Monthly Street Food Markets brings culinary delights to Kings Heath

Every second Saturday of the month, Kings Heath’s Village Square is turned into a street food market. With plenty of street food on offer, I made the trip up to Kings Heath to see what it was all about. Originally organised by Brum Yum Yum, the Kings Heath BID now organises the market. The market is not just about good food, but also the entertainment which creates a great atmosphere. There were new vendors, as well as long-time street food vendors, ready to serve customers with sweet or savoury dishes. Street Kitchen Brothers’ Director Chris Butcher spoke about what attracted his company to the market. “It’s got a fantastic reputation. We’ve seen it promoted and it’s an up and coming event, which is superb. Even though the weather is really grim, I think we’ll do very well today. “We want to broaden people’s horizons a little bit. You can get standard Greek food from any restaurant and get nice stuff abroad, but we have our own twist on the Greek classics and we’ll do some beautiful stuff today.” The Spice is Right Director Ams Singh, with his team of Sous Chefs served up a creative samosa and maple syrup and sweet chilli chicken dish, which tasted amazing when I came across their stand. Ams said “Having fun and experimenting with the spices that are around us all the time. “I have a Punjabi background and a lot of heritage there, so it’s about using what I have learned from my mum and getting it into chicken especially because it absorbs anything and it returns great results.” Chef James Walter, who travelled from Stoke-on-Trent to be at the Street Food Market, added “My brother-in-law saw it on the TV and we decided to come down and see what the locals were raving about. “It’s all about having some good food and a few cheeky wines along the way.”

Words and pictures by Umar Hassan

If you are interested in seeing what went on at the market, watch this video here. Follow me on Twitter at @umarjourno for all things news and journalism related.


Brum Trail: The Winter in the City Trail

Ideal for: people who love both breakfast and board games

Avoid if: you're a bad loser

Bring // Youll need: your woollies

Terrain: high ropes and high stakes

The start: Bar Opus, Snowhill

Nothing takes the winter chill away quite like a hearty brunch. Bar Opus do a swish version with a choice of either trendy bar plates to share or a menu of classic dishes such as the New York Bagel, steak and eggs and, of course, a good old English - all delivered in the swanky surroundings of this popular Business District bar. Their Saturday brunch comes complete with drinks upgrades - why not indulge in unlimited Bloody Marys for a mere £12.50? Yet another compelling reason to travel by bus...

One Snowhill, city centre

Brunch served on Saturdays from 10.00am

The middle bit: Sandwell Valley Country Park, West Bromwich

This time of year may feel a bit grim, but it throws up the opportunity for crisp, sun drenched walks to put a smile back on your freezing face. The largest national nature reserve in the Midlands, Sandwell Valley has it all. Its 660 acres are home to an RSPB reserve, a working Victorian Farm complete with tea rooms, a cycle route, woodland, meadows, open countryside and some nice lakes to boot. There's even a high ropes aerial adventure course, for those feeling brave after all those Bloody Marys.

Salter's Lane, West Bromwich - just a few miles out from the city centre

The 74 and 75 bus routes stop a few minutes walk from Bar Opus at Colmore Circus, and take you into the centre of West Bromwich.

The Valley is a ten-minute walk from West Bromwich centre.

The end: The Queen's Arms, Jewellery Quarter

This comfy, Grade II listed proper boozer is the perfect place to kick back with a pint of cask ale and fall out with loved ones, as you take advantage of the pub's generous selection of board games. They're barmy for sausages here, and the rest of the food offering isn't bad either - comfort guaranteed. If you're seriously into your games there's a very popular quiz night here, every Thursday.

150 Newhall Street

If you're travelling back from West Bromwich on the bus, alight at Water Street - Newhall Street is a stones throw away

Open every day from midday, 11.00am on weekends

Tips: You can mix and match your choice of sausages at The Queens, and you get three - go for it!

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Words by Gemma Corden – writer, unashamedly banging on about Birmingham. Contact via @gemma_corden or find out more about her here or even more here.



If I Ruled The World ....... by Gemma Cordon

 The If I Ruled The World Trail

Ideal for: Bus nerds and budding thespians

Avoid if: you don't like sitting down or standing up for long prolonged periods

Bring // Youll need: wide eyes

Terrain: practically all of Birmingham!

The start: Backstage Tour - Birmingham REP Theatre

Culture is king in my world. See where all the magic happens on one of the REP Theatre's brilliantly immersive backstage tours. You get to feel the pressure of standing on stage, watch sets, costumes and props being made and who knows, you may even meet one of your favourite actors.

Broad Street, city centre. Website.

Selected Thursdays and Saturdays at 11.00am (lasts 90 mins). £6 or £4.50 concessions

The middle bit: Ride on the number 11 bus

Public transport is free - the perfect excuse to board what was until recently the longest urban bus route in Europe (Coventry stole that crown). The famous number 11 traverses the city's outer circle - that's 26 miles, 40 pubs and six hospitals. Phew! You can jump off at Cadbury World if the smell of all that chocolate gets too much.

For a full list of the route's 272 stops and for ticket prices visit the website

The end: West Midlands Police Museum

In a world ruled by me, British crime dramas are prescribed as medicine. There's nothing like a bit of Frost to provide a healthy distraction from the stress of real life. To get the old grey cells whirring you could visit the West Midlands Police Museum - it's curious and sometimes chilling collection that shows how policing has evolved, from the days of the watchman's lamp to modern-day forensics. Fascinating stuff.

Sparkhill Police Station, 639 Stratford Road. Website.

By appointment - for details call 08451135000 ext. 6243

Tips: Remember your Ps and Qs - in my world, rudeness is punishable by banishment. To Mars or somewhere. But hey, at least you could get there on a free bus.

Birmingham Trail: The Rediscover Your City Trail

Ideal for: proud Brummies and curious in-laws

Avoid if: you can't stand the Birmingham accent

Bring // Youll need: to prepare your brain for information overload

Terrain: top decks and sheds

The start: The Big Brum Open Top Buz Sightseeing Tour

Yep, bus with a z - because that's just how we like to pronounce it in this neck of the woods. And what understatedly fascinating woods they are. This most charming of bus tours guides passengers beyond the usual 'more canals than Venice' mantra and takes us off the beaten track, picking up the Tolkien trail in leafy Edgbaston and exploring the urban glamour of East Side alongside the perennially popular Jewellery Quarter and the Golden Mile (yes, apparently we have one). Jam-packed with interesting facts that will surprise even the most veteran of Brummies, this memorable tour will uncover Birmingham as you've never seen it before. Warts and all.

Tours depart from the Council House, Victoria Square at 10.30, 12.30 and 14.30 on Saturdays and Sundays

£12 for an adult ticket, concession and group tickets available. Here's the website.

The middle bit: Birmingham: its people, its history - Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

Steel yourselves for more facts! This brilliant (and massive) exhibition is a great deal more interesting than it may sound on paper. Innovative displays, films and interactives tell the story of Birmingham in chronological order - travelling right back in time to the city's medieval beginnings, journeying through the grandeur and squalor of Victorian Birmingham and uncovering the role the city played in the two world wars. It really is an epic tale - expect to be chilled, disgusted, moved and, ultimately, very proud.

Chamberlain Square, city centre

Open 10.00 - 17.00 (Fridays 10.30-17.00)

Free admission. More on the website

The end: Music and Ale Night - The Two Towers Brewery

Where better to bore people to tears with your newfound facts than over a locally brewed ale down at the pub...or industrial estate. The Two Towers Brewery has been providing Birmingham and beyond with delicious and brilliantly-named craft beers since 2009 (a half of Complete Muppetry, anyone?). They currently operate from the rather incongruous setting of a Hockley industrial unit, but don't let that put you off. The site has the feel of someone's garden shed - cosy, charming and welcoming, just like the hosts. Get down to one of their lively Music and Ale Nights and expect to leave with your Brummie pride well and truly in tact.

Unit 1 Mott Street Industrial Estate, Hockley

Approximately a 20-minute walk from BM&AG

Check the website for events listings - typically, Music Night takes place on Fridays 20.00 - 23.00 at a cost of £5 entry including four halves of ale


Be sure to wrap up for The Big Brum gets windy

Check out the BM&AG's Edwardian Tea Rooms for what must be the biggest pot of tea available in Birmingham

Done this Trail? Please rate it! Email or Tweet us.

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Words by Gemma Corden – writer, unashamedly banging on about Birmingham. Contact via @gemma_corden or find out more about her here or even more here.


A visit to Resort World

What will Big Enn, an art curator who has a keen interest in architecture and of course he's our resident food writer, make of Resort World?

After all the publicity in the lead up to the recent opening of Resort World at the NEC site I thought I would like to go and have a look. From what I could understand, there should be a major architecturally significant building housing a casino, restaurants, IMAX cinemas, conference centre, and an outlet shopping mall to rival Bicester Village.

From the centre of Birmingham the sensible option seemed to be to take the train and, after a twelve-minute ride, I alighted at International. It was pretty straightforward to follow the signs and walk along that great soul less corridor which I have trudged so many times in the past to attend the annual Spring Fair and other events. It has been tidied up considerably since I last traversed it but it is still just a long metal tube, I suppose. Once down into the NEC complex, signage was a bit less obvious and it took a few minutes to be certain quite where to go. Slightly to my surprise I found myself being routed outside again and faced with a walk of not much less than a quarter of a mile to the actual Resort World building. On a fine day this was perfectly pleasant but would be a bit daunting I think in the middle of winter.

Having seen pictures of the building I was not entirely expecting an architectural masterpiece but the reality is, frankly, even worse than my already rather low expectations. It is certainly new, large, shiny, and asymmetrical but those qualities do not necessarily constitute architectural value. I was somewhat, shall we say, underwhelmed.

