Pandemic diary 67: The Artefact Quiz – pandemic edition

Aka a sort of triumph of technology over lockdown isolation. Here's what went down in our beloved Artefact café's end-of-the-month quiz with "eternal Quizmaster and all round bodacious babe, Sebastiaan Ros". There were 29 teams – which is about 23 more than usual, tuning in from around Birmingham and beyond.

Here's the play:

Facebook event notification that The Artefact Quiz 'Stay-at-home pandemic edition" was on (see top photo). Excited!

WhatsApp group of Stirchley people organises quiz group made up of five households. Sets up separate WhatsApp group.

Email to get instructions.

Discuss and agree on best video conferencing software to confer on answers – Zoom, Skype or Jitsi. Set up tech in living room.

Open up Jitsi for the team play. Ruth and Neil share their screen and audio to Fran who has a dodgy wifi connection tonight.

Open up to hear the grand quizmaster Seb and join live chat.

Mirror Twitch over Airplay to television and turn up to 100 as volume is so low. Plug earphones into telly, one in my ear, one in Pete's to hear questions.

Quiz begins: we listen, confer on Jitsu, mark ourselves (honestly of course) and type scores into the Twitch live chat. There are book/TV/song, dead or alive celebrities, music on a theme, video observation, 'where's Dominic' castle pictures, TV theme tunes and a cat round.

Half way through, our dinner was ready so we just watched the amazing observation round (video to follow on YouTube – here it is!) with tuna and baked spuds. Can you do it? Watch twice then see how many weapons and players you can name. I think we got 5.

The cat round involved taking a photo of a cat within two minutes (or drawing one if you don't have a cat) and uploading it to Instagram with the hashtag #theartefactquiz. I drew two cats and Pete ran to take a photo of the rabbit, who may or may not identify as a cat. No idea how that one was scored.

Finally had a quick video catchup chat with fellow team members on Jitsu.

Quite everything then noticed a different household unit in Kings Heath was messaging me on Facebook Messenger to compare score notes.

And now it's time to blog it here on WordPress.

Twitter missed it – it was too busy flagging Trump's tweets as potential fake news or glorifying violence.

Today I am thankful for all the tech! Or am I? I'm quite tired now. Anyway, here are my cat pics for your amusement.

Commission/hire me: fiona [at]

Pandemic diary 45: To the pub!

Drinking at home courtesy of the offie and supermarket wine aisles.

Have just spent two hours in the 'online pub' with a few chums. Seven people was a good number. People left by degrees to get food until there were four. The wine, stout and ale flowed, and the tone lowered by degrees. We talked in a roving way on topics such as:

  • how are you doing/coping?
  • how are your pets doing?
  • what are you cooking?
  • are you still working?
  • your glass is empty (live chat notification)
  • bereavements and people we know who have had Covid-19
  • politics
  • sex (inadvertent cleavage when adjusting webcam)
  • jigsaws
  • hair status
  • online schooling
  • Stirchley coops planning application
  • Stirchley cats
  • a rake through the foot
  • farting while on work video calls
  • state pension and what year we will retire
  • vibrating Prince Alberts
  • Deliveroo's economic viability
  • Logan's Run
  • virtual holiday destinations for this summer
  • how men like cold holiday destinations and women like warm holiday destinations

You know, the usual. It was nice to catch up and shoot the breeze. We'll probably do it again next Thursday.


Today I am thankful for Zoom becoming 'a thing' because I finally got to catch up with my Aussie pal Hazel with whom I spent a highly ridiculous year in 1996.

And when I say highly ridiculous I mean we formed a tiara-wearing easy listening punk concept band called the Pleasure Valley Tiara Girls, decorated our flat with astroturf, velour, Action Man dolls and Lovehearts, phoned 24-hour pizza places to help us make life decisions, and turned our flat into a spaceship to film a short movie called Space Babe that I believe was entered for an LGBT Berlin film festival, hence the BFI listing below.

I showed this film to Pete before we got married to give him an out.

Those were the days.

