5 days, 5 races

Next week I go back into full on running mode after a few weeks of post-marathon laziness. Yes it’s the 2008 Tour of Bournville, organised by the club I run for, Bournville Harriers. The simple idea is to run a race every day from Monday to Friday with all the race times added together to find the winner.

tour of bournville t-shirt

The five-year-old interrupts a session on the Cbeebies website to model the 2008 tour t-shirt

At last year’s event I could only do four out of the five races but this year, despite not really being fully fit for it I plan to do all five. I also plan to blog about each one on the evening they happen so if this ain’t your thing then switch off now. Here’s this year’s race schedule in full:

  • Monday: 10k Multi-terrain around Bournville
  • Tuesday: 7 mile hill race starting near here
  • Wednesday: 5 miles along the canal from Kings Norton to Selly Oak (and back I think)
  • Thursday: 4 miles cross country at Manor Farm Park
  • Friday: 5k race around Bournville.

Phew! More next week as the races get underway….

Plot update – May 2008

Thought I’d do an update of how we’re getting with our allotment patch.

We’ve now had our patch since January and so far kinda so good. I wish I had some before pics but generally the front half of it wasn’t in too bad a condition so the comparison wouldn’t be that stark. The compost area was very overgrown and we’ve now tackled one half of that area and in doing so have created a nice, rich mound for what we hope will be a pumpkin patch (currently propagating a few indoors). We’ve had to dig out a ton of evil bindweed though:


We’ve got two and a half rows of early potatoes (about which I fret constantly) that can’t be far off digging up. Once they do a significant amount of flowering I’ll dig a few up and report back. There’s certainly plenty of plant to them:


The slugs are a constant battle with anything tender and our cauliflower have really suffered. We went out today to find every one of them chomped to bits. A few might survive but although the slugs have won this round, we’ll fight back with a multi-trap approach (more to come on this).


Other stuff on the plot includes garlic (dead on its feet – planted too late), rhubarb (tons of it, despite extensive digging out), peas (doing well), runner beans (most doing fine), onions (growing nicely), carrots (we’re expected some stunted funny shaped ones to emerge), parsnips (still not emerged), lettuce (not emerged but might divert the slugs from the cauliflowers).


The back of the plot is covered in fruit bushes but is incredibly overgrown. I’ll report separately on this as we begin it tackle it. Without any intervention from us though it should produce all sorts of goodies. Actually fighting our way though to the goodies will be the issue. In the meantime we’re focusing in the slug-ridden front part.

How to dig up spuds

Am loving this site. Videos on how to sort my allotment out. My early potatoes keep me awake at night. Do I need to earth up again? Are any spuds actually growing? Is it all plant and no spud? None of the videos on this site stop me worrying but at least I’ll know how to dig things out of the ground when the time comes (late June probably):

How To Harvest New Potatoes

It’s a ship

I walked through the Bull Ring this morning and was disheartened to find out that BiNS wasn’t kidding when he said that this year it’s Ships rather than Beaches in Birmingham. Here’s a first glimpse of the bow:

The Bull Ring site now has some details on it. There’s going to be a Mr. Sexy Legs competition apparently. All I can say is that my kids loved all those beaches in town last year. Wherever they turned there seemed to be another one. Somehow I suspect a cruise ship will hold less appeal. It could be interesting though if there’s more copycatting and it becomes a flotilla.

Update: The beach is back! Hat tip to BiNS yet again. Kids are delighted.

Support your local music enterprise…

Musing on the Surface Unsigned thang on the Birmingham Post blog from which this is reproduced:

Today was an at-desk day. Actually quite a lot of days are kinda that way but generally I’ve got something in the diary that gets me out the building for a bit. Today though I had a proposal I was supposed to start last week, but didn’t, that had to be done by 5pm today, which it was. 

In between constructing paragraphs about why the Delphi method rocks in research terms I was struck by the unfolding drama in my RSS reader. In fact I now realise how differently I use the internet from 12 months ago when I would probably have completely missed the row over whether or not Surface Unsigned are screwing unsigned bands and acting like dunderheads over the use of Cease and Desist notices.

