Sunday 28 December 2014

2014 has been a great year for holding a digestive biscuit between your teeth.

2014 Highlights:

Holding a digestive biscuit between your teeth while you watch a flock of geese

Laying some new, yellow concrete flags directly over the old cracked ones

Having a bit of cake on your face

Selling the stone flags from your yard and replacing them with dog shit

Poking a yolky knife at a picture of a semi-naked man

Amplexus on the steps of the house that once featured on TV’s Grand Designs programme

Emptying your catheter bag into the storm drain by the bedroom furniture shop

Adjusting your vest top and putting out your cigarette (as a mark of respect)

Asserting that steam railways make life worth living

Watching two ducks eat some chips

Being a goth, then normal, then a muslim

Spraying an old push-bike yellow in the rain

Mending a Transit Connect

Sleeping in a shopping basket attached to a walking frame


Referring to your Mercedes using the pronouns She and Her
Returning to the crew cut and rat tail in your 60s

Asking Robert: Have you any food on?

Calling Robert a robbing bastard

Gobbing out of the window of a Fiat 500

Having your tits grabbed by Kyle

Recommending a cut of pork loin

Selling a pebble for a pound

Being inside a Range Rover

Swallowing a mouse in just three gulps

Being important enough in Fair-Isle and corduroy

Watching the jackdaws while you piss against a tree

Nightclothes in the daytime

Polishing your alloys and smoking weed

Soiled nappies and an enraged goose

Jokes and cigarettes outside the strip club

Wearing your hard hat over your hood

Talking to the lonely pig on the moor

Bemoaning all this rigmarole

Monday 22 December 2014

The sun is low, boiler flues are pluming, the garden gate is slimy, and the old man with the eye-patch...

The sun is low, boiler flues are pluming, the garden gate is slimy, and the old man with the eye-patch, bandana, boot-cut jeans and biker jacket is bemoaning “All this bloody rigmarole for £1.63 in bloody pension credits” to his neighbour, the tall thin man in the plastic reindeer antlers with the dew-drop hanging from his nose.

All of a sudden hailstones are bouncing off the ‘Santa, Please Stop Here’ sign which is planted in the pot next to the fake plastic topiary bay tree.

A woman with an anorak and a bag-for-life is talking to a group of other women with bags-for-life. “I don’t feel the cold anymore because I’ve got...” she stops to think for a moment, then turns to the woman in the enormous scarf next to her, “What is it I’ve got, Joyce?” “Diabetes,” says Joyce. “No!” says the woman, suddenly remembering, “A onesie.”

Sunday 7 December 2014

The Lonely Pig on the Moor

Every day this week, I’ve seen the lonely pig on the moor. It runs to the perimeter of its pen and stares at me as I walk past. Yesterday morning, when it came to meet me, I made two pig-like grunts (I don’t know why, I wasn’t really thinking about it) and it responded in the same manner.

Further up the moor, Mr Briggs pulls up. He winds down the window of his Suzuki Carry and tells me that he and his missus have been by coach to Eastbourne for a ‘Turkey and Tinsel Weekender’. “Aye,” he explains, “Tuesday was Christmas Eve, Wednesday was Christmas Day, and Thursday was New Year’s Day. £125-a-head all-in, including four drinks, which is enough. We had a real time!” Mr Briggs goes on to tell me that by the Thursday (New Year’s Day) he’d found he fancied a fish. He says he travelled to a chip shop in Brighton only to find that they cost £10.50 so he hadn’t bothered in the end.

Back in town, the gas board are digging up the roads. The woman in the pink onesie who is sitting on her front step surrounded by small statues of Yorkshire terriers while she smokes a cigarette, tells me, “It’s a right pain, there’s nowhere to bloody park.”

A gold Kia Picanto screeches to a halt outside the church and a man in his seventies with a beard and glasses gets out brandishing a small hand plane. He slams shut the car door, shoulders open the gate of the churchyard and sprints down the path and through the open doors. Within seconds I can hear the sound of wood being energetically smoothed echoing out from the church interior.

At 2.30pm, at the top of the hill, I encounter two large women in their seventies. They are dressed in identical spotted Dalmatian onesies and appear to be very drunk. They cling to one another as they zig-zag across the middle of the road whilst inexplicably making load “miaow” noises like enormous bipedal dog-cats. In the supermarket, the woman with the sensible shoes and bag-for-life is telling her husband about her dislike of Milk Tray chocolates. “Don’t ever buy me Milk Tray again! I hate them! Joan bought me some last year and I’ve still got them. Yuk!”

