Reflection on graffiti


I’ve been using this as a kind of brand image for some time now.  I liked it for a number of reasons. First, it’s urban street art, which always seems to sum up the gritty feel of my writing. Second, it’s in Birmingham, which is where most of my stuff is set. And third, it looks like a Pink Floyd album cover, and we all know how I feel about them!

I first stumbled across the picture in the wilds of the internet, while searching for something else (as you do). It was being used as a header by the Birmingham Updates account on Twitter, and a bit of judicious digging showed that the photo was taken by Harrison Cantel. Other than that, I knew virtually nothing about it. Until this morning.

Searching for the original picture again in order to set it as wallpaper on my phone, I came across a slightly different version, on Pinterest, with a bit more information. It seems the original artwork is by Lucy McLauchlan, a contemporary artist specialising in large-scale, mostly-monochrome murals. I’ve seen her work before and loved it – these rather amazing birds on the sides of the old Birmingham library before it (and the art) was bulldozed.


If you head to Lucy’s website and click on ‘selected works’ and then ‘murals’, you’ll see the canal artwork along with many similar pieces on the walls of houses and factories across Birmingham, the UK and even Europe.

As for the canal art location, this is also in Birmingham. Specifically, under a bridge on the Digbeth Branch Canal, a short stretch linking two other canals on the eastern side of the city centre. Completed in 1799, it has six locks and a banana warehouse (!) and lies within the Warwick Bar conservation area which includes a variety of listed canal buildings. I’ve never visited this particular spot before but it looks fascinating and I’m adding it to the list for the next time I go to Birmingham. Who knows, I might even get my own photo of the image I’ve been using for so long!

And thanks to Bethany R on Pinterest for pointing me in the right direction.

A library without books?

Okay, I’m exaggerating a little, but this is still incredibly sad.  Birmingham’s libraries, with the partial exception of the new Central Library, have had to stop buying new books in order to save money.

I can’t think of anything much worse.  Surely this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If people can’t find the books they want at the library, they’ll stop going.  If people stop going, there’ll be nobody to support the library service.  And without anyone to support it, it will become ever more impoverished and be able to afford even fewer books.  And so it goes on.

I don’t know if there is any way round this.  Could libraries become lenders of digital books only?  Would that be cheaper than having to buy print books?  Could they stock books donated by members of the public, in much the same way as charity shops?  I’m not sure, but something needs to be done before we lose the whole system of libraries as we know them.  And it needs to be done soon.


As a quick update to my previous post, the Birmingham Evening Mail have run an article on the locations used in The Game, and sure enough, they’re in and around the city.  We missed a few they picked up on, and picked up on a few they missed, but it’s always nice to be proved right!  And it made a great series even more enjoyable.

Sad to hear they’re actually knocking the old library down now.  It might be hideously ugly but it was one of the first buildings I got to know when I first moved to the city so it harbours some nice memories.  Plus it’s pretty much ‘one of a kind’ and I can’t help thinking there’ll come a day when people will regret sweeping it away just because it wasn’t instantly fashionable.

I spy with my little eye…

I’m really enjoying the new BBC cold war spy thriller, The Game.  It has atmosphere in spades, a great ‘feel’ for the period, and some nicely bleak humour, as well as sharp writing that’s still keeping me guessing as to what’s going on and where all the major players’ loyalties lie.  Is young Joe really as staunchly British as he seems, or was he turned by the Poles?  Is the MI5 boss ‘Daddy’ quite the avuncular sweetie he appears?  Is there a mole in the department, and if so, who?  (Current favourite for that role in the Makovesky household is the young assistant Jenny, simply because she seems so damned unlikely, but we shall see.)

However, what’s also catching my eye is some of the settings.  The series is supposedly set in 1970s London and producers are strangely coy about the filming locations, but if I’m not mistaken, it looks an awful lot like Birmingham.  There’s the canal snaking off under a vast stilted motorway (Spaghetti Junction).  There’s the flashback scene where young Joe devises a chalk graffiti code to alert his Polish colleague (surely Key Hill cemetery in the Jewellery Quarter).  And unless my eyes totally deceive me, that looks like the ‘upturned ziggurat’ of Birmingham’s old library, cleverly spliced into a London skyline and masquerading as MI5’s headquarters.

I can’t wait for future episodes, to see if I’m right and if I can spot any more odd corners of Brum filling in for its more southerly counterpart.  And to watch the rest of an excellent, intelligent series, of course.

What price the library

Forgive me if I’m being thick, but what exactly is the point of spending £189 million on a brand new library in Birmingham, if less than two years after it opens you’re going to halve the hours it’s available to the public from over 70 a week to 40?  I haven’t seen any details of the revised opening hours, but that’s basically eight hours a day for five days a week, so presumably it’s going to be shut in the evenings and at weekends – which is when most working folk have the time to visit it.

This BBC article points up some of the risks, including damage to Birmingham’s international reputation.  And then of course there’s the thought that the city is throwing good money after bad in demolishing the old library to make way for yet another massive re-development… which may very well go the same way as the new library in terms of costs.

I can’t help thinking somebody didn’t get their sums right…

Ordinary family immortalised

There’s a brand new statue/sculpture being unveiled in Birmingham today.  The piece, which will stand outside the new library in Centenary Square, celebrates an ‘ordinary’ family from the city, two sisters who are also single mums.

As with so much public art, it’s already provoked quite a storm of reaction, judging by the comments in The Guardian.  Then again, some of the comments are rather one-sided to say the least (consisting of variations on a theme of ‘there’s too much art in Birmingham and it’s all crap’), and it’s worth bearing in mind that earlier statues (such as the ‘Forward‘ one mentioned several times in the comments) were also extremely unpopular when first erected.

I rather liked Forward.  It was unusual (pink and slightly lumpy) but it was full of detail and the message it portrayed, of ordinary working people moving forward through the industry the city is so famous for, was inspiring.  Do I like the new statue as much?  Possibly not.  I do like the pose, the naturalness of the family, and the idea that they might easily have just wandered out of the library.  In that respect it’s rather like the Eleanor Rigby statue in Liverpool, which sits quietly on a bench and looks so real you expect to see it get up or throw some crumbs to the pigeons.  I’m less keen on the too-shiny finish, and the bump on the pregnant sister does look a little… strange.

What does everyone else think?

Wot, no ladders?

A fun little story from the brand new, all-singing all-dancing library in Birmingham city centre, which opened in a blaze of lights and glory a few short months ago.

Apparently, staff can’t reach some of the books because they’re on shelves so far above the ground that they can’t reach without special ladders. And, um, nobody thought to order the ladders.

Luckily, the books are “low-use, academic titles” that aren’t taken out very often. Just as well, really, that it isn’t Dan Brown or Fifty Shades, or the staff might have to resort to hot air balloons…