Issue 217
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If you've flown from Birmingham Airport in the last four years, chances are Nick James, Head of Air Navigation Services at BHX, had something to do with it. In probably the most anticipated afternoon in ICB history, we went up Brum's air traffic control tower. Yes, we did ask if we could land a plane. No, they did not let us. 
At capacity, 42 flights take off and land on BHX's single runway every hour. That's less than 90-seconds between each arrival and departure. And while final clearance comes from a single controller for every flight, at busy times there are whole teams of people ensuring optimum sequencing, speeds and spacing. "It's like playing 3D chess" says Nick. "A key skill of the job is the ability to judge the gaps between planes coming in to land — to see if you can get an aircraft away in between landings." Failing to take advantage of a gap will cause departures to build up, impacting on runway capacity.
You fall under the care of Nick and the team at the top of the tower (stairs are optional) when you're taking off, or at between four and eight miles from BHX if you're inbound. For every flight, a 'flight progress strip' (pictured below) is created. Nick describes this as essentially "a little scribble pad — your flight plan in shorthand". Each strip includes a coded message about an aircraft's flight from one place to another. That strip is physically passed between controllers as responsibility for your flight passes between them. "The strips come through on a printer, and the air traffic controller hand writes the info" says Nick. "But we're actually in the process of going digital — the radar unit are already trialling it." And if you're wondering who the bejesus the radar unit are... 
There's a whole other windowless floor that looks after your flight from around mile four to mile forty, whether you're climbing or descending. Each controller has a big red telephone next to them with the word EMERGENCY on. We're not allowed to touch these. The team's responsible for bringing flights into BHX in a spaced out, orderly fashion. And funnily enough the 'radar unit' is big-up into radars, which is why they don't need to be able to see your plane to track your progress. Though actually, they don't technically even need the radars. There could be a power cut, the team's computers could spontaneously shut down and all the backup generators stop working, and they'd still be able to get you back to BHX. "Using triple-charged, battery-operated radios, we just get the aircrafts to fly to holding points at different levels, and then fly set procedures to land on the runway." Real slick, like. 
"For the radar unit, the job is exactly the same by day and night," we're told. "But up here, the field looks really different by dark. All you can see is lights. Your perspective changes." By reference to an incoming plane that's just come into sight, Nick explains that you can look out the window and see the beam of an aircraft and think it's much closer than it appears —  "which is why we rely on radars to confirm distances much more by night. And to spot things on the runway". The radars pick up everything — fox-crossings, drones, a balloon coming across BHX's airspace. "The technology is so advanced that we can operate fully at zero visibility, but it's really helpful to be able to see what's going on — especially when it comes to taxiing and parking-up planes".

And on the fabled subject of the stresses of the job, about as far as the totally serene Nick goes is to say "it has its moments". Aviation regulations dictate that for every two hours Nick spends in control of the tower, he must take a 30-minute break away from his desk. And nobody would begrudge him that. Under Nick's charge his ATC unit once handled four simultaneous maydays and brought them all in safely.  
Alcohol consumption is also a subject that's taken as seriously within the industry as you'd expect, with random tests checking air traffic controllers have no more than 20mg of alcohol in their blood — that's a quarter of the UK drink-drive limit and an amount that is so minimal as to be naturally produced by some people. 

In the whole time we're in the ATC tower, there are no raised voices, alarms or visible signs of stress. Except, maybe, when we drop one too many Airplane! quotes on poor Nick. "Even in an emergency," he says "pretty much the first thing you do is fill out a form. You do get that adrenaline rush when it's busy, or when a plane calls 'mayday' — and I think you'd be in the wrong job if your heart rate didn't increase slightly on hearing those words, but I don't find this job stressful. Being a teacher? Now that's stressful". More pics


