BrownhillsBob's #365daysofbiking

April 19th - The footpaths around Chasewater’s south shore have recently been resurfaced, and are, on the whole, lovely. Since transferring to the control of Staffordshire County Council on April 1st, certain local councillors have rediscovered the park’s existence and seen keen on turning into some kind of landlocked Prestatyn, and the council itself talks darkly of ‘returns’.

I fear we’re in for interesting times.

The new path around the boating lake shows off the goose and swan poo fantastically well, and I was cheered to note the return of the third white domestic goose, hitherto missing since Christmas.

She looked in good health despite what must be advanced years, and was very white and neat. Not as aggressive as normal, the geese ignored me and one remained resting in statuesque, one-legged repose.

These birds bloody hate me on the whole, but I’m actually rather fond of them. Long my they remain.

March 18th - Empty for months now, the former Rushall Mews care home for the elderly was built and operated throughout most of it’s life by the local authority, Walsall Council. It was a well loved, modern facility built in the 1980s, and was a fine thing indeed. Sadly, it has been a victim of the cold wind blowing through local government, and it has been closed, like most such council provision.

Councillors and ‘change managers’ waffle on with weasel words and forked tongues about ‘increasing choice’ and other such worn-out cliches, but the closure of lifelines like this and other units like Narrow Lane in Pleck and Short Street in Brownhills, coupled with the loss of daycentres, is purely a money saving exercise. Like the rest, this good quality building - still more than fit for purpose - will be bulldozed for private housing.

The service users and the cost of their care didn’t create the problems, but most don’t vote, so they’re an easy target. Meanwhile, the politicians and money men who did cause the problem walk away unscathed.

It took decades to get facilities like this for our aged and vulnerable. It has taken but a few short years to wipe them out. The social care system is hard to assemble, but tragically easy to take apart.

I pass this empty place often, and the site of it fills me with sadness.

March 4th - The old bowling green at Oak Park is still flooded, and it still breaks my heart. But passing this evening, it made for a remarkable sunset.

Nice as the scene is, I wish the authorities could fix the flood, and show the park some love. It used to be such a lovely place.

March 3rd - The Four Crosses at Shelfield is a classic community boozer. Basic, but comfy, it serves fine real ale and is friendly and welcoming. I love the place. It’s telling that this small pub survived, while the plusher and larger Spring Cottage less than 50 yards away closed and became a retail grocery store.
Recently, following a frankly bizarre planning application, the venerable pub has been declared an ‘Asset of Community Value’ by Walsall Council. This declaration is essentially meaningless, but does show the council’s commitment to support this tiny pubs existence, which is appreciated.
The other pub I know to be listed in such a manner is The Black Horse at Edingale, which closed some time before it came to Lichfield District Council’s attention,and was awarded the status primarily to prevent the former inn being converted into flats. When I passed the other day, the Black Horse was still closed, and appeared to be in use as a private dwelling.
The unescapable fact of these things - ACVs, Local Listing and other such declarations - is that although planning can sometimes stop stuff being changed, you can’t force a business to continue to exist; you may well preserve a building, but not the pub itself.
A quandary for our times, and a demonstration that planning, heritage and community are uneasy bedfellows.
I wish the Four Crosses, it’s regulars, landlord and community well. If ever a pub deserves to thrive, it’s that one. Long may it do so.

March 3rd - The Four Crosses at Shelfield is a classic community boozer. Basic, but comfy, it serves fine real ale and is friendly and welcoming. I love the place. It’s telling that this small pub survived, while the plusher and larger Spring Cottage less than 50 yards away closed and became a retail grocery store.

Recently, following a frankly bizarre planning application, the venerable pub has been declared an ‘Asset of Community Value’ by Walsall Council. This declaration is essentially meaningless, but does show the council’s commitment to support this tiny pubs existence, which is appreciated.

The other pub I know to be listed in such a manner is The Black Horse at Edingale, which closed some time before it came to Lichfield District Council’s attention,and was awarded the status primarily to prevent the former inn being converted into flats. When I passed the other day, the Black Horse was still closed, and appeared to be in use as a private dwelling.

