April 16th - It’s all about flowers at the moment. I was in Telford for the first time for a couple of weeks, and spring has come on incredibly fast in the intervening period. As ever, the bed of tulips and other flowers at Telford railway station is incredible - but the daffodils - now going over a bit - were gorgeous at Hortonwood. It was sunny, and warm, and the wind seems to be dying a bit at long last. As I ground my way up Shire Oak Hill late afternoon, I noticed the first Spanish bluebells in the hedgerow by Lanes Farm.
This was worth the wait.
March 12th - I landed at New Street at an unusual time, between trains. The station was heaving, and I wasn’t enjoying it, so hopped on the first service leaving in my general direction, to Four Oaks. Leaving there to cycle home on a hazy, sunny afternoon, I noticed the cycle parking there was pretty well used, with some nice bikes that were well locked.
That GT 29er is a lovely bike.
British Transport Police clearly take security seriously here, as there’s warnings about decoy tracker bikes and locking yours up with at least two locks.
One assumes this has been a theft hotspot - I can’t recall ever seeing such dedicated warnings anywhere else locally.
That aside, it’s a decent shelter, with good racks. Well played, Centro. Let’s have some more, please.
March 11th - On the way home on a sunny, spring evening, with a low sun shining long over Aston. The train stopped and was held for a few minutes, dwelling on a service coming in the other direction before the points could change - as often happens. The doors were open, and I was stood in golden light, frozen.
It’s a snapshot of Birmingham, and why I love it so.
March 10th - I love it when, for a short time every spring and autumn, my homeward commute coincides with the golden hour. Even more so if it does so during a period of good weather. This evening, I returned from Shenstone specifically to catch the station and two towers in the beautiful light, and hopefully see the sunset over Ogley Hay and St. Jame’s Church.
Neither disappointed. I’m loving this spring.
February 27th - I’d had a tough day at work, and just wanted to get home fast. I wasn’t in the mood to faff about, and got the first train I could in the right general direction. That turned out to be the service that terminated at Four Oaks. It was a cracking ride home - dry, clear, crisp - a great spring evening. The sunset wasn’t outstanding, but it was pleasant in it’s starkness, and Castlehill looked as beautiful as ever in the half light.
What intrigued me most, however, was growing on a small patch of neglected flowerbed alongside the access ramp at Four Oaks. Violet flowers, looking a bit like poppies. Just the one small group in an otherwise weed-srewn border. Anyone any idea what this delightful flower is, please?
February 27th - That moment when you’re passing through Moor Street Station in Birmingham - the lovingly rebuilt and restored Great Western Railway station - and realise that even the washers used in the architectural ironwork are an ornate stamped flower design.
That, readers, is attention to detail. Never noticed it in 10 years of using the station…
February 26th - The technology of controlling public spaces fascinates me. Footfall monitoring systems, environmental control and public information screens all have their own complex theories and rationales. Even something seeming as simple as a public adress system is complicated in the implementation.
At Birmingham New Street, the public announcements, if one listens carefully, are not relayed universally through every speaker, and there is often a slight timeshift between two announcements on adjacent platforms. The volume of the PA rises and falls locally based on background noise levels measured automatically by a number of units like this, buried in the fascia of the station walls.
I noticed this one this morning as I waited for my train. I thought about how tuned the system must have to be - to echo, resonance, and the synchronisation must have to be just so.
What results are hopefully comfortable, easily heard announcements, that don’t clash and collide with interference from multiple speakers as you move around. This is clearly a very, very sophisticated system, and I’d love to know more about it.
February 20th - My morning commute was back to baby weather - wet and windy - but there was no heart to it, and the day soon cleared. I returned hume, still deliciously light at gone 5pm, in the most golden of sunset hours. The red bricks that seem to make up most of Walsall’s non-concrete architecture look great in this light, bringing magic even to the dismal design of the Saddlers Centre. Great light and great sunsets, and the extension of the day make for wonderful journeys right now.
