Look, I'm not using the word 'humanitarian', but I did spend the entirety of lockdown selflessly ordering takeaways to keep restaurants in business, putting my own health at risk without a second thought.
Actually. Scrap that intro. I'm trying to make a pretty painful conversation more palatable by making light of it, but I absolutely place myself in the category of the 25% of people who are reporting increased anxiety and in the 38% who say they lack energy since (*gesturing wildly*) ALL THIS began. My pre-pandemic exercise was entirely group-based and entirely indoors, so remains completely off the cards. I went on one cold jog in November, was bored, unmotivated by it and, mentally, I just wanted to run as far away as possible from how unfit I'd become. But, the lovely people at Run Of A Kind blackmailed me into a 5km guided run around Digbeth's street art. That's what they do. They do guided jogs around Birmingham from 5km to 11km. Here's what I learnt about me and what I learnt about art.
WHAT I LEARNT ABOUT ME:Why am I the only one in shorts? Why do I look like the kid who forgot his PE kit and had to raid lost property? Why is this warm up going on so long? Nobody mentioned a warm up. Everyone is very smily, though — a classic cross-section of Brummie society. Ages, races and gender. Well, six women and two men — I'm one of the guys and the other is the photographer. I wish there were more middle aged men with bellies here. The photographer hasn't got a belly. Stupid, sexy photographer. Bloody hell it's cold. Shorts were a bad choice.
WHAT I LEARNT ABOUT ART: The first stop comes moments after embarking on the run. It's at a lock-keepers cottage and, frankly, I've seen prettier cottages. Not even Brum's chief historian Carl Chinn can shed much light on it, we're told by Lucy Canham, our run guide, but it's the last of a long row of Victorian houses. The artwork is by Brum's Lucy McLachlan who uses an intentionally feminist style to contrast the male-dominated world of street art. Lucy famously decorated the Central Library three years before its demise. Remember? I do. Building murderers.
WHAT I LEARNT ABOUT ME:I can jog and chat at the same time! I know because somebody's talking to me and I remember that society expects me to respond. Wait. Is this what having a conversation was like? It's really nice. This person is lovely. I realise I've never been down this canal path in my life. I pride myself on knowing most corners of town but this one... never seen it. It's great going to places I've never been and being blown away by them. Our canals are beautiful. I'm no longer cold.
WHAT I LEARNT ABOUT ART: Lucy explains that the council has committed to having graffiti removed if it's reported and, yes, that 'if' is doing some seriously heavy-lifting when it comes to Digbeth. Everywhere you turn there's art, or graffiti depending on your outlook. She explains about how street art for many is a mess — a nuisance that breeds crime. To others it's the voice of those who don't have a voice. An avenue of expression for a section of a city that feels unheard. Past the bridge is one of a number of foxes across the city painted by the brilliant Annatomix. It fits its urban environment just perfectly.
WHAT I LEARNT ABOUT ME:The pace is very manageable and, not even halfway in, I've spoken to almost everyone in the group. The mental health impact kicks in well before the physical. Runners are laughing up and down the pack, thrilled to be out and around fellow humans, but in the safety of the fresh air. And I didn't fall in canal so that's a massive win.
WHAT I LEARNT ABOUT ART: This is Pongo (above). Pongo is officially the most Instagrammed street art in the entire city. He was created as part of a sponsored series to raise awareness about how mass deforestation for palm oil threatens him and his animal pals. There are only 100,000 orangutans left in the world and a rainforest area the size of the entirety of the UK has been removed in Borneo. That's really messed with my head. Opposite Pongo there's a yellow door in it's frame a full foot away from the wall it's nearest. That hasn't helped matters...
WHAT I LEARNT ABOUT ME:I didn't learn anything about myself this kilometre. Hey, this is just a jog not a John Hughes movie.
WHAT I LEARNT ABOUT ART: Lucy asks who this person in the glasses is (above) and the group falls silent. I'm pretty confident it's peace-loving music god, John Lennon, as a teen. Turns out it's not, it's actually mass murderer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer who killed 17 men from 1978 to 1991. So maybe I did learn something about myself. If you're not sure, Tom, don't commit. You might have seen this image around Brum, as this isn't the only one. Painted by ironically named artist Goldenboy (who has since retired from the game) it's one example of repeat stencilling of the same image across town, the most famous ever example being OBEY, which started in 1989 in Rhode Island. I actually knew that, but didn't want to say as my internal confidence had taken a hit from the whole John Lennon debacle.
