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.