August 22nd - It was an odd day at work, after a very early start, I had little to do except for one late task at 4pm. Coming home, it spotted with rain most of the way, and the sky was threatening. I shot up Brownhills High Street to get to the cashpoint, then couldn’t get any money as my card had expired - I dimly remembered opening the new one the month before, and promptly forgetting about it.
An odd, frustrating day. But hey, it was Friday…
August 20th - I had to pop into Walsall for some bits and pieces on my way home, and so I rode up Church Hill and down the marketplace.
Walsall may have changed beyond recognition in many ways, but that view of the yellow sandstone church at the top of the steps is gorgeous, iconic and unique.
Some things are timeless.
August 19th - This is Victoria Park in Darlaston, once a railway line.
This is in the centre of a heavily urbanised, industrial area in the Black Country. It is a green oasis in a sea of roads, buildings, traffic and noise. It is clean, well maintained and a credit to the town.
This is why I love this place.
August 14th - I found myself back in Walsall at dusk, having been on a mad dash to Sutton. Finally relaxed and happy, I enjoyed the evening light and a peaceful ride home with the wind assisting me.
Some days are just frantic from start to finish. But it’s nice to feel a very hectic period come to an end. Oh for a few days off and a bit of blessed normalcy.
August 11th - I nipped to Telford early to make a quick adjustment, and returned within the hour. At the station, glowing in the sunlight on a small patch of forgotten earth, these beautiful purple flowers.
All they want is to be noticed - and sometimes it’s the little stuff that makes life so fine.
August 8th - In contrast to recent days, it was dark and overcast with a very threatening atmosphere for most of the day. Racing home, I could smell rain on the wind, and it felt ominous.
A bit of rain is welcome; it’s needed. But we haven’t had weather like this for any length of time for a long period, and this felt dramatic and alien.
As I rode down Mill Lane in Stonnall, I noticed a flock of starlings had settled on the field, hedgerow and overhead lines. Perhaps it’s just the Hitchcock thing, but even those little birds in silhouette felt menacing…
August 7th - I had to nip into Brum on my way home from work, and hopped on a train to Shenstone on the way back. I haven’t been this way much lately, and the familiar wooded hill with church tower - just the one in summer, the other being obscured by trees - looked splendid in the early evening sunshine. I love how you can see the gargoyles at the vertices from a very long way away.
The station and it’s complex, partially mansard roof is still gorgeous, too, despite being neutered of it’s tall, elegant chimneys several decades ago.
Shenstone is gorgeous, and there are few better places to be on a warm, sunny evening.
August 6th - This is in response to a recent request by top bloke and Brum social media whizz John Hickman. This is a saddlebag vomit.
Don’t be alarmed, is a meme, or idea carried from something common elsewhere - handbag vomit/daily carry - where someone posts pictures of what they carry in their bag daily.
Here, minus personal stuff like paperwork and work junk, is what I carry daily in my saddlebag. I regard these things as essential. I suspect some folk will find them surprising.
The items are, in roughly back to front order:
- 1l flask of earl grey or chai, sugar and milk
- Sharpie marker
- Cheapo multitool thing
- 2 spare tubes for different bikes
- Apple mac network adaptor
- clean paper towels and disposable gloves for mechanicals
- Emergency sweets (milk gums) for bonks and sugar crashes
- Pack of self-ahesive patches still in blister as case is crap and they pop open
- Muji box with sheets/tubes of meds - Sudocrem, painkillers, hay fever pills etc.
- Nasal decongestant for troublesome sinuses
- Pedro’s tyre levers - the best I’ve found
- Aquapac for keeping phone dry in the wet
- 2 Rema conventional puncture kits
- Spokey spoke wrench (again, the best there is)
- Emergency work phone
- Bahco mini socket, ratchet spanner and bit set. Brilliantly useful.
