Issue 298
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SIGNS OF THOSE TIMES

Tolkien's mentioned in three, and from tomorrow, James Watt will have two. The Birmingham Civic Society's blue plaques honour the babs and the buildings that have made Brum, and now we've mentioned them, you'll spend the whole day spotting. There's more than 100 in and around town, and those are just the official ones. We've been chatting with the Civic Society about the five legendary plaques every self-respecting Brummie will have heard of and five unsung names with yarns behind them that have pub quiz win written all over them. Not literally, don't write on the plaques, people. 


J.R.R. TOLKIEN  

Anyone can nominate a person for a Blue Plaque, but Tolkien is the only guy with his name on three in Brum, plus he's got at least one more "unofficial" plaque care of the Tolkien Society. Yep, unofficial plaques are a thing. Highfield Road, Duchess Place and Sarehole Mill are where to look — marking the area John and his disappointing first name lived, and a place that inspired him in the case of the Mill.


ALEXANDER PARKES

Parkesine (nitrocellulose) — or the first man-made plastic to you and me — was patented by Alexander Parkes in Brum in 1856. However much we all now avoid the single-use variety of the stuff, his invention also led to celluloid and the film industry, as well as many more worthy sort of plastic things. A plaque on the original Elkington Silver Electroplating Works on Newhall Street is where Parkes is remembered.


ALFRED BIRD

The chemist invented eggless custard powder because his wife was allergic to the traditional variety. Love it or loathe it, the stuff was created at Digbeth's own Custard Factory until around 1963. Blue Plaques are agreed on by committee consensus. Alfie B got the nod in 2011, 133 years after his death. The minimum wait is 20 years. That's a wait 15 years longer than if you want to start the process to make a person a saint. A serious business indeed.


EMMY BRIDGWATER

Nominated back in 2014 by the residents of Lee Crescent, before she was technically able to be considered for a plaque, the surrealist artist and poet is the most recent recipient. Around three plaques a year are erected, paid for by the subs of members of the Civic Society. After the design and wording have been approved, the aluminium discs are cast and painted by architectural metalworkers in Derbyshire (see top).


BERTHA RYLAND

Unveiled last year, this plaque gives serious props to a Suffragette who slashed a painting at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery as part of attempts to secure the vote for women. The Civic Society puts much thought into locations and tries to unveil plaques in significant places and at significant times. Apparently over the vandalism 100 years on, BMAG played host for Ryland's unveiling, which timed with the centenary of women receiving the vote at 30.


ROWLAND HILL

Keeping track of plaques is a tricksy business. Rowland Hill's was rescued from a building about to be demolished on Lionel Street. It will go back up when the new development is complete. Joseph Lucas' wasn't quite so lucky, disappearing during the flattening of a JQ factory. Others are hard to spot — a plaque marking where lawn tennis was invented and first played is on a private Edgbaston house on Ampton Road, not easily visible from the road. New balls, anyone?


NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN

Lord Mayor of Birmingham, MP for Ladywood and then Edgbaston, Chancellor of the Exchequer. Oh, and then war-time Prime Minister (unlike his Dad, Joseph, awkward). If Neville didn't have a plaque, we'd have some serious questions to ask. Edgbaston High School, near to where Neville lived, is where you're looking for this one, plaque-finders.


JOSEPH SAMPSON GAMGEE

The Rep is the only building in Brum with two plaques on it. Greedy. It's also where Joseph Sampson Gamgee lived. He invented the Gamgee Tissue — an infection preventing surgical dressing that is still the basis for dressings used today, and some say led Tolkien to name hobbit Sam Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings. The second plaque is for Rep-founder, Sir Barry Jackson.


JAMES WATT

Not content with one, the inventor and engineer nabs his second plaque tomorrow morning in the gatehouse of his former Handsworth home, Heathfield Hall. Marking the bicentenary of his death, the steam-engine developer and inventor of the world’s first commercial copying machine was also a big deal in Brum's Lunar Society, where he would have hung out with Matthew Boulton and Joseph Priestley, who both, somehow, did not make this top five.


BARBARA CARTLAND

Babs Cartland meets the qualifying criteria to receive a plaque next year, having died in May 2000. Born in Edgbaston, pink chiffon gown-loving Cartland was one of the most commercially successful authors of the 20th century and she's already got the go-ahead for a plaque in 2020. Controversialy, it could just be the same colour as that fave gown of hers and not the classic blue. Though rather better done than our designer's attempt at a mock-up, presumably.
Want to spot em' all? Here's an interactive map with the Civic Society's plaques listed. And here's a video with even more info about the process.

FROM COUCH TO COUCH


'Viva Stirch Vegas' as Elvis didn't even come close to singing. The rise and rise of the south Brum 'burb continues at full tilt with (BREAKING NEWS!!) a cocktail bar called Couch. And because we've got Deep Throat-level informants across the city (i.e. we know the people behind it) we can exclusively reveal how it'll look, when it opens in mid-October. The first spot from Birmingham drinksy royalty, Jacob Clarke (Speakeasy, Arch 13) and Katie Rouse (The Victoria, Crushed & Cubed), the pair have only gone and landed the Bar Manager of The Edgbaston, Tommy Matthews, to oversee their new baby. Expect a small but perfectly formed spot with great tasting concoctions at the very centre of its being. Each cocktail will be inspired by and named after some of the team's favourite songs, with the lyrics and the moods of the track influencing the finished sip. There are also e-magazine ruining rumours that there'll have negroni on tap. All Stirchley needs now is a decent yoga joint. Bet you a tenner it happens by Christmas. Follow Couch on Insta, Twitter or Facebook

STRONG WEEKENDER


Sliding into your life like a half-dressed Tom Cruise in Risky Business, the Birmingham Weekender hits the streets of Digbeth October 4 to 6. Think hip-hop, jazz and at least one Caribbean Drag Carnival (is there any other kind?). In a program of peculiar and provocative events, we're all-in on 1% (pictured), a 15-minute dynamic dance performance featuring two b-boys with colliding mental states at the Custard Factory. And then we're going for a quiet pint at the Old Crown that might not be quite so quiet. Potty.  

