Birmingham, B29

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Get the wellies and cat snorkels out

posted by pindec
More heavy rain today meant bad things for the River Rea through Selly Park.

It's high - a few inches below the banks - and the playing fields are all sodden, so more monsoonery and it'll be paddling time again :(. The weather still isn't great, although the river has subsided over the afternoon, so we don't appear to be in critical danger for tonight.

The last Selly Park South Neighbourhood meeting had the Council talking more about improvements to the river under Dogpoo Lane - including apparently the installation of an Environment Agency water gauge so they can tell when the river's high: would be good to get a live feed of that data. However, work won't start till Jan 2010 and take several months, so in the meantime it's back to battening down the hatches and crossing fingers.

The work also includes ripping out the nice old balustrades and replacing them with concrete. Can we get something impressive done with the old ones? Put them in Canon Hill Park maybe?

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Thursday, 9 July 2009

Weoley Castle - local news

posted by pindec
After our walk around B29 included Weoley Castle, and finding a very negative view of Weoley on chavtowns, I wondered what view the outside world gets of the area from various news sources. This would also show how good news organisations are at providing very local news. appears to be thinking along the right lines by creating a "weoley castle" tag and associated RSS feed. However, it doesn't actually work - zero points for zero results for the tag (and note a related tag is "knife crime"):
weoley castle tag: no resultsThe site does actually contain several (mis-tagged?) Weoley Castle stories. At the time of writing, the top 5 are - two anti-social behaviour stories from March 09 (the same family - evictions and imprisonment), an improved school (March 09), a charity worker meeting a Royal (May 09) and a stabbing (from 2008). Not all bad, but not a great vision of community harmony, not updated very often, not helped by technology failure (it would also be helpful if they sorted out their favicon). doesn't even pretend to have helpful tags. You also can't order the search results - and unlike BirminghamMail, they don't seem to be ordered by date descending. Actually, the ordering of results isn't stated, so I'm assuming it's based on relevance. So, the search results on a news site don't appear in date order, most recent first? Awesome ... . Here, the top 5 search results are:
  1. controversy over changing a failing schools into an academy (Jun 08)
  2. a business success story for an IT Weoley Castle firm (July 08)
  3. a mention in passing of "hardcore white working-class kids" in a music culture piece (Jun 09)
  4. the Council disputing a school's absence records in Weoley Castle - 2nd worst in country (Dec 07)
  5. a mention of the Weoley Castle Plainsong Ensemble (Feb 09)
So two of these stories are just passing mentions of Weoley Castle, not news from it. Hmm. Also, given that and are run by the same company, it seems strange that only one has implemented tagging (albeit incorrectly), and that searches aren't orderable, the default order being unclear, and there's no way to filter stuff based on whether it's actually news (as opposed to comment/culture/brief mentions). No wonder people are talking about the "death of local news journalism" - if you can't even find stories relevant to you, it's not overly surprising that people won't use the news sources. The group also owns the Sunday Mercury - no results. (*disclaimer* I don't read any of these papers, so I don't understand what the difference between them is supposed to be.)

weoley castle ruins
The parent company also owns icbirmingham, with a similarly crap search. Their top 5 items are: a list of schools for no apparent reason (no date); the same anti-social family (from 2002! both a very old story and a long time for the same family to be causing Weoley Castle trouble); an expats forum; an incidental mention in a piece about an old folk's day centre in Northfield closing (Nov 04); and the same row about absence figures at a Weoley Castle school (Dec 07). However, the group has been making moves towards community sites based around postcodes and local governance reporting so perhaps they might cover Weoley in the future ...

How about the dear old Beeb then? They've got nicely configurable search results (by date, relevance and category), but not a lot of WC news with only one story this year, and only a few mentions in features elsewhere ... I guess The Mailbox is several miles and cultures away from Weoley. (Disclaimer: I used to work for them in New Media, albeit not for the News bit.)

