Saturday, 8 December 2012

Music in Birmingham

Some great new and not so new venues for different kinds of music to suit various tastes. Admittedly, I'm not into ecstasy-fuelled raves, so nothing about those here.
However: great to see that the Red Lion Folk Club is still going strong - see their website for programme details.
It always seems to bring out the best in performers, and you have a chance to see up and coming acts as well as seasoned pros.

The Ort Café is in an unlikely looking building in the sadly rather run down part of Balsall Heath along the Moseley Road.
There's a great atmosphere inside though, set up as a café in the day and music and informal language class venue in the evenings!
Quite apart from the delicious homemade mince pies and the range of quality bottled beers (Ubu, Veltins - becoming standard in cafés and pubs in Brum) the studio room style venue is great for small bands. Yesterday was a jazz gig by a group of ex-students from Birmingham Conservatoire, and hey, they were good! Claimed not to have played together in that lineup before, but it didn't sound like it! Tremendous energy and skilful playing.
Tobie Carpenter Sextet

Café details at their website.

Last but not least, the new Bramall Music building at Birmingham University offers more opportunities for high quality performances, for classical musicians, some from the University and other guests such as Ex Cathedra.
Beautifully fitted out and a great addition to the music landscape of Brum.
Saw male and female voice choirs from the University there the other week, just before the official opening. Simon Halsey conducting as has a position at the School of Music.


Sunday, 11 November 2012

Brum Train

Moor Street, Birmingham

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Beardy blog post

There's a great blog post here on historic Brummie beards!
Thanks to Marcus Belben:
Birmingham lives blog

Location:Brum (where else!)

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Birmingham's History

An enjoyable visit to the newly opened Birmingham History Galleries in the Museum and Art Gallery in town
The Romans were here and set up Metchley fort, the site now on Birmingham University grounds, but this permanent exhibition really kicks off with Peter de Birmingham and the granting of a market charter in 1166, 80 years after the tiny village which is now the second city was mentioned in the Domesday Book.
Metal manufacturing around the industrial revolution, buttons, medals, Murdoch, Boulton and Watt, the contribution of settlers from around the country and the world - including Germans such as Conrad Köchler who made medallions at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, and C. Brandauer who founded a metals company about 150 years ago (pen making at first) which still exists, as well as Oscar Deutsch who founded the Odeon Cinema chain but who actually came from Hungary.
The former slave Equiano spoke here in 1790 to promote his "Interesting Narrative" (and there's a separate small exhibition about him in the Museum).
Peter Stanford was the first black minister in 1887, moving here from America to run Hope Street Baptist Church.
Mendelssohn (Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy for German speakers!) conducted the first performance of Elijah in the Town Hall in 1846, and any Brummie can be proud to see a concert programme from that concert in the Mendelssohn house museum on Leipzig!
Chris Upton's fascinating "A history of Birmingham" must be the standard work on the subject, available at all good bookshops as they say, including the Museum shop, appropriately enough.


Sunday, 7 October 2012

A day at home (town)

Didn't go further than my home town today. Hoovered and such first, then walked along the River Rea for the third time in two days (:-) ) with birds flitting in and out of the undergrowth and the sunshine lifting the leaves and the Autumn colours.
Plenty of visitors (human) at the MAC - if you don't know already - which is very family-friendly, certainly during daytime. Great for families, more alarming if you don't have children!
The cycle route does for pedestrians too and continues through part of Balsall Heath and Highgate towards the centre of town, via the Gay Village and Chinese Quarter round the Arcadian Centre.
Real contrast of the residential en route, especially after the park, and - quite apart from the charms of the Rea (where I've twice seen Kingfishers) - the scenery is surprisingly green through Balsall Heath, though it does get more urban towards the Pershore Road and once into Essex Street and onwards.

Pleasure of knowing enough people, at some level, for chance meetings and conversations. J- in the Urban Coffee - even sat down at the same table with his sandwiches :) - and H- in the Old Joint Stock.

