Today, because it was raining and the thought of being alone in a cold house all day, I decided to try out a couple of coffee shops that my friends rave about. I got into coffee in a big way in Melbourne and one place I visited set the bar very high so I can be um, hypercritical, and this was Mart130. Another place I love for brunch, not as faraway as Melbourne is Pinky Murphy’s in Fowey. Still not somewhere I can just pop out to though.

First stop was Yorks Bakery and Cafe. I have been there before so it’s not new to me. It is very New York lofty industrial style and the bread they bake there is truly wonderful. It was just gone 11.30 and they were winding up breakfast, so on the suggestion of the barista (who I think used to work at SixEight) I had a pulled pork roll with my small latte. Just under £8 is isn’t cheap but then I did stay there until 1.00. Also it was very cold in there, and I’m usually hot everywhere I go, so I was sitting near the door on one of the wettest Mondays that has caused flooding and train cancellations country wide. I could have moved seats I guess. I wish they did an all day brunch. The barista thinks so too!

Lots of suits in there over lunch time and I’ve been so out of the smart clothes loop, I’d forgotten that people wear ties to work and so many women in boring black suits. Shudder. No, I cannot go back to the corporate life. So seeking somewhere more me and wanting tea I went in search of Brewsmiths which claims it’s in the JQ. It is under a railway arch and I have to say while so less über cool than Yorks, I like it. I had my own armchair and coffee table, and tea and a bacon butty cost £3.20 which is a bargain. It’s cozy. It has bunting, books, magazines and music I like. I could move in.

The downside is that to get there from Snow Hill you have to go through an underpass. And they scare me. I had to use this one every day when I worked in Cornwall Street and there was a resident tramp, which bizarrely made me feel safe. He’s not there anymore.

Anyway. Another indie I have visited. If I lived or worked nearby I would come more often. So it’s back to Bearwood with frankly its poor choice of coffee shops with wifi and atmosphere. Sigh!

A sense of identity, or if I’m not a Brummie, what am I?

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Today, Birmingham City Council hosted a meeting to discuss what it means to be a Brummie. It had a hashtag on Twitter  #mybrum so interested parties could follow the discussion and even watch the meeting online.

My first thought was, can this be true, the council are meeting to discuss what it means to be a Brummie? Yes it was true, even Carl Chinn, Brummie historian, was there.

My next thought was, am I a Brummie? I don’t think I am.

  • I was born in London. Yet I don’t qualify as a cockney nor consider myself a Londoner.
  • I left London when I was about 6 years old to live in Smethwick, Staffordshire. Then it became Smethwick, Worcestershire. It is now in Sandwell.
  • I lived in Bristol for 4 years.
  • I then lived and worked in London, Surrey and East Sussex for a few years.
  • I now live in Birmingham and have done for nearly 25 years now.

So I have spent the majority of my life living in Birmingham. But I wasn’t born here and none of my family were. My maternal family are from Smethwick, my paternal family are  from Norway, my father was born in South Africa.

So now this beginning to sound like ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ Which is why I guess they wanted to know what it was that made people feel that they are a Brummie.

I then saw this report from the BBC: Birmingham: can people name England’s Second City?

Shocking that they don’t know very much about Birmingham, yet not surprising. Birmingham and the people live here, have in my opinion always undersold the city.

105-365 Bull at the Bull Ring, Birmingham

105-365 Bull at the Bull Ring, Birmingham (Photo credit: PaulSh)

Birmingham is home to The Mini, The Jewellery Quarter, Cadbury’s, HP Sauce,  and places that were inspiration for JRR Tolkein such as the Two Towers in the book, Lord of the Rings. It has three Michelin Star restaurants and an infamous Balti Triangle. And of course, The Bull Ring.