The day I went, preparations were underway for the local premiere of the new Bond film Spectre and so the main entrance was partially blocked by the workmen labouring to lay the Red Carpet.

Once in, I found to my left what looked like a decent enough bar with food, and a high street restaurant branch straight ahead at the beginning of the mall. What was particularly noticeable was the small numbers of visitors at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. My experience of indoor shopping malls is that they are often complex and confusing to negotiate my way around but not this one: it is very straightforward, being laid out in a simple oval plan. It is also pretty small, with most of the standard high street names you would expect, a number of units bearing Open Soon messages and others which still seem to be available to rent. Some of the shops are pretty decent, others somewhat scantily stocked, and one well-known High Street name looking not unlike a charity shop with all its surplus sale items laid out on what appears to be a Pile Em High Sell Em Cheap basis.

I did enjoy the ProCook store, however, and found some small items to take home from there and elsewhere. Staff in a number of the shops were at pains to tell me that they were expecting more stock in soon. I guess it would be unfair to judge the place too harshly on the basis of the first week of operation but normally that would be when traders would especially want to meet the expectations of customers as fully as possible in order to encourage repeat visits.

So, what of the rest? I glanced in to the casino which looked glitzy and respectable, not dowdy and slightly seedy like some others encountered. Not being a gambler, I had no reason to stray too far beyond the threshold. The spa on the top floor looked like it might be quite inviting, were I in the mood for pampering. It was the wrong time of day for watching a film, so I cannot say anything about the IMAX experience but RW staff to whom I spoke were very upbeat about it and absolutely certain that they have a winning combination out there. I mentioned my disappointment with the shopping experience and suggested that Bicester had nothing to fear from the RW offering. It appears that what RW wants to do is offer the whole experience, concentrating on the casino, cinema, and food and drink “offers” (don’t you hate that word?), with shopping being an additional benefit rather than the main reason for going.

Well, fair enough. I take that at face value but overall it was a disappointing experience for me. Perhaps I will return when it has become more established but I think I can find much better places to eat and drink, to shop, and to relax in the city centre without troubling myself to go out to the edge. As for cinema, I still find it hard to better the Electric Experience (admittedly a slightly odd acquired taste).

However, don’t let me put you off. Go out and try it for yourself. It is, after all, an addition to the many visitor attractions Greater Birmingham has to offer and which, one way or another, makes it such a great place to be right now. There is always the new Andy Waters restaurant to look forward to, though, when I called RW to find out when it is due to open, no one could tell me! [We're all waiting for that one! - the Ed]

By Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman


Birmingham Trail: The Spooky Trail

Birmingham is a brilliant city. It caters for the most diverse of tastes and softens the stoniest of cynics. There really is something for everyone. Our resident trail finder, Gemma Corden, is here to prove it. Challenge her if you dare.

The Spooky Trail

Ideal for: Goths

Avoid if: Your friends tell you your 'sensitive'

Bring // Youll need: A Proton Pack and Ecto-Goggles

Terrain: Involves graveyard loitering and an overnight stay (...not in the graveyard)

The start: Ghost Walk/s

It's Friday night, what better to do than head to the nearest dead people? Midlands Discovery Tours run a Graveyard Ghost Walk, taking in four different graveyards in one night (if that's what you're into) and includes a trip to the infamous catacombs in the Jewellery Quarter. Yikes. There's also the Birmingham Sinister City Walk, which takes you on an alternative tour through the heart of the Victorian city. Plague! Execution! Yay! The best bit is when you visit a haunted pub at the end. More info: Midlands Discovery Tours

City centre

Graveyard Ghost Walk - 7.00pm first Friday of the month Feb to Dec

Sinister City Ghost Walk - 7.00pm third Friday of the month Jan to Oct

The middle bit: Depending on the time of year you've got three truly terrifying options here, all of which happen annually:

In July you can get that gore-soaked horror itch well and truly scratched when The Electric Cinema's Shock and Gore Festival comes alive. There are horror and fantasy films old and new alongside live scores, Q&As and a legendary all-nighter. Expect controversy and spine tingles. More info: Shock and Gore

You find yourself out and about in the city centre one August weekend. Something isn't quite right. Ah yes, that's it - ZOMBIES! Everywhere!! But don't panic - all this carnage raises money for Birmingham's Children's Hospital (and clearly, what those kiddies are going through is the scariest thing on this list). Fake blood at the ready!

If you're one of those people for whom fancy dress is not a painful experience, and becoming a zombie has merely whet your appetite, then get yourself on the Big Brum Buz in October for their Halloween Ghost Bus Tour. Take in the darker side of Birmingham from the open top roof (make sure to wrap up warm!) of this old bus, driven by a very shady character indeed. Expect an amalgamation of the two walks introduced above, only with less walking... More info: Birmingham Tours

The end: The Tunnel Club

Why not round the adventure off with some frighteningly cheap spirits at this atmospheric rock metal club, housed under a railway arch. Warning: there will be a lot of Metallica t shirts.

Livery Street, City Centre B3 1HL The Tunnel Club Every Saturday night, 10pm-4am

Tips: If you can't get enough of the haunted stuff then you might want to spend a night at The Station Hotel, Dudley. Your classic murdered-servant-girl-shoved-in-a-barrel stories abound. Head to room 214... More info: The Station Hotel

Done this Trail? Please rate it! Email or Tweet us.

Challenge Gemma to a Brum for…? Trail: Got a theme or unsuspecting audience in mind? Make your challenge!

Words by Gemma Corden – writer, unashamedly banging on about Birmingham. Contact via @gemma_corden or find out more about her here or even more here.


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 (where you can read more about why I'm running for JTH) or by texting JTMY86 £2 to 70070 - thank you!


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

Birmingham Trail: Get Your Skates On Challenge

Birmingham is a brilliant city. It caters for the most diverse of tastes and softens the stoniest of cynics. There really is something for everyone. Our resident trail finder, Gemma Corden, is here to prove it. Challenge her if you dare.

The Get Your Skates On Trail

Ideal for: petrol heads and wannabe Torvils or Deans

Avoid if: you're really boring

Bring // Youll need: a sense of humour. Leave your pride at home

Terrain: tracks and bones...yes, bones

The start: Roller Disco at The Tower Ballroom

If, like me, you'll always have a place in your heart for Pontins holiday camps then the Tower Ballroom should offer a welcome slice of nostalgia. This mad old place overlooking the gorgeous Edgbaston Reservoir began life as a roller skating rink before transforming into a ballroom. Aptly, they now hold a Roller Disco twice a month. Expect 70s and 80s cheese and hair-raising bathroom trips in this mildly terrifying night out.

Reservoir Road, Edgbaston

1st and 3rd Friday of every month 8pm-1am. £15 (or £10 if you bring your own skates)

The number 80 bus stops nearby (a 7-minute walk), boarding at Smallbrook Queensway in the city centre and alighting at Osler Street. You'll need a taxi on the way back.

The middle bit: Go Karting at Teamsport, Oldbury

After a character building night on the skates you should be feeling suitably brave come Saturday morning, and with 1000 metres of track and 13 corners (unlucky for some) Teamsport indoor go karting is the perfect hangover cure.

Get up in the race-wear provided (the best bit) and channel your inner Sebastian Vettel in petrol karts on a multi-level track that includes a rather daunting flyover. There's a spectator area for the speed-averse and a bar in which to build some Dutch courage. Book in advance.

Unit 7-10 Park Lane Industrial Estate, Oldbury

The nearest train station is Langley Green -15 mins from Birmingham Moor Street station.

The end: Le Monde Fish Restaurant

Like being in a market only much, MUCH posher, this place has a fish counter to die for. Take your time to peruse and, in light of this trail's theme, I heartily recommend the skate... A word of warning, all fish dishes are served a la plancha (cooked on a griddle to you and I) and the result if pesky fish bones. You might want to take them up on their offer of filleting the whole fish for you at the table. For the especially brave, they're big on oysters here.

Brindley Place, city centre. Approximately a 20-min walk from Moor Street station


If your skate-legs are a little dusty, Birmingham Wheels Roller Speed Club do roller skating lessons on Saturdays.

Lunch at Le Monde is a great deal at £12.50 for two courses.

Done this Trail? Please rate it! Email or Tweet us.

Challenge Gemma to a Brum for...? Trail: Got a theme or unsuspecting audience in mind? Make your challenge!

Words by Gemma Corden - writer, unashamedly banging on about Birmingham. Contact via @gemma_corden or find out more about her here or even more here.


Photos kindly supplied by the venues.

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.

50 Fascinating Facts about Birmingham

We are mightily grateful to Keith Bracey, local history buff for putting this stunning and informative feature together.  This is part two - please see part one here.

26. PENS

In the 1850s, Birmingham was a world centre for the pen trade. More than half the steel-nib pens manufactured in the world were made in Birmingham, where thousands of skilled craftsmen and craftswomen were employed in the industry. In 1828 Birmingham manufacturer Josiah Mason developed a cheap, efficient slip-in nib that could be added to a fountain pen. Mason became the largest pen-maker in England and in 1875 he founded Mason Science College, which became Birmingham University. Making pens more efficiently and cheaply encouraged the development of education and literacy around the world


In 1940, just after the start of the Second World War, Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory started production of the Spitfire fighter plane and became the largest Spitfire factory in the UK, producing up to 320 aircraft per month. When production ended at Castle Bromwich in June 1945, a total of 12,129 Spitfires had been built - more than half of the 20,000 ever produced.


Sir Francis Galton, born in Birmingham in 1822, is credited as the first to apply statistical methods to science. In doing so, he gave birth to the science of meteorology by creating the first weather map, compiled using data from all of Britain's weather stations in October 1861. A half-cousin to Charles Darwin, whose grandfather Erasmus Darwin from Lichfield near Birmingham had been a prominent member of Birmingham’s Lunar Society, Galton also coined the term Eugenics (improving human genetics through controlled breeding), devised a method for classifying fingerprints and introduced the use of questionnaires and surveys for collecting data on human communities.