Enjoyable half of Flensburger beer at the Canalside Café.

Evening meditation at the Journey community church, relaxed and thoughtful, but a sobering awareness of homelessness and mental illness, worsened by government cuts to the public services which can provide vital support. Seeing a very smug-looking smart young couple with their Tory conference brochure walk past earlier was hard to take, I wondered if they walked past the homeless men with the same we-rule-the-world look.
Can I be any better, walking past those men as I did? I could afford to sit in the cafés and pubs and buy drinks and food, and enjoy them.

Still, a rewarding day without having to go far.

Nice to come home too, and to have a home.


Sunday, 23 September 2012

Stairway to ...


Saturday, 22 September 2012

Stratford 2 - the way back

A pleasant surprise on the train from Stratford to Brum - a pleasant route in itself through leafy Warwickshire - came when a student from Worcester University, sitting opposite us, asked if we'd just been to see the "Tempest" as she just had. We had a good chat about Shakespeare plays, what we'd seen and not seen, travelling between Worcester and Stratford via Brum, recommended reads such as Memoirs of a Geisha, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and nightmares, loud passengers on buses (I hope we weren't too loud on the train!) especially children ignored by their mothers...
Great when these things just happen. Rounded off a pleasant afternoon despite the boring Shakespeare.
Thanks to the student concerned!
Back in Brum had a tasty Thai curry takeaway sitting in the Wellington pub on
Bennett's Hill. Noisy but friendly, Baggies fans (West Bromwich Albion) after their match.


Shakespeare can be boring sometimes

Yes, I spent the second half of the "Tempest", for which we had tickets at the refurbished main theatre at Stratford upon Avon, walking round Stratford itself, a lovely walkway past the butterfly farm, back along the river and across with the little chain ferry boat - the last of its kind in England according to the plaque at the riverside - and then to meet my other half again as she emerged from the theatre.
I had a much more enjoyable time than in the first half, when I was cramped on a high chair behind a pillar and with my head almost in the roof, with even less space thanks to the inevitable bloke with long legs leaning them over into my space, watching actors shout lines from the Great Man's mysterious last play, dressed in dull grey suits and seeming rather jaded after a long run.
Those early speeches, explaining who the shipwrecked new arrivals are to Miranda and the audience - well, they are boring if you know that bit already.

We'd browsed round a lovely market on the way, bought a few things, had time for a tasty snack at the Duck Inn along the same road as the theatre, before heading for our seats. Stratford is a lovely town, hence the visitors - they don't just come for the plays - and on a sunny late Summer or early Autumn day like this it seemed too much of a shame being stuck inside a dark, uncomfortable theatre watching a play that sent me into a doze for about 20 minutes in the first half.

If you're thinking of going to a play here, avoid the main theatre, refurbished or rebuilt at great expense. Head for the smaller, pleasanter Courtyard Theatre instead, more intimate, more comfortable, and where the actors don't feel the urge to shout everything at you.

Or just go for a walk instead. See the butterflies at the farm. Go to one of the Shakespeare houses, such as Anne Hathaway's with the lovely gardens.
Sometimes, just sometimes, Shakespeare can be really boring, especially when you're not in the mood. So give him a miss. Do something else. Enjoy the place where he was born instead.

Location:Stratford upon Avon

Sunday, 16 September 2012


Sitting in the cosy Canalside Café in central Birmingham, enjoying tea and cake with my other half :)

Feeling like the cat below? ;)

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Arts Fest 2012

Great range of events again: this year stayed around Birmingham Conservatoire for -
Tess (?) : guitar duo with singer-songwriter material
The Drum : young gifted Brummies, sketch about Jamaicans' experiences between Caribbean and Britain from 1960s and independence.
Greyish - super young jazz quartet.
Tess - guitar duo excellent.
Yao Yi - really exquisite playing of the classical accordion, with piano accompaniment.
See Arts Fest website for details.


Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Cafés in Liège

Café Coin, the café opposite the hotel with the breakfast offer nice furnishings but not great coffee, the first evening café the brasserie next to the hotel, the second evening café with the great salads, the third evening café with the emptiness and the later evening with the dark Leffe (brun), fourth evening watching TV in the room as we'd been out all day up stairs to the hill-view, in the museum of Wallonian folk life (super and friendly staff), the gloomy but stately town house with the tapestries, the art gallery four floors truncated to two but enjoyable all the same landscapes histories Magritte (x 2).
Parks on the Sunday and spoke to Amnesty people on the stand in a community festival, not sure if we were in the Modern Art gallery or not.
Monday was Eupen a corner of Germany very near Germany east of Liège, cafés look German sell the same cakes and bread, one-language signposts, smartly restored buildings, café staff friendly again in two languages easily fluent.


Monday, 3 September 2012

The bravery of others - Ales Bialiatski, Belarus

Belarus in the former Soviet Union is a hard place to be if you believe in freedom of speech and the rights of individuals. Ales Bialiatski is a brave man who has spoken up against the Soviet régime and now the dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko.
For information on Ales Bialiatski and details of where to send messages of support, go to the website of the Freedom for Ales Bialiatski movement, which is where the photo of Ales, below, comes from too.


Monday, 27 August 2012

Olympic triumphs

Watching Mo Farah win the 5,000 metres while we were in a pub in Stratford, two older local (white) men cheering him on "Come on Mo!"
This after a matinée performance of "Much Ado about Nothing" with Meera Syal and a British Asian cast in a setting in modern India. Superb performances and the relocation really worked.

Multicultural Britain is alive and working and the country's richer for it.

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Culture !

London: National Gallery for Veronese, Titian, up to Pisarro, Sisley - both have some beautiful Winter scenes - and some van Gogh, Cézanne ("
Big Bathers as Pete and Dud put it :)).

Impressionist light very welcome after a thoughtfully put together show of Titian scenes from Ovid Metamorphoses, in the dark basement of the Sainsbury Wing.

National Portrait Gallery: London 2012 portraits of athletes and others linked with the Olympics, not least the Head of Catering who's had the biggest peace time catering operation since WW2.

British Museum - Horses through the ages, from early chariot days and the reverse-shot specialists to modern thoroughbreds.
Saudi sponsorship, HMQ too :)

Such wonderful collections altogether, Sutton Hoo remains from Anglo-Saxon England, the Elgin marbles now called the Parthenon sculptures and still disputed ownership...!

No upfront payments for any of the above: I kept away from the blockbuster paying exhibitions of Shakespeare or British writers at the BM or BL, excellent though I'm sure these are.

Location:Out and about around

Sunday, 19 August 2012


Some photos of Anne Hathaway's Cottage and gardens.
Interesting to hear about Shakespeare becoming a property owner and comfortable materially in his own lifetime. Also, how hard he worked to achieve success in the theatre after he started in London.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Oxford in the Sun

College Garden (Balliol) and a cat :-)

Oxford encore une fois :-)

Another trip to picturesque, historic Oxford on a sunny day for tourists and College gardens.
The Ashmolean has another enjoyable exhibition on, a little pricey but worth it, with paintings, documents, artefacts traced back to a ship returning with these items collected by English Grand Tourists (aristos and others abroad in Europe) in the 18th Century, when the ship was captured by the French and sent to Malaga.
The poor English never got their valuable paintings back, but patient research has brought together pictures (et al) for the exhibition.
Website at .

There's another well-worth-a-visit exhibition on at the History of Science Museum on Broad Street, but I forgot and went to a couple of nice college gardens instead (Balliol and Trinity, Balliol smaller and cosier, a world away from the busy thoroughfare just outside).

King's Arms as ever a handy wood finished old English pub, at the end of Broad Street before Holywell Street, to sup a real ale or a refreshing cup of tea. Found Missing Bean coffee shop on Turl Street for a coffee-to-go on the way back.

