Meet the Artist: Liskbot

From Pablo Picasso and Vincent Van Gogh, to Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Banksy. We all have our favourite artists - and we all have our from styles of art. Those who enjoy a Rembrandt may not necessarily like work by Shepard Fairey or other street artists.

Me, I do. I'm a big fan of street art. You only have to take a walk through Digbeth to appreciate some of the fantastic street art on offer in Birmingham. And to fully appreciate some of the street art available, I highly recommend you visit Millennium Point before February 16th 2016 to see the amazing art being exhibited by Liskbot.

To wet your appetite, get to know the artist a bit better, find out how they got involved in street art, why they've chosen their style and which artists they recommend we look out for, by reading the Q&A I did with them recently.

There are a few famous street artists, perhaps none more so than Banksy. But who inspired you to get into street art?

My earliest introduction to street art was while I was studying at Walsall College, when an older student brought a tiny street art book back from a trip to London. I was aware of graffiti but was blown away by the different ways artists in London such as Banksy, Toaster, Invader and D-face used different mediums to create humorous and cleaver art in a public space.

Who are the street artists both locally and further afield whose work we should be looking out for?

I'm always excited to see new work popping up on the walls and lampposts of Birmingham. Lately 'Johnny Vcnt's' use of poppy images and stylish fonts remind me of nostalgic advertisements.

'Foka Wolfs' been going for a while but still gets me excited seeing his paste ups around town. The work of Gent and Newso always leave my mind blown, such skill and imagination, creating some monstrous pieces of work around Digbeth.

Your art predominantly features robots, why?

While failing to support myself living in the Netherlands, sometimes I drew a little box like character that illustrated my thoughts and worries while I was in a different country. I came back and people seemed to like my character more than my holiday photos, so I drew some more onto stickers and over time each bot I drew developed its own character and sinister motives, it has been fun unveiling the plans for our future.

Your art has popped up in some places it may not be expected, such as stickers on lampposts (including outside Dismaland) & bins, but where's the most unusual place you've left your mark?

I've come to find stickers on lampposts as the norm, and I try and make my art available and accessible to all. Putting my robots in super public places up and down the country, from dark and dingy city alleys to rural village towns, whenever I'm on my travels I always have a back pocket full of stickers and if I've been anywhere new or see a fellow artists work I'll put a bot up.

How did you first get into street art & can you remember your first piece (& is it still there)?

The first boxy character i did was hand drawn on a set of sticker labels and I sheepishly put five up around the grounds of my university, luckily they weathered off within a few months. I'm glad they did, they were terribly naïve.

Where do you get your ideas / inspiration from and how long does it take to turn the idea into the finished art work?

I'm fascinated with history, especially with the remains of what was left from before, like Birmingham’s dying industries and the deteriorating factories left behind. I also love all things Science Fiction, especially cartoons, movies and games, depicting apocalyptic landscapes. I take inspiration from these visions of the future, and from there the bots demand I put them into worlds similar to the ones in the movies, so I'll pencil quick ideas into a sketch book and normally sit on the idea till I'm able to apply it to the street. sometimes for months.

For you what's the best and worst thing about being a street artist / street art?

Well the worst thing is working with Birmingham's not-so sunny weather. It's hard to pick the best part. Meeting people who are as passionate as me about the art-form, being able to create collaborative pieces of art with some of my heroes, even hearing that the sight of one of my bots makes somebody’s bus journey to work a little better.

By Michael Younger, Copywriter by nature, Twitter user (@myounger14) & chief street art spotter.

Make Cleaning Your Home Easier With Old Wives Cleaning Tips

When it comes to cleaning our homes, we all have our own ways of doing it. Some of us will tackle one room at a time, others will polish everywhere and then vacuum. However you clean your house, wouldn’t it be great if you had a few tips and tricks to make the process quicker and easier.

Over the last month, eSpares ran a competition on Birmingham Favourites to find the best “old wives tales” to help with cleaning. Below are a select few of the entries, including the winning entry from Norman Cherry PhD DA MCSD FRSA CRODCP.

Clean Your Windows...Without the Streaks:

On a bright spring morning, nothing beats sitting eating your breakfast and looking out onto the garden – as it becomes a hotbed of colour and nature. Yet many of us are greeted by dirty or streaky windows.

Whatever specialist window cleaning products we use, the results still seem to be the same – smears and streaks are left. But this doesn’t need to be the case, ditch the specialist cleaning products and instead follow the advice outlined, by Kathleen, below...