PS: The film at the head of this post was shot from approximately the same place that Edwardian filmmakers Mitchell and Kenyon made their short film in Huddersfield 114 years ago. Link to BFI Player here:

Saturday 15 November 2014

6.15am: Dancers and Bouncers were Sharing Jokes and Cigarettes outside the Strip Club

6.15am: Dancers and bouncers share jokes and cigarettes outside the strip club. The dancers are wearing their ‘standing outside’ uniform: white faux-mink coats, suspenders and heels. The bouncers wear black suits and patent shoes.

The man behind me on the bus to the hospital has a loud hacking cough. I get off where a group of builders with hard hats over their hoods are smoking in a huddle outside the house with the empty Cheese Curls packet and pile of dog shit underneath the trampoline in the yard.

There’s a lot of rotten pre-recession Ground Force decking around here and it’s slippery and treacherous at this time of year; the old man with butter on his nose advised me to watch myself after I slipped on his.

In the street, a young man with a shaved head and tracksuit is vacuuming his brand new Vauxhall Corsa while he listens to Robbie Williams quite loudly.

Out in the sticks, beyond where the remains of the smashed up traffic cone have been strewn across the road for weeks. Beyond even where the empty breakfast bowl and spoon have been left on top of the dry-stone wall a half mile from the nearest house (It’s been there for several days and there’s an inch-and-a-half of rainwater in the bowl now), a low mist is sitting in the valley bottom. The grey road is accented with orange cherry leaves and a large flock of fieldfares is messily stripping out all the berries from a big rowan tree.
On the driveway at Oakwood, a man of about thirty-five, with a beard and donkey jacket, has his head under the bonnet of his thirty-year-old Saab 900 while he listens to Talking Heads quite loudly.

Sunday 2 November 2014

The camp teenage boy is talking to his companion on the bus

The camp teenage boy is talking to his companion on the bus: “I can tell he’s got a crush on me but if I say owt I know he’s just gonna say ‘I’m not gay!’ in that stupid indignant voice”.

Behind me, the grey-haired hi-vis man has been to the new restaurant that apparently everybody is talking about: “I ordered the lamb but when it came it was all fat. I got one tiny thin slice of meat off the whole piece! I sent it back. I can’t eat that I said, it’s all fat. The woman asked me ‘Do you want to order something else?’ I said, ‘No love, you’ve put me right off my tea now, I’m going home to make myself some beans on toast.’ The chef chased me out into the car park and told me he was going to have word with the butcher but I’ll not be going back”.

I walk down Leeds Road behind a girl in skinny jeans and a black puffer jacket. She’s talking loudly on her phone in Polish, emphasising key points with wild, histrionic hand gestures.

There’s a woman in the Costcutter with ‘Nobody’s Cow’ appliquéd onto her onesie above her breasts. Outside, the man with the piercings is polishing the alloys of his Ford Fiesta with one hand while he smokes some strong weed with the other. He smiles and waves.

Out in the sticks, it’s all long shadows, wood smoke and lavender, starlings on wires, church bells, dried hydrangeas, Kate Bush songs from the open windows of ex farm buildings, wicker-baskets, wellington boots, a possible sighting of a small flock of waxwings and a definite sighting of a huge flock of lapwings.

There are plastic bags in the trees.

I was nearly hit twice by flying objects today: I had to swerve to avoid the soiled nappy that somebody threw from their front door towards the bins without looking*, then at the farm I had to duck under the flight path of an enraged goose. It hissed and honked and flew over the five bar gate at me in a rage. The old farmer ran out and got himself between the goose and me, flapping his arms at it. “It’s a right little bastard this ‘en!” he explained, as he tried to shepherd it back into the yard, “It dun’t like me either, keeps biting me. It’s never flown ovva t’gate before though!”

*This has happened before:

Thursday 16 October 2014

It had been a windy night; beech nuts were popping under my feet

It’s been a windy night and the beech nuts are popping under my feet. The street lights are out again and it would be pitch black were it not been for the faint glow of the light that illuminates the green lichen triangle on a pole that used to be a street sign.

Lunchtime: still only half light. And cold. Paths are lined with thick puddles of leaves, black arthritic nettles, and frantically suckering brambles. The wind hisses through yellow horse chestnut, and telegraph wires strain at their poles. Brown fields are dotted white with gulls and the farm cat swallows a mouse whole in just three gulps.

At the pub in the village where ‘2 Dine for £12.99 on selected main courses and afternoon tea’, the landlord is being important enough in Fair Isle and corduroy. “Hello there!” he enthuses to customers disgorged crease free from mainly Range Rovers.