Merci beaucoup à L. pour avoir eu du temps pour bavarder et boire un verre l'après-midi :)

Location:Oxford !

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Beethoven lives!

Wonderful performances of Beethoven Symphony cycle by Daniel Barenboim and the West Eastern Divan Orchestra, bringing Arab and Israeli musicians together and showing that peace is possible and thrilling audiences live and via TV or radio.

Location:London Proms

Sunday, 15 July 2012


Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Sachsen ist schön

Fascinating and moving to see how Dresden comes to terms with the terrible events in its past.
Frauenkirche rebuilt, using some original materials found in the rubble of what was left after the bombing and firestorm of February 1945.
Zwinger, Hofkirche, Semper Opera House rebuilt or restored.
The Elbe still flows past and people rest or picnic on the meadows by the banks.


Wednesday, 27 June 2012


Been away from here for awhile, family reasons and the usual absence from the blog.
How do you keep blogs fresh, who do you tell that you have one, whqt's the impetus to keep writing?
Been watching the football, and while it gets absorbing, some of it really has been boring ...
Here goes again.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Brecon Break

A favourite excursion for Brummies is to Wales.  A beautiful country with rich landscapes and a couple of hours or so in the car.
I had a day walking in the Brecon Beacons with friends from Amnesty International local group - see another blog post for a summary!
It's also where we get our water from - see the mini-model-reconstruction of the Elan Valley Dam in Cannon Hill Park - and so we live in part from the water of the beautiful hills and valleys of the country.
There was plenty of water present in the mud and streams, as well as mist that covered much of the scenery above about 200 metres (ie most of the Brecons): but that didn't stop us enjoying the walk and getting back in one piece as well ...

Friday, 6 April 2012

Berlin Love Tour in Birmingham

A walking tour with stops off the city centre to picture historic locations in Berlin. The focus on eras of the dictatorships - fascist and communist - gave a sombre backdrop to the foreground story of a souring love affair between the new arrival in Berlin and her German boyfriend.
All this was performed essentially by one actress, Hilary O'Shaughnessy, with a singer-songwriter, Greg Milenr, accompanying between monologues.
Fascinating to find the German capital pictured as those of us in the 'tour' stood at various locations off Broad Street, ending on the roof of a multi-story carpark. for more info..


Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Hive

A trip round the splendid work in progress, due to open in July 2012, that is the Hive, a joint public and university library and archive, open to all.

Thanks to Sarah and managers for the tour!

As well as the University and Alumni for the invitation.

See: for more about the project.


Friday, 16 March 2012

Light and colours

Botanical Gardens

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Monday, 27 February 2012

Winter walks

Malvern Hills ...and sunshine on the honey coloured stone of Oxford colleges...

Friday, 24 February 2012

Malvern meetings

Went into Malvern Priory today and met a genuinely friendly meeter and greet we were happy to be met and greeted by :)
He told us about the Norman and later stone of the Priory, pointed later on to the mason's marks in the pillars - only paid once the stones were in place, they left their mark as evidence, a kind of invoice - and about the unusual status of this and other 'major churches'. Not cathedrals, but after Henry VIII independent of the diocese and responsible to Westminster Abbey directly.
Our meeter then chatted to us in very good German when he found out that my wife's from Germany (he asked whereabouts) and I could speak it too.
A few more friendly details about the staff and the Priory and one or two questions, and he left us with a cheery smile and went to talk to the lady in the shop who was from Hamburg!
Super lady in the tea room after as well, retired Head Teacher chatting to us and asking which hotel we were staying in ("Malvern Spa Hotel, that is posh!" with a smile, and telling us that she's not allowed to work on the tills as they have a retired bank manager to do that! )
Shows how much benefit the lived of retired people, their experiences and interest, can bring to others.
Please keep on meeting and greeting and cheering up people escaping from their day-to-day city lives.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Back online

