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.

Italian Sausage and Chips


Happy Monday, people of Birmingham.  Had a fun Birmingham Weekender with the Rugby?  Did you look around Grand Central yet?  So it is time for the curtain to drop on Italian month, for this year.  I hope you enjoyed it and learned some interesting and diverse things.  I know a lot of it was slow cooking things that took hours.  So, to wrap up, I thought I would leave you with something quick and very simple for a Monday night supper.

Per person you need:

  • Three decent quality sausages
  • Two good-sized potatoes
  • Half an onion
  • Two cloves of garlic
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Salt and Pepper
  • A piece of lard, the size of your thumb.
  • Peel your potatoes and cut them into small fries.  Dice your onion, peel and slice the garlic.  Place the lard in a baking tray and place in the oven.  Set your oven to its highest level and let the lard melt and bubble.  After nearly ten minutes it should be ready.  Reduce the heat to 180C.

Add your chips, sausages, onion and garlic.  Stir in well.  Sprinkle with parsley and oregano.  Bake for ten minutes, then turn the chips and sausages over.  Bake further until everything is nice and golden brown.  Remembering to use an oven cloth, remove the tray from the oven and transfer the contents to a plate.  And serve.

There you go, a nice easy dinner, Italian style.

Ciao, Bella!

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


At The Flix with @Timmy666

Welcome to this week’s At The Flix, Brum Faves weekly slot taking a peek at what’s hitting the big screen over the week ahead across Brum.

Life (15)

Anton Corbijn never lacks ambition as a director. In his latest feature, a Life Magazine photographer receives the assignment to photograph rising Hollywood star James Dean. The film is an opportunity for great actors Dane DeHaan and Robert Pattinson to shine, and an opportunity to try to get to the heart of Dean’s tragedy and understand what made him who he is. Combining a low-key directorial style from Corbijn, I’m most fascinated to see how he (as a former photographer) captures the moments of a photographer on film and that resonant metaphor - what changes when the shutter snaps.

Solace (15)

Portuguese director Afonso Poyart’s first English language film had been in the making for many years, including as a script that was allegedly meant as a sequel to Se7en. Now two years sitting in the can, the film is released and follows a FBI agent and a psychic doctor on the combat to stop a serial killer. The film plays as a sort of crime thriller combined a few supernatural traits.  The film has an all-star cast including Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Anthony (what accent is that?) Hopkins in a good guy role, and clearly there could be much for to be and. Sounds a little clichéd though, doesn’t it?

Miss You Already (12A)

In a rare film that breaks the Bechtdel test, Drew Barrymore and Toni Collette start as childhood friends Jess and Milly who are inseparable and do everything - that’s until Milly is hit with the news that Milly has breast cancer and needs Jess’s support. The news puts pressure on their friendship. The trailer hasn’t wholly convinced me that this film won’t be a bit cheesy and pandering, but Barrymore and Collette should make a likeable duo, but the audience still has to make the emotional investment for such a film to work. Who knows, it might actually be moderately touching?

How To Change The World (15)

Showing for a week at the mac from Fri 25 Sep until Thu 1 Oct, Jerry Rothwell's acclaimed documentary, follows the brave beginnings of Greenpeace, when in 1971 a small group of activists set sail from Vancouver, Canada in an old fishing boat. They were bound for Nixon's atomic bomb tests sites off the west coast of Alaska. The film binds together dramatic archive footage to tell the story of Robert Hunter and the creation of Greenpeace.

Closed Curtain (15)

Showing at the mac from Mon 28 – Wed 30 Sep, Jafar Panahi's ambitious partly factual tale, semi-nonfiction tale follows a screenwriter and his dog in hiding after the regime declares dogs "impure" and bans them from walking in public (an actual law). The man retreats, shaven headed to his three-story seaside villa (Panahi's beach house), setting in to write in relative peace with his beloved pet. Unexpectedly, a young man and woman appear, he takes them in, and Panahi gets the opportunity to carry out his melancholic fantasies. A powerful film about melancholy, creativity and expression.

That’s enough from me this week! If you have any quibbles regarding any of the above, please drop me a tweet @timmy666. I wish you a fantastic week at the cinema!

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.

Recipe: Slow Braised Alpine Rabbit

Welcome one and all to the latest of the Italian series of recipes.

As I noted at the start, a lot of Italian food reflects the coldness of a mountainous environment.  After the war, food was scarce, and unusual meats had to be hunted down.  In the Alpine region, which suffered the longest, Rabbit was often a staple diet.  Another was Polenta, a maze meal that can be roasted, baked or fried and has a neutral flavour.  It is very cheap to make, and sustained many families throughout the hard post-war years.

Rabbit is available from most good butchers in the UK, although you may have to pre-order it.  It tastes just like chicken, but a little richer. I am giving this recipe a danger rating of three severed fingers.

So, to start, you need:

  • One Rabbit, dead, skinned and gutted.
  • One slab of Polenta
  • One handful of baby button mushrooms
  • One lemon
  • Two tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Chicken stock
  • White wine
  • Plain flour

First, take a red chopping board and put it over a damp piece of kitchen paper, on a work top.  Make certain it is stuck down fast.  Take a meat cleaver or heavy knife and CAREFULLY cut the rabbit into quarters.  Take a hot pan and add a little oil to it.  Coat the rabbit in flour and fry gently until it is golden.  Add it to a deep baking tray.  Move the red chopping board to the wash up area.  Replace it with a green board.  Chop up your Polenta into roast potato sized pieces. Chop the celery into smaller pieces, and the lemon into quarters.

