(Issue 161)
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I Choose Birmingham is having its hair cut. Not all of us at once, that would be odd, but the guy writing this. Our hairdresser is asking what we've done today and we tell him we've been inside New Street Signal Box. He has no idea what that is. We show him the above picture and he immediately recognises it. "Oh that place, by the red cage. What the hell do they do in there?" Well, it's an interesting story actually.
Built in 1965 it's Grade II listed meaning theoretically it doesn't need to fear Birmingham's most demolition-happy of wrecking balls, although anti-Brutalists would like to see it razed. Inside they control the movement of trains spanning the city from Wolverhampton to Coventry. Pivotally, they dictate the comings and goings of locomotives at New Street Station. "Did you see the BBC's programme about the infrastructure of New York?" asks John Korbes, Local Operations Manager. "Grand Central Terminal handles 1,100 trains a day. So do we. But we only have 12 platforms to do it on." Let the record show that Grand Central Terminal has 44.
Listed inside and out even the floor tiles can't be touched. And when the team are moved to a significantly more modern set-up in Saltley, in four years, the building will be decommissioned. "Maybe it'll be turned into luxury apartments," says John with a wry chuckle. "Maybe a museum." One entire floor is just a sea of "Westpacks", 60s made technology that control a signal, or a set of points, or a route. It's full of thousands of clicking, whirring parts and switches. It's a steampunk's dream.  
The level is kept at a constant temperature so that humidity doesn't effect the ageing technology. "It still does the job," says John. "If something breaks, though, it's a very specialist job to get it repaired. Costly. When they closed Wolverhampton signal box we pilfered all the parts for here. There's no diagnostics, you see. If something goes wrong, we can't just plug a laptop in to tell us what. We've got to search."
Mission Control, which is absolutely not the correct name for it, sits at the top of the building. If you assumed the roofed section was some sort of vantage point, like a locomotive 'air traffic control', you'd be as wrong as us. Those controlling one of the UK's busiest signalling regions do so looking at a 20 metre display of flashing lights and moving numbers. It's mind-boggling in both its complexity and simpleness. The mugs across the top represent retirements. When you work your last day, you leave your favourite mug behind. It's been 50 years. There's a lot of mugs. 
The green digital numbers are trains and the white lights are clear routes on which they're headed. The red lights show routes that aren't clear. Amazingly the team — under a close, watchful eye — allow us to pull and press the buttons that control all movement in one sector. This is boyhood bucket list stuff. Before we go we ask what the big sign that simply says "26 years" means. It's updated annually and is a constant reminder to the one Liverpool fan of how long it's been since his team won English football's top flight. He has to stare at it all day, every day. We can still hear them all chuckling about it as we leave. More pics


Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks are two of the most unfussy and reliable professionals working in the film industry today – so it’s a logical choice for them to team up to make a movie eulogising unfussy and reliable professionalism. A dramatisation of the 2009 ‘Miracle on the Hudson,’ when the pilot of the title managed to land his airliner in the river following an emergency, it might spend a little too much time laying into the pencil pushers behind desks as Sully goes through endless hearings on whether he was at fault. But there’s a lack of pretension as it pays tribute to a decent man’s extraordinary skill, making this the perfect film to see with your dad. Times & trailer


It's December 1, so you'll be opening a little window of discovery today. Unless you haven't got an advent calendar, which will make the next 23 days significantly less cheer-filled than if you did. And no one wants that. Maximise the happy with The Chocolate Quarter's advent range — from £36, there's a train, a tower, or a classic Victorian scene, all filled with the mother-son team's handmade chocolatey wonderfulness. And when we say handmade, they come up with each flavour combo, make the ganache and design the shape and finish. A trip to the JQ store is fully recommended, though their online shop will do the job. Be sure to get a Monkey Shoulder chocolate in your life either way.
Venue: Otto, 14 Caroline Street, B3 1TR; website
Choice: 'Nduja, mozzarella and tomato (£8.50) Chooser: Chef

If you own property within 500 metres of Otto, congratulations, the value of your apartment just went up. Precisely the spot you want to call your local, this wood-fired wonderment is all about the simple things done exceptionally. There are six regular pizzas on the menu, and for pudding there's ice-cream — flawless, pistachio filled ice-cream. The use of toppings is masterfully curated — think Wenlock Edge Farm meats and Yester Farm mozzarella — and never at the expense of the main event, a dough that's been mixed and squeezed and kneaded and stretched over hours. Blasted at 500 degrees for 90 seconds, the first bite of our 'Nduja ladened pizza was the mouthful for which we've been searching. With an optimum topping to base ratio, there wasn't a soggy bottom in sight. Rather, there were giving mouthfuls that we greedily crammed in whilst recounting all the people that Otto is going to bring pizza-shaped joy to, in what will be a deservedly long and rudely healthy life. Menu


If wine and beer were people you can bet wine would sneer at beer. The Dark Horse Moseley are giving beer a chance to punch wine in its stupid tannins as the two go head-to-head, for one night only, December 13. Firestone Walker Brewing Company will be bringing their pale ales and barrel-aged beers from California while the wine overlords of Cheval Blanc will be supplying the West Coast grape. There's five courses too (£45). 

BIG IN 2017

The most Custard Factory store to ever open in the Custard Factory has opened in the Custard Factory and if arty prints of Mantarays made from Adidas trainers are your bag, then your niche wants are fully fulfilled (£75). Confused? You will be. Family Fury sells prints of giant beetles, grenades Spongebob Squarepants and assault rifles. Also, shoes. Look


Only yesterday we were saying why hasn't anybody taken the most retro video games of yesteryear and placed moments from said games on digitised backdrops of Brum? And lo, artist Olive Quarter has done just that. Pick of the selection is Mortal Kombat's Scorpion hurling his trademark roped spear into Sub Zero's gullet as our now deceased Central Library provides the morbid arena. Those who haven't got the foggiest what we're on about will have unsubscribed by now while everyone else need simply muster 75p and get on over to Best Of Brum in the Great Western Arcade, where thems for sale. On other postcards, sprites from Streets Of Rage and Metal Slug do battle in front the Council House, Suffolk Street Queensway and the New Street Signal Box, famously made famous by I Choose Birmingham, issue 161.
  • The Savoy Hotel's American Bar is coming to The Edgbaston tonight from 7pm. No reservation required — just turn up and pick from a selection of drinks from the team's menu
  • We can't remember leaving last year's edition of Pilgrimage but we do know it was really, really good. Be like us in some ways and make the trip this Friday. Tickets are £8
  • Brand Brum's photography exhibition continues until December 16 upstairs at Urban's Church Street emporium. It includes 54 photographers all tasked with capturing the essence of Brum
  • Join Gorilla Coffee Cafe's inaugural Sunday cycle, departing at 8.30am from the team's new Kings Heath cafe and bike shop, which opens tomorrow (Friday)
  • Kinome Japonica is popping up at the Quarter Horse on 2, 3, 16 & 17 December. Japanese food done very, very right
"Get over here!" - ScorpionMortal Kombat
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WORDS: Katy Drohan, Andrew LowryTom Cullen
IMAGE: Tom Bird (New Street Signal Box)

I Choose Birmingham, Unit 317, Zellig, Gibb Street, Birmingham, B9 4AA
Copyright © 2016 Birmingham Publishing Group Ltd, All rights reserved.

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