Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Blogging from the Outer Circle

Travel West Midlands bus going round in circles

I'm not unfamiliar with the bus service in Birmingham as I regularly visit on business. It was confusing the first time, because in these parts the ticket dispenser seems to be located behind the driver rather than next to the ticket machine – leaving unwary outsiders searching for the source of that printing sound in vain. (I'm happy to report that it gets easier with practice.) The overwhelming majority of services are operated by Travel West Midlands, who are in that funny period in the middle of a corporate rebranding (as National Express West Midlands – or is it just plain simple West Midlands?) where it seems as if they're not sure what they're called anymore.

One of the most high-profile routes in the area is service 11. This is no ordinary route: it is the erstwhile Outer Circle, a circuit over 26 miles long around the suburbs of Birmingham whilst avoiding the city centre. A whole loop takes around two and a half hours, although with the magic of the internet you can now do it in five minutes. It is – in theory – of infinite length as another journey begins as soon as the last one ends, but in practice that lofty ambition is impeded by such mundanities as refuelling and nighttime. There is a clockwise service (11C) and an anti-clockwise service (11A), both at frequent intervals. Vehicles that won't complete a whole loop seem to display their early termination in the same manner regardless of whether they are heading clockwise or anti-clockwise (11E).

Last year, a group of individuals decided to spend up to 11 hours going round and round on the eleven on 11/11. Blog items ranged from more standard travelogues and a busman's holiday to psychogeographical reflections and more. There are a whole host of pictures and videos as well as mentions on the BBC Midlands Today and website, as well as in the Birmingham Post. I was particularly taken with Michael Grimes' eleven hours of live-blogging, especially the bits where the journey starts passing through the same places – again, and again. Comedy mention to the wonderfully evocative Acocks Green, though who am I to criticise growing up in a town with a shopping centre called Cockhedge?

Image credit: Pete Ashton on Flickr

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