Saturday, 27 July 2013

More Digbeth Art and Industry


Local action

Local mini-festival on Fazeley Street with allotments in troughs or containers. Behind the small site a disused warehouse where cyclists on fixed bicycles seemed to be powering a screen display of animated short films.
It's the sort of thing you come across in unpromising unoccupied stretches of Birmingham by chance or word of mouth or nowadays maybe a tweet or blog post.


Friday, 26 July 2013

Ground views


Sport Live

This year I've had a chance to enjoy live sport twice, tonight at a T20 short-form cricket - Warwickshire versus Worcestershire at Edgbaston - and earlier at the Hawthorns when West Brom played Wigan.
You do have a different experience when you're at a live game, seeing the pitch and the players (very near at West Brom) and watching the spectators' reactions through a game and reacting yourself. At West Brom I had the advantage of not being too involved in one team, although it would have been nice to see the home side doing better than the 2-3 loss. There wasn't that strange and obsessive sense of anxiety and personal loss in what's after all "only a game" that comes with being bound up with a local side.
I've lost touch with who's winning in which leagues when it comes to county and one-day cricket, but it didn't matter this evening, I do enjoy and follow cricket a bit more and used to be a junior member at Warwickshire (watching not playing) and thought a bit of a couple of scenes I still have in mind of seeing players come off the pitch, and getting autographs as boys always do, famous players then and still, looking back, and of being high in an old stand as two of the West Indian greats batting for their county side.
Another, vaguely, being at the ground with my mother as the well-known local opener knocked the ball around before getting out.
How we remember things, scenes, snapshots, a feeling maybe, only then the word or words that attach themselves and cling in the telling of stories. Names in the autograph book, vaguely, perhaps, the handwriting, more the colour, shape, maybe size of the blank notebook for autographs.
Did I think that decades later I would recall, even hazily, those scenes? Did I think that decades later I would be, and that others I saw, much older, would become me in years?
No, and another pleasure of the moment. Sport, whilst prepared, is of the moment and created from one moment to the next, from afresh, using the mix of talents and people and what happens in improvisation.
We need sport, sport as well as art and literature, sport as a kind of stuff of life or reflection in itself.
If you can afford it, get along to a match, if not, then do think of local smaller sides and amateurs just having kick-arounds in the park on a Sunday.
Birmingham has Warwickshire CCC, and Worcester is 40 minutes on the train. For football there's Aston Villa and Birmingham City and nearby the town and club West Bromwich, and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Location:Edgbaston +

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Brum bird life

Canal ducks

Strolling geese

Avian customer waiting for the Uni bar to open ...


More international Brum :-)

Just to show what a wonderfully international and diverse place Birmingham can be, we were sitting in a city centre pub around 5 o'clock, waiting for the EDL idiots to be escorted back out of Brum, when a colourfully dressed folk group from Alicante (we asked) came in and cheered us all up.
You can't see the instruments in this picture, but you get the idea! :)


Peace in multiethnic Brum

I'm sitting in a peaceful café in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter where people of different ethnicities and probably nationalities (at least two Germans, I'm married to one :-) ) are enjoying their coffees. 10 minutes walk away the extremists of the so-called English Defence League are vocalising their inability to cope with living in a country where not everyone is exactly the same as them. Sad, and stupid, and dangerous if they're given any leeway.
There have been a number of attacks on mosques reported since the awful killing of Lee Rigby. It's all so wrong. Most people want to live on peace, to enjoy an afternoon off without violence and hate-filled demonstrating or attacks.
Birmingham is made by its mix, of peoples and cultures and backgrounds, it always has been, it'd be so much poorer without. Extreme groups want to damage and destroy the mix, reduce all to one narrow strand, to their narrow minded view of what makes us who we are.
No way.
Extremists, you are not my England, and I don't want your defence. Count me out of your league, of hate and violence and phobia.
Leave us to live in peace with our diversity and variety and the rich mix that makes Birmingham.


