce was, in some senses, what I thought might be what the three-times divorce might be if I was being pessimistic about it. It was undeniably an emotional film and the story of the women who fought for what they believed in and for the protection of women in their country, a minority group within a minority group, showed a level of resilience that few would be hard pushed to be anything but impressed by. Watching the documentary in a room that was mainly full of Muslim women and hearing their reactions to it felt like a real privilege at getting an instinctual reaction to the message of the film. But that was only the beginning.
The follow up panel was one of the most invigorating and educational I have been to in a while, and I don’t think I need to tell you how many talks I go to. It was a shame Shazia had to dash off to get her train, but needs must, however I appreciated her input and it was great to hear more about the ideas and inspiration behind the documentary. But the conversation between Dr Amra Bone and Dr Sabena Jameel was just superb. I honestly can’t remember the last time I went away with some much new information presented in such an accessible way. Lots of the topics covered, and there were so many, were things I’d heard lots about over the years but have never quite felt like I knew where to look for more information or unsure what was appropriate to ask. Dr Jameel’s explanation of what she does as part of the Sharia Council, the system of Sharia rulings in general, the role of women in Islam, Islamic marriage and divorce, the cultural and religious understandings of triple talaq and probably a whole lot of other things I’ve forgotten to list was just phenomenal. As someone that grew up in an Irish Catholic community, it was fascinating to compare and contrast the attitudes towards marriage and divorce, and hear not only from Dr Jameel as an academic and religious leader, but also some of the audience were kind enough to share their understandings of it, and answer some of the questions that I wasn’t brave enough to ask myself.
I guess my feedback is just a really big congratulations, well done and heartfelt thank you for putting on an event that has given me so much more understanding than I thought possible from a few hours. I feel very honoured to have been welcomed into that space, able to watch the documentary, but also hearing from the speakers and members of the audience. A truly mentally stimulated evening which I gained a lot from.
After enjoying last month’s Social Circle, I returned to 1000 Trades for another evening of learning more about the world of digital marketing.
The evening started with the usual introductions and look towards what’s new in the world of digital marketing. There was a look at the Twitter Prototype Programme, a ‘beta’ way to test the new platform which is aimed to fix twitter. It is being touted as an easier to use system, which uses shapes and colour to denote replies and follow responses. LinkedIn are looking at testing reactions (think like the ones on Facebook), which is being aimed to encourage engagement. There’s also the opportunity to place powerpoint presentations in LinkedIn, so people are no longer having to link to external sites. Facebook Messenger is possibly looking to link together all messages from platforms owned by the company, such as Facebook and Instagram.
Facebook has also bought GrokStyle, an artificial intelligence shopping startup. Questions were posed about what this might mean for Instagram, especially as it allows people to search for products and see them in context. Instagram is also testing new stickers, like donate buttons and quizzes with multiple choice. Instagram’s IGTV is appearing more about more in people’s feeds, and Instagram is heavily investing in it so it’s more fo a seamless experience. But people hate that you have to watch the whole thing, so Instagram are also looking at the YouTube style pull to the base screen.
A bit late to the game up LinkedIn are looking at live video. It’s a bit late to the game, but they’re seeing more popularity and engagement in it. YouTube are testing split screen on web / desktop, like you can in the mobile.
Instagram sent a press release to say that they’re looking at safeguarding and will be removing some stuff, even things like healed scars from self-harming. There were questions on whether this is a sense that we need to have some responsibility on what we consume, but also how effective this policy will be.
Pinterest with Rebecca Meekings
The main talk of the evening was from Rebecca Meekings, Paid Social Manager for iProspect, a digital performance marketing agency. Rebecca’s talk looked at Pinterest, a platform she believes that it’s often a bit forgotten about in social media circles, especially in marketing.
Rebecca’s focused on five areas: leverage the mindset, focus on brand discovery, benefit from search places, less crowded advertising space and paid pins live on organically.
Rebecca told the audience that people using Pinterest are actively looking for things, and rarely just killing time in the way they might mindlessly scroll through another platform. Over 90% of users were said to plan purchases with Pinterest, and 47% more likely to find new brands using the platform than others, and take an average of 3 – 6 month to prospect. Typically people search for something without including a brand and there is basic retargeting. Marketeers can use Pinterest to make sure their adverts really target the right users but adding a number of keywords to ensure they’re relevant, and with it being a less crowded space there is often better value found spending advertising budget on Pinterest over more heavily saturated platforms. Another benefit was that once a paid pin is no longer in its advertising space, it will still live on organically and earn engagements after the campaign has ended, unlike other social media sites.
The Golden Circle
Having run out of time last month, the Golden Circle took place to judge the favourite marketing campaigns from last year. Five campaigns were put forward: Three, Burger King, Spotify, Nike and Iceland. All five were championed by one of the Social Circle team and it was put to public vote in the room by which was considered to be the best of the group. In the end Three was considered the winner, with special shout outs to Royal Navy’s snowflake and Mastercard’s ‘goals for meals’ campaigns as being particular bloopers.
The next Social Circle Birmingham will be on Thursday 28 March, at 1000 Trades in the JQ. Tickets are not yet available, but check https://twitter.com/CircleBrum to find out more.
If you’re interested in digital marketing you’ll know how well regarded the Brighton SEO conferences are. A search marketing conference, which takes place twice a year, and series of training courses, the Brighton SEO team decided to take the show on the road. They visited Birmingham with a trio of talks looking at search engine optimisation.
Lionel Kappelhoff from Oncrawl was the first speaker of the evening. As well as sponsoring the event – and welcome drinks, he talked about Oncrawl, an SEO crawler that helps people understand how Google drawls their sites and improve SEO performance. The service allows people to see in real time what Google is doing and understand the impact of SEO optimisations. The system allows people to understand that SEO is a science, not an art, and can see how long between when people hit publish on a page and when bots crawl your website.
Local lad Luke Carthy warned us about his dinner before launching into one of the funniest presentations I’ve heard in a while. Luke works in e-commerce SEO, and talked about what happened when he removed several hundred search URLs from the company’s website. In short they saw a year on year growth, and Luke talked about why this might be, why sites like Argos, which rely too heavily on search might be problematic and why category URLs are more important than search. He warned the audience that if you search for a website on any popular search engine, the search page results shouldn’t be one of the top results. Luke talked about ways to possibly recreate some of the successes he’s seen by de-indexing search URLs which don’t have any traffic and discouraging colleagues from linking to search results, instead they should be linking to the category pages. He also reminded people to keep tabs on your organic traffic and monitor your KPIs to ensure that the activities you’re doing benefit what the organisation require.
Last but not least was Kirsty Hulse. Kirsty is a freelance SEO specialist and talked about some of the challenges she’s faced whilst in the role for nearly 10 years. With plenty of examples, Kirsty’s talk was probably the most accessible. She started with a frustration shared by SEO specialists and public relations consultants alike – when newspapers strip out links to brands from their news stories. Kirsty also contacted a group of people to ask what they think the role of SEO is about, and the perception from those working in the industry and those who employ SEO people was quite different. For a lot of people, SEO is still about ratings and link building. Kirsty also talked about the crossover between SEO and traditional PR in terms of what often builds links, such as piggybacking relevant news and gift guides for upcoming events sent months in advance. More broadly, talking to journalists about what they’re working on, building real connections and focusing on creativity and not tired formats were other ideas Kirsty suggested would have real benefits. She’s written up a lot of her talk into a blog post, which can be found on LinkedIn.
Attendees were invited to stick around afterwards and continue the conversations, but it was a Monday night and my brain (and notebook) were full.