The unescapable fact of these things - ACVs, Local Listing and other such declarations - is that although planning can sometimes stop stuff being changed, you can’t force a business to continue to exist; you may well preserve a building, but not the pub itself.

A quandary for our times, and a demonstration that planning, heritage and community are uneasy bedfellows.

I wish the Four Crosses, it’s regulars, landlord and community well. If ever a pub deserves to thrive, it’s that one. Long may it do so.

February 1st - I nipped into Aldridge for a change and some fresh air, at lunchtime before the weather broke again. It was very windy indeed, and cycling against it was hard; but I knew it would, at least, blow me home.
Sometimes the very art of cycling is to head off into the wind.
I took a look at Aldridge Manor House - once the home of Walsall Youth Services, and still location of a great youth club. This well-loved building and the services it hosts are hanging in limbo; Walsall Council spotted the monetary value of this listed building, and having little other family silver to sell, the million or so it may receive for a sordid development opportunity proved too much for burghers to resist.
Interestingly, closure dates have been continually exceeded and postponed as the Council seems unable to find a suitable location in which to host the displaced youth club, and buyers seem to be in no particular hurry.
I’ve got a piss-up I’d like organised. I figure a brewery might be a really good place to hold it. I don’t think I’ll ask the council to organise it - all evidence suggests they’re incapable of such a task.

February 1st - I nipped into Aldridge for a change and some fresh air, at lunchtime before the weather broke again. It was very windy indeed, and cycling against it was hard; but I knew it would, at least, blow me home.

Sometimes the very art of cycling is to head off into the wind.

I took a look at Aldridge Manor House - once the home of Walsall Youth Services, and still location of a great youth club. This well-loved building and the services it hosts are hanging in limbo; Walsall Council spotted the monetary value of this listed building, and having little other family silver to sell, the million or so it may receive for a sordid development opportunity proved too much for burghers to resist.

Interestingly, closure dates have been continually exceeded and postponed as the Council seems unable to find a suitable location in which to host the displaced youth club, and buyers seem to be in no particular hurry.

I’ve got a piss-up I’d like organised. I figure a brewery might be a really good place to hold it. I don’t think I’ll ask the council to organise it - all evidence suggests they’re incapable of such a task.

January 26th - Reader Jeepboy contacted me this morning, noting that the heathland restoration work had begun on Brownhills Common and things were a bit lumpy. My curiosity piqued, I took a ride over the common west of The Parade to have a look. True enough, the conditions up there are muddy and wet - take wellies if you’re walking. But it’s interesting to see the landscape open out a bit.

Nothing much grows under the conifer plantations, which have spread widely. This threatens the historic and biodiverse heath, and the wildlife that thrives upon it - everything from red deer, who munch on the sedges and lounge in the low cover to the birds that feed from the berries and seeds of the broad-leafed trees here.

Whilst the clearance looks shocking, only selected batches of coniferous woodland are being cleared, and deciduous trees left to thrive. It’s interesting to see the landscape re-emerge here. Come some decent weather, the mud will soon dry out and conditions will improve - however, it may be some time before access from the A5 drains sufficiently… it’s the closest Brownhills has had to a lido for some time.

I know this work has been and will continue to be controversial, but I honestly think it’s for the best. It’s sad that the situation was allowed to get so out of hand that dramatic steps were necessary.

December 11th - Taking a short cut through the Butts (no sniggering at the back), I noticed that Eastbourne Street has had it’s street lighting changed to LED technology. These lights are cool white rather than the customary yellow, and run much more efficiently and at lower power than sodium discharge types. Birmingham has being undertaking a rolling program of installing this type of lighting for a year or two now.

They’re a shock at first, but I prefer them. Although they look dimmer, their illumination is actually great, and I find they don’t cause the glare that the older types do.

The eerie effect on the urban scene is also rather wonderful.

August 13th - Returning from Darlaston, I took to the canal. From pretty much Great Bridge to Gostote, the footpath alongside the Walsall and Wyrley and Esiington Canals is a good as any in Walsall. Well surfaced with a self-healing, stone-blown aggregate, the path is fast, smooth and fine on any tires. If only the towpaths through Pelsall or Aldridge were this good.

