Thursday, 31 December 2009
Wednesday, 30 December 2009
Tuesday, 29 December 2009
Monday, 28 December 2009
Sunday, 27 December 2009
Friday, 25 December 2009
Can I send my sincere Christmas greetings to everyone who reads my occasional ramblings here.
To those of you who have booked tours with me throughout the year, to those of you who have given Louise, Mum and myself friendship and support and to those of you who are far away but of whom we think often: “thank you”.
To those of you with religious or spiritual beliefs, may the spirit of Christmas shine all around you…….and to those of you without, well, just have a jolly good time and enjoy the seasonal festivities anyway!
Merry Christmas to you all.
Thursday, 17 December 2009
I may well turn a few heads with this but I’m going to write it anyway because too often it goes unsaid.
No-one who read any of yesterday’s reports following the guilty verdicts in the Fairfield Post Office raid case can fail to have been moved by the testimony of Craig Hodson-Walker’s mother and fiancée. To hear his mother telling of how she saw her son shot in front of her eyes and to hear the fiancée Lisa say that her “whole world has collapsed” was heartbreaking.
How can anyone do this? Well, I can’t profess to understand why at all. However, perhaps a closer look at the defendants’ backgrounds might say something?
One of them had not only already raided a Post Office (in King’s Norton in 2002) but had been convicted, given a gaol sentence and was out and able to do it again. Another had three convictions, two for Post Office raids and a third for robbing a security van. So much for the system punishing, rehabilitating and protecting there, then.
They all came from areas on the fringes of
It is a stark, unfashionable but unassailable fact of life that our towns and cities are surrounded by areas where the basics that much of society takes for granted simply don’t apply. Criminals may not be the majority of people in these areas but they are sure as hell a sizeable minority. The Frankleys, the Druids Heaths and the Castle Vales of Birmingham,
But the offensive, out of control, unorganised mobs that inhabits these places are terrifying. They give us the graffiti, the metal shutters on shops, the burned-out litter bins and the broken windows. Communities which look unloved and where such damage is caused by those who live there. And it can become more serious. Look at the case of Fiona Pilkington, who took her own life after yobs tormented her and her daughter in Hinckley. She called for police help 33 times, without any discernible effect. The police, it seems, simply accept this type of behaviour as normal for such areas.
Indeed, having mentioned these yob-rule areas in big cities, it’s worth remembering that the same applies in plenty of smaller places, too. In the beautiful, civilized cathedral city of
For most of us, like the Hodson-Walkers in Fairfield, you study, you get a job, you work hard and support your family and get some of the things you want in life. We all makes mistakes – me included – but for the feral shit which exists on the edge of of society, this normal life progression does not apply and is never thought of. We are now into second or even third generations who have never worked in the conventional sense and who don’t understand the work ethic that is the basis of our society and its achievements. “I want that, I can’t afford it, so I’ll take it anyway.”
Craig Hodson-Walker’s mother Judy described the raiders as “the dregs of society” and how right she is. These people do not have the values that the rest of us have and they could destroy our society as easily – if not more easily – than climate change or terrorism.
These people are truly the enemy within.
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
Following on from my recent rant about the pros and cons of shopping at Merry Hill, I ventured into Birmingham City Centre yesterday to do some more (theoretically last minute!) shopping.
Although by no means perfect, I have to say it was a much more pleasant experience and underlines my belief in shopping in “real” places.
Yes, there were a few undesirables hanging about but there was a much bigger choice of places to shop and things to buy (they have an Ian Allan for starters!). It might be different if you're interested in buying clothes as a leisure activity but I'm not so that doesn't count.
It was very sad though to see Border's Bookshop having their closing-down sale. I first encountered the Borders brand on a visit to
City Centre shopping is evidently not dead, though, whatever the media might try to have us believe from time to time.
Saturday, 12 December 2009
I’ve been working in
I’d like to do that more often but a combination of often extortionate fares, lack of left luggage facilities at stations and the unreasonableness of wanting to travel early on a Sunday often conspire against it for my jobs.
Today, though (being a Saturday) I managed to get a good deal (cheaper than the petrol and parking) and trains ran “just right” from one of my local stations, so the train it was. Well done again, Cross Country. Oh and their online ticket booking site doesn't charge a booking fee, even for journeys with other railway companies,so I'm happy to give it a plug here.
The journey was actually rather lovely. I was a little surprised (and pleased) at how busy trains were at 7.00am on a Saturday and then speeding through the Worcestershire countryside as day broke was very civilized. It was helped by a largish coffee on board for the princely sum of £1!
I always enjoy
Coming back, the Cotswold and Worcestershire countryside was bathed in a lovely golden afternoon light and felt distinctly satisfied with the day. (Although the coffee had gone up: it was £1.50 on the return leg!) I also noticed that he train took the famous Lickey Incline, once such a barrier to steam-hauled trains, as though it wasn’t even there.