Commission/hire me: fiona [at]

Pandemic diary 31: Fish 'n' chips on the beach at sunset

Barmouth in the living room

The holiday psychology continues. After a 'golden hour' walk through Holder's Lane Woods yesterday, we popped into Dad's Lane chippy for a couple of socially distanced mini cod specials.

Then it was back home to put on this hour-long video of a sunset beach on the telly box and tuck in while listening to waves lapping in Japan and the sky turning fiery-pink. Modern life is amazing.

Groceries in the bathroom

Meanwhile in the bathroom… the groceries are in the bath disinfecting and the change is disinfecting on the sink. Modern life is hygienic.

All that rabbit disinfectant has come in v handy.

Thailand in Moseley

Meanwhile in Moseley… as if everything isn't confusing enough, I spotted a tuk-tuk earlier. Modern life is surreal.


Counter encounters

Meanwhile in Boots… the screens are up, although the assistant still had to handle the item to bar code it. So I sprayed it, me and the change in the car with my disinfectant. Modern life is screened off.

Life behind a screen.

Multilingual poster

Meanwhile in Kings Heath… saw this nice sign saying thank you in many languages to the NHS while waiting in a queue for the chemist. Modern life is multicultural.


…to everyone who replied yesterday to say 'keep on writing'. Daily blogging isn't easy and I am considering switching to more occasional posts, maybe with less fluffy bunnies after last week's loss of Bunminster. But then again it's the habit that keeps the diary going and if I drop it, it might disappear altogether. Will ponder. I need to apply this daily habit to my works-in-progress really.

Update: elderly friend had to go back into hospital briefly (non-Covid-19 reasons). This was both the best and worst place he could be but it's been weird to think 'AVOID HOSPITALS' when someone gets ill.

Commission/hire me: fiona [at]

Pandemic diary 2: I was germ-phobic before coronavirus

I'm blogging this because it helps me. And because I want to write a post to the future. Because everything feels like it is changing for everyone and may never be the same again.

The diary template is forming – photos of fluffy bunnies, because who needs a pic of a coronavirus germ? Things I've been thinking about or need to download. And something to be thankful for to end. BUNNIES, BLOGGING, BLESSINGS!

Anxiety, what anxiety?

I'm still enjoying – if that is the word – the feeling of numbness I mentioned yesterday. Anxiety, what anxiety? I feel frazzled with a short attention span but not consciously anxious. Perhaps it is the feeling of home, the safety it offers now that we have been ordered to stay behind closed doors and not go out unless for emergencies, food, medicine, one exercise a day or to help a vulnerable or isolated person.

I'm lucky not to be a key worker. I'm not on the frontline of the NHS, a health service that has been cut back for years and is now short of enough masks, visors, kits and supplies to keep staff safe. I'm also not being forced to go to a workplace like many others, key workers or not.

Remote working and bug avoidance

My risk profile has changed over the years. As a digital worker, I've been working from home for a number of years. And although I mostly love it, I've become kind of germ-phobic over the years.

With no office bugs to give me immunity I have developed a heightened awareness of crowded environments and germ spreading. Especially during cold and flu season. Especially just before Christmas or summer holidays. A couple of years ago I started avoiding some pub meetings just to avoid the chance of getting ill. It sounds reductive – it was, it is.

A walk with an old friend

On the positive side, it means I'm probably less of a risk to an older family friend. He is 84, has vascular dementia and can't necessarily remember the government rules. He needs to walk everyday for his physical and mental health and he also needs to socialise and have conversations to keep the dementia at bay. He lives alone and if he self-isolates for 12 weeks, he will see no one. His sister is 90 and he visited her every day in a care home – until three weeks ago when they closed their doors to visitors. He is a bit lost.

Today I met him in person. I drove him to his podiatry appointment so he didn't have to take the bus (or remember not to take the bus). It was like chauffeuring royalty, opening the doors so he didn't have to touch anything. Being another gorgeous sunny day, we drove with the windows down. I wore a scarf as a mask for an extra barrier.

