Four young men in a Porsche 4x4 with blacked out windows drive up the hill past the swastikas and the peace signs, past the bent lamppost, the man with the broken lawn mower and the woman who is fixing the lid of a baby bottle with one hand and taking a parcel from the postman (me) with the other. “What have I bought now?” she asks.
The Transit van with the orange lights on the roof has been parked at the end of the street for months, its windscreen opaque under lichen, wipers buried deep in leaves. Its high-top roof canopy has evolved a coat of moss which is now striated with the desire paths of molluscs. In the road around the van, the accumulated tree litter has turned to soil and already supports a community of dandelions and willowherb. The succession is advancing from above as well, brambles and honeysuckle are on the move from the derelict former school behind the high stone wall. A long sucker has attached itself to a wing mirror and more are on their way
There’s a gaunt amphetamine look among a significant cohort of the men around here. One of them, with jug ears, a big navy-blue blouson jacket and a pair of bootcut denim jeans with holes in them, stares at me as I pass. On the pavement opposite, another amphetamine blouson man is inspecting the discarded cardboard packaging from a kettle barbecue. He flips it into the gutter with the toe-end of his trainer and reveals the single left-footed flip-flop that was underneath it.
A strong gust of wind blows over the wheelie bins outside number sixteen, the recycling one and the normal one.
Later, out in the village with all the Audis, chilly autumnal beech nuts bounce onto the road and leaves blow past me up the street. There are nettles growing on the verge outside the school again and I have to push through a foot of ivy to get to Mr Bentley’s mail box. The long gravel driveways are lined with privet and climbing roses and there’s a big display of pelargoniums at the entrance to number ten. Down where the builders are busy on the site of the controversial new bungalow I pass a couple in their thirties who are walking their Labradors. “Yeah, they’re nice cars, them” says the woman. “Yeah, I really like the back of them, me” says the man. Five minutes later, I’m passed by three more dog walkers, two women and a man, all in their sixties or seventies. They are also discussing cars. “Yeah, the new design, it’s essentially the basic seven series.”
A man throws an empty Relentless energy drink can from the window of an enormous Toyota Invincible.
The wind begins to pick up even more, squalling and dumping heavy rain and acorns onto the roofs of cars with a loud clatter. A woman walks past, shouting into her phone above the wind and the rain. “Get them big drawers of yours off! That’s what he said to me!”
The man in his seventies with the unusually full head of hair appears to have slices of onion stuck fast to his shirt with dried egg yolk.
A hedgehog is scuttling around the driveway at number one. I tell the owner—golfing sweater and travelers’ creases—who calls his wife. She says she found the hedgehog in the road a few days ago, stopped the traffic and bundled it into her fleece jacket. She’s been feeding him on turkey mince and “those big orange slugs” and putting him to bed in a pile of leaves in the back garden in the mornings but he keeps getting up in the day. She’s named him Herbie. Her husband rolls his eyes, “It’s like a bloody animal sanctuary round here” he says, “The pheasants take food out of her hand an' all you know”.
At number two, the garden gate is fashioned from the remains of the original gate, an old trestle table, a wheelie bin and a leaf blower. All the objects are structurally interdependent and it is almost impossible to ‘open’ the ‘gate’ without the whole ensemble collapsing which invariably lets out the opportunist terrier.