Sunday, 22 March 2020

It’s a cold, clear morning. The woodpigeons and magpies are backed by songbirds



It’s a cold, clear morning. The woodpigeons and magpies are backed by songbirds. There’s a red light down in the railway cutting, a fine misty drizzle. Forsythia.
It’s 6.30am and the grey haired man in the golfing sweater is readying a Ford Focus for an early morning trip to the supermarket.
In the park the bins have been pushed over again—the heavy cast iron ones, and somebody has written the words ‘Ass’ and ‘Hole’ in large letters on the path with spray paint.
A small skein of geese honks in to land on the pond by the bandstand.
Outside the Tesco on John William Street, a pair of crows are eating a rat, they hop up into a tree as I approach and issue noisy threats until I pass.
A woman’s loud cackle echos up from the market place where the stallholders are setting up.
On past the pair of discarded orange ski boots in the cotoneaster next to the graffitied junction box.
* * * * * * * *
The chatter of jackdaws, the drumming of a woodpecker and a distant ambulance siren swirl around the 1970s village.
Daffodils have grown to obscure the faded Beware of the Dog sign at the house where the dog died five years ago.
At the off-kilter Victorian mansion, the recycling bins are full of expanding foam and the foxes have been at the rubbish again; litter is strewn down the driveway, paper and cans are trapped in the brambles. I pass the half derelict coal bunker, its scattered contents, and the unusual large orange shovel which is in a different place every morning. It’s like a crime scene from a Children’s Film Foundation film. At the overgrown entrance, the man in the high-vis vest and cargo pants is leaning on the wall. He rolls a hard boiled egg in his hands, picks off the broken shell and pops it into his mouth whole.
On the estate of semi-detached bungalows there’s a noisy dispute between two neighbours about a hedge and some pruning. Over the road, Mrs Norcliffe takes the opportunity to grab a bunch of dead flowers from the windowsill in the kitchen. She flaps outside to the bins in fluffy slippers and cardy. She’s all ears.
Coronavirus ‘Wash Your Hands’ posters are Blu-tacked to the windows of the school. In the carpark a young woman is loading a large brass instrument into the boot of a Fiesta.
I ask the woman in the bath robe and slippers, her hair all stuck up on one side, whether she’ll take in a parcel for her neighbour. “No” she says, “I’m just off out”. I try the next neighbour along, an upstairs window opens, “Sorry, love. Can’t answer the door. Suspected coronavirus”.
Out in the sticks, I pass pensioners out walking, pensioners on horseback, cycling pensioners in lycra and pensioners going into the pub for lunch. “I tell you what,” says the windswept pensioner in the car park with the bag-for-life featuring a close up photograph of some strawberries, “If everyone came outside in this sunshine, it’d kill it off”.
A big new BMW passes slowly, the driver is eating mashed potato from a tray in his lap with a stainless dining fork.
Doorstep diorama of the day: a VW camper van the size of a small toaster is dwarfed by the man in the colourful plaid suit whose cranium has been planted with crocuses. Between them, a small stone dragon is curled up, asleep.

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

6.00am. Driving sleet storms my waterproofs

6.00am. 

Driving sleet storms my waterproofs, cars skim through deluged streets, a noisy wagon sluices spray from the gutter and the thrush in the tree at the entrance to the park is singing so loudly I can hear him from Dingle Road, 250 yards away.

6.10am. Street lamps refract through raindrops gathered on the telegraph wire which hangs across the road like a garland of fairy lights. Below, at the bus stop, the man in the smart black shoes, suit trousers and Parka jacket is smoking some very strong weed.

6.20am. Exposed on the flyover, I hold on to my hat as a train brakes sadly into the station behind the derelict warehouse. A pint glass, three-quarters full of an artisan porter has been discarded on the pavement next to the junction box opposite the pub and, twenty yards further on, there’s a quarter of a bottle of Coca Cola in an abandoned shopping trolley on Byram Street.