I watch some squabbling jackdaws while I piss against a tree. Half a dozen of them are fighting over the topmost perch of the church steeple. They circle scrappily for a while until one suddenly tips its wing and attempts a landing. Usually, its move is pre-empted by
the others and the breakaway bird is knocked off course and forced to abort. Occasionally, one succeeds in making the perch only for the rest to rush it en masse and dislodge it after only a few seconds.

Thursday 2 October 2014

Research into outdoor chores carried out in the last week of September:

Research into outdoor chores carried out in the last week of September: 
Gender / Approx’ age / Attire. 
16°C - 20°C (mild weather for the time of year)
Sunny with very occasional light drizzle.

1. Male, 40s. Watering potted annuals. T-shirt, jeans, sandals.
2. Male, 70s. Scrubbing hose reel with stiff brush. T-shirt, trousers, sandals.
3. Male, 60s. Clipping fingernails. T-shirt, jeans, sandals.
4. Female, 60s. Digging out couch grass. Fleece jacket, jogging pants, walking boots.
5. Female, 70s. Taking seedlings round to a neighbour. Blouse, trousers, sandals.
6. Female, 40s. Walking Labrador. T-shirt, jeans, trainers.
7. Female, 70s. Weeding between driveway setts with special long-handled tool. Fleece jacket, trousers, sandals.
8. Male, 60s. Loading garden cuttings into Fiat Punto. Fleece jacket, jeans, black shoes.
9. Female, 40s. Re-pointing garage wall. Fleece jacket, tracksuit pants, slippers.
10. Female, 70s. Walking Highland terrier. Fleece jacket, knee-length plaid pleated skirt, flat black shoes.
11. Male, 60s. Re-pointing wall. Polo-shirt, jeans, black shirt.
12. Female, 30s. Putting out bins. large knitted striped jumper, jogging pants, one slipper, one bare foot.
13. Female, 70s. 'Popping to the shop to get some bits'. knee-length skirt, knitted cardigan, flat black shoes.
14. Male, 60s. Sweeping yard. Fleece jacket, trousers, welly shoes.
15. Male, 60s. Washing Fiat Punto. Navy-blue overalls, black shoes.
16. Male, 60s. Clearing guttering. Shirt with collar, V-neck sweater, suit trousers, slippers.
17. Female, 60s. Sweeping pavement outside house. Cardigan, trousers, slippers.
18. Male, 80s. Polishing KIA Picanto. Shirt with collar, V-neck sweater, suit trousers, black shoes.
19. Female, 70s. Sweeping driveway with brand new yard brush. Sweatshirt embroidered with floral display, trousers, welly shoes.
20. Male, 70s. Re-applying window putty. Knitted cardigan, jeans, slippers.
21. Male, 50s. Shouting abuse at a neighbour in the street, “Don’t fuck with me!” T-shirt, jeans, socks.
22. Male, 70s. Telling the postman that a neighbour has died, “Yep, they’ve buried her and everything”. Baseball cap, cardigan, jogging pants, trainers.
23. Male, 20s. Hiding door key under mat, “You never saw that, did you? There’s nowt worth nicking anyway, it’s a right shit-hole”. Motorcycle helmet, tracksuit, trainers.        

Sunday 21 September 2014

I walked a long way today, through eight spiders’ webs

I’ve walked a long way today; through eight spiders’ webs. I’ve got dead flies webbed to my shirt and face.

There’s tree litter, there are bagged nappies and there are BMWs on the slippery Driveways of Distinction.

On the main road, a builder is loading a heavy-duty site radio back into his van. He slams the doors shut as I stride across his freshly laid concrete path leaving three deep footprints. I apologise and made a weak joke about the current vogue for pattern imprinted concrete. The builder says nothing, just turns around, opened the van doors, and unloads his radio and tools again. I disappear around a corner and wash my shoes in a puddle.

A small boy of about four or five years old runs out into the road. His dad comes after him, picks him up and drags him back to the pavement. “I’ve told you not to do that, It’s dangerous!” He yells. “I know,” says the boy. “So why did you do it then?” “Because it was a secret ninja job.”

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Out in the sticks where 50% of women are inside Range Rovers.

Out in the sticks where fifty percent of women are inside a Range Rover, I follow the deer down the gravel driveway to the barn conversion where the new faux-modernist chrome plated garden sculpture is “something a bit different” and “absolutely beautiful to look at” according to the woman with the “glass of something lovely” in her hand. I lost a fiver around here yesterday, I retrace my steps for about ten minutes but there’s no sign of it.

