Place and Time: A New Original Post and Verse.

History, poetry. What more could one wish for?

Gogwit is pleased to share a new piece of original verse.

Actually, several pieces of verse combined into one, continuing my theme of places in my home city set slightly apart from time, from a viewpoint upon which all matters temporal converge.

When, if, the section “The Up Line” is read, it may be helpful to understand that Witton and Aston stations are still in use; Vauxhall and Duddeston station still has two platforms in use and is now called Duddeston. The Vauxhall platforms long abandoned, left derelict and buried below diverse weeds, flowers, shrubs and the fauna they support.

Nechells and Bloomsbury opened and closed in Victorian times and, look as I might, I have never satisfactorily seen trace of it.

Lawley Street was a later Victorian commuter station for a town – the city of 1000 trades – which grew voraciously enough to require the infrastructures of a city, which it eventually became in 1889. Lawley Street station is long, long since gone.

Curzon Street station, Banbury Street Ticket Platform and the Southern Approaches bear witness to the grand boom years of Victorian railway expansion. Of Curzon Street and Banbury Street all that remains is the elegant Booking Hall, due to receive a new lease of life when the HS2 high speed line runs there in the 2020s.

The Southern Approaches had narrow platforms set like refuges, between the insanely complex track and track junction pathways into the main station; all travellers into Birmingham New Street, formerly Grand Central Station, will have rattled, squealed, screeched, lurched and rattled over a million sets of points, between brick arches, walls and pillars, through pitch-black tunnels: The lasting legacy of the Southern Approaches.

Grand Central lives on as the name of the shopping and leisure mall built atop the main station recently, replacing the 60s concrete version. Now trains arrive and depart Birmingham New Street; up at street level the trams arrive and depart Grand Central.

That was the history lesson. Here is the verse.


Place and Time.

A38(M) – Aston Expressway.

I looked out from the highway
To the distance, on the right,
For a place, a school,
Where I had used to work.
Where was it now,
Where had it used to be?
Along the railway line –
Follow the railway line, of course.
Composite cladded steel obscured my view,
Yet a little further onward found
The building which I sought
Where it had always been
Since the beginning of its time.

Yew Tree Road, Witton B6.

In the playground of the school –
That school, where I had been
So happy in the dappled light filled
Grounds beneath the trees,
I looked out across the open fields
And Victorian terrace houses
To the place where was being built,
In concrete and in steel,
The elevated highway from horizon to horizon.
And In that instant locking eyes,
Over rooftops, distance, time;
Intuition left no doubt
That the eye beams were both mine.

Aston Railway Junction.

Between that school and the stilted concrete ribbon,
Beyond the Victorian terrace houses and the rails;
The weathered, time-stained rails of the railway line,
That railway line – which had always to be followed.
Radius curve merged with main line track of the up line,
Which ran always into Town, into Birmingham.

The Up Line.

“Witton, Aston,
Vauxhall and Duddeston,
Bloomsbury and Nechells, Lawley Street;
Curzon Street, Banbury Street, Southern Approaches,
Grand Central Station – All change! Alight here!
Change please at New Street for all onbound journeys.”

Birmingham, New Street Station.

Change here for everywhere, any place and any time –
For every destination that will take you far from here;
Board the express, or the stopping train, to promised time and place:
The remainder of your season until you return to clay.

Here, Now, Always.

But I digress; forgive the musings of mortal man
Who has looked across the rooftops, space and time
And locked gazes with
His younger self,
His older self;
Both time past and time future, perpetually now.


Ben A Harvey,

31 May 2018.
(C) Gogwit’s Blog (Ben A Harvey), 2018 – all rights reserved.

The image of Birmingham’s LNWR station, 1 June 1854, reproduced from The Illustrated London News of 3 June 1854 and is public domain, used here with gratitude.
In great appreciation of TS Eliot.
With great love to ….

Jan Bott-Obi (1944-2013) – some reflections.

Our dear friend and cousin, Jan, former City Councillor for Oscott Ward, passed away on 26th February after a short illness. Outgoing and popular, she is sorely missed by her family and many friends, her colleagues in the Trades Union and Labour movements and by her fellow school teachers and former pupils. Jan’s funeral is on 17th April 2013, 2pm at Sutton Coldfield Crematorium, Tamworth Road, returning to Copenhagen Mews, Cofield Road, Boldmere. Flowers or donations to Queen Elizabeth Hospital Charity c/o A. Hazel & Sons, 43 Birmingham Road, Sutton Coldfield, B72 1QF. Tel: 0121 354 2145.

