Monthly Archives: February 2015

“She’s a game bird.” I overheard someone saying this recently. No other phrase creates more nausea within me. Well, aside from the classic “Let’s have a giggle”. Eurgh. It’s worse when you give thought to what such a seemingly harmless little phrase actually means. Game is an ‘object of pursuit’, with fair game being ‘something equally accessible by any legitimate participant’. It derives from the grouse hunter’s expression to identify a bird that is a legitimate target as opposed to a bird that is injured, or too young. When that ‘bird’ in question is a woman, well, there’s the nausea again.

In my mind’s eye I cringe at hawing and hooraying middle-aged men in pastel linens, winding down with a sloe gin in an Agatha Christie-esque parlour of some vast country estate after a long haul on the grouse fields, his eye on the next target – Florence, someone’s cousin. (Must stop watching all this ITV3.) But, naturally seems as I live not in the country but Birmingham city centre, the fella I overhead making the “she’s a game bird” statement was not in fact a middle-age country gent but a lad in his late teens sporting a sort-of quiff. His friend wore red cords and a smart blazer. There was a cravat present.

It’s striking how this trend in young men’s – and ladies’ – fashion has really taken hold of the great British public. First came the renewed thirst to dress like young Sloanes after the success of Made in Chelsea. Cue Jack Wills, ‘outfitters to the gentry’, sprouting up all over the place – yes, even not-exactly-Oxbridge Birmingham. So I suppose it is only natural that we are now seeing this strange rise through the ranks, if you will, to an upper class of aspirational dressing. A movement that is resulting in the incongruous (and really quite humorous) combination of 18-year-old lads dressed in sat round the local Wetherspoons resembling the head of some old aristocrat in neckerchiefs, waistcoats and loafers-with-no-socks. Likely topped off with a quilted jacket, or tweed if you’re that way inclined.

It’s not hard to see why this look is so popular. I should know, I subscribed to Tatler to a year. (Yes, I know – but I was curious). It’s a bit of fun. And it’s nice to see people looking so smart – much preferable to the full-on tracksuit look – even if it is just as equally ridiculous (arguably more so).

But I digress – it dawned on me after overhearing the ‘game bird’ phrase that in all my 32 years I’ve never eaten game meat. Clearly, I’ve led a sheltered life. It’s strange though, as I’m not exactly unadventurous in my eating and I’m often found in a restaurant these days. Game has cropped up on the menu and in my psyche on numerous occasions. But my abstinence is not a conscious decision based on the blatant sexism (and accompanying nausea) that has infected my perception of game meat. But rather, an (until now) unconscious aversion based on what it represents to me about the sticky issue of social class.

pigeon  edit 2Growing up in north Birmingham there wasn’t much call for game. It was a truly alien concept. I remember, not all that long ago, hearing about fashionable restaurants serving pigeon and my immediate reaction was: food has gone mad. Eating pigeon? Never. The worst I’ve done to a pigeon is chase it… I don’t want one on my plate. Most of them are mangled and diseased-looking with one eye and half a leg. Of course, what these restaurants are serving are not the city pigeons we all love to hate, but wild wood pigeon. Thinking about it, what’s the difference? The wood pigeon’s diet can’t be too far removed from that of their city relatives – so what if they supplement their seeds with a bit of our rubbish…isn’t that what pigs do? And my, do we love our pork!

I think I’d rather take a chance with a city pigeon than dice with dental disaster – who wants a mouthful of lead? – and, in the process, continue to not buy into the stale elitism that today’s game ‘sport’ culture represents. Members – provided you understand all manner of weird rules and codes – of a selective club, wealthy enough to be able to shell out thousands to kill birds for pleasure.

It all seems a bit barbaric and unnecessary. While I can understand the argument that game sport isn’t any more barbaric than rearing a bird in a disgusting factory to be killed, the altogether unwholesome social barbarity of fun-seeking toffs paying through the nose to shoot at animals for sport is something this diner just can’t stomach. But ridding our cities of the pigeon scourge – wouldn’t that be a good thing? A useful thing?

We could get them out of the guns out of the grouse fields and into our city centres for public service shoots. Then we could have a Digbeth Dining Club pigeon burger stand, inspired by this Rentokil pestaurant. Can you imagine…armed men in plus-fours running around town? Paying women and small children a pittance (this does actually happen) to beat the pigeons into flight?