Reloaded blogger and testing now after a walk in the park.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Saturday, 21 January 2012

BrumArt :-)

Leonardo da Vinci comes to Brum with a selection of sketches from the Royal Collections.
Worth the brief queue for a glimpse of the restless genius' ideas, rarely finishing but showing superb skills in the anatomical sections for arm and leg muscles, for example.
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery website for details.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Winter Scenes

A good Read

"Ten stories about smoking" by new author Stuart Evers. I worked at the same bookshop as Stuart years ago, and it's heartening to see him produce this really touching, skilful, very human and humane set of stories with smoking (or giving up smoking) as a recurring theme. Love, loss, day to day city life in modern Britain and the USA, Swindon, an older man's reflections and a younger woman's suspicion of a (possibly) philandering partner, I'd really recommend getting a copy of this collection - in print or e- form - and enjoying the poignancy and insight of each story.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Apple and Foxconn

Read this disturbing new report of exploitation in the workplace of Apple manufacturers Foxconn.
Child labour included, allegedly of course.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Die Deutschen im Osten Europas

Just finished reading a fascinating collection of pieces on the combined histories and populations of the various German settlers, immigrants, descendants and their relations with the countries of Eastern Europe from Poland and Russia to the Hungarian, Romanian and Black Sea communities. "Die Deutschen im Osten Europas" is by historians and authors from Spiegel magazine.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Voices of Conscience

In our troubled times, some groups and individuals stand out against the waves of greed and self-interest of the powerful (and maybe against the apathy of others?)
UK Uncut and UK Uncut Legal highlight the huge amounts that should be paid in tax (allegedly!) by major corporations such as Vodafone.
See their blog here.
The Occupy movement has also hit the headlines across the world.

Student campaigners such as Ed Bauer at Birmingham Uni challenge the orthodoxy of raising fees, as well as the injustice of low paid staff being given low pay increases while the salaries of Vice- Chancellors and other Senior university Managers go stratospheric.
Note: Birmingham Uni managers don't like protests, as their injunction on student protests on campus shows ... (Read the Guardian article linked here)

It is individuals and newly-formed groups who are leading the way, not the established political parties.

Globally of course, protestors in Syria show that Conscience really can be a matter of life and death - and huge respect is owed to those who risk their lives daily around Syria and elsewhere.
Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma demonstrates that peaceful opposition can be possible, even in the harshest circumstances and against the least peaceful and democratic of regimes (with the possible exception of Syria).

What will 2012 bring?

Picture: Unions' demonstration against the cuts in Birmingham in 2011.

Read these - Reasons to be Watchful in the UK today

Why British Public and Academic Life is Under Threat.

1. "Universities under Attack": Keith Thomas in the London Review of Books on Higher Education in the UK. The somewhat patronising response following the article is by a Head of College (ie a Senior Manager) at the University of Birmingham.
- Open source article on this link.

2. "The Assault on Universalism - how to destroy the welfare state" - and cogent, well-argued points by authors McKee and Stuckler on why this is happening and why it is a Bad Thing for all of us. In the BMJ Christmas 2011: Open link to British Medical Journal article .

Time to Review ? 2012 starts here.

I admit I've been very quiet with this blog lately, though not many people see it anyway! Other things preoccupied me, work, going out, Amnesty group interests, and anger with current political developments not least in the realm of Higher Education and Arts.

British public life is under serious threat now, with anti-public service right wingers seemingly keen to use a genuine financial crisis to dismantle provision of affordable education and health care for all, as well as further reducing funding for the arts.
I've seen some penetrating articles on the above concerns and will try and list these for anyone who does read this blog.

In the meantime, here's a picture of some wonderful celebrators in Trafalgar Square during the happier days of Egypt's successful protests in Tahrir Square, early in 2011. Things have taken a darker turn there, with military suppression of dissent apparently the norm. Let's think of the brave demonstrators in Egypt, Syria of course and elsewhere where oppressive powers try to stifle the public.