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.

It’s a busy morning at the office and the pressure builds into a cacophony of infectious ticks, inflections, call and response catchprases and chants the origins of which have long since been forgotten: the name of a local chemical supplier is repeated over and over again in a fake cockney accent. The opening lines of the song Born Free are sung in the style of Matt Monro at an absurdly high volume. There’s a background of constant bickering punctuated with a mock shock “You can’t say that!” and somebody shouts “Do I look Stupid? to which everyone responds “Yes!” Then there’s the whistly “Oh yes!” In the style of a 1970s Deryck Guyler with ill fitting false teeth. At the height of the melee someone rattles a teaspoon inside an enamel mug to sound like an alpine cow bell and elicits Ski Sunday cries of “Hup hup hup hup!” And finally there are the loud self-mocking boasts “I used to work in the printing trade!” or “I once had trials at Oldham Athletic!” and the enthusiastic group response of “Failure!”

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

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

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.

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”.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Caught by the River Calder

I'll be reading from The Most difficult Thing Ever / Round About Town at this Caught by the River event at the Trades Club in Hebden Bridge, West Yorks on March 30th. 

"Caught by the River Calder, taking place at the Trades Club, Hebden Bridge on Saturday 30thMarch 2019, is split into two separate events – a daytime session centred around readings and conversations from some of our favourite writers, poets and long-time contributors – and an evening event focusing on music and field recordings, with performances by Hannah Peel & Will Burns and Erland Cooper. Heavenly Jukebox DJs will play between and after the musicians and into the night."