February 19th - It feels like spring, and I welcome it. More than the cessation of rains, I welcome the dropping of the relentless wind. Setting out for Telford on a spring morning, the sky was still lovely from the night before, and the ride felt good. Even the usual poor performance from London Midland couldn’t dent my good mood…
February 7th - I was over in Telford early, and returned to Darlaston at lunchtime. In contrast to the day before, the weather started out rainy, but turned springlike pretty much as soon as I left the house. The cycleways of Telford were beautiful in the sunlight, and the station at lunchtime oddly quiet, but a much nicer place to be for a bit of sunlight.
Why does the weather keep taunting me like this? Why am I scaring the sun away?
February 3rd - I was in Leicester for an important meeting, but the travel gods were not favouring me. I left with good time to spare, but a bastard of a headwind made me just miss my train; a frantic Clockwise-esque fiasco ensued. I got to Leicester, and had to head to the outskirts of the city. I took a wrong turning. I found myself battling the headwind again. I arrived with just minutes to spare.
The person I was due to meet was running an hour late, so at least I had time to freshen up. Thankfully, the journey home was less eventful, and with an assisting wind.
At Leicester railway station, apropos of nothing, an apparently abandoned table tennis table. No, I haven’t a clue, either.
Nice to see Notwork Fail have actually recognised the shortage of bike parking here and stopped getting shirty with people chaining their steed to the railings. So good to see so many bikes.
January 29th - The rain finally caught me as I left Walsall. The wind had changed, too, and I found myself mashing into driving drizzle and a distinctly cold headwind. Is this the beginning of a cold spell, I wonder?
As usual on rainy days, every good photo was into the wind and therefore impossible. But I did notice the lights of the service station in Shelfield, which always look attractive, but I never stop to photograph it.
It loos so welcoming - I fuss that’s the idea. It’s one of the way markers of my commute - when I see it, I know I’m halfway home.
January 27th - I was stood on platform 5 waiting for a train at New Street Station. I looked up at the odd, tube-like access bridge hastily added as a second access system here in the early 1990s, in the wake of the Kings Cross Fire; because New Street was classed as a subterranean station, it had to have separate access. So cranes added this monstrosity, now out of use.
Looking up in my early morning fug, I noted the arrangement of walkways, barriers, rails and safety harness mounting points spanning the top of the structure.
The only purpose to be up there is to clear the skylight windows.
If you design something, and most of the complex steelwork is to ensure the safety of a window cleaner whose job is to clear less than 15 square meters of glass, you’ve failed as a designer.
Sadly this monstrosity looks set to survive the renovations.
22nd January - In Birmingham, I was intrigued by this venerable old Claud Butler well locked up outside Moor Street station. When this was new it would have been a very expensive bike indeed - the brand was considered the Rolls Royce of bikes back when I was a lad, but not so much now. This seems fairly true to the original, too; down tube shifters, tight angled quill stem, lugged steel 501 frame and cotterless cranks.
This is clearly a favourite ride for someone, and looks like a well loved and well ridden steed. It’s also a remnant of a great cycling tradition.
January 16th - As much as I’m growing to loathe the results of the renovation of New Street Station in Birmingham, the process is still fascinating me. One of the things I like about it is how normal conventions of public buildings are broken. There is serious civil engineering going on at the same time as huge numbers of people and trains pass through this humming interchange..
Odd things happen.
Personnel appear from hidden doorways and gaps. There are odd noises and bangs. Occasionally, you get sprayed with water, or dust. Lifts and stairs appear, and then are boarded up again. cables dangle and tangle above the headspaces, and snake and race through the girders and scaffold.
One of the things you see here you don’t elsewhere is engineering graffiti. Surveyors measure. Sparkies test. Cladders clad. All of them leave their marks and datums scribbled on walls, floors and hoardings. Sometimes, they make sense. Often, they’re just mysterious glyphs, whose purpose is only known to those with the skill. I love how they ebb and flow with the focus of the work.
Spotting them is something to do while you wait…