“Add a splash of washing up liquid and a splash of white vinegar into a bowl of warm water. Use this to clean your windows, before polishing them with old newspaper”

Remove Odours from Your Carpets:

When you vacuum your floors you remove roughly 80% of the dirt which is on them, but vacuuming alone doesn’t remove odours which may have sunk into the fibres and leave an unpleasant aroma within the room.

Looking to tackle a smelly carpet (or rug)? Keith has the answer...

“Sprinkle bicarbonate of soda over your carpets and rugs, leaving the bicarbonate of soda for 15 minutes before vacuuming. You’ll be left with clean and odour free carpets.”

Tackle the Dust:

Dusting, do you do it before you vacuum or once you’ve vacuumed? If you do it before, any dust which falls on the floor can be removed but it always seems that you need to dust again straight afterwards. If you leave the dusting until after you’ve vacuumed any dust which falls onto the floor remains there, leaving the room looking untidy.

The solution, according to the winning “old wives tale” sent in by Norman, is to not dust. Norman explains...

“After two months, dust no longer grows on your stuff, so just ignore it. This was allegedly practised by the late Quentin Crisp, but my late friend the author Oppi Untracht DID practice this.  I visited his apartment in Porvoo, Finland, and was so impressed by how well it worked that I resolved to try it out myself - and it DOES indeed work.  Think of how much time we could all save if we gave it a try - even only for a couple of months............ and, if we normally employ cleaners, how much money we would save.”

The team at eSpares would like to thank everyone who took part in this competition, and remember if you’re looking for advice and tips on cleaning or maintaining your household appliances, visit the eSpares blog.

By Michael Younger, Copywriter by nature and Twitter user (@myounger14)

Lace Up Your Trainers For The Birmingham Half Marathon

Birmingham Half Marathan September 13th saw the biggest half marathon take place in Newcastle, with top athletes including Mo Farah, David Weir and Shelly Woods - all who won their respective races - were joined by 57,000 other runners.

Whilst Newcastle and the North of England were able to bask in the glory of the Great North Run, on October 18th 2015 Birmingham will be able to show what it can do, as the Great Run series comes to town, with the biggest half marathon in the Midlands.

The Birmingham Half Marathon is, in my opinion, the best half marathon - even beating the half marathon which is held in my hometown of Leicester a week later. And this year will be the 3rd year I've taken part in this particular race - and my fifth half marathon!

If you've never laced up your trainers and stood on the start line of a half marathon race with thousands of other runners, and you've never ran the grueling, yet enjoyable, 13.1 miles then you are missing out.

I would love to be able to paint you a picture of how much fun and how rewarding running a half marathon for charity is, but I don't think my words would do it justice. The excitement and anticipation, not just from the runners who are gearing up for the race but also from the spectators is electric.

There's a buzz in the air which cannot be replicated anywhere else, strangers bonding over a common goal of looking to tackle the 13.1 miles which lay ahead - many runners tackling the course for a charity close to their hearts, and with family and friends cheering them on.

During the race the streets are lined with spectators, even streets where you may not necessarily expect to see them, they are there - cheering on and encouraging people that they've never met before and are unlikely to meet again. People come out of their houses just to applaud the runners, people stop whatever it was they were doing in the streets to clap, local church congregations come out and support - literally anyone you can think of will be out and about cheering on the thousands of runners as they put themselves through pain and a rollercoaster of emotions.

As for the final mile, which takes in Middleway and ends on Broad Street, this is something else altogether. Writing about it now, as I sit in the comfort of my lounge, brings goosebumps as well as tears to the eyes. It is the last mile where the body is hurting everywhere and all you want to see is the finish line, which seems to never come, where the crowd are extra special.

The bridges over Middleway are always packed, Broad Street is always 3 or 4 people deep on the pavement and it's a wall of noise, euphoric cheers and unwavering support which as a runner, I can tell you, really does make a huge difference and mean a lot. If it wasn't for aiming for a PB every time I take on the Birmingham Half Marathon, I would stop on Broad Street and film the experience (perhaps I need to borrow a GoPro for this year's race).

For me, the Birmingham Half Marathon is when Birmingham really truly shines as a great city, full of compassionate, supportive and wonderful people. I cannot recommend the experience enough, even if you're not a runner, on October 18th 2015 why not come out and support those (like myself) who are tackling the 13.1 miles and experience it for yourselves - particularly Broad Street?!

As much as I love running the Birmingham Half Marathon, I do take part for a serious reason - and that is to raise money for a charity which is close my heart, John Taylor Hospice.

Everyone at John Taylor Hospice does an incredible, amazing job - they truly are fantastic, but they can only do it with the support of sponsorship. In fact it costs £14,000 a day for John Taylor Hospice to run all the services they do - and these services make a huge difference to their patients and families.