Chances are, you don't have 20/20 vision. And we're not getting all Mystic Meg on you with that bold claim — more than 60% of the population wear glasses or visual aids, so statistically, it's more likely than not that you do. And what a fortunate 60% we actually turn out to be now Glimpse Opticians has moved into the Great Western Arcade. As well as being eminently better looking than any of its High Street compadres, Glimpse is the only stockists in the city for brands like Mykita, Ørgreen and Lindberg. And Vinylize, which we're wearing right now. And as a hello to you, they're giving you a shot at a £250 voucher to spend in-store. In fact, they're giving you four shots, with four vouchers up for grabs. Sign-up to their mailing list to be in with a chance at frame glory. T&C


No, this isn’t a gritty reboot of Postman Pat, even if its idealised view of journalism wouldn’t be out of place in Greendale. We’re in early 70s Washington, where the staff of the Washington Post must work out what to do with the leaked Pentagon Papers that showed the US government knew the war in South East Asia was unwinnable long before they let on. The meat of this film is more about how much the revelations will affect the guest list at publisher Meryl Streep’s cocktail parties than, you know, the journalism involved, but no matter. A new film from Steven Spielberg is always an event, and even if you can tell this is one he dashed off to protest the Trump administration, Spielberg rushing is still streets ahead of most directors on their best days. Times


As gap years go, this particular production of Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter has had an absolute stonker of a journey. Having premiered at Brum's Rep back in 2007, Emma Rice's production's toured the globe, including a stint on that Broadway you might have heard of, where The New York Times described it as "the most enchanting work of stagecraft ever inspired by a movie", which we reckon means they quite liked it. The production brings footage of the film to the stage, playing behind the live cast. Like in the scene pictured, where real life protagonist, Laura, reacts to film footage of Alec waving goodbye as his train pulls out. Brief Encounter is at The Rep from Feb 2 to 17. Tickets from £10. Maybe have a blart over the trailer if you're feeling emotional.
Venue: Peel's, Hampton Manor, Shadowbrook Lane, Hampton-in-Arden;
B92 0EN; 
Choice: Four-course taster (£70 or £75) Chooser: Chef, Rob Palmer

Displaying the kind of bonhomie for which ICB is famed, we insisted on 'train cans' for the 10-minute skip between New Street and Hampton-in-Arden. What a barbaric decision. Our first drink of the night should have been the outstanding pre-dinner Boulevardiers we ordered in Hampton Manor's bar area. One giant ice ball wallowing in a golden whisky lagoon set us up for a meal worthy of the venue's Michelin-shaped star, in a mellow environment that belies the stately exterior. Expecting Brexit-level negotiations when we spotted one dish on the seven-course menu that we wanted to add to our four-course taster, the staff not only okayed it, but applauded the call. And what a great call it was, too. The salmon, cucumber, dill and creme fraiche showstopper that we subbed in (pictured above) was so uplifting and limb-lightening it should be sold in the Manor's spa as a treatment. What followed was a wagyu beef that reminded us why wagyu beef exists, and a pork in onion broth that slapped winter in a wrestling hold and made the season tap out. Parsnips for dessert, a wine flight and sommelier that offered the meal a charismatic narrative, and some of the most joy-inducing canapes, amuse-bouches and unexpected extras, elevated this from a marvellous meal to a memorable one. 
Sample menu
Brunch and cocktail and get silly like a sausage with some 90s UK garage. In Digbeth this Saturday, entry is £12.50, and bottomless cocktails are from 12pm until 1pm.
An exhibition of paintings by internationally-renowned Brazilian painter, Romero Britto, opens in Caste Fine Art's Mailbox gallery tomorrow. Until March 4. Entry is free.
Get an early look at The Whisky Club's new JQ bar. They've got a Burns' bar pop-up happening this Saturday and Sunday from midday til midnight.
Yorks Cafe at Ikon is putting on a screening of Everyday, which charts the life of an imprisoned man and his family over the course of five years. Jan 31.
Edinburgh Gin is getting cosy with Malmaison and they're both inviting you to get cosy with five-courses of cocktail-paired deliciousness. On March 15, get your seat for £60.

Lady: "Nervous?" 
Ted Striker: "Yes" 
Lady: "First time?" 
Ted Striker: "No, I've been nervous lots of times." 


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WORDS: Katy Drohan, Tom Cullen, Andrew Lowry

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