Thursday, 17 September 2020

Post Round Portrait Number 5

I took a photograph at half past the hour every hour and captioned each one with the first thing that was said to me after having done so.


7.30am: It’s like being married to an old washer woman working with you.

8.30am: What are you not telling me? How many dogs are there on here? Have you seen it?

9.30am: Thank you very much!

10.30am: Hiya, thank you.

11.30am: Twenty-five?

12.30pm: New man on today, eh? Bob off?

1.30pm: Please insure [sic] the handbrake is fully applied before leaving the vehicle.

2.30pm: It’s the week commencing the fourteenth, isn’t it? That’s right, I’ve got tomorrow off.

Monday, 7 September 2020

Post Round Portrait Number 4

I took a photograph on the hour every hour and captioned each one with the first thing that was said to me after having done so.

7am: Just to spoil your day even more, it's raining.

8am: Are you John today?

9am: Mrs Mason at the flats gave me this on Saturday, "Ooh, can you take me this? I can't get to the post office". By the time I got done the post office was shut! I've had to take it home with me and now I'm gonna have to call at the post office on my way out.

10am: Morning! Load of crap? Thank you, love.

11am: What? Him next door? No. He's a nutter.

12 noon: You're a brave soul in just your shirt sleeves.

1pm: Thank you very much.

2pm: Just leave it on the doorstep, I'll pick it up in a minute.

Sunday, 6 September 2020

Post Round Portrait Number 3

I took a photograph on the hour every hour and captioned each one with the first thing that was said to me after having done so. 

7am: Looks like I'm getting hammered here.


8am: I'm in (van no.) CV18. That was close, I nearly got CV19.


9am: Cheers. Cheers. Thank you. Cheers.


10am: Hiya. Thanks. Bye.


11am: Hello. Thank you. Have a good day.


12noon: Sorry, we had the dryer on, we didn't hear you.


1pm: I'm up at Hall Bower! I've got 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 left. I'll see you on Jackroyd.


2pm: Richard Dawson and Lily Allen. All paid for. Do you need a bag?

Friday, 4 September 2020

Post Round Portrait Number 2

I took a photograph on the hour, every hour and captioned each one with the first thing that was said to me after having done so.

7am: Who's making Harmesh swear now?


8am: To be honest the mechanic shouldn't be parked there, should he?


9am: Eagle's just given me thirteen chuck-outs. That's an hour more work he's just given me, the dozy bastard.


10am: The numbering's funny round here. I think it's the end one, right round the back. If it's not that one, it's the one next door. It's definitely one of those two anyway.


11am: Can you just leave them on the bench, I'll be out for them shortly.


12 noon: Sweet, mate.


1pm: Oh hello, what's this then?


2pm: Just leave it with her. She'll not say owt and I'll not say owt so... It'll be right.

Thursday, 3 September 2020

Post Round Portrait Number 1

I took a photograph on the hour every hour and captioned each one with the first thing that was said to me after having done so. Captions include comments and questions from colleagues, customers and the pre-recorded woman who issues regular warnings from somewhere within my dashboard.

7am: What were you doing having a day off yesterday? It was mad busy. Disgraceful.


8am: Have you heard what those kids did to that bloke at Linthwaite? It was in the Examiner yesterday. They tried to cut his head off.


9am: Have you seen Porky’s?


10am: WARNING! PLEASE INSURE [sic] THE HANDBRAKE IS FULLY APPLIED BEFORE LEAVING THE VEHICLE.


11am: WARNING! PLEASE INSURE [sic] THE HANDBRAKE IS FULLY APPLIED BEFORE LEAVING THE VEHICLE.


12 noon: Sorry, wet dog! She's very wet and muddy.


1pm: Thank you very much. Cheers. That's lovely. Bye.


2pm: Good afternoon, is that for us?

Sunday, 9 August 2020

The Most Difficult Thing Ever, 10th Anniversary Reading. Leap in the Dark, 8th August, 2020


On August 8th 2020, I marked the 10th anniversary of The Most Difficult Thing Ever with an 'edited highlights' reading at Leap in the Dark, a live online broadcast in which musicians, poets, authors and performers gather to share their work. The following is a transcript of that reading. The film above comprises footage taken on the 3rd of August 2010, 2015 and 2020.

