Solihull Moors

Brueton Park, Solihull: Trentwards flows the Blythe

Among the many exciting breakthroughs made possible by the Internet, citizen journalism is one of the most inspiring.

It creates a world in which everyone can be a broadcaster or publisher, regardless of talent, aptitude, possession of facts or any self-awareness at all.

This is all made possible by one single advance: the removal of expensive and pernickety sub-editors from the process. Sub-editors are the latest victims of a gradual diminution in the variety of skills once thought necessary to journalism. A trainee reporter 40yrs ago would have had to produce material good enough in different ways to satisfy at least five pairs of eyes: those of the line manager (news or features editor), of the sub, of the production editor, of the editor and, not least, of the typesetter who would have regarded his (it was invariably ‘his’) interference as essential.

Now, in the era of citizen journalism, none of those is necessary. Material can be published immediately, with no regard to its factual accuracy, legality, sense, honesty, spelling or grammar. As a result almost nothing you read on the Internet can be trusted. A generation of sceptics will grow to maturity in the online era. By a quirk of irony, scepticism is one of the first requirements of a journalist.

* * *

Be honest: when you first saw the name Solihull Moors on a screen, didn’t you assume it was another typically carefree piece of online editing? Surely ‘Motors’ was intended. In the West Midlands, Solihull Motors made a lot more sense than Solihull Moors, there being neither wuthering uplands nor wandering Berbers in the vicinity. Yes, Solihull Motors must be a former company team, like PSV Eindhoven or Bayer Leverkusen.

It was the occasional presence in the Oldham attack of the great Matt Smith, hero of an FA Cup win over Liverpool in 2013, that brought Solihull’s football team to my wavering attention. Athletic had plucked Smith from the Moors or Motors, as I continued to think of them, then in the sixth-tier Conference North.

In fact Solihull Moors is too young a club to have any links with prominent centres of motor manufacture. A young fan would be as confused by Motors as I was by Moors. The club was formed in 2007 by the merger of Solihull Borough and Moor Green. Moor Green was the older club, originating in Hall Green, south-west of Birmingham. Solihull Borough had originally played under the name Lincoln FC. Moors, then, is not the most confusing name that might have been attached to the club.

The Moors play at Damson Parkway, about midway between Solihull and Junction 6 of the M42. ‘Motors’ would still be appropriate: the ground is surrounded by Jaguar Land Rover premises. And at Junction 6 you’ll find the National Motorcycle Museum).

National Motorcycle Museum: pick up Marianne Faithful and head off to New Orleans

My first reaction to the National Motorcycle Museum was to feel physically ill. The evocative smell of burned oil and the gleam of polished chromium sent me hurtling down Housman’s “happy highways where I went and cannot come again”. To have owned a Triumph T20 Tiger Cub and, like a fickle lover, to have casually dropped it on the acquisition of a full driving licence… the sight of all the wonderful machines I might have graduated on to was deeply upsetting. An AJS took me back almost 50 years to the temptations of a dealer at Rayners Lane; a Norton reminded me of a test-ride in St Albans, where I was only just strong enough to keep the bike upright at a red traffic light. All around me, middle-aged men in leathers were welling up.

Eventually, by looking not at the bikes I had loved and lost but at the museum as a series of collections, I calmed down.

Second impressions, then. As I approached the museum a number of bikes were sweeping around a modest circuit coned out in the car-park. The sound suited the setting but the speed must have been frustrating for the riders. Within, the museum’s antechambers have the atmosphere of a high-class golf course club-house, but with highly-polished and scrupulously dusted motor vehicles where you might expect trophy cabinets.

There are five big galleries in which motorcycles (and related vehicles) are lined up by age, by manufacturer and in some cases by purpose. It’s an overwhelming prospect at first – 850 or more bikes, beautifully restored and/or maintained, in rank upon rank. Every one of them looks as though you could ride it out of there, pick up Marianne Faithful and head off to New Orleans.

