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Stirchley High Street Stories

I took part in this project along with several other photographers to capture different aspects of the section of Pershore Road that runs through Stirchley. The High Street is lined by shops and other public buildings and is full of contrasts, even contradictions, which I decided to try to capture in single images.

The project was led by Tracey Thorne of Ghost Streets CIC. A collection of photos from the project can be viewed on the Stirchley High Street Stories blog. Each of us who took part in the project chose a different theme, so it’s quite a diverse collection. A selection of the photos was put on display at Artefact Stirchley (June 25 – 29) and also published in a specially-produced newspaper.

Below are the photos I chose for the exhibition – plus a few others – with some additional explanations of the ideas behind them.

A pedestrian walks past tulips in the sunshine

Walk on by… maybe you’ve got your own beautiful life to live. Others will have time to stop and catch the moment of delicate glory

These tulips flowered all too briefly in the open space in front of the former District Office. While some people stopped to look, and maybe sat on the nearby benches, many passers-by just, well, passed by.

In the distance the Cube is lit up by evening sunshine, while the derelict fireworks shop dominates the foreground

Dereliction and distant aspirations: the Cube, a symbol of bold modern living, stands where canalside wharves once fell into disuse

The above photo is the original version that I took in March 2019. While crossing the canal bridge along Pershore Road I noticed the Cube, lit up in the evening sunshine, in contrast with the fireworks shop which has been derelict for years. I later took another photo from the same spot under different lighting conditions, and that version – which I hoped would be more suitable for printing – was used in the project.

A Seven Capital hoarding alongside the British Oak pub

The unknown and the unchanging, side by side

Seven Capital own a large plot of land at the northern end of Stirchley. The land was acquired piecemeal over many years by Tesco with a view to building a superstore, but they abandoned the project and sold it on for development, most likely for a mixture of retail and housing. When new residents eventually arrive they will live next door to the British Oak pub which has been here for many decades.

A watch and clock maker in his shop

Traditional craftsmanship, nearly lost in our throwaway society, is on its way back. At the Phull Watch Company, Malkit has been repairing and restoring for over two decades

Flowering plants in front of a Jesse Hill sign

Gunmaking once brought wealth and skills to the city. Flowers bring harmony and peace… fit to be laid on the graves of the oppressed

A hydroponics shop across the road from shelves of flowering plants

Soil or water? Indoors or outdoors? Where do you grow best?

The following photos did not make the final cut for the exhibition and newspaper, either due to lack of space or because I was still developing my theme.

Traffic passing 20 mph speed limit signs

20 mph: an uneasy compromise between speed and leisure

While most drivers simply want to get through the area as quickly as possible, pedestrians wish that the road could be quieter. The sun can only shine on one side of the road at a time

A mixture of shop signs projecting above the pavement

A jumble of shop signs: no chain stores here

Reflection of Pershore Road in a glass window

Symmetry of Stirchley

A pedestrian waiting to cross at traffic lights

Still life

Photos on display along a wall

Some of our photos were on temporary display at the Stirchley Fete

Posted by banting_wp in Stirchley

I gave a false name in Starbucks

This piece discusses one of the great ethical dilemmas of our day. For the avoidance of doubt, it is a work of pure fiction.

I gave a false name in Starbucks.
It was so easy the first time.
No guilt. A victimless crime.
It was like trying on a new set of clothes.
Is this my emotional colour?
Why do I feel so different?
Does my ego look fat in this?

I gave a false name in Starbucks.
By the fourth time, I realised that the clothes were not new, but borrowed.
When I said my name was Gordon, I was taller and had fair hair.
Patrick, and I spoke with a drawl.
Joel, and I was a child again.
Arthur, and I was my grandfather.
Every name a connection, a memory, a dream.

I gave a false name in Starbucks.
Another customer called out, “I’m Sebastian too.”
Later that week, Sebastian saw me in the street and greeted me.
But I could not help borrowing more names.
Pedro, I’m sorry I used your accent.
Benoit, Werner, Istvan, yes, those were risky.
Julie.
What an interesting conversation.
I gained new insights, and in my mind’s eye, a fabulous body.

I gave a false name in Starbucks.
I looked across to where a man sat alone.
He smiled when the barrista called out to him.
And I saw the truth: that was the first time he had heard his name that day.
And when the barrista called out to me
He would hear it for the second time.
But I would not hear it.
I would be out in the nameless crowds,
Nothing to borrow, nothing to steal,
No need for identity,
A place to truly have no name.

Posted by banting_wp in Poetry

Irregardless

With apologies to anyone who cares about the English (or any other) language

Irregardless! So absurd
To think that it could be a word;
Syllables in disarray,
Double negative dismay!

Yet all the lexicons agree,
Merriam-Webster, OED,
No matter that it brings disgrace
“Irregardless” has its place.

It bring me pain to even utter,
Standards lying in the gutter.
Using such linguistic freakage
Ain’t the way to proper speakage!

It proves how much the English language,
Unrestrained, is prone to manglage.
It didn’t ought to be allowed
But who can stop this trend unbowed?

With no Academie Française
Each one can choose just what he says.
Of all bêtes noires that us appal,
This is the noirest of them all.