Thursday, 10 December 2009
I would consider taking National Express coaches from time to time. Okay, they don't have the ability to cruise past traffic jams in the way a train does but they can be pretty comfortable these days and the prices can be very competitive. The only problem with that being based in
The much-vaunted new Digbeth Coach Station is due to open on Monday but it (like its temporary replacement) are that little bit “out” of the City centre in a still-not-very-brilliant area. If I arrive in
When Digbeth was replaced, the opportunity really should have been taken to relocate the coach station somewhere more central. The Snow Hill site would have done. All other towns seem to have their coach stations in the middle, usually in a place used by local buses, too. Why not Brum?!
That said, I do look forward to seeing the new coach station. I hope it manages to match the similar fine facilities now in Manchester and Bristol (for example). I just wish it was more central!
Chiltern Railways is again becoming something of a victim of its own success. Travelling on a morning trip from The Hawthorns to
It's good to see so much more use of trains generally these days. I'm aware that I seem to have been using them much more lately, not just to and from
But despite all this, rail still has much to commend it. Certainly, I prefer to relax, read, write and watch the changing panorama from a train than to slog up and down the M40 or M6 in the car, which is the ultimate alternative. If there's a station near when I'm going and if there's a train when I want it (two big “ifs”, those!) then as long as the price is roughly comparable (another big consideration) then I'll take it.
It was good to see advertising posters at Marylebone station yesterday extolling the virtues of some of the things that make a trip up to Birmingham worthwhile for a Londoner. Instead of the usual meaningless pictures of happy, upwardly-mobile couples staring into one another's eyes with feigned sophistication, the very real “draws” of the Birmingham Christmas Market and Aston Hall by Candlelight were being promoted to a metropolitan audience.
These are what make coming to Brum worth the effort and dispel any myths about Birmingham and I hope they encourage people to come and see the place for themselves.
Well done whoever went ahead with this campaign.
Monday, 7 December 2009
Just back from our first carol concert.
Yes, I know, it’s only 7 December and it isn’t really Christmas. But it was in the Great Hall of the
Sir Aston Webb’s Great Hall is a superb building, one of the finest “indoor spaces” of
The University Singers (processing in by candlelight) were a joy hear, everyone was suitably uplifted by readings, a sermon, prayers and – of course! – some rousing singing.
I feel Christmassy for the first time this year.
Up in the dark, home in the dark. For the first time ever this year, I’m finding winter depressing. I’ve never really felt like that in previous winters so I’m not sure what’s causing it this year.
Still, I’m about to write and send out a series of invoices, which will make me feel ever so much better! (Yes, I know, unacceptable face of capitalism and all that. Still, I could have worked for a bank…….)
Sunday, 6 December 2009
After my rather negative musings on
In the event, though, the rains cleared in time for the walk and
Funnily enough, Salisbury Cathedral is home to one of the four surviving Exemplar Copies of the Magna Carta. One of the others in in
The group were a pleasurable lot, too, which helps somewhat. I love it when they can give me a laugh. Upon showing them Mitre House, an old building where new Bishops are traditionally robed before their enthronement and which is now a ladies’ clothes shop, they came up with a lovely image of the Bishops coming out of the ladies’ changing rooms in cope and mitre. I added the inevitable “Does my crozier look big in this?”!
A weekend of contrasts,
Saturday, 5 December 2009
Wednesday, 2 December 2009
It's interesting work. Today was a study of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Tomorrow it's the Russian Revolution.
I seem to be spending a lot of time in Manchester doing this lately and I'm actually becoming rather fond of the place. I've never really subscribed to this Birmingham v Manchester rivalry stuff. It is (shock, horror) possible for two cities to be "great"; it's not something exclusive.
Okay so Manchester has some pretty grotty bits even in the centre (but then so does Brum). A lot of the new developments of which Manchester is so proud are actually pretty bland and don't stir me in the least. (How can people get so excited about a bloody Arndale Centre?!) And their German Christmas Christmas Market isn't a patch on the real thing (ie Birmingham's).
But they have a decent and growing tramway system and Piccadilly Station is an absolute credit to the place. Especially if you compare it to New Street! (Although it's not nearly as well sited as the latter.) And the old addage is true: people are generally friendlier the further North you go.
I wish I had more time to explore, though. The Art Gallery is splendid (not the Lowry, over in Salford; the Art Gallery which - Brummies take note! - also has a fine collection of Pre-Raphaelites). And being a mercantile city, some of the Victorian commercial buildings are just jaw-droppingly beautiful.
We are lucky in England to have so many wonderful cities and I count myself lucky that I get to visit so many and that I'm blessed with the interest to get so much joy out of "experiencing" them.
Tuesday, 1 December 2009
Took Mum Christmas shopping to Merry Hill today. Sorry, "Westfield Merry Hill". Does anyone ever call it that?
Anyway, if there is a recession on, there wasn’t much sign of it there, judging by the full car park and the crowds inside.
Mum still isn’t terribly mobile (although much improved over this time last week) so it was a car job, which of course added to the congestion approaching the place, even on a weekday. Dudley Council appear to have been digging up the same stretch of
It also struck me that the centre really isn’t a brilliant place to reach by public transport, despite not really being “out of town” but embedded within the built up area of the
So, although Mum liked it and we managed to get a lot done…….it’s not really my sort of place. Rather than a "real town", it looks like Paradise with a Frontal Lobotomy. In any case, it doesn’t have enough bookshops!