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Shock & Gore 2015, Docu-Shorts and Brum’s Evil Genius

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There is no shortage of film festivals in the town of Ann Arbor but at this time of year I always get a pang of homesickness when I see the schedule for Birmingham’s own Shock & Gore.

Though London’s FrightFest has been recommend to me by horror buffs, film critics and magazine editors over the years, I will always reserve a special love for the bloody brilliant horror fest staged by the Electric Cinema. And this year’s festival is of particular personal interest as there is a documentary on local artist (and evil genius) Tom Ellis of Curious Oddities.

Perhaps you have attended a Shock & Gore film and had the disturbing pleasure of encountering some of Tom’s work, or walked past his chilling window display at the Great Western Arcade.

Voodoo Child: Tom Ellis' mechanical demon baby.

Voodoo Child: Tom Ellis’ mechanical demon baby.

My personal favourite Curious Oddity was the monster baby in a pram left by the upstairs screening room door.  If it didn’t put me off parenthood for an extra couple of years on sight, it definitely gave me the willies when a member of staff pulled a cord on the baby’s back and it started writhing around in the pram and emitting demonic baby laughter!  I kinda want one now.

I love the way the Great Western gave over its vacant window space to artists such as Mr Ellis in the wake of the financial crisis. His collection of curious oddities, such as weird sea creatures, dirty dolls furniture and  yarn eggs – with eyes (!) made me wish the door to the shop front would open and I could go in and see just how dark things got…but then I was afraid of how dark things could get.

I wondered whether to try and interview him for this humble blog – in a public place of course, in case he took me to a cave with malevolent goblins living in the walls. His creatures seemed so lovingly made, detailed and worn-in and I was genuinely intrigued by how he made them. So I walked over to the GWA and the shop front had vanished. And I had lost his card from Shock & Gore, and was due to leave the country soon. I figured it was fate intervening and left it at that.

But now I am curious no longer; Tom’s friend, local filmmaker Andrew Rutter, has made a short documentary about the man and his craft. As I am so far away I caught it on Vimeo but think it will make a fabulous addition to the programme of shorts showing on Wednesday 22nd at 6.15pm at the Electric.

Tom’s sculptures are not the only reason that Shock & Gore continues to be such fun. The organisers think outside the box in terms of pairing films with scary activities. This year, a ghost walk around Birmingham precedes a showing of The Haunting (1963). Other creepy-cool experiences include an edible accompaniment to Shaun of the Dead, and an actual tutorial in how to kill the undead by Jonathan Ferguson who is a curator at the Royal Armory in Leeds and the definitive expert in vampire killing kits.

So if you like being scared, don’t be afraid of rocking up to some of these events laid on by the wizards of Shock & Gore.

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How to throw an America-proof Halloween Party

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‘You’ll have to step up your game over here. Americans have pretty much seen it all at Halloween.’

This was the response I received when I put forward the idea of throwing a Halloween party to some friends over dinner.

If you have ever read Brummed Out before, you’ll know that I’m rather giddy for Halloween, and consistently disappointed at the lack of Halloween spirit in the UK. Not so in Michigan folks.  Just on my street this week, we’ve had industrial amounts of spider webbing, entire front lawn cemeteries, headless mannequins and a 10ft Wicker Man. All of which were cruelly denied their moment of gory glory by the last minute gales, rain and even a snow flurry that kept Trick or Treaters indoors on Halloween night.

Planning a Halloween party that won’t bore Americans is another beast entirely though.  BUT, we might just have done it on Saturday.  Americans love animatronics. We had no such budget. I was just one girl armed with a roll of garbage bags and a sick imagination. Here is how we threw Little Haunted House on the Prairie…

  1. The Dollar Store/ 99p Shop is your best friend.

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Ravens, skeletons on string, spider webs, spooky holographic pictures, candles, dolls. All can be purchased here and used as the basis for kick-ass Halloween displays. I wired my raven to a twig and perched it in an old lantern, Edgar Allan Poe-style, the holographs were put in normal photo frames to form a spooky picture gallery. The dolls were painted spooky white and their eyes were painted black. Cheap, cheerful, weird wonderful.

