May 7th - Ach, the sadness of things. This elderly bike - a GT - isn’t a bad steed, but is in poor condition. I noticed it this morning leaning forlornly against the bike racks at Blake Street station. The rear mechanism hanger had sheared, and something looks like it has smashed in the derailleur. The bike had clearly been abandoned for the train. Sad.
That ruined someone’s day, I bet.
May 2nd - I spotted this remnant today at Blake Street Station I’d never noticed before; it looks like the ruins of a platform, and maybe a different track layout, probably from the original station. I must have looked at this set of orphan steps for years and never registered what they were.
April 30th - Spring really is here. I’ve waited a very long time for it, but today, I noticed the trees at Blake Street coming into leaf.
There is nothing I can really add. Is there really anything more beautiful, hopeful and optimistic than this?
March 27th - The winter is still sat upon my shoulders, weighing me down. Today was another day fraught with bad travel connections, and tomorrow doesn’t look to be much better. Waiting at Blake Street this morning, it was bitingly cold, and snowing. Rather than the enjoyment I normally feel when it snows, today, it was just bleak, more of the same. Due to a signal failure, it took me two and a half hours to get to Telford. The circumspect mood did not improve.
Returning from Shenstone later in the day, there seemed to have a been a substantial thaw during the day - many of the fields I passes looked green, whereas they’d been white the day before. However, the larger drifts will take some time to recede. This one - currently preventing any access to Thornyhurst Lane - is huge.
March 25th - It promised to be a thoroughly dreadful journey home. Checking travel information just before leaving work, there was chaos at New Street, with overhead line difficulties causing mass cancellations and a reduction to Sunday service on all lines I could get home from. Pitching up a the station, I went for a Walsall train, then heard an announcement for a Lichfield one. Just making it to the right platform, I easily climbed aboard a 6-carriage set which had seats to spare. I actually left New Street before I would normally. This was nice and rather odd. I was very, very lucky.
Alighting at Blake Street, I found the light to be fantastic and even the backlanes clear. The wind was still sculpting powdery snow into impressive drifts, and coming from the northeast, was a distinct and formidable crosswind.
As Laura Marling says ‘I’ll never love England more than when it’s covered in snow.’
March 5th - A beautiful, late winter/early spring day. I left when the morning fog was thick and cold, and headed to Telford. As I got nearer the station, the mist was gradually burned off by the sun. I came back to Tyseley later, and it seemed the colour of the day was gold. The mist lingered, and made for beautiful skylines.
This spring thing? I think it could be a goer…
February 7th - None of these pictures have been doctored. Dawn, over Little Aston and Blake Street. It really was like this, one of the finest dawns I think I’ve ever witnessed.
This, my friends, is why I ride a bike.
February 6th - A grim commute. It started dry, and with a decent enough day forecast, left the waterproofs at home. On the way to Blake Street, the drizzle intensified and I arrived somewhat soggy. I haven’t had much luck with the morning commutes this week.
There’s still something captivating, though, about wet stations in the half-light. Oh well, here’s to a better day tomorrow. Hopefully.
January 21st - I remain fascinated by the railway, and the snow has given it a new slant. I’m no trainspotter, and couldn’t give a toss for the operations, or the trains, or anything like that. What I like is the scale, the idea of connection, or a big, unified machine snaking from place to place. Today, I thought about the thousands of mechanical points across the country, working in very cold, wet conditions. The electrical overhead wiring, the signals, the track. The buildings. How it all survives and still (mostly) operates in the worst of the UK weather.
It really is quite remarkable when you think about it.
January 18th - Hey, some real snow. The heaviest snows I can recall since the 1980s came today. It didn’t really start snowing heavily until I left the house for work. A long slog into the wind, and a battle to get to Tyseley, but it was fun, nonetheless. When I got to my destination, two hours later, I found they were closing in less than an hour. Never mind, I picked up some stuff, and cycled back into Birmingham, weaving through the gridlocked traffic of Sparkbrook, Camp Hill and Digbeth. Catching a train back to Blake Street, I wrapped up warm and went for a ride around the backlanes to Footherley, Shenstone and Chesterfield. A great ride, in the most dramatic, stunning weather. You can’t beat riding in freshly fallen snow. Coupled with the sensory overload of sight, sound and touch, there’s nothing like it.
January 10th - I got the train back to Blake Street - I’m not really sure why. The disabled ramps there fascinate me - rather than being assembled, manufactured things, as the station is built on a hill, they’re just footpaths that meet the southerly ends of the platform. They’re at a fair incline, and have several dog leg bends in them. Shrouded by tress and shrubs, they are emerald green arcades on summer days, but dark, ethereal ginnels at night. I find the harsh lights, fencing and shadows fascinating.
At the bottom end tonight, however, a classic illustration of unthinking, selfish idiocy; several times this week I’ve come this way to see a bike-shaped object locked to the plastic down pipe at the foot of the ramp. It must belong to a commuter, and is blocking access to the ramp for people in wheelchairs and mobility scooters (there are a fair few who use this station). The staff have left a note attached to the bike. Odd really - there’s proper racks not ten yards away.
January 9th - A beautiful morning, really, and although not very cold, after the warm weather of late it felt bitter. The sun shone, at least while I got to work - and everything had a gorgeous softness to it. In the light haze, the railway fascinated with its extended perspective and shine, and the row of terraces that back onto the junction by the station continue to fascinate in their recursion.
Even the Tyseley incinerator - working normally, as it does everyday - looked impressive; it’s water vapour, not usually visible, was forming plumes of steam in the cold air. Magical.
December 14th - Just as I was getting into the swing of cold, bright days, along comes the rain fairy again. Today, the commute and riding was shocking. It was a dreadful journey to work; into a headwind, drizzle getting heavier as I went. It took 35 minutes to cycle what is usually a 25 minute journey, and I thought I’d just missed my train. Reconciled to a 20 minute wait at Blake Street, I was the only person around. Then, completely unlisted on the passenger information system, a train turned up out of nowhere, which seemed a bit odd.
The further I got toward my destination, the heavier the rain became. Tyseley looked grey and horrible, and nobody seemed to turn the daylight on at all. The commute home was equally dreadful.
I was cheered, however, to note that next week, it’ll be the shortest day - then the nights begin to open out again. Roll on Christmas, let’s have some nuts…
December 11th - It didn’t take long for the mist to settle in, but even that was enjoyable. Just as well, really, as despite the promises of a new dawn, the London Midland train reliability is still lousy, even with the new timetable. 6 out of this week’s 8 trains so far have been late. I still love the sights and views of the railway. I’m not interested particularly in trains, but I love the slightly unreal, meccano landscapes they create, with vividly pronounced perspective, repetition and reflection. I love the impression of distance and connection they create, and of the illusion of solid control, like a huge machine.
The machine is broken, and deserves some love and attention, and a master who loves it, but it’s still a wonderful and oddly beautiful thing.
November 21st - An awful, awful journey to work. I’ve had some really bad commutes this year, probably more than any other year. I just hope that we get some fine, dry weather soon. When I left for Blake Street it was raining heavily. I fought through the rainstorm, to catch a delayed train. The driving I saw in some quarters - no lights, dangerous overtaking - confirmed my suspicion that rain does strange things to some people’s perception of risk. Arriving in Birmingham, I couldn’t get a forward train to Tyseley or nearby, and being in a hurry, I cycled out through Digbeth and the Warwick Road. It was a horrid journey. I love cycling, but I didn’t this morning. My waterproofs kept me reasonably dry, but the discomfort, the stress… sometimes, you don’t need it.