Rural Staffordshire is not declining

It’s often rather casually assumed that rural places everywhere around the world are in deep decline, and I heard the same story again on a recent podcast. It’s an easy and slipshod elite metropolitical explanation for recent populist votes — “oh, those old rural yokels, in declining places, everyone leaves, only the dumb racists are left, etc etc”. But that’s not the case in Staffordshire, which is a Brexit heartland. According to the Staffordshire Rural Economy Evidence Base: Final Report, 2015, rural places in the county were generally doing very well 2011-15, despite the recession and despite some remaining rough pockets in places like Cannock Chase and a few villages on the fringes. And despite the ongoing long-term neglect by the tendency which today styles itself Greater Birmingham. But overall…

* “Some 59% of Staffordshire’s population lives in rural districts”.

* “a greater proportion of rural Staffordshire residents tend to have higher-education qualifications (NVQ4 level qualification or above) than the [urban + rural] Staffordshire average”

* “The rate of employment in rural areas is high relative to the [urban + rural] Staffordshire and [the] England average” [and in future] “rural Staffordshire is expected to see expansion (in terms of GVA and employment) in some highly productive sectors”.

* “The population living in rural Staffordshire is expected to grow more quickly than the Staffordshire average by 2025 and [also] by 2037” […] “The rate of population growth is expected to be particularly high in the rural districts of East Staffordshire and Lichfield through to 2025.”

Which means, according to the report, that resulting problems are those of growth and technology upgrade. Not problems of decline…

* New housing and roads, and the consequent need for good schools. Freeing up planning restrictions on improvements to existing buildings.

* Faster Internet speeds, wider rural coverage. Encouraging down-shifters from London, etc.

* Finding the space and staff with which to upscale your businesses. Creating informal local knowledge networks that loosely network the local talent.

* Maintain birth rates. Later, ways to bring back some of those young people who will have have moved away for university.

* Managing the transition to re-wilding, as we need less land to grow food.

* Getting services to an educated and able elderly population. Which means things like innovative in-home healthcare visits that are about real empathy and friendship, and which offer real knowledge via sensors and AI-linked devices. Rather than simple ‘home help’ cleaning/food services and/or social-worker -style spying and trotting out pat ‘health propaganda’ messages.

Listen Notes

Listen Notes, a podcast search engine that’s fast, simple, comprehensive… and actually works. At last.

Secondhand bookshops, coming back?

Wormwoodania muses on The Rise of Secondhand Bookshops in Britain, and crunches the overall numbers with the aid of a 1984 Driff’s Guide and the current thebookguide.

“So we can see that there are indeed more second-hand bookshops in the UK than there were thirty years ago, in fact about 25% more.”

Interesting. Yes, given the general rise in UK tourism, and the increasing spread of that outside London, I can see how someone in a good position in a tourist town might have a worthwhile trade in secondhand books. Especially if they were a savvy buyer. I guess I was lucky to spend my teenage years in a tourist town which had no less than five large second-hand shops, all with good non-fiction and local interest stock. Plus a bookseller indulgent of impoverished teenage browsers, in the shape of Mr. Bailey and his partner who owned three of the shops. Birmingham was also a short train trip away, for science-fiction books everywhere from Rog Peyton’s costly Andromeda shop, to the 50p shop in the edge of the Bull Ring, to (if one was doing an adventurous circuit on the No.11 bus) Erdington market and various good charity shops whose non-fiction stock was topped up via the proximity to the university.

As for Wormwoodania, his figures admittedly includes 287 charity shops with substantial book holdings. The problem with even the larger charity shops today is the stock, in that they will siphon anything worth having off the shelves and onto the Web. What’s left is usually both over-priced and lowbrow. But it’s all been made rather moot, but eBay’s new alliance with Sainsbury’s for the convenient in-store collection of used books at their Argos collection points.

