March 28th - Walsall’s second Night Market was great, I really enjoyed it. I didn’t expect these to be anywhere near as good as they are, as on the face of it the idea seems a bit daft. They succeed due to an eclectic range of traders and an almost festival-like atmosphere, which is most unusual for Walsall. Well done to all involved.
Despite the biting cold, there was a fine turnout.
My only reservation is the same as last time; why not incorporate this into a late shopping evening? Again, almost all the local shops were shut, which seems like such a wasted opportunity.
It’s like the market is happening outwit the normal retail boundary of the town, rather than enhancing it.
This was worth the tortuous journey, and I look forward to future events.
March 21st - I returned from Walsall in the beginnings of a storm of wet, heavy-flaked snow. It soaked through my jeans, and made me cold, wet and miserable, a mood not helped by the utterly relentless and unforgiving easterly headwind.
Walsall Wood church looked good in the cold night, and the lights of the new Co-op store on Streets Corner - only opened that morning - were cheering.
March 21st - I was in Birmingham late for a meeting with friends. I’d had a horrendous commute from Telford, but not as horrendous as the poor lady who fell ill on my train, resulting in paramedics being called. There but for the grace, and all that.
I steeped into my favourite cafe for an hour, then hopped back about 9pm. New Street Station is odd at night. Again, a slight Late Night Feelings thing, but moreso reflections, distorted perspectives and hard surfaces. This is an utterly man-made environment. Any natural part of it is trespassing, or growing in defiance of the built environment. In the desolation of the night, I find it bleak, harsh, and quite, quite beautiful
March 18th - A day of misty light and skyline silhouettes. My journey this morning was shrouded in a thick fog of the variety that condensed into frost on my clothes and bike, yet once on the train to Birmingham, it was as clear as a bell and sunny by Four Oaks.
At Moor Street, the morning light was hazy and yellow. Digbeth looked beautiful as the train glided above it on the viaduct towards Small Heath.
I left work late, and caught the view from Tyseley as darkness was falling. Again, the light was lovely; the city skyline was enchanting, and the station remains fascinating in its faded, jaded, days-of-the-empire style. Down on the platform, as a high-speed intercity shot through, I really got the Late Night Feelings vibe again.
Jewels in an otherwise awful day.
March 16th - You ever have one of those days when nothing goes right? Yes, that. I set out to visit a pal and never found them, cycled down to Burntwood to buy something that wasn’t in stock, and then left my bike lock key on the doughnut counter in the supermarket (there’s a lesson in there, somewhere). It’s only Saturday evening, and already this feels like Lloyd Cole’s Lost Weekend.
Crossing the bypass on my empty handed return from Burntwood, I stopped to look down the road towards the M6 Toll. I don’t know why, but I love this view. The distant, windy sweep of cars on the motorway; the endless points of sodium light; the red beacons of the Sutton Masts in the distance. The air was hard and clear, the clouds dramatic and threatening. Apart from the periodic moan of cars beneath my feed, I was alone.
Then I didn’t feel alone anymore. Something was with me. I turned around, and on the bollard at the end of the footway, perched an owl. We made eye contact, but as soon as I went for my camera, he was gone, into the darkening night.
Somehow, it was soothing, reassuring and beautiful.
March 3rd - I’d had a grim day. Most of the day the weather was beautiful, but I was stuck working and couldn’t get out to enjoy it, and I felt lousy, too. When I finally got free, at dusk, it was cold and the coming darkness uninspiring. I shot up Brownhills, then up to Walsall Wood, but the subject I though of didn’t make a good night picture. I had to pick some essentials up, so I skipped into the Tesco Express at Streets Corner in Walsall Wood. Open a couple of years now, it’s seen off the independent newsagent next door, and given other local shops a tough time. Tables could be turning, though, as a new Co-op is due to open opposite it and I’ll certainly use it in preference to these robber barons.
March 1st - Returning from Burntwood along the canal, I stopped to take a long exposure shot of the A5/Barracks Lane junction at night. I’ve been meaning to try this one for a while. Hammerwich Church looks imperious on the hilltop, and the traffic looks every bit as mad as it usually is at rush hour.
Hard to think that down there, a little to the right, the Staffordshire Hoard lay for centuries, undiscovered. Such an unlikely spot, really.