The appointment was cancelled so we walked, 2m apart, around the park and chatted. How much has changed in a few days! People were now actively avoiding each other to keep a physical separation – oddly called 'social distancing' – veering off paths and pavements to protect themselves and others.

Empty roads

The roads were pleasantly empty – we might be living without pubs and cafés but we are also living without noise and noxious pollution. It has taken coronavirus to achieve what few would do voluntarily to help the planet – give up car journeys. This could be what the world looked like if the remote-working revolution continued.


Today, I'm thankful… that my friend got to his appointment safely and enjoyed some sunshine and company. People are organising via Google docs, WhatsApp group chats and Facebook groups to help care for others in similar situations in their communities. Phone calls, prescription collections, food drops.

But the thing that really brought a lump to my throat, and made me feel something other than numb, was that 500,000 people signed up to become NHS volunteers overnight after a call out for help. Half a million people! That was proper emotional. The kind of thing that unites a divided, broken country.

Photo: Bunminster the bunny slug.

Hire/commission me: fiona [at]

Stirchley – Seven Capital’s retail park amended plans

Comments sent 30/11/19 to Birmingham planning, application number 2018/10370/PA. Deadline for comments: Sunday 1 December 2019.

To comment: go to the council planning portal at and put in the planning application number in the search box, making sure there are no extra spaces at the end, or you’ll get no results.

1. Commercial outline plans: 2018/10370/PA
2. Residential outline plans: 2018/10368/PA

And if like me, you can’t submit through the portal’s form, then you can email comments (with name, planning number, etc) to :

After talking to other Superstirchley members, here are some supermarket-related comments on application number : 2018/10370/PA – the retail outline plans for Land at Hazelwell Lane Stirchley Birmingham B30.

As a member of Superstirchley – a local campaign group of residents which is concerned about supermarkets applying to build in the area and how this will be managed overall – I am concerned that the anchor retail store (a suggested Aldi) is now redundant.
With Morrison's taking over the Coop, one of the main arguments by local community for a cheaper supermarket in the area has been addressed. We need to give Morrison's a chance to survive and not be undercut by an Aldi literally over the road.
I want to also say that Stirchley is still in a supermarket battle over Lidl wanting to develop a site on Pershore Rd/Cartland Road – which had its planning overturned but in the meantime decimated local sports and leisure facilities.
Lidl is just a five minute walk to the new Morrison's. We would advocate that any new supermarket development take place at the other end of Stirchley so that residents from the new Hazelwells estate and Cotteridge can access a supermarket. The concentration of a Morrisons, Farm Foods, Aldi and Lidl at one end of Stirchley is bad news for the community, for traffic and for community needs.
There are two small retail outlets in the planning – we'd like to see more so that more independents can move into the area, which is developing a unique character based around non-chain and cooperative-run businesses – which is made sustainable by local community support. There used to be a row of shops where one of the units is located. We'd like to see that reinstated in the planning.
On a positive note, I'm happy the drive-thru option has been dropped. There was little support for this and it shows we have a chance to get the planning right for Stirchley's needs and wants.

Stirchley – Seven Capital's outline plans for residential development

Comments sent 29/11/19 to Birmingham planning, application number 2018/10368/PA. Deadline for comments: Sunday 1 December 2019.

To comment: go to the council planning portal at  and put in the planning application number in the search box, making sure there are no extra spaces at the end, or you'll get no results.

1. Commercial outline plans: 2018/10370/PA
2. Residential outline plans: 2018/10368/PA

And if like me, you can't submit through the portal's form, then you can email comments (with name, planning number, etc) to :

I've previously written in response to this application with concerns about flooding – the site is almost all paved and housing crammed in. Flooding is a problem in this area and surface drainage is going to worsen. I would like reassurances that this has been thoroughly considered and checked, as the site currently drains though the empty land. Also, there is a lack of green spaces on this estate, tree planting (there were trees on this land previously), and grassy play areas for children, etc. All these would help with drainage and also improve the environment for residents.

