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.