April 12th - Back in Brum for the day, and I loved it. I don’t mind commuting further afield at all - an enjoy it when the trains work OK - but it’s nice to be in Birmingham, my city is always a joy. Today started damp, and somehow I managed to just miss the rain all day. But every leg of my travel was threatened by dark, heavy cloud.
It was lovely, though. The skies were dramatic and photogenic, and the air of grim threat made my legs spin a tiny bit faster. But most of all, it was warm. I don’t think it reached ten degrees, but after recent weeks, the wind was warm. The air was warm. I cycled with an open jacket.
That’s what was lovely, even though the wind was against me all the way from Walsall.
January 28th - Marbles. I go on about them repeatedly, with good reason. The roads are absolutely covered right now in debris - bits of wood, bits of vehicle, grit residue and gravel, left behind by the snow and ide. This material gathers in hollows and patches on the roads, and passing traffic grinds and polishes it ind it’s wheels. The result is a loose material with very low friction, that lurks on bends and junctions, ready to snatch your wheels from under you. It’s particularly bad in backlanes, but even busy roads like the Chester Road are affected.
Motorbikers call this debris ‘marbles’ due to the similarity to riding on glass beads. The problem will remain until either the road is swept, or heavy rains wash the worst away.Take extra care, please.
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 28th - Take one large pit mound. Leave it in the northwest corner of Chasewater, then landscape it. Plonk a bench on top. Then wait for a bored, bedraggled cyclist to pedal up it in the dark.
Here, I experimented with long exposure photographs again. I was looking for something interesting, but the wind and rain were a problem. As I returned, I tried the same over the Swag pool, towards Norton.
None of these have been doctored, and exposures varied between 1.6 and 5 seconds. Quite pleased, really.
November 20th - At the ‘cute Victorian’ end of the railway station spectrum is Shenstone. Full of stereotypical metroland classic commuter charm, this was one of the last stations built on the old Cross City line, when the fillip was added between Sutton and Lichfield. It’s a gorgeous, terracotta brick, semi gothic marvel, sadly defiled by having it’s lovely glass canopy destroyed and chimneystacks truncated. In this dormitory commuter village, it is dark and quiet on the station at night, and I think, even in a steady drizzle, that it is beautiful. A good place to leave from, and a fine place to return to.
23rd October - As I headed homeward, conditions - and the light - didn’t improve, but at least the wind was almost behind me. The amount of motorists I saw without lights was astounding, and by the time I was negotiating Shire Oak Hill, it was both raining steadily, and very nearly dark. This weather is difficult to ride in - not just for practical visibility and comfort reasons, but the rain makes people drive oddly, and it puts me on my guard. One would imagine that bad weather would make people drive more carefully, but the opposite seams to be the case. Most bizarre.
October 5th - As I noticed yesterday, the dark evenings are on their way. Once more incontrovertible, it was dark at 6:40pm as I cycled up Clayhanger Road. Grim, dark and for boding, This is what many commutes will be like for the next few months - time to start carrying the gorilla pod again.
September 2nd - I just knew all day it was going to be a good sunset. I had no idea why; sometimes you can just tell. At teatime, that cold, damp chill descended, of the kind you only get in autumn and spring, and the sky started to turn pink. I knew it was game on. I took my time and headed to Chasewater, which has to be the best place to catch a sunset in these parts. I was surprised and delighted by what I found: not just a great sunset, but a yellow moon rising the east, geese honked and chattered in the dusk as they came in to roost. Bats skittered about my head, and moths became iridescent in my bike lights. Behind this was the most delightful susurration - the continual lapping of water in the darkness. I realised how long it was since I’d heard that at Chasewater. A fine thing. It’s been grim times, old girl, but it’s nice to feel your recovery at last.
February 21st - There is a place in New Street Station, Birmingham, that is only known by a select few: those who use the lifts. This happy club includes cyclists, wheelchair users, those of limited mobility and service personnel. The platform access is so shambolic that only on two platforms do lifts connect to the concourse above; for the remaining five, you can only go downward to a connecting subway. This makes every platform change an absolute joy. If you actually want to get out, and land at, say, platform 2, you have to go down to the subway, and come up via tone of the two lifts connecting to the concourse through other platforms. These two lifts are very busy and the wait can be considerable. The connecting subway is dark, dingy and contains lots of horrid, dark corners. But never mind, it’ll all be better soon… and there will be jam for tea, too, I’m told.
December 30th - Something wasn’t right. The weather had been appalling all day. I’d hidden indoors, and I’d been busying myself with a few other projects. As I pottered around, I felt increasingly unwell. Finally dragging myself out of the house at 8:30pm, it was very black, rainy and miserable. I was not on top form. Every pedal revolution felt like it was draining the strength from my body. I forgot my Gorillapod. I never do that.
After a loop around Brownhills, Clayhanger and Walsall Wood, I returned home, still feeling unwell. Later in the evening, I went out to the pub. I sat there for an hour with a good friend, shivering and feeling rotten, and found myself almost unable to walk home. Something was very, very wrong with me.
December 4th - Running from the A5 Watling Street, down through Holland Park, the Black Path is well known to Brownhillians. This lonely byway across the common and heath links Brownhills to it’s satellite area of Newtown, and the popular Brownhills School. At the north end of this path, there used to be a close of grim maisonettes at Deakin Avenue, whose only practical link to the town was this dark, and then unlit, path. Not a journey I’d like to take at night on foot. A lonely, forbidding place.
November 11th - Another frustrating day of bad rail travel to Leicester. The day was also largely grim and overcast, but dry. Escaping work at 2pm, I didn’t get back to Lichfield until 4:30pm, when it was getting dark. A mooch round the city provided loads of great photo opportunities, but only a couple came out well. It’s been a truly rotten week for commuting, and finding photos to take has been hard, but rewarding. It really does bring brightness to often rather miserable days….
October 28th - Out early evening, a quick spin around the local area. I found myself at a darkened Chasewater, and taking a quick look round for a decent photo, could find nothing better than the Innovation Centre. No one was around at 6:30pm, just a few workmen in the dam compound and the sounds of activity from the brewery… I sat on a bench, listening to the geese chattering softly tin the dark. And then I heard an owl call.
This is Brownhills. I heard an owl hoot in the darkness. I still find that incredible - unthinkable when I was a kid.
October 25th - I got caught on the way home by the same shower twice. At least, it seemed like it. It rained on me in Redditch, and stopped just as I got to the train; as I alighted in Sutton, the heavens opened again. Oddly, despite the grim northern sky, it seemed lighter later than the previous evening. Everything was revelling in the soft drizzle as I returned via Lower Stonnall - I even I found myself enjoying the change in light, air and experience. As darkness fell, the countryside dripped, gently and quietly absorbing the currently rather rare dose of rain.
August 6th - Heading into Brownhills past Oak Park the temptation to take another photo overcame me. It seemed odd taking pictures at this time of the morning, and I felt nervous and expected to be challenged. I wasn’t, but I don’t think I’ll ever feel comfortable taking pictures in public. At 1am that translates into abject fear.