A major concern is the social housing element being less than 9%. I want the council to enforce its own targets of 35%. We actively want Stirchley to provide social housing – and not just fodder for landlords and the wealthy. Developers need to be held to account by the council on this front and provide homes for nurses, teachers and other key workers who are being priced out of the city.

87 new homes is really cramming housing into this space and the outline plans look like very basic designs. I would like the council to hold the developer to account for sustainable, eco-friendly homes, and not just give permission for the most basic, cheapest option. The design aesthetics seem to be the lowest common denominator of generic housing estate (similar to the bland Hazelwells) – which at a time when Stirchley is improving its offering and developing its independent unique character is a missed opportunity. We would like the council to push back for better, more sustainable options for the future residents of this area.

With so many new residential properties being built locally, and Seven Capital prioritising more supermarket type retail – why is there no facility for more doctors surgeries, nursery schools, leisure and community facilities, etc, that will service this massive influx? The choice in the outline plans is either retail or residential but Stirchley needs a more rounded offering that will benefit its communities.

Seven Capital has repeatedly said it is engaging with local stakeholders. It has not. Its representatives have not shown up to any Neighbourhood Forum meetings, despite repeat invitations. I am very concerned that they are operating as a self-interest company and not listening to any concerns, except via planning which is reactive not proactive, and capitalises on local comment fatigue with each amendment.

Finally, the fact that the residential element is a separate application means it is (a) getting lost as people comment on the commercial element, and (b) not being considered in conjunction with the commercial element – surely these adjacent areas need planning and comments to be considered in conjunction together.

Regarding the commercial plot – now that Morrisons is taking over the Coop site, is there a need for a supermarket anchor store here? Surely a second supermarket would be better at the other end of Stirchley High Street, where the Magnet is. Also, a retail estate is not a great place to walk through for residents at night to get to Stirchley and back. A proper set of shops (as was partly there before) would be more in keeping with Stirchley's architectural and independent character.

On the plus side, I'm happy that a gym is planned – we need more social, sports and leisure facilities – not more supermarkets.

Side gripe – the planning portal is difficult to manage. Even a space at the end of the application number will return no results. Also, I did reply to the first residential plans but was not emailed about the amendments. I was only advised of the commercial update. Finally, when I submitted my comments (which took an hour), the ‘requested URL was rejected’ and I was given a support number.

It is pretty unacceptable – how many other comments and objections are being lost as a result? The portal is not fit for purpose and seems to actively encourage people not to find planning or comment.

Stirchley High Street Stories told through different lenses

Me and my dog – just one theme from Stirchley High Street photo stories

Stirchley High Street Stories was a community photography project which ran from March to June 2019. Last night it launched its popup exhibition and newspaper at Artefact in Stirchley. The gallery runs to Saturday, with a print run of 100 newspapers for visitors to view or take away.

The project

The project was organised by Ghost Streets CIC led by Tracey Thorne and funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. A group of volunteers met three times for photowalks along Stirchley high street, from Fordhouse Lane to Bournville Lane junction. We attended a workshop run by Photo School on how to tell stories with photographs. Then we each chose a theme or story to focus on.

Stirchley High Street Stories Newspaper, 2019
Stirchley High Street Stories newspaper with back cover featuring Stirchley Shutters

First I collected colour in the form of Stirchley's shutters (which made a vertical grid on the back cover). But post-workshop I decided to get a different perspective and take a 'camera dog' for a walk down the high street – essentially a GoPro on a monopod.

I'm really pleased with the results. The wide angles and foot-high shooting position were perfect. I decided to process them in black and white because that's how we used to think dogs saw the world. Apparently they do have some colour vision and see the world as basically yellow, blue, and grey (no red or green).

Other themes from the rest of the team include: curry houses, Hunts Road junction, Browell's tobacconist, Stirchley swatches, shopfronts, things for sale, uncommon places, and fusions and tensions (with some lovely poetic captions from P-Bantz, aka Phil Banting).

A selection of photos is on and under the Instagram hashtag #stirchleyhighstreet. Here are some of my A Dog's Eye View photo stories, including new ones not in the newspaper.