  1. Hack your LACK                                                               photo 2                                                                                   Ouija boards are freaky, fact. I used a printable one, some white acrylic paint, and THIS program to trace and paint one onto our cheap IKEA LACK coffee table. It washed off really easily the day afterwards and made people feel all dangerous/ nostalgic (in a 13 year old’s slumber party kinda way) while they were sitting around it.
  1. Copy and Paste

Food labels, apothecary labels, vintage Halloween graphics, invitations. Ideas are all over the internet. Be inspired and print out you faves to use.

4. Get your glow on

photo 8                                                                                               We had a scary unfinished basement and not enough space for the amount of people we invited. Scary basement seemed like a good overflow space but how to get the guests to venture down there?… Aha! Beer + Blacklight. We stashed the kegs downstairs and purchased a big ole 48” blacklight from Spencer’s. We hung blacklight bats from the joists, positioned scary dolls and horror books on the shelves, and used blacklight paint to write quotes from scary movies on the walls (on paper of course – your landlord will not appreciate having to re-rent a permanent murder basement), stuff like THIS and THIS. We also put some dry ice in styofoam coolers (like ‘em? They were pretty fun to make) to seep out eerily in the glow. It didn’t work that well – maybe we’ll add a fog machine next year.

  1. A tree is not just for Christmas

photo 7Black Christmas trees are brilliant. So sophisticated at Christmas, so scary at Halloween. This is decorated purely with rings, tinsel and creatures from Birmingham’s 99p Store (Yup, even the witch at the top – she cackles too!)

  1. Include Obscure Movie References
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I made these ‘devil’s nests’ from True Detective, with twigs, thread and some florist’s moss. The husband made me lock them away because they creeped him out. Mission accomplished.

                                                                                               Chances are, you’ll have one or two movie buffs at the party. They will appreciate a few well placed references, even if the majority of your guests do not. Apart from the quotes in the basement, we displayed my Evil Dead Necronomecon, and I made a sign for the basement, based on the haunted forest from The Wizard of Oz. I included a Black Candle in the bathroom ‘only to be lit by virgins at midnight’ – who didn’t love watching Scary Jessica Parker in Hocus Pocus?

  1. ALWAYS do the bathrooms

photo 6                                                                                                As certain as the toilet getting clogged is the fact that your guests will root around in your bathroom cupboards. Give them what they want (no, not the Valium), make some apothecary bottles – a cheap one is sweetcorn and black tea in a jar labelled ‘Old People’s Teeth’. Fill them with different coloured water and there are lots of printable labels on t’internet. A scary holographic picture and lots of cobwebs help. Do clean the shitter though –that’s just good manners.

  1. Include one good scare

photo 3                                                                                                As I just wrote, people get nosy at house parties; they want to know how clean you are. You can exploit this by putting a fake body in the bathtub! If you draw the shower curtain straight across, they will suspect you are hiding something – and you are. The beauty of this is that some people will come out ready to tell everyone about it, and some will make a great effort not to – but the faces always give it away. Either way, you save hundreds on animatronics and you find out who’s a nosy parker!

  1. Make gross-looking food, offer it around –and be prepared to eat it yourself!
Split Cockroaches: dates stuffed with honey and walnuts - for that gooey but crunchy feel.

Split Cockroaches: dates stuffed with honey and walnuts – for that gooey but crunchy feel.

This year, I plumped for making Used Q-Tips, a Dirty Ashtray, Split Cockroaches and Jello Worms. The worms looked so real that people wouldn’t eat them so Mr D and myself downed a fair few just for the disgusting factor. It’s always good to circulate with these dishes as it makes people feel looked after – or victimised: tomato-tomato.

10. Don’t scrimp on the alcohol

Jello-shots turn up in the weirdest places.

Jello-shots turn up in the weirdest places.

Halloween is the perfect time to wash a latex glove, fill it with water, freeze it, then empty it into some brightly coloured spiked punch, try to make some non-alcoholic punch for the kids too – they appreciate doing what the grown-ups do. If you’ve ever wanted to try pumpkin ale, now is the time. Jelly-shots, and Bombay Bad Bears (gummies soaked in gin) are also good adult Treats. Just be prepared for the consequences. I’ve only just finished clearing up and it’s three days later…

Oh, and the garbage bags…?

Well, apart from clearing up the debris (those jelly-shots got everywhere),  they make pretty awesome decorations – and fake corpses. Thank you Martha Stewart (yikes, can’t believe that just happened).

