Category Archives: Birmingham

Whispering Grass

City parks aren’t terribly subtle in their juxtaposition of life and death. They have the swings and the slides and the children shouting, but alongside them they place memorials to the dead.

In Cannon Hill Park as well as the children’s play areas, the tennis courts and the (barely) crazy golf, there is the customary war memorial – in this case to the ‘sons of Birmingham’ killed in the Boer War, alongside various personally dedicated benches and a few commemorative trees.

When I was walking through the park the other day I noticed a fragile sapling tree, supported by posts, with a small plaque attached. The dedication said: ‘In memory of my beloved mother 13 April 1890- 24 March 1959’. This struck me as odd. No name, just dates. A new tree for someone who died 50 years ago.

A few feet on there was another tree of similar age with another plaque. ‘In memory of my beloved son 15 September 1958 – 14 October 1978’.

My initial, nonsensical thought was that this was a mother and son, until Pete pointed out the mother would have been 68 when she gave birth. More logically I suppose the dedicator could be the generation in between – the child of the mother, the parent of the son, bereaved at both ends and wanting to mark the loss.

For some reason though my initial impression clung on and I found myself imagining the dead remembering the dead. Dedicating trees and benches to one another, whispering to each other through municipal furniture, saying ‘I loved you’ and hoping it wasn’t too late.


I seem to have spent a lot of last month writing about Birmingham. I think this was more due to the coincidence of receiving two different commissions about the city, rather than anything in the March air. The first piece was for the BBC’s Made in England project and has more of a personal angle, the second (reprinted here in the Post) was for The Art of Ideas and was concerned with the cultural profile of the city. Both really were reworkings of the piece I wrote here on qanik years ago about taking photos of Nechells.

James (Yarker – of Stan’s Cafe) was with me on the panel at the latter – and so here’s his talk as well. And for anyone with even a passing interest in faded utopian visions (three words I tend to use with tedious regularity when speaking about Birmingham), and who hasn’t visited yet….welcome to Euphoria.

Dispiriting and pointless

This is not a real post, but when you are as lazy as I clearly am, you have to shout about whatever tiny content you manage to generate….. so anyway I wrote an article about shopping in Birmingham on a funny site. It will have limited appeal if you’re not familiar with Birmingham. Actually it will probably have limited appeal even if you are. Here it is.

This is a message from Futura

This could work in Birmingham, we have quite a lot of dirty underpasses. It could also work well in Barcelona which is similarly filthy….though, to be pedantic, Barcelona is more smelly than filthy. If you were a very clever conceptual artist, particularly the type that likes to do something incredibly technically difficult for a barely perceptible result, you could perhaps conceive of a way to etch clean air designs into the atmosphere of particularly smelly barrios. Stringy-haired Catalan youth would have to pass up and down the narrow streets, many times, sniffing constantly, before the true complexity of the design would become apparent.

If I was a socially aware, edgy, clandestine, reverse-graffiti-artist operating in Birmingham I would collect all the litter that is stuck in bushes around the bottom of blocks of flats. Then I would re-attach it to the bushes, but in such a way that it spelled out the phone-number of the council’s waste collection service. This would be a scathing attack on the council’s apparent neglect of run-down areas. But I suspect that litter isn’t very cool – it’s probably a bit suburban and small minded to worry about it – I’d probably get kicked out of the reverse-graffiti-artist gang tree hut (which is where I like to imagine they hang out – I really hope they do).

What are squirrels up to?

I’ve been thinking about squirrels a lot recently. Working in the middle of a park, as I do, my awareness of them is at an all-time high.

I see them everyday, doing that thing they do – fevered activity and then momentary motionlessness – like they’re playing musical statues but only they can hear the music.

At first I didn’t see it, but after a few days I started to get a strong sense that I was seeing the same squirrels in exactly the same locations as the previous day. The same key positions always occupied by the same little faces, avidly munching, if I’m not very much mistaken, the very same ‘nuts’ (perhaps not even nuts – I don’t claim to be an expert).

Just the occasional deviation, the odd change of stance might have thrown me off the scent – but I fear the squirrels have got a little sloppy.

I’ve just been out for a circuit now for my lunchbreak. I walked down the usual path and there they were insulting my intelligence with their pretence. As I walked on I spun around to try and see what they got up to once I passed. I’m not sure what I expected, maybe a couple of them lugging a big radio transmitter across the path, whilst the others did stretching and flexing exercises. Anyway – I’d underestimated them – they were there inscrutably nibbling.

Now I’m not sure….