May 6th - The English are still rather eccentric in their habits.
These cars - disgorging a variety of men with step ladders and camera gear - were parked on the approach to the Haselour railway bridge, near Elford, normally a quiet backlane. They were, I was informed, waiting for a couple of old diesel locomotives to come through - Class 20s, apparently, but nobody knew when they were due exactly. This was the cause of much anticipation.
I’ve not seen anything like this before. Bizarre. It takes all sorts of folk to make a world. I hope their locos came, I really do.
February 1st - this is one for the bike anoraks. I spotted this classic, original, early 80s Raleigh Arena frame on the train home. It’s been converted to a nice fixie, with modern wheels and a nice Brooks swallow saddle. I think it’s quite new, as the chain was bright and the rims and tyres looked like new. In the original design, there would have been 5 or 10 Sachs Hurret gears, controlled by down tube shifters. I wanted one of these as a kid.
The effect was only spoiled by the owner leaving his empty water bottle behind. Odd that he didn’t appreciate being reminded that he’d forgotten it…
January 7th - Back in Birmingham, and after a long break it almost felt like coming home, if that makes sense. Nice to see nothing had changed; Tyseley Station maintains it’s gentle slide into decay, but touch wood, the trains have been better. I enjoyed the commute today, and an ongoing change from Vodafone to EE (Orange) for the phone contract seems to have solved the poor signal issues en route, particularly the Gravelly Hill dead spot. Fiddling with technology on my way, I noticed this older tech on my way through the station. I think it’s an old, very old, signal switch - possibly for train dispatch purposes. I’ve not seen anything like that for a while, and now clearly disconnected, wondered if the nearby rail museum might be interested…
December 12th - the first local snow of the winter came today, in the form of a fine, icing sugar dusting over Tyseley. It stopped as quickly as it started, but left everything precious and beautiful. I love this weather, I love the way it creates new impressions of familiar things.
December 11th - It didn’t take long for the mist to settle in, but even that was enjoyable. Just as well, really, as despite the promises of a new dawn, the London Midland train reliability is still lousy, even with the new timetable. 6 out of this week’s 8 trains so far have been late. I still love the sights and views of the railway. I’m not interested particularly in trains, but I love the slightly unreal, meccano landscapes they create, with vividly pronounced perspective, repetition and reflection. I love the impression of distance and connection they create, and of the illusion of solid control, like a huge machine. The machine is broken, and deserves some love and attention, and a master who loves it, but it’s still a wonderful and oddly beautiful thing.
September 7th - I catch the train from Nuneaton to Leciester sometimes with a chap called Igor. Igor is into all kinds of bikes, both bicycles and motorbikes. This madcap Lithuanian likes his steeds rough and ready: he rides a battered, but well-maintained fixed wheel most of the time, but on special occasions, for example Critical Mass rides, he gets out his tall bike. Home made from two frames, this is a classic of the genre, and it is ridable with practice. Tall bikes are great fun, and beloved of urban cyclists who often knock them up for kicks… just another wonderful tribe in the patchwork of the cycling scene. They did once have a practical use: European lamplighters used to make them to make their duties faster and easier. A lovely thing, and a really nice chap, too. Bonkers and wonderful at the same time.
August 3rd - I was heading out to Telford. The trains, what with the industrial fortnight and everything, have been quite quiet this week. Hauling the bike aboard on a pleasant morning at Shenstone, I was intrigued to be sharing space with a lady cyclist clearly off on a tour. No backpacks or panniers for her, but this smart, well thought out trailer. It seems to collapse down, and is available from these people. Cleverly, it attaches via a modified quick release axle or wheelnuts. I do like this, and wish I’d had chance to ask the lady about it. She left the train at Aston - I don’t know where she was going, but I hope she had a great ride.
June 7th - Birmingham New Street. This is Birmingham New Street. All regular travellers through Birmingham’s derided main station will recognise that tannoy jingle. I have a love-hate relationship with the place; dark, grubby, overcrowded, a nightmare on a bike or for the elderly or disabled. Yet, unlike so many stations, the layout is logical, compact and easy to grasp. It just carries way too much traffic and we need a new station - possibly on Eastside - to relieve it, then maybe the platforms could be reduced in number and widened, some natural light could be let in.
There’s history, here, too, but not many realise. The arches at the end of platform 2 and 3 are a remnant of the original Victorian Station, as are many of the retaining cutting walls. The signal box - a remarkable Brutalist style structure designed by Bicknell & Hamilton to resemble an electrical component, is listed and a wonderful thing. As developers tear away at the upper levels, the ‘regeneration’ (how I hate that word) of this much misunderstood transport hub will not solve any of it’s functional problems, but I’m still rather fond of the old dump, if I’m honest.
March 7th - A short visit to Telford again today. A foul commute to Shenstone first thing; heavy rain and a thankfully assisting wind made for a damp, miserable start to the day. Leaving Mid-afternoon, I emerged blinking into a sunny, if breezy afternoon. I took an Arriva train back to New Street. Thankfully, it was one of the refurbished 158 sets. Old 158’s (and their siblings, 153 ‘dogboxes’) are possibly the worst trains to get bikes on and off, with a narrow bike bay that is almost impossible to get an adult bike into. The refurbished units have made the best of a bad job by opening the bay out, fitting it with wheel bender racks and a curious seatbelt securing arrangement that actually works quite well. The solution is still cramped, however, and the doors make these trains challenging. I was also taken with the clearly well used and loved ladies Dawes already in the rack; almost a Mixte frame, but not quite, that seems like an unusual arrangement at the back triangle. Love the panniers though, and the clip for the bar-basket. I never came into contact with the owner, sadly. It looks like a fun bike to ride.
July 12th - first of a couple of days in Leicester. I hop up to Lichfield Trent Valley and heft my bike on the train - a short change in Nuneaton gets me to where I need to be quite quickly. The London Midland Euston bound stopping trains recently introduced on the West Coast Main Line - Siemens Desiro 350’s - are much better for cyclists and wheelchair users with plenty of space, little fold out tables and wide internal clearances. So much easier than the older, cramped 170’s Arriva Cross Country use on the Leicester line. Shame they aren’t looked after more carefully. Would a decent cleaning regime really go amiss?
May 24th - This is the evening commute film from the same trip. Changing trains at New Street, Birmingham, this time for a Walsall bound train, at about 5pm. The crowds, the dreadful lifts, the bustle - not a single part of this interchange will improve with the revamp of New Street, which is primarily about providing a ‘retail opportunity’. Note that the bike is being pushed and not ridden throughout.
The soundtract is from Mainframe, unofficially called ‘I make my way back home’, officially just ‘Track 4’. Check them out at http://mainframe-music.info/- a great blast of eighties synth-goodness, mostly made on an Apple II computer in 1983.
May 24th - Change trains at Birmingham New Street at 8:55am for a 9:05 departure to Telford. This is the reality of using trains with a bike. Bear in mind that for all the millions spent, nothing seen in this film will change with the revamp of the station. The unreliable lifts, the dingy, menacing subway, the cramped, overcrowded platforms. The revamp will just give a ‘retail opportunity’ for big business.
I love travelling by bike and train, but this tries my patience. Life shouldn’t be this hard. Part 2 to follow.
The soundtrack is Artie Shaw’s ‘Special Delivery Stomp’, the music that plays in your head whenever you’re late for anything…
BrownhillsBob biked every day for the thirty days of April 2011, part of the #30daysofbiking project, but enjoyed the process so much that he carried on. @ years down the road, he's still cycling every day and recording a little bit of every journey.