Mrs Shaw gives me a bag of homegrown tomatoes. She says she’s completely self-sufficient as far as tomatoes are concerned.

Mrs Hicks has spilt something down her front. She’s in the kitchen window dabbing at her black and white striped jumper with a damp cloth. Behind her, at the kitchen island, Mr Hicks sits with his laptop open. In the road outside, a jackdaw is eating a squirrel.

In town, the tall thin man I often see raiding bins for food is in WH Smith’s. A dew drop falls from his nose and lands in the pages of the boxing magazine he’s reading. He shuts it and puts it back on the shelf. Meanwhile, the man in the anorak in the queue for the checkout is saying he thinks 60p for a Cadbury’s Cream Egg is daylight robbery.
On the estate where pretend owls outnumber the human population by two-to-one, the woman in the big 1980s style specs and Lurex knitwear is having some Double 4 Designer Traditional Vintage Cream Vinyl Plastic Cladding fitted to her gable end.
The rusting metal uprights of a former fence top the wall around the big unmade car park—all puddles and hardcore. A large piece of rotten ply, the basis of a long gone sign spans four of them, the rest are unoccupied except for the occasional straggles of impaled polythene which flutter like shit flags.
Up on the estate again, the man with the bad teeth and brown leather jacket tells me he’s on the sick and bored out of his fucking mind. He says he can’t really complain though because his neighbour is deaf and only has one leg.
I follow a black and white cat onto the estate of headless buddhas, tailless schnauzers, earless rabbits, faded anoraks and unfashionable bell-bottom jeans in indigo. A grey haired man in chinos places a four pack of Galahad Premium Lager and a bag of green potatoes on his neighbour’s doorstep next to the faded plastic meerkats on a seesaw.
The snow gets heavier and an old Renault Mégane pulls onto a driveway. A woman gets out wearing fluffy slippers and a silk dressing gown with a dragon motif embroidered onto the back. She walks quickly to the house as large snowflakes settle on top of her luxuriant mahogany perm.
A funeral cortège led by a man with a top hat and a cane passes through the estate. Mrs Perkins adjusts her vest top and puts out her cigarette, “I don’t know who that was” she says, “but you should always pay your respects, shouldn’t you?”
Mr Barton has fixed a hook adjacent to his back door on which he hangs the fully loaded Super Soaker he uses to dissuade cats from fouling his borders. He has also been shooting squirrels with an air rifle. I’ve counted seven dead in his back garden in the last few days. When I asked him about it earlier in the week he claimed they’d all died of old age but yesterday he admitted to having shot them. He said “They don’t understand death like we do” and he made a fist with his right hand and beat his chest above his heart, “We are the only ones who know we’re going to die.”
The sun is out, the sky is blue. There is birdsong: sparrows, starlings, a woodpigeon. Somebody is playing a trumpet. A car pulls away from the kerb and its tyres crackle and pop on dry asphalt. A man of about fifty, wearing double denim and a black and white bandana tied around his head is using the phone box that I’ve never really noticed before. There is horse shit in the road. Further up the valley, there are boxy 1970s brick built semis with white fascia boards that creak loudly in the sun. There are big picture windows. There are Astras, Minis, Astras, Beetles, Astras, Minis and Astras on uneven concrete and aubretia driveways. There are monolithic decapitated leylandii as big as houses. There are birch and willow, catkins and moss. There are two pieces of litter: an empty Muller Rice pot and a novelty shaped luminous yellow pencil eraser. There’s a Union Jack and a Get Britain Out of the EU poster. There are silk flowers on the window sills. There are plastic lawns, footballs, grit bins. There are ‘moneysavingexpert.com’ A4 print-outs Blu-Tacked to porch windows saying ‘No Cold Callers’. There are whistling Eddie Stobart collectors in t-shirts smoking Marlboro cigarettes on hardstandings. They build kit-cars and boats and take things to pieces. There’s the smell of machine oil. There’s the smell of cooking oil. There are chips. There are solid homemade repairs, gates and fences, washers and hinges, ironmongery, fixings and grease. There are guinea pigs in hutches and terriers on the backs of settees. Girls play at hopscotch and boys dress as superheroes while they mend punctures with holes in their knees. A man insists I watch as he opens a parcel. Inside it, there is a small statuette of a blackbird perched on a twig.
The butcher is recommending a cut of pork loin to the thin lipped elderly woman with the big black canvas shopping bag and frown. He waves a large knife over it in the display counter, “That’ll be lovely, tender as a woman’s heart!” he says. “I’ll have the sausages” says the woman.
A young man in a tracksuit refuses to take in a parcel for his neighbours because he doesn’t really like them. A few doors down, the stone Buddha sits serenely in the garden contemplating the upturned wheelie bin, the overgrown couch grass, the five deflated footballs, the three McDonalds takeout cups, the upside down three piece suite and the dog shit.
The woman at one of the barn conversions on the moor has pressed her old aerobics step into use as a stand to display her houseplants on. She has created a two-tiered tableau in the big picture window at the front that looks out onto her neighbour’s Mitsubishi Animal.
The jackdaws are chattering, and the proprietor of the shop that sells mainly marrowfat peas, salmon paste, toilet paper, and dusty bottles of Paul Masson is sitting in the dark. I open the door and he gets up from behind the counter to put the lights on.
The bin lorry is stopping every ten yards. Its loading mechanism makes a noise like that long note at the beginning of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’. It dawdles its way down the long road which starts with pebbledash maisonettes and the smell of weed at one end and finishes with detached inter-war bungalows and the smell of seaweed fertiliser at the other. Somewhere around the middle a man who is naked apart from a pair of glasses, is playing with his Playstation.
At the newsagent where the Adele album is played on a loop, two men in their fifties compare their experiences of school. “When the bell rang and we were playing football, we’d just ignore it. Did you do that?” says one. “No, not really” says the other.
Mrs Woodhead is chasing a budgerigar around her front room in a bikini.

