I Love Brum- a Saturday in Digbeth

Not done one of these for a while, but occasionally I happen upon stuff happening in my hometown, and think it’s worth checking out. This is one of those times.

Digbeth was a horror of an area when I first came up here about a decade ago. A bunch of abandoned factories and an Irish pub where you had a 50-50 chance of leaving without a puncture wound.

In recent years it’s become reminiscent of Shoreditch at the turn of the century, when it still had an edge, and affordable rents. My hope is that the Brummie sensibility will resist it going to the Shoreditch extreme of turning the place into a cultural mecca for arseholes, and keep it pretty good.

It’s currently best known for the Digbeth Dining Club, popular with that rare breed of British journalist who leaves the confines of the M25, ever.

Anyway, I headed down there to see an architectural installation a friend had told me about, a look at the past and futures of Birmingham, set inside a miniature recreation of the bullring, built out of reclaimed wood.

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Inside were hundreds of pictures of Birmingham through the years, suspended from the roof, so you had to navigate through the history of Birmingham, minding your face the whole time. It was very interesting, and a little zen, in the way the breeze and your movement ensured a different history for every visitor.

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It was called Urban Labyrinth and while it’s finished, there’s more here.

Wandering out, I then happened upon an urban garden. Called Edible Eastside, it really is a hidden gem. You can rent a bed to grow in from about £15 a month, it’s in a gorgeous location by the canal, and they have a small bar serving up local beer, and cocktails with fresh herbs from their gardens.

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In a continuation of serendipity guiding me, they had a bread making lesson going on, and when I asked, it turned out that it was the Warwick Bar Summer Fete in the area, with all sorts of stuff going on. I had a quick look and decided to head round to the floating market, taking place around the corner, on the canal itself.

On my way there, I happened across two people dipping giant teabags into the canal. It turns out they were part of an art collective, Cluster Bomb Collective, running a walking tour inspired by the history of the old Typhoo Tea factory. I worried that the canal may become over brewed, they advised me that unless I thought river rats made a reasonable sweetener, drinking from it might be ill advised!

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Just after was the floating market, selling a mix of food, bric a brac and craft stuff from floating canal boat shop fronts. It’s a lovely scene, and they’re doing an evening market on 21st August on the canals near the shopping centre in Merry Hill. It will be illuminated at night and should be a nice evening out, though be careful with the local beer and open water!

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As I came off the canal, there was a lovely cafe and art gallery with a display of Estonian art, lovely strong coffee, and a fierce pro immigration stance.

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Then across the road was the Grand Union, a converted venue in an old factory. A composer, Sarah Angliss was putting on a performance. She is also a roboticist, and had a selection of automated, self built instruments, including an organ, bells and a theremin. Her music, to my ears, sounds like a cross between ‘Druqks’ era Aphex Twin and Harry Partch, though much mure startlingly original than my reductive comparison gets across. Probably the surprise of a day filled with nice surprises.

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Finally, save for a trundle through the Custard Factory and a wander back to Birmingham town, there was one more art installation, by Ryan Hughes, an interesting and mildly terrifying piece about the ubiquity of the sim card.

So anyway. This was a day out, just wandering in Digbeth. I didn’t even hit up the Made food festival, or the beer festival, yet a half hour trip kept me entertained for about four hours. Come and have a look! It’s quite a place to be surprised!

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