High School Reunion 3 #indielove indierock

This post has absolutely nothing to do with my high school reunion at the end of this month. It’s not about me, it’s you, my lovely friend (you know who you are) who took me to her ‘school reunion’ when Scouting for Girls came to Birmingham on tour.

Yes, my friend went to school with the lead singer Roy and the bassist Greg and she was on the guest list when they came to play the O2 Birmingham last night. With four tickets she invited me along with my husband Phil and our our son.

Now he’s going to hate me for this but not only was it the first ever gig my son has been to, it turns out the first album he bought was Scouting for Girls. I didn’t know that until last night. And now Roy (see first name terms now) knows it too as my friend told him.

And get this, we had these wrist bands. DSCF6241 My friend, for whom this is not a first time experience was like ‘well it is not that much you just get to meet the band’, and I am like OMG I have a wrist band. I didn’t say that of course, I am a fifty something sensible wife and mother but actually I was very excited about it.  Usually on a week day I am half watching a cookery programme while updating my Facebook status. We were going to the back stage party! Well not exactly but we did get to meet her mates later. And it was all very civilised.

Before the gig we met at Cherry Reds in John Bright Street. It was a freezing night and, even at 6pm, very few people were lingering for shopping eating or drinking in the German Market. Everyone was rushing to get home it was so cold.

Cherry Reds however was quite busy. It  is strategically placed for when Grand Central opens in 2015. The long needed overhaul of New Street Station will include a new retail development with a flagship John Lewis store. Over a few drinks, we decided that when it was finished  this quarter of Birmingham would be the retail destination of choice, as John Bright Street will be the. Gateway from Grand Central to the Mailbox where Harvey Nics is, leaving the Bullring to the cashed up Bogans and Wags.

Cherry Reds is directly opposite Brew Dog, a bar providing a range of craft beers and food in, according to their website, a temple of non conformity.  It was empty on this bitter Tuesday evening. Cleary all the non conformists were elsewhere.

Cherry Reds is a licensed cafe, with an eclectic mix of vintage sofas and formica tables it sells all day food, smoothly moving from hipster central for Saturday  brunch to a place to take mom for Sunday lunch. Its close proximity to the station, the Mailbox, The Electric Cinema and theatres including the Hippodrome, the Alex and The Rep makes it a good choice for pre theatre coffee, supper and drinks. It is also close to the O2 where we were off to later. Did I say I went to see Scouting for Girls there?

The food is hearty British, between us we had a pork burger with chorizo, gammon, eggs and chips, fish pie and bangers and mash, and there are lots of veggie options.  We were downstairs and it was a bit cold when people opened the door, but every table was full, enjoying laid back post work drinks or supper with friends. Upstairs was quieter and would be my choice for later drinks on the sofa. People watching. Definitely better than freezing in the German market.

We filled up on good food, good beer and good milk shakes and ventured to the sub zero temperatures to the O2. The support band were, Loveable Rogues who were on stage when we arrived. I am no muso journo and I make no claims of knowing half the bands my friends  like, or even what genre of music they are but I thought they were they were good. I had no idea what genre they are but Wikipedia tells me they are indie pop and that they were hand picked to be on Britain’s Got Talent.

For the main act we decided to go on the balcony for what was a better view of the stage without having to stand with the young people who jump up and down at concerts. Phil and I were not (surprisingly) the oldest at the gig. Some parents had brought quite young children (under 11) and there were 20 to 50 something couples as well as teeny boppers or whatever they are called now with bored chaperones.

The band were good. They put on an entertaining show, engaged the audience and nearly everyone in the room knew most of the lyrics. And for those of you who turned down free tickets as they are not a ‘cool band’, well thank you because I loved it.

The highlight for me was the acoustic set. Bringing the instruments to front of stage they played a brilliant set. It was very intimate (as much as the O2 could be) almost like being at pub gig with just mates in the room. Brilliant.

Of course the night is not complete IMHO without the Michaela Strachan number and She’s So Lovely.