Copperknob: as though a plumber built it

Mostly, the National Motorcycle Museum is about ogling beautiful engineering and lamenting lost youth. But it’s also educational: who knew that Triumph was founded by German immigrants called Siegfried Bettmann and Mauritz Schulte; that Steve McQueen was among the pursuing Wehrmacht riders as a stuntman failed to jump the wire in The Great Escape? And there are curiosities: a machine and banjo used in the 1935 George Formby film No Limit; the 1929 Chater-Lea ‘Copperknob’, on which the copper-plating looks as though a plumber built it.

Upstairs, the restaurant is worth a visit. If the museum premises suggest a club-house, the restaurant plunges to the opposite extreme by summoning up the spirit of the transport caff. Outside the window, the dual-carriageway A45 stands in for the motorways beside which such services once fed a nation.

How much Solihull itself has to offer is something of a mystery. If you set out to follow signs to Library Square ‘i’, good luck. From at least two key directions – the town centre and the railway station – the signs point you in the general direction but drop you well before anything resembling a library or even a square interrupts your progress. Perhaps other signs indicating Town Centre Touchwood provide a clue: these pointers show where something was the last time anybody checked, and with luck that’s where it will still be. (Touchwood is, of course, a shopping and entertainment complex – Solihull’s Bonheur des Dames.)

The most obviously old building is the 15th century Manor House). A plaque confirms that it dates from 1495. Now occupied on a Saturday morning by a number of small craft businesses, it is open to anyone to wander in. Further along the intermittently decorative High Street is a 16th century building, but here you’d have to feign an interest in fashion to look inside. Off the High Street, Mell Square with its carousel and coffee house has something almost Parisian in its atmosphere.

Solihull’s medieval Square, apparently from a geometrical era before the triangle had been discovered

But this is clutching at straws. Not having found the information centre I asked the clairvoyant I met in the Manor House what I should look at. She suggested the Church of St Alphage. At the eastern end of the High Street, this is apparently the historic core of the town. Opposite the church is the 16th century George Hotel, now a Ramada Inn, with more half-timbering than a Morris Traveller and enough leading in the windows to cage a flock of budgies. Inexplicably, the Ramada Inn’s website has no photograph of the building’s noble southern face. Instead, it focuses on characterless modern luxury.

Across the triangle of pavement and roadway known as The Square is a war memorial on which the name AA Guest caught my eye. And then you’re into the Church of St Alphege, largely built between the 12th century and 1535. Alphege was an Archbishop of Canterbury who died at the hands of drunken Danish raiders in 1012. A side chapel is dedicated to St Thomas à Becket, another Archbishop of Canterbury. What either had to do with Solihull was not clear. To the left of the high altar is an unusual two-storey arrangement of chapels. The chill dimness of the Crypt Chapel of St Francis contrasts with the colour-flecked clarity of the Chantry Chapel above.

Solihull’s other attractions seem to be out of doors, but without ever finding Library Square it’s difficult to be sure. Two parks to the south-west and south-east of the town are, fortunately, hard to miss.

Perhaps that should be three parks. Brueton and Malvern Parks have their own names and characters but they arc towards each other and merge in the flood plain of the River Blythe. There’s water too in Tudor Grange Park, where the Alder Brook feeds a small lake. Tudor Grange also has pitch-and-putt, a cycle track, a skate-park and playground. It hosts the Solihull Summer Festival and the town’s bonfire night party.

A park-run had just finished as I arrived at Brueton Park. Is it harsh to wonder whether park runners are missing the point by driving to the park for their exercise? Perhaps a man who has just driven 100 miles for no better reason than to go to a football match is in no position to make disparaging remarks about leisure runners.

The car-park offers a generous 3hrs free deal. Once the runners had dispersed, most of the takers were dog-walkers and most of the dogs were spaniels. Brueton is the more expansive of the twinned parks. Across the Blythe, which information boards point out flows towards the Trent from here, there’s a substantial nature reserve with different habitats and plank pathways to take you through them. Back in the park itself, around the bend towards Malvern, the variety of trees suggests an arboretum but hardly any are identified; the exception is a hawthorn dedicated to people who were killed or injured in accidents at work.