Heads Up! Shock & Gore 2014 Schedule Released

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Oh how I love the Shock & Gore horror festival at the Electric Cinema. And oh how gutted I am that I’m stuck on t’other side of the pond for this year’s fourth celebration of the weird and wonderful side of cinema.

To fully understand how much I love Shock & Gore, click HERE and HERE.

Yup it’s that good.

So what would I be going to see this year? Well I have never quite gotten over Twin Peaks, even though David Lynch abandoned the show in it’s second season leading to a sharp decline in quality and the damn network insisted that Laura Palmer’s killer was revealed early on when it was never meant to be a solved case at all and then it got cancelled on a reaaaallly infuriating cliffhanger…OK Breathe, it was 25 years ago dammit.

Horror meets Americana: Twin Peaks

Horror meets Americana: Twin Peaks

 

Anyway the fact remains that for a while, Twin Peaks captured our imaginations rather like Game of Thrones does these days. It remains one of the greatest TV series of all time. And in view of this, S&G are having a David Lynch night on Friday July 25th. There will be a showing of the strange and compelling Mulholland Drive, followed by some sort of Twin Peaks-related viewing. I have no idea what form this will take; could be a Log Lady riddle, could be Red Room dream sequence. The only thing for certain is that coffee and damn fine cherry pie will be available at the bar.

Cronos: Guillermo del Toro breathes new life into M.R. James' old 'enchanted object' plot.

Cronos: Guillermo del Toro breathes new life into M.R. James’ old ‘enchanted object’ plot.

 

For those of you who couldn’t care less about Twin Peaks (do I really owe you anything?) here are some other S&G offerings…

  • Classic spine-tingler in the form of The Innocents (Friday 25th – Thursday 31st)
  • Movie buff -worthy screening of Alien: The Director’s Cut (Saturday 26th)
  • Obligatory vampire quota is served by Cronos (Friday 25th) and the Lost Boys (Part of the All-nighter on Saturday 26th).
  • Morbid curiosity satiated by the intriguing sounding Death Cafe at the Victoria on Sunday 27th
  • Utter terrifying and all too real misery in Threads (Wednesday 30th) with a live score to bring the nuclear apocalypse even closer to home.
  • Queer Eye for the Dead Guy: Michael Blyth from the BFI delivers a lecture on gay presence in horror films from the 1930s to the present day. I expect this will be a lot like The Celluloid Closet stuff that Vito Russo wrote about and could be good fun.

So whatever keeps you awake at night, make sure you indulge it next month at Shock & Gore. And tell us how it went!

What happens in your mind when you watch Threads.

What happens in your mind when you watch Threads.

Pub Crawling towards The World’s End: Brum’s Best Drinking Pubs

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Drinking like there's no tomorrow: Paddy Considine, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost on their Newton Haven pub crawl. NB drinking 12 pints in one evening is probably not advised outside of your dreams.

Drinking like there’s no tomorrow: Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Eddie Marsan on their Newton Haven pub crawl. NB: drinking 12 pints in one evening is probably not advised outside of your dreams.

After watching The World’s End last Saturday, my first thought was ‘Quick! Let’s find that old Sisters of Mercy album and dance around to “Lucretia My Reflection.”’

My second (slightly more productive) thought was ‘If I had to visit twelve pubs in Birmingham and drink a pint in each before a robotic apocalypse, which ones would I choose?’

So I made my list, and in the event of said robotic apocalypse, I’m all sorted. Would these pubs make your list? If not, which ones would?

1 The Pub: The Hare and Hounds, High Street, Kings Heath, The Drink: Purity’s Ubu  Why? The Hare and Hounds is always a hive of activity, usually involving some live music, and this coupled with Purity brewery’s presence at the Moseley Folk/ Jazz Festivals make this combination a no-brainer.

2 The Pub: The Prince of Wales, Alcester Road, Moseley The Drink: Oakham’s Bishop’s Farewell Why? If J.R.R. Tolkien likes a pub, there’s good drinking to be had. Although I’ve blogged on its epic beer garden before, The Prince is first and foremost a drinker’s pub. The front is a model Victorian boozer almost puritan in its restraint, while the back is just drinking-Disneyland. I chose Bishop’s Farewell purely because I thought the name would be apposite (damn those evil-natured robots –damn them all to hell!) But I have confidence in the beers on tap at this place, which I certainly can’t say about all the pubs I’ve visited over the years.