Saturday, 13 July 2013


In the Elephant House café -

The mighty Forth Bridge at South Queensferry -

Inchcolm -

A lone gull in flight (the rest were on the island) -


Scotland tour

Returned from beautiful land- and seascapes, sleepy coastal towns, seals, (two) dolphins and many gulls.
Day 1: flight to Inverness from Birmingham, met at airport by friendly hosts. Strolled by the River Ness and found an excellent restaurant, not too pricy, with local ingredients for example the wild boar sausages on mashed potato with some really juicy vegetables. Beers include St Mungo's - from Glasgow - the only beer in the UK recognized as being brewed according to Germany's famous Purity Laws (Reinheitsgebot). The Black Isle beers, Red Kite and Blonde, are more local to Inverness and smooth and enjoyable.
Day 2: very tasty breakfast with attentive hosts in their guest house (where they live too). Morning service at the local Episcopal cathedral, a little slow with the music and we left early. A walk along the river and a boat trip along the Caledonian canal - built to connect lochs along the River Ness - into Loch Ness itself, gentle and relaxing. Another evening meal at the Corner restaurant, salmon for me this time. Andy Murray won Wimbledon today! Great win, but not much sign of excitement up here - still, seems that people aren't prone to over-effusiveness, but are friendly and welcoming.
Day 3: Off to Cawdor Castle, actually built well after Macbeth's time so nothing to do with him or Macduff. A stately home more than a castle, lived in too, so actually rather, er, homely! Witty info boards in each room, work-style phones where you can transfer people, select piles of books. Outside the lovely gardens and nature trails through a wood. A café in the courtyard in the continuing sunshine (it hardly stopped all week :-) ). German coach party of seniors, various countries on the tourist bus we got each way between the castle and Inverness.
Day 4: bus trip to Rosemarkie via Fortrose and a trip to a Whale and Dolphin Centre at Kessock first, with sighting of two dolphins playing in the water ... then the Groam Museum with a video and Pictish crosses and history. Sleepy coastal town and a bus once an hour on to Cromarty, which has some historic buildings including a courthouse with a grim note in the court scene recreation of the (actual) story of an 18th [?] century man involved in a petty brawl who later deserts the army, which had possibly mortal consequences in the punishments handed out.
Day 5: bus again out to the town of Elgin with the Johnston cashmere factory and a free tour. The Cashmere goats are farmed in Mongolia and the fine hair is combed from them and transported to Scotland. Intriguing to see the people and machinery working on the processes to turn the raw material into yarn and to weave and warp the yarn into beautiful cloth to be used for scarves, or to be passed on to another factory in Hawick for knitting. The Vicuna's hair has only been recently available again, as sustained farming methods have been developed (not killing the animals ... ) : a jumper was on display, list price £1,500 ...
Not to forget Lossiemouth, really based around the RAF base there - two fighter jets thundered past as we looked out to the wonderfully blue-and-green sea stretching out - and a bus ride from Elgin.
Stuck in Elgin for a couple of hours as the trains aren't that frequent. Quiet town but a coffee shop kept open till 7.
Day 6: Early start and, thanks to our hosts, breakfast despite the early hour and a lift to the station for the train to Edinburgh. Beautiful sunlit scenery before greyness and sleepiness set in. Edinburgh itself is always worth visiting, such dramatic buildings, the hilly setting, international but particularly European in feel, more so than the vast worldwide and hyperactive London. Welcome at a smart, clean modern flat in a new development by the Meadows and south of Greyfriars and the Royal Mile. Walked through Holyrood Park and almost needed refuge from the heat! The Holyrood Palace art gallery had an exhibition of photographs taken on the then Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) 's tour of Egypt and the Middle East mid-19th century. It was also air-conditioned :-)
Evening with some Scottish folk music in a pleasant if increasingly crowded pub near the flat.
Day 7: Booked onto another boat trip, via South Queensferry and just underneath the massive and rather awe-inspiring Forth Bridge, the one being constantly painted ... Seals lazing in the sun. Plenty of gulls on Inchcolm island with a break to stroll round the church ruins (once a religious community) before returning on the boat. Booked onto another tour for the evening, literary pub tour of Edinburgh which was quite a find amongst the various tours of Edinburgh on offer. Plenty about Scott, Stevenson, Burns, MacDiarmid, Fergusson who died tragically young, and various others with selections of their works and colourful summaries of their lives by two actors who entertained and informed and stopped us off at excellent pubs en route - Beehive in Grassmarket, Ensign Erskine, Jolly Judge and another!
Day 8: Back to Birmingham on the train, 5 hour journey but at least we had an air-conditioned carriage and a refreshment trolley passing regularly. Still had time before that to go to the new Peter's Yard cafe and J.K.Rowling's old haunt the Elephant House on George IV Bridge.


Wednesday, 10 July 2013


Lossiemouth and Elgin

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Out and about in Scotland

Cromarty, north of Inverness

Pipe Band in Inverness

The River Ness at the Ness Islands

Cawdor Castle, far too homely for the Macbeths (and built three or four centuries too late).

Gardens in the beautiful grounds of Cawdor.

A view from the loo .. Window on board a Jacobite Cruises ship along the Caledonian Canal into Loch Ness

Cheers! Black Isle brewery is just north of Inverness.

And another view