Call me Russ L

Alcohol restrictions at a St Patrick’s Day event: that’s taking the mickey (arf)

Posted in Modern Living, Music by Russ L on 18 March, 2009

My sources tell me that the orders originated from the bridge of the nuclear submarine that Birmingham City Council keep under the River Rea (y’know, the one poised and ready to launch a tactical missile against The Spotted Dog). The engines hummed as Mike Whitby sleepily shifted his weight deeper into his orthopaedic deckchair. His top hat slumped to the side slightly, obscuring some of the sequins that he’d lovingly sewed on in the shape of the letters “I ARE TEH LEADER”

“Could I possibly have a cup of Bovril?” he burbled. As his Bovril Lackey scurried off, the council’s two oracle interpreters on duty that day leaned closer together to confer.
“Bovril? Cup? If I’m translating correctly, that must mean that we’re to institute an alcohol-free zone on Bradford Street.”
“I agree. I’ll send out a wire immediately.”

Something seemed to disturb Whitby from his reveries. Growing agitated, he began to mutter under his breath – “Forward! Forward!” The crew of the submarine braced themselves for what they knew was coming next. Leaping to his feet, he insisted everyone else also stood and joined in with the singing of Birmingham’s civic anthem (“If It Happens Again I’m Leaving” by UB40, as any fule kno).

The interpreters were again quick to act.
“Singing? Standing? We’re clearly being told to allow alcohol back in on Bradford Street.”
“And that twitch?”
“Initially I thought it was just shellshock from the Battle Of Harborne, but now I realise he was telling us to allow plastic glasses only.”
“I concur. I’ll send out word.”

Calming down, Whitby sank back into his chair. He scanned his eyes around the room and was comforted by the presence of some of his favourite possessions – a snowglobe with a city in it, for example, and a local heart (preserved in a jar of formaldehyde). “I remember when this was all just luxury apartments” he murmured to himself, as his eyelids slowly lowered and he drifted away to the happy little world inside his own mind.

“Hear that?”
“Yup. We’re back to no alcohol. I’ll let ‘em know.”

…and so it continued…


Apparently Birmingham’s St Patrick’s Parade is the third largest in the world after New York and Dublin (I also gather Brum has more yards of cut than Valencia, or something like that). As part of the general weekend-before festivities for this year there was an outside stage on Bradford Street, with some bands ‘n’ such. It looked like fun. Since the stage was meant to be out on the street I got myself some cans at our end, before hopping over to Birmingham. A spot of shopping (stylin’ new shoes included) preceded me wandering over to Digbeth.

Picture the scene, then: the stage was by The Anchor, and blocked off with barriers so that you could only get near it via an entrance near The White Swan. When I arrived, they weren’t allowing alcohol any nearer to the stage than the barriers there. This basically led to a small number of people up in front of the stage, a huuuge gap (about 150 yards, say?) with no people, then a big crowd knocking around at the crossroads by The White Swan. Exactly as you’d expect.

Not long after I’d got there they decided to start letting people in with booze in plastic cups, so a fair few folks headed forwards. That didn’t help me, obviously, but I finished my can and moved into the enclosure in time for the start of The Father Teds. They weren’t searching bags at this point.

The Father Teds were great fun – too-ra-loo-ra-li fun Irish business with “Dirty Old Town” and “Irish Rover” and so on and so forth, not done in any particularly new or innovative way but entertaining. A very good festival band, I’d call them, perfect for those times when you’re out in the sunshine and having a drink. Oh, wait.

Out I came. I braved the madness (it was every bit as busy as you’d imagine) in The White Swan to buy a pint of lager – I had lager in my bag already, as I’ve said, but I wanted the plastic cup to pour my own in. When I got out of the maelstrom I was delighted (oh so very delighted, as I’m sure you can guess) to find that apparently minds had been changed. The Maginot Line of alcohol prevention was back in force.

The Destroyers started, and I found myself watching them at a huge distance. The Baron and Lady Baron turned up and couldn’t get in either, but it’s always nice to see them as they are just about the loveliest people going.