WHAT I LEARNT ABOUT ME:That there's so much of Birmingham I haven't seen. A full car park of politically charged pieces include a picture-perfect Trump, Theresa May going nose-to-nose with a balaclava-ed screaming cop, Jeremy Hunt depicted as Batman nemesis Two Face, in the caress of Heath Ledger's Joker. At this stage I also know I can run 5km rather easily, particularly if there's leisurely stop-offs in which to catch my breath. Bet you could, too.
WHAT I LEARNT ABOUT ART: That you can put hours of your time into intricate works involving hate-figures, figures of authority and lampooned cabinet members, and it will always, always be the 45-second paste up of Pat Butcher that will take social media by storm...
WHAT I LEARNT ABOUT ME:I manage the optional sprint finish and, if I'm honest, relish it. The confidence to go on another run is flooding through me, even before this one has finished. And when it has finished we stand around chatting for maybe ten minutes. Because people like chatting, don't they? I've missed people.
WHAT I LEARNT ABOUT ART: This final picture is my favourite of the tour. We've been shown maybe 15 pieces and jogged past hundreds more, but this antlered beast has really engaged me. The artist's name is Phlegm and he’s from Sheffield. He made this mural for the 2016 City of Colours (now High-Vis) Festival that takes place in Digbeth every June. He sketched this while he was on the train to Brum and says that it depicts whatever you interpret it to depict. I wonder if it shows that help can come from the most unexpected of places.
Rest in peace Pret a Manger: Cause of death, the launch of Gup Shup. Okay, maybe the shutters opening on this fantastic little independent sandwich joint won't literally see off their £1.5billion Goliath neighbours, but they deserve to take more than a bite out of Pret's daily Colmore Row sales. If Gup Shup's branding looks rather polished for a first time launch, that's because it was originally created by owner Wasi for a major supermarket chain that was looking for a street food sub-brand — Wasi having a marketing background. It tested so well that he took on the project himself, jettisoning the retail client and delivering Japanese style shokupan sandwiches on Uber Eats 18 months ago, before a bricks and mortar launch last week, every penny spent to the point where they didn't have signage on day one. Shokupan is a sweet, thick bread, perfect for housing deep-filled contents. Due to pure greed, I had two and they both delivered flavour well beyond my current emotional pay grade. The better of the two is probably not the one I'd order most often. The Yankee is unlike any UK sandwich I've had, the hero ingredient being Texan ground beef, with American cheese, cheddar, chipotle ketchup, French's mustard, dil pickles and shoestring fried onions. Mark my words, it's just as good as it sounds, but the flavour combinations are so walloping (and burger-like) that this might be a once every other month treat. Probably no more healthy, but more alive with the zip and zeal of a once weekly sanger, is the top selling hot pepper chicken, with roquito peppers and sriracha aioli. Warming and homely in equal measure it's an instant Brum classic. Both sandwiches come as toasted "Hotties", something I'd implore you to allow the Shuppers to do, rather than the grab-and-go cold sandos which, though nice, can't reach the upper echelons of the melted, gooey goodness. Sticky Fingers provide the donuts and Fitch are on coffee duty (both hot and cold), with sweet notes — almost caramel I thought — it's well worth a try and was served hot enough to still to be good when back at your desk. A joyous opening and a mini middle finger to the pandemic. Menu
A festival of events looking at the impact of the pandemic on sound and music is taking place at the University of Birmingham. BEAST FEaST 2021 will see a series of concerts and discussions over three days – April 22 to 24 – all streamed for free.
Blackadder? At the Crescent Theatre?
Well cover me in eggs and flour and bake me for 40 minutes.
Embarrassing dads... Assemble! The Libertines play O2 Academy on Monday 29 November. Tickets go on sale at 9am Friday, April 16, here.
West Bromwich Italian restaurant group Lucarelli have opened in the Mailbox where Red Peppers was. Sun trap. Menu
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