Pan fry or deep fry the Polenta just until the edges turn golden and crispy.  Add it to the tray.  Add the celery and the lemon.  Wash the mushrooms to remove any loose soil and grit, then add them to the tray.

Boil a kettle and add the boiling water to a deep bowl.  Cut a cross into the top of each tomato and place them in the bowl.  After a minute the skin will peel off.  Once they are peeled, add them to the tray.

Add a small glass of white wine and half a pint of chicken stock poured evenly over the Rabbit, Polenta and vegetables.  Cover the whole tray tightly with metal foil and place in the oven.  Bake it slowly for three hours.  After each hour, add a little chicken stock if it is going dry.

By the time it is cooked it should be tender and falling off the bone, ready to enjoy.  Just be aware that rabbit bones are smaller and more brittle.

Enjoy a good, Alpine, autumn/winter night's supper.

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


At The Flix with @Timmy666

Greetings one and all and welcome to this week’s At The Flix, our weekly trawl through what’s cool and what hopes to be cool at the cinema this week.

Let’s take a look shall we ….

Everest (3D) (12A)

Boasting a stellar cast, a big budget and cinematography to ensure even the most hardened will have a fear of heights, Everest is an Autumn blockbuster of literally high proportions. The film tells a true story, was film types calls a docudrama, showing the adventures of a number of simultaneous expeditions up Mount Everest in the 90s which resulted in the deaths of eight climbers.

With a cast including Brolin, Gyllenhaal and Hawkes, this is also lofty ambition, quite literally as well.

Gravity brought a 3D experience that counted! Baltasar Kormákur’s film was meant for 3D, and I do hope that they’ve mastered the technology for such an occasion. The next stop for showing the merits of 3D will hopefully be Zemeckis’s The Walk.

Judging at the trailer and the critical reaction, the film’s use of sentiment is used to harrowing and unnerving effect! Not all critics have praised the characterisation but the film eschews any sense of glamour. This is the antithesis of sensationalism.

Bill (PG)

A very British affair, this is an upcoming British family adventure-comedy film from the folks behind children's TV series Horrible Histories and Yonderland. The film is a fictional take on the young William Shakespeare's search for fame and fortune, as written by HH stars Laurence Rickard and Ben Willbond and directed by Richard Bracewell.

It’s three years since Horrible Histories yet clearly the film maintains similar tropes with cast playing multiple characters and  a quirky character-and-costume driven comedy style. Bill is very much a fictional tale - taking Shakespeare on a crazy adventure before becoming the playwright we ‘think we’ know.

This one has been a while in release - let’s hope it is at least half decent.

Walk In The Woods, A (15)

Robert Redford plays Bill Bryson and challenges himself to hike the Appalachian Trail - 2,200 miles of America's most unspoiled, spectacular and rugged countryside from Georgia to Maine.

On paper an amazing cast, yet looking a little bit twee in the trailer - you’d ordinarily go any road trip with Robert Redford and Nick Nolte and expect it to have some substance. I’d ordinarily be an immediate convert to following their adventures but critics have questioned the effectiveness of its comic voice and that the walk is merely pleasant as opposed to amazing.

L’Eclisse (PG)

Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic L’Eclisse (Fri 18th - Sun 20th) is the third part of his trilogy on malaise following L’avventura and La notte. This is a ‘must see’ of cinema and to see it digital restored will be a treat. Time and time again, Antonioni proved himself as a true visionary of film, in this case a romantic drama with his then partner, the beautiful Monica Vitti, combining the tensions of beauty and isolation through the characters and through the architecture of Rome. This is not a Rome anyone will recognise - as empty during the day as at night. This is disquieting, strange and compelling cinema at its best.

That’s it from me. As always, any queries or quibbles, you can drop me a tweet at @timmy666. Until next week, have a great time at the cinema.

Knife And Fork: Two Cats Kitchen

I had dinner at Two Cats Kitchen a few weeks ago when it had just recently opened. Allowing for the inevitable teething troubles which any restaurant will experience in the early days, this meal definitely augured well for the future. If Two Cats lives up to its early promise, it will definitely be one to watch.

We were met by Nick Astley the Chef/Patron and his partner Diana who seems to have been the inspiration for the cooking and indeed the establishment of the restaurant. She is Latvian and apparently it was visiting Latvia and falling in love with the cooking as well as the people, which led to the idea for Two Cats.

The cuisine is Latvian-Modern, so to speak: contemporary takes on traditional dishes. This “New Baltic”, as the restaurant prefers to call it, perhaps mirrors the continuing trend for New Nordic, which certainly made foodies around the world completely rethink their ideas on Extreme-North-European-Meat-and-Two-Veg cooking. For most of us, I imagine that none of the Baltic States would come to mind when we think of delicate, subtle cooking; rather more we expect robust fare without a lot of finesse. So, it was rather exciting to be presented with this subtle, flavoursome, delightful food which makes good and creative use of the smoking, curing and pickling traditions of that part of the world.

The dishes are all relatively small, larger than tapas but not as large as conventional courses, so it is possible, desirable actually, to try several of those on offer and really sample the menu. There is also a complete tasting menu available for when you want the full culinary experience. Each month the menu varies with the addition of some and deletion of others.