- 15mm stubby spanner
- Spare camera, GoPro and GPS batteries
- Mini torch
- Memory cards and sticks in waterproof box
- Various everyday USB and charging leads on a keyring with thumb drive
- Huawei 4g mobile WiFi router with selection of SIM cards for different networks
- 7000mAH USB battery for charging phone etc.
- Google tablet (interchangeable with iPad/macbook air depending on work requirements)
- Not shown: cable ties, pager, security access cards, clean socks and about 100g of assorted detritus
The tools and survival items have evolved over years and changes of bike. Surprisingly, this lot doesn’t weigh much and leaves plenty of space for the junk of the day and shopping if necessary.
Is this the geekiest saddlebag out there? What do you lot carry?
August 6th - Riding back through Walsall on a warm summer evening, you realise this is the best time of year to see it; the trees around Hatherton Street, Lichfield Street and the poncily named ‘Civic Quarter’ are absolutely wonderful. People run Walsall down as being dirty, post-industrial and architecturally barren, but it’s one of the greenest pieces of urban landscape I’ve ever seen.
Beneath these trees, a town lives and breathes.
If you don’t believe me, get somewhere high, like the New Art Gallery or St. Matthews steps on Church Hill, and look out. Walsall is a green oasis.
July 29th - Sorry, more cygnets. I didn’t know about these, but taking a desperate dive onto the canal to avoid traffic madness on my way to work, I passed this family of three and parents in Pleck, Walsall.
They interested me particularly, as the young are clearly starting to develop white plumage, yet look younger than the Catshill brood (they’re smaller, too).
The adults don’t look any different, though…
July 23rd - Riding back home this evening, something shiny in the road caught my eye - lying on the edge of Green Lane in Shelfield, the debris from something that really shouldn’t happen. It’s a shattered bicycle sprocket.
This would have been part of the cassette, or rear group of cogs an the back wheel of a cheap bike. It’s been used, as the teeth are worn, and the chrome coating ground through. Decent sprockets are made from high-grade alloys or steel, with some flexibility. Generally, they’re pressed or forged.
This one is low grade steel, and has been made from cast material, making it inflexible and weak. It’s a fair assumption that under load, it’s cracked, and at some point catastrophic failure has occurred, and other debris in the road suggested as much.
Cheap supermarket or discount store bikes are often fitted with this kind of cheap componentry and fail in this kind of manner. Deprending on when it failed, this kind of breakdown could be very serious, and cause the rider to be injured - imagine if this had happened when cycling up a steep hill, like Black Cock Bridge, further on?
If you need a decent bike, and haven’t got much cash, a better option is to look out for a decent secondhand steed. You’d be surprised what you can get from Gumtree or the small ads for the same money.
A very, very cheap bike really isn’t worth the risk or hassle. They’re cheap because they’re made out of cheese, bus tickets and spit…
July 23rd - in the Goscote Valley on my way to work, as the day started to warm up, I was drawn to a continual crackling sound. This always fascinates me; it’s the sound of gorse pods popping open with a snap, and scattering their seeds.
The action is induced by the warmth of the sun, and makes for an interesting diversion on the way to work. I love how the pods rattle musically when you shake the bushes, too.
It’s the little things that make summer, really.
July 16th - Working late, stopped off for a Chinese takeaway on the way home.
Just what do bored staff do in such places when it’s slack, then?
A variety of animals and flowers, mostly folded from the local newspapers. I loved it. There’s creativity in the oddest places if you look out for it. There’s clearly a talent here.
July 16th - Hey, South Wigston has a station cat. With the close proximity of dense housing, and embankments and wastelands full of small, squeaky things, it was inevitable, really, but I’d never seen this young lad before.
He was doing monorail cat on the pedestrian barrier until I appeared. He hopped off when I got out my camera, but did pose for a few shots… a lovely lad, clearly.
Like pubs, every station should have a resident cat.
July 14th - South Wigston station, where sadly some Philistine has been out with a brush-cutter and mown the interesting flowers back from the walkway.
However, the sweet peas growing in the centre of my favourite patch of wilding are keeping the bees busy.
There’s always something to cheer, here…