Issue 380
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For, literally, two decades there's been a push for a Christmas market that pedastals local talent and, lo, here it blimmin' well is. Christmas in Cathedral Square opened in the grounds of Birmingham Cathedral yesterday and will run until December 19. Here's just a few of the 50 vendors vying for your hard-earned Brummie bills.
Great Western Arcade mixology crew The Pineapple Club are showing Brum what "real" hot chocolate is all about. Their creation is called Alpine Chocolate — a luxurious festive hot choc made using locally made, award-winning Chocolate Quarter good stuff, Alpine Botanical Liqueur and Five Farms Irish Cream Liqueur (£7.50). Vegan and non-alco hot chocs are also available, as is egg nog and Irish coffee. Website
The man behind the designs of Cathedral Square's temporary pub, The Pigeon in the Park, will be on hand, November 29 to December 5, selling A5 gift card versions of his signage. The packs of 5 contain 2 Pigeon in the Park cards and 3 Brum Colour Palette Xmas cards. £12 per pack, £3 goes to the Children’s Hospital. More
It's a read velvet and Oreo cake and it's about as Christmassy as cake can get. Solhull-based Blissful Batter will be rocking up with their Wonka-esque treats costing from £1.50 to £5. BB are also bringing Christmas treat boxes which will range from £15 to £35 and will make ideal gifts for the sweetheads in your world. Instagram
If the geese ever get on the same page, we're all dead. Artist, Robert Geoghegan, is bringing his sideways take on our city, like this glorious Cannon Hill pic that chimes effortlessly into our collective biggest fear. Another highlight of Robert's work is this joy-giving depiction of some of popular culture's most famous bears boarding a West Midlands bus, bound for Bearwood. Robert will be selling prints, fridge magnets and his £9.99 book. Website
Great Western Arcade stalwarts, Loki, are bringing the mulled wine, and you just know it'll be the best mulled in the city. They're also coming with Hattingley Valley English fizz brut and rosé by the glass. If grapes aren't your thing, Loki will also spend the period collaborating with Dr Eamers' gin as well and Carl Hawkins (AKA the Gintleman), who'll be sharing his festive gin tips and pouring the perfect slurps. Website
BEHOLD! Becki's Christmas Puds - two large, hand rolled brownie truffles with a Cadbury Pud in the middle, dipped in milk choco and decorated with white chocolate and edible holly. You can find Beki at the Market for the week commencing December 6, for the full week. Technically a mother and daughter duo, they're based in Warwickshire and went into national delivery at the point of lockdown. Prices from £2.50 to £4.50. Instagram
Andy Munro, the man behind the Birmingham Balti Bowl company has eaten more than 2500 Baltis since the 1980s, when he had his first. "I have at least one a week and the night before I'll have egg and chips to make sure I'm Balti sharp." Andy, with more than a little help from his daughter Lora, now makes and markets Birmingham Balti dishes forged right here, in Kings Norton. What a gift. They cost £26.99 and Andy also now makes these stunning tiffin lunchboxesWebsite
Zoe Millman is a Birmingham based designer and maker of jewellery and homewares, with her own, very specific style. As well as necklaces and earrings, Zoe will be bringing Christmas tree decos (above, £10 each) and these laaahvely stars, which are £15 a pop. Facebook
New work from the inimitable Brumhaus includes his Robin design which comes on aprons, totes, notepads and other stocking filler prezzies, as well as on A6 Christmas cards. Artist, Alex, has also just released a new print in a wintery colour palette.
Snapper, Paul, sells photographs of Birmingham and beyond, available with or without frames from £10 up to £80. This image was taken from the top of the Custard Factory during his film shoot for Channel 4's Random Acts. “The goal was to shoot 4 poets looking over Birmingham as the sun was setting. Just after we got the shot, I looked out over the city and thought I couldn’t waste an opportunity to take some images of Brum, in the beautiful sunset light.” More
B&B sell fused glass gifts and hand made greetings cards. They're two sisters with a shared love of designing and making beautiful little things inspired by their love of nature, dogs and books. This perfect little rainbow costs £15. Website
COOOHRR! A small business making hand-crafted items for the last 15 years, IG specialise in leather satchels, rucksacks and travel bags made from offcuts of leather from sofas, car seats, and the like. Take a look at the full collection here.
More vendors can be found here. The market runs in Cathedral Square (Pigeon Park) until December 19. 


