Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Walking into work at 6 a.m., I am overtaken by a man on an old mountain bike.



Walking into work at 6 a.m., I am overtaken by a man on an old mountain bike, a Labrador on a lead trotting alongside him. 20 yards ahead of me on the pavement is the spectral flâneur who I’ve occasionally glimpsed sight of over many years as he conducts his early morning dérives around town. He is easily recognised by his head-to-toe navy blue waterproofs and tightly drawn hood—whatever the weather. Over time I have convinced myself of this man's supernatural powers of perception and am consequently intimidated by his presence in the same street as me. 
Eventually, the mountain biker and Labrador catch up with and pass the mysterious flâneur which appears to prompt him to take flight; he suddenly leaps from the pavement, sprints across the road and disappears into a side street for another few months.

I have a badly addressed parcel to deliver: no street number, just a name. I ask the camp eastern European man with the tattoos who lives at the house with the waist height grass meadow in the front yard whether he recognises it. He says he doesn't which seems to frustrate him. I can tell he really wants to help and, after thinking for a moment he says, "The only advice I can give you is to drive really slowly along the road looking in all the windows at the curtains and things.”

It’s windy. I can hear plastic bottles blowing down the street. I see one bounce past the little junction box whose inspection door has been secured shut with brown packing tape.

Balls of plastic topiary hang from chains by front doors on the new estate. There are low maintenance bits of lawn, bits of privet, bits of cotoneaster etc. On a window sill, a pair of metallic effect picture frames display identical pieces of white paper printed with the words 4x4 Metallic Effect Frame.

At the house that smells of dog piss there are signs on the gate that say Beware of Dogs. Next door, at the house where a recording of an Islamic call to prayer is audible from an upstairs window, there is a handwritten note in pencil attached to the door frame above the bell. It says “What are YOU saying?”

The sun comes out briefly and the broken glass glistens on the pavements. A scattering of takeaway detritus blows in a circle outside the post office where the couple with the bags-for-life are having an argument at the bus stop.

Inside the newsagent’s shop with the faded sign, a big man on crutches is talking to the thin woman in the torn gilet behind the counter. He is dressed in black with his hood up. He says Dr Who has had too many assistants over the years. “It started with his granddaughter and she was around for a while and then a new one came in and she’d be gone before you knew it and then there’d be another female on.” he explains, “There have been that many assistants it’s hard to keep up sometimes.”

On the estate of sweet peas and sticky grass, the 4x4 is loaded up and the kids are strapped in for the holiday drive. Parents scurry back and forth, “Have you got your fidget spinners?”

“Well, she’s putting enough weight on for twins” says the waitress at the pub as she walks past the bar with plates of screwed up serviettes and ketchup stacked the length of her forearm. The barman glances up from his phone with a wry smile.

I pass The Bathstore on the ring road and I find myself thinking about the olive green plastic bath panel that was on sale for years at a rural post office from where I used to collect the mail. Other than post office essentials: stamps, envelopes, pens, there was nothing else for sale but this olive green bath panel. It was hung from baling twine above the cashier’s head and had a price tag of £18 attached to it. The office is long gone and presumably the bath panel will have gone with it.