Final thoughts on 'what next' after the scroll…

The photos

Under the bridge to Stirchley School
Under the bridge to Stirchley School
It's a boy's world at the barber's, Stirchley
It's a boy's world at the barber's, Stirchley
Dog meets dog
Dog meets dog at the barber's, Stirchley
Stirchley curves
Stirchley curves
Patting the dog at Loaf
Patting the dog at Loaf
Waiting for human to go to the park
Waiting for human to go to the park
Human goes to British Oak pub again.
Human goes to British Oak pub again.
No escape from the Seven Capital hoardings
No escape from the Seven Capital hoardings.
Shadow lines on the demolished corner of Mary Vale Rd
Shadow lines on the demolished corner of Mary Vale Rd.
Stirchley Gorilla
Stirchley's Kong presides over all.

What next?

Hopefully there will be a followup from this. Stirchley is changing massively at the moment and already the high street looks different with the Wild Cat reopening and others due to follow. See:

With everything in flux and several wastelands awaiting development, it would be great to have an Issue 2 next year at the least.

Personally I'm hoping for more multimedia stories, using video and audio – to create a living record of the transition and the community that is creating that change. A 'Humans of Stirchley' piece maybe, to bring the high street to life for future generations.

Who wants to be videoed or photographed/interviewed so I can practise my storytelling/photojournalism?

Or I might start to take my interest in Stirchley in new direction. I've enjoyed getting back to photography and taking a more artistic approach to my local area.

Ideas are forming… get in touch?

Hire/commission me: fiona [at]

Stirchley retail park – deadline and suggestions for comments

derelict Stirchley houses now demolished

You have until this Thursday 9 May to submit comments on the preliminary planning application by Seven Capital. Link:

Search ref number: 2018/10370/PA

As someone with an ongoing interest in Stirchley's development and being part of SuperStirchley's Lidl campaign, I have submitted my comments (once a-bloody-gain) on the outline plans for Stirchley retail park. Please feel free to borrow and reword if you agree with any of them.


Here we go again – will you listen to Stirchley community’s comments this time or ignore as previously? Will you be too scared to push back against Seven Capital and large-scale developers with unsuitable plans for fear of expensive legal appeals, as you did with Lidl? We are relying on you but we will be watching. You should know that Seven Capital has not, as it claims on its material, sought out engagement with local stakeholders; it has arranged but then cancelled an appearance at a Forum meeting. It says a lot about how much they care what they put into this space which may have a huge effect on Stirchley high street.

Here are my concerns:

Impact on community facilities – Yes to the gym. It's the least you can do after we lost one to Lidl's aggressive landbanking. Yes to more things that help the national agenda against obesity and costly health issues. But can it be a council one to offer affordable health benefits. We want a Northfield gym/pool to replace the Fitness First and the old baths (especially now Tiverton has closed). The University pool is great but wait-listed.

Community facilities – No to a drive-through. We need to give young people proper facilities to use. We deserve replacement of both the indoor bowls, which decamped to Kings Heath thanks to Tesco, and the bowling alley we lost in the Lidl debacle. We deserve to get our assets of community value back.

Intensity of development re supermarket density. Give us yet another supermarket if you must, despite that fact there are existing in the area and many others within easy reach. But make it a Clean Kilo with no plastic impacts, or something that won't kill off the Coop in a race to the bottom on prices. Some people find the Coop expensive but others value Stirchley's Coop for their ethics and support of community projects, and their historic legacy of being on this site for a century.

Design and appearance – a plea for better architecture than that which is proposed. The site is next to the historic British Oak and community church, and brick terraces. A modern drive-through and supermarket next to it is not in keeping with the aesthetic and some of the buildings that were demolished on that strip. Stirchley high street shops are predominantly brick-built, individual units offering businesses that can react to community needs – such as, double use as co-working spaces, offering activity-based clubs (carving, drawing, meeting spaces) that build community. More of these and less of the big single-use retail monoliths with grey frontages that are born to die in a future of online shopping or provide a hiding place for crime (such as the nearby Farmfoods development). Look at the research into how retail parks must change to adapt to future high street needs. There is an opportunity here that the community wants you to consider – not just design and form but future function.

