Friday, 14 February 2020

Someone has pushed over all the bins between my house and the town centre.



Someone has pushed over all the bins between my house and the town centre.
The snow storm passes and the sun comes out. The builder in baggy old jeans and beanie hat pulls up his van next to the high stone wall with the duvet of ivy slung over it. He climbs out and unseals a loaf of sliced bread with his teeth. He holds the top of the open bag in one hand as it untwists and then begins throwing one slice at a time onto the roof of an electricity substation.
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 flattened squirrel.
A Border collie barks at me through the gate of the big house on the moor. On the driveway, a man in a hunter’s cap and steel toe cap boots looks up from under the bonnet of an old Citroen Dispatch and shouts over ‘Oh shut up, you poof!’
The low sun heightens the green of the herringbone moss on the driveway at Shangri-La and there’s a noisy nuthatch at the edge of the park. Smashed tree litter lines both sides of the road, flotsam from the storm crushed by dog walkers’ cars.
At the firework factory, staff in hi-vis anoraks drive around in Land Rovers with no number plates. 
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. A few doors down a woman calls me a knob and says she’s never been so shocked in all her life because of my ignorance of the arbitrary regulations she has devised for the use of her parcel box.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

An extremely thin and roughly dressed man is pretending to walk an invisible dog



An extremely thin and roughly dressed man is pretending to walk an invisible dog as he crosses the ring-road holding a piece of string with a large rubber washer attached to the end. He casts around for a response from car drivers and fellow pedestrians but nobody is paying him any attention. A quarter of a mile down the main road, another skinny man sets off down the hill at an uncoordinated run. He stops suddenly, stands very still and straight on the kerb with his feet together. He composes himself for a few seconds and then pretends to perform an Olympic style high dive. He lands on his feet in the road, shakes pretend water from his hair, blows pretend water from his nose and raises an arm aloft to acknowledge the applause of an imaginary crowd.

Light drizzle, stiff breeze, overcast. Wind-blown leaves circle around the electricity substation. Above the trees, the crows are harrying a buzzard. In the trees, finches chatter and a woodpigeon hides its head under its wing. On the ground, the downy remains of a sparrowhawk kill line the gutter.

I pass the school where they have recently replaced one impossible slogan ‘a happy learning school where students exceed their potential’ with another, ‘Everyone, Exceptional, Everyday’. A few streets down somebody has created a large and unusual garden display. Dozens of succulents have been planted into sections of black plastic guttering and stuck to walls and fences with blobs of bright orange expanding foam. On the wall of the house adjacent to the front door, a collection of white pebbles of varying sizes has been attached using the same method. Next to the window of the front room, several flower boxes have also been ‘foamed’ to the house. These mainly contain spider plants whose leaves have been cut in half with a pair of scissors.

On the 1970s meat and potatoes estate, people wearing anoraks to protect themselves from doubt gather to witness to one-another in the name of The Powers That Be while plastic meerkats play on seesaws. The crows look on from the funny cypress trees.

The man who’s been pruning the big hedge leans on his broom and tells me about his holiday to Lanzarote: ‘We had a good trip round to see the lava where the volcano erupted and we had a meal. They cook you a chicken over the hole of the volcano and you can look down it. That was good and it was very reasonably priced which is unusual because you can usually only get a Coke for 10€ and I thought to myself, ‘That was a good trip out, that was’ but I wouldn’t really want to go again.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

A Caught by the River Social Club: Farsley




A Caught by the River Social Club: Farsley will take place at the West Yorkshire town’s Constitutional Club on Thursday 6th February 2020, and will feature:

- Stepping into the dark: a unique audio exploration of landscapes local to the venue by field recording royalty Chris Watson (David Attenborough’s right-hand sound man);

- Much-revered poet and non-fiction writer Kathleen Jamie discussing her most recent book, Surfacing, with Amy Liptrot;

- Kevin Boniface sharing comic snatches from his daily postal round;

- Longstanding Caught by the River co-conspirator and purveyor of vintage fishing tackle John Andrews as Master of Ceremonies;

- Caught by the River DJs spinning tunes ‘til close.