It was fascinating to watch the Birmingham blogging community come together to support what it still the city’s key resource for knowing what’s happening and who’s who in the creative and cultural industries. I’d presumed that they were fighting some corporate numbskulls who go out of their way to track down the mildest of criticism.  So, delighted to be distracted from proposal writing, I used the power of Companies House to track down the mighty Surface Unsigned Ltd. 

To my surprise it turns out they’re a small start-up from Walsall incorporated in February 2007. If you pay a pound you can get their last company report (and accounts if they’d filed any but they aren’t due until later this year) which will tell you that there are two company directors. One of them, Jon James (Jay) Mitchell also runs JJM Studios from the same address as Unsigned (and has the Unsigned link on its front page to confirm the connection). Andy Mabbett digs a little deeper and finds that Jay does some guitar tuition as well. Andy used whois rather than Companies House to find the details.

So it turns out he’s a local music industry entrepreneur. The pay to play concept he’s pushing may seem a little dodgy (although Dubber notes when pay to play can work and in the comments Gigdoggy points out that competitions as such usually always come with entry fees: “People pay to enter competitions, and in this case, its simply the fans who pay”) but I wonder if this is just a case of a local businessman trying new models for making money in the music industry and then acting all corporate when someone has the gall to diss their new product. Trouble is he chose to target a blog that’s way more than a blog to most of us.

This might have any number of outcomes and probably has a bit to run. Jay could come out of the woodwork and make a response but we might get another Dubber vs the BPI post which makes for great reading but even worse PR than Unsigned is already getting. What I find quietly amusing though is that what Unsigned have done is made themselves look and feel a damn sight bigger than they already are. A small company from Walsall is more than able to look like the big boys and, as it turns out, act as clumsily as them. Oh and my bet is all these email addresses on their contacts page go to the same person – Jay’s got a very full inbox…

Rubbish CD scarecrow complete

Now that green things are beginning to come out of the ground on the allotment I thought I’d finish off the CD scarecrow. After much mulling over complex rotating mechanisms I settled for a cross shape with CDs dangling off it. Hardly innovative but it’ll do the job. Hung some CDs from the bean frame as well. Bottom pic shows the whole effect. Show this pic to your budgie – I bet it’d be terrified.

Travis is strung into position

S Club with CDs on frame in background

The full effect

Those relegation pics they didn’t print

Hat tip to BINS for this one. As a Birmingham City fan it was a truly depressing end of season and the papers were full of stories about angry, abusive fans. Nice then to see a set of pics from a Tawianese tourist who clearly had a great time at the Blackburn match and who seemed ecstatic that he and his friends could get on to the pitch at the end of the game. No angry mob here just people enjoying the chance to have a run around.



Pics by 511823

Birmingham and its Big City plans

As well as a slightly nerdy interest in trains, as you can see from my previous posts, I’m also moderately interested in city planning, particularly as I’ve lived 37 of my 39 years in a place, Birmingham, that’s ties itself up in knots about planning. Given that it’s 20 years since the Highbury summit thing that represented the last big shake-up of the city it had been my intention to write about the new Big Cty Plan for Birmingham at Strategy Digested.

As ever I never got round to it but I was reminded by a ‘your books are overdue’ message from the library that as part of my research I went and found previous plans or vision statements for Birmingham to act a comparison. My angle was to compare new with old and before I have to give them back to the library I thought I’d offer a glimpse here:

1952. This plan was all about rebuilding Brum after the war: Birmingham is still a bomb site with slums all over the place therefore we need new houses, more schools, more open spaces but also, given the increasing popularity of the motorcar – a great big inner ring road.  

1973. I couldn’t actually find the ‘New Plan for the City’ that this was reffering to but this is a record of a public meeting at which the plan was discussed. It has illuminating quotes in it from concerned citizens:

“A few months ago there was an advertisement in the National Press… to attract people to Birmingham and the central figure in this was a drawing of someone conducting an orchestra and it was pointed out that Birmingham had a large range of recreational and entertainment facilities to offer people. I am sure it will help in stopping the decline in population, it will help in attracting people to the City and ultimately in an increase in the rates.
Mr King-Farlow, Edgbaston


1980. This is the best of the documents in giving a rounded view of what the central area is like and what city planners of the time valued about it. Plenty of stuff on conservation areas and the insensitivity of previous planners. Its big message: maybe that Inner Ring Road was a mistake after all.