I finished my pint and headed in. No! Wait! They’re checking bags now. I wasn’t going to open any of my cans inside the enclosure, but that was of no account. Back to the crossroads I was sent. After a while it was decided that the plastic cups were allowed back in, but I was by then known as a can-carrier.

It was a case of The Destroyers at extreme distance, then. I could just about see them if I squinted, and happily the wind was blowing the right way so you could still more-or-less hear them. They’re quite a surreal band at the best of times, but I have to say this eyestrain set was the most surreal time I’ve ever seen them. Out Of Babel still sounds enormous at range, happily, but eventually I gave up. There didn’t seem much point anymore and I left. I have no doubt that the “you can! You can’t!” changed back and forth another several times as the afternoon and evening progressed.

The idea that a St Patrick’s Day do should be an alcohol-free affair seems a silly one, but if for some reason it’s necessary to make people (who are going to drink anyway unless you shut every licensed premises in a five-mile radius) neck their pints as quickly as they can so they can get back to the action then a consistent policy is needed. The constant chop and change was a cock-up of genuinely massive proportions. I’m not blaming the security lads, who were friendly and affable throughout whilst having to follow constantly-changing orders. Whoever was in charge, though, should probably be repeatedly shot until they apologise and promise not to do it ever again.

Birmingham City Council seem to have some odd philosophy based on the separation of sound and alcohol in Digbeth – you can have a pub as long as it stays deathly quiet or you can have a big stage with bands as long as it remains unusually sober. Never the twain should meet, it appears.

Similar complaints can be found here and here and probably other places too.

6 Responses

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  1. Midge D said, on 18 March, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    Yep, i was standing by the barriers by The Anchor pub when some guy in hi-vis marched up to announce the drinks policy had ‘just that minute changed to no alcohol’. Some poor woman who had minutes earlier been informed it was ok came out the pub with a couple of pints to now be told she couldn’t take them in so now she had to go and find hubby and drag him back. I think later on when The Necks were playing minds had been changed again but now the word had got around and the damage done hence the poor turn out. Just frickin’ surreal they could cock something as established as Birmingham’s St Patricks day up with such petty shifting sands bureaucracy.

  2. Dave Harte said, on 18 March, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    We (wife + 6yr old + 2yr old) didn’t go up this year because although the parade is fun the fair they usually have in Bradford street afterwards is even more fun and this year it wasn’t there. Kiddie rides plus pissed adults plus sugary refreshments is great fun. Am sure the live music was a good idea, shame they got the logistics wrong.

    I realised later in the day that there was some kind of family bit in the Custard Factory but “market stalls, acoustic music, magicans, clowns and picnic tables” is a bit middle-class sounding for St Patrick’s day. My Mom rang at about 3pm, already home having failed to get a drink in the crowded pubs. “Don’t come up” she said, “it’s rubbish, there’s no fair for the kids or anything”. I told her I thought there was something going on in the Custard Factory. After 47 years in Birmingham and the same time drinking in pubs in Digbeth she didn’t have a clue what I was talking about – she’d never heard of the place.

  3. bigcatgroup said, on 19 March, 2009 at 9:49 am

    Love the description of Mike Whitby in his office!

    What a truly rubbish decision, when will they ever realise that they cause more trouble by making choices like that.

  4. Little old me said, on 19 March, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    They seem to have lost the thread!

  5. The Baron said, on 20 March, 2009 at 2:53 pm

    Coming soon…an egg free Easter Egg Hunt, a firework free Bonfire Night and a Christmas free Christmas…actually haven’t we already had all of those? Lordy lordy help us all. I actually left the zone after The Destroyers, scuttled off to a local shop and smuggled a couple of cans back in, just to stick it to ‘the man’. Can-carriers of the world unite! I’m off to recruit Billy Bragg and The Levs for a benefit gig (alcohol free naturally).

    PS: You’re lovely too.

  6. Russ L said, on 22 March, 2009 at 10:31 am



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