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.