March 4th - I came through Acocks Green today, a place I haven’t visited for a while. I love the sleepy, suburban Metroland feel to the backstreets, the Art-Deco townhouse terraces mingling with much older cottages from a more bucolic history. On the corner verge, a roadside flowerbed, planted with polyanthus and miniature daffodils.
I’m sure there’s an aspidistra in one of these front rooms. I hope they keep flying it.
March 1st - Cycling on NCN 535 between Witton Lakes and Brookvale Park, I noticed this culvert portal to the brook that flows through the lakes from Kingstanding to the Tame. This steelwork may look ugly and grim, but it’s a vital piece of environmental equipment: it’s called a Trash Screen and stops large items of debris from entering the culvert and causing a blockage where it would be difficult to extract. The grid traps litter, flotsam and jetsam, and can be removed easily by technicians, even in heavy flood conditions.
In the weather we’ve had, clearing trash screens is a major job for councils and the Environment Agency. Often unpleasant, but very, very necessary.
February 27th - That moment when you’re passing through Moor Street Station in Birmingham - the lovingly rebuilt and restored Great Western Railway station - and realise that even the washers used in the architectural ironwork are an ornate stamped flower design.
That, readers, is attention to detail. Never noticed it in 10 years of using the station…
February 26th - The technology of controlling public spaces fascinates me. Footfall monitoring systems, environmental control and public information screens all have their own complex theories and rationales. Even something seeming as simple as a public adress system is complicated in the implementation.
At Birmingham New Street, the public announcements, if one listens carefully, are not relayed universally through every speaker, and there is often a slight timeshift between two announcements on adjacent platforms. The volume of the PA rises and falls locally based on background noise levels measured automatically by a number of units like this, buried in the fascia of the station walls.
I noticed this one this morning as I waited for my train. I thought about how tuned the system must have to be - to echo, resonance, and the synchronisation must have to be just so.
What results are hopefully comfortable, easily heard announcements, that don’t clash and collide with interference from multiple speakers as you move around. This is clearly a very, very sophisticated system, and I’d love to know more about it.
February 25th - First time in Tyseley for a while. Leaving in a mediocre golden hour, I was reminded of the view from Wharfdale Road, and it caught my breath.
Somewhere over the terraces, chimney pots and quiet suburban streets, there’s my city. Right there.
January 22nd - First time in Tyseley for a while, and I’m still in love with that view and sunset. As I left work - in the blessed light, how things are improving - the soft light of the oncoming dusk cast a lovely soft orange glow. The sunset was still good by the time I reached central Birmingham too.
Today, it felt that perhaps the spring wasn’t too far away, after all.
22nd January - In Birmingham, I was intrigued by this venerable old Claud Butler well locked up outside Moor Street station. When this was new it would have been a very expensive bike indeed - the brand was considered the Rolls Royce of bikes back when I was a lad, but not so much now. This seems fairly true to the original, too; down tube shifters, tight angled quill stem, lugged steel 501 frame and cotterless cranks.
This is clearly a favourite ride for someone, and looks like a well loved and well ridden steed. It’s also a remnant of a great cycling tradition.
January 16th - As much as I’m growing to loathe the results of the renovation of New Street Station in Birmingham, the process is still fascinating me. One of the things I like about it is how normal conventions of public buildings are broken. There is serious civil engineering going on at the same time as huge numbers of people and trains pass through this humming interchange..
Odd things happen.
Personnel appear from hidden doorways and gaps. There are odd noises and bangs. Occasionally, you get sprayed with water, or dust. Lifts and stairs appear, and then are boarded up again. cables dangle and tangle above the headspaces, and snake and race through the girders and scaffold.
One of the things you see here you don’t elsewhere is engineering graffiti. Surveyors measure. Sparkies test. Cladders clad. All of them leave their marks and datums scribbled on walls, floors and hoardings. Sometimes, they make sense. Often, they’re just mysterious glyphs, whose purpose is only known to those with the skill. I love how they ebb and flow with the focus of the work.
Spotting them is something to do while you wait…
January 9th - The first decent morning for ages, really, and it was a pleasure to be speeding along dry roads without too much wind. I could get to like this, I really could.
The journey was reasonable too, with the trains, for a change, running well. Only the Christmas tree, still inexplicably up and fully lit on New Street Station’s concourse caused me to frown.
I stopped on the bridge at Tyseley and took photos of the skyline, over the yards and gantries of suburban Birmingham, It looked great in the sunshine.
I’d really like a bit more weather like this, please.
January 7th - ‘New’ New Street Station concourse this morning. The Christmas tree erected here at an annoying, but rather apposite list way back in December is still up.
This is pretty crap, really. Couldn’t they schedule engineering work to take it down?
Only 50% of my train services today were cancelled or delayed, so there was some solace. On Monday, it was 75%.
December 5th - Without a functioning rail service, there was no alternative and I cycled home from Tyseley. The wind was strong, but it had died back considerably, and the rain - apart from a brief shower as I hit Park Hall - had cleared. I didn’t fancy the traffic up the main drag over Kingstanding with a side wind, so hit the canal all the way home. It got dark in Aston, and the front light - my trusty Hope R4 - was plenty good enough all the way. The going wasn’t fast, but it was steady, and much of the time I was sheltered from the wind.
Reality checks came at Tower Hill, where rocks had tumbled from the steep cutting embankment onto the towpath, and Park Hall, where a tree had similarly come to a sad end.
There was a cracking sunset, too, but I missed most of it, hidden behind the cityscape. The views over Hamstead were great though, and it made a change to see them at this time of day. I must head here for a sunset when I get chance.
I arrived home tired, but just pleased to be back, and safe. Many, many people had a far worse time with floods, the tidal surge and severe gales. My tribulations were nothing, and I did get in a decent ride, after all.
December 5th - It wasn’t a great day for train travel in the Midlands (or the rest of the country, for that matter). Signal failures led to horrid delays getting to work, and storm damage mainly caused by falling trees stopped lines to Walsall and Lichfield during the afternoon and evening, so I cycled home from Brum and gave the trains a miss completely.
I noted that Notwork Fail have this year put up a lush, artificial Christmas Tree in the ‘New’ New Street.
It’s irritatingly not straight, buy very apposite.
November 28th - I don’t know who this cat is, but she has a look about her that suggests crossing her would be a very bad idea. I stopped in Hall Green to answer my phone, and she glared at me with evils from the opposite footpath. As I made my call I was watched very carefully, and I was hissed at periodically.
She’s in very good condition, and I guess her mum loves her…
November 27th - Today, I spotted something I’d never noticed before at Birmingham Moor Street Station: a robin nesting box. Painted to blend in with the brickwork, someone who cares for the structure of this station also cares about the urban birdlife. I shall keep an eye on it next spring and see if it is used.
Top marks, Chiltern Railways. Top marks.
November 26th - I spotted this curious bike as I passed the bike stands at New Street Station. It’s an unusual thing, to be sure. I’d say it’s a late 70s or early 80s knockoff Chopper; all the ingredients are there; small front wheel, three speed with central car-style stick shift, ape hanger bars and big banana saddle. This is clearly not a real Chopper, and has a single front hub brake, and a curious fork with decorative springs to mimic suspension, possibly aping the Cinzia Cricket, another odd, chopper-like bike of the period. This thing must weigh heavily, and the gears are broken, but it’s clearly someone’s loved getabout. It’s the kind of thing one might be lucky to find at a boot sale or house clearance, and is obviously original.
I’d love to know more about it if any bike wonks are reading this?