Tuesday 28 April 2020

On the ridge tiles above the 1:6 scale Laurel and Hardy and the twice life-size rabbit

On the ridge tiles above the 1:6 scale Laurel and Hardy and the twice life-size rabbit, I notice a heron surveying the sleepy bungaloid exension. I point it out to the man with the hosepipe and he tells me it’s been kicking about for days.

It’s the season of sunny pinks and yellows. Dandelions, gorse, grit bins, double yellow lines and cherry blossom lined pavements.
At the house on the corner of the estate, the man in his sixties is admiring his new St George cross wind sock while at the bus stop in the road outside an elderly woman with a pull-along shopping cart pulls down her face mask to have a long drag on her cigarette.
10.30am. I park up next to the dirty Visitor Parking sign at the flats; scuffed brushed steel that still just about reflects the red of the van with a peeling inlayed sans serif in black. It’s come warm now and the bees are sniffing around the white azaleas. A man in a black baseball cap, black t-shirt and black jeans gets into a black Renault Megane. A large woodpigeon alights on the canopy of one of the neat new row of slender galvanised street lamps and a man in a Huddersfield Town shirt leans on a wheelie bin to sing the REM song, Losing My Religion in its entirety at the top of his voice.
“If their car’s not there, they’ll not be in” says the next-door neighbour. “Can I leave it with you?” I ask. “I suppose so” he sighs, not getting up. The cheery “Thanks, pal. You’re doing a great job” comments have dried up in the new normal.
The chemist has been broken into over night, the big display window and both panels of the door have been boarded up. A woman in her fifties is on her phone in the queue outside, “I’m not being horrible but you know what I mean.”
A man wearing a face mask in the queue at the post office waves and shouts a muffled hello. I say hello back. He says something else unintelligible. “Pardon” I say. He muffles into his mask again and I still don’t know what he’s saying so I approximate what I hope is an appropriate response, a slight laugh accompanied by a “Yeah”. His face his covered by his mask but I get the impression that this is a friend rather than a customer. I try, but I can’t make out what he’s saying or who he is so I just do a more open-faced laugh and a more enthusiastic yeah.
I pull up in the road next to two men in their fifties in jeans and rugby shirts. They are standing in the road drinking cans of Foster’s lager.
The man of about sixty in the full Watford football strip picks up his parcel from doorstep using a jumper to protect his hands.
A couple of early swallows whip around the telegraph wires above the house where they have pressed the cockpit canopy of a small aeroplane into use as a greenhouse. Next door, the young woman in leggings and dark glasses is on her phone, “If somebody in my household is ill then they can’t make me go to work. It says THEY CAN’T MAKE ME GO TO WORK”

Thursday 9 April 2020

A pair of deer bound along the back of the 90s estate.

A pair of deer bound along the back of the 90s estate. “Have you got a light?” ask the teenage boys who aren’t doing social distancing. 'No' I say as I round the corner. At one of the semis, a big jowly man with a shaved head walks up the path and a dog’s bark fractures the silence. The man responds with a much deeper, even louder bark of his own and the middle-aged couple in matching grey anoraks who are taking their exercise allowance quicken their pace. They head off towards the top end of the estate where the houses have Quality Driveways.

At the flats, the smell of dogs is masked with a cheap aerosol air freshener which catches in the back of my throat. I pull myself up the scuffed red vinyl concrete stairs two at a time, swinging around the stairwell on the wrought iron railings. The clatter of letterboxes reverberates noisily on the narrow landings. Back outside, a crow sits on the new LED street lamp above the Lynx deodorant gift box in the bramble litter trap. I pause to look out across the big elevated view of the deserted estate as the smell of weed drifts up the hillside and then I turn and walk into a spider’s web. As pick the sticky strands of silk out of my eyes and mouth I walk into a low slung washing line knocking my hat off onto the floor.

Monday 6 April 2020

Past the mid-century RIBA award winner...

Past the mid-century RIBA award winner, the ivy clad tumbledown drystone, the elderly man exercising in Hushpuppies, the field of molehills, the Golden Cock, the lycra cyclists, the girl with the earbuds, the topless builder, the row of red brick semis, the neighbours who’ve forgotten about social distancing, the pulmonary pandemic silhouettes of bare trees, Julie waving from her van, the curtain twitchers who are relishing their new authority. 
“Just throw it over the wall, buddy!” says the man with a savage little terrier under each arm — both these dogs have bitten me in the past. I throw his parcel, “Stay safe, buddy!” 

I drive out to Storthes Hall student halls where in the autumn of 1979, my primary school headmaster and I delivered our Harvest Festival bounty. The imposing Edwardian building was a psychiatric hospital back then and some of the patients unnerved me. As I make my way up the driveway forty years and hundreds of visits later, memories of my headmaster's mark lll Cortina, the birdlike elderly woman who pinched at the sleeves of my coat and the dancing man with the dewdrop on his nose shadow my thoughts. This place, and the surrounding area will always be associated with that time. It will always be a creepy 1970s Children’s Film Foundation location with a Radiophonic Workshop soundtrack and there’s nothing my diligently objective re-appraisals can do about it.

I make my way down into the village and deliver mail addressed to the surnames of old schoolmates: Walker, Bowden, Wadsworth, Dyson, Armitage, Burgess, Cockroft, Hamshore, Battye, Booth, Haigh, Broadbent, Brown, Brook, Sykes, Gledhill, Holmes, Berry, Rollinson, Whitehead, Beever…

A man who looks like 70s Everton FC hero Bob Latchford is unloading groceries from the back of a Fiat Doblo but apart from him and the cat who is sleeping on the bin liner of garden waste outside number 31, the streets are deserted.

I leave parcels on doorsteps, knock on doors and back off to a safe distance like Mr Mackay at the school firework display.

“Cheers, bud! Stay safe, you’re doing a great job” says the man with the grey beard.

A woman’s voice, slightly muffled on the other side of a cypress hedge: “He says when the vaccine comes out he’s just gonna buy it and get us all done no matter how much it costs”.

Up the hill, past the farm with no doubt a very dangerous slurry pit, past the Miss Haversham gables of the old vicarage, past the jackdaws bickering in the belfry, past the postbox and the pub, past the field of lambs and mangold wurzels to the brick semis with the tongue and groove fascias—pansies in pots on the doorsteps. A landline rings from behind a glass front door. A man’s voice, “There’s people on at me who don’t even know when their next fucking wage is coming in…”

At the last house in the village, opposite the field where the dangerous geese live, the garden has been modernised; tiny squiggles of terrier shit glisten on the plastic turf.