9.30am-13.40pm.
Two dozen bleached plastic planters containing dry twigs, sweet wrappers and the odd new shoot guard the entrance to the flats. “All right, mate?” Says the man who is replacing the stolen top stones.


Around the back of the back-to-backs, the top stones haven’t been replaced, neither have the paving flags. Deep mud abuts front steps. Miry bog gardens are littered with the smashed and filthy possessions of previous tenants; sodden mattresses, TV’s, plastic toys, clothes and the ubiquitous cinder toffee globules of expanding foam. The gloopy and blackened remains of a burnt out wheelie bin and its contents renders one house inaccessible.

Twenty yard litter survey:
A plastic takeaway box
A McDonalds takeout cup
The lid from a wheelie bin
A wet wipe
The wrapper from a Cadbury’s Fudge
A dented old fashioned galvanised bucket
A washing up bowl
Another McDonalds cup
A section of foam pipe-lagging
A Pepsi can
A parking ticket
Some foil packaging
Some plastic pre-packed sandwich packaging
An Oranjeboom can
A Budweiser can
A Kinder Bueno wrapper
A plastic bag
A Costa coffee cup
A cardboard box
An Irn Bru can
A burst bin liner and contents
Two unbranded takeout cups


“Fuck off!” says the thin man to his dog at the house that smells of piss.

A young man in a tracksuit refuses to take in a parcel for his neighbours because he doesn’t really like them. A few doors down, the stone Buddha sits serenely in the garden contemplating the upturned wheelie bin, the overgrown couch grass, the five deflated footballs, the three McDonalds takeout cups, the upside down three piece suite and the dog shit.

The window cleaner is sick of all this wind and rain.

The woman in the done-up-to-the-top anorak is sick of all this dog muck.

Mr Walker is sick of his next door neighbour.

I follow the thin man with the grey ponytail, too short jogging pants and undone safety boots up the main road. He farts loudly and repeatedly. 

The wind blows the lid from a green wheelie bin and it glances off my shoulder.

It’s cold and still sleeting steadily as I make my way up the long steep terrace. A dog is howling inside one of the houses near the top. A man wearing red and blue checked pyjamas and black trainers opens his front door. “Have you got owt for us?” He asks. “No” I say and he sets off up his path fixing some ear buds into his ears. He opens his gate and sets off up the road waving to the old man on the mobility scooter whose single very pale leg is naked almost to the hip apart from an open toed sandal and a pair of very short shorts.

Back out on the main road I pass the empty three litre bottle of Ace cider and the shuttlecock. The pavement is narrow, cars are parked nose to tail and the privet is overgrown; I have to lean over to one side as I walk. A fat man of about forty-five with a broken nose almost rides into me on a mountain bike with a too low seat. “Wooaah!” he exclaims as he slams on and skids to a stop about a foot away from me. We squeeze past each other. He doesn’t say anything, just rides off trailing weed smoke with his arse crack showing. An hour later I see him again, he’s going in the opposite direction this time. He swerves round a wheelie bin and hits the wing mirror of a parked Peugeot Partner.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Someone has pushed over all the bins between my house and the town centre.


Someone has pushed over all the bins between my house and the town centre.

The snow storm passes and the sun comes out. The builder in baggy old jeans and beanie hat pulls up his van next to the high stone wall with the duvet of ivy slung over it. He climbs out and unseals a loaf of sliced bread with his teeth. He holds the top of the open bag in one hand as it untwists and then begins throwing one slice at a time onto the roof of an electricity substation.

Mrs Hicks has spilt something down her front. She’s in the kitchen window dabbing at her black and white striped jumper with a damp cloth. Behind her, at the kitchen island, Mr Hicks sits with his laptop open. In the road outside, a jackdaw is eating a flattened squirrel.
A Border collie barks at me through the gate of the big house on the moor. On the driveway, a man in a hunter’s cap and steel toe cap boots looks up from under the bonnet of an old Citroen Dispatch and shouts over ‘Oh shut up, you poof!’