3 The Pub: The Anchor, Bradford Street, Digbeth The Drink: Hobson’s Mild Why? By now my dad would be complaining that he was missing out on a mild (although he’s been missing a particular mild – Ansell’s – for many years now). I don’t know why more pubs don’t keep one on draught permanently, so kudos to The Anchor for making sure they do. A four-time winner of CAMRA’s Local Pub of the Year Award, they really put in the effort to support smaller breweries. Let’s hope the robotic apocalypse doesn’t occur before Digbeth gets further in its regeneration because The Anchor deserves to be visited, and often.

4 The Pub: The Old Contemptibles, Edmund Street The Drink: cloudy cider Why? Although it’s owned by Nicholson’s (which some drinkers object to but in these straightened times it’s hard for free-houses to keep afloat) there is always a decent selection of cask ales, regular festivals and during the summer, usually a fab selection of ciders that transport you out of the city centre and into a fantasy Somerset farm, preferably under an apple tree. Also, I’d be getting hungry by now and it’s always good to eat a pie with a massive lamb shank sticking out of the top!      

5 The Pub:  The Jekyll and Hyde, Steelhouse Lane The Drink: Hendricks Gin and Tonic Why? Although I’ve had great times washing down Bathtub Gin, Lovehearts cocktails and a mixture of Gin, jam and lemon juice served from a teapot in the upstairs Gin Parlour, this is the end, folks. Time to go back to basics. J&H boast that they treat gin like whisky, i.e. there’s one to suit almost every palette. Well for me, it’s got to be Hendricks and Fentiman’s with a lime (or maybe cucumber, no, definitely lime). I hope they have that  DJ there that plays all the MoTown stuff.

6 The Pub: The Rose Villa Tavern, Warstone Lane, Hockley The Drink: Gwynt Y Draig Happy Daze Cider Why? I’m not really a fan of Hoxley/ Jewellery Quarter pubs on the whole. They are not what you’d call down to earth. And drinking should be an easy-going, enjoyable process, not dependent on dodging queue-cutting morons who pretend to wear glasses, eyeing up someone’s thrift-shop purchase quota, or enduring extra-loud house music when I want to conduct a conversation. It’s not really the pubs’ fault (apart from the music volume); it’s more that the clientele can be tricky. But they seem to like it that way and each to their own. But tonight I’m making a couple of exceptions; the Rose Villa Tavern has always been a little different, more tranquil, and I’ve gone for the Welsh cider on tap at last month’s Cider Fest (to appease Dad again, Welsh as he is).

 7 The Pub: The Black Eagle, Factory Road, Hockley The Drink: Ansell’s Mild Why? I just said I wasn’t a fan of Hockley boozers so why am I back here? Well, for one thing I have never been to this pub, but tonight there’s a first (and last) time for everything. It has brilliant reviews and is a multi-award winning CAMRA favourite. Do you remember the advert for Fry’s Turkish Delight back in the day? This One with the Rudolph Valentino lookalike? Well that’s only the landlord! I know – it’s blowing my mind! But best of all it keeps Ansell’s Mild on tap – the mild of my Dad’s dreams. Having found out about this place, I’m going to take him this weekend! He’s old, so why wait?

8 The Pub: The White Horse, York Street, Harborne The Drink: Hanson’s Porter Why? There is plenty of healthy competition among Harborne’s pubs. The Plough won CAMRA’s Rising Star award in 2010 though some locals on well known beer forums accuse it of being a wee bit too expensive on the beer front, as the hub of Harborne’s gentrification. I’ll bow to popular opinion on this one. The White Horse has ten real ales on tap, a beer board just like my final pub choice (plenty more pints to sink yet though) and friendly, slightly incontinent spaniels (obviously we connect on a number of levels).     

9 The Pub: The Tap and Spile, Gas Street The Drink: Doom Bar Why? This was our local for a couple of years, it’s nothing special, but it stays open later than pretty much everywhere else in town, always has Doom bar and Greene King on tap and descends into a reliably cheesy karaoke session during which  everyone at the bar imagines themselves to be Freddie Mercury, Steve Perry or Dave Lee Roth. Fun Fact: The husband almost got into a punch-up here with a 6 ft 4’’ Glaswegian who didn’t like more than one person in the pub to wear a hat. My husband wore one, guess who wore the other?

