June 17th - At Spring Road station in Birmingham, I overheard to travellers discussing the white plates visible on the the edge of the opposite platform, down beside the track. They often baffle station users, and their usage is a bit obscure, really.
These are merely a datum survey marker for when the rails are replaced and the track relayed, which happens more often than one would imagine. Before the old track is moved, a surveyor uses a laser level or theodolite to measure the exact position of the rails, and their tilt angle if they have one. The rail height - plus any required offset - is set on the sliding knob, and is used as a datum for relaying new lines.
The legend proclaims this plate no 3; it’s 1105mm to the nearest rail, on the Up Main (UM) line. The cant (or tilt between the two rails to enable safer dynamic cornering of rolling stock) is 2mm.
The (just visible) +474 above the slider indicates that the level set is 474mm above the desired rail height (vertical offset) and a green knob says this is the level the rail should be at as it was designed, and may not currently be at that level. A red knob indicates the actual track position when the plate was installed.
Geometry like this is essential to rail engineers, who obsess over it. Maintaining correct geometry is of prime concern, prevents accidents and ensures trains fit under bridges, alongside platforms and don’t foul each other on bends.
You can often see these marker plates fixed to line side structures or electricity and signal masts.
June 11th - Back in Tyseley, and a change in the weather; it was dark and overcast, but rather warm as I dashed to the station. The changeable weather was reflected in the view of Birmingham City Centre from the railway bridge. Patches of light, and dark, dark clouds, threatening rain. I love this view, and everything it contains; it is Birminghame for me. The train tracks, trees, transmission towers and pub clock, giving way to office block and skyscraper.
Birmingham is a patchwork.
May 23rd - Birmingham continues to fascinate. Finding myself at a loose end for 30 minutes, I took a spin around the city before diving into my favourite cafe to avoid the rain. Birmingham has some brilliant architecture, both old and new, and is sadly under appreciated. Thankfully, Bicktnell, Hamilton & Healey’s New Street Signal Box is listed, and a great example of the Brutalist style, designed as it is to resemble an electrical component. We all know the Council House, but how many ever notice Big Brum, it’s clock tower? The cathedral of St. Philip remains an elegant tour-de-force, complete with cupola and clock, and the remarkable - and derelict - Natwest Tower remains visible, despite the attempts of the trees to hide it.
This is a great city, and I love it so.
May 8th - I’m fascinated by the Selfridges building that forms part of the Bullring in Birmingham. I’m intrigued by the curves, textures and interaction with the surrounding environment.
It’s a brave, bold piece of architecture, and I love it. I’m particularly fond of the car park link walkway, which looks like something from a 1960s sic-fi film.
It’s a surprisingly local affair. Built and project managed by Midlanders, The discs, freshly cleaned this year, were anodised in Walsall.
You either love it or hate it, but it can’t be ignored.
April 20th - One aspect of Birmingham that’s improving lots is its bicycle culture. It’s huge now, and growing all the time. It was actually a tough call today to find space in a rack - although the good weather will have bought a lot of fair weather cyclists out.
That Plug fixie is a modern classic - note the hardcore lack of brakes - and is clearly ridden a lot. At the other end of the scale, the classic 80s Dawes Kingpin folder was an eccentric delight. Not so delightful was the cannibalised Giant frame, left to bleach in the sun like dead animal bones after the vultures had stripped them clean.
A salutary warning about locking your bike up properly there…
April 20th - Today, I cycled into Birmingham to meet a friend. I used to know this place like the back of my hand, and loved it as my hometown, but these days, not so much. I mooched around in the gorgeous afternoon sun, but Brum is a little bit lost to me now. All the shops I used to love have gone, and the crowds were dense and impenetrable. The city has moved on, and not taken me with it.
Some things are changeless, though. The gems of architecture hidden in dark corners, or the bold terracotta of the Citadel, or Methodist Central Hall. The view from the Bullring is as wonderful as ever, and Hancock still scornfully watches Priory Circus over his cuppa.
Still there too is the little old fellow who walks endlessly around town all day. He’s been doing it for years - I recall him doing this endless loop 2 decades ago - always immaculately turned out, coat slung over one arm.
When I saw him today, I realised that some old Birmingham features never fade.
April 12th - Back in Brum for the day, and I loved it. I don’t mind commuting further afield at all - an enjoy it when the trains work OK - but it’s nice to be in Birmingham, my city is always a joy. Today started damp, and somehow I managed to just miss the rain all day. But every leg of my travel was threatened by dark, heavy cloud.