We started with the Auksta Zuppa (Old Soup) and Goat Cheese Pelmeni. The Cold Beetroot and Buttermilk Soup – for that is what it was in essence – was a sweet, yet sharp confection, complex, subtle, tantalising, as I tried to identify the various constituent flavours: dill, cucumber, and radish. My companion’s Goat Cheese Pelmeni was equally interesting, the cheese itself strong and slightly pungent as you would expect, the lovage oil and flowers very delicate, the onion soup sweet and smooth; a really interesting set of contrasts and complements. The Pelmeni was perhaps too large in my friend’s opinion, although I begged to differ. I think this is simply a personal matter and no reflection on the food itself.

I then had the Raw Rose Veal with smoked duck, croutons, pickled kohlrabi, fermented apple and coal oil. Not everyone is a fan of minced raw meat but, if you like sushi and sashimi, why wouldn’t you care for raw meat – as long as it is good meat to begin with, well prepared and presented? This passed all the tests. It was delicate, the veal more or less melting in the mouth, full of flavour and delicacy. The accompaniments just went very well. Looking at text on the page does not do justice to the food as experienced. Rose Veal is, of course, the result of humane, more acceptable free ranging farming practice which does not involve shutting the young animals up in tight pens and results in this pink rather than white meat. There was a time when I could not have countenanced eating veal. Today I feel differently about it: utterly delicious when done well, as here.

The Squab Pigeon with toasted seeds, scorched broccoli, meadow sweet, red currants, and smoked sour cream had my companion in an ecstasy. This is young pigeon specially bred in France and delivered to select restaurants in Britain, not the cooked compacted elastic band that you often find. I couldn’t resist a mouthful or two myself and I understood why it was being so well appreciated. It was tender, moist, full of gamey flavour, and perfectly complemented by the accompaniments.

As these are relatively small portions, I opted to try the mackerel with gooseberry, fennel, sabayon, and almond and fennel sand. This was seriously tasty, a slightly surprising mixture of flavours and textures, but it certainly worked. Being such a strongly flavoured, oily fish, mackerel can be hard to get right in a restaurant as opposed to at home but I can say that, with the exception of a freshly caught mackerel I cooked just hours after plucking it out of the sea a couple of weeks ago, this was one of the best mackerel I have tasted.

And so to dessert. We decided to share the Almond Butter, granola, cucumber, elderflower jelly and meringue. I thought it was bitter, sweet, complex, with wonderfully mixed textures. My companion was a bit less impressed, feeling that the elderflower jelly was less successful. I loved the tiny sections of meringue which sort of teased my palate by their taste and texture.

To drink with this meal we had a bottle of Suri, a Barbera by Andrea Faccio, which was robust and full of flavour yet with deep-lying subtlety. All the wines on the short but excellent list are supplied by Connolly’s Wine Merchants in Livery Street. It’s good to see a local business working with others in the area to create good experiences.

And a Good Experience it was. A fellow diner that evening was the chef from a very highly rated Birmingham restaurant and I noticed that when he left he was very complimentary to Nick.

This venue has hosted several restaurant ventures since the days when it was one of the Michelle mini chain and perhaps only one has been really successful in terms of cuisine and reputation – the Toque d’Or. I rather think that Two Cats might be ready to fill that spot. You should go soon.

Cost for two diners, six dishes, and wine: £70 plus tip.

Two Cats Kitchen, 27 Warstone Lane, Jewellery Quarter B18 6JQ

#KnifeandFork by Big Enn who can be contacted on @NcherryNorman


Recipe: Salmon Arrabbiata Risotto

Hello people and welcome to the second instalment of Italian recipe month. To offset the rainy start to Autumn, we have something tasty from the shores of the Amalfi coast.

For two people you need the following:

  • Two Salmon steaks
  • Prosciutto Ham (one slice per steak)
  • Risotto rice (two cups per person)
  • One white onion
  • Two cloves of garlic
  • White wine (250ml for two and two glasses to drink)
  • Chicken stock (one pint)
  • Half a tin of tomatoes
  • Chopped red chillies
  • Tomato puree

We start with the veg prep.  Take a green chopping board and place it over a damp paper towel on a work top.  Peel and finely chop your onion and the garlic. Move them to a plate together and now chop your red chillies, very finely.  Keep or remove the seeds, depending on how brave you feel.  Move the chillies to another plate.

Now take a shallow saucepan or a frying pan and add a little olive oil.  Sweat off the onion and garlic until they are translucent and slightly brown, but not too brown.  Add the rice and stir in well until it too becomes translucent.  Remove from the heat.  Heat your chicken stock slowly on the hob until it is steaming, but not boiling.  Add the white wine to the rice and stir in, and continue to heat gently.  It should evaporate quickly.  Now take a ladle and spoon the stock into the rice, a little at a time.  Keep stirring and the rice will expand quickly.  It will also soak up all the stock, so you need to keep adding it a little at a time, making sure the pan does not go dry.

Next we make the Arrabbiata sauce (it is Italian for angry, by the way).  Very simple, take a saucepan and add a little olive oil.  Fry off the chillies (beware of the fumes, they hit you like CS gas).  Add half a tin of tomatoes, whatever seasonings you like, and two tablespoons of tomato puree.  Bring it to the boil, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer, and allow it to reduce.

Set your oven to 180C and allow it to pre-heat.  Take a baking tin and place a piece of baking foil in  the middle of it.  Drizzle a little oil over it to prevent stickiness.  Next, wash your hands thoroughly.  Now carefully wrap each salmon steak in the ham, tightly.  Drizzle a little oil over the salmon and place it in the oven.

Bake the salmon for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the Salmon.  As it cooks, the ham will shrink and tighten around the salmon.

Take a plate and cover the middle with risotto rice.  Flatten it down a little, then place the Salmon on top.  Cover the salmon with a few spoons of Arrabbiata sauce.