10 The Pub: The Victoria, John Bright Street The Drink: Brooklyn Lager on draught Why? I’m hoping the world ends on a week night because by Friday night this place is rammed. Also I don’t want to be on the side of the bar with the sticky carpet. And, the barman here looks like my husband’s good friend (and epic drinking companion) Terry, which is comforting.

 11 The Pub: The Post Office Vaults, New Street The Drink: Chimay White Why? By this point in proceedings I really don’t care anymore so let’s up the alcohol content with some of the hoppy Belgian white stuff. I’m so pleased the POV has been a success story, it’s always rammed in the evenings, has over 300 foreign beers available now (including the decadent Deus Brut des Flandres which I would have bought if I hadn’t just spent all my cash at the previous ten pubs) and my dad can even have a third pint of mild! Not bad for the little cellar that could.

12 The Pub: The Wellington, Bennett’s Hill The Drink: Whatever you’re selling the most of today, good sir Why? This is the granddaddy of Brum’s CAMRA pubs, a World’s End if ever there was one*. The adult equivalent of a sweetie store, each pump glistens with promise of flavours yet to come. Again, it gets absolutely rammed on weekends but that’s not when I’ve had my best times here. There have been cosy chats, loud impassioned debates on international policy (oops, that kind of broke the rules on polite pub conversations and almost got some of us chucked out), sightings of Neil Morrissey (in the back alleyway, puffing on a ciggie), a thirty second heart to heart with a barmaid about my late mother, and epic, epic all-day sessions here when I was a student. Always loved that you can bring in food and eat it here (they even supply the cutlery); the scene of many a guilty MacDonald’s meal and Christmas Market bratwurst. But this place has made me happy (and a bit dizzy), so I’d have my last drink here.

 

*There is. In Camden. Went there last week. But they were accepting cash only. Boooo. 

Heads Up!: Shock & Gore Horror Fest 2013

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Shock & Gore has been delighting horror fans in the Midlands for quite a few years now, and while we may not be able to get to every event in the festival (I for one am gutted that I’ve never been free on the evening of their legendary all-nighter), there are plenty of tales of terror coming Brum’s way from July 19th to the 25th.

Whether you prefer your horror creepy (The Spiral Staircase), visceral (Dead Ringers), kooky (Gremlins), funny (The Evil Dead), foreign (Santa Sangre) or classic (The Exorcist), the festival never disappoints and often incorporates live Q&A sessions with directors and writers and performances by comedians, magicians and musicians.

Normally centred on the Electric Cinema (but of course), this year the event has also branched out to include venues such as The Custard Factory Theatre, St Columba Church in Moseley and Stageside Restaurant.

I’ve had some great times here over the years (watching Carrie springs to mind because my husband and brother seemed to burst out laughing whenever John Travolta was on screen for some reason) and the organisers go to so much effort to set a good-naturedly creepy atmosphere. Oh, and food is usually very important here too – lots of inventiveness (see below for some of this year’s culinary concoctions).

I’ve been looking through the schedule and there is so much choice but for me, the standout events include (but certainly are not limited to):

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (with wine tasting), Tuesday 23rd July, 8pm, Electric Cinema, £26 (sofa) or £20 (standard).

I just love me some tongue.

I just love me some tongue.

OK, so this isn’t an event to go to if you are a) a recovering alcoholic, b) a militant teetotaler or c) somebody who hates it when films get paused because there will be five different (blood red) wines doled out during pauses in the movie.

But if you love a tipple and you find Keanu Reeves’ attempts at an English accent really amusing (seriously, he has an English mum, he should have this down) and find Gary Oldman weirdly sexy then this showing of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 effort is for you. Enjoy.

The American Scream, Sat 21st July, 2pm, Custard Factory Theatre, Digbeth, £6, £4.50 concessions.

They're coming to get you Barbara

They’re coming to get you Barbara

 ‘A heart-warming documentary at a horror festival? What are they thinking?’ I hear you cry.

But this look at a Massachusetts community’s efforts to have the best haunted house at Halloween really appeals to me as a long-time Halloween fiend. I really love the way that Americans just get the kooky, spooky aspect of autumn, how important it is to childhood and just how fun it is to be scared.

I really want to spend Halloween there one day (and that might be happening sooner rather than later…) although I did once go to Hell in Michigan which celebrates it all the year round (read if you like small town Americana and accidental road trips).

Film Food Club – The Silence of the Lambs, Thursday 25th July, 19.45 (Meal at Stageside Resaurant) and 9pm (film at The Electric Cinema)

He just licked one too many icy flag poles, honest.