The Mini, an icon of the swinging Sixties, was manufactured at Birmingham’s Longbridge plant from 1959 to 2000. In 1999 the Mini was voted the most influential car of the 20th century, and in 2014 it was named Britain’s favourite car of all time in a survey by motoring magazine Autocar. By the late 1960s, Longbridge was the biggest car plant in the world and employed around 250,000 workers.

And it all started here in Brum. It was in 1895 in Birmingham that Frederick William Lanchester built the first petrol-driven four-wheeled car in Britain. He also invented the accelerator pedal.

Lanchester, who had been working at the Forward Gas Engine Company in Saltley, Birmingham, had first devised an engine that ran on petrol rather than gas. As part of that, he invented the carburettor to get the correct mix of air and fuel.

Having tried the new engine in a boat and created Britain's first motorboat, he decided to design a four-wheeled vehicle that would run on petrol. He worked on the car at workshops in Ladywood Road, Fiveways, and then he and his brothers set up a factory in Montgomery Street, Sparkbrook, to make the cars so they could be sold to the public.

  1. GUNS

Birmingham's Gun Quarter was for many years the centre of the world's gun manufacturing industry. In 1865 nearly 10,000 people were employed in the city's gun industry.

During the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), production soared as more than three million guns were made in the city, with Birmingham supplying two thirds of the guns used by the British army.


Hercules Cycle and Motor Company, founded in 1910 in Aston, had become the world’s biggest manufacturer of bicycles by the end of the 1930s, when six million had been made.

Evolving out of Birmingham’s bicycle industry, firms such as Norton and BSA made Birmingham an international centre for motorbike manufacture.

BSA - the Birmingham Small Arms Company - began as a gun-maker founded in Birmingham's Gun Quarter in 1861 before venturing into bicycles, motorbikes and cars. BSA was at one time the largest motorcycle producer in the world and Birmingham bikes won many awards for speed and quality. The BSA Bantam was a popular small motorcycle made in Birmingham which is still produced under licence in India today.


Birmingham firm Arthur Price was the first company to make spoons and forks from chromium plate, the forerunner of stainless steel. By the 1950s, it had become the largest manufacturer of stainless steel cutlery in the UK.

In April 1912, A. Price & Co. Ltd, as the company was then known, was based in a small factory in Conybere Street, Birmingham. The firm was celebrating its 10th anniversary with a commission to supply premium cutlery for use on the world’s newest and most luxurious ocean liner, the S.S. Titanic.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s tragic maiden voyage, Arthur Price recreated the Panel Reed cutlery that was used in the ship’s First Class accommodation. In 1976, the firm was commissioned to design and produce the cutlery for Concorde.


Famous novelist Charles Dickens gave the first public performance of A Christmas Carol in Birmingham Town Hall in December 1853, 10 years after its publication. He performed it over three hours 15 minutes in front of a crowd of 2,000 local people - taking only a 10-minute break for a quick swig of beef tea.


Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, lived and worked in Aston for several months each year from 1879 to 1882. He was working as a pharmacy assistant in the breaks between his studies at Edinburgh University.

Birmingham's Sherlock Street - where Doyle is said to have bought a violin - and the surname of Birmingham printer John Baskerville were obvious influences on his later literary works, with the first Sherlock Holmes story (A Study in Scarlet) published in 1886 and The Hound of the Baskervilles appearing in 1901. Doyle’s time here is commemorated by a blue plaque on the building on the site of his former home at 63 Aston Road North.


The Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry, creator of The Railway Series about Thomas the Tank Engine, was a curate at King’s Norton, Birmingham, from 1940 to 1946. While living there in 1943, he invented stories featuring trains - based on his experiences hearing the engines puffing along the railway line at Kings Norton - to entertain his son during a bout of measles.

In 1945, Awdry wrote his first book featuring his locomotive characters. He made a model train for his son and decided to call it Thomas. His son wanted to hear stories about Thomas, and these were published in his book Thomas the Tank Engine in 1947.


The American-born author of ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ which was made into a film starring Johnny Depp and ‘Rip Van Winkle’ lived and wrote for a time in Birmingham during the early 18th century.


The incredibly prolific author of romantic novels was born in Edgbaston in Birmingham. She wrote hundreds of books, mostly of the romantic fiction variety.


The former King Edward’s School Edgbaston schoolboy lost his job with Granada TV in Manchester in 1994 and became an author. His books about his hero Jack Reacher, the 6 feet 5 inch and 250 pounds one-man war machine have sold over 100 million copies. The books have become a film franchise with the diminutive Tom Cruise playing the giant Reacher.


A spell in a Young Offenders Institution with his brother for stealing a chicken from a convent convinced Roger Ellory to turn his life around and become a writer. He gleaned most of his knowledge about America, which plays host to his crime novels from 1970’s TV shows like Starsky & Hutch, The Rockford Files, Cannon and Cagney & Lacey. His most famous crime thriller is ‘A Quiet Belief in Angels’ and he has written 21 books.


Another former King Edward’s School Edgbaston pupil, albeit somewhat older than Lee Child, Coe’s novel of growing up in 1970’s Birmingham: ‘The Rotter’s Club’ with its background of the Birmingham pub bombings and the strikes at the Austin Rover car plant at Longbridge struck a chord with readers and was turned into a successful BBC TV series. Other novels such as ‘The Closed Circle’ have been equally successful.


Moseley author Jim Crace has enjoyed great literary success and has been nominated for The Booker Prize, the best known literary prize in the UK.


Four wheel drive vehicles began with the great Land Rover Defender in the 1950’s and the success of the company continues today now it is owned by Indian conglomerate TATA with premium products like The Range Rover Sport and The Range Rover Evoque.


Handsworth-born Kash Gill was the very first Asian fighter to become a World Champion in a Contact sport in his chosen discipline of kick-boxing where he is a four-time World Champion. Kash’s titles pre-date those of British-born Asian World Boxing Champions Naseem Hamed and Amir Khan.


Birmingham’s 'Film Triumvirate' is made up of Sir Michael Balcon, Brummie Grammar Schoolboy and Britain's first 'Film Mogul' who at one point worked for Louis B. Mayer at MGM, Victor Savile, who bankrolled Balcon and Oscar Deutsche who founded the ODEON Cinema Chain in Birmingham in the 1930's were Brum’s three film ‘movers and shakers’ All three could at one time be found on a ride on the Inner Circle number 8 'Corporation Buzz' in Birmingham's inner city!

Birmingham Grammar School Boy Sir Michael Balcon founded The Ealing Studios which gave us those great 'Ealing Comedies': 'Kind Hearts and Coronets', 'The Lavender Hill Mob', 'Passport to Pimlico', 'The Ladykillers' and ‘Whiskey Galore’ should be more celebrated in Birmingham as possibly Britain’s greatest film maker, the man who discovered Alfred Hitchcock, whom many think is Britain’s best film maker…..?

Balcon went to my old school George Dixon Grammar School for Boys from 1906 when the school opened until 1912 when he left after his father a Jewish tailor at 116 Summer Lane, Aston became ill and could no longer afford to send the young Balcon to school

After leaving school in 1912 Balcon joined up in 1914 at the outbreak of The Great War and tried to establish some of the early 'Birmingham Pals' Regiments in The Great War but ironically could not fight and serve himself due to defective eyesight..........

Balcon also named his 'Everyman Copper Hero' and most enduring character PC George Dixon of 'Dixon of Dock Green' after his old school which was named after Education Reformer and the founder of Edgbaston High School for Girls: George Dixon MP, a direct contemporary of Joseph Chamberlain MP the founder of municipal Birmingham.

PC George Dixon first appeared in the 1949 Ealing Studios film: 'The Blue Lamp' where he was shot in a bungled cinema robbery by a young Rank Starlet on loan to the Ealing Studios Dirk Bogarde....remember him?

PC George Dixon was miraculously reincarnated in 1952 in the first 'Police Procedural': 'Dixon of Dock Green' where the young PC Dixon pounds a tough East End Docklands Beat around 'Dock Green' keeping law and order with his own brand of homespun bonhomie and gentle kindness and good sense, with a ‘clip round the ear’ for young urchins rather than a spell in ‘The Blue Brick’ (‘nick’)

PC Dixon's cheery Saturday evening greeting: 'Evening All' has gone down in TV folklore.

'Dixon of Dock Green' ran from 1952 until 1976 when Jack Warner, the actor who played PC Dixon for all those years became too old for the role.

Sir Michael Balcon would premiere his Ealing Films to the Cinema Club at his old school.

There are also links to Hollywood as his Grandson is possibly the greatest ever screen actor the three-time Oscar winner for 'Best Actor' Daniel Day-Lewis.


George Dixon was a former Lord Mayor of Birmingham of the 1870's and a renowned educational pioneer in the city. He founded Edgbaston High School for Girls in Westbourne Road to educate young women, the daughters of artisans and craftsmen in Birmingham.

The George Dixon Grammar Schools were built in 1906 to honour his memory on the mile-long City Road, built at the turn of the 20th century during the municipal boom in Birmingham inspired by Joseph Chamberlain who at that time founded the University of Birmingham also in Edgbaston.

George Dixon to those 'Baby Boomers' who grew up in 1960's Britain meant a kindly, avuncular copper who pounded the beat in Dock Green in East London on black and white TV on BBC1 on Saturday evenings.

Did you know how PC George Dixon got his name...?

Sir Michael Balcon, then Head of the Ealing Studios was a former pupil of the George Dixon Grammar School for Boys in City Road, Edgbaston in Birmingham.