It's Christmas tradition, isn't it? The Nutcracker, I mean. Along with heartburn, frighteningly early bubbly (those two are probably linked, in fairness) and debating the best Bond (Moore). This year, Birmingham Royal Ballet will be bringing an exclusive adaptation of Sir David Bintley’s Royal Albert Hall production to Birmingham Hippodrome, marking the first time this version has been performed outside of that there London. So it might be tradition but it won't be a carbon copy. No Sir. The breathtaking production places Tchaikovsky's glorious score centre stage, bringing the Royal Ballet Sinfonia out from the pit and onto a platform raised above the stage. As the show opens on a wintry soundscape, the Dickensian tones of Simon Callow as Drosselmeyer echo across the auditorium. Scenery designer Dick Bird's dizzying wall of mirrors reflects spectacular scenic elements that bring the 19th century to vivid life, such as Drosselmeyer's toyshop, the Stahlbaums' beautifully decorated Christmas tree, and the scary midnight world in which King Rat battles the Nutcracker doll and his band of toy soldiers – all enhanced by beautiful projections, conjured up by the award-winning 59 Productions. If it's not a tradition, find out why it is for so many. I mean just look at it! Tickets 


Last week I found myself admiring the first visual depiction of rhinoceros dung, in a painting hanging in the Barber Institute of Fine Art. It’s late 2021 and all bets are off. Unsurprisingly, it’s not the focus of the Barber’s new exhibition – merely a sideshow; apt given the sentiment of the works. The focus is on Miss Clara, the beloved Indian rhinoceros statue from the Barber’s collection, now leading lady in Miss Clara and the Celebrity Beast in Art, 1500-1860. Like a latter day Britney Spears, toured all over the place by her captors, Miss Clara was the first ‘celebrity’ rhino. But, like Britney, was she happy? Turns out, most likely not. The Barber has painstakingly sourced the many artistic representations of Clara based on her European tour, filling in the story of her life and bringing her celebrity into the critical gaze of our post-pandemic, progressive world. The art is undisputedly impressive, but alongside accounts of a fairly good life, you can see depictions of Clara with her horn missing, joined by other ‘new world’ animals who faced similarly sad lives and gruesome fates. With Mad Men specs on, it’s fascinating to see the advertising genius of such events, in a world where, now, nothing can really shock. Who knew you could sell a rhino as a ‘real unicorn’? The statues, drawings and paintings of these captivating large animals are considered in a wholly different light now —modern day zoos a-plenty, travelling menageries thankfully goners. The detail and observation in some of the works is fascinating, but what gripped me most? The melancholy. You’ll feel the bite of a sad, bitter feeling for the animals used to indulge intrigue, and an uncomfortable acknowledgement that without it, anthropological advances may not have been made. Go for the gaudy gold rhinoceros clock, leave with the social history lesson that suggests we may be better than our ancestors. Just. More (CH)
Venue: Hamaran 9JA, 461 Bearwood Rd, Smethwick B66 4DH; Website
Choice: Obe ata  Chooser: Honey 

Not for the first time this year, Bearwood has triumphed with a cuisine we have no experience to authenticate. If you’ve made the pilgrimage to A La Mexicana, your next stop should be round the corner at Nigerian restaurant, Hamaran 9JA (shorthand for Naija, but – pro-tip – all the cool kids call it Nige). You’d be forgiven for walking past the blink-and-you'll-miss-it venue and we were worried it was a Covid-casualty when we found the doors locked. Then, boom! Out pops charismatic owner and chef, Honey, who ushered us in, the doors sealed, apparently, ‘to keep the characters out’. The menu assumes you know the lingo and, after experiencing a panic-induced sweat that wasn’t the last of the night, Honey finally explained what turned out to be simple options: choose different meats or fish and vegetable sides in a one dish style order. Inspecting us with an eyebrow raise that Leonard Nimoy would have been proud of, Honey suggested turkey. We scoffed and raised her ‘goat’. This was now a game of chicken — incidentally not on the menu. Not convinced, she warned it’s meat on the bone — fine by us, we hit back — as we assured her we could turn up the heat and stomach ‘traditional’ options like the obe ata, a delicious pepper stew with a heat we'd not feel quite so comfortable with eating in Nigeria. In late November Bearwood, though, you’ll be fine. Tripe sounds like it’s going to be awful, doesn’t it? Like saying the word ‘moist’ in normal conversation. Honey spotted my gag as she translated the cuts of meat and, challenge accepted, she threw in some tripe (you can see it pictured, look). Fair play; her gamble paid off. Tripe’s alright. Especially smothered in that delicious obe ata. Speaking of which... The pounded yam – a squishy cloud-like cuddle for the mouth – is the perfect vessel for more obe ata. This time with spinach, goat and cow’s foot (unctuous and not at all gnarly), you can eat this one with your hands, apparently. Can you? We didn't. Anyway, what a meal! Hamaran is bang for your buck in one sitting: texture, flavour and heat that keeps you warm on the walk home. Washed down with a few bottles of Trophy lager, ours was a ridiculously good meal plus drinks for less than £40 for two, shuffling 9JA, surely, onto any Brum gastronome's hit list. (CH)