In the village, the grown-up paper-girl in distressed denim passes me in the street. She tucks her phone under her chin and folds a copy of The Sun for her next drop without pausing her conversation. “She’s having another baby,” she says “Royal twats!” She pushes open the gate with her hip, “...Yes, well, if I had a decent job I wouldn’t be doing a paper round, would I?”

I park my van at the end of another long driveway, in the same place I have every day this week. I open the door and there, screwed up on the pavement, is my fiver.

Sunday 24 August 2014

Kyle’s Always Grabbing My Tits.

“Kyle’s always grabbing my tits” says the young woman in the tight fitting playsuit whose toddler son has just grabbed her tits. “I know! Mine too, it really hurts” says the older woman in the noteworthy trainers as she gathers her low-maintenance hair into a scrunchie. “And it’s embarrassing” adds the younger one, as she pushes her unfashionable specs up the bridge of her nose.

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 boy of about six or seven years old stops me in the street. “Do you want to buy this for a pound?” he says, opening his palm to reveal the pebble I’ve just seen him pick up from Mr Beever’s driveway. “What is it?” I ask. “A pebble” says the boy, rubbing it on his sleeve, “It’s shiny”. “A pound for a pebble?” I say. “It’s magic”, says the boy.

I was watching a nuthatch in Hangingstone Road when a thin man in washed-out black passed at dangerously high speed. He was riding a pushbike and trailer with GAY written across the back of it in large plastic letters. He looked up at me as he shot through the narrow gap between the double parked cars. “Hiya!” he yelled at the top of his voice. The nuthatch flew away.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

I Chase Cloud Shadows Up Over the Moor...

I chase the cloud shadows up over the moor and onto the estate where the men still drive Rovers and wear their hair in elaborate combovers that flip up in the wind like busy, beige peddle-bin lids. Wind-assisted lapwings flock in the field behind the abandoned Renault camper, the pretend duck by the bin store ‘quacks’ as I pass, and a replica of a basset hound peers out from the large stone handbag in Mrs Hinchliffe’s Alpine rockery, its head bobbing on a spring. People in comfy shoes restrain small terriers, fry liver and onions, smoke cigarettes, and scrape fluvial sediment from a storm drain with a butter knife. A man with a bit of dinner on his face sits on a collapsible chair outside his conservatory door. He is surrounded by marigolds, begonias, gladioli, Sport For All stickers, a faded Basil Ede print of some ducks, a pile of VHS video cassettes, a dozen or so pretend meerkats, and a miniature wooden wheelbarrow stuffed with pansies and snapdragons. Next door, a ten-year-old dusty-pink Kia Picanto pulls up and a grey-haired man with thick, plastic-rimmed Reactolite glasses and a three-quarter length beige anorak climbs out. He slams the door, opens the boot, and unloads three heavy looking Lidl bags-for-life. He pulls out a small packet of dog biscuits and holds it up high to show the man with the dinner on his face who shouts, “Thanks, Derek!” and points towards the open door of his green plastic shed, “Wob us it in there, can you?”

Saturday 19 July 2014

Under the Overgrown Brambles, Through the Spiders' Webs...

Under the overgrown brambles, through the spiders’ webs, past the tethered cat asleep on the lawn at the limit of its chain, to Mr Briggs’ front door. “Good weekend?” he asks. “Not so bad, thanks. You?” “It were all right. We went down The Railway. I said to Robert, ‘Have
you any food on?’ He said ‘Yes, we’re doing bacon sandwiches for a pound.’ I said, ‘I’ll have two.’ So we had a bacon sandwich each.” “Very nice”, I say. “Aye, but when I got up to go for a piss, they had a bloke on the toilet door trying to charge me 50p because of the Tour de France! The robbing bastards! I said to Robert ‘You’re not charging me 50p for a piss, I’ve been coming in here thirty-five year.’” “Did he charge you?” I asked. “Did he fuck. Robbing bastard!”

The roofers are listening to Tracey Chapman on their bright yellow, heavy-duty site radio while they discuss their nights out in Brighouse. “Aye, I went out there last weekend. It wasn’t a bad night but I didn’t go out to get rat-arsed” says the younger one, rolling a cigarette. “Fuck me!” says the older one “I did! I got absolutely fucking bladdered.”

The occupants of the little Fiat 500 ahead of me at the lights are engaged in some kind of gobbing-out-of-the-window contest. The big man with the moustache in the near-side passenger seat appears to be winning; he’s landed a large greeny halfway across the pavement outside the doctor’s surgery. Two of the beige pensioners in the long line of mainly-beige-with-accents-of-navy pensioners at the bus stop look on disapprovingly. They begin to remonstrate with the Fiat men but the wind blows something heavy by Yves St Laurent into my van so I wind up my window and miss what they say.

