Sunday, 24 November 2019
7am, overcast, light rain: a flock of crows flies over the post office and lands in St Peter’s Gardens
7am, overcast, light rain: a flock of crows sweeps in over the post office and lands in St Peter’s Gardens. They wander around for a bit before flying away again, one pair at a time.
The thin man with filthy hands blags a cig off me outside work. He twitches and mumbles while he rolls it, “If it wasn’t for the postmen, I’d be lost” he says three times. “You guys are really switched on” he says. He pops his cigarette between his lips to light it. He keeps talking but I can’t understand what he’s saying because he has a cigarette in his mouth. He pulls on it, takes it out and tells me “I’ve got system…” and he goes on to explain how he likes to put grapes into cheap wine to improve the flavour. “It’s a good system but it’s nowhere near as good as yours” he says, and he takes a long drag while he gazes at the entrance to the post office as various vans go in and out. “That,” he says, leaving his cig between his lips again as he points at the busy yard, “that is SO switched on. That is SO switched on”.
Later, on the estate, I see a girl of about two or three years old sticking £10 notes to the condensation on the window of her front room. A few doors down, the Toyota Yaris decorated decals of flowers is surrounded on all sides by piles of the most enormous dog turds I think I’ve ever seen. Some are trodden into the asphalt and one in particular has a child’s doll embedded in it.
In the park, the trees glisten bright autumn yellow. The short chubby woman in the pink anorak and chullo hat strolls confidently past the leaf covered stone lion. She stops to pet the black Labrador accompanied by the woman in the gilet and jeans. “Well, you’re the boss, aren’t you darling?” The sun’s brought out lots of gilet dog walkers with their tennis ball launchers and leg warmers.
The bin man is wearing a kilt.
I knock at a door with a parcel. I wait for a while and am about to leave when a woman finally answers, “Sorry, love. I was on the loo.”
Tuesday, 29 October 2019
Lights come on in sequence as I pass the security sensors in the gardens on the road into work. Up the hill under the trees a 7.5 tonne potato wagon sends up spray from the asphalt as I pass the illuminated sign with its inspection hatch open and exposed wiring. On, past the woman with the three heavy shopping bags, two hours before any shops open…
It’s raining steadily on the estate where the man in the fleece jacket is kicking down the front door of his own house. Round the corner, a young man wearing nothing but a bathrobe and chunky black shoes with velcro fasteners is arguing loudly with his partner in their ragwort garden. I knock on the shattered gate to get their attention and the man glances up. “I like the sound of that” he says, striding over revealingly. He looks down at the large heavy parcel and his eyes widen, “I like the look of that!” He takes the parcel and reverses back into the garden, shouting over his shoulder “Me fucking engine’s here!”
A council worker with a lanyard and cargo pants is vaping on the lowered tail-lift of the Luton van with the half load of broken wheelie bins. On the pavement across the street her colleague is violently attacking the base of an overflowing bin with a claw hammer. After a dozen heavy blows, the plastic splits and a foul smelling discharge is released into the gutter. For three or four minutes it pours out. “Blimey, is that just rain water?” I say. “Water and food and dog shit” says the council woman, pulling hard on her e-cig.
I walk on past the bent garden trampoline, the faded grey wheelie bin decorated with peeling stickers of flowers and snails, the windowsill of exotic animal figurines: two giraffes, a rhinoceros, a chameleon. Past another bent trampoline, various discarded white goods, and a smashed 1970s display cabinet.
A man in a truck full of junk pulls up, blocking the traffic while he waits for me to walk down the street. I assume he’s wanting directions but as I get closer I realise he’s filming me with his phone. “Hey, mate!” He shouts, “Have you got any old Giros for me?” “Are you filming me?” I shout back. The man yelps out a laugh “Yeh!” he says. “I tell you what, can I have a photo of you with Postman Pat?” he says, laughing again hysterically as he turns off his phone and drives away followed by the half dozen cars that have been waiting behind him.
The rain is coming down heavily when I get back onto the main road. Outside the pub, a skinny old man is on his hands and knees collecting sodden cigarette butts while a younger man in a hooded top splashes past listening to music without headphones. A very thin, jaundiced looking man passes me at speed. He is sitting on a skateboard and waving a two litre bottle of white cider at the drivers of the cars that swerve around him as he travels down the hill on the wrong side of the road, the hem of his coat sweeping through the surface water behind him.