I have a little broccoli with mine, but it is optional.

Ciao, et buon appetito!

By chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here.


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

At The Flix with @Timmy666

Welcome to this week’s At The Flix with @timmy666 and @timmy666 - yes, in the spirit of Tom Hardy, I’m going to write myself into the regular roundup more than once. The question you have to ask is, which @timmy666 are you getting? The editor maybe able to provide more details but you’ll have to ask her on twitter! Isn’t that right? [What, and spoil the fun? – Ed]

Legend (15)

The familiar story of the Kray brothers gets a retelling in Brian Helgeland’s cinematic take on London’s underworld of the 1960s. All the build up to the release has been about Tom Hardy - and frankly, this is a great achievement - to take on both Kray brothers with the same actor. Hardy applies himself to every role and this is a clearly a different beast from when the Kemp brothers played the Krays.

Much has been mooted about the tenor of the film - indeed words such as “pantomime” and “cartoonish” have been used to describe the film’s portrayal of the Krays and of the London of the time.

Brian Helgeland knows how to craft a mainstream cinematic thriller. Whether the ‘legend’ itself glorifies the Krays or if it is done appropriately, I’ll leave it up to decide.

Maze Runner: Scorch Trials, The (3D) (12A)

The hugely successful Maze Runner is now a franchise it seems! This is a very crowded genre right now blending the trappings of YA with sci-fi B movie quirks. I have faith though. With Wes Ball at the helm, you know you’ve got someone who is more than dependable at delivering a crowd-pleasing and knowing slice of nonsense.

The key thing is in the substance - this is being publicised as a darker, more violent beast than the original - I think this could be the films ticket to delivering something that makes it stand out from the crowd.

Well, here’s to hoping anyway. I’ll expect a third film will already be in the works.

Irrational Man (12A)

You have to hand it to Woody Allen. He keeps churning out film after film! Blue Jasmine restored my faith in his ability to still deliver great quality cinema! He still continues to bring fantastic casts to all his films who all no doubt revel in Allen’s creative process.

In Irrational Man, Joaquin Phoenix plays a burned-out, brilliant professor who takes a job at a small college and becomes involved with a teacher and a precocious student. It takes an existential act to turn his life around and see the world in a more positive light. All the familiar Allen tropes and topics are there - secrecy, murder, personal conflict - more than a whiff of familiarity to Crimes and Misdemeanours.

Sadly, critics are not acknowledging this as one of his best works. Indeed, much has been made of the film’s sketchy nature rather than something that can follow through the fruits of its labours for the length of a film.

My argument is always that even ‘bad’ Allen is to be lapped up. He surely won’t be able to keep making films forever.

The Visit (15)

Welcome to M. Night Shyamalan’s latest spooky venture. This follows brother and sister sent to their grandparents' remote Pennsylvania farm for a weeklong trip. The children discover that they are involved in something deeply disturbing - as a result, their chances of getting back home grow smaller every day.

It’s fair to say Shyamalan hasn’t really hit full gear since Unbroken. That was quite a while ago! He’s a clever director - he understands the mainstream horror genre. He also has a knowing sense of the toying nature of cinema akin to Spielberg. I have returned to his movies occasionally in the partial, and it seems diminishing hope that he’ll deliver something of his early potential all those years ago with his first few movies.

There’s a knowing slice of comedy in this venture, and much will depend on the ‘fun’ factor here I suspect.

The President (15)

Showing at the mac (11-17 September), check out this jewel from Georgia, Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s film about a dictator who comes face to face with the people he previously subjugated. The film’s Georgian roots are clearly marked throughout with a nod towards the politics and conspiracies of the Soviet Union, an explorative and unforgiving portrayal of power, or rather how power corrupts. Despite the uncompromising nature of the film, it attempts to ask why!

Cartel Land (15)

Winner of a number of documentary awards at Sundance, be sure to check out Cartel Land (showing at the mac 14-15 September), director Matthew Heineman’s powerful look at vigilante groups and the Mexican drug cartels they oppose. The film is both raw and brutal, a close-up look at methamphetamine manufacture and the struggle to fight it and bring it under control.

That’s enough from me this week ... and from me too! So until next week, both @timmy666 and the other @timmy666 wish you a fantastic week at the cinema!


If I Ruled the World by Elaine S Moxon

We asked local author Elaine Moxon to give us her version of the perfect world. We just didn't think that would involve taking us back a few thousand years!

This is tough to answer! Everyone has their own concept of Utopia and I would be the last person to insist that anyone lived the way I dictated. However, this is part of why I write historical fiction – to live in another time and experience a world I would like to live in. Dark Ages Britain is not an ideal world by any means: it is full of conflict, invasion, oppression, rivalry and a failing economy thanks to the departure of the Roman Empire. What draws me to this time is the simplicity of everyday life for the common people. Let me explain.

Pollution is minimal. Yes, everyone is burning wood, but there are no cars, aeroplanes, diesel locomotives or fuelled sea vessels. Travel is on foot, by horse or ox-drawn cart meaning distances take longer to cover. Life is therefore slower and without the technological interruptions we force upon ourselves today, such as social media, telephones and television. You don’t have to remember to log your every move on Facebook or keep up with episodes of your favourite television series. Instead, if you want to speak to someone you have to visit them to share news. Communal halls and temples are where large groups can exchange news and ideas for the community, sipping ale or mead and listening to someone sing songs of historic events.