As for the historical shift in the used bookshop trade, I reckon it was the triple-whammy of the proliferation of charity shops (about 1987—) which took away many of the casual fiction buyers; then the spread of the ‘publisher’s remainders’ bargain bookshops in the High St. (1993?—); and then eBay + Internet (1997—) which changed the trade forever by taking away the niche collectors and scholars. There was also the brief golden age when one could get dirt cheap books posted from the USA via Alibris and other list aggregators, often with free or very low-cost postage, though that was effectively clamped down on by the early 2000s. Again, that must have taken away a small but affluent chunk of the intellectual non-fiction and fannish market. The general rise in shop rental costs and competition for prime High St. space in the boom of the late 1980s can’t have helped matters. The other factor was probably the decline in dirt-cheap jumble sales, ex-library stock sales at ’10p a book’, bulk sales of small local personal collections by widows at clearance prices. Which meant that bulk stock at a high quality / low price became much harder for a trader to get hold of.

New report: BBC spending in the Midlands

The Campaign for Regional Broadcasting Midlands has a new report out…

“The new annual report showed the BBC spent just 1.5% of its programming budget in the Midlands in 2016, down from 1.8% the year previously.”

Admittedly Birmingham will soon get BBC Three, but on investigation that’s less impressive than it sounds. According to Computer Weekly it’s only a “second HQ” for the online-only BBC Three, housing the bit which undertakes the “creation of some of its short form content and social media” made by a “new youth team” for its Daily Drop yoof brand, with the move to Birmingham being a bid to “save £30m” in costs. There’s also set to be a “digital innovation team” alongside the social meeedya-ites, of unknown size, presumably managing and training up the young content makers and feeding the best down to London. Worth having, if it lasts, but probably likely to be very Birmingham-centric and not the huge slate of regional content-making that we deserve. Not that I’ll see any of it, as I’m the wrong demographic.

In general the BBC makes little difference to me, these days. My BBC consumption has withered away and is now limited to .mp3 downloads of Radio 4’s In Our Time, and the venerable Doctor Who series. Although in the light of the mostly-lacklustre recent season of Doctor Who, continuing viewing of even that is now debatable and will depend on the first three episodes of the next series. What would bring me back, or boost my hours of BBC-time? In Our Time headed by Paxman, with Bragg doing offshoot in-depth ‘specials’ like his Darwin In Our Time series. A weekly 90-minute digest podcast with the best local interviews and outside broadcast pieces from my local radio station. Bringing back the ability to view online listings only for BBC Radio 3: Speech and Documentary. A ‘new radio documentary downloads’ digest and alerts service blog, kind of like a niche boutique Radio Times with an RSS feed. That would be a start.

Totally locked out of my Flickr account

Sigh. I’m totally locked out of my Flickr account, which I have had for years and which has thousands of photos. Access suddenly stopped working. According to Yahoo, there’s no way to recover it…

“Before we can assist someone with a Flickr account, we need to verify that they’re the owner. To do this, we need to ask questions based on the information that appears on it. The information we normally look for is not present on the account that you’re asking for help with, so we have no way to assist you.”

It seems they’ve totally lost the account information at their end, including things like secret questions. I knew they were crap at keeping track of their data, but I didn’t until now realise quite how crap.

I responded asking to escalate the case to be dealt with by a line-manager, but within seconds had an auto-response…

“We’ve closed your case as we believe we’ve fully addressed it.”

This is how Flickr and Yahoo treat customers they’ve had for more than a decade.

Birmingham like Paris

Birmingham New St. toward the Town Hall, circa 1900-1912? Looking like Paris. Lightly repaired and colorised…

The silent film “Light-House Keepers”, seen being advertised, can’t give a firm fix on the date as it appears to be a ‘forgotten movie’.

Prospect of Bermingham (1600s)

Public domain and hi-res: “The Prospect of Bermingham, from Ravenshurst (neere London-road) on the South-east part of towne (Birmingham).” Wenceslaus Hollar of Bohemia. Might have been made at any time from around 1625-1660.

Plus the British fashions of the time, by the same artist. The inscribed date on the muffs (engraved 1644 from an 1640 sketch) suggests he was in England then. Which may help to more precisely date the Birmingham view, to either the late summer of 1639 or the spring/summer of 1640.

£10m funding for Black Country Living Museum

Excellent news, £10m funding for Black Country Living Museum to create 450 jobs. The £10m from the Lottery will then lead into a…

“second-round application to the Heritage Lottery Fund in October 2018 to release the rest of the funding [a “£21.7m project”]. If successful, construction will begin with a view to be completed in 2022.”

