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Category Archives: The Bad

Our Little House on the Prairie

The actual Little House

The actual Little House

Did you ever used to watch this on Sunday mornings? It was Channel 4’s gooey sentimental filling, sandwiched between The Waltons and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. My brother who is going through a protracted quarter-life crisis, has recently become obsessed with it, filled as it is with the comforts of a poor but caring two-parent family, regular chastening of one’s morals  and plenty of gingham.

So it should delight him to know that the husband and I are due to move into our first American home together tomorrow, a house on a road called Prairie. And just like Laura Ingalls, I get to sleep in the loft!

OK, I don’t know what a prairie actually is but I’m already having visions of running down a hill filled with wild-flowers, my hair in pigtails and wearing gingham (but of course).

Me on Sunday mornings

Me on Sunday mornings

American houses are innately scarier than British homes. OK, so British homes tend to be older, but when you’re on your own in a typical US house there are all these noises… I’ve been walking around trying to find their sources just to put my overactive imagination tot rest.

Evil furnace - they don't normally look this evil.

Evil furnace – they don’t normally look this evil.

I can now sympathise with little Kevin McCallister’s fear of his basement furnace in Home Alone. It just starts whirring in a uniquely macabre tone at the most random moments. And forced air systems are louder than good old central heating. Our wood floors seem to creak and settle way more than wood floors back in Blighty. I actually got the husband to prowl around the house with a baseball bat last night because a combination of the sump pump and creaky floor boards translated into ‘serial killer’ for me.

Or even something worse; remember those strange sounds at the beginning of The Excorcist – suspected rats in the attic that turned out to be Satan? Although Hantavirus poses as great a threat…

The (and rats) laugh in the face of your puny light source.

The devil  (and rats) laugh in the face of your puny light source.

And after watching both versions of Don’t be Afraid of the Dark last year, I have also developed a fear of air vents – there could be a whole race of malevolent little people in there who want you to join them in being needlessly malevolent.

And all roots lead to the basement – those little quirks of mid 20th century American house design, such as the milk box (a small alcove in the wall next to the back door for milk deliveries), laundry shoots and giant ill-repaired air vents, foster echoes and dirges from the laundry room and dreaded sump pump below.

They came from the air vents: the little beasties from Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

They came from the air vents: the little beasties from Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Well I’ve suitably terrified myself in time for bed this evening, so it’s only fair to spread the misery.

Although Little House was an idyllic window into the American pioneer world of the 19th century, the TV show allegedly carries a dark legacy.

A few years ago I read this claim on Find A Death that the set of Little House on the Prairie was built near an experimental weapons plant. The claim alleged that the saintly Michael Landon (Pa Ingalls himself) got the land cheap because he knew of this. Obviously I disregarded this unsubstantiated claim. But a lot of the cast got sick after filming finished, even Landon himself died tragically young of cancer. And I’ve now seen this theory crop up on quite a few sites. It makes me sad to think that even that cosy loft on the prairie harboured death in the nooks and crannies.

Nighty night children. Sleep tight.

From Brum to…?

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270px-Michigan_in_United_States.svgEvening Brummies,

Do remember this post?

Well it’s finally happened. Following graduation, the husband landed a job at a big bad investment bank in London and spent most of last summer in NYC (not me though, confined to the couch and enforced Corrie-watching as per usual). But it turned out that banks really are as evil as we all suspected and in November he was offered a job back in the States. So tomorrow I’m heading to the frozen north. Michigan to be precise.

Cue lots of standing around the US Embassy in London for me. In the rain. And at one point naked in a Harley St clinic to prove I was female (yes, they really do want to check you for that).

And also the nightmare that is international shipping (customs forms, dolls’ house bubble wrapping, waving goodbye to all you own in the vain hope it won’t arrive smashed to smithereens at the other end).

The question is, what does this mean for Brummedout? I guess it would be hard to continue writing about a city I no longer reside in or can even easily visit. Although I shall be keeping an eye on the place, through friends who live in and around the area.

So the next best thing would be to rename the blog and shift its focus. Or start a completely new one. What should I do? Any ideas?

I think I’ll keep posting about my ex-pat journey for a little while, and take y’all with me for the ride. So if you’d care to log in and accompany me into the polar vortex that is currently freezing up Niagara Falls, the Great Lakes and – allegedly – people’s toilet bowls, I’d be glad of the company.

Also, if you ever wanted to know about anything in particular about America from an outsider’s perspective, I’ll do my best to satisfy your curiosity. I fly out from Birmingham International (loyal to the end) tomorrow morning.

Brum, it’s been emotional.

Take care of yourselves, you hear?

 

 

 

Black Friday – A Most Unfortunate Import

what-to-wear-for-black-friday-shoppingThere hasn’t been a good rant on this site for a while now, but yesterday something caught my eye that just made me soooo mad I had to vent (and it was writing about  this or bleaching the shower grouting).