The sun finally comes out and slugs feast on the twenty-two piles of dog shit that litter the six metre long garden path. A man storms up the back ginnel with a muzzled Akita on a lead. He screams at it at the top of his voice “WHY DON’T YOU HAVE A SHIT WHEN YOU CAN HAVE A SHIT INSTEAD OF WHEN YOU WANT A SHIT!” He repeats the sentence again at the same volume, and then again, and then again a further twice more.
The next day, out in the village, the sun is out and beech nuts crunch under my feet, a crisp autumn day. A couple of doors down from the racist old woman’s house, the new occupiers have finished laying their new pattern imprinted concrete driveway. Parked on it, is a restored VW Camper with “Adventure Before Dementia” written across the back.
Saturday, 21 September 2019
Four young men in a Porsche 4x4 with blacked out windows drive up the hill past the swastikas and the peace signs
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.
Friday, 16 August 2019
It starts to rain heavily and a thick petrichor scent fugs up from the busily embellished gardens of the cluttered over-60s retirement village...
It starts to rain heavily and a thick petrichor scent fugs up from the busily embellished gardens of the cluttered over-60s retirement village; an eerie 1970s time machine of moorland park homes. The ambient scent around here is more usually best described as a blend of damp Players No.6 infused Austin Maxi upholstery and stewing steak. The perms and the glasses are big around here and the dogs are small. There are owl themed knick-knacks on the windowsills and chintzy cane furniture in the conservatories. Bookshelves are stuffed with faded spines: Giles, Thelwell, Richard Adams, Willie Carson, Jimmy Greaves, a Haynes Car Manual for a Fiat Strada… Gravel paths are sewn with couch grass, dandelions and bent old poppy heads. Even the bird life is vintage, there are sparrows and chaffinches instead of the long tailed tit and goldfinch interlopers that have taken over further down the valley. I glimpse an old wood veneer box-shaped TV on a swirly patterned carpet and half expect to see Ken Cooper there reading the news in his Purdy cut and wide lapels; another gruesome Ripper slaying followed by a fundraising flatbed parade organised by some church pensioners in Kettlewell.
A quarter of a mile further up the moor, I pass the little observatory that was built in the early 70s for people who wanted to look out at the stars.
Monday, 8 July 2019
There’s a funeral about to start at the Anglican Church in a very racially diverse area of town. A steady stream of sombrely attired pensioners is filing in through the big wooden double doors accompanied by the workmanlike strains of the organ which ebb and flow on the wind. The road to the church is closed for resurfacing and the side streets are clogged with the double-parked cars of displaced residents. An elderly couple—he in a suit with two walking sticks and her with a Summer Wine perm, a three-quarter length floral print pleated skirt and very flat shoes—struggle past me as they slowly pick their way through. “It’s a right bloody nonsense, i’n’t it?” says the man. The woman waves her stick at the Suzuki Swift parked half on the pavement and shouts across to me “All these bloody cars! They shouldn’t be parked here!” She breaks off briefly to carefully navigate the kerb and then shouts over again “It’s all these browns, they should go and park in their own bloody carpark!”
Back out on the main road I wait at the lights behind a VW Camper with Come Back Guy Fawkes Your Country Needs You written across its back window and then turn off into another narrow maze of Victorian terraces. The big black 4x4 of the armed police unit is blocking the row of back-to-backs so I park the van and walk down with a parcel for the woman with all the plastic pansies. She answers the door and thanks me, then she glances over at the police in flak jackets across the street, rolls her eyes and closes the door again.
The pillar box opposite the house with the reproduction grotesques on the gate posts has been defaced with a half completed backwards swastika.
Up on the quieter terrace above the engineering works, I knock at the bleached red pink door but nobody comes. I knock again, a bit louder, but still nobody comes. I write out a notification card and push it through the letterbox and a woman in tight jeans and big round glasses comes out of the house next door. “He’s definitely in” she says “Give him another knock”. I knock hard on the door. Still no reply. “I’ll ring him” says the woman, producing an old pre-smartphone mobile from her pocket. She dials the number and stands on her step as it rings, biting her lip and craning her neck to try and see into her neighbour’s front room. There’s no answer. “I know he’s in!” she says and she jumps over the low wall between the houses. She shields the reflection from the window with her hand and peers in, “There he is! He’s there!” she shouts and she bangs on the window and jumps around waving. Ten seconds later, an elderly man opens the door “Hiya lad,” he says “I don’t know why I didn’t hear you. Sorry.” The woman from next door shouts across “Have you got your hearing aid in, Ernest?” “Sorry love, what was that?” says Ernest. The woman winks at me and addresses him again, “I’m off to the shop later, is there anything you need?” “I’ve no idea, I don’t know why I didn’t hear” says Ernest.