Ealing Studios released a film called: 'The Blue Lamp' in the early 1950's starring Jack Warner as PC George Dixon. PC Dixon was shot dead by a very young actor named Dirk Bogarde (remember him...?) who played a petty villain on PC Dixon's beat in bomb-damaged London.

PC George Dixon's name was inspired by Sir Michael Balcon's former school George Dixon Grammar in Birmingham.

PC Dixon was reincarnated for the very successful 'Police Procedural' TV show of the 60's and 70's on BBC1, still played by the original actor from 'The Blue Lamp': Jack Warner.

Sir Michael Balcon's daughter Jill Balcon established links with her father's old school in Birmingham some years ago. Jill was part of an acting dynasty and married into the Day-Lewis theatrical family which includes Jill Balcon’s double-Oscar winner son Daniel Day-Lewis whose grandfather is Birmingham-born Sir Michael Balcon.

Daniel Day-Lewis has also been nominated for a ‘Best Actor’ Oscar in 2013 for his appearance as ‘Lincoln’ in the Steven Spielberg biopic.

There is another Birmingham link to Abraham Lincoln. One of Lincoln’s greatest friends and influences was Birmingham MP and anti-slavery campaigner John Bright.

Bright encouraged Lincoln to adopt the abolition of slavery as a central aim of his war against the Confederacy and for many years a bust of John Bright MP stood in The White House.

Birmingham therefore is linked via Sir Michael Balcon and his Ealing Studios films to Hollywood and the Oscars won by his grandson Daniel Day-Lewis. Birmingham also has several other links to the early British film industry. The first ODEON ‘picture house’ was built in Birmingham by Oscar Deutsch.

The acronym ODEON was coined by Oscar Deutsch and stood for: ‘Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation’ and the first ‘ODEON’ was in Birmingham. The word ODEON has become a by-word for a cinema in the British film industry.

Birmingham also has the oldest continuously operating cinema in Britain in ‘The Electric Cinema’ in Station Street near the ‘Old Rep’ having first shown news reels and short films since 1909. Current owner Tom Laws has reinvented and reinvigorated ‘The Electric Cinema’ as a Art Deco cinema with a bar, double armchair-style seats which movie-goers can enjoy, creating an enjoyable personal cinema experience, totally different to the multiplex.

The fact that Celluloid was invented in the city too makes Birmingham a very important place in the history of the British film industry.


Birmingham rope and wire-making company Webster and Horsfall based in Small Heath have two claims to fame. Firstly they provided most of the ropes for the British Naval Fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and for Admiral Lord Nelson’s Flag Ship HMS Victory. Another surprising Birmingham link as the British city furthest from the sea is that around 120 of the sailors on HMS Victory hailed from land-locked Birmingham! In 1865 Webster and Horsfall made the very first Trans-Atlantic Telecommunications cable which Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s great steam ship the SS Great Eastern laid at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Webster and Horsfall is one of the few companies in the country with its own dedicated church onsite….St Cyprians of Small Heath.


John Bright MP who played a pivotal role in the 1867 Reform Act which helped enfranchise the ordinary working man was a friend of the great US President Abraham Lincoln. When, early in The American Civil War (1860 – 1865) Lincoln was wavering as to whether he wanted to retain the Abolition of Slavery as one of his key war aims. Bright wrote to Lincoln to bolster his resolve and plead that he continue his abolitionism. Lincoln kept this letter and when he was shot by John Wilkes Booth at The Washington Theatre in 1865 the letter was found in one of the pockets of his frock coat. Many years later First Lady Hillary Clinton found a politician’s bust in a dusty White House storeroom. After some research it was discovered that the bust was of Birmingham MP John Bright and the bust was placed on display in The Oval Office of the Clinton Presidency.


The Birmingham MP Thomas Attwood, whose reclining statue can be found in Birmingham’s Chamberlain Square was one of the MP’s who played a great role in the enfranchisement of the ordinary working man with the 1832 Reform Act which abolished ‘Rotten Boroughs’. Attwood held a huge political rally at Newhall Hill in 1830 of his Birmingham Political Union which was one of the precursors to the Trade Union Movement and was instrumental in the formation of the unions. The establishment felt under threat by events like the huge Birmingham Rally at Newhall Hill and for a time it was felt that revolution maybe in the air with events in Birmingham.


Joseph Chamberlain, the Birmingham Lord Mayor and Birmingham MP and former Colonial Secretary was the man who made Birmingham into the ‘workshop of the world’ and ‘the city of a thousand trades’ was instrumental in providing clean water for Birmingham artisans and workers through his plan to pipe clean water over 70 miles from North Wales to Bartley Green Reservoir in South Birmingham. This was known as The Elan Valley Project and eradicated water-borne illnesses in the city of Birmingham and continued the city’s exponential industrial growth under Chamberlain.

  1. OLD JOE

Joseph Chamberlain was also instrumental in the establishment of The University of Birmingham which was the first of the ‘Redbrick’ Universities established in the great Victorian cities. Birmingham University was formed from Mason College and Chancellor’s Court is a tremendous example of Edwardian architecture. Old Joe, the Clock Tower or Campanile is the tallest free-standing clock tower in the world and is named after Birmingham Lord Mayor and MP and founder of Birmingham University Joseph Chamberlain. Another Birmingham hero JRR Tolkien was growing up in Edwardian Birmingham at this time when the Birmingham University clock tower was being constructed and some think that ‘The Eye of Sauron’ from the second part of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy: ‘The Two Towers’ was inspired by the building of ‘Old Joe’.

Words and photos supplied by Keith Bracey,  Birmingham History Buff.

Find out more on his blog or tweet on @1truclaretnblu

The Birmingham Trail: Sweet Tooth Trail Challenge

Birmingham is a brilliant city. It caters for the most diverse of tastes and softens the stoniest of cynics. There really is something for everyone. Our resident trail finder, Gemma Corden, is here to prove it. Challenge her if you dare.

The Sweet Tooth Trail

Ideal for: sugar addicts and old fairground enthusiasts (that must be a thing)

Avoid if: you’re a dentist-phobe

Bring // Youll need: a bus / train ticket. And Listerine.

Terrain: there will be (sugar) highs and lows

The start: The Black Country Living Museum

‘Why are we trekking out to Dudley?’ your companions may rightly ask. ‘I thought we’d be going to Cadbury World?’ It’s simple – Cadbury World doesn’t have the Brooklyn Cakewalk. Possibly the best fairground ride known to man - certainly the most underrated - the concept is deliciously simple and so much harder (and more fun) than it sounds. You have to walk from one end of a gangway to another...only the whole thing is furiously rattling. Nothing beats watching your Dad attempting to walk the plank, vibrating like he's been plugged into the mains. You'll be buzzing afterwards. Literally. Those Victorians knew how to let loose (the ride dates back to 1910).

Tipton Road, Dudley DY1 4SQ

Open daily, 10am-5pm

Take the train from Birmingham New Street Station (or, when it sheds its caterpillar status, Grand Central...) to Tipton. One mile walk to the museum.

The middle bit: Chitty’s Cake Classes – The Custard Factory, Digbeth

Who doesn't love sugarcraft? It seems as though we just can't get enough of cupcakes these days, luckily Chitty's Cakes are on hand to ensure our bakes don't disappoint. They have a teaching studio in, appropriately, the Custard Factory where they offer a whole host of classes in baking and decoration, all of which are suitable for beginners. There are short classes on a Saturday afternoon - best get practising as The Bake Off gets into full swing...

Studio 417-418, Scott House, Custard Factory B9 4AA

Classes run throughout the week

The Custard Factory is a short-ish walk (approx 15 mins) from New Street Station.

The end: The Jekyll and Hyde

You’ll probably never want to set eyes on icing again again. Time for a stiff drink – why not slump from your sugar comedown in a darkened room, fortified by a cocktail from the Jekyll and Hyde's Confectionary Corner. Lemon Bon Bon, anyone? Strawberry Laces? Make mine a Jelly Babies.

28 Steelhouse Lane, City Centre B4 6BJ

Open Mon - Sun, til late

The pub is another short-ish walk (20 mins) from the Custard Factory


While you’re in the Custard Factory it’s worth stopping by McTunneys Sweet Emporium. There’s 40 different lollipop flavours. Yes – 40.

Done this Trail? Please rate it! Email or Tweet us.

Challenge Gemma to a Brum for...? Trail: Got a theme or unsuspecting audience in mind? Make your challenge.

Words by Gemma Corden - writer, unashamedly banging on about Birmingham. Contact via @gemma_corden or find out more about her here or even more here.


Photos kindly supplied by the venues.


If I Ruled the World by Clovenhoof

I love the internet - I don’t have to lie about who I really am. If I met you in the street I’d have to tell you that my name is Jeremy Clovenhoof and that I live in Boldmere, but here I can come right out with it and tell you that I am Satan. That’s SATAN, Lord of Hell! I do live in Boldmere though.

Let’s just say that I was the victim of some corporate re-shuffling and they thought they’d park me in the suburbs to keep me out of the way. Keep a low profile they said. You’ll love it, they said. Well it’s been weeks since I’ve blown anything up, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on some changes that I have in mind to make things more interesting.

Okay, first up, I need to look after number one. It’s not selfish. How can I be expected to apply my full genius to the humdrum problems of the world if I’m chasing my tail trying to make a living? I’ve got a great job at the undertakers, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. They won’t even let me take my work home with me. So, here’s a couple of easy fixes that will see the cash come rolling in…

1) I’d like a column in the Daily Mail. I think it would suit my style, although I do worry that I’m not rude enough.

2) I’d like royalties from the church every time they mention my name in a service. Yeah, they love to chunter on about how Satan does this and Satan does that. Well a lot of it’s true, but I think I’m due a cut from the collection plate, it’s only fair.Now that’s sorted, let’s put the world to rights. The world of religion is obviously my thing. I think the main problem with it is that everyone takes it all a bit too seriously. I’m going to pep things up a bit.