Farsley Constitutional is a former Conservative Club, now a self-professed “club for working persons” to which membership costs £1 a year.

Full price tickets are £10. We are also offering a suspended ticket option for this event - these are tickets which can be bought ahead for someone else, or, if you’d like to come along but can’t afford to pay, ones which can be claimed for free, no questions asked. Tickets can be purchased here. Suspended tickets can be claimed by emailing info@caughtbytheriver.net.

Friday, 27 December 2019

Highlights 2019



Highlights 2019

Hiding in the belfry
Climbing into a Daihatsu Terios and driving away
Scowling disapprovingly at a jar of hoisin sauce while singing along to Donna Summer’s Dinner with Gershwin
Having no teeth, a torn anorak and an old pair of espadrilles and hoping there will be loads of babes in bikinis in town
Standing on a dead rabbit
Wearing anoraks and generously cut poly-cotton chinos to browse the plastic crockery
Placing a small bag of dog shit next to a statuette of a meerkat wearing cricket whites
Baring your arse at the man who is smoking weed in the passenger seat of a Vauxhall Corsa
Blowing your nose on Fitzwilliam Street
Wearing a vest top, gardening gloves and a plaster cast on your leg while listening to U2 at high volume
Being irritated by the aphids that fly up your nose
Lying down to trim the underneath bit of your privet
Running about in tight leggings with a cigarette in your mouth and a phone under your chin
Drinking energy drinks on the lawn surrounded by Nerf gun darts.
Talking on your phone with a mouthful of raw carrot
Aubretia, boot jacks and botox
Being angry about a porch
Decorating your garage doors with Schutzstaffel insignia.
Hitting your Border terrier with a Farmfoods catalogue
Being racist in a three-quarter length floral print pleated skirt and very flat shoes
Rolling your eyes at the policemen in flak jackets
Defacing a pillar box with a backwards swastika
Asking Ernest whether he’s got his hearing aid in. “Sorry, love, what was that?”
Wearing a cardigan and a combover and not understanding touchscreen technology. “You need a new pen, lad. It’s run out of ink”
Jogging around the park in salwar kameez and diamanté encrusted sandals
Driving past the peace signs and the swastikas in your Porsche 4x4
Mucky Transit van roofs striated with the desire paths of molluscs
Discussing automotive design preferences while walking your Labradors: “Yeah, I really like the back of them, me”
Throwing an empty Relentless energy drink can from the window of your Toyota Invincible.
Shouting into your phone above the wind and the rain. “Get them big drawers of yours off! That’s what he said to me!”
Sticking slices of onion to your shirt with egg yolk
Feeding the hedgehogs with turkey mince and those big orange slugs
Doing your shopping before the shops open
Kicking down the front door of your own house
Wearing a bathrobe to argue loudly with your partner in your ragwort garden
Vaping on the tail-lift of a Luton van half loaded with broken wheelie bins
Collecting sodden cigarette butts on your hands and knees outside the pub in the rain
Waving a two litre bottle of white cider at the drivers of the cars that swerve around you
Sticking £10 notes to the condensation on the window of your front room
Kicking up water from deluged pothole craters with your pool sliders
Voicing your unsolicited opinions of the mayor of London while wearing a threadbare sweater with bits of dinner down it
A 1980s taupe and Burgundy velour three piece suite in a busy floral design

Sunday, 22 December 2019

“What on earth is that?”



“What on earth is that?” says the elderly woman when she opens her front door to the florist with the pink hair. “Some lovely fresh flowers!” says the florist. “Oh Lord! What am I supposed to do with those?"