The Parkridge Centre, operated by Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, has a café that opens on to a separate nature area with trails, activities and an arboretum. The Centre is surprising even down to the tiling in its toilets – a line of sculptural tiles carries the wildlife message around the smallest room.

Malvern Park is more formal, with poignant memorial gates, an avenue, so far unplanted ornamental gardens and a fine statue called the Horse Tamer. But this park too has a children’s playground, tennis courts and, for no obvious reason, a small reconstruction of a medieval market hall.

Strictly Come Defending: the Moors, in blue, line up their defense to a free-kick

The football match prompted ungenerous reflections. The Mighty Moors might just be lucky or resilient enough to be promoted. Not notably superior to Havant & Waterlooville, who were relegated by the defeat, Solihull won very late on after conceding what must have been a deflatingly late equaliser.

Solihull Moors 3 Havant & Waterlooville 2

Automated Technology Group Stadium, 13 April 2019

Barnet

‘A recreation, with life-size bronze figures bending over charts, of the process by which movements of German aircraft were plotted’

Bentley Priory Museum bentleypriorymuseum.org.uk

Canons Park www.canonsparkfriends.org

RAF Museum Hendon www.rafmuseum.org.uk

Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture moda.mdx.ac.uk

 

The Spitfire in front of Bentley Priory Museum was flown by Squadron Leader Cyril ‘Bam’ Bamberger, according to the sign.
“If you were called Cyril,” I said, “I suppose you’d probably welcome some sort of nickname.’
“Bam isn’t very creative, though, is it?” Keith said.
“Cheese,” I suggested.
“Double.”
“Ham.”
By now we were close to giddy, and the Hunnish seam of Cyril’s surname remained unmined. We were certainly in no state to enter a building within which people had done so much to preserve our freedoms, among them the freedom of men old enough to know better than to scoff.
The location of the museum was partly to blame. Its position inside a gated community had elevated our hackles, as sensitive to signs of privilege as buzzards to a thermal. A notice at the entrance had invited us to stop and call at security. That might cut some ice in Idle Valley when Philip Marlowe calls on the Wades, in The Long Goodbye, but we were having none of it in Stanmore in 2018. As we drove slowly up the drive, glancing around in case of pursuit by armed guards, we noticed that the large houses on the estate had their own gates. Doubly protected from the outside world the inhabitants might be imagined regaining their homes after a day at the coal face near Canary Wharf and heaving a sigh of relief at having survived another day in the dystopian present. I doubt the Harvester round the corner saw much of their business.
By the time we had parked and were approaching the neo-classical splendour of the Priory, inverted snobbery had us in its grip. Having made fun not, I hope, of Cyril but of the RAF’s affection for nicknames, we stopped to take some photographs and compose ourselves. When we presented ourselves at the ticket office we were being our age again and gained a senior’s discount as a result.
Bentley Priory was the headquarters of Fighter Command and the museum concentrates on the Battle of Britain. It evokes the period carefully. Labels are typewritten in scripts that use a capital I as a 1, and combine lower case ‘f’s in ligatures with ‘i’ and ‘l’. The tittle in the ‘i’, which is to say the dot, blends into the hood of the ‘f’, the overhanging part, and a single ‘glyph’ or character is formed. German, by coincidence, is full of such things.
Some of the rooms are more successful than others. You’re encouraged to start in the Abercorn Room, in which the history of the RAF at Bentley Priory is recorded. The view from the windows is outstanding. The Adelaide Room is enlivened by unexpected bas-reliefs in the moulding, in which infants misbehave in precocious ways. In one, a child clad in a sack points a rifle at a duck’s head at point-blank range; in another, a naked child swigs from a bottle or flask while his pudgy chum rolls out a barrel. According to the guide book the ceiling is “believed not to be the work of Sir John Soane” but may have been created to give the widow of William IV something to look at while she was laid up with dropsy.

