December 3rd - An evening ride up to Walsall Wood had me crossing the High Street at the Ogley Road junction, just by the former Warreners Arms, after checking out some of the old names scratched into the brickwork of the former pub.I noted in an instant how much this view had changed in a decade; ten years ago, there would be two tall high-rises on the right, and a row of grim maisonettes on the left. The intervening years have seen them all carried to dust, a period of dereliction, followed by new build. On the right, Knave’s Court, a care complex for the elderly, and on the left, Ogley Hay Court, modern flats and houses.
Change happens slowly. Occasionally, something snags on your memory, and you realise how much changed without you registering it.
December 3rd - A better day today. The bug had receded, and I took a day out for rest and paperwork. I took a spin up into Brownhills at lunchtime on an errand, and took the opportunity to check out the canalside at Silver Street. I note work clearing the scrub on the land formerly occupied by Silver Court Gardens has been taking place, which may indicate someone’s got plans. At Silver Street itself, the area of canal bank laughably termed a ‘marina’ in development documents of the day is looking considerably down-at-heel. The paving is breaking up, the barriers rotten and falling down. The greenery is nice, of course, but the open space really could do with a bit of a refurbishment. This seemed likely in 2007 when the new bridge was unveiled, but any plans for environmental improvements seem to have faded.
It would be easy to blame Walsall Council for this, but it belongs to the Canal and River Trust, who don’t really seem bothered over it. I know local Councillors and others have fought hard to no avail to get the barriers replaced, and local volunteers work hard here litter picking.
It’s ironic that as these moorings decline, they’ve recently been so well used by boats.
It’s all a bit sad, really.
December 1st - I swung past St. James Church in Brownhills to check a couple of things out, and taking the path between Great Charles Street and the Church, I noticed how much litter and leaf detritus was gathering there. I’m not sure who’s responsible for this path - whether it’s Walsall Council or the Church - but it’s pretty grim.
I also noticed that in the fantastic covered bike shed in the adjacent schoolyard, two children’s bikes had been left. It struck me as being a bit odd, and slightly sad: who’d go to school on a bike, and not come home on it? Surely the wee ones are missing their wheels?
Few things sadder than an abandoned bicycle.
December 1st - First of all, my apologies. On my main blog I advertised the Chasewater Christmas Fayre for the day heavily; the press release from Staffordshire Council read well, and it looked to be a great event. When I turned up for a look around at midday, it was dire. 5 stalls, one of which was promoting the Forest of Mercia did not a great Christmas event make. My apologies to anyone who attended after reading my advert - I do try to promote decent events. I shall be more careful in future.
Disappointed by the Fayre, and still suffering with a stomach bug, I set out around Chasewater on a pleasantly sunny winter day. The North Heath looked pleasingly dramatic in it’s winter jacket, but sadly, no sign of the deer. Returning, I headed back over the Common and noted some management works in progress, which was good to see.
A pleasant ride, and I would have been out longer but my energy just wasn’t there.
November 30th - Brownhills has been spoiled rotten this year by our municipal overlords at Walsall Council - they’ve brought us new Christmas lights. Likened to mint Cornettos, they seem to show holly sprigs and stars, or maybe snowfall. They complement the tree we no longer get beautifully.
Can we have another lump of coal for the fire, Mr. Bird?
November 30th - A terrible day beset by daft problems, but mainly by a rather upset stomach. I shot out for a brief ride as I saw the sunset was so good, and caught the tail end of it. I headed up onto the old railway line at Clayhanger, and even climbed the old signal post for a decent shot. A fine atmospheric sunset, and the ride made me feel better, too.
November 27th - I came back to Brownhills late, and on an oddly warm evening. I was knackered, frankly; I hadn’t had lunch and my energy reserves were very low. I’d fought what seemed like a devilish headwind from Lichfield but it was, in reality, nothing extreme. I pulled over on Anchor Bridge to get a shot down the High Street, which turned out lousy due to headlights. However, this quick image of the canal didn’t turn out too bad.
When I last looked, those trees had leaves… my, how the year has mached on.
November 23rd - I was passed by a grit lorry on the Chester Road, and winced as the rocksalt tinkled off my bike. It is winter now in all but name, and I’ll get used to it. The cold was bitter, and frost was on the way, so it was good to see Walsall Council teams out on a Saturday treating the roads. As I passed the back of the depot at Apex Road, the yard was busy loading lorries as they came in, and I noted that the salt barn was pretty much full, all set for the winter ahead. A sobering thought.