At one point Roy came up to the balcony to sing, and brilliantly had to pass our and his friend so to the chagrin of the teeny boppers standing next to us, gives her a bear hug and greets her by name. Their faces we’re a picture, imagine envy mixed with bewilderment aka ‘why has he chosen her she’s really old why her and not us lithe teenage fans?’ Just as most 12 years old think that anyone over 20 is over the hill. Here’s the news guys, Roy’s the same age as my friend.  And she’s not old, just older than you 13 year old teeny bopper and one day you will be that age. I guess one can be grateful that they were at his gig and not at One Direction. Not that there is any connection between the two bands. Of course not. None at all. Nada. None whatsoever. Nothing to see here.

Finally it came to meeting the band. And after just chatting to family, with the fan club girlies with double lip gloss waiting patiently, and me wanting my bed, my friend drags Roy over to introduce him to us. Clearly as we are not friends of her age, but a family consisting of 50 something’s and a 20 something, the ‘how do  you know each other’ question arises. ‘Mary Portas introduced us’. Well that would have been the clever, and true if somewhat embellished answer, instead is was more ‘eh um, we all live in Bearwood, and um xxxx stayed with us during house renovations’ sounds less interesting when talking to the lead sing of Scouting for Girls. Ho hum.

He chatted to us about record deals and reveals that he also does a lot of writing for other bands. ‘She’s So Lovely’ may be his pension but hey he has to make a living, so writing for boys with floppy hair pays the bills. ‘ They’re just kids’, he says genuinely kindly, to me who today discovered said boys on a toothpaste tube and was less kind about them. He is the bigger person for that then. And richer. But he is genuinely an ok guy without ego, he keeps that for the stage. Not that I would expect any less from a friend of my friend. And anyway she knows too much about him for him to be anything other than just who he is.

Then Greg comes over and shows us a picture of his dog a Cocker doodle doo pug something cross that looks like a lab puppy, always.  In my day they were called mongrels, now cross breeds have designer status.  Equal rights for dogs.  He gets told off for doing the rock star hand gesture, teased that he’s in a pop band and cannot get away with it.  He then lists his rock credentials and is grudgingly acknowledged  by his old school friend that they are indie rock. Not pop. Chats about old school mates and who is married and who has 5 kids. Just like any other high school reunion then? Again she’s known him too long for him to act anything more than an old school friend and egos have been packed away by the roadies with the guitars.

We are tired, it’s a school night and they need to schmooze and smile at the lip glossed girls so off into the cold night and despite trying to be really nonchalant about meeting Scouting for Girls, we are all a bit star struck. Well I am. And I think my friend, despite saying its hard to find people to come when she gets comps, is too.

All I can say don’t be a music snob. Because you may miss out on a good night out.

Thank you for taking us, mate.

Spendy Saturday

Not been a good day for budgeting

May well have blasted the budget for this week. A combination of tempting bargains in the GAP outlet store and the charity shops meant that my husband now has 4 brand new tops. However in his defence the Gap tops were dramatically reduced at £4.88 for a long sleeved tee and £8.74 for a more formal shirt. The OH does like his shirts so when he saw the ‘perfect work shirt’ in Barnardos for £3.99 he obviously had to have it, as a man cannot have enough shirts, apparently. Then I spotted a YSL 100% wool, lightweight sweater for £6.99 and it wasn’t hard to persuade him to have that too.

Or for shopping locally

I also broke my only buy from shops within walking distance pledge today. I had an appointment in West Bromwich which is about a 15 minute drive from here. After the appointment the OH and I decided to mooch around the Astle Retail Outlet Park where there are a number of outlet stores including a Next, a Marks and Spencers and a Gap. Which explains the purchases referred to earlier. And then because it was sunny we strolled up to the outdoor market and bought some vegetables. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, Bearwood doesn’t have a market or a vegetable shop so this sort of shopping is a bit of a treat. Look at me, getting all excited about being able to buy fresh veg at a market!