It was lovely, though. The skies were dramatic and photogenic, and the air of grim threat made my legs spin a tiny bit faster. But most of all, it was warm. I don’t think it reached ten degrees, but after recent weeks, the wind was warm. The air was warm. I cycled with an open jacket.
That’s what was lovely, even though the wind was against me all the way from Walsall.
March 25th - Today was actually rather beautiful. I skipped into Walsall on ice-free roads, zipping past lines of stationary traffic. It didn’t feel overly cold, although the wind at my back was bitter. As I reached Tyseley, the sky was blue and the sun was out.
Snow upon this urban landscape makes everything old new again. I love the way it picks out rooftops and reflects the goodness of the sun back to me.
March 21st - I was in Birmingham late for a meeting with friends. I’d had a horrendous commute from Telford, but not as horrendous as the poor lady who fell ill on my train, resulting in paramedics being called. There but for the grace, and all that.
I steeped into my favourite cafe for an hour, then hopped back about 9pm. New Street Station is odd at night. Again, a slight Late Night Feelings thing, but moreso reflections, distorted perspectives and hard surfaces. This is an utterly man-made environment. Any natural part of it is trespassing, or growing in defiance of the built environment. In the desolation of the night, I find it bleak, harsh, and quite, quite beautiful
March 18th - A day of misty light and skyline silhouettes. My journey this morning was shrouded in a thick fog of the variety that condensed into frost on my clothes and bike, yet once on the train to Birmingham, it was as clear as a bell and sunny by Four Oaks.
At Moor Street, the morning light was hazy and yellow. Digbeth looked beautiful as the train glided above it on the viaduct towards Small Heath.
I left work late, and caught the view from Tyseley as darkness was falling. Again, the light was lovely; the city skyline was enchanting, and the station remains fascinating in its faded, jaded, days-of-the-empire style. Down on the platform, as a high-speed intercity shot through, I really got the Late Night Feelings vibe again.
Jewels in an otherwise awful day.
15th March - After a couple of dry, largely sunny days, the rains returned. It rained on me on the way to work, and again as I travelled home. In Tyseley, what was a light shower became a downpour as I left Walsall; by Shelfield, I was soaked, it was still hammering it down, yet over to the north, the sky was clearing and the sun was out.
Commuting on a bike on days like these is hard - damned hard. The hardest bit of winter is often the endgame; this year’s is beginning to seem endless.
March 14th - It was a gorgeous morning, and it looks like the last one for a while. The morning ride was lovely, and the sun over the city more so. Moor Street Station in Birmingham continues to fascinate; the combination of old, new, interesting textures and architecture make for a lovely, light station that’s pleasant and relaxed when the sun shines. In that, it reminds me of Hull and London Marylebone, both wonderful stations, filled with soft, natural light when the sun shines.
Mach 11th - A remarkable, and strange day. Periods of bright, clear sunshine interspersed with sudden, sharp and heavy snowstorms. They’d last for 15 minutes, then the sun would come out again. All the while, a bitter, biting wind came from the east. It really was viciously cold.
On the way home, I boarded a train at Tyseley in a blizzard, then ten minutes later cycled through Birmingham City Centre in bright sunshine. Coming home from Shenstone with the wind (thankfully) behind me, the sun was bright, but the sky to the easy was dark and threatening.
I sped home, hoping to avoid any oncoming snow - thankfully, the sky didn’t fulfil it’s promise.
An odd day to commute, and little sign of spring, although the light was gorgeous.
March 8th - There’s not much, photographically, you can do with a day like this, except record it as it was. For the second day running, it was wet and foggy. The traffic was still acting strange, and I was glad to get home. It’s not really cold, and the cycling was surprisingly good due to the still conditions - but the flat, grey outlook, devoid of decent light, is relentless.
Please, spring, come back! What on earth did I do to scare you off?
March 2nd - I think I might be the only unconnected person to ever remember this. In the early 90s, there was a Birmingham musician, composer and singer called Lou Dalgleish. She used to play regularly in a city centre pizza restaurant, and was a regular performer at Ronnie Scotts. She had a couple of albums out, and now tours with a an Elvis Costello tribute show. I still enjoy her solo work immensely, although she seems to have stopped recording her own work.
One of the earliest tracks of hers available - now long since deleted - was called Beech Dene Grove, and is about the street in Erdington in which she grew up. it’s a lovely thing I think most of us can relate to.
You can listen to the track using the player at the top of this post.
Yesterday, after I left the Erdington bike jumble, I cycled past Beech Dene Grove, and thought of Lou.