An elderly man in a fleece jacket tells me, “Steam railways make life worth living”.

“Fuck off!” says the thin man to his dog at the house that smells of piss.

There’s a man mending a caravan and shouting for Susan.

A skinhead in combat fatigues who is smoking weed asks me for directions to his own house.

I follow the thin man with the grey ponytail, too short jogging pants and undone safety boots up the main road. He farts loudly and repeatedly.

Margaret is in the bistro with her coat on eating fried eggs, chips, beans, and milky tea.

Back in town, the drunk man in the grey suit is emptying his catheter bag into the storm drain by the bedroom furniture shop.

The sun dries the rain and brings out the man in the shorts who hoovers his pattern imprinted concrete driveway and calls his Jack Russell terrier a knobhead and a tit.

On and up into Audi country: “Has anything changed since your last visit?” asks the dentist’s receptionist. “I’m drinking much more wine,” says the woman in the quilted jacket.

At the house on the corner of the estate, the man in his sixties is admiring his new St George cross wind sock. At the bus stop in the road outside an elderly woman with a pull-along shopping cart pulls her face mask down to have a long drag on her cigarette.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Entries from this blog for the period 3rd August 2010 - 25th February 2018 are available in book form, published by the brilliant Uniformbooks

Monday, 3 August 2020

6.30am: unlike ten years ago, my neighbour doesn’t intercept me as I’m leaving for work



6.30am: unlike ten years ago, my neighbour doesn’t intercept me as I’m leaving for work to show me one of those shallow tin trays that chickens come in when you buy them from a supermarket. “Marks and Spencer” he said, holding it aloft, “It came free with the chicken”. He died three years ago. His blue wooden front door with the hand written notes pinned to it for the milkman has been replaced by a new composite door with a pretend oak veneer and a Smart doorbell with integral camera and intercom system.

It’s dry, overcast and mild with a stiff chilly breeze. I set off up my road past the man with the long goatee beard, tattoos, black hoodie and Labrador on a lead with a harness. The weeds have grown mature between the cracks in the flags and in places along the base of the walls the lockdown pioneer re-wilding is shoulder height.

