Wednesday, 20 May 2020

It’s a bright morning


It’s a bright morning. A light breeze. A blackbird is singing in the sycamore tree above the nerf gun bullets in the gutter. Two furloughed men in polo shirts are talking loudly across an expanse of Luxury Artificial Grass—no mowing, no watering, no weeding. ‘It’s our lass’s birthday today’ says the one in the navy blue shorts. ‘Did you get her owt?’ Asks the other one in the navy blue shorts. ‘A shredder. She’s always shredding stuff and the old one’s broken.’ ‘Oh. Have you heard about Little Richard…?’
In the garden a few doors down the derelict trailer containing pebbledash concrete shed panels has been consumed by clocking dandelions and stinging nettles. Stuck to the inside of the window of the front room with sellotape, above the model of a soldier in a red tunic and bearskin hat, a glass union jack ashtray and a large woodpecker assembled from pieces of scrap metal, there’s a Thank You NHS rainbow cut from the local paper. Quite a large woman in floral leggings is bent over a large plastic terracotta-look plant pot with a trowel in one hand and a tray of seedlings in the other. ‘These are just gonna do one, I can tell.’ she says. ‘I can tell, they’re just gonna do one, they’ve had it”. A thin man in jeans, holding a cigarette stands over her. “Be careful, love” he says. ‘I AM being careful, they’re just falling apart!’
‘I think I might be pregnant’ says a man to his neighbour over a weathered overlap fence. ‘How come?’ says the neighbour. ‘I’ve been eating a whole cucumber every day these last few weeks’. ‘They’re refreshing though, aren’t they?’
The window cleaners are discussing the coronavirus with the occupier of the end terrace. He’s come outside in bare feet with cigarettes and tea “It wor man-made, wan’t it? It wor man-made. They’ve made it in a lab and it’s mutated, an’t it?” An elderly man shuffles past in salwar kameez, a face mask worn over his chin and bottom lip.
The new estate of detached period simulacra—all Jags and Range Rovers—smells strongly of the weed smoke that is pluming from the open window of one of the council houses that backs onto it.
“Wee wees! Don’t mess me about! Wee wees, now!” says the woman with the lockdown hairstyle to her unenthusiastic Border terrier.
Back out on the main road, a man in his 30s, flat cap over long hair, pool sliders under long jeans, liberates a large illustrated book about birds from the skip outside number two. Behind him in the road, a pristine scavenging jackdaw is wrestling with something wedged between the crack of a manhole cover and the asphalt.
Under the railway bridge out of the park and on past the walls and trees in ivy. Up the mother-die lined footpath next to the mid-century brick substation with the vernacular perches for tired witches. Above the tree-line an aerobatic hobby is after the new swifts and around the corner where the road starts again, local blues guitar legend and leatherworker George Gray is out for a walk in an ill-judged puffa coat.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

6.25am: A warm draught of strong weed infiltrates the van via the open vent on the dashboard



6.25am: A warm draught of strong weed infiltrates the van via the open vent on the dashboard and the woman in the new KIA Sportage in front throws a joint out of the window as she pulls away from the lights. It’s a bright morning but it’s rained over night and traffic splashes through potholes on the road of mainly builders’ wholesalers. The pub on the corner where all the punk bands played in the 80s has been boarded up for years.

Later, on the edge of town where the Chinese students live, wheelie bins clutter the pavements—fourteen in one short terrace of six houses. I pass the Peugeot with no radiator grill up on bricks and the Lithuanian Mercedes with four flat tyres. I stop at each front door: white wooden, white wooden, brown wooden, white plastic, black composite, white plastic with scaffolding and a big pile household belongings on the pavement outside; three pull-along trollies spilling their contents into the road, clothes, books, a toaster…

On the estate on the moor, couch grass, dandelions and dock leaves have colonised the joints between the edge of the pavement and the kerb as well as the gaps between the kerb and the asphalt of the road; neat double rows of foot high pioneer vegetation line the Avenues, Closes, Rises and Crescents.

A gang of kids on bikes swarm around my van (they’re not doing social distancing around here), one of them opens the back doors and when I slam them shut again I am threatened. “I’LL SMASH YOUR FUCKING STUPID FACE AND BREAK THOSE FUCKING STUPID GLASSES” says the oldest of them, probably about sixteen. He’s angry because he doesn’t think I should be “Getting up in the grill of a little kid”.

An elderly couple are out for their lockdown walk. The woman—purple anorak and grey trousers—waits patiently for the man—washed out black anorak, walking stick. He’s stopped to inspect the planning notice which is cable tied to the lamp post opposite the post office.

Many years ago I would relieve the monotony of my post round by performing it in the style of somebody else. One of the personas I adopted was that of a weather-beaten old hill farmer from somewhere up on the moors. I would shout Eyup! to people and go on about how I was a bit nesh or say it was looking black over Bill’s mother’s. It occurs to me now that I pretty much do my round like that for real these days. It’s like that bit in Colditz where Wing Commander Marsh tries to trick the guards by feigning insanity but actually goes mad in the process.

There are goldfinches in the broken cherry and a blackbird is singing on the summit of a forty foot Leylandii. Dandelions are clocking, the cypresses are yellowing with new growth. A flock of starlings is pecking around in amongst the buttercups in the big field at the back of the estate.

The man with the tidy beard is inspecting the not quite sunken enough lights of his herringbone driveway. Most of them are cracked. At the house opposite, with the bench press and a quad bikes parked on the plastic lawn, a drift of pink cherry blossom underlines the grey plastic fence.

The hi-vis driver is delivering trays of white sliced to the post office. The postmaster comes out in an Adidas baseball cap and an old fashioned looking shell suit top to sign the delivery docket. He reaches up to the driver on the raised tail lift and hands him back his clipboard. They thank each other with a small salute style wave and the postmaster walks off dragging his biro along the powder coated railings of the day care centre.

Back at the office, one of my colleagues tells me he thinks the whole coronavirus thing is a hoax anyway, he says the NHS is still functioning well below its capacity and the new Nightingale hospitals are all empty. Another of my colleagues shows me a film he shot on his phone of the UFO he saw hovering above his house a couple of weeks ago. I tell him he should show it to my boss, he’s an expert on UFOs. He says he was abducted by aliens from Pendle Hill when he was a boy.