Senior Lecturer in Games Art

Lovely job… Coventry University wants a Senior Lecturer in Games Art, at up to £52k full-time. Ref: REQ005098.

1000 volunteer mentors needed

The new elected Mayor of the inner West Midlands is seeking 1000 volunteer mentors to help guide unemployed young people into the world of work. Sounds good. Though so far as I can tell it only covers the inner ‘Greater Birmingham’ bit of the West Midlands, not the real West Midlands.

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Jobs

Vacancies for Casual Gallery Assistants at The New Art Gallery Walsall. REF: EE02017. Deadline: 18th June 2017.

Obviously not closed yet, then.


Comics at Leeds

Not local, but an excellent opportunity: currently wanted is a Course Leader for B.A. (Hons.) Comic and Concept Art at Leeds College of Art.

Big maps of Brum

Late Victorian O.S. maps of Birmingham, at a huge 1:2500 scale, with zoom. The map sheets must surely be public domain by now, but sadly there’s an ‘All Rights Reserved’ notice.


Celebrate Delia Derbyshire’s 80th birthday at Coventry Music Museum. Delia was the pioneering musician who adapted and recorded Ron Grainer’s classic Doctor Who theme for electronic music, and later helped to inspire the late 1970s wave of sci-fi electropop (John Foxx, early Gary Numan etc). Coventry was where Delia grew up, and there are weekend of celebratory activities, 5th-7th May 2017 — including a talk from Dick Mills (sound effects for Doctor Who) and a ‘Deliaphonic’ concert. The Coventry Music Museum has also reconstructed a part of the famous Radiophonic workshop, as a permanent display.

Apologies for the downtime

My apologies for the downtime on the this blog, from 8th-13th April 2017. My hosting provided was swapping over their database server, and it affected the database tables that WordPress needs in order to work properly. Hopefully everything has been sorted out now, and the blog seems to have been stable for the last week.

Curator of Natural Science

Curator of Natural Science at Birmingham Museums… “to lead on a number of significant projects and to research and develop Birmingham’s important collection … covering botany, entomology, zoology and earth sciences” with an initial focus on setting up child-friendly displays. Deadline: 20th March 2017.

Pull My Finger

Pull My Finger podcast pilot (and currently eight podcasts). Lead presenter Tony James not only has a great voice, he has a great offer on Fiverr: a 150-word smooth West Midlands working-class voiceover. Sounds like he’s originally from north-east Birmingham/Walsall?

Birmingham stereograph

A high-res public-domain stereograph of the station at Birmingham, England, in the later Victorian period. Should be possible to repair, and do a large format 3D view of this. Perhaps in some colorised lenticular manner. I’m not going to be the one who does that, so feel free to ‘have at it’…

I’m Entranced

A truly outstanding first hour, of a two-hour set…

* Angel Ace & Victor Prada – Entrance Music Radioshow 042 (Nov 2016) On SoundCloud:

1st hour progressive selection mixed by Victor Prada.

01. Jacob Singer – Survival Human (Gonza Rodriguez Remix) [Incepto Music]
02. Following Light – String Theory (Original Mix) [Saturate Audio]
03. Matter & Universal Harmonics – Sankara (Alex Vidal Remix) [Mistique Music]
04. Armin Van Buuren Ft. Mr. Probz – Another You (Gundamea Extended Remix) [Armind]
05. Dee Montero – Solace (BOg Remix) [Selador]
06. Techtower – Vanguard (Original Mix) [Electronic Tree]
07. Armin Van Buuren & M.I.K.E. – Intruder (Gai Barone Extended Remix) [Armind]
08. Andrea Bertolini – Types & Genres (Original Mix) [Iboga Records]
09. Jerome Isma-Ae & Alastor – Tiger (Original Mix) [Jee Productions]
10. Leo G – Supersonic (Gai Barone Remix) [Pure Trance Progressive]
11. Fredd Moz vs. Carlos De La Garza – Atardecer (Mark Found Remix) [Entrance Music]
12. Jaia & Pris Stratton – Use Your Imagination (Pris Stratton Pleasure Mix) [JOOF]

More at Entrance Music Radioshow.

Trigger warning: map-spreading

The social media accounts of Birmingham’s local councillors, mapped, all bar a few bits of Aston…