Issue 374
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I'm standing in what feels like a set from the movie Alien, although I don't think they had Brewdog onboard the Nostromo. Rumbles of noise from deep inside the building are punctuated by bursts of theatrical smoke. One woman walks into the lobby, straight up to the nearest member of staff and asks, right off the bat "is it scary?" I couldn't hear the answer.

That feeling before you go on a rollercoaster, you know the one. I've got that, but it's significantly worse because I can't see what I'm letting myself in for. My two brothers, my ill-picked teammates, sense my unease and do that brotherly love thing of making the whole situation considerably worse. Playing up to my fears. Tinkering. God bless brothers.
The rules dictate you can't enter In A Box 3 drunk, so I'm cradling my one, illuminous blue cocktail. In A Box 3, that's what this new Digbeth experience is called. There is no In A Box 1 or In A Box 2 which simply adds to the madcap unease. This is virtual reality meets escape room and judging by the looks on the faces of those who have completed the experience, it's unlike anything you'll have done before. "Wow" seems to be the most commonly uttered word as guests emerge from the virtual world to the real.

We're called through into a briefing room where backpacks are lifted on to us and headsets placed over the eyes. It's not heavy, which is for the best as the whole experience can last an hour — but it will feel like about half that. The rules are pretty clear. No running being the main one. "Whatever happens," says our host. "Don't run". Easy for him to say.
The premise is about as bananas as you'd expect given the preamble. This game is called Chernobyl: Hidden Depths, and, incredibly, is written by Hollywood screenwriter, Jeremy Drysdale (Line of Duty, The Game). It’s set at Chernobyl Reactor 4, the bad one, where unknown to the general public, a covert black ops corporation has been running secret experiments on soldiers, in partnership with the Russian government, using the very radiation that caused the plant to explode. The naughty tikes.

That's where you come in. You and your team must rely on your wits and intelligence to solve the challenges through a series of puzzles, which will facilitate your escape before either the mutated soldiers, or the radiation gets you. What does that mean in real terms? You will physically walk around a warehouse and, as you find your way, you will be navigating through a virtual world. If there's a wall in the real world there will be a wall in the virtual. But your virtual world is filled with other objects, areas and tasks too.
I won't go into major detail — the ins and outs of the experience need to remain spoiler free — but what I will say is that this technology is, no doubt in my mind, the future of gaming. At times In A Box 3 is spellbinding in its ability to carve an entirely new world, wherever you look something is happening. You might be fixing a burst gas pipe as your challenge, while mutated soldiers try and force their way into your stronghold of a room. A cigarette will be burning slowly in the corner, the moments of small detail adding to the atmosphere. The believability.

But what really sets this aside from other VR experiences in the multi-sensory element. You will feel heat and cold. You will smell burning and experience the drumming of rain and the vibrations in the ground below you. This technology, the scent tech in particular, is a UK first and it's no gimmick. This is the real deal.

Is it terrifying? No. Thankfully not. It's only as scary as your mind will let it be and the makers have, I suspect, only touched the sides of how intense the experience can go. There was endless laughter (pick your teammates wisely) as we ballsed up but eventually succeeded in room after room.
The technology isn't perfect, nor could it be. Not yet. Picking items up can prove tricky but if you take your time on doing that you'll get used to it. But the quibbles are few and far between and the balance between theatre and fun is achieved almost perfectly. At times it's dumbfoundingly clever with, seemingly, no barriers going forward as to what they might achieve. They are already on version five of this game, improving it week on week. New games mean you can revisit over and over, but if you play the same game twice, I suspect, you will spot no end of details you missed first time round. The entertainment is layered.

There's a moment towards the end, you'll it know it because it'll be raining and you'll feel the cold and the wind (I mean, how incredible is that?). Take a few seconds as the chaos continues around you, your teammates busying away to get you out of there. Pause and look down. Take in exactly what you see below, looking right back up at you. I'm getting chills just thinking about it.
Get a whopping 30% off your booking with the promo code LAUNCH30. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram


Is it just me or is that wine missing her mouth? Regardless, when the brilliant (and I do mean brilliant) wine bar, Vagabond, launches its first venue outside London, on Colmore Row, later this month, they are offering you (*Lord Kitchener pointed finger*) a free glass of their homegrown and very delicious wine. All you have to do is subscribe to their mailing list here. Once done you'll receive a confirmation email to say you're subscribed and, between now and the date they open, you'll receive another email containing your free wine voucher. The multi-MULTI-award-winning bar will be serving the Midlands its signature style of self-serve wine with (count them) over one hundred wines available by the glass. The 200 capacity bar will offer guests a selection of wines from around the world — their stuff from Chile is outstanding, by the way – as well as a choice of 10 self-poured draught beers, spirits, a cocktail menu and nibbles – including Vagabond’s own English Wines that are made in its Urban Winery in Saaaf London. All wines are available via self-dispensing wine machines, which can be controlled via an app on guests’ phones. Sign me up for free wine!