“The desire to maintain free flowing traffic routes must produce areas which are not safe for pedestrians and even cyclists…. It also results in high noise levels and atmospheric pollution… [and] produce drab, inhuman areas”




2008. It’s all about the big ideas to take us forward through the next masterplanning stage. I haven’t yet taken on board what the plans are this time round but it’s worth a read of Stef Lewandowski’s blogging on the subject and the video is certainly fresh and glossy:


Come run with us in Digbeth

The blurb for this blog says Creative Industries, Gardening and Running so here’s the first posting in the latter category and a call for any runners in and around Digbeth to come join a group run.


Last summer a small group of us who work for Birmingham City University in Bromley street near the Custard Factory started an after-work running group along the canals around Digbeth. Well this year we’re venturing out again for a regular run each Thursday at 4.30pm (starting on the 15th May) for about 30-40 minutes. If you work in the area then this is open invite to you to come along. We’ve got a small group of men and women with a wide range of abilities and all we do is go up the canal through Bordesely Green and turn back about 15 minutes in.

So it you fancy it just turn up here next Thursday and then every Thursday at 4.30pm:

View Larger Map

We’re not training for anything in particular but hey, how about the Birmingham Half Marathon in October for a target.

The Custard Factory – a lesson in avoiding gentrification

This is pulled in from the Birmingham Post for which I write occasionally. I won’t cross-post like this in future as the sidebar shows updates from other sites I write for but as this references a post here I’d thought I’d make an exception: 

I wrote an entry on my own blog last week that’s been niggling away at me ever since. Catching up on the many pictures of the train derailment in Digbeth in March I mused over how the hole in the wall created by the goods wagon would be the right place for an entrance to a Custard Factory train station. I was writing with tongue slightly in cheek, particularly when pointing out how that same train line may one day have a direct connection to the boho enclaves of Moseley and Kings Heath.

However, it does make some sense and there is precedent here as the Jewellery Quarter station has only been there since 1995 and was built not on the site of a previous disused station but was created specifically to serve that creative quarter. The same could happen at Custard Factory. Imagine a direct connection from CF to JQ – a truly well connected, joined up Brum. It might even open up the Custard Factory to more visitors and before long we’d have more than two cafés and the newspaper shop would open before 9am and have some ice-creams in its freezer. In essence we might get what we don’t want (and it’s a leap but bear with me) – a long slow slide towards gentrification.

I’ve worked around the Custard Factory for over two years now and sometimes it drives me bonkers. The speed at which the clampers work in the only available carpark, the limited choice of food outlets, the impossibility of finding anywhere for a fry-up first thing in the morning, the lack of general public footfall throughout the day (how do those quirky independent shops survive?). Okay so it’s a giant leap from proposing a train station, to a Custard Factory full of Costa Coffees and Starbucks but might opening it up and making it easier to get to result in the one thing that would kill it off? Despite years of discussion over Eastside and what it might become, actually working around the Custard Factory feels like you’re part of a well-kept secret.

Shifting an area from light manufacturing to creative industries, as has happened over the last 15-20 years is part of the process of gentrification itself but there’s still a significant industrial/creative mix around the area and what’s particularly interesting is that where the creatives have gone, retail hasn’t really followed. During the day there is virtually no visitor economy – at 3pm on a weekday afternoon the place is semi-deserted.

I’m not sure we agonise as much about gentrification here as they do in London. There are certainly some voices out there but the discussion seems unfocused. The Custard Factory feels like a place that is incomplete, like someone started to gentrify it and then gave up, realising it was just too far from the centre of Brum for most people to bother with it. That’s what I quite like about it at the moment and despite the train nerd in me thinking otherwise, maybe better public transport is the last thing it needs.