3) Richard Dawkins is to be made pope. Seriously, I just want to see his face when he finds out. I’ll give the current pope a new job, don’t worry. I think he might enjoy a starring role in a Broadway musical. Something with lots of feathers and sequins.

Onto more general changes.

4) I think I can safely say that everyone will be happier if I stipulate that dogs are to have a minimum size. If a dog can sit comfortably in a teacup then it just isn’t a dog. Let’s reclassify those little ones as gerbils and move on.

5) I want food that bounces. I’ve had enough of the world’s scientists, doing this so-called research that tells us things that we already knew, I want to see them developing things that are genuinely useful, like bouncing food. Someone invent a kebab that you can drop on the floor and then catch on the rebound. You’ll all thank me for this one.Let’s get local now.

Birmingham’s fine. I like it a lot, but it could do with some small tweaks.

6) Birmingham is to be moved nearer to the sea. Canals just aren’t the same, so let’s sort it out. If it’s any easier to move the sea closer to Birmingham then that would be fine too. I don’t want you to think I’m unreasonable.

7) The Custard Factory. I went there and it was definitely not made of custard. As I said, I’m a reasonable man, so just a little custard fountain would be fine. I worry that the lawyers will turn nasty if we don’t throw them a bone. You can’t just say something’s custard when it’s clearly not.

8) While we’re at it, let’s make Spitfire Island actually spit fire as well. It’ll look a treat at night.On the subject of famous Birmingham landmarks, clearly Spaghetti Junction was designed to be viewed from above. It looks good on a jigsaw. Jigsaws - one of my finer inventions. Back in Hell, we had a team of demons who developed the whole concept. The demon who came up with the baked bean jigsaw got an award. Or it might have been an extra flogging, I forget. Anyway, on the ground, Spaghetti Junction’s way too dull. Even if you coerce the driver of a number 11 bus to take you over it, you blink and it’s over. I speak as one who knows. What’s needed is something to pep it up a bit, especially for us non-drivers

9) I’d like to see a helter-skelter installed there. Ideally it should have a device like they use on railways to shunt trains onto a different line. As people are sliding down, I’ll move the lever to send them either onto the soft cushiony landing place so they can have another go or if I don’t like them, I’ll send them the other way into the canal.

10) One more thing. Once a year, to celebrate wonderful me, I would like the canals of Birmingham to be filled with Cadbury’s chocolate instead of water. It will be reserved for me and my speedboat. I’m ruler of the world, aren’t I? I’m entitled to some perks. Okay, maybe if you’re really good, you can also ride up and down my Chocolate Speedway. I’m a reasonable chap after all.

Find out more about what Jeremy Clovenhoof gets up to in these books:

  1. Clovenhoof
  2. Pigeonwings
  3. Godsquad
  4. Satan’s Shorts
  5. Coming in October: Hellzapoppin’


50 Fascinating Facts about Birmingham (P1)



Birmingham has always been a hive of activity and was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, which was set in motion by the Lunar Society of Birmingham, a group of the greatest scientists, inventors and manufacturers of the time who met to exchange ideas and knowledge at Matthew Boulton’s home Soho House in Handsworth.

By 1791, Birmingham was being hailed as the first manufacturing town in the world, and after it gained city status in 1889, it was named the City of A Thousand Trades because of the huge variety of companies based here. It's also been called the Workshop of The World and the First City of the Empire.

It was at The Soho Manufactory, the first factory in the world - that assembly-line mass production was created by pioneering industrialist Matthew Boulton. It was built on Handsworth Heath in 1766 and it made a range of goods including buttons and buckles and was home to the first steam-powered mint. The Soho Mint opened in 1788 and used eight steam-driven machines designed by Boulton to strike up to 84 coins a minute.

The Czech composer Anton Dvorak ((1841-1904) came to Birmingham and said: "I'm here in this immense industrial city where they make excellent knives, scissors, springs, files and goodness knows what else, and, besides these, music too. And how well! It's terrifying how much the people here manage to achieve."


Today, figures from Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that Birmingham is the largest centre in Great Britain for employment in the sectors of public administration, education and health, and the second largest centre outside London for employment in financial and other business services.

Four FTSE100 companies have their HQ in the Birmingham area - the largest concentration of such firms outside London and the South-East. Birmingham's wider metropolitan economy is the second largest in the UK with a GDP (gross domestic product - the value of all goods and services) of £68 billion.

According to the rankings of the Globalization & World Cities Research Network, Birmingham is a beta level city - the third highest ranking in the country after London and Manchester. Birmingham has the highest level of entrepreneurial activity outside London, with more than 16,000 business start-ups registered in 2013. The city is behind only London and Edinburgh for private sector job creation between 2010 and 2013.


Birmingham has 35 miles of canal compared with 26 miles of canal in Venice. And the entire Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN) is a network of waterways connecting Birmingham and the Black Country. The BCN comprises 114 miles of waterways less than the 174 miles it had at its peak in the 18th century. More cubic metres of water flow through Birmingham's canals than any other city in the world.

4. MORE TREES THAN PARIS            

Birmingham has "nearly 600 parks and public open spaces" compared with 400 in Paris. Birmingham City Council gave a more exact number with a figure of 571 parks and open spaces with more than 3,500 hectares of public accessible space, and 250 miles of urban brooks and streams. Birmingham City Council estimates that there are six million trees in the city. The 2,400-acre Sutton Park in Sutton Coldfield is the largest Urban Park in Europe.


Birmingham's annual German market - officially the Frankfurt Christmas Market - is the largest outdoor Christmas market in the country and the biggest outside Germany and Austria. It attracts more than five million visitors, earning £90 million for the city, and is even bigger than the market staged in German capital Berlin.


Birmingham is the most culturally mixed city in the UK, with 33.3 per cent non-white according to 2007 figures, compared with London’s 30.7 per cent.

Outside London, Birmingham has the UK's largest Muslim, Sikh and Buddhist communities, the second largest Hindu community and the seventh largest Jewish community. The city's Sikh Vaisakhi celebrations are the largest in Europe.


Birmingham is one of the UK’s top conference destinations. According to Core Cities, the National Exhibition Centre Group (which has four venues in Birmingham: the NEC, International Convention Centre, LG Arena and NIA) attracts more than 4 million visitors a year. That's 42 per cent of the UK’s total exhibition trade and major conferences.


Birmingham has a long tradition of TV and Radio production with many shows recorded in studios in Birmingham or filmed on location in the city, while others have been produced here but filmed elsewhere. Among the programmes to come from Birmingham are Doctors, Hustle, Crossroads, Boon, New Faces, Spitting Image, Pot Black, Gangsters, Dalziell and Pascoe and Tiswas, plus the game shows The Golden Shot, Bullseye and Blockbusters.The Archers, the world’s longest running radio soap, is recorded in Birmingham for BBC Radio 4.


Birmingham's St Patrick's Day Parade is the third biggest in the world, after New York and Dublin with more than 80,000 people turning out to celebrate the occasion. Birmingham has a large Irish community dating back to the Industrial Revolution when Irish people, known as ‘Navvies’ moved here to work in the construction  of canals, railways and factories and is estimated to have the largest Irish population in the UK. The city has the UK’s only Irish Quarter, centred on Digbeth and Deritend.


Birmingham is the birthplace of Heavy Metal, with Black Sabbath and coming from Aston in Birmingham Tony Iommi learned to play guitar in a different way following an industrial accident that removed the tips of two of his fingers. He tuned the guitar down and relied on power chords, something guitarist Geezer Butler also did and together they produced the classic sound of Heavy Metal. Subsequent Heavy Metal bands Napalm Death and Godflesh also hail from Birmingham. Birmingham also boasts Dave Pegg  (Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention), Martin Barre (Jethro Tull), and Blaze Bayley (Wolfsbane). Other music acts from Birmingham include ELO, Duran Duran, UB40, The Moody Blues, Fuzzbox, Ocean Colour Scene, The Move, Toyah Wilcox, Joan Armatrading, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Ruby Turner, Fine Young Cannibals, The Streets, Musical Youth, Jamelia and Pato Banton. Mother’s Club in Erdington was voted the world’s best rock venue in 1969 and 1970, with a Blue Birmingham Civic Society plaque unveiled in 2013 to commemorate the iconic venue where such acts as Pink Floyd, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Black Sabbath, The Who and Led Zeppelin played.

In the 1960s, Birmingham was the birthplace of modern Bhangra and is also the centre of the UK’s Asian music industry. Birmingham is the global centre of Bhangra music with almost 90 per cent of it made here.

In the classical world, Worcestershire-born composer Edward Elgar was the first conductor of the City of Birmingham Orchestra (later the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra: CBSO) when it was officially founded in November 1920. Elgar was also the first Professor of Music at Birmingham University. In 2002, the CBSO won the most prestigious Record of the Year prize at the Gramophone Awards, the classical counterpart to the Oscars. The CBSO’s most famous conductor is Sir Simon Rattle, for whom Symphony Hall was built, often cited as one of the best classical music concert halls in the world.


Oscar Deutsch, born in Balsall Heath and the son of a scrap metal dealer, opened the first ever Odeon cinema in Perry Barr in 1930. Deutsch was a master of marketing with Odeon standing for ‘Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation’.

Star City now has the UK’s largest cinema complex with thirty screens. Six screens are devoted to Asian films, making this the largest Bollywood movie centre in Europe. The Giant Screen cinema at Millennium Point has the largest screen in the Midlands (72ft wide, 40ft high) & the second largest in the UK.

The Electric Cinema in Station Street at the back of Birmingham’s revamped New Street Railway Station is the UK’s oldest working cinema dating from 1909.


