By and about

There was a piece featuring me and the sale of BiNS on the BBC News site last week. As ever with ‘news’ I felt the interesting stuff didn’t make it to the actual article and in fact I’m sure I didn’t say anything about gaps quite like that. I thought what I said was a bit more like this tweet:

But that’s the way it goes.

There’s also two writing projects that I’ve contibuted to over the last few days. One is 280 stops—a sort of Internet piece of collaborative fiction. I’ll let Jon Hickman explain:

“This is a tribute to two wonderful things: the 11 bus route which runs through Birmingham (oh, and bits of Solihull and Sandwell), and Geoff Ryman’s novel/website 253.”

The other is not fictional at all. An idea by Jez Collins and Craig Hamilton‘101 Things Birmingham Gave the World’ is a tumblr that celebrates Birmingham’s impact on World Culture.

The worst captain in the World

I was on Danny Baker’s Radio Five show earlier, which was great. I’ve always been a big fan of his and consider him to be one of the few genuinely innovative and brilliant broadcasters.

I’d texted in in response to a question about being a terrible sporting captain, and it was a good opportunity to tell about when I was captain of Dogpool Rovers in South Birmingham Sunday League Division Three:

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Open government, data and transparency

While working on Siôn Simon’s push for there to be a directly elected Mayor for Birmingham I contributed an ideas paper around the possibilities for a more open system of government in the city. It covered open data (in broad strokes rather than technical details), comms and transparency. It was always a plan for the team that ideas and plans be released as soon as they were ready—happy for any other campaigner to use what we thought were good things.

So, when the referendum went against us I talked to a few people about releasing this stuff anyway. I couldn’t do any harm, I figured. It’s taken me a while to get round to it.

These docs were my own work, so don’t take them as being ‘official’, I’m also not planning to do anything with them at this stage. Some of the ideas may already be part of the political plan of the city’s new council leadership, but to be honest I don’t know.

Feel free to use any of this if it’s interesting.

Continue reading Open government, data and transparency

It’s a living thing

Edgeryders is an EU project to try to work out how creatives and freelancers can make a living ‘on the edge’. One of the people working on it is good mate Chris Pinchen (often found online under the moniker Cataspanglish) and he has been doing a series of interviews. Or more chats really. We had a Skype conversation about how I have been making a living for the past five or six years and he’s cut my ramble into a structured blog post and series of videos.

In this one I apparently talk about how ‘thinkers’ can get the space to think.

You may find it interesting, you may not.

NewsJack — writing comedy quickly

I like to think I’m an amusing writer, and that I can think quickly. Doing a radio show for a couple of years I think demonstrated that, and I’ve tried my hand at stand-up comedy. But until recently, apart from the odd Twitter witticism  I’d not really tried writing topical comedy. BBC Radio Four Extra’s NewsJack is one of the few radio shows that has an open submissions policy, meaning that anyone can send in jokes and sketches and maybe get on and then get paid for them. I’ve had a few near misses that made it to the recording but not the edit, as they’re topical they’re disposable really so I wouldn’t share them. But this one from this week has a little bit of longevity so I thought I’d pop it up here. Hope it makes you chuckle.

NewsJack the Jung Ones

Road Trip: Round the Wrekin

This post was written by chum Pete Ashton, about a project we applied for together.


A few weeks ago an Arts Council funded commission came over the tootvine which looked pretty interesting. Turning Point West Midlands and Writing West Midlands were looking for a writer and visual artist to undertake a road trip across, you guessed it, the West Midlands and create some art during and about it in return for £4,000. My writer chum Jon Bounds suggested I put my photographer hat on and we apply for this thing, bringing Jon’s frequent writing partner Danny Smith on board as well. It was one of those rare occasions where you read something on an art funding website and think, hang on, I not only understand this but I reckon I could do it.