He just licked one too many icy flag poles, honest.

Don’t tell me you’ve never wanted to try this, of course you have. Well now is your chance to eat some liver (can’t ensure this will belong to a friend or neighbour though) with some fava beans and a niiiiice chianti sfa-sfa-sfa-sfa. Then you can throw it all up whilst watching Anthony Hopkins shrink Jodie Foster’s head while some guy collects women’s skin so he can make a lady suit.

If you take someone on a first date to this one and they don’t run off screaming, they’re a keeper!

Would You Rather, Saturday 20th July, 8.30pm, The Electric Cinema, £7.40 and £5 (concessions)

You want me to strap Tena to my head? OK

You want me to strap Tena to my head? OK

There’s usually a hot new horror flick premiering at the festival and this year’s choice plays on that gross-out childhood game that usually involved licking someone’s eyeball. I’m not promising that’s going to happen here (I wish) but with a sadist hosting a dinner party for people all desperate for money, some horrid, exploitative stuff is bound to go down.

This is probably going to be a hard one to stomach (think Hostel or the Saw series) but for all you sick puppies out there, I hope it’s what you were looking for. Personally, I might sit this one out and see Black Sabbath instead.

Scary on Brum!

Brum’s Best Beer Gardens

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public domain imagehttp://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=35287&picture=cool-beer

public domain imagehttp://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=35287&picture=cool-beer

You know how it is, we wait months for a sunny day then two come along on consecutive days.

Everyone rushes out to take in the Vitamin D.

‘This is it’ they cry.

‘Summer is finally here!’

You rush out to buy a new summer wardrobe, you debate buying a gas barbecue. You debate building an outside wood burning pizza oven.

Then suddenly, as quickly as it arrived our ‘Summer’ is over and we are once more flung back into the overcast existence of typically British weather.

The point is at the moment we should seize the sunny days as they occur. With this in mind here are my top five Birmingham beer gardens ahead of this weekend’s May Bank Holiday.

The ever so cool beer garden at The Lord Clifden is more fun than it sounds.

The ever so cool beer garden at The Lord Clifden is more fun than it sounds.

I wasn’t sure about this place in the Jewellery Quarter until recently. With its abundant collection of modern art (including a Banksy no less!), too-cool-for-school clientele such as Damian Hirst and Observer Food Award, I thought it would be trendy to the point of alienation. I’m half expecting Proudlock and Phoebe from Made In Chelsea to make a special Shoreditch-lite pilgrimage at some point.

But it turns out this beer garden is held in good regard by locals for a reason. Lots of seating space, a ping pong table, a constantly repainted/ graffiti-clad/ muralised  post box and its own beer make for a decent afternoon.

Apparently the garden has just had a makeover and if you want to want to check it out then you’re just in time for one of their Kitchen Disco parties this weekend on Sunday 26th. Entrance is free and from 2pm sounds and BBQ smells will be emanating from the garden. Roasts will also be on until 9pm too.

The good news is that there will be music events in the garden all summer providing a good opportunity to take a chance on this local institution.

The Figure of Eight's beer garden.

The Figure of Eight’s beer garden.

Now, now – we mustn’t get snotty about this being a Witherspoon place. For all the branding, they do at least keep pubs running that would have gone under as indies.

I have included this on the list because it does have the biggest beer garden in the city centre and a rather nice one at that. It was right around the corner from where I used to live. The drinks and food were cheap, there were never any fights, it was well-lit in the evenings and it was just an easy-going place to hang out which is all you can ask from a beer garden. Enjoy.

Jekyll & Hyde's beer garden has and Alice In Wonderland theme. Photo courtesy of joskitchen.co.uk

Jekyll & Hyde’s beer garden has and Alice In Wonderland theme. Photo courtesy of joskitchen.co.uk

As regular readers will know, this is one of my favorite bars in the city. It has a tiny beer (or should that be gin) garden out back with twinkly lights and Lewis Carroll murals. It gets crowded so best for an early drinking session (but that just means it can be first stop on your bar crawl).

This bank holiday it will unusually be open on Sunday (26th) but not Monday and there will be lots of Blues/ Motown/ Loft music all weekend (here’s a handy link to what’s occurring on which night).

OK, girls might appreciate this particular page of J&H's cocktail book more than any red-blooded males out there but it does give you an idea of the inventiveness on offer.