Whilst trying to read the news online, one of those moveable pop-ups kept pestering me around the touch screen. ‘SOMEHING’ it flashed, ‘UNBELIEVABLE. IS HAPPENING. TOMORROW. TOMORROW. TOMORROW.’ Something annoying was happening right now though, and as the advertisers obviously had a huge deal with the online edition of this newspaper, it wasn’t about to subside anytime soon. ‘BLACK FRIDAY. BLACK FRIDAY. THIS FRIDAY. AT …’ (insert name of gigantic American owned superstore here. Other superstores are inevitably available).

Calm before the storm: Thanksgiving promotes a sense of peace and humanity.

Calm before the storm: Thanksgiving promotes a sense of peace and humanity.

  ‘Crap,’ I groaned. Black Friday has made it over here. For those of you unfamiliar with this ‘tradition’, let me enlighten you. The day after Thanksgiving in America (which always falls on the last Thursday in November) has been christened BLACK FRIDAY. Taking advantage of the good mood caused by the nationwide turkey roast and effects of umami the previous day, shops open up from midnight onward promising huge discounts on stock. Consumers turn up in droves, frequently in their PJs to dash around the stores and fight over this and that essential (ie: not really) item. It’s like the first day of the January sales on speed. Needless to say, the spirit of Thanksgiving is thrown out of the window so that shoppers can get ever closer to human sacrifice on the altar of mindless consumerism.

Maybe you think that last remark was a tad over the top. Sadly not. The first time I was in the US for Thanksgiving, I had a lovely time going to see the Detroit Lions lose (yep, they were giving away home tickets that season), meeting my in-laws for the first time, cheering my boyfriend on at the Turkey Trot 5K (from the warmth of his apartment) and generally learning what a delightful seasonal event this is. The day afterwards, I elected to stay home and steadily some alarming news reports came in. A security guard with a leg broken in a department store stampede, children sent to the Emergency Room, and most tragic of all, a pregnant woman crushed causing a miscarriage and an employee stamped on and killed at a Black Friday event in a Walmart sore.

Black Friday, the reality: in 2008 I heard news reports of fights, shootings, miscarriages and death by stampede.

Black Friday, the reality: in 2008 I heard news reports of fights, shootings, miscarriages and death by stampede.

This alone should raise alarms about the necessity of Black Friday crossing the pond, but also there is no logic behind this very American day in our admittedly crappy consumer culture. Black Friday heralds the beginning of the Christmas season in America, trees can now be put up, lights can be strung across the neighbourhoods, department store Santas can start freaking out little kids. But not over here. We don’t have Thanksgiving. Mostly because we have the good old Sunday Roast/ Friday Night Dinner every week. Black Friday in the UK is using multiculturalism in the most cynical way possible. We have never had this so-called tradition is the UK; there is no ethnic, cultural or religious demand for it. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it features in an upcoming episode of Mr Selfridge. I bet the discounts won’t even be any good (are they ever?).  The best thing to do is boycott it and send the multinational conglomerates a clear message before they start making it an essential British seasonal ‘tradition’.

Mailbox Vs Corporation Street: The Saga of Brum’s Big City Plan

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Big City Plan: It looked like a piece of cake, didn't it?

Big City Plan: It looked like a piece of cake, didn’t it?

Back when I was a little blonde girl, I used to play with dolls houses/ Sylvanian Families’ shops, and when these became too restricting I made my own abodes and SMEs out of spare shoe boxes. Plot-lines between the dolls/ badgers/ frogs and clowns unfolded daily, and even though ovens regularly doubled as beds for small animals, there was a place for everything and everything in its place. Now that I am all grown up (!), I frequently find myself doing the same thing with Birmingham when I can’t get to sleep.

The Big City Plan never ceases to yield a number of articles in each week’s Post or Mail, and because of the constant soap opera of town planning in our fair city (as if it is the opening sequence to Game of Thrones), it is impossible not to play doll’s houses with the map sometimes.

Recently, reports of a £50 million upgrade to The Mailbox emerged. We are getting a full-sized Harvey Nicks (yay), and a roof over our heads as we walk through the shops (which, as anyone who has had to endure the British weather during a winter routine puddle-dodge through The Mailbox can surely attest, is a good thing). It is throwing off the depression at being largely abandoned by the BBC and re-embracing the unique identity originally carved out for the former sorting office.

It's close to two Station entrances so The Mailbox gets a £50 million upgrade.

It’s close to two Station entrances so The Mailbox gets a £50 million upgrade.

When I used to live near The Mailbox I always found it a little dispiriting to walk through the empty banks of shops and felt a bit sheepish when the news networks described it as ‘Upmarket’ and ‘Prestigious’ during the riots. Although I knew that The Mailbox and John Bright Street would eventually come into their own when the Station expansion and Metro were completed, and I’m glad things are getting back on track, I did not foresee the downside to the shift in city centre spending.