A scree of beech nut husks litters the road under the big trees at the edge of the wood. There are squirrels bouncing around in the canopy.

When I filmed the road sign at the entrance to the wood on October 3rd 2010, it was barely legible because of the bright green lichen that covered its surface. The sign has since been replaced but the new one is already developing the same verdant patina.

I reach the point at which, exactly ten years ago I noticed a figure lying face down on the pavement up ahead. I got a bit closer and I saw his right arm move. He rolled briefly onto his side and back onto his front, where he lay still again. He was wearing new, clean clothes: plaid shirt, dark blue denim jeans and expensive looking trainers. As I passed, I asked him whether he was okay. He rolled onto his side again. He was young, mid-twenties, dark curly hair. “I’m just bored”, he said. “Oh, as long as your okay”. “Have you got a spare cig?” he asked. “No” “Okay” and he rolled back onto his front. Today, the men who have been installing the new high speed internet cables have fenced off the spot where he was lying.

A woodpigeon hobbles around at the entrance to the park. The new sign on the gate reads “Love this space, put your rubbish in the bin or take it home with you.” Inside, the now resident black headed gulls have ransacked a bin, dispersing its contents as far away as the little Japanese tea-house ice-cream kiosk.

A man in a hi-vis vest passes me on an electric bicycle. He turns off up the path into the children’s playground where he dismounts, props the bike against the frame of the swings and sits down at one of the picnic benches. Meanwhile, the man in the beige anorak is walking laps of the pond. He does this every morning. The resting ducks are so used to him that they don’t bother to move out of his way and he has to skirt around them.

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

6am: The weather is quick and breezy



6am: The weather is quick and breezy, tearing bright holes in the grey duvet of cloud. Slivers of blue come and go. Pavements are greasy from last night’s rain and there are puddles in the potholes in the road. In the park, Milly is chasing the tall thin man in the blouson jacket as he rounds the corner by the temperance fountain. She’s barking furiously. “Milly! Milly! Milly!” shouts the woman in the leggings. “She barks at that man every morning. It’s awful!”

The man with the spittle in the corners of his mouth and the pull-along flowery shopping cart stoops to pick up an elastic band from the path and reveals a portion of his arse. “I collect elastic bands” he says. “Oh” I say. “Yeh, for my nephew, he makes balls out of them and you can bounce them quite high.”

I cross the main road and head down the hill into town. The houses on my side of the road bristle with Sky dishes and TV aerials. Across the street there are none. Pioneer vegetation grows along the bottom of the Victorian railings and up the steps to the front doors of once grand townhouses. Outside the Stonebaked And Grill Just Eat Download This App shop, the weeds are above waist height all the way along the frontage. They obscure the view of the torn upholstery in the window.

An old camper van passes with One Life, Live It across the front and I wonder whether this sentiment had been on the owner’s mind during the time he spent badly applying the decals of moose and wolves to the back and sides.

The crash barriers on the roundabout are bent and debris from a collision litters the road outside the chartered surveyor’s offices. I’m High up on the flyover above the ring road I can see shafts of sunlight illuminating the rolling stock waiting on the railway bridge below. In the distance the wet roofs of houses glare fierce reflected white. 

A chunky bald man in a Huddersfield Town kit passes. He’s walking at great speed and the club crests tattooed on his calfs are a blur.

10am: Down by the Old Bridge a man in a black hoodie is walking backwards in the road, arms aloft, chanting incoherently and making provocative gestures at passing cars as they swerve around him.

At the mill, a man in a brown shop coat is smoking a cigarette outside, “Gi’us it here, it’ll be a pile o’shit anyway.”

Rusting metal uprights of a former fence top the wall around the big unmade car park—all puddles and hardcore. A large piece of rotten ply, the basis of a long gone sign spans four of the them, the rest are unoccupied except for the occasional straggles of impaled polythene which flutter like shit flags.

The pigeons around here are difficult to intimidate. They gather on pavements, hobbling about in packs headbutting the floor. I’m inches away before they finally put on a waddle or, if they’re half arsed, a scrappy two foot flight away from my boots. 