February 25th - Stopping to make a quick mechanical adjustment on the Chester Road near Shire Oak, I took time to take a quick shot of the descent into town. I must have done that hundreds, if not thousands of times. Shire Oak is a very unkind hill: climb it from any direction and it’s a long, slow grind. Sadly, the only decent descents are towards Lichfield and Sutton, the one to Brownhills is constantly interrupted by junctions and hazards, and ends far too quickly. But I still enjoy it. No more so than when I’m going home on a cold, windy, dark night.
February 22nd - One of those days when you get back home thinking you’ve got a camera choc-full of great stuff, then realise you had the camera set badly and all your hard work appears to be fuzz and junk. Luckily, down in Sonnall sorting fish and chips from the best chippy in the area, the camera hadn’t yet been nobbled by my ineptitude.
Stonnall is an odd place - in a way, it’s lost is old villageyness, and is now little more than a commuter resort. Drowning in Metroland-style postwar housing, the history can be hard to find. But at night, a little of the old-world charm returns.
Stonnall is a salutary warning for aspiring village communities everywhere: don’t develop at the expense of the things that make you special…
February 21st - It’s been cold, and the wind has been evil. Not particularly strong, but it’s from the east and is lazy; it doesn’t so much blow around you as straight through. Tired tonight after a hard day at work, I really couldn’t face the prospect of a headwind all the way home. So I got the train to Shenstone, and cycled back home from there.
I stopped for a picture just at the bottom of Shire Oak Hill. I haven’t cycled this route much this winter. The wind was behind me, but it was still cold. This hill doesn’t get any less steep either, but the lights are gorgeous in the dusk.
Tonight, this hill gave me a very hard time. Shire Oak Hill is an old adversary, and like all old adversaries, life wouldn’t be the same without it.
February 15th - I hopped off the canal and along the old railway line towards Clayhanger. It’s an interesting spot at dusk, and the views over the rooftops on a clear night are wonderful, as is the view down towards the village. As I arrived, there was a familiar rustle in the undergrowth, and out strolled the old dog fox. He looked at me, as if in recognition, then trotted off down the path.
It was good to see him, I was worried he wouldn’t survive the winter. He must be getting on a bit now.
February 15th - I was off work with stuff to do all day. I slipped out just in the sunset hour, too late for the colour, but just in time for the drama. The going was good and the bike felt fast, and I rode it liquid along the towpaths of Brownhills. The light was superb - just when you think you’ve seen a place in every light possible, something different happens. From Catshill Junction to Pelsall Road, the soft lights of the Watermead to the harsh geometry of Humphries House, the whole of Brownhills seemed to be high on twilight drama.
Brilliant, really enjoyable.
February 13th - oops, I forgot my gorilla pod. Sadly, I only discovered this unfortunate fact in the dark, in Walsall Wood on my comment home. It was raining, and the air had suddenly become quite warm. My planned shots for the two sets of today were therefore lost, and I had to improvise. I don’t have steady hands, and the shake correction on the camera is vicious in it’s manipulation of images. These shots were all ⅛ or ¼ exposure, hand held. Quite pleased, really, although they are quite poor. Time was I couldn’t do 1/60 exposure without blurring the shot, so something is improving, I’m not sure what.
Walsall Wood itself looks great at night, and always has; the pubs and shopfronts cast a great light, and in the wet, the vehicle lights sparkled. Amazing that after so much change, and so much expansion, this place still retains a village atmosphere.
February 10th - Returning along the wet canal towpath in almost total darkness, the going was hard. From the roving bridge at Ogley Junction, not much was visible, so I whipped out the gorilla pod and tried a long exposure shot into the darkness. Not too bad a result, really. It certainly shows how much of the residual light is sodium street light pollution, mainly here from the rear of the CNC Speedwell factory.
And it continued to rain. Rain, rain, endless rain.
Come on spring!
February 9th - Shooting back home to Brownhills, I passed the old surgery in Brickiln Street. It’s now a veterinary surgery - and a very good one too; but up until the early 1980s this was the GP surgery for Brownhills. Back then it was tumbledown, dingy and old; it hadn’t had attention for years, despite the best efforts of the doctors and staff to keep it clean. After decades of service, a new surgery was built, only to be replaced by yet another at the Parkview Centre in 2006.
This bungalow has been healing the sick of Brownhills - human and animal - for decades.