No, neither can I.

Life has begun to feel like I am sort of auditioning for one long YouTube video. I’ll be alone, say, in an empty windowless corridor or in the bathroom. But when I speak and move, I edit myself as though I am being watched, More specifically, I am picturing myself as if I am on film. Even down to my thoughts – often, I’ll be talking to myself in my head and if mid-thought I stumble over my virtual words, or think the wrong word, my brain will go back and re-run the thought as if I were saying it aloud. To an audience. Why can’t I be myself with myself any more?

I’m not quite sure how I let this happen. I’m not exactly a performer, there is certainly no unrealised desire in me to be famous, to be seen. I prefer to be alone. You could argue, quite rightly, that writing a blog is a performance. But clearly the appeal for this writer is that I can always edit.

tv sketch editI’m sure I can’t be the only one who has noticed themselves doing similar. Ringing any bells? Although I’ve been thinking about this only recently, I know it’s something I have been doing for a long while. And I blame the television! A pretty easy target. But, worryingly – or rather, not worryingly at all in this day and age – my TV is always on. It literally is a member of the family, a friend. Well, come on, friends – we have several. And so with 30 years of such indoctrination is it any wonder that we are constantly putting on a show. We’ve been practising all our lives – almost trained to act like we’re being watched. Like it or not, it’s not just the actors behind the screen – somehow, we have all become performers.

It must be even more intense for the younger lot or perhaps – not that they will have noticed. It will have been this way for their whole lives. For this generation TV isn’t so much influential as dictatorial. A guide for a life in front of the screen. Even on the most basic level, there’s always the threat of someone taking your photo. Then there are the bigger, inescapable eyes of Big Brother, watching our almost every move. And now, with social media, we are always being watched.

It’s exhausting! And not just the show, remembering to check your words and your outfits. No, there is the vast mental effort needed to consider, and the impact this performance has on our self-esteem. Our ideas about life in general. With so much visual competition there’s a lot to learn from, to inspire and challenge us to improve and grow, yes. But we have all set up an outer image of ourselves – the persona we want the outside world to recognise us as, the persona we want to convince ourselves that we are, even in private – and how can we constantly live up to that? It’s as though we are measuring up to a hologram.

I recognise this because I know it is something I do in myself. As a teenager I had created a persona that I never let myself switch off from, even once the bedroom door was closed and it was just me (and the TV), because I wanted it to be real. Laughably, that aspirational figure was very much based on Bridget Jones. Somehow, the constant pretence made it more believable. It was comforting to pretend.

Remember those poignant words of William W. Purkey? You gotta dance like there’s nobody watching. I’m wondering, are we actually capable of this anonymity anymore? Or has the mantra turned on its head? You’ve got to dance like somebody is watching, because there most likely is – even if it’s just in your head.

I came across an article recently about what was referred to as the great illusion of the self. Of what little of it I understood, there seems to be a growing argument among psychologists that we – or rather ‘you’ – are not the person you thought you were, underneath it all. And with this in mind, maybe there isn’t any real harm in pretending. Besides, what greater comfort is there?

In a particularly disgusting analogy from Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore, the proposed cuts to the Library of Birmingham have today been confirmed. With the council already having had to “cut to the bone” it was now “scraping away” at the bones themselves. In translation, more than half of the Library’s 188 staff now face the sack and opening hours will be, embarrassingly, reduced from 73 to 40 in April next year.


It’s always the libraries isn’t it? Nothing new there. We’ve seen many of our local library services taken from us in cold hard blood over the last few years. The library landscape in my city is one totally and very sadly alien to the facilities, the homes away from home, that I enjoyed as a child. These closures were justified by the very creation of this new super-library. And now we are going to leave it, what, just sitting there on it’s hands half the time, twiddling it’s thumbs? A big sore point? Such a decision seems stark-raving mad. This library isn’t just a library. It’s an opportunity. A first-class and award-winning opportunity to not only make libraries exciting again, but the city itself.

There’s all this talk in the national press recently about an apparent Birmingham renaissance. Which we really should be welcoming and building on. But at times like this it all feels like a joke at our expense. For those of us who live in the city, we are increasingly frustrated.

What is the point of creating such a bold space, a talking point that intrigues and attracts both locals and tourists to the city, only to shuffle back sheepishly after a matter of months. Quickly allowing such a high-profile space to be under-used after less than two years of opening. Talk about bad PR.