Saturday 12 July 2014

The Most Difficult Thing Ever audio extract / new stockists

Two new Manchester stockists of The Most Difficult Thing Ever book/CD:

22 Oldham Street
M1 1JN

Trouble at Mill
50 Beech Road
M21 9EG

Sunday 22 June 2014

Just Down From The Sun Pub Where Elvis Performed Last Night...

Just down from the Sun pub where ‘Elvis’ performed last night, the man who still has his Christmas decorations up is singing Everly Brothers songs at the top of his voice while he does his ironing with the window open.

Two fifteen-year-old Vauxhall coupés driven by young snapback wearers speed past. The silver metallic one in front hits the speed-bump by the bus stop too quickly and its wide-arch body kit comes off in one piece. The following coupé, a red one, hits the body kit and drags it up the road for about fifty yards, smashing it to pieces. The elderly man with the Scottish accent and the spaniel asleep in the basket attached to his walking-frame says, “There’re some right fucking idiots about, aren’t there?”

On the terrace of houses with more plants in the guttering than in the gardens, a man of about sixty, wearing a sweatshirt, jeans, and slippers sits on his front step listening to The Eurythmics at very high volume. He occasionally joins in with the chorus between drags on his roll-up.

Out in the sticks, builders of all ages listen to eighties chart hits all day long and chubby young white men with no socks, beards, tattoos and flat caps say “Thanks, boss” to the Asian shopkeeper or do some cycling. In front of the market cross, the man of about sixty with the grey crew-cut and rat-tail discusses his Mercedes with another younger Mercedes owner. They both refer to their cars using the pronouns ‘she’ and ‘her’.

Friday 6 June 2014

I was talking to Mrs Kaur in the shop...

“You know her from number 14?” says Mrs Kaur in the shop, “Well, every time she comes in here she’s different, one day she’s a goth, one day she’s like, normal, like, white, normal, and then yesterday she came in and she was a bloody Muslim!”

On Union Street, Mr Coldwell is in his yard trying to spray an old push-bike yellow in the rain. He says it’s for the window display of the florist’s shop on the route of the Tour de France. He’s well into his second can of paint but the rain is washing it off as fast as he can spray it on. “I should have waited for a finer day, it looks crap”, he explains. At the house next door, they have finished laying their new plastic lawn and have now embellished it: in one corner stands a plastic statuette of mole wearing a miner’s helmet and in another, a shiny fake plastic dog turd.

On the new estate, a magpie is squawking hysterically and dive-bombing the fat black cat which eventually hides underneath a Suzuki Vitara for cover.

A bit further down, the young mum is struggling to load baby equipment around the large custom built speaker system in the boot of the new VW Polo. A bit further down again, next
to the children’s playground that the children never play on, a man with a good two-thirds of his arse showing is mending his old Transit Connect. “Can I borrow your drill, Trevor?” he shouts to the man drinking beer in his front garden, “You cheeky bastard!” the man shouts back.

Thursday 29 May 2014

Four women in their thirties pass me near the junction box that has been vandalised with the slogan ‘WALTER SCOTT IS A BATTY BOY’.

Four women in their thirties pass me near the junction box that has been vandalised with the slogan ‘WALTER SCOTT IS A BATTY BOY’. They walk two abreast, arms folded tight and the hoods of their bathrobes pulled over their heads against the driving rain. The old man whose garden smells of chives is putting out his bins. He watches the women pass and rolls his eyes, blood from a nosebleed congealing thickly on his top lip.

Out in the sticks: the sun comes out and there are dog walkers with ski poles, gaiters and fleece jackets. Only the pony’s head is visible above the sea of yellow in the buttercup field. There are rhododendrons, striped lawns, BMWs, Range Rovers, and those panelled front doors that look like enormous chocolate bars. Queues of men in shorts and t-shirts stand outside the Sandwich Barn—pumped up torsos and skinny legs—and the old man in full motorcycle racing leathers pulls off his helmet to reveal a somehow immaculate and astonishing 1970s hairdo.

Right out in the sticks: the sun is out but the cow-parsley lined roads are still littered with leaves and twigs after all the wind and rain. Crows scatter as I approach. There are broken Zafiras, Vitaras, ancient Land Rovers and mucky trainers. There are midges too, and I think I saw a lone oystercatcher down by the reservoir. Puffs of pollen explode from the pine trees and I definitely heard a cuckoo.

Monday 12 May 2014

On Tuesday, 20th May, I will be reading from The Most Difficult Thing Ever at the Marble Beerhouse.