A plume of 2-stroke exhaust rises from one of the back-to-backs where two men in tracksuits are tinkering with a noisy pit bike. At the next house along, the front door is decorated with a pink tinsel wreath in the shape of a star. The cardboard tag attached to it says “Decorative Star £2.99.” A few more houses along, another large wreath hangs from a door; a ring of woven twigs and pine cones. Its postcard sized cardboard tag outlines its fire resistant credentials in several languages.

On the estate, the elderly woman with the anorak is tending her garden. I compliment her on her hedge which is red with berries. “Is it a cotoneaster?” I ask. “I’ve got no idea” says the woman irritably, wiping a dew drop from her nose with her cuff. “All I know is it grows. It bloody grows! And the berries go everywhere. If I could pull it out, I would."

Past the for sale board: Yorkshire’s Finest Properties. Past a flock of long-tailed tits in a beech tree. Past that thing on the telegraph wire which, from the corner of my eye, I often mistake for a starling. On closer inspection, It’s not, it looks just like the cardboard middle of a toilet roll but it can't be, It’s been there for years. It would have degraded to a pulp by now and why would someone have put it up there anyway?

The sad birch droops on the corner of the road lined on both sides with Vote Labour signs. 

On the estate of 1970s detached houses in fake sandstone there’s a flock of sparrows and a wood pigeon rustling about in the papery beech while a robin dives for cover into a cypress hedge. I knock at the house on the corner and a man in his 60s opens the door while holding back two agitated terriers. “If it’s a bill you can take it back!” he says. “I’ve got something for you” I explain. “Oh, have you brought me a turkey?” He asks. “I don’t think so” I say and I hand him a parcel. He consolidates the dogs into one hand, takes the package and holds it up to his ear, “Is it ticking?” I ask him for a signature but he doesn’t understand how to work the PDA and I have to sign for him.

Back in town, it’s pissing with rain and the rusty needle bin next to the chip shop is full of litter. Wet pulped paper porridges out from the aperture and drips onto the scarred asphalt creating a miniature lunar landscape of papier-mâché stalagmites. Crouched opposite, next to a deep puddle is a thin man in a dirty brown tracksuit. A young man in grey sweat pants and a hoodie approaches him, his pool sliders kicking up water from deluged pothole craters. He glances around conspicuously before handing a small package to the dirty brown tracksuit man and they jog away in opposite directions.

I wait in the queue at the shop behind the tall elderly man in the old fashioned threadbare overcoat, food stained v-neck sweater and beanie hat. He is talking to the Sikh proprietor with the handle bar moustache. “They’ve caught that one in Walthamstow but not the other one. It’s out of control down there, that mayor of London hasn’t got a grip on it. He doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. He’s bloody useless!” An elderly woman in an enormous purple anorak pushes past me. “Sorry”, I say instinctively. “Never mind ‘sorry’, you shouldn’t be in the bloody way!” she says with a scowl.

On the street of dilapidated buy-to-let Victorian terraced houses, the wind has blown open the wheelie bin lids and there is rubbish swirling around the gardens and pavements. In the ginnel next to the house with the smashed fence there are sodden mattresses, a kitchen sink, assorted lengths of polythene, a bent sun lounger, empty dog food tins, bulging black bin liners, and a 1980s taupe and Burgundy velour three piece suite in a busy floral design.

The next street down is a small cul-de-sac of tidy 1990s brick built semi-detached bungalows with fake wooden plastic facias, well tended gardens, milk bottles on doorsteps and Vote Labour posters in the windows. An elderly woman who has secured the doors of her meter housing box with a colourful elasticated spider hook is putting a pair of money trees on the doorstep to wash them off in the rain. She catches sight of me and dashes inside. She returns with an envelope in her hand, “Would you post this for me, love? It’s a birthday card not a Christmas card.”

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 the 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.



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 wiring exposed. 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 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 an over the top laugh “Yeh!” he says, then “I tell you what, can I have a photo of you with Postman Pat?” and he laughs again hysterically as he turns off his phone and drives away followed by half a dozen cars.
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 Purdey 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



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.