National newspapers-wise, there's not much - The Guardian has 3 stories, latest from 2006 (with configurable search results & RSS, nice :)). The Sun's search just gives some locations of commenters on their forum. I lost the will to google any more.

What about sites written by local people? The Castle Community Site looks a bit empty, and has a rather empty forum, though they link to OFSTED reports and minutes from Councillor meetings (£91k to carry out a survey on a single deciduous tree?? I'd be cross about that if I lived there - p2 item 1051), and the local residents' association seems to be having trouble getting enough members. The Weoley lists local amenities and shops, while has links to local history resources, but seems to have been last updated in 2007. There are also some nice old pics of Weoley, which reveal the modern-day versions when you click them.

Probably the richest set of user generated stuff about Weoley Castle is the flickr pictures, with some lovely shots of the area, some historical reenactments and, oddly, a lot of knives. Here's the map view:

View weoley castle flickr in a larger map

Over on technorati, the blog search is pretty slim pickings (though apparently you can't search for the phrase "weoley castle") apart from the videos - there's a few visualisations of the Castle in case you can't make it to the ruins and/or your imagination fails.

And what seems to be a local history video project feat. Trevor :).

Plus a few more randoms that might put you off Weoley Castle like blowing up a (toy) ladybird, those neighbours from hell (again), some kids happy slapping the select&save with eggs and a nasty one of someone shooting a pigeon.

I think the area's crying out for more personal local sites that don't have anyone blowing anything up - though if you know of any more sites, let us know in the comments. If there are any Weoley Castle community groups out there just itching to get a site up, but are not sure where to start, they could try the Social Media Surgery on 14th July, or a UK Online centre.

Finally, the plan for our next walk is to find out definitively whether Weoley Castle is shit or not - if you have suggestions for places for us to visit or want to join us, please comment.

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Tuesday, 7 July 2009

b29 perimeter walk odyssey

posted by pindec
On Sunday 5th June 2009, an intrepid bunch (michael (@citizensheep), josh (@joshhart), mark (@cybrum) and I) met at the Nature Centre on the Pershore Road to trek around B29 as flâneurs. Sadly, no tortoises turned up and we were pretty sure the Nature Centre wouldn't lend us one.

Our journey started at the south-eastern corner of B29 on the Bournbrook, meandered as close to the B29 boundary as we could get (with a bit of guessing and some improvisation) until we passed the North-Western corner in California and lost the will to live: a massive downpour meant we decided to cut corners and head back via Castle Road.

b29 start north west b29 corner

We took it quite slowly, looking out for unusual stuff that you just don't notice on a purposeful journey.

Some themes that emerged on our odyssey were:

1. Things we found that we didn't know about

Halfway along Eastern Road on the right, heading for Bristol Road, we discovered a half-abandoned playing field - the field itself was freshly mown but the changing rooms kinda skanky and falling apart - anyone know who owns it?

abandoned playfield mysterious changing rooms

Part of the walk also showed up our lack of knowledge of our natural surroundings - our plant recognition skills were pretty low, so Michael snapped the odd plant and asked the internet for help in identifying them.

oakfield rd fenced flower

Over in California, we were appalled at finding people having to live directly under electricity pylons on Reservoir Road / Heron's Way. We were also interested to see people correcting the postcode - clearly believing that B18 (Jewellery Quarter) beats B29 as a place to live. pffpfppf.

lovely place for a pylon corrected postcode

Still in Reservoir Road, we stumbled across a dance centre: Benwell Dance Club, now severely shut, but still an unusual location for fleet-footed B29ers. The road also has houses that are mostly the same, except for experimental tile decorations on the outside.

ex dance club house tiles

2. Disappointment in development

At the former BBC Pebble Mill site we bemoaned the slow pace of development on the Science Park (they did some road works in 2006, but the next tranche of work doesn't start until late 2009) and wondered why they couldn't have left the tennis courts open to the public.