I'm truly humbled to put on the John Taylor Hospice vest, as I know by running 13.1 miles for them in October, with the help of everyone who sponsors me, I'll be making a massive difference.

As John Taylor Hospice say "Every Moment Matters" - and whilst I've written this piece to give you a flavour of what the Birmingham Half Marathon is like, to promote yet another great event in this great city, I would love it if you could all spare whatever it is you can to sponsor me - either via justgiving.com/mjyounger14 (where you can read more about why I'm running for JTH) or by texting JTMY86 £2 to 70070 - thank you!

Michael

By Michael Younger, Copywriter by nature, Twitter user (@myounger14) & chief owl spotter.

The Big Hoot 2015 - For Little & Big Kids Alike

This year, is the Year of the Sheep (or Goat) - but it would seem someone forgot to tell Birmingham - as in Birmingham, it appears to be the Year of the Owl.

Not just one owl either, 89 giant owls which have been dotted around Birmingham (with one being slightly further afield at Twycross Zoo) - from outside the new library to Gracechurch in Sutton Coldfield, and from Ward End Park to Kings Heath.

Each of the 89 giant owls have been individually created by artists from Birmingham and beyond, whilst many schools and local community groups have had a hand in designing the small owls which have also been dotted around Birmingham. And every single one of the owls which landed in Birmingham on July 20th and fly off again on September 27th are part of The Big Hoot 2015.

What is The Big Hoot 2015:

The Big Hoot 2015 has been presented by creative producers Wild in Art who are working in partnership with Birmingham Children's Hospital to create a trail of fantastically designed owls, each with their own individual QR codes which provide more information about the owls and their creators, along with offering some special awards.

The aim of The Big Hoot 2015, along with providing beautiful owl sculptures in various locations throughout Birmingham which people can explore at their own leisure, is to raise money for Birmingham Children's Hospital Charity - and more information can be found here.

It's Not Just For Little Kids:

By now, if you've been anywhere in or around Birmingham you will have seen groups of people around the owls, having their pictures taken next to them - something which I like to refer to as an "owlfie" - or bending down at peculiar angles to read information available.

And the owl spotting as part of The Big Hoot 2015 isn't just for little kids either, big kids (aka mums, dads, aunts, uncles & grandparents) can and should get involved too....and this is from experience.

During the August Bank Holiday weekend, armed with The Big Hoot 2015 app (which I highly recommend you download if you're off owl spotting), the car - myself and my fiancée set off with the task of finding all 89 owls as quickly as we could. Once we found each owl, one of us would scan the QR code using The Big Hoot app, whilst the other took a picture - we even took a few "owlfies".

For the early stages of the owl spotting it was fairly relaxed, and we saw lots of other families also taking part - everyone was friendly, waiting their turn to scan the code or take a picture. Strangers who'd never met each other had quick conversations about their favourite owls so far or pointed out where some of the trickier to spot owls were.

We were making great strides into spotting all 89 too, with our plan being to start on Broad Street/Brindley Place, and work our way through the City Centre and down to Digbeth.

As the day wore on, more conversations with people we'd never met and more owl spotting took place. By this time, I'd learnt that Dr Whoot (in Snow Hill) was one of the more popular owls, not only within the City Centre but out of all 89 too - and then before we knew it, all owls located in the City Centre/Jewellery Quarter had been spotted, scanned and photo taken.

A quick check of the inbuilt map on the app and a plan was formed to drive to Kings Heath, Handsworth and Perry Barr to spot the owls there, before heading home and finding those at Fort Dunlop.

By the end of Day 1, we had made great in-roads into spotting as many owls as possible, although we were hindered slightly as we arrived at Soho House after the gates had locked so couldn't scan the owl.

Undeterred and adamant to find all 89 owls, we made a plan of action for the following day - which would involve driving to Twycross Zoo first to find the owl there, before heading back to Soho House to scan the owl we were unable to get to the night before.

We still had to find the owls in Sutton Coldfield, Blakesley Hall, Aston, Nechells and Erdington - and despite the rain, we knew we could do it.

It may have become tiring come the last couple of owls (this may also have something to do with walking over 10 miles on day 1), we may have got very wet due to the rain and we may have got a little lost coming out of Twycross Zoo...BUT we scanned all 89 owls, with the last one being Love Owl situated at Moore Hall - and I cannot tell you what a relief it was to do.

Finding all 89 owls also felt somewhat rewarding - and it paid off, as Satnam Rana of BBC news fame, contacted me via Twitter to see if I would meet her to discuss our owl spotting adventures. Whilst I wasn't able to, my fiancée did and featured on the news.