As well as its famous waterways, Birmingham is home to the Gravelly Hill interchange, better known as Spaghetti Junction the best known motorway junction in the UK. The M6 passes through Birmingham on the longest bridge in the UK the Bromford Viaduct Birmingham was also the terminus for both of the world's first two long-distance railway lines – 1837’s 82-mile Grand Junction Railway & the 112-mile London and Birmingham railway of 1838 whose terminus at Curzon Street was the first railway station.New Street station is the busiest train station in the UK outside London In addition, the Number 11 Outer Circle bus route is the longest urban bus route in Europe, reaching a length of 28 miles.


Tennis originated in Birmingham when, in 1859, Harry Gem, Clerk to the Birmingham Magistrates, and his friend Augurio Perera, a Spanish merchant, combined elements of racquets and the Basque ball game Pelota on the lawn of Perera’s home at 8 Ampton Road, Edgbaston. The oldest surviving club Lawn Tennis club in the world is the Edgbaston Archery and Lawn Tennis Society, which pre-dates The All England Club by 3 weeks.


Acclaimed author JRR Tolkien, born in Bloemfontein South Africa, lived in Birmingham as a child variously in Kings Heath, Hall Green, Rednal and Edgbaston and attended King Edward’s School in New Street. Sarehole Mill, Moseley Bog, Perrott’s Folly, Edgbaston Waterworks Tower, Birmingham University Clock Tower and the nearby Lickey Hills in Birmingham inspired his famous works The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit.


The Jewellery Quarter is Europe’s largest concentration of jewellery businesses, and produces 40 per cent of jewellery made in the UK. It has the largest School of Jewellery in Europe, and the world’s largest Assay Office, which hallmarks about 12 million items a year. At its height in the early 1900s, the Jewellery Quarter employed more than 30,000 people. About 3,000 people work there today.


Birmingham has four Michelin-starred restaurants, more than any other city in the UK outside London. Glynn Purnell, Adam Stokes,Luke Tipping and Richard Turner are the Chef Patrons.

Birmingham is the birthplace in 1977 of the Balti - a type of curry served in a metal bowl (karahi) & home to the Balti Triangle, an area encompassing Sparkbrook, Balsall Heath and Moseley, where there are more than 100 Asian restaurants. Well-known food brands that originated in the city include Bird's Custard, Typhoo tea, Cadbury's chocolate and HP Sauce. Alfred Bird created Bird’s Instant Custard in 1837 as his wife was allergic to eggs used to thicken earlier versions of the dessert.

In 1863, William Sumner published A Popular Treatise on Tea and in 1870 started a grocery/pharmacy business with his son John in High Street, Birmingham. It was in 1903 that John’s son, John Sumner Jr, created Typhoo Tea - taking the name from the Chinese word for doctor after his sister said she had found relief for her indigestion by drinking a brew made from the tiniest particles of tea leaf, rather than the usual large leaf variety. Sumner Jr sold the tea pre-packaged rather than loose. Typhoo became one of the largest makers of teabags in the UK.

Chocolate giant Cadbury began when John Cadbury opened a grocery shop in Bull Street Birmingham in 1824. Among the products he sold cocoa and drinking chocolate which he prepared using a pestle and mortar. It was in 1831 that he started the Cadbury manufacturing business in a warehouse in Crooked Lane. In 1847, it moved into a larger factory in Bridge Street and when that site became too small, a new works was built at Bournville. The Quaker company produced its first chocolate bars in 1897 and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk in its purple wrapper is an icon.


Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe with 25 year olds and under accounting for nearly 40 per cent of its population.  Birmingham has five universities: Aston, Birmingham, Birmingham City University, Newman University College & University College Birmingham. Birmingham University was founded by Joseph Chamberlain and was the first ‘Redbrick’ University. The region as a whole produces over 111,000 graduates each year making it the second largest student area in the UK. In 2011 Birmingham had more than 78,000 students living in the city during term-time more than any other city in the UK outside London. The national educational charity University of the First Age was founded in Birmingham by Professor Tim Brighouse in 1996. Birmingham Business School founded in 1902 is the oldest graduate-level business school in the UK. 


Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery holds the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the world as well as Europe's finest collections of ceramics and fine metalwork. Also on display there is the Staffordshire Hoard, the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork ever found. It consists of more than 3,500 items with over 5kg of gold, 1.4kg of silver and 3,500 cloisonné garnets. BMAG also contains the largest complete bronze sculpture of its kind in the world in the Sultanganj Buddha found in the North Indian town of Sultangani during the construction of the East Indian Railway & dates from 700-800 AD. The Barber Institute of Fine Arts has been described as one of the finest small art galleries in the world. Birmingham Science Museum Think-tank, has the world's oldest working steam engine and the UK's first purpose-built digital planetarium.


Birmingham schoolteacher Rowland Hill established the first modern postal system towards the end of 1839. He invented the first postage stamp the Penny Black designed by artist William Mulready featuring Queen Victoria in May 1840.


In 1962, the physicist and molecular biologist Maurice Wilkins received a Nobel Prize for his work revealing the structure of DNA as one of the three (the others being James Watson and Francis Crick) who became known as the Code Breakers. Wilkins was brought up in Birmingham and educated at King Edward’s School, going on to develop wartime radar screens at Birmingham University before his involvement in genetics research. Wilkins, Crick and Watson were awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. The former Forensic Science Service, which was based on Birmingham Business Park in Marston Green, pioneered the use of large-scale DNA Profiling. It set up the world’s first DNA database in April 1995.


The new Library of Birmingham which cost £189million is the largest public library in the UK, the largest public cultural space in Europe and the largest regional library in Europe.


England’s first municipal bank was set up in Birmingham. The Birmingham Corporation Savings Bank later Birmingham Municipal Bank was set up to raise money for the First World War effort. It opened on September 29, 1916. The Midland Bank and Lloyds Bank were also founded in Birmingham. The world’s first building society - Ketley’s Building Society - was founded in Birmingham in 1775 by Richard Ketley who was the landlord of The Golden Cross pub.


William Withering, a physician at Birmingham General Hospital, discovered the use of digitalis an extract from the foxglove plant as a heart drug and in 1785 published a paper on his findings. A member of the Lunar Society of distinguished scientists, he lived at Edgbaston Hall and later in Sparkbrook where he died in 1799.

In Birmingham on January 11, 1896, John Hall-Edwards was the first man to use X-rays under clinical conditions by taking an X-ray image - or radiograph - of a needle embedded in someone’s hand. On February 14, 1896, he was the first to use X-rays in a surgical operation. He also took the first X-ray of the human spine.

Birmingham surgeon Dr Joseph Sampson Gamgee invented the surgical dressing called Gamgee Tissue - cotton wool between two layers of gauze - in 1880. His name became an inspiration for The Hobbit character Sam Gamgee in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

Birmingham University’s Rupert Billingham and Peter Medawar set out the key procedures and principles of skin grafting.In 1950, the first hole-in-the-heart surgery was carried out at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, and in 1960 it was announced that Queen Elizabeth Hospital surgeon Leon Abrams had fitted the first variable-pace pacemaker In 1952, a team of researchers in Birmingham made the link between wheat gluten and coeliac disease and developed gluten-free diets.


Birmingham businessman and Aston Villa FC Chairman Sir William McGregor founded the Football League, the world’s first football league competition. In 1888 that he suggested that 10 or 12 of England’s top clubs get together to arrange fixtures and the English Football League was Birmingham and the city is where the FA Cup was made. The very first trophy had been produced in Sheffield but was stolen from a display window in Birmingham in 1895 after Aston Villa had won the cup. The second trophy - and the oldest one surviving today - was a replica of the first and made by Vaughton’s of Birmingham, which still exists in Well Street.Birmingham was first British city to be named National City of Sport by the Sports Council and held the IAAF World Indoor Athletics Championships at the National Indoor Arena in 2003.


Of the 4,000 inventions copyrighted in the UK a year, 2,800 come from the Birmingham area. Peter Colegate of the Patent Office said: "Every year, Birmingham amazes us by coming up with thousands of inventions. It is impossible to explain but people in the area seem to have a remarkable ability to come up with, and have the dedication to produce, ideas." Among the inventions to come from Birmingham are James Watt’s paper copier the smoke detector, household vacuum cleaner and mass spectrometer.

It was in 1856 that Alexander Parkes created the first viable man-made plastic which he named eponymously ‘Parkesine’. This led to the development of celluloid film also by Parkes so indirectly Birmingham could be said to have created the world-wide medium of film and the film and cinema industry as well as the large-scale production of chemicals and the chemical industry. 

In 1929, Brylcream was created by County Chemicals at the Chemico Works in Bradford Street, Birmingham. Joseph Priestley who was a prominent member of Birmingham’s Lunar Society and an Unitarian preacher whose inflammatory sermons advocating Revolution earned him the name: ‘Gunpowder Joe’ was the first man to isolate Oxygen in 1787.

Birmingham surgeon John Wright experimented with electricity in his spare time and discovered a process for coating metal objects in gold and silver. Wright’s associates George Elkington and Henry Elkington were awarded the first patents for electroplating in 1840. These two founded the electroplating industry in Birmingham and the technique spread across the world.

The world’s first pneumatic tyre was made by John Boyd Dunlop in 1888. He sold the rights to Harvey du Cross Jr who founded the Dunlop Rubber Company in 1889. The former tyre manufacturing plant Fort Dunlop was built-in 1916 and was at one time the largest factory in the world, employing more than 3,200 people. In 1922, Dunlop invented a tyre that lasted three times longer than any other, and Dunlop tyres have helped many drivers and their cars to victory at the Grand Prix, Le Mans, Formula 1 and British and world speed records.