The above is the official notice, an excellent summary – the work of my mother.  It is the basis of the obituary in the Birmingham Post on 5 and 10 April.

Jan was certainly outgoing and vivacious and it is unsurprising that, having moved in many circles, there will be many unique memories of her; all differing in the detail but all recognisably Jan.  This was brought home to me, strongly, when I ‘googled’ her name.  Among the ‘hits’ was a link to a ‘My Favourite Teacher’ comment on the Friends’ Reunited website.  I reproduce this (anonymous) text without permission:

Mrs Jan Bott-Obi

Mrs Bott-Obi was one of the most inspirational, dynamic teachers I have ever met. She made you believe anything was possible. Her consideration for every pupil was incredible.
Her sense of humour, ‘unique’ sense of dress and super teacher style will remain with me forever.
Thank you Mrs Bott-obi. When you left in 1972 to pursue a political career, I cried many tears…. what a loss to teaching!

This refers to Jan’s career as a teacher at St Margaret Clitherow RC – one of the schools which merged to become St Edmund Campion school in Erdington.  I’m sure that those who knew Jan will recognise her personality shining out from this ringing endorsement.

The author noted that Jan left teaching.  Jan possessed the strong activist streak which runs through our family and became involved in the Labour Party and in working at the West Midlands divisional office of NUPE, latterly UNISON.  Jan was a natural politician, with a ready smile, an infectious laugh, a genuine interest in the issues vexing electors and, behind her disarmingly easy-going demeanour, a razor-sharp wit backed up by requisite intellect.  Few political opponents made the mistake of underestimating her a second time.

Jan stood as the Labour Party candidate for Sutton Coldfield at the General Election in 1992. She polled a creditable 15% of the vote, importantly keeping the sitting MP – a senior Cabinet Minister – campaigning in his safe seat rather than rallying the Tory troops in marginals and target seats elsewhere.

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Jan (standing) with election agent, 1992.

In May 1994 Jan was elected to serve as Councillor for Oscott ward on Birmingham City Council.  Councillor Keith Linnecor, the long-serving Oscott ward Councillor published a nice summary of Jan’s City Council service on his blog, please take a few moments to read it.

To me, Jan was both a relative and a comrade.  When I was little, she was my Auntie Jan – mother of my brilliant, tearaway cousin Marcus.  Sadly Marcus predeceased his mum, dying in 1987 – somewhat ironically – during the General Election campaign.  Jan was a great companion to the theatre, the ballet, the pantomime – even the cricket!  We went together as visitor-delegates to the European Parliament and I escorted her on Council duties on many occasions.

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Jan (shades, striped top) grinning over the shoulder of John Tomlinson, then MEP for Birmingham West.  The other ‘shady’ character is Gogwit.

My memories of Jan will be of her laugh, her ‘Cheshire Cat’ grin, her love of life – food, words, song, politics – and of course, her hats!

Jan would find this final irony – that Baroness Thatcher‘s funeral would be held on the same day as her own – too delicious for words.

Gogwit. (Ben A Harvey) 12 April 2013.

Since my initial post I have been made aware of the tribute to Jan made by the Full meeting of Birmingham City Council, 9 April 2013CE – please use the link to view and be aware that the Lord Mayor begins by informing the councillors of Jan’s passing at 15:00 minutes into the footage.  A motion noting Jan’s service and tributes from the Labour, Conservative and Liberal groups follow, along with a minute’s silence.

Cllr Linnecor (Lab) – Cllr Linnecor (Lab, Oscott)

Cllr Hutchings (Con) – Cllr Hutchings (Con, Edgbaston)

Cllr Hassall (Lib-Dem) – Cllr Hassall (Lib-Dem, Perry Barr)

Gogwit, 14 April 2013CE.

Jan was cremated on the afternoon of 17 April 2013CE, her ashes distributed over the beautiful gardens of the crematorium.  The chapel was filled to capacity by around 200 people representing all areas of Jan’s rich and varied life, gathered to give thanks for that life.

Gogwit, 21 April 2013CE