The ongoing Selly Oak New Road works are pretty ugly, and just outside the University campus on Grange Road we realised that the Westley Richards gun makers (firm founded 1812, workshop built around 1900) is going to get demolished to make way for it. I remember hearing them test-firing from the University Campus and seems a shame to lose it, even though I'm not a fan of hunting, it would be good to have a look round inside before they knock it down. I tried snapping through the keyhole but it didn't really capture any interesting historical innards ...

Selly Oak New Road diggings (ex) gun factory

smash through the keyhole

We weren't overly whelmed by the new hospital either, and Michael captured the moment with his fancy new iPhone on AudioBoo:


3. Random things that caught our eyes

Some places are so good they get named twice, and someone's been embedding the pavements with mysterious letters:

double signs stiff's bham

Some graffiti:

goose graffiti ook

4. Finding things we did vaguely know about but not exactly

We found the Weoley Castle ruins completely by accident, just when the downpours and sore feet were beginning to grate ... *and* Weoley Castle wasn't as grim as we'd imagined, though we did get some funny looks off the local kids for consulting a map. The ruins are gated off behind a fierce fence, though they occasionally have open days (next one 19th July). I particularly liked the animal finials, so much so that I might adopt it as the B29 logo :).

weoley castle ruins castle info

finial stone head

Michael did get a bit whelmed by the castle - "lots of ... um ... bricks":

And finally, as we trudged home to Selly Park, Michael and I found a few more hidden things - some secret off-road cricket, and a handy brick alcove just begging for something (an animal finial?):

secret cricket alcove

We're planning a few more ramblings ... and will post things here if you'd like to join us.


Friday, 3 July 2009

safe snacks

posted by pindec
Just found the Scores on the Doors site, which publishes BCC health inspection results for cafes, restaurants and other food-based stuff in B29.

The results for food hygiene in restaurants are here, though no-one got a max of 5 stars. Bohemia and the Oak Tree Sandwich Bar top the list with 4 stars - looks like Oak Tree Lane might be B29's shiniest because the takeaway list is topped by Chez Moi on the same street. Also pleased to see the tasty Jumbo takeaway on Pershore Road with 4 stars - they also do healthy food, although the site doesn't list any healthy eating award results for Brum.

The pub list is topped by the Ember Inns chain - The Country Girl and the SPT. I can' t say I'm a massive fan of the SPT food: the nicest thing I can say is that it's OK if you get peckish while you're drinking. At least they seem to have stopped their bizarre refusal to serve soft drinks in pint sizes (previously you'd get "sorry, it'll have to be a 10 oz glass" or something ... wtf?).

On the cafe front, the Rich Bitch recording studios max up with 5 stars (can you go there if you're not recording something?), and the trusty Selly Sausage gets 4 (though personally I'm not a huge fan of the veggie options). My favourite hangover buster, Lesley's Corner Cafe, gets 3 - I'm happy to carry on scarfing down the veggie breakfast with that. The site also covers things like butcher's shops, but I'll leave you to do your own meaty searches.

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Wednesday, 1 July 2009

B29 tortoise walk *EDIT* now starting at 1

posted by pindec
EDIT: we're now planning to kick off earlier - at 1 PM.

We're planning a walk around the perimeter of B29 this Sunday (5th July), recording our feelings as we go, in the spirit of the flâneur ("a person who walks a city to experience it").

Apparently, in 1840s Paris, it was very trendy to wander around with a tortoise on a lead to make sure you were gong at the right speed to truly experience the city - so can anyone lend us a tortoise?

The plan is to start off from The Nature Centre on the Pershore Road at about 1 and walk around the google map of B29 as closely as possible until our feet/tortoises run out - leave a comment if you're interested in joining us :). We're happy to pick people up on the way, walking-bus style (we'll let you know where we are via @birminghamb29. You are welcome to get off and on as you please.

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