A train rumbles over the bridge as I walk underneath.

It starts to rain heavily and the thin man in black with wire-rimmed John Lennon glasses and neck tattoos looks out at the sky, “Rough weather fo’ thi” he says. 

The man wearing nothing but a pair of tight boxers and tattoos is very pleased with his parcel of Adidas trainers, “Respect. Respect. Respect” he says. “Can I take your name?” I ask. “Just put Daz. Respect”.

1pm: The weather brightens again. A couple in their sixties sit at the picnic bench on the green at the edge of the village. Behind them, their Border terrier is trying to get into the bins by the swings. It hangs from the aperture by its front paws, its back feet off the ground. 

A kestrel hangs in the sky off the road that circumnavigates the top of the valley, completely motionless for about five minutes, like magic.

A sparrow wipes its beak on a wooden fence by repeatedly scraping it on alternate sides of the top rail. Maybe I’m sensitised by this pandemic but I’ve never thought I might be putting my hand in some sparrow gob when I lean on a fence.

Doorstep Diorama of the Day: a distinctly cross-eyed owl in concrete next to a potted begonia, next to a small black and white painted plastic panda, next to a life-sized concrete squirrel with the back of its head missing.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Responses to being asked ‘How are you?’



Responses to being asked ‘How are you?’
Man, 50s, re-potting saplings. Jeans, t-shirt: All right, my man.
Man, 60s, digging up tree stump. Jeans, open neck shirt: I’ll be all right when I get this thing out.
Man, 60s, weeding driveway with long hoe. Bucket hat, jeans, t-shirt, face mask: Humphliphhtschts.
Man, 70s, painting small headless ankylosaurus garden statue with silver paint. Shorts, open neck shirt: Still buggering on.
Man, 50s, supervising building work. Jeans, plaid shirt, shooting vest, Stetson hat: Hello, How are you? Have you got a mortgage? Credit cards? If you’re anything like me you’ll pay off any debts… The shits gonna hit the fan… hyperinflation… they don’t care about the likes of us, they’re only interested in lining their pockets… to hell with you and me… you’ll be earning a pittance… get your affairs in order… Pension? Ha!… I don’t know what it is, some people say I’m psychic but I predicted this… global currency reset… neo-liberal conspiracy… Fact, the coronavirus was created in a lab in China… Venezuela… Are you a bit of a prepper too?

I pass the laughing gas canisters and the empty packets of balloons on the pavement and turn up the cul-de-sac of detached mid-century bungalows. ‘Just leave it on the step. It’ll be safe. We don’t have any problems round here’ says the man in the open neck shirt and bucket hat. At the house thirty yards back down the main road the signs on the gate read THIS PROPERTY IS UNDER CONSTANT SURVEILLANCE CCTV and BEWARE OF DOG DO NOT ENTER.

Two white men in their 60s in front of me in the queue are reading racist memes to each other from their phones. After four failed attempts at pronouncing the word democracy the fat one in the big shorts gives up suddenly when his black friend comes to join them.

Everything people said to me on the estate today
Where’s the other one?*
Where’s he gone?*
Bye, thanks luvvie
Thanks, love
Pop it on the bin there
Thanks, love 
Where’s the other one?*
Cheers, thanks a lot
She’ll not bother you, she’ll lick you to death. I had to train her myself with a chair and a whip
Nice day for it
Never mind him, through here
Is he off all week? I hope it pisses down*
Are you coming here?
If it’s a bill you can keep it
As long as you’re not using it as a shortcut. People do. Not allowed.
Isn’t it warm
Thank you, thank you very much

*Reference to the usual postman whose delivery I was covering.

Sunday, 14 June 2020

The elderly woman at the bungalow is pleased with her parcel of flowers


The elderly woman at the bungalow is pleased with her parcel of flowers. She briefly disappears inside to fetch a couple of Aldi chocolate bars 'Here you are, love. I’m so grateful for what you and your colleagues are doing'. I thank her and she tells me that she hasn’t left the house for ten weeks. 'That must be hard for you. How are you coping?' I ask. She bursts into tears.