OK, girls might appreciate this particular page of J&H’s cocktail book more than any red-blooded males out there but it does give you an idea of the inventiveness on offer.

They also have what I consider to be the BEST BANK HOLIDAY DEAL  – £4 cocktails have been extended to all day and night on Saturday and all night on Sunday so a good opportunity to grab a whole bunch of the best gin & tonics in town!

Beer garden at The Prince of Wales. It is a pretty extraordinary place.

Beer garden at The Prince of Wales. It is a pretty extraordinary place.

When it’s a bonafide sunny afternoon in Brum, I like to go to the epicenter of pub garden awesomeness and that means Moseley Village. Just a 15 minute hop on the No. 1 bus from Town Hall or Broad Street and you are transported to Birmingham’s liveliest suburb.

The Prince should be on the list of best pub gardens in Britain, never mind Brum. For it is not just somewhere to take your pint and sit, it is a veritable beer garden complex not unlike the beer gardens in Munich’s English Gardens yet this is way more British in its eccentricity.

It's wine in a shed - how could you not love this place?

It’s wine in a shed – how could you not love this place?

Not only is there a ridiculously huge amount of seating but you are covered in the event of a downpour, you are heated in the event of a strong breeze and you are table-served in the event of sheer laziness.

It gets even better: dry ice cocktails at the Mo Tiki bar.

It gets even better: dry ice cocktails at the Mo Tiki bar.

I know, brilliant, right? Well it doesn’t stop there. Within the garden is a wine bar (Shed du Vin), a cigar bar and a Tiki cocktail bar. All this and a stage for the inevitable folk band performances (well, it is Moseley). There is a definite party atmosphere here which is really infectious – I dare you to come here and not have a good time. No really, I have some great dares lined up. Bring it!

A mere 2 minute stroll down the street from the Prince is this Mitchell’s & Butler’s owned (though you wouldn’t guess it) city boozer with another A1 beer garden in the rear. I told you – Moseley does this sort of thing better than most places.

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     You remember at school when there was an annual Parents’ Committee barbecue and it was held at the farm of one of your friend’s dads? No? Just me then. Well, this beer garden reminds me of those kind of barbecues.

So many nooks and crannies to hide out in this place. I once took shelter on a leather couch in a barn here! There are the obligatory fairy lights, the music, the occasional hog roast. Like The Prince it is a really great place to while away the evening. And people mingle good-naturedly, a bit like parents at a barbecue.

And a special mention goes to…

  • The sun terrace at the top of The Cube
Spectacular view from the top of The Cube and it's slightly closer to the sun.

Spectacular view from the top of The Cube and it’s slightly closer to the sun.

Although I’ve heard mixed reviews of the Marco Pierre White restaurant attached, the terrace is pretty stunning. I’ve only been there at night and was not so impressed by the cocktails (or some of the clientele) but my old hairdresser told me that  she and her colleagues would retire there during sunny lunch hours to have a beer and sit outside.

Thinking outside the box, it could be worth a go.

Happy bank holiday folks, have a good time and maybe I’ll see you at one of the above 🙂 .

A Brum Romance. Is Birmingham Romantic?

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The director Danny Boyle once said that Birmingham would make the ideal setting for a romantic comedy. Obviously he wouldn’t direct it himself but some Brummie enfant terrible might come up with a way to make our rough diamond of a city into a sparkling gem like Notting Hill or er… Aberystwyth.

As he said this in 2005 and now, 8 years later, there is still no sign of Brum And The City, I have to wonder if Birmingham is up to the job as a destination for a romantic date night or a dirty weekend. And with Valentine’s Day imminent, I conducted a little investigation of my own …

I celebrated my third wedding anniversary  a few weeks ago, and being short on money, we elected to scamper back to our old neighbourhood for the night. The first disconcerting sign that Brum may be a fireworks-free zone came when selecting a hotel. I’m a member of Mr & Mrs Smith, the boutique hotel booking service but there were no Birmingham-based offerings on their website. Unperturbed I soldiered on.

Surely the two most obvious choices were the Hotel Du Vin off St Phillip’s Square and Malmaison in the Mailbox. Hotel Du Vin was booked solid and the most recent Trip Advisor reviews for Malmaison weren’t inspiring confidence with their candid photos of ripped sheets, frayed lampshades and unidentified stains. Trip Advisor isn’t currently too hot on Hotel Du Vin either and it looks like both hotels could do with a bit of a spruce-up and some staff training.