The confirmation of these savage cuts seems such a waste. Of time, money and our hopes of finally living up to what we know we can be – a world-beating cultural hotspot of a city. Amazing people supported by amazing facilities.

As citizens of Birmingham we should harness that Brummie pride and fight for our Library!

It would seem that my local coffee shop is a prime location for a spot of undercover crime detection. And no, I haven’t been watching too many crime dramas on ITV3. (Although, I have).

The last two times I have visited this particular coffee shop I have witnessed a crime – the same crime. Shoplifting. From the same place – a clearly unlucky branch of the popular high street chemist, Superdrug. And on both occasions the thieves were homeless people.

From the sanctum of Pret a Manger‘s first floor seating area I gazed down, over the froth of my cappuccino, at the Sunday morning scene below. New Street’s pavement was being pounded by grumpy families, gaggles of teens and hungover people. I love this – being nosey. It opens fleeting windows into the mundanity of other people’s lives. What they choose to buy for lunch. Where they do their supermarket shopping. How they talk to people on the phone. You learn so much about fellow humans from what they do in presumed privacy. Obscured from view as I was, looking down on everyone from on high in a God-like manner, I revelled in passing unrestrained judgement wherever I saw fit. Tutting at the spitting and litter-dropping. Cringing at the sheer volume of Superdry coat wearers (they don’t seem to fit most humans!) And that’s when I saw two characters huddled in front of a postbox.

I think the only way to describe them is shady. They were scheming. The thrill of covert observation suddenly stepped up a notch. You pray for stuff like this as a people watcher – juicy stuff. Shiftily, they scouted the exterior. One walking off back to the postbox while the other strolls in with an empty Superdrug bag – ingenious.

For me, this was purely entertainment. It felt not so much like real life, but television. I was back on the sofa in front of Lewis. No moral instinct kicked in – it didn’t even cross my mind to intervene. What exactly was I going to do anyway? Don my coat over my shoulders like a caped crusader, hurtle down the (many) stairs at Pret, career across the street and then… what? Alert the Superdrug security guard? Oh, he already knew what the pair were up to. He’s as resigned as the rest of us.

And that’s the thing. Has being a city girl all my life turned me into a lazy, bloated cynic? Largeing it up in a designer coffee shop, tucked up safely in a plush chair on the other side of the street, while this pair of lost souls are nicking a mouthwash to get drunk on. What’s one more theft? I was never going to act because I felt so far removed from the situation – from their desperation. I’d like to say the events released some Robin Hood sense of social justice in me, that I felt sympathy for the thieves and wanted the little man to win over the big. But if anything I was indifferent. Bored. Expecting it.

Am I a bad human? I’d like to think if it was a more serious crime I’d witnessed I would have been compelled to act – but would I? Really? If I’m honest with myself there is a chance I would leave it to someone else. Does my sense of social responsibility only stretch as far as doing the recycling and remembering to vote?

I’ve been giving this some thought and, despite working for a social enterprise for the least decade, embarrassingly I’ve I realised I couldn’t really describe what social responsibility actually means for you and I. In case you need enlightening too, reader, social responsibility is a duty every individual has to perform so as to maintain a balance between the economy and the ecosystems.

Of course, it’s one thing empathising with this message – which I do, in spades – and another acting on it. Which is where I sadly seem to have fallen short. But then, you may ask, where exactly was the thieves’ sense of social responsibility?

On this theme I thought It would be (semi) interesting to Google Superdrug‘s Social Responsibility Policy. One of their objectives is to ‘be fair’, not allowing customers to be discriminated against. They also state that giving back to the communities they serve is a key vision. Maybe I’ve got the security guard all wrong and he was in fact putting this policy into practice by turning a blind eye…

Did they get away with it, the thieves? No. There was something so pitiable about the whole charade, walking right into a pair of policemen as they did on their smug (but very short-lived) bounce down the street. Hardly master criminals. I felt very sorry for them. Instead of only exhibiting sympathy and kindness privately, for the benefit of no-one but me and my ego, perhaps I’ll take it out in public once in a while. Buying the Big Issue seems like a sensible start.

What about you lot? Ever intervened mid-crime? (But please don’t write in saying you saved a baby in an arson attack or anything, you’ll only make everyone feel bad…)

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