A special journey was not made

Which is my only excuse for not shopping locally. I would not drive just to shop in West Bromwich, although the market is a temptation. To be honest if I were to drive to a market to shop, it would probably be Birmingham as it has a bigger and better market and West Brom, well isn’t the most attractive place to be.

Sorry West Brom

I don’t want to be mean about West Brom, but it isn’t the most attractive place in the world. I swear it is alway 5 degrees colder in West Brom than the rest of Sandwell. This is probably becuse it is so high up, indeed the local football stadium, The Hawthorns, is, or used to be he stadium above sea level, or something like that. Anyway it is cold and windy. And West Brom also has the threat of a massive Tesco development, on the edge of town whis could be a threat to the survival of retailers on the High Street. Yet it seems to be thriving for the time being. It certainly has wider range of shops than Bearwood, and the market is busy, all traders there are the independents I like to support. The veg stall seemed to have three generations of one family working there, which is great. I just hope they manage to survive once shiny Tesco sucks the life out of the high street.

But the councillors love West Brom (in my opinion)

More than they love Bearwood. Probably because Bearwood is in Smethwick Town yet not central Smethwick. So if there is any money floating around it goes to West Brom and the High Street and Cape Hill part of Smethwick, because apparently Bearwood doesn’t need it.  However, I think they see West Brom as the capital of Sandwell. Councillors are delighted that Tesco, Next and other retailers and food outlets are being built and will bring, oh hundreds of jobs to an area that has very high unemployment. I suppose this is a good thing. However, this development has effectively shifted the centre of town where both the indoor and outdoor markets are and shops along High Street are closing. It has a shiny new FE college locally known as the Ski Slope. This was built after many years of Sandwell College getting very poor OfSTED reports. Apparently building a shiny new campus will improve the quality of teaching. Then there is The Public. Depending on your point of view it is either a wonderful arts resource for Sandwell or a White (actually purple) Elephant. It does have very good toilets which is very handy, of course, when it is so cold in West Brom. And the West Brom Building Society is building its new Headquaters there (despite origallly planning to abandon its lovely art deco HQ in West Bromwich town centre for shiny offices in Merry Hell Hill). Merry Hill is in Dudley which doesn’t seem to be the right location for a building society called the West Brom. The council also thought this and were very vocal about the planned relocation. Almost overnight a piece of land, conveniently adjacent to all the new development, was found, so the West Brom is staying in West Brom after all. Handy that. There also seems to be work going on in the area where the market usually is, new paving and such. Hopefully the market will thrive even when the smaller Tesco relocates to the retail park and leaves a big empty unit in the old shopping centre. I hope so.

So what was the damage to the purse?

 £          0.08 onions 2kg  £          1.00
aubergine x3  £          1.00
grapes 1kg  £          1.00
petrol  £        15.00
Gap shirts  £        13.62
Charity shirt  £          3.99
Charity YSL jumper  £          6.99
Lamb  £          5.47
cat food  £          2.39
peppers  £          1.49
Cauli  £          0.89
Ketchup  £          0.69
3 tins tomatoes  £          0.93
bath mat  £          4.99
Steak mince 500g  £          3.59
6 sausages  £          1.99
fresh basil  £          0.65
Spagetti  £          0.24
Penne  £          0.29
Bet on the National  £        10.00
Beer and wine  £        25.00
 £      101.21

A massive dent to the budget. The betting and the alcohol were luxuries I guess and if we were on benefits we could not afford these. To add insult to injury we did not get a winner. Yet who is to say that poor people shouldn’t have a treat now and then? We are not exactly rich as we only have one wage, and a relatively low one at that that, coming into the house. But we choose to rent out rooms to English language students to supplement this. It is a lifestyle choice that not everyone could or would make.

Supper on Saturday cost £9.06 and there is plenty left over for lunches, so at 6 portions this is £1.51 per portion.

The lamb is for Sunday dinner and will be used as sandwiches in the week. so that will be five meals for around £1.40 each, three of which will be a big yummy Sunday roast using up all the vegetables I have bought this week.

How local did I do?