Neither of us had written a proposal like this before and while Danny has a fine art degree he was bad poorly with the sick and I don’t think he ever went in for that proposal writing thing anyway. But we have friends who can do this sort of thing in their sleep so advice was to hand and in the end we put together something fairly coherent.

Yesterday the rejection emails were sent out and we got one. Apparently there were 78 applications which apparently is a lot. And apparently an organisation which is in part there to assist artists in the pursuit and creation of their art isn’t able to give feedback on individual applications (and I do understand why writing 77 feedbacks isn’t necessarily the best use of public money) so we don’t know if we were in final shortlist or throw in the round filing cabinet right away.

It strikes me that while the whole arts commissioning thing has some fundamental flaws. There exist 77 ideas for a road trip across the West Midlands which will never see the light of day. Even if we apply Sturgeon’s Law and assume 90% of them were shite ideas that’s still 7 good ones. And think about all that time those people spent on their applications, time that could have been spent on something more productive.

More importantly, there are 154 people (2 per application) who aren’t going to do a thing they were intending to do. That strikes me as a terrible shame. Yes, the ideas wouldn’t exist without TPWM/WWM sparking them with the commission but that’s one hell of a bottleneck.

I hate bottlenecks.

We’ve decided to make our application public for anyone to read.

Here’s the PDF and here it is online.

We’re putting it out there for a few reasons.

Firstly to get a bit more feedback on this thing. We’d really value any comments, positive or negative from people in the industry.

Secondly to publicly demonstrate what we’re capable of and willing to do. We’d like to get paid to do this sort of thing more often and we think this document helps that cause.

Thirdly to see if anyone else wants to commission us to do it or something similar. The bid is written with TPWM/WWM’s raison d’etre in mind and we can probably adjust it for other box-ticking requirements.

Fourthly because it seems a shame to spend so long writing something and to only show it to a handful of people. We are natural bloggers after all. To not publish it feels weird to us.

But mainly to test the water for a crowdsourced crowdfunding exercise.

On the one hand we could try raising a sustainable level of cash to enable us to do it. Not necessarily four large but enough to put dinner on the table.

On the other hand it’d be really interesting to get the funders to collectively write the commission. Bear in mind I’m making this up as I type and haven’t consulted Danny and Jon at all, but let’s say we decide on the How but you decide on the Why. You give us our remit, our focus.

Or something like that.

Of course it could be that our idea is shit and should rightly be rejected by all and sundry. And if that’s the case then that’s fine. There are plenty more where that came from.

Final note – please don’t read this as sour grapes or an attack on TPWM/WWM and the whole arts funding setup which has real value in certain situations. It was our first ever application and we’re realistic about our chances. It just seems a shame to waste it.


If you’ve a comment to make, please leave it on Pete’s post for coherence. 

World Cup Willies

I had a little bit of a paddy on Twitter yesterday after a slew of people were moaning about “the football”. “The football” in this instance being a fairly easily avoidable pre-World Cup friendly (the pubs would not have been packed, it was isolated on ITV). I just didn’t see how it was worthy of the disapprobation poured on it.

You wouldn’t dismiss all of ‘art’ or ‘science’ (or at least not easily or seriously), but the cultural, historical and social elements of the most popular sport in the World (and its global celebration) are okay to be sniffy about it seems. It’s disrupting your television viewing, or making your surrogate living room a little too busy for your liking, and that’s reason enough.

But, dismisser of “the football” is that the root cause? Because you seem to associate the sport with the event, the event with the supporting, and the supporters with a conflation people you don’t much care for.

Because not all football supporters are racist, boorish, loud, suntanned, drunk or even English.

And not everyone will be “supporting”.

Some will be watching, sharing, discussing and enjoying the best players in the World — playing for once without too much financial imperative and on a fairly level playing field (no transfers, no buying success). It can be beautiful.

Football exists not only as a sport, but as a metaphor and conduit for society. Ignore if you will, but don’t dismiss. It’s not clever.