It was in Birmingham that William Murdock discovered the use of gas for street lighting. In 1798, he used gas to provide internal lighting for Soho Foundry a factory making James Watt’s steam engines and in 1802 he lit the outside of the building in a public display that amazed local residents. In 1806, Birmingham inventor Joseph Pemberton lit the outside of his own factory with gas and this eventually led to the first public street lighting by gas which was in London in 1807. It was in 1818 that Birmingham had its first street lighting by gas, with the lights made in Gas Street off Broad Street.

Words and photos supplied by Keith Bracey,  Birmingham History Buff.

Find out more on his blog or tweet on @1truclaretnblu



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).

Birmingham -The Home of Lawn Tennis: The Birmingham Lawn Tennis Trail


1) 8 Ampton Road, Edgbaston

Birmingham is ‘The Home of Lawn Tennis’ with the first ever game of Lawn Tennis being played in 1859 at ‘Fairlight’, 8 Ampton Road in Edgbaston. It was then home of Spanish Merchant Augurio Perera and he and his friend Major Harry Gem, Clerk to Birmingham Magistrates played rackets at the Bath Street Rackets Club in Birmingham 

In 1859, Gem and Perera wanted to play a rackets game outdoors and marked out a court on the lawn at ‘Fairlight’. The dimensions of a modern lawn tennis court roughly correspond to those of the back garden of 8 Ampton Road, Edgbaston which would be our first stopping off point on the ‘Birmingham Tennis Trail’.

2)  Edgbaston Priory Tennis Club, Sir Harry’s Road, Edgbaston

The next place of interest on the ‘Birmingham Tennis Trail’ would be the Edgbaston Priory Lawn Tennis Club in Sir Harry’s Road. Edgbaston Priory is home to the important pre – Wimbledon Ladies Tennis Tournament: ‘The AEGON Classic’.

In honour of another hugely important and significant Birmingham tennis figure, the Centre Court at Edgbaston Priory is named after the 1969 Wimbledon Ladies Singles Champion Ann Jones, who at one time lived in Edgbaston. Ann Jones has devoted a lifetime of service to the game of tennis, firstly as a Warwickshire County Player, then as an international player representing Great Britain in The Federation Cup and as a British Wimbledon Champion and latterly as an official with the Women’s Tennis Association. Interestingly Ann Jones was a World Champion Ladies Table Tennis player as a teenager before turning to outdoor tennis.

3) University of Birmingham Tennis Courts Halls of Residence, Edgbaston Park Road

The ‘Birmingham Tennis Trail’ then moves down through Edgbaston, past Edgbaston Golf Club, whose imposing clubhouse was once home to ‘Lunar Society’ member Dr William Withering, who invented the heart drug Digitalis. We turn left down Edgbaston Park Road which takes us to the University of Birmingham ‘Tennis Courts’ halls of residence. It was here that the Edgbaston Lawn Tennis Club was located until the mid 1960’s, when it joined with The Priory Lawn Tennis Club to become the Edgbaston Priory Club in Sir Harry’s Road.

The University of Birmingham kept the shale courts for a while and it was on one of these that Black Country photographer Martin Elliott, who sadly is no longer with us, shot the photograph which became the iconic 1970’s Athena poster: ‘The Tennis Girl’. The model who posed for this shot was also local hailing from Stourbridge in The Black Country, and is now a grandmother!

4) Edgbaston Archery & Lawn Tennis Society, Westbourne Road, Edgbaston

Back via Church Road and past St George’s Church and Edgbaston High School for Girls and down Westbourne Road to the Edgbaston Archery and Lawn Tennis Society (E.A.L.T.S.)

E.A.L.T.S. is the oldest existing lawn tennis club in the world. The society’s six grass courts occupy the same piece of ground where the original courts were laid down in the early 1870’s. Therefore this patch of land holds the distinction of being the oldest lawn tennis playing surface still in regular use anywhere in the world pre-dating the All England Club at Wimbledon by 3 weeks.

5) The Oratory Church, Hagley Road, Edgbaston

The ‘Birmingham Tennis Trail’ then moves up the hill to the traffic junction named ‘The Ivy Bush’ after the public house on the corner of Hagley Road and Monument Road, near to Tolkien’s ‘Two Towers’ in  Waterworks Road, Perrott’s Folly and the Waterworks Tower.

The Birmingham Oratory just along Hagley Road in Edgbaston was at one time home to the first Olympic Lawn Tennis Champion: John Pius Boland. The son of a Dublin baker, whose Boland’s Biscuits still retail in Ireland, John Pius Boland attended The Oratory School as an orphan in Birmingham, where he played cricket and lawn tennis.

John Pius Boland’s adoptive parents taught him to play lawn tennis and his tennis skills were honed by the coaching of Father Pereira at The Oratory School in Birmingham. Boland then attended Christ Church College, Oxford. In 1894 Boland invited a Greek acquaintance: Konstantinos Manos to speak at The Oxford Union on “The Revival of the Modern Olympic Games”. Boland and Manos became close friends and Boland was invited to spend the Easter holidays of 1896 in Athens.

It appears that John Boland had no intention of competing in the first Olympic Games in Athens however his host, who was a member of the Olympic Organizing Committee, prevailed upon the 26 year-old Irishman to enter the Olympic Lawn Tennis Tournament.

Boland won two Olympic Gold Medals. He took the singles title by beating Egypt’s Dionysios Kasdaglis in three sets and then joined German Friedrich Traun to win the Men’s Doubles Title.
Andy Murray at London 2012 was not the first Olympic Tennis Men’s Singles Champion from these islands. The ‘Roll of Honour’ was begun by John Pius Boland in Athens in 1896 and was followed in Paris in 1900 by Laurence Doherty and in London 1908 by Josiah Ritchie.

John Pius Boland became a noted Irish Nationalist politician until defeat at the 1918 Irish General Election when he retired from politics and moved to London to become Director of the Catholic Teaching Society.

Another Birmingham tennis link is the fact that the noted Bishop of Birmingham, Alfred Gore whose statue stands in St Philip’s Cathedral grounds, was the brother of the very first Wimbledon Men’s Singles Champion from 1872: Spencer Gore.

By Keith Bracey, Originator of ‘The Birmingham Tennis Trail’ and Birmingham History Buff

Find out more on his blog or tweet on @1truclaretnblu 

If I Ruled The Rickie J

The Birmingham Favourites founder would solve the world's problems with cake and put persistent social media moaners in a 'sin bin'.

People are positive

A tricky one to enforce although it means the world of difference in people’s happiness. Government to set the example by changing their language, after all, even the Queen tends to look on the bright side. The media will report bad news in a sombre, constructive, non-scandalous way and make it their business to make people feel positive with contrasting, upbeat news stories.

Anyone who constantly swears or uses social media only to complain rather than offer constructive criticism will be temporarily banned and placed in the sin bin as ice hockey would have it.

Pet allowance

Everyone has the choice of child allowance or a pet allowance. They can live with a pet or put it towards saving an endangered species.

MPs to be civilised

They will only talk about what they are doing or promise to do, rather than what the opposition are up to and we can re-elect a new one otherwise. (see People will be positive, ‘sin bin’ etc.)

There will be quiet coffee shops

Loud music will be banned before 6pm so we can all hear ourselves think while working. And, indeed, converse.

Public Sector to have accountability

The public sector will have the same flexibility to offer their employees holidays and perks as commercial organisations, ie dependent on profitability and targets achieved. There will be consequences for anyone discovered to be losing the organisation money, or I don’t know, paying men more than women for doing the same job. Of course profits will go back into offering the people the council serves better value for their taxes (i.e. cleaner streets, better resources, access to arts and culture, green spaces etc)

Email etiquette

No email auto-responder will ever say ‘we are busy and will respond to your enquiry within 72 hours’. We’re are all busy!

Empty Nests

Commercial buildings will be disallowed from remaining empty for more than two months. I will pass a law whereby owners/landlords have to offer empty space to anyone who needs it (small businesses, small charities, even the homeless where appropriate). A nominal rent will be charged to cover legal expenses, staffing and security costs for short term (month by month) lets and all tenants will need to abide by the regular terms of rental. Local councils will have a small team, accessible to facilitate this.

Wars are settled with cake

Country leaders will settle disagreements with others over cake and coffee. Or tea, rather than guns and killing. Our foreign aid budget will include homemade Victoria Sandwich.

There will be transparency

Taxes will be simplified and tax payers decide where are tax money is spent and I doubt then, it will be spent on overpriced library websites or digging up the same road three times in as many years.

The community has a say on where their tax ££s are spent through online voting.

Help where it’s needed

Benefits will be simplified so that those who do fall on hard-times or are seriously unable to work or take care of themselves, are supported quickly with love and hugs rather than endless forms and wait times.

Those who are able to work and look after themselves, do so, in a job they like doing.

We need to work harder in matching people up to what they love doing, regardless of experience. People can be taught skills, but the not the attitude. I would urge employers to recruit staff on their attitude and personality and less on skills.

Unless they are applying for a job as a brain surgeon, pilot, etc.

Respect the dead

It will be illegal to sit on or vandalise graves, tombstones and memorials.

Head stones will fitted with alarms that will give electric shocks to offenders, that can only be turned off by those maintaining and paying their respects to the departed.  

Work from home

Every employee is able to work from home one day a week, say, after six months with the same employer.

Everyone has to use their right to vote

If there’s no one worthy, there will be space on the ballot paper to vote for any random person. Votes are only counted when there’s a 100% 95% turnout and pubs will remain closed until everyone has voted.

Oh and voting booths will be in pubs, coffee shops, organisations with large reception areas and golf clubs.

Constituencies to be re-divided across the land so they are of similar size. 

Paper serviettes under cake


A serviette will be supplied separately but never underneath where it already messy and unfit for purpose.

By Rickie J, Founder & editor of Birmingham Favourites

@BrumFaves @RickieWrites

Dear, Library of Birmingham

The Library of Birmingham is a beautiful building, nonetheless, I had my doubts that it was going to be functional from the start.