T&C: Voucher is valid from Nov 1 to Nov 30 at Vagabond Birmingham. It entitles you to a 125ml glass of Vagabond House Rioja or Sauvignon Blanc, or a glass of Vagabond Urban Winery wine


Local producers Tan Rosie have joined the steadily growing but perfectly curated list of food makers at tomorrow's Edgbaston Village Artisan Market. Marking Greenfield Crescent's first Friday event (10am to 3pm), mother-daughter Grenadians, Monica and Lee, will be coming in strong with their handmade rubs, sauces and marinades the pick of which (I've been hooked on this stuff since attending one of their supper clubs in 2013) is the Great Taste award-winning garlic and pepper hot sauce. Also on hand to fill your condiments cupboard is Myrtle's Kitchen who will be bringing their own Great Taste gong-bagging Christmas Chutney as well as their Seville orange and whisky marmalade. Wyre Forest foragers, gin makers and sustainability enthusiasts Wildjac are on all things juniper (plus vodka and rum) while Rustic Puglia is the sort of olive oil "Big Shopping" doesn't want you to know about. Edgbaston Village has managed to reinvent the local market and, if you're feeling organised, they could seriously assist your Christmas shopping early doors. And if you're not organised, just grab some hot choc from the Cosy Chocolate Company. Last sip I had of that I nearly grinned myself into a fine powder. Details


If finding something to do is on your to do list for this weekend (or next weekend) consider that done. Tick. Fame Game is a one of a kind, immersive experience that'll have you pounding the streets of our city, solving puzzles, cracking codes and busting cases wide open. Unlike those pen pushers down at City Hall. The entire experience is app-based with clues and videos appearing on your phone which require your sleuthing. Once complete you'll be guided, physically, to another part of town for the next challenge. The whole thing plays out against the backdrop of an X-Factor style competition gone wrong. Actors will appear along the way (on your phone, not in-person) and the plot will thicken as you complete tasks. The game is played in teams of two to five people as you navigate some of Brum's key landmarks. This will appeal to lovers of escape rooms and fans of Birmingham. Tickets are available across the weekend of October 9 and 10, and October 16 and 17 October. Children under 12 go free (Under 16s must be accompanied by an adult) and tickets are available from £45-£60. ICB readers get 10% off tickets with the promo code FAMEBIRMINGHAM.  More
Venue: The Stable Yard Café at Aston Hall, Trinity Road, B6 6JD; Website 
Choice: Lady Holte’s Garden Afternoon Tea (£19.95) Chooser: Clare 

Brunch? It’s a has been. Brinner? It’ll never be a thing. Afternoon Tea, on the other hand, is coming back in a big, big way. Not convinced? Just ask any of the people who walked past the Stable Yard Café and let out an audible “Ooooh” when they saw the selection in front of me. Named after the former Lady of Aston Hall and standing 3 stories tall, the Garden Afternoon Tea has been cooked up by the Sous Chef from BMAG’s Edwardian Tearooms and is as locally sourced as you’d expect when we can’t even import [redacted political polemic]. It’s not just a looker, though. The smoked chicken and chive sandwich resulted in a real-life chef's kiss and a realisation that this is what chicken can taste like. As for the chunky brie and tomato chutney sanger? It's going up the list of lined-up luncheons. Meal deal sandwiches, these ain’t. A treat for the hardcore chocolate lovers out there, the flowerpot chocolate ganache, whilst undeniably delicious, was as rich as the 1%. On the other hand, the chocolate brownie soil was much more down-to-earth with a texture that left me lost for words; “soil” sums it up so perfectly, but also seems to sell it short. Taking me completely by surprise though, was the Carrot Cake. It may be on the middle board, but it’s truly top tier.