Ever wanted to work from home instead of slogging through that daily commute? Live in the 5th Century AD and you can! You might have to rise a lot earlier than you do now (with the cockerel’s crow at the break of dawn, rather than an alarm clock tuned to your favourite radio station), but you’ll have fresh eggs from your own fowl and warm goats’ milk. Vegetables and herbs will be grown in a plot beside your home – enough to feed you and your family and perhaps some for barter at markets. Oh yes, and there is no coin – money no longer exists. Following Rome’s departure around 410AD coin held less and less value and bartering returned to Britain. You’ll need to fatten that pig so you can get a good price, or have plenty pork to salt and store through winter.

Do you spend half your wages on new clothes and beauty products? In Dark Ages Britain you’d be making both yourself. If you’re lucky enough to own goats or sheep you’ll have a supply of wool to spin and weave into patterned fabrics, having dyed it with vegetables and plants to your own choice of colours. There is no need to fret over that dress size you’re trying to get into – a peplos is ‘one size fits all’! Shoes (if you are wealthy enough to afford them) and belts are made of leather, possibly from another crafts person in your own village and you can knit your own stockings. If you are nobility you’ll be able to add some sumptuous brocade to the edges of your tunics, the fashion status symbol of the time. Beauty products can be made using milk and animal fats, scented with herbs or plant essences.

Many people today are becoming more and more interested in self-sufficiency and this is something I do like to see. We must remember after all, that we are an island. It makes sense to know you can grab some eggs from the bottom of your garden and pick a few spuds and cabbages if you need Sunday dinner accompaniments. Allotments are making a comeback and I often see people at garden centres investing in fruit trees.

Another trend is sustainable energy and the amount of homes with solar panels is growing week by week it seems. If there was one thing I would bring to this simpler Dark Ages life it would be advances in clean energy and medicine. There are already many who have built new homes with sustainable materials, living the eco-friendly life.

I myself have two apple trees and am making preparations to grow my own vegetables. I use flowers from my own garden as cut flowers to save on the cost of purchasing expensive bouquets and currently buy fruit and vegetables from a local supplier. Living close to the land and its changing seasons and making use of the immediate community harks back to these simpler, more ancient times I write about. Farmers’ markets and summer fêtes are lingering reminders of a close-knit ethos that once existed throughout Britain. Whether you live in a village or a bustling city, you can still become part of a community, buying locally and ethically; we can still grasp an essence of earlier times. Turn off your televisions and have a conversation, share wisdom and interests with those around you. The future is what we make it and perhaps we can learn a little from the past.


Elaine’s debut novel ‘WULFSUNA’ (Book 1 in the Wolf Spear Saga series) charts the journey of the Saxon tribe of the same name as they return to Britain. Their mission: to reunite with other ‘Wolf Sons’ they left behind who settled on the isle when the Roman Empire departed. Betrayal finds them and unbeknownst to their Lord’s son Wulfgar, an ancient legendary Saga is weaving his fate. When they discover a dishevelled young Seer on the roadside, destinies are altered for many and the lives of Morwyneth and the Wulfsuna are irrevocably entwined.

‘WULFSUNA’ has already garnered several 5-star reviews from readers and fellow historical fiction authors and was in the May issue of the ‘Historical Novel Society’ Indie Reviews. Elaine is currently writing Book 2 of the Wolf Spear Saga, due for release in 2016. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads and runs a blog and website. She lives in Birmingham with her family and their crazy chocolate Labrador, and loves baking, language etymology and of course, history! She has recently begun making her own 5th Century Saxon costume to wear at events (or round the house).

‘WULFSUNA’ is available as a paperback and eBook and can be purchased from the following sites: SilverWood Books, Kobe,,

Recipe: Limoncello Chicken

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Our theme for the month of September is Italian food.

I thought about how to put an interesting slant on the month, and I figured we could make it more interesting if we go Pasta free.  Just for the challenge.  Furthermore, we always think of Italy as a sun soaked country where they live on olives, seafood and tomatoes.  A lot of the time this is true, but we forget that a lot of Italy is cold, mountainous country.  The Dolomites and the Alps have inspired some of Italy's most challenging recipes, using whatever comes to hand.  A lot of their recipes include freshly caught rabbits, free range boar, and forage truffles.

Also we are going for nice, warm comfort food since summer seems to have turned up it's toes for the year.  That's all folks, please exit through the gift shop.  And someone turn the heating up please?

Right, to business.  Here is your shopping list:

For the sauce:

  • Chicken stock, one pint.  Today I am using the jellied kind.
  • The juice of two large, whole lemons
  • Limoncello Liquor (about 50 ml)
  • Star anise
  • Cornflour

For the chicken thighs you need, well, chicken thighs

  • Coriander
  • Oregano
  • Salt and Pepper
  • One sprig of Rosemary

For the vegetables:

  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Honey
  • Butter

For the vegetables, we are going with cubed and fried potatoes, which the Italians love, and steamed broccoli.  The other veg is honey batons of carrots.  Not very Italian, but there you go.

OK, let's start with one medium-sized saucepan.  Put it on the heat and add the stock.  Heat gently and add the juice of two large lemons.  Stir it in and add the limoncello and one star anise.  Stir in well.  Allow it to simmer but not boil for five minutes.  Then to thicken it up, make a paste of cornflour and water in a small jug. Add about 25ml just enough to thicken it to a glaze.

Set up your chicken thighs in a baking tray, coated with metal foil.  Season the chicken with salt, pepper, Coriander and Oregano.  Pour a little of the lemon sauce over the chicken and use a pastry brush to coat the skin completely.  Place it in the oven at 180 C and bake for 35-40 minutes.  If you like, add a sprig of Rosemary.  Keep the rest of the sauce warm.