Which makes the plan to upgrade the ones here all the more bizarre. Can the council not do the worst ones, rather than fudge about with the best we’ve got? Has anyone who made this daft decision ever ridden a bike anywhere, let alone here?

July 9th - It was an unexpected delight this evening to note the flowers along the Ring Road in Walsall, at the Arboretum Junction. Walsall Council always does this really well, and the lovely blooms are a joy to the heart. 

My thanks to whoever plants and tends them - a lovely thing indeed.

March 7th - Meanwhile, on the Walsall Wood-Shelfield border, Green Lane is currently in a sorry state. There is flytipping in various spots, and the litter is building up, too. My contempt for the scum that do this is immeasurable. However, the first undealt-with dumbing begets more; and so it has been. At the entrance to the Sewage Works, the main barrier, which put an end to regular violations of the driveway, has been stolen, and the tipping problem returned there, too.
The whole lane needs a good clean up and the selfish bastards who dump rubbish and drop litter need stringing up by their toes…

March 7th - Meanwhile, on the Walsall Wood-Shelfield border, Green Lane is currently in a sorry state. There is flytipping in various spots, and the litter is building up, too. My contempt for the scum that do this is immeasurable. However, the first undealt-with dumbing begets more; and so it has been. At the entrance to the Sewage Works, the main barrier, which put an end to regular violations of the driveway, has been stolen, and the tipping problem returned there, too.

The whole lane needs a good clean up and the selfish bastards who dump rubbish and drop litter need stringing up by their toes…

January 26th - Had a wry laugh at this one. Noticed yesterday that the sign was still up trumpeting the new Pier Street footbridge, over the canal in central Brownhills. The bridge is a fine thing indeed, linking as it does Clayhanger and Brownhills in style, replacing a steep-stepped footbridge that was awful, frankly.

I was unaware of Walsall Council’s ‘Drive to regenerate Brownhills District Centre’ - wonder how that’s going?

Would the last business to leave the town please switch the lights off and feed the deer? Cheers.

January 20th - People seem to have their own realities, and nothing has brought out the selfishness and plain nastiness in some people as profoundly as the bad weather.

Ever since the snow came, people have been complaining about, and to, Walsall Council on social media. Horrified that they’ve been delayed, or that driving conditions are bad, they attack the local authority for not gritting, for being unprepared, or lazy. Time and time again I have seen people berate council employees because things aren’t as they expect and that’s what they apparently pay council tax for.

Sadly, the truth is a little more difficult. As a cyclist, I travel slowly. I intersect with gritters on the roads with startling (and often painful) frequency, because they move about twice as fast as me. I have seen them around Brownhills and on all major routes I use frequently, since just before the cold snap started. They have spread whatever the conditions, and pretty much continuously over the weekend. That’s good folk, working hard, in very difficult road conditions, to try and ameliorate the problems caused by the snow.

There is clearly a fundamental misunderstanding about how roadsalt works. It can take hours or even days to take effect, and relies on moisture and the passage of traffic to disperse it. Temperature severely affects it’s efficacy. It cannot deal with fast settling snow. A gritted road may take 24 hours to clear properly, even with continuous application. Road salt is not fairy dust. It doesn’t magically remove ice and snow. It’s a deicer, a slow one, and it’s an aid, not a total solution.

Walsall’s gritting operation costs each household about £2.50 per year.

The thing about using the roads in bad weather is to develop, and hone the skills required. It’s our responsibility to ensure we’re as safe as possible. We can’t abrogate that responsibility totally to a third party just because it snows. The man I watched slide round a corner into a kerb in Little Aston on Friday Morning probably now understands this. A £60,000 Range Rover is only as good as the driver’s skills.

Walsall Council does many things badly. Some things, a few, it does really well. They’ve always been among the best at gritting, and have worked hard to communicate their activities on social media. When met with abuse, petulance or idiocy, the public facing employees have been stoical, polite and workmanlike, often in unpaid, out of hours time.

When I see people being stupid, unpleasant or misguided on this, I will always step in to defend the council and it’s employees wherever I can. So far this weekend I’ve had hate mail, nearly had my Facebook account pulled in an infantile spite attack and been roundly abused by a noted local journalist. None of these people have shown a shred of humility towards those who are actually charged with the job they are expecting to be done.