Having coped without a weekly visit to the old library for nine months, like many, I counted down the weeks to having access to a local library again. The excitement remains even while in the queue to squeeze into Birmingham’s shiniest gem. And during the time it took to get to each of the nine scintillating floors. There are escalators which then turn into a travelator and then lifts or stairs–your choice. I spend the whole day in there trying to see it all; now that I’m back in, you just try to get me out! 

During this day, I notice there were only three lifts for a building that fits 3000. We didn’t have 3000 people waiting to get in though so why the delay – too few doors?

Similarly, 3000 people trying to get to the bathroom is tricky. On the map, it’s delightful that there are facilities placed everywhere – I mean every corner you look. Except most of these are single occupancy lavatories so there’s either a wait or ‘cleaning’ sign to greet you. (If you’re in a hurry, by the way, the best ones to use are on the ground floor in the Rep. Plentiful and functional)

Some solutions

With the opening hours reduced this Spring, we’ll cast aside the reported £1 million wasted on an average website and the number of empty meeting rooms spotted.

In its first year, Birmingham’s newest tourist attraction is said to have received three million visitors, more than twice the previous library.

Surely, the idea is to get as many people in as possible to spend money and make this a sustainable public building it can so simply become, but what to spend cash on? There is only one coffee shop.

The days of libraries earning revenue from unpaid fines are gone – we can now renew books online or pop them into the external book deposit. There are plenty of other ways for the library to earn it’s living in order to retain its status as the must-see community building for all to access seven days a week.


Three million people deserve more than one coffee shop by the entrance. How about a fine dining restaurant, preferably with a view or a decent cafeteria with something for all at an everyday price? (see Amsterdam PL (Cost €80m). Another coffee shop/bar on one of the floors will bring in people to watch the sunset with a glass of something. Well they will when the library extends the hours to 10pm, like many cities around the world.

Have coffee served by people who love customers, promote the loyalty card (did you know they have one?) and install coffee machines that are not designed for self-service. They  do work in the ICC, which by the way is the same company, operating a cafeteria and their staff provide fantastic service.

Room Hire

With the view and the state of the art facilities, the library shapes up to be an impressive place to hold events. I was one of those sucked in by the glamour and then regretted it when it took me two months to book rooms. I saw empty rooms everywhere but I was told they were booked up.

The event service needs to be on a par with the hundreds of fantastic venues across this city. They need to match up to the friendliness of quirky Studio Venues, the food offerings of Etc. and the professionalism of ICC.

Eventually the library staff are responsive and I book rooms for several events. On more than one occasion I find I’m unable to have the air conditioning in this green library turned off without calling maintenance and waiting ‘up to four hours’! The staff bend over backwards to help you but just seem to be poorly trained and this  just capped a catalogue of errors over the course of several months.

I’ve organised events for years and worked with some fantastic venue people. We just need to get a few of those in and make the events department a winner here.

Be welcoming

Refrain from using hesitant council language (these chairs are for the use of library café customers only) to welcoming, customer friendly speak (you are welcome to come and purchase drinks and snacks from the café and enjoy them sitting here).

Call me old-fashioned, but a sign that says ‘lending library this way’ would be helpful in a library, right?

Business Centre

This can be the go to place for business starts ups – drop in, have your questions answered or be sign posted to someone that can help.

I understand we're in a community building and knowledge should be free. Nevertheless, how about charging a nominal fee for those who can afford it? Would you pay £10 for a drink and some mingling with lovely views? Or £15 for a workshop to learn some skills while admiring the busiest public library in Europe?

And the study rooms – can we just pay to book some of them for meetings?


For those of us (me) that adore libraries and reading, volunteering here is a dream gig. Who wouldn’t want a few hours of their month spent here? Only, at the time of writing, the library is not offering any opportunities.

Any cost factors to train volunteers are surely offset by the better service to customers = more customers = more revenue = more opening hours.

I say bring in an army of enthusiastic volunteers to over shadow some of the (understandable) gloom. 


Sadly, the last couple of times I’ve made it to the top, I’ve noted the Shakespeare room no longer has a person sitting at the desk watching over this key piece of wondrous heritage. It’s lovely to have someone there to answer questions or just have banter with. A perfect role for a volunteer. Frankly, I’m happy to move into that room!

Any more suggestions? Please, let’s hear them.

By Rickie J,  library geek, founder & editor of Birmingham Favourites

@RickieWrites @BrumFaves


At The Flix with @timmy666

Hello one and all and welcome to this week’s trawl through the latest cinematic releases out in and around Birmingham.

Spy (15)

Writer/director Paul Feig once again teams up Melissa McCarthy’s unique blend of ad-lib self-deprication and f-word fuelled quips doing so whilst also doing a comedic take on the spy-ish action flick. It appears they are onto a winner.

The absurdity of the setup where McCarthy, a desk-bound CIA analyst goes into the field to go after a deadly arms dealer, provides many of the humour tropes from the get go. Add to this a supporting cast including The Stathe (especially), Jude Law and Rose Byrne where they are all playing heightened stereotypes of what you’d expect, the aim is for comic impact is to turn up to 11.

Feig and McCarthy are a big comedy force right now - they understand each other really well - and with Spy clearly having much affection for the spy and action genres, the critics have latched on to the film’s effectiveness replacing fat jokes with gags about the setup and the situation instead.

Insidious: Chapter 3 (12A)

Horror director James Wan passes the mantle over to franchise creator Leigh Whannell in the third instalment of this massively successful franchise.

This is a prequel, set before the haunting of the Lambert family and reveals how gifted psychic Rainier reluctantly agrees to use her ability to contact the dead in order to help a teenage girl who has been targeted by a dangerous supernatural entity.

Insidious films are proven examples of knowing how to terrify an audience at the cinema riffing off many of the classic horror conventions - lots of high musical notes, strong use of sound and silence and enough long-pauses to make you really jump when the scares happen.

Survivor (12A)

Clearly pitched as a cross between The Fugitive, Salt and a Bourne film, on paper this “woman on the run” flick has familiar and likeable casting of Jovovich and Brosnan playing up to the film’s game of cat and mouse.

Sadly even the trailer showed little fun here - Survivor has received negative reviews in large part because it feels so tired compared to the many other superior films it clearly owes a debt to.

Clouds of Sils Maria (15)

Showing at the Electric, Kristen Stewart and Juliette Binoche’s performances have been getting great plaudits in Olivier Assayas’s film - a take on fame, acting and ageing, one which is shot in a linear fashion but filled with conviction and intensity.

The film follows the two characters - as Maria Enders is asked to revive a play that made her career twenty years earlier, but she is being asked to play the role not of Sigrid, the young woman who disarms and drives her boss Helena to suicide, but the role of the older Helena! 

Rehearsing in the alps with her assistant played Stewart, Maria finds herself in the company of  a woman who is, in essence, an unsettling reflection of herself.

Samba (15)

Showing at the mac, this is the story of Samba, a migrant to France from Senegal, who after plugging away for years to make a living, meets Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a senior executive who has recently undergone a burn-out. Their mutual struggles draw them both together - the film tracks their relationship and how to get out off their own predicaments.

That's it from me this week. As always, any queries or quibbles, you can find me @timmy666 on twitter. Have a great week at the cinema!


New Brum Fave: Mission Burritos

Hola Amigos, I have one last bit of news before Mexican May draws to a close.  As luck would have it, a whole new Burrito cafe has opened up in Brindleyplace and I was invited down to take a look and try a sample.

I found the place easily enough, it was right next to Carluccio's, and already they were queuing out the door.  I quickly realized that this was because they were giving away free Burritos.  One thing my time here has taught me is that nothing gets between a Brummie and a free lunch. 

I was introduced to Jan Rasmussen, a nice, approachable guy who founded Mission Burritos only a few years ago.  His story starts in San Francisco, where he was working as an IT Engineer at the time. He loved his time in the city, which he highly recommends. His favourite place was the Mission district, where the Mexican community had a food market at the weekend.  He loved their Tacos, which were cooked fresh, right in front of you, using the best ingredients from the market.

The Mexicans were a very open, hospitable community, and their big celebration day was Cinque de Mayo, when they closed the whole district for one big party with parades, games and all sorts of things. He returned to London a year later with a head full of ideas, and a heart that was no longer in IT.  He wanted to bring Mexican food to the UK.  This had been done before, of course, but this time he would make sure it would be 2done properly".

Everything is cooked on the premises, using locally sourced ingredients, helping local farmers and butchers.  But this has not been without challenges, namely, finding quality avocados at a decent price, all year round.  This has proved to be an ongoing challenge. Many of their sauces are imported direct from Mexico. So, moving on, I was invited to first try their Salsa sauces.

  1. The first one I tried was the Green Salsa Verde....hhmm, not bad.
  2. The second one was the amber coloured Pico de that was a cheeky little number with a little after burn    
  3. The third was the red Habanero Salsa ..... Sweet.  Holy.  Jesus, my mouth is on fire.

I was directed to the table where they kept water and a few glasses, and I did a good impression of the Flash as I made my way over. 

Then after we took a few photos of the decor, it was time to try their Burritos.  Now this was the bit I had been looking forward to.  I opted for the Carnitas, which is slow cooked pulled pork with orange zest and thyme.  It tastes amazing.  I had it with some Romain lettuce, Guacamole and sour cream.

Watching them prepare this thing showed that there is a dark art to wrapping a Burrito that I am still yet to master.  They had it wrapped, baked and presented in a nice foil package in just a few seconds.  Mine just leak and have bits sticking out everywhere. In size, this thing was huge, and well worth the money, and perfect for a lunch time snack on the go.

For more information, take a look at their website.

Words & photos by chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here.