Sunday, 30 June 2019
6am: bright, blustery, pavements strewn with tree litter, snails, woodpigeons, cow parsley, pink horse chestnut flowers, plastic glistening in the gutter, tufts of couch grass between kerbstones
6am: bright, blustery, pavements strewn with tree litter, snails, woodpigeons, cow parsley, pink horse chestnut flowers, plastic bottles, tufts of couch grass between kerbstones. A woman with large black rimmed glasses is talking on her phone with a mouthful of raw carrot.
In the park, the noise of the crows, jackdaws and wood pigeons hasn’t woken the geese and the litter bin is in the pond.
On the bridge at Fitzwilliam Street, near the pile of nitrous oxide canisters in the gutter, a man carrying a car battery says hiya as his combover lifts gently in the wind.
I pass a scruffy faun-like man on Southgate near the university. The waistband of his grey marl sweatpants is twisted so that the inside-out pocket that would ordinarily be offset to one side is now flapping about in the centre at the base of his spine, like a goat’s tail.
In the village, the builders are listening to Bros on the site radio. This, blended with the church bells, the occasional rasping power tool and the popping of asphalt under tyres is the sound villages make. There are barn conversions with whimsical names, gravel and aubretia, boot jacks and botox. Goldfinches fertle around the George pub which had been under new management for the last five years but is now closed for good.
As I flick through a bundle of mail at the doctor’s surgery, the elastic band holding it together snaps, flies across the room and lands on the head of the elderly man at the front of the queue.
At the big bungalow by the church, the man is complaining bitterly about the previous owner’s porch again. He’s still angry about the porch even though he knew it was there when he bought it and he demolished it soon thereafter—over a year ago now. “Bloody porch! Why would you have a porch? Bloody pointless! I’d never have a porch."
At one of the terraced houses on the hill above the shops, the anvil in the back garden is decorated with little woodland bunny rabbits and garlands of plastic flowers. The doors of the garage are decorated with Schutzstaffel insignia.
A few doors down, a man with a Geordie accent reassures me about his aggressive sounding Border terrier. “She’s a noisy buggah. She’s missing her muthah. She’s gone out on her scootah.” He bends and addresses the dog directly. “What are yah? You’re a noisy Buggah”, and he raps her across the muzzle with a rolled up Farmfoods catalogue.
Out in the countryside, there are colourful pansies and slug pellets, cyclamen, clean up your dog mess signs, a broken porcelain wellington boot, six house bricks in a pile, repro stone grotesques, solar powered lights, two left footed boots with succulents growing in them, an anodised vase of white plastic peonies, a neat line of painted white rocks and a long-handled pooper-scooper hanging by a back door.
Fields of buttercups are traversed by phone wires and irregularly weathered fence posts. A single strand of barbed wire keeps the horses from escaping. A woman in a pink tabard with white binding is edging around her lawn with some long-handled shears. She looks up through her darkened Reactolites “I’m hoping to get this done before it rains”.
At the old peoples’ home, I press the button for the 3rd floor and a Fenella Fielding voice announces “Lift going up. Doors closing.”
Sunday, 19 May 2019
6am: the gutter is lined with flattened plastic bottles and someone is blowing their nose loudly on Fitzwilliam street.
6am: the gutter is lined with flattened plastic bottles and someone is blowing their nose loudly on Fitzwilliam street.
At the house with the stone hedgehogs on the doorstep, where the man sometimes hoovers his pattern imprinted concrete driveway, a crow takes off from the lawn with half a slice of bread in its beak. Next door, the goldfinches are twittering in the trees and the woman in the bathrobe is pleased with her parcel.
The woman in a vest top, gardening gloves and plaster cast on her leg is tipping garden waste over a wall while listening to Where the Streets Have No Name by U2 at high volume.
It’s quiet round here: cycling gear on the washing lines, vintage cars under the canvas covers, hedgerows under the ivy, woodpigeons in the cypress trees, pizza ovens in the gardens. People under wide brimmed hats flutter their union jacks on three consecutive TVs.
The sun comes out and a cloud of aphids appears, too many to avoid. They’re up my nose and in my ears. There are dozens of green specks on my light blue shirt.