It’s too good an opportunity to miss out on having a look around Aston Hall while you’re there. One of the last great houses built in the Jacobean style, Aston Hall’s got character in abundance. From the elephant and squirrel monograms that denote the date of development, to the staircase that still has cannonball holes in it from the English Civil War, it’s a great way to let your tea go down. High on the look-see list is King Charles’ bedroom, the Long Hall and Dick’s Garrett; the loft room where some poor serf took his own life after getting caught stealing bread and fearing the consequences once his master returned. Needless to say, the place is totally haunted. 
Menu (Words: RB)


Brum's Black History Month is well underway and across the city there's events dedicated not only to championing Brum's diversity and heritage, but also reflecting on the continued impact Covid-19 has had on BAME communities. The schedule features inspiring speakers with stories raising awareness of the challenges and perceptions that have restricted access to opportunities, progress and participation in our society. At Birmingham Contemporary Art Gallery artist Sumaya Ali will present Your Hair is Good Hair until November 3. The free exhibition of portraiture photos was conceived from the artist’s journey towards accepting and celebrating the natural curl pattern and texture of her hair, while also challenging the media’s projection of a singular hair aesthetic. Behind the pictures is a wealth of history that connects hair to race. From the Tignon Laws in Louisiana, in the 1700s, to apartheid South Africa’s ‘pencil-test’, discriminatory constructs around afro textured hair have for centuries created a ripple effect that still exists. Ali integrates each portrait with a personal narrative from her subjects, a gesture of agency in order to counter hair conformity and celebrate the beauty of diversity. More


It’s an exciting moment for any comedy anorak when you see a talent so explosive that you’re certain you’ve stumbled upon the next big thing. At the risk of self-indulgence, I have a good eye for talent, having had the good fortune to witness this first-hand when seeing Peter Kay live before he was famous in 1997, telling anyone who would listen that the boy from Bolton was the future. The same goes with Romesh Ranganathan, Sara Pascoe, Nick Helm and more. Their talent was striking – the rest of the world just had to catch up. This phenomenon struck again on lockdown when a comedian pal recommended a young, relatively unknown upstart from the Midlands called Josh Pugh. We at Always Be Comedy booked him and it was the start of a beautiful relationship. Pugh has the lot. Innately likeable, unassuming and oozing natural charm, he instantly has the crowd on side. His writing is whip-sharp, with sets teeming with gags. And, finally, his delivery is masterful. Pugh brings to mind Harry Hill, Kevin Bridges and Lee Mack, and if that Holy Trinity isn’t enough to have you flocking, then I don’t know what you’re after. He plays Cherry Reds with a host of others on Oct 10 and, incredibly, it's free. More (Words: JG)
Stirchley's Birmingham Brewing Co launch their new Thursday night quizzes, tonight, while Keith from Ricky Gervais's The Office is hosting an in-person, one-off Office quiz at The Old Crown, Digbeth, October 14.

Did somebody say Unlimited Halloween Dumplings? Yeah, it was Hong Kong pop-up stars Blow Water who will be at The Juke, Kings Heath, on actual Halloween. More

In other pop-up news Grill Brazil will be at Sutton Coldfield's Leviathan Brewery this Saturday (Oct 9) while chickenheads What The Cluck will appear at Bournville's Rowheath Pavilion tomorrow (Oct 8). 
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group will perform a late night concert of music inspired by the stars but in the warmth of Birmingham Symphony Hall's new Jennifer Blackwell Performance Space (12 November). £16
Plymouth is the best gin and that's a hill I'll gladly fight and die upon. The JQ's Grain & Glass have a Plymouth tasting on October 14 that'll set you back just £15. In fact they have a load of interesting events coming up, and here's a natty little round-up.  

A new exhibition and book launch takes place tonight at Artefact in Stirchley. It's free for all to enter and runs until November 6. Back To The Future is about a mad scientist and a young kid's journey through time. Nah just kidding, it looks at modernism and architecture in Brum, featuring essays and artwork from over 30 people.

High end kitchens doing junk food is my Graceland. Join The Wilderness after hours (circa 11pm) for six to eight servings of world class produce married with late night naughty sustenance. No menu, no rules. Oct 16, Nov 6 and Nov 20 (£75 pp). More
WORDS: Tom Cullen, Robb Sheppard, James Gill

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Se7en (1995)

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