There’s a widely held belief that gritters are not being sent out; that roads have gone untreated. That the powers that be cannot grit every inch of every road has been met with incredulity. It seems beyond many that the weather currently has control, and whilst we can mitigate it’s effects, nobody can actually make it go away.

This afternoon, at 4pm, on Anchor Bridge, I was passed by the grittier that, on social media 3 hours later, Walsall were being attacked for not sending to treat Brownhills High Street. Further down the road, at Silver Court, a team of council workmen had cleared the snow by hand from the frontage and steps, and then gritted it. At the other end of Brownhills, lorries were returning to the depot for refilling, before leaving again in series. 

Meanwhile, people are fretting on Facebook already as to weather their bins will be emptied tomorrow. As far as I’m aware, nobody has died in Walsall yet for the want of an empty dustbin. 

It’s bad weather, folks. We used to get it a lot. It’s not the end of days. The mark of humanity should be be grace under pressure, from all of us. Not just those there to serve us. 

January 7th - Talking of technology I’ve been interested to note of late that Birmingham Council - or rather, contractors working for them - are replacing street lighting on side routes with modern, low energy LED lights. I’ve been using LED lights on my bike for four or five years now, and they’ve improved massively. The lights being installed are an unexpected design, and seem to work really well. They give off a harsh, but clear white light. Interestingly tonight, when I left at 4:30, they were only just coming on, so the days are already lengthening considerably.

December 2nd - As I cycled down the bank and onto Apex Road, I noticed the council depot was silent. The roads had clearly already been gritted today, and there didn’t seem to be anyone about. The depot here is where all the gritting operations now take place from, and there’s a huge shelter here full of road salt. Walsall are generally very good at gritting the roads, and getting pebble dashed on the way home from work is now a nightly risk. The amount of machinery stored here to process and spread the deicer is startling, and makes you realise just what a huge operation this seemingly simple task actually is.

December 2nd - As I cycled down the bank and onto Apex Road, I noticed the council depot was silent. The roads had clearly already been gritted today, and there didn’t seem to be anyone about. The depot here is where all the gritting operations now take place from, and there’s a huge shelter here full of road salt. Walsall are generally very good at gritting the roads, and getting pebble dashed on the way home from work is now a nightly risk. The amount of machinery stored here to process and spread the deicer is startling, and makes you realise just what a huge operation this seemingly simple task actually is.

6th April - New camera day. I’ve been using Panasonic cameras for a while now - built like brick shithouses, they offer a good feature set, remarkable zoom range and good picture quality, all in a package small enough to pop into a pocket and always carry with you. I’d been eyeing up the TZ30 for a while - I’d had a TZ20, and liked it, but there were a few extra features in the new model - 20x optical zoom, sweep panorama, better low-light performance and so on - that I quite fancied. Able to hand down the old one, I found a camera store in Birmingham had stock and a decent offer, so I cycled into town and picked one up.
I always love a ride round Brum, and took advantage of the opportunity. Near Edgbaston Street, I realised how far Birmingham had come as a cycling city: the bike racks were full. This is in spite of, rather than because of anything the council have done. Birmingham City Council’s support for cyclists is legendarily awful, yet Brum is developing an engaging, active cycling community.

6th April - New camera day. I’ve been using Panasonic cameras for a while now - built like brick shithouses, they offer a good feature set, remarkable zoom range and good picture quality, all in a package small enough to pop into a pocket and always carry with you. I’d been eyeing up the TZ30 for a while - I’d had a TZ20, and liked it, but there were a few extra features in the new model - 20x optical zoom, sweep panorama, better low-light performance and so on - that I quite fancied. Able to hand down the old one, I found a camera store in Birmingham had stock and a decent offer, so I cycled into town and picked one up.

I always love a ride round Brum, and took advantage of the opportunity. Near Edgbaston Street, I realised how far Birmingham had come as a cycling city: the bike racks were full. This is in spite of, rather than because of anything the council have done. Birmingham City Council’s support for cyclists is legendarily awful, yet Brum is developing an engaging, active cycling community.