The low sun heightens the green of the herringbone moss on the driveway at Shangri-La and there’s a noisy nuthatch at the edge of the park. Smashed tree litter lines both sides of the road, flotsam from the storm crushed by dog walkers’ cars.

At the firework factory, staff in hi-vis anoraks drive around in Land Rovers with no number plates.

On the estate where pretend owls outnumber the human population by two to one, the woman in the big 1980s style specs and Lurex knitwear is having some Double 4 Designer Traditional Vintage Cream Vinyl Plastic Cladding fitted to her gable end. A few doors down a woman calls me a knob and says she’s never been so shocked in all her life because of my ignorance of the arbitrary regulations she has devised for the use of her parcel box.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

An extremely thin and roughly dressed man is pretending to walk an invisible dog



An extremely thin and roughly dressed man is pretending to walk an invisible dog as he crosses the ring-road holding a piece of string with a large rubber washer attached to the end. He casts around for a response from car drivers and fellow pedestrians but nobody is paying him any attention. A quarter of a mile down the main road, another skinny man sets off down the hill at an uncoordinated run. He stops suddenly, stands very still and straight on the kerb with his feet together. He composes himself for a few seconds and then pretends to perform an Olympic style high dive. He lands on his feet in the road, shakes pretend water from his hair, blows pretend water from his nose and raises an arm aloft to acknowledge the applause of an imaginary crowd.

Light drizzle, stiff breeze, overcast. Wind-blown leaves circle around the electricity substation. Above the trees, the crows are harrying a buzzard. In the trees, finches chatter and a woodpigeon hides its head under its wing. On the ground, the downy remains of a sparrowhawk kill line the gutter.

I pass the school where they have recently replaced one impossible slogan ‘a happy learning school where students exceed their potential’ with another, ‘Everyone, Exceptional, Everyday’. A few streets down somebody has created a large and unusual garden display. Dozens of succulents have been planted into sections of black plastic guttering and stuck to walls and fences with blobs of bright orange expanding foam. On the wall of the house adjacent to the front door, a collection of white pebbles of varying sizes has been attached using the same method. Next to the window of the front room, several flower boxes have also been ‘foamed’ to the house. These mainly contain spider plants whose leaves have been cut in half with a pair of scissors.

On the 1970s meat and potatoes estate, people wearing anoraks to protect themselves from doubt gather to witness to one-another in the name of The Powers That Be while plastic meerkats play on seesaws. The crows look on from the funny cypress trees.

The man who’s been pruning the big hedge leans on his broom and tells me about his holiday to Lanzarote: ‘We had a good trip round to see the lava where the volcano erupted and we had a meal. They cook you a chicken over the hole of the volcano and you can look down it. That was good and it was very reasonably priced which is unusual because you can usually only get a Coke for 10€ and I thought to myself, ‘That was a good trip out, that was’ but I wouldn’t really want to go again.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

A Caught by the River Social Club: Farsley




A Caught by the River Social Club: Farsley will take place at the West Yorkshire town’s Constitutional Club on Thursday 6th February 2020, and will feature:

- Stepping into the dark: a unique audio exploration of landscapes local to the venue by field recording royalty Chris Watson (David Attenborough’s right-hand sound man);

- Much-revered poet and non-fiction writer Kathleen Jamie discussing her most recent book, Surfacing, with Amy Liptrot;

- Kevin Boniface sharing comic snatches from his daily postal round;

- Longstanding Caught by the River co-conspirator and purveyor of vintage fishing tackle John Andrews as Master of Ceremonies;

- Caught by the River DJs spinning tunes ‘til close.

Farsley Constitutional is a former Conservative Club, now a self-professed “club for working persons” to which membership costs £1 a year.

Full price tickets are £10. We are also offering a suspended ticket option for this event - these are tickets which can be bought ahead for someone else, or, if you’d like to come along but can’t afford to pay, ones which can be claimed for free, no questions asked. Tickets can be purchased here. Suspended tickets can be claimed by emailing info@caughtbytheriver.net.