January 18th -Whatever happens, Brownhills is always in my heart. The old place has it’s problems – like those of any post industrial town – but I love the canals, the open spaces, the countryside and the frontier feel of a town on the fringe between the West Midlands Conurbation and the rolling countryside of South Staffordshire.
On a cold, clear evening, returning from errands I came along the canal at Silver Street and over the bridge.
I love the Peter Saville efeect of the railings on that bridge, and the great views from it. But I also love the friendly feel of the new housing and occasional moored boat.
I take photos here lots… but it’s so photogenic at night. I love this place with all of my heart.
December 31st – So it was in the dying hours of 2019 I found myself at Ogley Junction, where I spent much longer than expected. I watched, and listened and thought about my surroundings: An owl over the old boatyard, traffic on the A5. Headlights on Middleton Bridge. The flashes of distant fireworks.The chatter of waterfowl disturbed by a fox.
This year has been arduous, and in places, very hard indeed. Keeping this journal is and has been personally challenging in terms of time and effort required, but I’m so attached to it I wouldn’t dream of stopping now. It’s an addiction.
I may, however, do more days with one post rather than two when busy in future. But my aim is true, I still love this thing, this place and the environment I ride in.
Thank you for following me for another year. I have no idea why you do so, but it’s most welcome. And in the dark and quiet of that old bridge, it didn’t really matter: The attachment I felt was key in those fading, dying, terminal hours of 2019.
December 21st – And this is the reason for my sudden optimism. Today is the winter solstice, or shortest day. From here, everything gets better, because the light trickles steadily back into my darkened soul.
The bike GPS tells me the sunrise and sunset times on the main screen, as I love to watch them daily. Today, the sun rose around 8:16am, and set around 3:54. I’ve watched these times all year, and registered the slow acceleration of nightfall from Midsummer, slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, minute by precious minute; then cascading and careering through the midway and the end of British Summer Time. Slowing up again, that last push to before 4pm is crushing when it happens.
By the time I return to work after this, my final commute of 2017, the sunset will already be past 4pm. And no matter what the winter brings, inexorably, unalterably, the GPS will record the gradual steps into the light. And then, at the end of March, I will emerge blinking into the light evenings as British Summer Time commences again.
I have survived the oncoming dark for another year. All I need to dow now is watch the darkness retreat.
August 9th – But later, I had to go to Telford, and whilst the air of melancholy remained, I couldn’t remain miserable. The weather was heavy, but there was beauty in it, even in the doomed footbridge at Telford Station, which despite it’s faults was a lot drier than the New Street Station I’d come through earlier.
Berries and apples glistened with raindrops. Water dripped from leaf and roof. It was quiet, but softly musical.
The rain doesn’t care for my despair.
However bad the weather, life must go on. And so it it does.
August 6th Dusk was falling on my return from Chasewater and at Home Farm, the harvest I had foreseen the day before was underway before expected rains appeared, and the farmer was working into the evening. Clouds of dust rose from the combine, and for all the world looked like it was on fire.
I feel really sad this year at Summer’s passing; I have enjoyed the warm days so much, with the sun and flowers. I guess again, I will endure winter and the cold and dark and come to enjoy it after initial resistance as I always do. I just wish the warmth had a fairer share of the year…
April 22nd – The late Lichfeldian touring cyclist and acquaintance Maurice Purser used to tell me you could see 7 spires/towers and/or churches from Pipe Hill. Maurice, who enjoyed such puzzles, had me scouring for months with binoculars in the mid-80s. What actually solved it for me was not careful scrutiny of the city skyline from high up here past Mickle Hills, but a map.
Maurice liked riddles especially if they were a bit misleading. At some point I looked at a map, and noticed that Aldershawe, the country house visible 90 degrees sunwise from this view had a private chapel. So whilst the riddle was correct, it was a bit cunning.
These days, Aldershawe is divided into smaller dwellings and you can’t see any of it from here for trees.
With a decent zoom on a reasonable day though, Lichfield’s churches, spires and rooftops still come alive, and a middle aged cyclist remembers this view as a young lad, with a leathery, weathered older gent telling tall tales of derring-do.
Wherever you are Maurice, may it be hawthorn free, the wind at your back, the sun on your face, and speed in your wheels. And a good cafe stop.
October 22nd – Seeing my old friend, who’s still ill but better than the time I saw him in the spring, we talked about time, and waiting and how illness makes waiting a very variable thing.
During the conversation I reflected on that being the reason why I doggedly note and watch the yearly changes, and any season’s passage welcome or unwelcome, is time gained, even if ultimately lost.
Time’s arrow is sometimes your greatest friend, and sometimes your worst enemy. But time is everything, and one thing my friend taught me today was that time with those we like and love is valuable, whether a gained or lost.
As autumn closes in, both I and my friend look forward to a warm spring with the sun on our faces and open countryside, fine walks, a good pint in a decent pub, and the joy of time to pass.
Get well soon old friend. This journey, though mine alone, is still for you.
September 5th – On the way back, I popped to the church at Stonnall, to have another look for the grave of an old acquaintance I knew was there, but had been unable to find for years. I finally found it – slightly neglected, lettering disappearing to the weather, but still there – and unguardedly, I fell into memories for a while.
Decades ago, we’d cycled these lanes together, and discovered places like this quiet churchyard. We weren’t huge pals, but we rode together fairly often, and shared the odd pint.
As I looked from the churchyard over Stonnall, the air had a scent of autumn, and the landscape concurred. I felt a little autumn inside, too.
Time and memory wears you like a stream polishes a pebble bed.
Stepping back into the light, I got on my bike, and rode home.
January 8th – Even at the other end of the day, on a dark canal bridge in Brownhills, heading to Tesco to get the weekly shop in, life felt better. The ghostly white they painted most of Humphries House has never really done much for me, but it does look impressive at night.
I’ve reflected today – what’s improved my mood is actually going back to work. That’s also very unusual; but so much didn’t go to plan over the New Year period that I was getting really quite despondent. That’s unusual, but now I’m back in the routine, it all suddenly seems a million miles away.
Life’s odd like that, sometimes.
September 1st – It really is coming on autumn now, and it’s getting me down a little. Cycling to work down Scarborough Road in Walsall on a grey Monday, fallen leaves already scatted on the road, it’s hard not to feel sad for the passage of another summer.
I feel this one has been good; it hasn’t seemed very wet, and although August was a tad grim, the previous months had been great. Sadly I’ve not got out for longer rides this year much at all, with a combination of work and family pressures and a healing, but still troublesome foot injury – but commuting this summer was a real joy.
It’ll be a while until this season gets beautiful, and I’ll be low for a bit yet. Every year, as I get older, this transition seems to be the hardest of the year. I’m wearing a jacket again more and more, soon the scarf and full gloves will be back out of the drawer, and dark evenings will be upon us.