While they are baking, chop your potatoes into small cubes and deep fry.  Or you can oven bake them in a baking tray with hot lard and Rosemary.

For the vegetables you steam the broccoli.  Steaming it for four minutes.  It is so much better than boiled, as it keeps its colour and a little crispness.

For the carrots, heat a small pan of water.  Add a small knob of butter.  Bring to the boil and allow to simmer. Add four tablespoons of honey and allow it to melt into the water.  Peel and chop your carrots into batons and add them to the water.  Cook them until they are soft and sweetened.

Once the chicken is cooked, plate it up, dry the potatoes with kitchen roll.  Drain the carrots and add them to the plate and finally add the broccoli, with butter if you like.

Serve and enjoy.

Buon Appetito!

By chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here.


At the Flix with @Timmy666

Greetings one and all and welcome to this week's #AtTheFlix, a weekly smorgasbord of all things cinematic hitting Birmingham this weekend.

It’s a busy week ahead so let's have a ganders!

American Ultra (15)

American Ultra is an action comedy about a guy called Mike (played by Jesse Eisenberg), a stoner with a small-town life and a live-in girlfriend, Phoebe (Stewart). In a Bourne-esque about-turn, Mike is recalled to be a sleeper agent and his secret past comes back to haunt him and put him at the centre of attention.

To mention Bourne is no coincidence. I think this film could have been something that the likes of Doug Liman would lap up when in his lighter frame of mind.

The film looks like a lot of fun with a sleek if somewhat unoriginal story and with two leads with enough big star cred and indie sensibility to see it through.

Critics have been divided Stateside but it looks diverting in certain respects and will be a hit.

No Escape (15)

John Erick's dark action thriller is a determined take on stereotype which recalls those 70s and 80s films which had a. slightly xenophobic slant on parts of the world which are portrayed as less than safe places to be.

Owen Wilson, who occasionally likes to move away from his comedic roles, stars as Jack Dwyer, an engineer for a multinational company who finds himself in a tight spot along with his daughter.

These countries are dangerous, coups happen and then suddenly there are folks wielding giant machetes out to get you, especially westerners..

This is a film all about instinct and survival. Throw in some some added badass Brosnan, whom continues to shed the smooth Bond bravado in favour of a beard and scars. This gives the film a nostalgia kick and shows up the film's 'want' for action as an attempted cure to any misgivings one might have for story or setup.

File under silly.

Transporter Refuelled, The (15)

Talking of filing a film under silly, if you thought The Transporter franchise was done, think again! Even more bizarrely, this is a Transporter film without The Stathe. Enter instead, the young actor. Ed Skrein, who definitely looks the part.

Besson had a sure fire hit when The Stathe was on board because there was always a charm that went with the very knowing B-movie sensibility. With that gone, the film is immediately going to be compared.

By the looks of it, the film is not too dissimilar to its predecessors in terms of what it wants to achieve. The question is whether or not there's much substance beneath the Besson gloss..

Basically, we know it's bad, but will we able to call it enjoyably bad? With Statham, it would have been.

Ricki And The Flash (12A)

This is a film that, were it released in the Fall, would be prime Oscar bait, with Meryl Streep in a Diablo Cody scripted film about a runaway rocker mother who attempts to reconnect with her family.

This sounds like a very corny premise despite the Cody script.

The most reassuring thing though is Jonathan Demme being at the helm. This might just about be enough to see the film through its premise and setup. The rest is undoubtedly around the quality of the performances.


Dope (15)

Following its success at the Sundance Film Festival, Dope has been garnering critical acclaim. The film centres around Malcolm (played by Shameik Moore) who lives in a tough LA neighborhood juggling college applications, academic interviews, and the SAT.  He finds himself invited to an underground party thats leads him from being a geek, to being dope, to being himself.


Dope looks like smart, insightful entertainment, noted for its crowd pleasing pop sensibility and a fresh energy. One to check out this week.


Me And Earl And The Dying Girl (12A)

The second film this week getting a worldwide release off the back of acclaim at Sundance, Me & Earl & the Dying Girl is a coming-of-age movie, the story of Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann), an awkward high school senior whose is forced to spend time with Rachel - a girl in his class (Olivia Cooke) with whom he hasn't spoken to since kindergarten - who was just diagnosed with cancer.


The film has been noted more for its knowing use of laughs as much as its moving tenderness. A film that could have been slight, is praised in large part due to the work of its leads. What could be a sombre film is in fact an uplifting experience.


45 Years (15)

Finally, don’t miss out on 45 Years, an acting tour de force from Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay as a married couple about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary. When a letter arrives announcing that the body of the husband’s first love has been discovered, long-surpressed secrets come out and a long marriage is tested to its limits.

That’s it from me this week. As always, any queries or quibbles can be directed to me on twitter @timmy666. Have a great week at the cinema!

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.

The UK Burger Battle So have we rekindled your love of a good Burger? Fancy a night out with a good meaty bite and a bit of entertainment?  Well we have just the event for you.

The UK Burger Battle has been raging all over the summer throughout the Midlands, and now it is reaching it's  fiery conclusion.  The  contestants have come from far and wide.  Professional chefs bumped elbows with enthusiastic, gifted amateurs.  This mingling of creativity has ignited some interesting and unusual ideas.

The Burger Battle is the brainchild of the intrepid Ahmed Kage, who brought us the Ribs Nights event last year (which is rumoured to make a comeback in October).

The final battle - JudgeMeat Day! - will take place in Birmingham on 12th September.  Tickets are available here.

