I often get questions about why I do this – I’ll do my best to answer them here. If you have any queries, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Who is BrownhillsBob?

I’m a resident of Brownhills, and have been since childhood. I went to school here and have seen the best and worst of times in the town – I remember the busy High Street of the 70’s and the bad old days of the recession in the 80’s. I remember chips from the chippy in Lichfield Road, Ice Cream from Joes and wanting a bike for Christmas from Wood’s bike shop. I remember the tip in Clayhanger, the flooded Spot and the slag heap near Clayhanger Bridge, summer barbecues at the big house in Clayhanger and the Carnival when it usually rained. The smell of the pig farm and the chemicals from Effluent Disposal. Gordon Roberts, his strop, cut-throat and Trugel. Coppice Radio and Preedy’s. Freight trains rattling through a summer night, Harper’s busses and the sound of motorbikes from the raceway…

I’m a middle-aged tech geek with a love of cycling and the outdoors; I care passionately about people, the environment we all share and the social stuff that glues us together. I do a job that makes me think about how things work, and have an inquisitive, argumentative nature. I know what it’s like to be a carer, and what it’s like to struggle and only just survive.

I love Brownhills, it’s my home. I despair of what is happening to it. I worry about the future of the girl-mothers and teens drinking in the high street.

I’m concerned about the motivations of those who make descisions on our behalf, about their judgement and lack of foresight. I fear for the future of local democracy.

If you knew my identity, it would probably come as a surprise. To quite a few people.

Why the unpleasant pictures of the town on Google Earth?

Why are you so negative?

Why don’t you post pictures of fluffy kittens instead?

I’ll tackle these three together. I notice, whilst pottering about my daily life, things happening that rarely, if ever, get recorded. Some things are quite major, and never get noticed because they happen incrementally. Some things are just too dull for many people to bother about. Some require a keen eye to spot the irony that led to them. Some things are so outrageous that a team of scriptwriters couldn’t make them up.

I try to record some of these things; just a fraction of them, as well as lots of nice stuff I see. As I write this today, there are 484 photos in the BrownhillsBob Panoramio Gallery, with about 450 reviewed by Panoramio; of those, about 440 have made it through to appear as blue dots on the Panoramio layer in Google Earth. Of all those photos, around 60 relate directly to Brownhills, and only about 30 of those could be considered to be provocative. I have posted these photos because I feel they illustrate something I care about – be it fly tipping, dereliction, planning madness or pomposity. Each one has an attached comment that I feel sums up the reasons and feeling that led to it’s posting.

Panoramio, like this WordPress blog, is an open medium and anyone can sign up and comment, disagree or call me a plank. That’s fine, I’m doing this to increase awareness and provide a talking point. If you feel you can do better, I encourage you to take pictures of your own and upload them, the more the merrier. I want this to have a positive effect, to encourage debate and thought.

I’ve actually taken and posted pictures of Brownhills and the other areas I visit that I think are beautiful; Brownhills is on the edge of open countryside and it often shows in it’s wildlife and greenery. Who’d have thought you would se deer in Holland Park?

One further reason I do this is because, well, some things are just dull and often go unrecorded. Would anyone photograph the demolition of an old factory? I did and it’s had over 500 full-screen views. I don’t know why, I wish I did. I record the passing of the ugly – the flats, their demolition was momentous but little recorded. As a generation, we need to start recording stuff, because it’s actually part of our collective history, but we don’t realise until it’s too late. Try finding any history of, say, Clayhanger’s refuse tip, The Railway Tavern, Combes House or Highbridges shunting yard if you don’t believe me. I recently tried to find pictures of the derelict Walsall Wood railway station and turned up next to nothing. That’s what I’m banging on about.

What is it with the Parkview Centre, then?

It’s ugly, based on an inappropriate original building to which utterly unsuitable extensions have been added in an effort to make it work. It’s in the wrong place, tries to fulfill too many functions and has been constructed with unpleasant, clashingly cheap-looking materials. In order to address the issues with the split level of the site, the main entrance is in a dingy central alley from the rear. It’s the worst kind of utilitarian, make do and mend cobblers design. As a resident of Brownhills, I didn’t vote for this and wasn’t asked about it; it exists in this form due to the hubris of a few who were desperate to revive the past function of an ugly, white elephantine building that nobody wanted.

We needed a new surgery, and a new library. We needed better health care facilities. Why couldn’t we have had a new, custom-built building in the centre of town? Handy for all areas from the buses, that spot where there exists wasteland between Pier Street and Swan carpets – I’m sure the garage could have been persuaded to move out. The community could have had a new heart.

While we’re on the subject, running the doctors as three separate practices in the same building says much about why the NHS is so top heavy with management…

…And the Brownhills Miner?

I like the miner a lot, as do most of the residents of the town. It’s an interesting sculpture which rightly attracts a lot of acclaim.

I find two things slightly irritating – he wouldn’t have been wearing a hard hat when Davy lamps were used, it would have been a flat cap; and the pick is wrong – no pick I’ve ever seen is shaped like that. Those niggles aside, Morris is great. Morris, not Jigger; I’m sorry, but he was christened long before Walsall Council tried to weakly cash in on the popularity – after all, they played it down until they realised what a hit he was.Now they use a thumbnail of Morris as an icon for their Twatter feed…

Morris did, however, cost an awful lot of money, and I’m not convinced of the benefit – and the £30K+ cost of lighting him up – which is dismal and looks like a cheap Christmas decoration – all leave a bad aftertaste. It hasn’t led to any perceptible improvement or a single job being created, but he is nice.

Since the brilliant “Angel of the North’, any local authority seems to see commissioning a sculpture as an act of easy regeneration; it’s not and the Angel wasn’t born like that. Hopefully, the fad will pass and we’ll go back to real local investment.

Local councillors and LNP/comittee bods, why the derision toward them?

Several do an excellent job, most of the time. Some have done good things on occasion. Some are there to serve their party, their group and their own interests. Some, on occasion, have said absolutely outragous things about situations, their perception of which are clearly so far from reality that one suspects them of having just landed from planet Tharg.

Some use the term Regeneration as if it were some kind of disease that we’re hoping to catch – check out some of the comments on my gallery. They are so infected with municipal development phrases that it’s obvious who posted them. They’d be funny if they weren’t playing with real money. ‘Planning permission achieved’ my arse…

Remember, none of these people were elected by a majority of their constituents; they are mostly complete amateurs and make decisions about how to spend large amounts of your cash, with little experience of development. We need to keep an eye on what they’re up to.

So why don’t you have a go if you’re so much better?

Thing is, I’m not. I’m not a people person and committees drive me mad. I couldn’t represent other people, I’d be useless at it. I’d rather agitate for a change in the current system than be part of it, it’s rotten and has failed us. Look at the state of the town today.

Cheesy, corny and often odd photo titles. Why?

My first experiment as BrownhillsBob came from the community layer in Google Earth (the little blue ‘i’ symbols) and I worked out that if you gave placemarks odd names, users were more likely to click on them. It’ a simple as that. I try to inject a little humour, which often doesn’t work; many of the odder ones are from song titles or lyrics. They always relate to some aspect of the photo content. Some are very, very obscure. Sorry. Google can often help if you’re curious. It gets hard to be original somewhere around the 300th photo.

Which are the most popular photos in the BrownhillsBob gallery?

…but coming up on the outside, without the advantage of being some of the oldest:

How do I contact BrownhillsBob?

brownhillsbob at googlemail dot com

Cheers,

Bob