This weeks’ episode of the Brum saga (and for once I am not talking about Peaky Blinders) is the knock-on effect this will have on the shops of Corporation Street and the surrounding warren of lanes. Rex Johnson (the lovely, friendly CS-based jewellers’) delivered a worrying vox-pop revealing that the station/Metro road-works had been nothing short of disastrous for their business. I have always wanted Brum to have its own independent quarter (not just for knock-off pop-ups or market stalls) and I’m not alone but why can’t the Chamber of Commerce, the banks, the landlords and the business owners work together to make this happen? If Corporation Street/ Cannon Street and the rest are perfect places for small businesses (SMEs) and the ubiquitous chains are moving to the Bull Ring/ The Mailbox and Grand Central, there has to be a lowering of commercial rents to help these businesses to start up and thrive. I have seen too many small businesses here go under before they even had the chance to make an impact. And time and time again, high rent and low footfall is to blame.

Corporation Street: It's not only the Ladies that's closing.

Corporation Street: It’s not only the Ladies that’s closing.

 There is no reason for Birmingham rates to creep ever closer to London’s extortionate commercial rates. And whilst the threat of a Saturday Strike for businesses last October did spur the Council and local groups to give support and to drop rents by a meagre 7.5%, I think 20% until the conditions improve would be a far more caring gesture. The 60% of expenditure that shopping provides to Birmingham would only increase if there was a diversity of services – this means independents.

Yes, having a Kiehls or a White Company shop in town is very nice, but nicer still is a town where shops run by local people can give our city a greater sense of community and service in a world increasingly held to ransom by the same twenty monopolising shop brands. A high street it is not. Let’s pull for the underdog and support Birmingham’s independent businesses – you’ll miss them when they’re gone!

New additions: But improvements in one area can mean failure for independent businesses.

New additions: But improvements in one area can mean failure for independent businesses.

In which we have a power cut and I feel sad…

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Last night we had a temporary blackout. Just our block.

There is work going on down the road and the workmen must have accidentally cut the electric line. The workmen told us the power would be back on in 20 minutes. The husband typically got a bit panicky whereas I was content to sit in a candlelit flat. He told me tales of the great Northeast Blackout of ’03; how everyone calmly directed the traffic home and of the impromptu party he threw to get rid of all the food quickly defrosting in his freezer.

Then, on the 20 minute dot, the power came back on. The lights flickered, the phone chimed, the boiler roared, the printed whirred, the garden fountain restarted and every single alarm in the building went off (except ours but that’s another story). The constant hum of modern life resumed as gradually the alarms abated, all except one.

There was still one alarm screaming. At first it seemed as if it was coming from the closet in our hallway but it must have been in the closet in the flat directly above ours. Because of said other story, my husband knew how to disable the alarm. So he went upstairs and knocked politely on their door. No answer.

We tried to get to sleep but it was difficult. We put a fan on full power to drown out the alarm which just made the overall noise level higher. It went on all night. By noon today I was getting concerned. We tried the door again. No answer. No one from the flats adjacent seemed to have done anything (they allegedly haven’t had the same problems with noise and the constant smell of weed from our downstairs neighbours either). But surely they weren’t just ignoring it?

I rang the building maintenance company. ‘Sorry’, they said. ‘We don’t have the details for who owns that flat.’ That didn’t strike true. Even after I had a name to give them. They said the alarm was not their juristiction.

I rang the police. What if someone was in the flat and no one was bothering to check on them? They seemed shocked that the alarm had not worn out yet and said it didn’t seem worrying enough. I was passed around and finally to told to contact Environmental Health. At which point the alarm miraculously was silenced.

Still, in that moment I felt incredibly sad. That neighbours don’t check on each other anymore, that the police don’t check on people anymore, that everyone thinks problems are something for somebody else to deal with. We hardly ever talk to other people in the building. Sometimes, I’ve heard people run from the hallway to the front door so they don’t have to cross paths with anyone else. Sometimes our neighbours will return our ‘hellos’ and other times these same people walk on past us with a steely glint.

It just makes me sad, that’s all.

Drat! Foiled by fate and Nazis…

Sorry for the break in posts. My husband finally finished his Masters thesis so we took a ‘staycation’.

I had hoped to be posting on the Juniper Cinema at Jekyll & Hyde this evening but due to our urgent need to find employment, the husband is in London on business and I am all alone… Annoying too as tonight they are showing Iron Sky, a film that keeps eluding me. It always sells out when shown at The Electric – I guess it’s the classic combination of Nazis in space (genius). I think even if it is a stinker, it’s hard not to pull for a film that was financed mainly by public donations from people who fancied seeing a film about Nazis in space. I love a good underdog story.

Hogarth’s Gin Lane: Jekyll and Hyde is on Steelhouse Lane – do not confuse.

The other news is that our lease is up at the end of next month. This may mean moving to another flat in the city, or more likely, moving to a new city (sniff). This really chaps my arse (teehee) as it means I may not be able to carry on Brummed Out (full on sob). I am so disappointed as I have so much stuff planned for this blog and I have come to love Brum. The Brummies. And our flat.

But I promise to keep on blogging right up until the moment we get out of Spaghetti Juction. Maybe even beyond that. And who knows – we might even return…

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