November 23rd - Out early, and off to Telford. Everywhere was absolutely saturated from the night before - roads, fields, gardens, everything. I’ve never seen so much surface water. The day itself, however, was bright and dry, if a little chilly. It was a beautiful morning. On the cycle paths of Telford, the still autumnal view made me feel bright and optimistic for the first time in a week, really. Daylight. Hazy sun. No wind. But will it last?
November 16th - A little further on stands the ghost of the Catshill Flour Mill. Now converted into pleasant flats, this imposing, foursquare building once milled the flour for the bread of the town, before being converted into a factory making metal components. Repurposed 20 years ago, the mill still stands imposingly over a largely limpid and quiet canal. Oh, the tales it could tell…
November 14th - Commuting in the darkness hours. For the first few weeks after the autumn clock change, drivers go a bit loopy. I don’t know if stats back this up, but it feels like everything gets a bit unhinged until normality returns at around the beginning of December. In the last few weeks on my way home I’ve been pulled out on, undertaken, cut up and lefthooked. This is with huge bright lights and hi-viz.
This collective madness is heightened when I hear the spine-chilling siren and see the blue flashes. When emergency vehicles appear, I always make sure I’m well out of the way, as folk never seem quite sure what to do. Tonight, in the queue at Shelfield, I was safe as the paramedic shot past in the other direction. On their way to someone desperately in need, no doubt. Maybe a traffic accident. My blood ran cold.
I hate this time of year.
November 13th - As I waited for yet another late train at Blake Street this morning, I gazed at the rails. The train service has been lousy of late - continual staff shortages and equipment failures have made the system terribly unreliable. This particular service hasn’t been on time for a fortnight at least. Normally at this time of year, London Midland, the local train operator, would institute a ‘Leaf fall timetable’. This is a much derided, but little understood thing. Falling leaves lie on the rails and get pulped by the train wheels, creating a slippery, sappy lubricant the causes wheels to slip and brakes to become ineffective. The pulp also forms an insulator which prevents signal detection functioning.
A leaf-fall timetable allows drivers to go more slowly and allows rail cleaning trains to operate in-between passenger services. The cleaning trains spray gelatinous substance on the rails called Sandite, which as it’s name suggests, contains sand to counter the grease. The rails I was looking at had clearly just been treated, and the residue could be seen. This is a huge problem for trains worldwide and not unique to the UK.
I’m unclear why there’s no leaf fall timetable this year, and the services on the Cross City line are woeful. Combined with cancellations due to staff shortages, bad signals and train breakdowns, I bet they’re losing punters hand over fist.
November 12th - Well, nearly all of it. Victoria Park was still impressive, even in the driving rain. There’s always something beautiful to lighten the darkest ride.
October 31st - A grim commute home. The scent of rain had been in the air all day, and in the afternoon, the showers grew more frequent and intense. At Tyseley, I listened to the rain on the roof with a heavy heart. I don’t mind commuting jun the rain too much, but there was a keen wind and with the dark evenings upon us, enjoyment was likely to be thin on the ground.
Having missed my train, I waited at a near deserted Tyseley station for the next service. It was dry, but dingy and darkness was falling. This odd little place really has got a hold on me. I’m fascinated by the dark decay of the station, it’s unexplained wooden screens (seemingly doubling as urinals these days) and mock-victorian fittings. It’s quite the oddest station I’ve used; it should feel desolate and threatening, but doesn’t. I can’t work out why it’s fascinating me so much.
October 30th - An odd day. I was in Kings Hill, between Darlaston and Wednesbury, and I had to nip to Tyseley. I figured the quickest way was to hop on the canal and cycle to Galton Bridge, where I could hop on the train. It was a nice, peaceful yet quick ride and I enjoyed it immensely. The waterways were quiet, and very autumnal. The only sound that disturbed me was the thud of a half-term holiday boat hirer crashing his craft through the narrows at Pudding Green…
October 27th - A run out to Lichfield to pick up some shopping… oddly, the city held everything I wanted; more often than not these days, the place disappoints. What’s never a let-down is the scenery, although it’s riddled with photographic cliches. The Old Lady of the Vale has been photographed from every angle possible, as has much of Lichfield. I do love the view over the Garden of Remembrance, though. Beacon Park is looking nice, too, but I have to admit, for sheer autumnal beauty, Walsall Arboretum trumps it.
After that admission, I expect the border guards to refuse me admission on my next trip…
October 24th - The drizzle continued. If we actually had some decent light, Footherley and Shenstone would be really magical: the trees are wonderful colours right now, but it’s all masked by the murk and drizzle. Please, can whoever is doing the rain dance, please stop. It’s not big, not clever and I’m developing trench-foot and webbed feet. Thanks.
October 22nd - The day remained grim and unphotogenic. My return was marred by a heavy headwind, and very, very fine drizzle - the kind that soaks your clothes and trickles down your neck without ever having the decency to actually rain properly. The light, and consequently the photography, were awful. At Jockey Meadows, near Walsall Wood, the fields were misty and dank. The last of the beans remained in the field by the road, as the ground was too waterlogged to harvest them. This doesn’t look like OCtober, it looks like December. Let’s hope the weather picks up soon.
October 22nd - The trains were lousy again, so I opted for a day in Darlaston instead, so I didn’t have to catch any. The commute was evil - raining, wet with really, really bad visibility. I was shocked to see so many drivers without lights - which makes spotting them over your shoulder in these conditions difficult. At Scarborough Road, in Pleck, the trees of this interwar period avenue are beautifully golden, and they cheered me. But the day remained grim.. I think it’s in for the week…
October 21st - I see lots of sweet chestnut trees about - particularly around Shugborough and Longdon, yet little decent fruit, which has always puzzled me. This year in no exception. Inside these very sharp, defensive husks, the chestnuts are thin and small. I don’t know if they’re just an ornamental strain, or whether the crops need more attention than they get in the wild. Still, the windfalls are always impressively spiky.
October 21st - Up on the The Chase and over Shugborough for an afternoon ride. Autumn has really taken hold now. The pines in Abraham’s valley are a lovely yellow, and everything had an aura from the low sun. Soon, the clocks will go back and I’ll be doing this run at dusk. The year advances, slowly, inexorably… where did it go?
October 20th - I knew it was going to be a good ride - and I had no idea why. The bike felt good beneath me after some long-awaited fettling. The wind was low, the air keen, but pleasant. I had energy in my bones. I felt good, the light was starting to get good. I came up from central Brownhills, over Catshill Junction and off towards Chasewater. The golden hour was lighting up the autumn colours. It was peaceful and beautiful. It may only have been a short spin, but this is what cycling is about, and no mistake. I felt that something good was just about to happen…
October 18th - For the first time in ages, I was in Darlaston. I also had to pop into Brownhills on my way, so I pottered up to Pelsall and on to Walsall via NCN 5 - the National Cycle Route. It was a lovely ride to work, but the southerly headwind was a tad sharp for my liking. I guess readers must be getting fed up of the cliched autumn pictures by now, but today, my beloved Black Country looked gorgeous. Escaping early, I popped into the Arboretum at Walsall to check out the colour. At 4pm, it was all but deserted, which I found surprising. It really is lovely there. Get up there before it’s too late…