A million miles (but actually about one mile) from the German Market, one of the city's most utterly soothing Christmas spectacles will take place — Ex Cathedra’s Christmas Music by Candlelight concerts. On the nights just before Christmas, expectant audiences gather at our stunning Georgian church in St Paul’s Square, loaded with mince pies and flasks of mulled wine (for the interval only, you naughty bear) to take in a concert as warming as it can be (in all the right ways) haunting. Once audiences have taken their seats, the lights go out and, upon the darkness comes the luminous sound of Birmingham’s world-class choir, Ex Cathedra, lit only by the candles in the singers’ hands. The atmospheric evening (check out this video) includes a programme of music and readings that explore the wonder — and humour — of the season. The seamless sequence of pieces this year encompasses favourite carols, to toe-tapping music from the Latin American Baroque, the music of Nunes Garcia – a Black composer born in Rio de Janeiro in 1767 – and readings ranging from the 4th-century BCE Dhammapada to Julie Boden’s Card from the Coffee Republic. Modern favourites include two mesmeric pieces by Eriks Esenvalds, complete with six tuned wine glasses and a Tibetan bowl bell. The concert opens with a sequence that pays tribute to Sir Graham Vick, founder of Birmingham Opera Company, and Julie Boden – a Birmingham poet laureate — who both passed away this year. Head here and be sure to scroll down to your chosen date — there are five evening performances at St Paul’s, December 17 to 22 (7.30pm), with a family-friendly matinee on December 18 (4pm). Tickets £8 to £45. 


A melt of snowmen (actually collective noun) has broken out of police custody and scattered across town. It is your job to find all 12 and have them safely returned and detained at her majesty's pleasure. Oh okay, maybe they're not crooks, but the dozen daft smilers are dotted around in tribute to Raymond Briggs’ magical classic, The Snowman. It's a lovely little trail that kids'll adore and you can find them at Bullring & Grand Central, Corporation Street, the Mailbox, Centenary Square and House of Fraser where The Snowman will be in his very own fifth-floor Snow Village. Map
There are still tickets available for Bill Bailey at the Utilita on December 21 of this year. More  

Have you heard of the Brum Cup? The idea of Birmingham Museums, it's a celebration of everything we all love about Birmingham in an environmentally-friendly, reusable cup. Designed by local artist, Olive Burke, it features Birmingham's skyline and should be found in most stockings, frankly. £10  
The new exhibition by Rick Garland at Colley Ison Gallery blew my tiny little mind. Rick himself will be in the gallery on Saturday, November 27, but do pop in any time and see it. Wowsers. 
Eastside Projects' online winter art fair goes live today, and I'll be keeping my eye on whether this Britain's Tastiest Chicken piece is part of the flash sale. Love the way it's by 'unknown artist'. Check their online shop out for some gems.

The Rolling Mill will open its Jewellery Quarter doors November 26, and bookings are now live. The menus look ace. It's from the team behind the unbelievably good Hen & Chickens  

The new Brum-themed Christmas cards from Punks & Chancers are happy-bring-ers. They'll even hand write and send your cards in the post, "even if it's spectacularly rude" which sounds like a challenge. More

"Books are not missiles, you don’t aim them at anybody"

Raymond Briggs

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