April 9th - I had a meeting in Sutton in the morning, then had to pop down to Tyseley. Leaving too late to head anywhere else, but too early to go straight home, I cycled back along the canal home. I love the bit of canal through Bordesley. The stretch past The Bond - so many architectural and technological periods in one shot. I have no idea what’s going on with the statue and the large yellow tank at Typhoo junction, but the cowslips on the embankment were a real treat.
A really nice afternoon.
March 14th - This is for Richard Burnell. Last autumn, he was exploring the canals of Birmingham, and he happened upon these boxes, mounted either side of the canal in Ladywood. He asked what they were, and I told him - to some incredulity - that they were a traffic counter. I vowed that next time I passed, I’d take a picture or two.
In the tall metal box is a mains power supply and a counter. In the long, flat one next to it, two photo electric beam switches (made by specialists Sick), which detect a light beam reflected from a target in the box on the opposite side of the canal. When both beams are broken together, it’s most likely by a boat, so the count increases. By using the two beams, this filters out false signals from curious hands, waterfowl etc.
Measuring boat traffic is important. Similar systems on cycle routes count bikes, and we’ve all seen the temporary ones that count traffic.
March 14th - In Birmingham, Newhall Street junction by the old Remploy headquarters. A great safety warning on the back of a truck. I only have two issues with it:
- It should be twice as big
- It should say ‘Do not pass this vehicle’
Regardless of how cycle lanes are marked, don’t come up the lefthand side of traffic folks. It’s not big, not clever, and is what kills most of the adult cyclists involved in road accidents in the UK.
March 14th - I escaped work in Tyseley at lunchtime, and headed onto the canals of Brum on a fine sunny afternoon. From the Soho Loop, Winson Green; polyanthus in Centenary Square; the canal mural opposite The Bond in Digbeth; Galton Bridge and Ludgate.
Sometimes, this city still feels like it’s mine. A cracking ride.
March 11th - On the way home on a sunny, spring evening, with a low sun shining long over Aston. The train stopped and was held for a few minutes, dwelling on a service coming in the other direction before the points could change - as often happens. The doors were open, and I was stood in golden light, frozen.
It’s a snapshot of Birmingham, and why I love it so.
March 10th - I’ve not seen anything like this before. Today, I was travelling from Acocks Green to Tyseley, as I often do. One of the routes I take includes a shortcut down an alley that used to be Rockwood Road, which crosses the railway between Alexander Road and the Birmingham City Mission. On the footpath, just as you leave the railway bridge, there’s an pecuiar, improvised bollard made of cast iron and steel, about a foot high and 8 inches diameter. It bears the legend ‘Great Western Railway Co. Boundary 1888’.
It doesn’t take the brain of Sherlock to work out what it is, but why? I’ve never seen railway property delimited like this before. Further, I must have passed this scores of times without noticing. How did such a trip hazard survive 126 years? Is it listed? Are there more? Is it important historically, or just a curio?
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.