Honestly, if you have time to spot the owls go and do it. I'm not saying go crazy and spot all 89 in 2 days, nor am I saying you'll get on the news - but you will have a great time and you will see some great artwork which highlights how great Birmingham is.

The Big Hoot 2015 is more than the owls though, it's about seeing parts of Birmingham you wouldn't necessarily see or visit - places until I started the owl hunt I knew existed, such as Soho House and Sheldon Country Park.

But it's even more than that still. It's about charity, and helping Birmingham Children's Hospital Charity - whether this be by taking part in the auction to buy one of the owls after September 27th 2015 or by texting HOOT to 70099 to donate £2 today to Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity.

Happy Owl Spotting!

By Michael Younger, Copywriter by nature, Twitter user (@myounger14) & chief owl spotter.

#TheBigHoot2015 @BrumFaves

Laundry Made Simple With Laundrapp

The "L" word, it sparks fear into a lot of us - particularly males. Our palms become sweaty, our minds race and we begin to panic, often fumbling around hoping that we're doing it right.

Of course, I'm talking about laundry. It's something which I'll hold my hands up to not being very good at. I understand and can do the basics, such as splitting up dark clothing from the white clothing and I know never to add a red item to white laundry. I'm also fairly nifty at hanging the washing out once it has been done. But that bit in the middle, involving the strange white contraption in the kitchen (also known as the washing machine) has me bamboozled.

Thankfully there's now an app to help with the laundry, known as Laundrapp.

You may remember last month we had a competition for one lucky reader to win the chance to get their laundry done for free. The good people behind Laundrapp also offered Birmingham Favourites the chance to review the service - and I snapped up the chance.

After receiving a special code as part of the review, I began to flick through the app (which I'd downloaded onto my smart phone), in the hope of making a decision on which of the laundry we had should be sent off to be washed.

The list of packages on offer, combined with the great prices offered, made it hard to decide. For example, an 8kg bag of laundry (excluding bedding and towels), which is washed on a 30 degree wash and tumble dried, can be done for £14.50, whilst a two-piece suit can be washed for as little as £11.

After some careful consideration, I opted to get a tie washed (okay, I'd just spilt something on it, leaving a greasy mark) and a blanket which is used as part of Tilly's (our pooches) bed. As you can imagine, Tilly's blanket had a bit of a doggy whiff to it, so it seemed a bit of a challenge as to how clean they could get it.

Before completing the order, Tilly tweeted Laundrapp to see if her blanket was classed as a blanket by them - and they were quick to respond, with a nice personal tweet too. So far, so good!

Confirmation received that the blanket was good to go, the process continued. First selecting a collection day and time, followed by a delivery day and time. Laundrapp has a range of options available with hour time slots, making it easier to arrange for your laundry to be collected and delivered to fit in with a busy schedule.

Navigating throughout the app was easy to do, as was adding the payment details - without having to click on lots of boxes which many sites require making them almost impossible to use on a phone.

With the order placed, a confirmation email was quickly sent from Laundrapp confirming details of order - with the collection of the laundry coming a few days later.

Although the collection of our laundry was slightly later than we'd requested, the service cannot be faulted. And with the items back with us, there are no complains.

The tie is as clean as the day I purchased it, whilst Tilly's blanket is spotless, smelling fresh and extremely soft. Tilly seems to approve too.

Overall, a top service from Laundrapp - and a service I would highly recommend for anyone who wants to take the chore of laundry out of their lives!

Find out what Tilly thinks of @Laundrapp by tweeting her @T1lly_dog

By Michael Younger, Copywriter by nature, Twitter user (@myounger14) & laundry novice.

Erdington Fete 2015 in pictures

The wonderful Michael Younger volunteers with the 67th Birmingham Girls Brigade at Erdington Fair and shares his photo diary with us.
On Saturday July 11th, Erdington High Street came awash with a range of stalls from all different local organisations and charities, as the annual Erdington Fete was held. For the second year running I was roped into helping out on the 67th Birmingham Girls Brigade stall (although it was easy to persuade me).

8am - an early start as we collected the cakes and sweets for the stall from Six Ways Baptist Church, before pushing them on two trolleys the short walk to Erdington High Street.

