After a few years of living a fairly sedentary lifestyle, last winter I added ‘go for a daily walk or cycle’ to my habit tracker. I go swimming and visit the gym fairly regularly, at least a couple of times a week, but as I work from home there were sometimes days, or even strings of days, where I didn’t leave the flat other than to walk the 500m round trip to the local supermarket.
Monday morning and as the sun rises over ice covered streets, rush hour traffic builds on the Middleway. The city council has just announced plans to ban through traffic into and out of the city centre, and for a moment I dream about what weekday mornings could look, sound and smell like before the real world pulls me back to earth with a jolt. A car jumps the lights at the junction just as I move to cross on a pedestrian green and a commuter on the opposite side of the road to me smiles and shakes his head in solidarity. Covering my mouth and nose with one hand I power walk past a stationary bus in a queue of traffic and turn on to a side street.
On the quiet streets of Edgbaston, little children in old fashioned school uniforms climb down from their wheeled fortresses and walk in to school, book bags swinging at their sides, heads held high. In the midst of a global climate crisis, it’s business as usual this morning.
And so we come again to the last month of the year. I’m not the biggest fan of November or December, but beautiful moments can still be found in amongst the dying of the light, mass consumerism and prescriptive bonhomie that the season brings.
In the late summer of 2018 construction work began on two high rise tower blocks north and west of our flat. As seasons passed I watched as planning permission was granted, the old buildings on the two sites were demolished, foundations were filled and the steel skeletons of the two towers climbed ever higher. By the spring equinox I was worried that the tower to the west of us was going to block golden hour.
On the way to town to buy birthday cards on Sunday afternoon, a man stopped us to ask if we were local and if so, where he could go for some lunch. Reliant on a walking frame he explained that he couldn’t go very far and that he wasn’t familiar with Birmingham, but that he happened to end up here as a result of a mix up with the trains. The question, it turns out, wasn’t really about lunch, but rather an excuse to start up a conversation. Step by painful step we continued in the same direction as him for some twenty minutes, covering just twenty metres in that time, but also more than twenty years of his memories. Love, loss, disability, loneliness, despair and the cost of living, but also his love of classics, philosophy and memories of all the places he has called home over the fifty seasons he’s seen come and go.