I am sure most of them will know the accent. Yet the accent changes from one street to another and often gets confused with the many Black Country dialects. A few weeks ago I was in Dudley and I asked a women for directions. I was only a few miles from my home. I hadn’t left the West Midlands County let alone the country. Friendly as she was, and she really was, because people round here are, she treated me as one would in another country. ‘Yowm not from round ere am ya?’ (Apologies for the poorly written dialect, I am not intending to poke fun, as they do a better job of it themselves.)

Brummies are quite rightly proud of their city. And I think it’s a city that gets better and better. I quite like living in Birmingham for now. Yet I am pretty sure I will not spend the rest of my life here. There are so many other places I want to see, so many other things to do, so many interesting people to meet. I have very itchy feet and no attachment to bricks and mortar and possessions. And no real attachment to Birmingham. Which is probably the real reason I am not a Brummie.

Why Food Banks are not the solution

Save the Children announced this week that it has launched its first appeal to support UK children.

The BBC have also made this film about the growing demand on a food bank in Coventry.

A while back I wrote about Live Below the Line which is an initiative by The Global Poverty Project and Christian Aid to highlight what it is like to, well, Live Below the Line. I was so shocked at what they suggested to buy in order to stay within budget, which included a bag of 20 sausages for £1 and bargain sliced white bread at 47p. This prompted me to see exactly how little money I could feed myself on and still have a healthy balanced diet. I called it Not Living Below the Line.

So how are all these connected? Because I do not believe that Food Banks are the solution to food poverty. Learning to cook is.

Arlene Phillips is supporting the Save the Children campaign as she remembers her child hood where her mom have to make an eat or heat choice. I too remember having to eek out the one shilling for the gas meter, and frost on the inside of my bedroom window, but my nan managed to feed our family on what was probably a below the line budget, because she knew how to cook. She stretched meals. The leg of lamb on Sunday re appeared in a number of meals throughout week. And she never, ever threw food away.

It is shocking that in the UK that there are families that are not able to afford decent food. And many are families that are in paid employment, yet are in debt (and debt can happen for many reasons) or don’t earn enough to meet the rent, heat and food bills. Others are are on benefits (and none of use are immune from unemployment). And these families are having to choose to eat or heat. Everyday.

So if a food bank is not a solution, what is?

I love the old saying, ‘give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, give a man a rod and you feed him for life’. My modern version is ‘give a family a tin of soup and you feed them for a day, give a family a bag of lentils, carrots and onions, and cooking lessons, and you feed them for a week’. It’s less catchy of course but more relevant in an inner city, as a rod won’t help you much in Birmingham, even if we have more miles of canals than Venice.

When you consider the amount of food the average supermarkets throws away at the end of each day I have real sympathy for the freegan movement. Some have even suggested that we steal from supermarkets.

And the average family apparently bins £300 of wasted food a year. Mainly I suspect because supermarkets bombard us with BOGOF offers that are designed to make us spend more and buy more than we need.

Surely there is a way that charities and supermarkets can work together to reduce food waste? Can we provide not just food at the food bank but also an opportunity for families who feed their children chicken nuggets because the don’t think they can afford fruit and vegetables. Can we teach the art of cooking and families eating together?

And are food co-operatives, linking up with artisan bakers the way forward? What, I hear you say, artisan bread as a solution to food poverty? Hear me out. I am attending the launch Stirchley Stores who have joined forces with Loaf a community bakery and cookery school. This is I think the real way of tackling food poverty, providing affordable and ethical food and the knowledge how to cook it. The People’s Supermarket is another independent supermarket that is also taking on the big boys. I hope we see more of initiatives like this and less of the gigantic supermarkets that rip the heart out of the high street. Locally a group of moms who were fed up of not being able to buy organic food locally got together and formed their own food co-operative. The Bearwood Pantry sourced a provider a local baker and also buy from a local community led market garden.

So there are better solutions than food banks and I for one will not let up saying this. And we should be lobbying the supermarkets and the government to ensure that no child in the UK goes hungry.

I also thoroughly recommend you read these wonderful posts by two brilliant bloggers! http://dorkymum.wordpress.com/


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