On Tuesday, 20th May I will be reading from The Most Difficult Thing Ever at the Marble Beerhouse in Chorlton, Manchester as part of the Chorlton Arts Festival. It's a free event and it starts at 7pm.

There's a Facebook page dedicated to the event here. If you use Facebook or Twitter etc and could spread the details around it would be fantastic, especially if you have Manchester connections. As far as I'm aware, the only person currently intending to come along is the woman in the video above. She's only just set off and she's got to go via the chemist so I'm concerned she won't make it in time.

Tuesday 29 April 2014

I was out in fucking Leeds at the weekend

“I was out in fucking Leeds at the weekend” says the man sitting in front of me on the bus. “There’s some fucking talent over there compared to Huddersfield, you know? It’s a different world.” “You need some bromide”, says the man with the bent glasses next to him. “Bromide? What’s bromide?” “It’ll calm you down, stop you thinking about it all the time.” “But I like thinking about it!” I look out of the window, a plump woman with thick dry curly hair is sitting at the lights in a mauve Vauxhall Corsa eating yoghurt from the pot with a metal spoon.

At the house with the single gatepost and a gate but no fence or wall etc., nothing to mark its boundary with the pavement, a boy of about ten years is standing and staring, his face smeared with streaks of fake tan. “How come you’re just standing there?” he asks the delivery man who’s writing out a card on the step of the house next door. “How come you’re just standing there?” the delivery man asks back. “I don’t know”, says the boy.

Out in the sticks, surrounded by dog groomers’ vans, the sun comes out and flies bounce off my face. Trees cast dappled shadows across ivy-covered walls that buzz with insects. I hear a cuckoo, see dunlins, lapwings, pheasants, (close-up) swallows, ducks, geese, and a beautiful peacock butterfly all within half an hour. Back in town, Craig Bainbridge tells me he’s seen two ducks eating some chips outside C.Booth’s hardware shop. He says he’d have taken a photo but he was on his scooter.

Results of an hour spent researching what to wear in the countryside at this time of year:
Knitted beige lurex cardigan — no sleeves, tied at waist.
Brown hoodie
Green overalls
Green anorak with hood — North Face
Black and navy woollen jumper
Hi-vis coat — green/muddy
Pink polo-neck jumper with black gilet
Navy blue overall/shop coat
Fleece jackets — various and sundry
Blue cagoule — torn
Green zip-up raglan cardigan
Light blue cotton shirt
T-shirts — various and sundry

Wednesday 23 April 2014

World Book Night Special: Wednesday 23rd April 2014

This year, the World Book Night annual collaborative book event at the Centre for Fine Print Research at the University of the West of England, will feature Charles Bukowski's 1971 novel, Post Office. I'm pleased to have been asked to contribute some thoughts.

Bucket of Crabs*

I left the post office in 1990 to study art at university in Liverpool. I graduated in 1993 and spent the next twelve months looking for a job and doing voluntary work in galleries. The only ‘DSS welcome’ place I could find was a room-share with a neo-nazi who burnt my belongings and threw them out of a first floor window. 
Frustrated, I decided to spend my time more productively; I mainly smoked weed which I rolled with tobacco sourced from the ashtrays of a biker bar in town. When I wasn’t doing that, I was drinking 25p cans of Skandia Green lager and trying to stay away from my flat. 

One day, I went for a Restart at Toxteth job centre. I was told to bring three job cards with me. I searched the racks but they were all empty, not a single card in the whole place. I went in for my interview and the R.E.M song, Shiny Happy People played over the P.A. as the job centre man signed me on again.

Cutting a long story short, I eventually found myself back at the Royal Mail in Huddersfield, utterly defeated. This is when I first read Post Office. It was an easy read and very funny. As objectionable as the book's main protagonist is at times, I could identify with him. Henry Chinaski's impeccably flawed combination of bravado, cynicism, righteous indignation and pissed-up bewilderment made him real and authentic and he operated in a very familiar world. 

I think Charles Bukowski wrote himself into the book as Chinaski—a fantasised, exaggerated version of himself in a profoundly observed environment.
Where Bukowski wrote himself into his books, I write myself out of mine. I’ve found that being a postman makes me almost invisible on the streets. Drama is everywhere and it is my anonymity that facilitates my access to it. I am looking in from the outside. In effect, I have escaped the post office by writing about it from the outside on the inside. Unfortunately for Charles Bukowski, he never thought of this clever conceit and his only option was to leave the post office and fall back on a career as a massively successful writer of short stories, novels, poetry, and films.

Suffice to say that reading Post Office this time around was like pulling teeth. In fact, I was struggling through it in the dentist's waiting room the other day and was relieved when the receptionist called me for my treatment.

