Archive for March, 2008

A Local Heart

The Spotted Dog

Photo courtesy of Keep Digbeth Vibrant

I used to live in a flat in a really badly converted house in Moseley. The flat was awful, with glossed-over woodchip walls and black mould. Even worse was the noise insulation – there was none. When the couple downstairs argued, not only did I know when but why. I often woke up to the girlfriend of the lodger opposite loudly faking her orgasms. We could all hear each other go to the toilet in graphic detail.

However it never occurred to me to ask my neighbours to put a sock it in it (well I did think about asking the guy opposite to put a sock in his girlfriend’s mouth before taping it over, but I’m into some pretty weird shit). I just accepted the fact that my landlord, typical of his breed, had well and truly botched the job he was making a mint on.

The unfortunate tenants of the new Abacus building in Digbeth seem to be in a similar situation. In fact not only can they hear each other, they can smell each other. One poor girl told me how she lives above someone who smokes fish, I doubt she’ll ever eat another kipper again.

And when they are not bothered by each other, they are bothered by their older neighbours The Spotted Dog and more lately The Rainbow and The Custard Factory. But instead of blaming Abacus for selling them an overpriced, under-insulated tin-shack or Birmingham City Council for letting them, they are complaining about these colourful local venues and Birmingham City Council are listening, slapping a Noise Abatement Order on The Spotted Dog and threatening its license and livelihood.

Thank God The Spotted Dog, a gorgeous old Irish pub with a warm welcome (even for Abacus tenants), hasn’t taken this lying down. Its landlord, the very vocal John Tighe, was crowned 2007 Brummie of the Year by Brirmingham It’s Not Shit for fighting the good fight (with often hilarious consequences – the spoof stella ad is just classic).

Their cause has been taken up by The Stirrer. Many people posting on here are of the opinion that if you’re after a quiet life, what the hell are doing in the city centre? Which is a fair point. An even better one is why were these flats were built at all, at least in the condition they’re in, with long-standing live music venues so nearby?

When Crosby Homes first applied for planning permission to build ‘executive apartments’ (they’re fucking flats) near The Nightingale nightclub off Hurst Street, they were refused on the grounds that the area was too noisy for residential building. Upon appeal planning permission was granted, under the provision that Crosby Homers install sufficient noise insulation and triple-glazed windows.

Why were no such terms enforced upon Abacus? It is no exaggeration to state that this oversight threatens the very culture of Digbeth, Birmingham’s ‘Irish Quarter’ and home to a myriad of music pubs and clubs.

One can only hope that Birmingham City Council have learnt from this mistake and are balancing carefully the many planned and proposed new developments that are part of the ‘Eastside regeneration’ with the need to preserve the area’s individuality. Their insistence that new apartments being built on Connaught Square be fitted with sufficient noise insulation seems to indicate so. Now let’s hope that they will take steps to ensure the Abacus flats are bought up to standard, rather than blaming The Spotted Dog and others for the building’s shortcomings.

The term ‘regeneration’ means renewal and restoration. It does not mean wiping an entire area clean, throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and turning it into an identikit city living complex. Rendering the place completely unrecognizable to loyal natives will only cause resentment and suspicion of future regeneration projects. That’s no good for Brummies or their City Council, who are apparently ‘a global city with a local heart’. Come on, with a slogan like that, you can’t be ripping the heart out of a locality we love.

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The Nifty

Birmingham Bus

So you should be. Photo by Tim Ellis

It wasn’t my health or environment that made me swap my daily commute from Moseley on the No. 50 bus for a bike ride. The abuse, crack smoke, constant smell of Macdonalds fries and occasional smell of urine never helped matters, but the thing that really turned me off was the tinny sounds of crap garage blasting out of gobby teenagers’ mobile phones. I could never fathom why they found their favourite music was best enjoyed when it sounded like it was played on a secondhand cassette machine in the bath, gave up trying to and bought a cheap boneshaker off Ebay instead.

One day a particularly loud broadcast interrupted a toryboy’s enjoyment of his Telegraph and he saw fit to tell him, “I don’t want to listen to your shit,” as if that would come as some sort of surprise. Upon being answered with incoherent mumbling, he searched around the top deck for moral support, met my eyes and asked me if I wanted to listen to this rubbish. I told him what I wanted was to marry him. Beeper could have been Our Song.

Battling the wind, rain and racedrivers and on my crap bike was always worth not having to hear grime grating on my brain after a hard days’ work.

But last Thursday I found myself in a hurry so I hopped back on. They’ve got plasma tellies now, so you can see what the kids are smoking before you go upstairs.

Downstairs a couple chatted over their twin buggy. One seat held their baby and in the other sat two small dogs. Perhaps it was the Special Brew that deafened them to the horrified silence on board.

Now every day I put my £1.50 bus fare into a glass jar. I’m saving up for a new bike.

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