Apart from the Gap purchaces and the market stall purchases of grapes, aubergines and onions every thing was bought in Bearwood. I used Aldi for most of the shopping and the lamb was bought at another family butcher on Bearwood Road, Higgins. I like to share my indie love around!

The Mary Portas factor

West Bromwich also put in a bid for the Portas Pilot funding to improve the high street, and Bearwood was the other bid in Sandwell. Both were unsucessful. Which looking at some of the bids that were successful may not have been a bad thing. However it still smarts to be reminded that Sandwell Council could have had funding of 10k each for West Bromwich and Bearwood as subsequently all towns that submitted a bid were offered this amount to help build a town team to improve the local high street. The reason for refusing to accept this money? Well it was ‘political’. I do have an email from a Sandwell MP in response to my querying why they chose not to support local residents who wanted to improve where they lived, which I may just share with you one day. It wasn’t personal to Bearwood, so maybe they don’t love West Bromwich enough either. Who knows?

Do you live in Bearwood? Do you shop in Bearwood? Do you think Bearwood gets overlooked for investment? Did you town put in a bid for the Portas funding? I would love to see your comments? And please share tips on budgeting for food and in general.

Beer and Bread

Regular readers will know that I endeavor to shop locally whenever I can. I think it is important to buy local, to support local traders and to protect the environment by not using a car when I can walk.

However today I made a 6 mile round trip to buy a loaf of bread. My new Aussie friend and I went to Stirchley, a suburb of Birmingham.

I had visited the Stirchley Community Market earlier in the week with two of my foodie friends but had got there too late to get some bread from Loaf Online. To overcome our disappointment we indulged in delicious burgers from The Meat Shack and bought some interesting beers from Stirchely Wines. This has to be the best off license in Birmingham,  run by a very customer focused man, who tweets when the bread is delivered.

Despite the cold torrential rain , yes this is summer in England, we practically had to beat a path to his door and form an orderly queue for the bread. One he has tweeted the customers come.

And this is what I bought.

While I admire Stirchley and its traders and community for fighting back against the big retailers and giving people the opportunity to buy local good on the high street, there’s a bit inside me that is sad. I am sad because I cant buy bread like this on my high street. who tweets to tell his customers what special beers have just come in and that this week the bread will be olive and sun dried tomato.

Mary Portas wants to support local high streets to revitalise and a lucky 12 have just been announced as Portas Pilots. Stirchley Happenings knows what it is doing and is a blue print for other local communities. Bearwood can learn a lot from them.

So, I and many other Bearwood residents will beat a path to Stirchley Community Market once a month. We will plot how we can do something similar for our community, because Bearwood deserves a high street that reflect its community, one that provides social space for local artists and artisans to sell what they make.

In the meantime, Stirchley, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, I’ll be back!

Post travelling blues

Phil Musgrave, my body guard

Reverse Home Sickness is something I had not heard about before, until I read this post by Life’s Great Adventures but boy have I been suffering with it since getting back to normal life in the UK. This has been one of the main reasons I have not blogged for months or didn’t start to try and organise all the thousands of photos I have on three memory cards and the iPad.

Add to that the defeating business of job hunting, which I am sure will be the subject of a future blog I really I have been rather miserable since coming home. It’s been great to see the kids and my mom, and catch up with some of my friends, but truth be told I really could stay in bed and never go out.

The sky is too small, people are so grey and miserable and the house is too big and I have too much stuff. I lived out of a bag for 4 months and now don’t need a wardrobe and hundreds of books. And no one is really interested in what we did and saw on our trip.

One thing has helped, getting involved in new projects. One has been to support the local community for the bid for cash to improve our high street via BetterBearwood

Another project I got involved with was via my links with The Social Media Cafe organised by the very talented Karen Strunks, who is also director of the 4amproject

Social Media Cafe

Social Media Cafe (Photo credit: Cristiano Betta)

This involved getting up to take photos of Bearwood between 4 am and 5 am.

People were meeting up to do this in groups all over the world. In Bearwood there was just me, with Phil to keep me safe. Good job I didn’t have to wait for a bus!