‘The Spitfire in front of Bentley Priory Museum was flown by Squadron Leader Cyril ‘Bam’ Bamberger’

From the Rotunda things begin to pick up. Architecturally, the glass-domed ceiling on a circular room is a gem. As a display space it starts to bring home the extent of the RAF’s achievement in 1940. Its walls present images and memorabilia of The Few – pictures, artefacts (a four miles to an inch OS map, for example, of the type they were sent aloft with to find their way about). It is an excellent preparation for the more dramatic displays in Sir Hugh Dowding’s office and the Filter Room. This latter includes a recreation, with life-size bronze figures bending over charts, of the process by which movements of German aircraft were plotted and analysed and the results sent to fighter squadrons. “It looked like chaos, but it worked,” one veteran of the Filter Room recalled.
A couple of weeks before our visit, the newspapers had reported criticisms made by the German ambassador to the effect that the pro-Brexit movement (and by implication most of the UK) was still obsessed with WW2. To which, after a visit to Bentley Priory, you might take Basil Fawlty’s line: “You started it.”

Barnet’s ground is on the other side of Stanmore from the museum. We parked at Canons Park tube station and walked through Prince Edward playing fields to the Hive. We were spectators number 1,500 and 1,501.
As we were queuing at the ticket office a steward walked along the line asking if any of us would prefer the visiting supporters’ end. “The queue’s shorter there,” he explained. The informality of the suggestion appealed to us, and we posed as Accrington Stanley fans for the rest of the afternoon. Keith even got a chant of “Come on, Stanley” going at one uneventful point.
A Spurs fan, he took an indulgent view of the game. Still, he was impressed by the Gents and the absence of flat caps and he remarked on the number of attractive young couples. To that extent, Barnet is a sign of football to come.
Barnet’s modernity even extended to a form of context-sensitive advertising. When the physio sprinted on to attend to an injured player, a notice for Toshiba Medical (‘Official Medical Partner of Barnet FC’) flashed up on the big screen; when it looked as though the wet sponge would not do the job and the stretcher might be needed, the more dramatic BMI Hendon Hospital ad appeared.

The last time I was in this area, I was not very much younger than some of the men celebrated at Bentley Priory.
Towards the end of September 1972, the new school year began for my girlfriend at the establishment at the top of Canons Park. That was a week before I needed to go north for the start of my first university term. On two days that week I rode to Stanmore on my Triumph to collect her at the school gate.
The motorbike had a single arm kickstand so that, at rest, it leaned at a jaunty angle. I slouched against it with my legs at an opposing angle, crossed at the ankle, in a pose I imagined as pleasingly symmetrical with a hint of gravity defied.
I used a bottle of Coke – opened with very great care – as a prop to give me something to be doing with my hands. My hair, another potential problem, was shoulder-length and ill-kempt. A crash helmet was not yet a legal requirement but I needed one to be able to offer it to G. Wearing the helmet (purple sprinkled with silver stars) was the easiest way to transport it, but that flattened my hair into the semblance of a swimming cap. Strapping the helmet to the rack left my hair at the whim of the wind and resulted in rats’ tails. National Health Bakelite spectacles also let me down, I sensed. So much of the agony of first love is about appearances. I hoped that the girls streaming away from North London Collegiate would look at me and think of Peter Fonda. OMG, as they would no doubt say now.
When we rode off, then, we did so in second gear. This heightened the risk of stalling but it made the bike sound awesome. The Tigercub had a 200cc four-stroke engine; with two aboard, moving off in second gear, it sounded as though someone were hitting a galvanised metal wheelbarrow with a spade, rhythmically.
Was any of that what the Few fought for? What would Bam have made of it? Not much, I suspect. But would he have behaved similarly, given the chance?

Barnet 1 Accrington Stanley 1
The Hive, 17 February 2018