November 17th - Today was a carbon copy of yesterday, but warmer, and so the mist had risen a little. By the time I got out - again, as dusk fell - the air was clearing and a very quiet darkness settled upon Brownhills. I spun around, enjoying the unusual quiet; up the canal to the old cement works, then up the old railway line to Engine Lane, and back into Brownhills via the Hussey Estate and Holland Park. It’s taken a long time this year, but tonight, I was aware of being in love with the darkness again, or at the least, in love with the things it brings. Solitude, quiet, a new aspect to familiar places.
There’s the dark town, the darkness itself, and the fear of the darkness. At some point in the last 24hours, seasonal lines recrossed and I stopped fighting it. The fear is real: it’s not the menace, or the ghostliness as found here at Coppice Lane, but the fear of never seeing the summer again. I can’t hold on to the year passed,the warm days, long grass and flowers have withered and now, it’s winter. Come Christmas, everything will open out again.
And in the meantime, evenings like this: quiet, dark and beautiful.
November 16th - I headed up to Chasewater late afternoon in bad light, as I hadn’t been for ages, and as usual I took the canal route. Nearing the paddock at Newtown that had been home to Big Tasties, who’ve since moved to Stonnall, I heard the oddest twanging noise. Not long after, I spotter her.
This huge, healthy sow seems to be on her own and have the entire space to herself. She had attracted my attention by repeatedly biting on the barbed wire fence at the towpath edge, barbs and all, tugging it out and twanging it like a guitar string. At first, I was very concerned she might hurt herself but that mouth seems very, very tough. She was very tame and allowed me to stroke her head.
November 15th - While capturing Morris, the lights of the former Brownhills Council House - The Parkview Centre - caught my eye. It was an interesting original building - not handsome or beautiful, but a tour-de-force of civic pride in a growing town made prosperous by coal and bricks. The brick legacy is reflected in the light terracotta masonry, and engaging detail around the windows, doors and eaves.
Sadly, up until recently, the hundred year old clock has neither been accurate nor reliable, and is affectionately known as the ‘three-faced liar’ to locals.
Recently, the timepiece has been refurbished following welcome work instigated by the Brownhills Local Committee, with new mechanisms and seems to be holding time well; it was a mere minute fast in this picture.
Unfortunately, the civic pride the building and clock conferred has been utterly destroyed by the hideous, architecturally lazy and cheap extensions added in the last decade to make this landmark suitable as a health centre and library.
A more botched, unsuitable conversion would be hard to find.
November 15th - It had been a long day, the energy was low, and I didn’t have much time. I spun up the High Street at teatime and rode the backstreets for a bit. Returning, I looked at something thats so familiar, I rarely pay it much attention: Morris, the Brownhills Miner. Much as I feel uncomfortable with the extravagance in a faltering town, I do love him. John McKenna’s work in drafting all those fragments, then welding them together in a finite-element model like this is stunning, and always has been. So much better than the laser cut by numbers tat in Walsall Wood, this took a really skilled artist a huge amount of time to design, facilitate and build. I just wish the blue lights didn’t make it look so cheap.
Morris is such an obvious and cliched subject, I’ve only rarely featured him here, but it’s worth it, once in a while, just to share him. The politics and cost aside, it’s a terrific thing.
December 13th - Further along the canal,I played again with night photography. Interesting that the lack of moonlight tonight made for such grainy images, but I like them, all the same. I hated it at first, but I’m quite getting to like the ghost-flats in Brownhills. The colour comes alive at night.
November 13th - Heading home from work late again, I hit the canal for a bit of a mental challenge. It’s been a hard couple of days, and night riding in a darker than usual environment is really good for clearing the head. I wait until I get to a dark spot, then kill the lights for a bit. It’s great fun.
This image is taken without flash, and this is how it looks from the bike.
The front light I’m using at the moment - a Hope Technology Vision R4 - is great, and bright enough to stun a badger. Here, it’s on the lowest of three ‘trail’ settings, and it’s more than adequate for tiding in woodland at night.
As soon as the weather clears, going to try it out on the Chase one evening…
November 1st - On the other hand around by St. Jame’s Church, things were atmospheric in a different way. None of the street lighting in the paths through the church grounds is working, and the area is dark, peaceful and atmospheric. The photography was poor, but I liked the shadows, the sodium light and the otherworldliness. Must come back and do this with a better camera.