8:15 - 9:30am - after locating our stall for the day (aptly right outside a well-known bakers) we began setting the stall up, and talking to some of the early morning shoppers and other stall holders. Even though the Fete hadn't officially started, the cakes were too tempting for some shoppers, who purchased a couple of £s worth, not that we were complaining, as all money the stall raised went back into the Girls Brigade group.
9:30 - 10am - with the stall set up, it was time to stand back and wait for the opening of the Fete. During this time, we watched the stalls around us setup - including a few other cake stalls (our competitors for the day), a well-known pub chain and our neighbours for the day, local charity John Taylor Hospice who were there to raise awareness of the hospice and encourage people to join their team for the Birmingham Half Marathon in October. It was great to have Liz and Diane from John Taylor Hospice as our neighbours for the day, as it's a charity I've supported over the last couple of years, including running the half marathon for them last year. If you've seen their recent campaign you may have spotted me on the back of a bus.
10am - 12:45pm - The Fete was on, and the High Street became a hive of activity as the Erdington community came out to enjoy the atmosphere, support the stalls and enjoy great music from local musicians. During this time, if you were anywhere near the High Street there's a good chance you'll have heard me doing my best Del Boy impression, wooed passers-by and spoke with shoppers, as I drummed up sales for the girls on the Girls Brigade stall, encouraging shoppers to buy the cakes which were being sold 5 for £1. - I even managed to get one or two people to join the John Taylor Hospice half marathon team!
As the afternoon came, it was time for me to hand over the reins as honorary 67th Birmingham Girls Brigade member to the partner of another Girls Brigade leader, due to prior commitments.

With the sun being kind to everyone, the Erdington Fete proved to be a huge success, enjoyed by young and old alike - and I'm sure everyone is looking forward to next years...I know I am.

If you have a daughter (or granddaughter) aged 4yrs - 18yrs old who is interested in joining the Girls Brigade, the 67th Birmingham Girls Brigade meet every Wednesday evening from 6:30pm (during term time) at Six Ways Baptist Church, Erdington.

Huge thanks to the John Taylor Hospice team who took many of the pictures for this post. The hospice do a fantastic job, and are looking for as many people as possible to join their team for October's Birmingham Half Marathon - having ran for the team (and agreed to do so again this year) I highly recommend it.

By Mike Younger – Copywriter (by nature) & Twitter user (@MYounger14).

If I Ruled The World…..by Michael Younger

Jamie Cullum once sang if he ruled the world “every day would be the first day of spring”. A great idea, but if I ruled the world it wouldn’t be one of the first 6 things I would do. These would be…

3 Day Weekends 

It can’t only be me who notices everyone is happier when it’s a Bank Holiday? Tourist attractions seem to be busier, local parks are full of dog walkers/families having a good time and the economy thrives.

So, if I ruled every weekend would be a 3 day one, starting on a Friday.

It would mean less time being stuck in a hot & sweaty office during the summer, more time to do the Christmas shopping, and we’d also get more time to spend with family and friends.

More Dog Friendly Shops/Restaurants 

All shopkeepers/restaurant owners will have to open their doors to “man’s best friend”. Ok, perhaps I’m slightly biased as I’m a dog owner (our rescue pooch even has her own Twitter account), but there aren’t enough dog friendly shops / restaurants.

If you visit (some) coastal resorts, dog friendly shops are slightly more common, and there are two cat cafes set to open in Birmingham, but why isn’t there more for shops which are dog friendly? Under my rule, they all would be.

No More Self-Serve Checkouts

Controversial maybe, but are these really beneficial? Honestly, have you never got frustrated at the computer advising you to place your item in the bagging area/that there’s an unexpected item in the bagging area? You cannot win with these machines.

Remove them & with them one less frustration from shopping. It would (surely) help reduce the unemployment rate as shops would need more staff. For me, this is a win-win solution.

Cheaper Football Tickets

The beautiful game, invented in England – yet fans are being priced out of it (Arsenal charge up to £97 for a match day ticket).

Time to make it cheaper by capping tickets at £25 - & this is plenty, especially when you can pay less than £10 to watch Birmingham Ladies & less than £5 to watch Aston Villa Ladies.

Ps. I’d also make sure all games went back to 3pm Saturday Kick-Offs.

Moaning Monday Mornings

I get people need to vent from time to time – so lets limit that time to Monday mornings, between 7am and 9am. A 2 hour slot to let off steam, whinge and moan. But moan outside of these times and you face a fine which goes to charity – either £10 per moan or an hour of your time given to charity.

Free Cake & Coffee Friday 

So I’ve introduced longer weekends, and what better way to start your weekend with free coffee and cake (limited to 1 per person) at your local independent coffee shop. But it comes with T&Cs…1) it’s only valid between 10am & midday, 2) you must purchase something from the coffee shop too.

By Mike Younger – Copywriter (by nature) & Twitter user (@MYounger14). And you can reach Tilly on Twitter @T1lly_dog.