*The people from The Centre for Fine Print Research handed out copies of Post Office and asked the recipients for three word reviews which were then made into a book (see video above). My review was 'Bucket of crabs' and I thought I'd also use it as a title here. It is a reference to Charles Bukowski's posthumously published poem 'The Great Escape' in which he explains how he finally overcame the post office.

Tuesday 1 April 2014

The wind picked up on the estate and Mrs O’Leary’s wind chimes chimed

The wind picks up and Mrs O’Leary’s wind chimes chime while the scrap men throw the TV over the broken fence. Further down, the jolly old overweight racist man with the moustache and the 1970s zip-up raglan cardigan with suedette detail is hiding the Asian children’s toys behind the wall at the bus stop again. Down by the house with the ceramic cart horse in the porch, the kestrel perched on the steering wheel of the builder’s van stares as I pass. Next door, the woman who always calls me “My dear” is wearing her red coat with the leopard fur trim. She unloads Lidl and Wilko bags from a taxi, pays the driver and carries all six bags up
her path at once, past the countless woodland creature garden ornaments that incorporate solar panels and lamps. I wave and she shouts “Hello, my dear!”

A funeral cortège led by a man in 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?”

At the large, detached houses near the park, an elderly man in a fleece jacket tells me  “Steam railways make life worth living”. At the house next-door-but-three—with the black BMW on the drive—another elderly man in a fleece jacket is in the garage. He’s working at a Black & Decker Workmate while he listens to Ken Bruce play The Three Degrees on Radio 2. A Tesco delivery van arrives. The driver is also listening to Ken Bruce playing
The Three Degrees on Radio 2, “How are you?” he shouts to the Black & Decker man. “I’d be a lot better if the sun was shining!” the Black & Decker man replies.

At the golf club, the four grey haired golfers in black fleece jackets have gathered around the bearded, grey haired golfer in the black fleece jacket to ask him how much they owe him. It transpires that three of them owe him £25 and one of them owes him £28.

Sunday 9 March 2014

Two thin young men in snapbacks and bum fluff are eating eggs...

Two thin young men in baseball caps and bum fluff are eating eggs in the café on Westbourne Road, a copy of The Sun open on the table in front of them. “He paid £106,000 to look like that!” says the one in the white hat, poking his yolky knife at a picture of a semi-naked man with very pronounced abdominal muscles. “Why?” says the man in the blue hat. “Because he’s a fucking knob.”

At the newsagent's on the other side of the road, a young woman in a polka-dot onesie, heavy make-up, drawn-on eyebrows and a big ‘up do’ is waiting outside in the drizzle with two Staffordshire bull terriers. A large truck passes, blowing over the steel Huddersfield Examiner sandwich board with a crash and the dogs yelp in surprise.

Later, out in the sticks, a pair of frogs are in amplexus on the steps of the house that once featured on TV’s Grand Designs and a sparrowhawk kills a woodpigeon on Mr and Mrs Mitchell’s driveway. As I cross the road by the Conservative Club, my hat blows off and a woman under an umbrella walks into me as I bend down to retrieve it.

On the estate, the man who always wears the same baggy tracksuit bottoms and unusual cap-sleeved t-shirt says he’s looking forward to some nicer weather because it puts people in a better mood. Further down, in the car park by the flats, the old man in the tweed suit shouts “We’re getting posh, aren’t we?” to the Rastafarian man who is fitting some new wheel trims to his Vauxhall Astra.

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

Tuesday 18 February 2014

The woman with the bit of cake on her face looked perplexed at the pair of boxing gloves in the road

The woman with the bit of cake on her face looks perplexed at the pair of boxing gloves in the road. It’s raining hard, occasionally sleeting, and the deluged streets dance in reflected light. I cross to the street that’s lined with empty pizza boxes, food tins, cooking sauce jars, energy drink cans, navy blue underpants, cerise pink shoes with missing heels, rolls of sodden carpet, mattresses, children’s plastic ride-on toys, a sofa, broken glass, an empty satnav box, and a massive burst-open bag of aggregate. Near the top, at one of the houses where they have sold all the stone flags from the yard and replaced them with dog shit, the woman with the tattoos and the bathrobe says, “Ooo, it’s snowing!” “I know”, I say. “I take it you don’t like snow.” “No, not really, it’s a bit inconvenient.” “Haha! I do”, she says, as she closes the door and disappears back inside her warm dry house.

Next door, the stocky terrier on the windowsill is on its hind legs, pulling down the curtains, its cock flopping from side to side as it scrabbles its front paws against the glass, trying to get a better purchase.

