June 8th - From Lichfield, out to Croxall, Edingale, Harlaston and back via Hopwas. The countryside is a riot of colour and biordsong right now. The meadows are stunning with dandeliions and buttercups, oilseed rape in still flowering strongly, and all the fresh foliage glows in the sunshine.
I love the view of the wind turbine from Huddlesford: such a graceful machine.
June 6th - If you’re a cyclist, when summer comes - I mean, truly comes - you can feel it in everything and see it everywhere. It’s not just, or even sunshine; it’s not only warmth in the air. It’s the way people dress, the way commuters are at stations. It’s views that have been harsh, and clear and dark, suddenly being green and hazy. It’s the air of growth, and pollen and lazy meadows. It’s like a beautiful, vague infection that laces all it touches with languor and grace. It renders the ugly, beautiful. It makes dull journeys once more a delight. It’s joyful, and noisy, with birdsong, laughter and insect buzz, be it the riot of open countryside or the human din of an inner city street.
Welcome back, old friend. Stick around this year, you’re very welcome.
May 7th - The ruined second church tower at Shenstone is now in hiding again, behind a curtain of vivid green. Lynn Lane is lined with the same emerald hues. Meanwhile, further away towards Lynn, the oilseed rape looks and smells fabulous, still not yet fully in bloom.
I’m loving this.
March 30th - Off to work early, and a return via Slowloaf in Mellish Road. Rushall Parish Chuch - that of St. Michael the Archangel - is fittingly made from local limestone, and is a handsome, Francophile church with an imposing, tall broach spire. It has a long history, although this incarnation is Victorian. History hereabouts of the village, the hall and environs go back to the Domesday book. All of which are somewhat impressive.
Reflecting on this, whatever aberrant demon possessed the architect of the modern hall, bizarrely erected in the churchyard really needs to be expunged. Sadly, the exorcism wasn’t undertaken quickly enough and similar architectural defecations occurred at many Lichfield Diocese churches in the 80s and 90s; Brownhills, Pelsall, Walsall Wood, Canwell.
They make me think distinctly unholy thoughts.
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 5th - A beautiful, late winter/early spring day. I left when the morning fog was thick and cold, and headed to Telford. As I got nearer the station, the mist was gradually burned off by the sun. I came back to Tyseley later, and it seemed the colour of the day was gold. The mist lingered, and made for beautiful skylines.
This spring thing? I think it could be a goer…
January 27th - The snow, thanks to heavy rain and a sudden ramp in temperature - had gone. Only the remnants of snowmen remained, melancholy mementoes of the whiteness of the week before. The consequent darkness around St. James Church shocked me in it’s foreboding.
I’d been to drop something off to a friend, and the weather was wet, warm and inclement. I cycled up the dark pathway from School Avenue, up past the cemeteries and churchyard, and the church itself was unoccupied at 5:45pm on a Sunday, which I found oddly sad. Brownhills Church is one I’ve always had difficulty with architecturally; It’s not ugly, and it’s not remarkable. Apart from an odd spire and hideous extension, it’s pretty plain, really. It’s position, however, is excellent. It’s like the centre of the town was built around it, and the warren of streets take curious right angles around the grounds.
December 3rd - A great journey to work. When I awoke, it was raining, heavily. But as I left the house, the rain ceased and the sun came out, making for a smooth a fast ride to the station. It felt warm and the wind was at my back. Passing Little Aston church, I noticed the meadow before it was wreathed in mist and looking rather beautiful.
All the time, the sky became more and more gorgeous. This was a great winters day. We’ve had way too few of these so far this season.
October 8th - Walsall Wood Church - Dedicated to St. John - has always been a bit of a conundrum to me. Pleasant enough, but rather odd-looking outside, it was ruined when Lichfield Diocese designed and had added a thoroughly unpleasant extension, a fate shared by many local churches. The interior, though, is different. Very devotional, with a lovely miners-lamp memorial, ad remarkable cast iron arcades. Well worth a visit if you’re passing.
September 23rd - A foul afternoon. I popped over to a freind’s house to do some bike spannering, and it was raining hard. Brownhills was hardly photogenic… But passing St. James Church I noticed the lights were on and a service was In progress. St. James is a good example of recovered memory - for most of my adult life I’d have sworn it had a clock, that chimed. I’d have put money on it. It was only after photographing it for an article 2 years ago that I realised it had no such thing. What I’d actually been hearing on still, summer nights was the three faced liar on the old Council House.
There’s a somber memorial in the churchyard to the dead of three conflicts: The first and second world wars, and the Falklands War,where local lad Barry Bullers fell. It’s nice to see the memorial well maintained. These folk paid th ultimate price, and deserve respect. There’s nothing worse than a neglected memorial.
September 7th - It had been a gruelling week. In Leicester for most of it, I’d had enough. The weather had been great, and I’d missed it by being holed up indoors all week. I escaped early on Friday afternoon, and endured a sleepy commute home on hot, sweaty trains. At Shenstone, I emerged in fresh air and sunshine, and immediately headed up Church Hill to the churchyard. I love Shenstone Churchyard, it’s overgrown air of neglect and nature’s reclamation softens a church whose dark, Victorian gothic I’ve never been fond of. It’s a peaceful place, and although I don’t like the church, I admire it and it’s bold architectural ambition, replete with vulgar gargoyles. I felt relaxed, already.
July 24th - The trains were awful this evening. I left New Street at 5:35pm, and my train limped into Blake Street, where it prematurely terminated - an hour later. Hot and bothered, I welcomed the journey through Little Aston and Mill Green. I noticed how fine Little Aston church looked in the sunlight. It’s and interesting building; sometimes I don’t like it, other times it looks wonderful, depending on the light and the season. I do love how it’s still got the air of a rural parish church, even though it’s surrounded by suburban sprawl. The surrounding meadow just makes it that bit more beautiful.
June 29th - I went somewhere I’d not explored before today. I was in Tyseley again, and needed to go to the bank, so just after lunch I headed to Acocks Green. I’ve passed through before, but never studied the place. I rather like it. Busy, varied, with lots of greenery and nice architecture, I found the church, that of St. Mary the Virgin, fascinating. A J.G. Bland design of 1864, it lacks a tower or spire, although it was designed to have both. Opposite is a school, one entrance to which has an ornate lintel with the legend ‘Cookery’ carved upon it. I found busy shops, and a place with identity and heart. I’ll certainly be back.
March 28th - The return journey was also really enjoyable - the Trent Valley Road was quite congested, and I enjoyed zipping uphill past the stationary cars. I chose to return over Aldershawe, and down into Wall. Taking the track beside the church, I popped into the churchyard to enjoy one of my favourite spots - sitting on the terrace wall between the upper and lower churchyard, contemplating the view of the Roman remains. Well worth a look around if you get chance, and it’s a lovely spot on a nice day such as this.
March 21st - Brownhills churchyard cemeteries are a disgrace. The grounds maintenance here is, quite frankly, appalling, and something I’ve noted before. What annoys me most in that the memorial garden currently in use has ridiculous rules enforced strictly about what folk can leave on memorials, apparently to maintain the appearance of the churchyard - yet relatives, who’ve paid a considerable fee to have their loved ones interred here - have to suffer untidiness, uncut grass and mud. This is a scandal, pure and simple. This is where an awful lot of Brownhills folk are remembered - it it too hard to show them the respect in death they deserved in life?