GET DUMPED


The International Festival of Dumplings is comin’ atcha like Cleopatra. Six Midlands-based street food folks are bringing the flavours from as far afield as Russia, Jamaica, Korea and setting up shop in dear old Digbeth. Challenging your concept of what a dumpling is and what it possibly could be(!!), get your savoury fix with traditional Polish pierogi or get on a pudding vibe with the sweet, fried variety from, yep, the US of A. You had us at chickpea, tamarind and whisky gol guppas. September 28, from £6.

FILM PICK:
AD ASTRA


Between this and his supercool turn in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, 2019 is turning out to be the year of Brad Pitt. Here he’s on more subdued form as an astronaut who barely breaks a sweat as he literally falls to Earth in the opening scene. Soon enough, he learns his dad, a fellow spaceman long thought dead, is alive and in orbit around Neptune – but what does he have to do with the mysterious energy pulses ruining everyone’s fun on Earth? Cerebral but with real emotional heft, this is a little like Apocalypse Now spliced with a book on emotional intelligence and fired into space, and is the first big Oscar contender to come down the Autumn pipe. At Cineworld at Resorts World. Get a VVIP card, with all this. Mention us at guest services before 8pm on Sept 30 to claim.

THE ATTRACTION OF REFRACTION


Rose-tinted glasses. That’s how we see our glory days and with good reason. Prism takes perceptions of the past to the stage, exploring how they take their toll on us. Robert Lindsay, the double Olivier Award-winner, is Jack Cardiff, the real-life Oscar-winning cinematographer of Hollywood classics such as The African Queen, Black Narcissus and War and Peace. Oh and Rambo: First Blood Part II, baby! Cardiff retires to a beige area of Buckinghamshire to write an autobiography about glitz, glamour and loving leading ladies, but soon gets trapped living in the past, rather than writing about it. Who can blame him? Written and directed by Terry Johnson (Mrs Henderson Presents), Prism requires tissues for tears and titters. Oct 3 to 12. Tickets (from £10)
Venue: LA-POP! 38 Islington Row Middleway, Edgbaston Village; Instagram
Choice: Milk, milk-choc and fruit sprinkles (£3.50) Chooser: Lisa

"This is the greatest day of my life," said my seven-year-old as she made short shrift of her first ever LA-POP! ice cream and began eyeing up mine. Back off, punk. Cards on the table, Delilah has more "greatest days" of her life than most of us have, you know, days, but this new ice cream parlour on Five Ways island really is a kid's dream. It's pretty good if you're approaching 40, too. A few doors down from Laghi's (where we went for post-ice cream pizza) the family-run owners of this little independent match their smile-making product pound-for-pound when it comes to cheeriness. I listened to front of house hero Lisa who, without missing a beat, told us that the milk ice cream, milk choco dip and fruit sprinkles was the way to go. Hang on, I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's the deal: there are eight ice cream flavours, from mint to mango. They're already on a stick, lollipop-style, and that stick is then plunged into one of the three warm chocolate dips. Before that layer completely hardens against the cooling creamy innards, you get to add three of over a dozen sprinkle options, from meringue to marshmallow. This is then finished with a drizzle of the aforementioned choc sauce, and if your three-year-old asks for strawberry enough times, the owner will somehow pull out an 'under-the-counter' strawb-choc-goo that she's been experimenting with. Willy Wonka ain't opening any time soon, but this little piece of Edgbaston Village will make your whole family beam from ear-to-ear. Pro tip: I polished off said three-year-old's already heavily slurped creation and the raspberry ice cream she chose was actually better than my milk choice. Daddy ain't raisin' no fool. 
 
Cirque Du Soleil? Good. Anything on ice? Good. Cirque Du Soleil on Ice? Really good. Tickets for Crystal go on sale here at 9am tomorrow (Friday).

The menu has been announced for Moseley's Peruvian newbie, Chakana. And, oh yeh, you can now book a table.
Fancy fighting through giant inflatables in order to fill your face with chocolate? St Mary’s Hospice’s Chocolate 5k Obstacle Course is yours to run on Sept 28 at Cofton Park. Complete in the prescribed order to avoid that stitch.
High ceilings, over-sized windows and lots of bricks is, funnily enough, what to expect from Brick House, the latest development at Port Loop. On sale this Saturday.
Pulperia, Aktar Islam's new Argentine restaurant, has a confirmed home — the former site of CAU on Brindleyplace is where you'll be heading from November. More
The Zen Zone is back and looking beauts over at Resorts World. Get a look at the new setup with a meditation class on September 29. It's free but numbers are super limited so book here.
Caneat's taking over the kitchen at Cork and Cage on Friday and Saturday for a bit of Pasta La Vista, Baby! (actual title). From 6pm until 9pm. More


"My heroines are always virgins. They never go to bed without a ring on their fingers; not until page 118 at least."


Barbara Cartland



 
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WORDS: Katy Drohan, Tom Cullen, Robb Sheppard, Andrew Lowry
PICTURES: IDM Media — plaque manufacturing; Jamie Justham — blue plaques;


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