Posted by banting_wp in Poetry

Kings Heath poem

This was my entry for the poetry competition run by Enjoy Kings Heath in February 2019. To my surprise, it was the Competition Judge’s selected winner. There were some excellent winners in other categories, and it was especially pleasing that the winner of the popular vote (unknown to the voters at the time) was an entry in the 12-14 years old category.

I visit Kings Heath Park often, especially for Kings Heath Spanish Club, and have taken many photos there. It has a more orderly, laid-out feel than Highbury Park, which is bigger and feels wilder in comparison. It was that contrast, as if representing the diversity in Kings Heath’s people and built environment, that provided the inspiration for the poem.

Sunshine and dark clouds

Dramatic weather in Kings Heath Park

Two Parks

Because one park is never enough.

Because we need the loved and nurtured, the neatly cornered,
A place to find the fountains and the flowers,
The tearoom and the tennis court,
A meeting space for children and your ageing mother,
Somewhere to grow and thrive together.

Because we need the wild and free, to roam unbounded,
Where biking paths are rough and hilly,
Angles leading off to dark mysterious corners
And old twisting trees sway and crack and fall
And new places to play are born.

Because we need spring flowers bursting through the snow,
Berries defying the grip of the seasons,
A canopy of trees to soften the fall of rain
And let the drops linger while daylight fades.

Because our times and moods are ever-changing
One face is not enough to represent us.
In parks and streets, wherever people gather
Kings Heath has room for everyone and everything.

Posted by banting_wp in Poetry

Moral high ground

A creative writing session at Artefact Stirchley brought to mind a time when I stood, along with the rest of a group from Birmingham, at a viewpoint overlooking the city of La Paz in Bolivia. The feelings I had at the time resonated with what we had been discussing and prompted me to write this poem.

Looking down on the city of La Paz, surrounded by mountains

View over the city of La Paz: it spreads out on each side of the photo, disappearing into the midday sun on the left

We came a long way to get here, from another continent,
to reach this city high among the Andean peaks.

Today we rose further through the already-thin atmosphere,
leaving behind the hustle of the city,
passing dried-up rivers, homes for millionaires,
homes for the poor, a home for the dead.

Now we stand and look down from the edge of the ravine.
Humanity clings to its rocky floor,
the city spreading out into the midday sun,
its tiny towers reaching up towards the sky which will not bend down to meet it,
suspended high above the encircling mountains.

Here in the silence we hear the cry of the city,
not the swarming traffic, not the street vendors, not the pressing crowds,
but the cries of the heart, of grief, of poverty, of betrayal, of injustice.

In this upside-down place the rich have escaped to the safety of the valley,
while the dwellings of the poor flow up the mountainside
and on to the barren plateau above.

Even the highest mountains,
forever inaccessible in their snow-covered purity,
only reveal your fragility.

As Jesus wept over Jerusalem, we pray over this City of Peace.
We see a million people, fearing the future, fearing each other,
and we are forever part of you.

Your lucky charms and crucifixes cannot protect you.
No mighty cross or statue stands guard over the city.
Look not to what is dead, but to what is alive.
Hear each other’s cries, and find the cross that lies within.


Here’s a link to more photos taken during our visit to La Paz. The Spanish named the city Nuestra Señora de la Paz (Our Lady of Peace): in reality it is a noisy and busy place.

Posted by banting_wp in Poetry, 0 comments

Celebrating Stirchley Park

During the night of 26/27 February 2016 vandals destroyed the Sleeping Child and other heritage artwork in Stirchley Park, provoking a furious reaction on social media. Despite this setback the environment of the park has been transformed in recent years, thanks especially to the hard work of the Friends of Stirchley Park. This photo collection is my tribute to their efforts and a celebration of the wonderful community space the park has become.

A tree surrounded by snow in the middle of Stirchley Park

Stirchley Park in the snow (2010)

Stirchley Park and Bond Street houses in the snow

Stirchley Park and Bond Street houses in the snow (2010)

The River Bourn flowing past Stirchley Park in the snow

The River Bourn flowing past Stirchley Park in the snow

The Sleeping Child mural in Stirchley Park

The Sleeping Child mural in Stirchley Park (2013)

Tree against a dark sky in Stirchley Park

Tree against a dark sky in Stirchley Park (2013)

The Stirchley Shakers at Sink or Swim in Stirchley Park

The Stirchley Shakers at Sink or Swim in Stirchley Park (2013)

Sink or Swim promoted the funding bid for the Stirchley Baths redevelopment

Sink or Swim promoted the funding bid for the Stirchley Baths redevelopment (2013)

Blossom in Stirchley Park

Blossom (2014)

Ladybird in Stirchley Park

Wildlife (2014)

The River Bourn flows past Stirchley Park then under the Co-op car park

The River Bourn flows past Stirchley Park then under the Co-op car park (2014)

Wearing a hat made by balloon modelling

Exotic headgear at the Late Summer Bash in Stirchley Park

Colourful bushes in Stirchley Park

Colours (2015)

Dogs playing in Stirchley Park

A playground for dogs (2015)

Stirchley Park through the trees

Stirchley Park through the trees (2015)

Sir William Cabdury: new artwork in Stirchley Park

The new artwork features Sir William Cabdury, who donated the land for the park (2015)

Posted by banting_wp in Stirchley, 0 comments