A man on his side is trimming the underneath bit of his privet, he breaks off briefly to say hello and to comment on “all these bloody greenflies”. His Nissan Leaf is plugged in for a charge under the drapes of the flowering wysteria and a couple of swallows chatter on the phone cables above.
Later, on the estate, an old Renault Scenic passes at speed with the windows down and the music up. As it passes one of the houses in the cul-de-sac its horn sounds abruptly and a flustered looking woman with a cigarette in her mouth and a phone under her chin comes running out of the front door in very tight leggings. She wrestles with the bolt of the definitely homemade double gates as the Scenic speeds up the road to turn around. She’s just about bounced the gates open and removed a stray toddler to safety when the Scenic returns and is hastily reversed into the muddy driveway by a man with an old fashioned moustache and apparently little regard for others.
“Get here now! Get here now! Get here now! Get here now! Get here now! Get here now! Get here now!” screams the large woman to the young boy who is running down the street. He rounds the corner and disappears from view and she goes into the house and shuts the door.
At the student halls of residence with the Brexit Party posters in the window, two young men with neck beards are drinking energy drinks on the grass surrounded by Nerf gun darts.
Thursday, 18 April 2019
In the park: a coot in clown shoes is foraging under the bin as the mallard aborts its pond landing at the last second. A noisy crow in the tree by the bandstand punctuates the dull thrum of the early morning traffic on Trinity Street. I recognise the slightly bow-legged gait of the spectral flâneur about a hundred yards in front of me; my first glimpse of him for almost two years. The sighting is confirmed beyond doubt when he glances nervously behind him: characteristic habitual behaviour. I’m not yet close enough to prompt him to break into a run and he continues steadily towards the bottom exit gate before, typically again, he changes his mind and heads up to the top one instead. Once outside the park, he sets off up the hill, turns to look behind him, three more paces, changes direction again; down the hill. I reach the exit and follow him, gaining steadily. Eventually, after the third glance over his shoulder, the flâneur suddenly dives down a side street at a run—probably not to be seen again for another two years.
I pass only two other people on my way into work, both former colleagues walking small dogs.
In the suburbs: an old blue Vauxhall Corsa pulls up outside the shop that has the window display of couch grass and dandelions in the summer. A thin woman with a home-dyed pony tail gets out of the driver’s seat, walks round to the front of the car, pulls down her pants and bends over to display her arse to the man who is smoking weed in the passenger seat. She fastens up her trousers and disappears into the shop. As I approach the car, the weed man winds down his window and starts slurring: Please Mister Postman, look and see, If there's a letter in your bag for me… “Are you having a nice day so far?” I ask. He looks up blearily, mumbles something unintelligible and then reasserts: Please Mister Postman, look and see, If there's a letter in your bag for me… “No” I say and walk on past the derelict chip shop where I saw the waxwings a few years ago.
In the village: the once purple bike at Woodleigh House is now rust brown after being left outside throughout the winter. The man in the pinny says thank you very much to the man in the window cleaners’ van who is reeling in his fluorescent green hose.
A heron flies overhead as I walk up that steep bit of Lea Lane where the asphalt creeps down the slope in the heat of the summer leaving a pattern of stretch mark striations on its surface—opposite the empty house with the coal tit nest in the fall pipe.
I have a poorly addressed but very neatly hand-written letter from the Czech Republic to deliver. I ask the women at the big detached house whether she recognises the name on the envelope. She pulls a face at the diacritic lettering and says, “Ooh no, don’t know any foreigners round here.” She suggests I ask at the house a few doors down because “They’ve lived here forever and they know everyone”. I walk down and knock at the door. A woman answers. I show her the letter and she pulls a face and says “Ooh no, there’s no foreigners live round here”. She calls her husband. “Derek!” She shouts “Come and have a look at this foreign letter!” Derek comes down the stairs and squints at the envelope, “No, there’s no foreigners live round here…” He pauses for a moment, “Actually, I tell a lie. Try her over there” he says and he points to the house directly opposite, “She’s foreign”. I cross the road and knock at the door. A woman in a pinny answers. “Is this yours by any chance?” I ask. “Oh yes it is! Thanks so much love!” she says in a strong Yorkshire accent.
At the big house high on the valley side, the Yorkshire rose flies from a pole in the garden. On the doorstep there’s a statue of a gnome holding up a sign saying Go Away! On, past the tiny goldcrest that dives into the scrubby old cypress. Past the woman with the shih tzu who waves and says “This weather is blinking lovely”. Past the field of brambles and the sunbathing cat to the next big house. On the doorstep, a statue of a man holding a shotgun with a sign around his neck: Never mind the dog, beware of the owner!