Sadly, we ended up at the Premiere Inn (!)* where the beds weren’t that comfy and the heating didn’t appear to be working. It was also very purple. Firework-free zone ladies and gents.

Carnage: Romance Broad street style.

Carnage: Romance Broad street style.

This is just the tip of the iceberg because Brum can be pretty darn unromantic. How can you take a romantic stroll when people are constantly spitting in the street and leaving you to dodge the resulting puddles? The Ibizian definition of ‘romance’ (ie a bunk-up) is still alive and kicking in the city centre. Broad Street has never been, is not and will never be romantic. Going out there in search of romance will leave you feeling unloved, melancholy and like you’ve spent the evening in an abbatoir – and that’s if you got lucky.

If Broad Street sounds like romance to you, you’re not going to like what I have to say very much so stop reading. I mean it – go away. If you can’t be bothered to have at least have a stab at witty conversation in the run up to your sexual encounters then I won’t waste your precious rutting time.

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But I know better. I know for sure that romance is alive and well here, unorthodox as it is, and that Mr Boyle might be on to something. Brum was the first place I lived with my husband so it holds very fond memories for me. So here I present to you The Romantic Guide to Brum:  

The Most Romantic Spot in Birmingham

Seriously, I can geographically pin-point it for you. It’s right here:

A little bit Love Actually, this. Yup it’s in New Street Station (I know, right?). Under a triangular hanging (probably a brutalist attempt to conceal some wires) will stand at any given time during opening hours, a girl or boy. Sometimes they are holding a bunch of flowers. They will always sport a slightly anxious or excited facial expression. And, often 20 minutes later than planned, it will open out into a wide grin just before they rush forward and deliver a passionate kiss to whoever it was they were waiting for. I’m talking full-on snogs here. Guaranteed, every time. I don’t know if this spot is on a lay-line or New Street was built on Cupid’s burial ground or what but I have witnessed this phenomenon at least ten times now. And it’s always heartening after I’ve trudged here, carefully avoiding spitballs.  

Most Romantic Bar

Strangely, despite my love of cocktails, I suggest the cocktail-free environs of Bacchus at the Burlington hotel. It’s like Liberace and an interior designer drank too much fabulousness and threw up all over a vault. In a good way. The dramatic curiosity of the place is a great talking point. They sometimes have live music, there are plenty of intimate nooks and crannies, it’s romantically lit and …well it’s a bar with a fake knight mausoleum. Go try it.

Most Romantic Restaurant

For my money I’d say Cote Brasserie in the Mailbox. Not because the food is amazing or because of the price but just because it is dimly lit and feels intimate. However, my husband feels that Brown’s Brasserie in the Bullring, with it’s New York ambiance and abundance of cocktail options is more fun. Especially when the remote controlled blinds come down at dusk.

Most Romantic Hotel

Well it’s yet to be built, sorry but there we are. But when the Grand Hotel on Colmore Row is opened, it will be worthy of Valentine’s days for years to come. The re-opening is expected in the spring of next year and looks great. In fact I’ve just been watching the interior tonight on BBC’s Dancing On The Edge as the ballroom was used as a location. Now if they could just add some horse-drawn carriages to trot you around Colmore Row, we might be starting to get somewhere.

Best Date

Watching a film at the Electric Cinema. Ok, ok, I know I always go on about this place but that’s because it’s great. You can duck in out of the rain, drink absinthe, eat cake then settle onto a squashy sofa at the back and cuddle up while you watch an old black and white movie. What’s not to love?

Best Place to Escape V-Day

Open mic nights are a good bet, because you’ll be in good company, no one will be paying attention to your perceived lonely-hearts status (especially if the act is really bad, trust me), couples will no doubt be heckled and it’s nice and dark. There’s an entertaining one each week at The Yardbird in Paradise Forum but on Feb 14th, Island Bar on the Suffolk Queensway is hosting one. There will probably be bad poetry – suck it up.

So there we have it, whether you’re a voyeur, a nauseating couple, first daters, a long-standing couple who don’t want to speak to each other but feel obliged to mark the day or a misanthropic singleton, Brum could surprise you this year.

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Happy Valentine’s Day Y’all

*Seriously, do not ever take a girl here and expect all your fantasies to come true.

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