It’s still raining when I knock at the house with the crumbling concrete driveway to tell the owner that the driver’s door of the S-Class Mercedes saloon with the low profile tyres is wide open. A man in his late-twenties answers. He wears a meticulously manicured beard, three-quarter length tracksuit pants, flip-flops and a t-shirt. “Yeah”, he laughs, “I got to take it to the scrappers. Cheers, mate”.

Saturday 1 February 2014

I’d just passed the single, left footed bowling shoe in the gutter

As I pass the single, left-footed bowling shoe in the gutter, just before the pub chalkboard that’s had ‘Bitchcraft’ written on it for weeks, a young man in a black tracksuit with white trim passes loudly, standing up on an exhausted old scooter. “That’ll be stolen” says the toothless man with the tattoo teardrop from under his threadbare hoodie, “It’s a wonder he’s got a helmet on”.

Mr Mahmood has paved over the paving that he paved over his garden with. He’s laid some new, bright yellow concrete flags over the old cracked ones. He has used no bedding, mortar or fixture of any kind except at the edges where the flags adjoin his crumbling garden wall, just a lumpy smeared trail of cement runs around the perimeter joints.

Out in the sticks now, the wind is thrashing the trees and the sleet is thrashing my face as I slide around on slimy untreated millstone. It’s been wet and windy for weeks. The verges are scarred with deep miry tyre tracks and streams of run-off carry tree litter and even small branches along in the gutter. They are blasting at the quarry and a massive swirling flock of gulls is screeching overhead. Two bald men in black tracksuits with white trim are overseeing the cross country run around the perimeter of the school grounds. Dozens of teenagers straggle through the gap in the wall and splash past, all muddy ankles and too big t-shirts. A small, skinny boy with thick blond hair tells the taller heavier boy alongside him, “I was the fittest person with an inhaler at my old school”.

In the valley bottom, where the moss on the dry stone walls is almost fluorescent, I watch a pair of herons flap by and disappear over the horizon where you can see the tips of the wind turbines on the moor.

At the cottage with the electric gates, a delivery driver rolls his eyes and says, “Twat”, not quite under his breath as he tries to write out a form in a squall.

Sunday 19 January 2014

A grey Vauxhall Zafira pulled up on the canal bank next to the narrowboat with the big spotlights

A grey Vauxhall Zafira pulls up on the canal bank next to the narrowboat with the big spotlights—just down from where they pulled the dead paedophile out of the water in the Christmas holidays. A man gets out and sweeps half a dozen McDonalds take-out cups from the footwell and onto the towpath. He brushes crumbs from his fleece jacket and boot-cut jeans, stretches, gets back into the car and drives away.

The shadows of the people in the bus queue are long. The man I used to think looked too young to smoke a pipe is there, smoking a pipe. He doesn’t look too young anymore. On the wall beside the shelter, someone has written ‘I know’ with a marker pen.

Hundreds of geese fly over in a noisy quarter-mile ‘V’ formation. The white UPVC front door of the house opposite opens, the one with the fake leaded lights in the shape of a Yorkshire rose, and Mr Mohammed steps outside in salwar kameez and sandals. He stands next to the soggy carpet in his front yard and looks up at the birds, shielding his eyes from the sun. Next door, the man in the torn gilet and jeans has also heard the noise and comes outside. He leans on his door frame holding a mug of tea in one hand, shielding his eyes with the other, his digestive biscuit held between his teeth. The two men stare up at the birds until they’ve all passed, briefly acknowledge one another and then go back inside, closing their front doors in unison.

Sunday 12 January 2014

West View Study Centre

Dear All,

We'd like to let you know about our new project, West View Study Centre (WVSC).

On the odd occasion that we create something with vaguely commercial potential, WVSC is where you’ll be able to find it.

Our first vaguely commercial creation is a new extended print/audio (book/CD) version of Kevin’s award winning blog, The Most Difficult Thing Ever.

We’ve spent bloody ages getting this how we want it, it’s been hard work but we’re very pleased with the result. The book was designed by Georgia and it’s a sewn-bound paperback that features highlights from The Most Difficult Thing Ever, 2010 to 2013. As well as text and photographs, the book includes a fifty minute audio CD of readings and field recordings.

This book/CD was conceived, written, designed, recorded, printed, bound and published here in our home town of Huddersfield in the north of England. It has been a great pleasure to have been able to collaborate with our talented and likeminded friends. It is our intention that such collaborations continue at West View Study Centre.

There’s more info about both WVSC in general and the book/CD here:

Thank you for your time,

Best wishes for the new year

Kevin and Georgia Boniface