Loss of view/access – Give us our road back so the community can see through the estate and flow from the park through to Stirchley once again.

Traffic / highway matters– Give people a reason to visit on foot – people have suggested a plinth for changing artworks, or other public art that would fit with Stirchley’s unique and creative character. The triangle of land opposite the Oak needs to be open space with access (traffic crossings or even pedestrianisation as suggested in previous plans). This would fit with…

Clean air promises (highway matters) – live up to them by creating cycle routes through that will connect the Rea Cycle Route and potentially a route up to the new Bristol Road cycle route. Add planting and trees – there were trees before by the Working Man's Club. Make car parks freely available for use by high street shoppers, to increase footfall and keep cars off the high street.

Highway matters – we are already clogged and a pinch point for an access to a retail park. Supermarkets and drive-ins encourage more cars and will just add to the problem. People are shopping online more and more and cars are polluting and create health issues. Give a parking space for those who have to drive but don't actively encourage cars to drive to Stirchley.

Comments are here but there are also active conversations on Stirchley's Facebook and on Twitter generally.

Stirchley seven years on

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes! Every few years I take a photographic snapshot of my local Stirchley High Street, Birmingham, to see how it has changed.

So here is Stirchley in 2018…

There is an empty space where the thriving gym and historic bowling alley used to be, demolished after Lidl supermarket pushed ahead with a presumptuous land purchase (they had their permission to build overturned). There is also a massive Tesco wasteland now boarding up a large percentage of north Stirchley. Let's hope Seven Capital can do better, eh? Watch them closely. They were due to show at the Neighbourhood Forum meeting this Monday but have dropped out. It doesn't bode well.

While the supermarkets and large developers try their frickin' best to flip (thanks Kimmy Schmidt) with Stirchley, the independent scene is thriving (more on this in Viva Stirchley). Loving the fact that a spooncarver, fudge shop, martial arts supply store and houseplant shop are newcomers this year, increasing the bloody superb random nature of our high street. No homogeneity here, in 2018 at least. Pretty much all our chain stores are caged inside the Coop or shoved up the, ahem, business end of Stirchley.

Sad to hear Drums International, The (vegan) Pie Shop and Moso vintage clothing have closed and/or moved on. Drums International was one of my favourite does-what-it-says-on-the-sign storefront. The Belgian and Netherlands consulate is also a very sad loss, for quirkiness and international tourism alone. And Hairport – I miss that one for its punnage, although Iron Maidens laundrette is still the winner. There are other casualties – check the 2011 photos at the end of this post.

All the hardcore old-school Stirchley businesses are still here: P Browell tobacconist, Phull Watch Co, Mirror Image, Oulsnam (they'll always be Laing to me), Stirchley Alterations & Dress Making, JJ's Flooring (which has added a rooftop King Kong as you do), Maginnis opticians, Printigo (now snuggling in the bosom of the main high street), OJ Fallons plumbing supplies, Noct Offs, Wards, the British Oak – to name a few. Domestiks is still here but now sells appliances not ex-catalogue clothes, so that's less useful (to me).

Alongside them and hoping for similar longevity are the hardcore 'newbies' creating most of the buzz: Loaf, Artefact, The Bike Foundry, Alicia's Micro Bakehouse, The Wildcat Tap and other local breweries (no longer is Stirchley just a balti Mecca).

I have to give a special mention for the lovely Stirchley Wines & Spirits. Just because. #injoke #keepstirchleyshabby

Also Stirchley Library and Baths – important sources of community spirit, as well as free knowledge and tasty chocolate brownies at the monthly market.

>> Stirchley in 2018

The previous album 'Stirchley Village' was taken in 2010 and 2011. Enjoy now in case I don't cough up for the forthcoming Flickrgeddon and my pictorial histories are deleted in a few months:

>> Stirchley in 2011