At the flats an emaciated looking man in a 90s blouson tracksuit top and torn combat pants stops me. 'Scuse me mate can you spare me thirty, forty pee for summat to eat?' I apologise, I’ve got no cash on me. 'It’s all right, mate. I didn’t know you were the fucking parcel man.'

Is it for my nana? She’s been waiting for a parcel!’ asks the small boy ‘I don’t know’ I say, 'Is your nana’s name Jacqueline Smith?’ ‘Oh no,’ says the boy, ‘Her name’s Nana Jacquie’.

A man is walking towards me on the same side of the pavement. He’s wearing a grey hiker’s soft-shell jacket and trouser combination. I step out into the road to keep a social distance. He doesn’t look up from his Patrick O’Brian paperback.

It’s unseasonably warm and still. The asphalt outside the post office is melting and Mrs Woodhead is chasing a budgerigar around her front room in a bikini. Up on the hillside above the town there are fields of buttercups to the left and an elevated view across the whole of the valley on the right. Ivy and brambles grow along the dry stone walls where the jackdaws perch unruffled by any wind. Elderflower crowns the overgrown verge side vegetation; brambles, thistles, couch grass and nettles as high as the walls. I pass a woman hiking in an Aussie rules jersey with her phone on a lanyard around her neck. Phone cables hang from their poles like sound waves into the distance. A sun bleached road cone guards a hole in a rusty barbed wire fence where I say hello to the man with the Sebald moustache—or is it the postman from Mr Tickle? The hazy scent of summer swells; baking tree litter and fresh new foliage. Clouds wisp. Outside the hillside terrace, a well seasoned grit bin is almost buried in the undergrowth. The metal clasp on the lid has broken but part of the hinge is still in place and leached rust streaks the chunky faded yellow plastic. A chubby young man astride a stationary motorbike is talking to his elderly neighbour about the coronavirus. 'I’m not going back. I’m never using public transport again after this'. Further along, a man in denim jeans and a faded blue t-shirt says the view across to Holme Moss is stunning and I agree. A couple in their sixties sit on a bench surrounded by some unusually tall mother-die, she’s pointing out something on the horizon and he squints into the distance as two grey haired cyclists in lycra crest the hill.

In the village, a loud blackbird is singing in the big sycamore by the church, below it on the pavement are spatters of avian abstract expressionism. A big white cow lumbers down the sloping field in the distance towards the woman in the white vest top and coral pink shorts. She’s reaching for something in an orange bandolier style bag.

I’ve spoken to only four people in the last hour and a half. Just brief hellos to the young skateboarder in grey shorts and backpack, the young man with the big hair and nineties baggy skate clothes, the man in the pink polo shirt who was washing his Mercedes with a hosepipe, and the woman in with the blue twin set and full skirt who was chasing her long haired corgi down the road because the paper boy had left the gate open again. 'You postmen never leave the gate open!' she shouts as she disappears up the path of the graveyard.

Jackdaws are chasing starlings and house martins are fighting over the old nests on the terrace. Among all the regular goldfinches, sparrows and robins I see the first greenfinch I’ve seen for years as well a bullfinch, a chiffchaff and a spotted flycatcher.

Just as Mr Russell with the homemade automaton post box predicted it begins to rain heavily. His peony blooms have been flattened to the floor and there are petals everywhere. The light wispy flakes of sun dried leaves in the gutters are now a thick dark porridge and the rain is coming down with such force that it’s bringing with it a fresh green covering of foliage.

Later, in the baked goods aisle of the supermarket a man with a Roy Orbison lockdown hairstyle and purple flowery shirt fumbles in the pocket of his long-in-the-leg jeans for his phone. It rings loudly with the opening few bars of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. Over by the cooking sauces two members of staff are replenishing the Old El Paso Original Smoky Fajita Kits. 'I mean, did you see all the media outside his house just because of what he did for his child?' 'I know, it’s like who can honestly say, hand on heart, that they’ve not broken any of the rules.' 'I know, I mean it’s like, as long as you’re not stupid'.