By chef Nick Gilmartin who can be contacted on @Nick1975 or find out more here.


At The Flix with @Timmy666


Greetings one and all! Welcome to this week’s #AtTheFlix, our weekly trawl through all the cinematic releases out in Birmingham this week. Let’s have a ganders shall we!

Straight Outta Compton (15)

In the first of two films with music at their heart, Straight Outta Compton has been wowing critics and moviegoers alike Stateside, and is the story of legendary rappers NWA brought to the big screen.

Compton was one the most dangerous places in California, the perfect backdrop for eponymous rappers to develop their style. The film charts their meteoric rise and catastrophic fall!

Produced by Dr Dre and Ice Cube, there’s no doubting the power and impact that NWA had on making rap music what it was and still is today.

Like the rappers, this is a film which sounds fresh with attitude, ferocious and uncompromising.

Trainwreck (15)

The latest film from the Judd Apatow school is Trainwreck, written by and starring the excellent Amy Schumer alongside Bill Hader in a subversive retrograde comedy about succumbing to monogamy, something she’s been instilled is a bad thing.

For the first time is a while, this is allegedly an Apatow comedy which is hitting the right notes, mainly due to a razor-sharp comedic script from Schumer, and a level of detail, strong acting and smartness, missing from nearly all comedies that reach our shores.

Expect nastiness but expect gentleness and a large slice of pathos too!

Hitman: Agent 47 (15)

From what I remember of the original Hitman, which coincidentally didn’t set the screens alight, not even Olga Kurylenko’s spunky presence could add enough spice to see the film beyond the mediocre. So, to see a sequel is somewhat surprising!

The sequel treads a similar path in terms of its lead character, following the genetically modified killing machine on another action filled thriller, and teaming up with a woman (fancy that!) with mega powers, to hunt down a corporation that plans to unlock Agent 47’s past.

It sounds like a committee made plot line and no doubt that same committee was responsible for giving this film a remake.

In having a soulless killing machine as a lead character, you run the risk of reducing him to nothing more than a caricature with no identifiable personality. But, forget about all of that … it’s about the action and the product placement, isn’t it?

At the time of writing, this had a 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which on the barometer of ‘bad’, certainly review wise, is pretty stormy.

We Are Your Friends (15)

This film follows a 20 something DJ called Cole plotting his breakthrough track and scheming with his childhood friends.

The film is attempting to blend melodrama with a pumping electronic music and LA nightlife backdrop, packed with what youthful folks consider to be moody and edgy!

Critics are largely unimpressed with this film and no doubt, much may depend on your tolerance for EDM. That said, Zac Ephron fans amongst you (anyone?) will no doubt rejoice in his latest cinematic foray!


Showing at the mac (Sunday 30th-Thursday 3rd), Naji Abu Nowar's highly acclaimed feature from Jordan is set in the Ottoman province of Hijaz during World War I, and follows a young Bedouin boy in a coming of age drama as he embarks on a perilous desert journey to guide a British officer to his secret destination.

The film has been praised for being a seductive classic adventure, with two excellent young leads and their  affection for each other and the amazing Lean-esque scenery, shot by Wolfgang Thale.

Elsewhere, watch out for 30th anniversary showings of Back to the Future (15) showing at the Electric and various other places. Let’s face it, there’s no better place to introduce someone to one of the greatest films of the 80s than at the cinema. It appears the Electric is showing lots of classic films as part of its 90s Blockbuster season including Titanic 3D (12A), The Lion King (U) (tissues at the ready!) and The Matrix (15)

That’s it from me this week. As always, any queries or quibbles can be directed to me on twitter @Timmy666 Have a great week at the cinema!


Recipe: Pork and Sage Burgers with Gilmartin's own relish

#ChefsTable This week's fantastic instalment of the BBQ series from chef Nick includes his own family's secret recipe.

Good morning people, sorry I am late.  Busy life, y'know....

Anyway, to business.  We are creating minced pork burgers today.  But with a kicker - my own family recipe for burger relish.

So grab a pen and paper, this is your shopping list:

  • Minced pork
  • One egg (or specifically the white)
  • Breadcrumbs (half a teacup for one burger)
  • Half a white onion, finely chopped or grated
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Fresh Sage

That's the burger.  For the relish you need the following

  • The other half of the white onion
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Tomato Puree
  • Sticky brown sugar

Right, time to get messy.  Set up a mixing bowl, one red and one green chopping board.  We start by finely dicing the onion, and then the Sage.  Fresh sage works best - I grow my own in the back garden.

For each burger you want about a tablespoon of onion and a teaspoon of Sage.  Then a palm-full of minced pork.  Add (per burger) a teaspoon of egg white. Finally add the onion, a teaspoon of Dijon Mustard, Worcestershire sauce and half a cup of breadcrumbs. I prefer to make a batch of about three or four at a time, they mix better that way.

Wash and dry your hands thoroughly.

Now mix the ingredients together into a ball, and pull of enough to fill the palm of your hand.  Twist the palms of your hands in opposing directions to make the patty shape.

Place the finished burgers on a red meat board, until they are ready to be grilled.

Right, that's the burgers, let's move on to the sauce.

This recipe came about in the long hot summer of 1976.  My parents would have a barbecue every Saturday night, with all their friends in the street.  While my dad was figuring out how to open the party seven beer can (google it), my mum would make her tangy tomato relish.