Saturday, 16 March 2019
On my way into work at 5.45am I am engaged in conversation by a tall thin man with no teeth. It’s 3°C and raining steadily. He’s wearing espadrilles, tracksuit pants and a torn and faded navy blue anorak. He says he hopes it’s going to be a hot day so that there’ll be loads of babes in bikinis wondering around town.
Twenty-past six, half light, and the ducks are arse up in the pond. The blackbirds that are flitting around in the park aren’t blackbirds at all, they are leaves blown by the swirling wind; I’m not wearing my specs because of the rain.
At the junction where the puddles turn from red to amber to green, I can smell cat piss.
10.30am, I deliver a parcel to a man of about sixty. He's wearing a beige zip-up raglan cardigan with suedette detailing around the shoulder and a pair of brown check pleat-front polyester trousers. I hand him my PDA and he tries to write on the wrong part of the screen. He peers at the tip of the stylus, turns it round, attempts to write with the other end, and then hands it back to me saying “Your pen’s run out, lad. Have you got another?”
In the low sun the automatic gates of the big houses cast their long palisade shadows the full width of the road around the park.
There’s a discarded Wellington boot on the pavement at the junction with Westridge Drive.
A nuthatch climbs out from one of the nesting boxes that have been fastened to the trees on the perimeter of the park.
The skeleton of the pheasant on the steps of the stone bungalow looks as though it’s been there for some time.
It’s blustery and the caravan dealer’s Bailey and Sterling flags flutter in all directions at once. Inside, men in their 50s, 60s and 70s wear their anoraks and generous poly-cotton chinos to browse the portable barbecues, foldaway windbreaks and stacks of plastic crockery. They are accompanied by women in Ecco shoes and waterfall cardigans that flap wildly around their heads the moment they step back outside into the weather.
Doorstep diorama of the day: a statuette of three puppies holding up a sign saying ‘Welcome’ arranged next to a small potted shrub festooned with Christmas decorations, a small bag of dog shit, and a statuette of a meerkat wearing cricket whites
Sunday, 24 February 2019
Bobbing and weaving to focus my specs on the sign warning me of the aggressive dog that will “definitely bite” I step backwards into a pile of shit.
It’s the kind of weather that would be frustrating if you were on holiday; on the rare occasions that the cold swirling wind dies down it’s quite warm. The cloud cover is not particularly thick, just thick enough to keep the sun from really getting through. For now the wind is whistling through the plastic topiary of the Burton bubble like it does the through the plastic bunting of a seaside bucket and spade shop. Bracing. The innards of the steel lampposts chime against their casings. “Good morning!” Shouts the man in the puffer jacket who is walking a small dog. “Good morning!” I shout back as the fine mist of rain slowly coalesces on the lenses of my glasses and the jackdaws hide away in the belfry.
The life-sized plastic gorilla at the school house now has a baby gorilla sitting on its knee.
I follow the dotted white line of bird-shit that shadows the phone wire and continue up the hill past the apple tree with the shadow of mouldy yellow windfalls.
Above the roof tops in the village, a pair of crows are giving a big red kite a hard time. Directly below them, a man wearing a black gilet and grey jogging pants climbs into a Daihatsu Terios and drives off.
The wind finally dies away and the weather brightens. The couple in gilets who are looking in the window of the sweet shop have been reading out the labels on the jars to each other for about five minutes.
Young whippets, John and Trevor have tied their owner’s legs together with their leads next to the Peugeot 308 with the flat tyres. The big woman who is eating from a polystyrene container with her fingers is laughing at them from the bus stop.
Consecutive windowsill dioramas: 1. Two 4” high models of Castle Hill tower either side of a model of an African elephant of a similar height. 2. A 3” high brass pig (Berkshire?) 3. 12” high ceramic Egyptian cat. 4. Two 4” high ducks wearing Edwardian costume and a slightly taller statuette of Tobermory from the Wombles.
Donna Summer’s Dinner With Gershwin is playing across the shop floor at the Co-op. A man in black combat pants is inspecting a jar of hoisin sauce. He looks very disapprovingly at it, scowling angrily before tossing it into his basket and wandering off up the aisle singing. “I wanna have dinner with Gershwin. I wanna watch Rembrandt sketch. I wanna talk theory with Curie. I wanna get next to you. Next to you, yeah yeah”.