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!