Start with a hot saucepan and a teaspoon of oil.  Add to this half a diced onion.  Sweat this off until it starts to go golden brown.  Add two heaped tablespoons of sticky brown sugar.  Stir it in until it caramelises.  Add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce and two tablespoons of tomato puree.  Stir it all together and reduce for a minute.  If it reduces too far, add a tablespoon of water.

Grill your burger until it is golden brown on both sides.  Now toast the burger bun and add a spoon of relish to the underside of the burger.

And that is pretty much it.  Serve with chips or whatever you like.


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


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

At The Flix with @Timmy666

Hello and welcome to this week’s #AtTheFlix, our weekly trawl through the latest cinematic releases in Birmingham.

Paper Towns (12A)

With the huge success of The Fault in Our Stars, John Green’s latest novel to get a big screen adaption has been getting a lot of pre-release publicity and advanced screenings.

Promoted as a coming-of-age story, the film leads Quentin on a hunt for her mysterious neighbour Margo goes missing after an all-night adventure. Margo leaves behind cryptic clues for Quentin to decipher leading to an adventure of sorts to find her and of course, to find love.

Pitched at the teen audience, the film has received some good reviews, praised for its portrayal of adolescent behaviour and the threat (to kids and adults) of becoming grownups, as well as approaching its characters with thoughtfulness and charm. Other critics find the youthful romantic obsessions a little too much, bordering on mawkish and have criticised how roundly drawn the female characters actually are.

Sinister 2 (15)

I didn’t see the first Sinister but this plays as something of a continuation in theme. The plot involves a protective mother and her 9-year-old twin sons find themselves in a rural house marked for death as an evil spirit called Bughuul proceeds to do his frightening thing!

The general setup, locales and themes will sound familiar to horror aficionados and if you’re partial to the original, then this might rock your boat. Critics have noted that the film lacks the impending dread of the original - and opts for quite a few Saw style antics.

For me, it just sounds like the ‘obvious’ horror rulebook being played out in front of you.

Vacation (15)

There is arguably an over-abundance of nostalgia driven films being made by Hollywood! The term ‘over-abundance’ applies because when it’s reboot or remake, then you can’t help but feel a tad cynical about the motives, other than the dollar signs that producers want to see!

One of the first things I noted about this film was that Chevy Chase appears in a cameo. It makes you wonder how this film really represents any kind of cinematic progress on the National Lampoon model of three decades ago.

Of course, when you realise it is a remake of sorts and an attempt to kickstart a franchise, and that it features the character Rusty Griswald, the son of Chevy Chase’s iconic character, then you realise this is no coincidence.

The film definitely craves to have the same levels of success.

I have a soft spot for some of the National Lampoon films - they were actually funny but mainly because you bought into it and that you cared a little bit for the characters. From the trailer for Vacation, I’m certainly not sharing the same sentiment. Furthermore, being penned by the writers to Horrible Bosses, it fills you with even less hope.

Bad Education Movie, The (15)

The latest TV series to get a big movie upgrade is the BBC Three series Bad Education, definitely not to be confused with the excellent Almodovar film Bad Education!

Jack Whitehall’s character Alfie Wickers, gets a shot at the big screen to demonstrate he is the worst teacher ever, taking his class on school trip, effectively as one last hurrah to confirm his disgrace!

The question is how much of the disgrace is the film as well as the character. The film has yet to receive hardly any reviews which is often not a good sign.

Strange Magic (U)

Lucas film’s Strange Magic is fairy tale musical inspired by "A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Using popular songs from the past six decades, it tells the tale of a colorful cast of goblins, elves, fairies and imps, and their hilarious misadventures sparked by the battle over a powerful potion.

On paper, this sounds quite endearing but sadly it doesn’t appear the critics agree, apart from a few.

Elsewhere this week, Manglehorn (12A) is showing at the mac (21-27 Aug), a chance to see Al Pacino in David Gordon Green’s story of lonely locksmith falling in love with a bank teller (Holly Hunter). Many critics have commented that this one of Pacino’s best performances for a while! Also at the mac (21-25 Aug) Looking for Love (15) is a new documentary from filmmaker Menelik Shabazz explores relationships within the UK’s black British community, a frank consideration of love, sex, intimacy, psychology and forgiveness.

A Dozen Summers (PG)

Finally, thanks to Kenton Hall for sharing a preview of his upcoming film A Dozen Summers.

This is a low budget indie teen comedy with a subversive and charming heart. The film follows Maisie and Daisy.

From the moment a regular fairy tale monologue intro by Colin Baker is interrupted in a fantastic fourth wall break by the film's two leads, Maisie and Daisy you realise that this is a very quirky and fun film.

The film is a reminder of Tracy Beaker in the way it reflect the lives of teenagers and how they think and talk. It’s at its best with its fun sketches and cutaways and an ability to really tap into the imaginations of teenagers, especially the film's two leads.

The film will be rolling out city by city in to UK cinemas, starting with a 4-night run in Leicesters Phoenix cinema on August 21st-24th. I hope too see it released in Birmingham too. Find out more at

That's it from me. As always, any comments or quibbles, please come find me @timmy666 on Twitter. Until next week, have a great week at the cinema.

Birmingham menswear brand opening in Grand Central

Birmingham Favourites is thrilled to learn local menswear brand Steel and Jelly is opening it's first store in the city's new Grand Central Shopping Centre. Established in 2004, Steel and Jelly's philosophy is about embracing innovative British design by creating a hybrid of  the contemporary and the traditional. They will be  is opening in the £150m new centre above the fully refurbished New Street station.

Opening: Thursday 24th September 2015.

Contact Steel and Jelly:  @Twitter Facebook or Instagram or find out more