Friday 26 June 2020

Responses to being asked ‘How are you?’

Responses to being asked ‘How are you?’
Man, 50s, re-potting saplings. Jeans, t-shirt: All right, my man.
Man, 60s, digging up tree stump. Jeans, open neck shirt: I’ll be all right when I get this thing out.
Man, 60s, weeding driveway with long hoe. Bucket hat, jeans, t-shirt, face mask: Humphliphhtschts.
Man, 70s, painting small headless ankylosaurus garden statue with silver paint. Shorts, open neck shirt: Still buggering on.
Man, 50s, supervising building work. Jeans, plaid shirt, shooting vest, Stetson hat: Hello, How are you? Have you got a mortgage? Credit cards? If you’re anything like me you’ll pay off any debts… The shits gonna hit the fan… hyperinflation… they don’t care about the likes of us, they’re only interested in lining their pockets… to hell with you and me… you’ll be earning a pittance… get your affairs in order… Pension? Ha!… I don’t know what it is, some people say I’m psychic but I predicted this… global currency reset… neo-liberal conspiracy… Fact, the coronavirus was created in a lab in China… Venezuela… Are you a bit of a prepper too?

I pass the laughing gas canisters and the empty packets of balloons on the pavement and turn up the cul-de-sac of detached mid-century bungalows. ‘Just leave it on the step. It’ll be safe. We don’t have any problems round here’ says the man in the open neck shirt and bucket hat. At the house thirty yards back down the main road the signs on the gate read THIS PROPERTY IS UNDER CONSTANT SURVEILLANCE CCTV and BEWARE OF DOG DO NOT ENTER.

Two white men in their 60s in front of me in the queue are reading racist memes to each other from their phones. After four failed attempts at pronouncing the word democracy the fat one in the big shorts gives up suddenly when his black friend comes to join them.

Everything people said to me on the estate today
Where’s the other one?*
Where’s he gone?*
Bye, thanks luvvie
Thanks, love
Pop it on the bin there
Thanks, love 
Where’s the other one?*
Cheers, thanks a lot
She’ll not bother you, she’ll lick you to death. I had to train her myself with a chair and a whip
Nice day for it
Never mind him, through here
Is he off all week? I hope it pisses down*
Are you coming here?
If it’s a bill you can keep it
As long as you’re not using it as a shortcut. People do. Not allowed.
Isn’t it warm
Thank you, thank you very much

*Reference to the usual postman whose delivery I was covering.

Sunday 14 June 2020

The elderly woman at the bungalow is pleased with her parcel of flowers

The elderly woman at the bungalow is pleased with her parcel of flowers. She briefly disappears inside to fetch a couple of Aldi chocolate bars 'Here you are, love. I’m so grateful for what you and your colleagues are doing'. I thank her and she tells me that she hasn’t left the house for ten weeks. 'That must be hard for you. How are you coping?' I ask. She bursts into tears.

At the flats an emaciated looking man in a 90s blouson tracksuit top and torn combat pants stops me. 'Scuse me mate can you spare me thirty, forty pee for summat to eat?' I apologise, I’ve got no cash on me. 'It’s all right, mate. I didn’t know you were the fucking parcel man.'

Is it for my nana? She’s been waiting for a parcel!’ asks the small boy ‘I don’t know’ I say, 'Is your nana’s name Jacqueline Smith?’ ‘Oh no,’ says the boy, ‘Her name’s Nana Jacquie’.

A man is walking towards me on the same side of the pavement. He’s wearing a grey hiker’s soft-shell jacket and trouser combination. I step out into the road to keep a social distance. He doesn’t look up from his Patrick O’Brian paperback.

It’s unseasonably warm and still. The asphalt outside the post office is melting and Mrs Woodhead is chasing a budgerigar around her front room in a bikini. Up on the hillside above the town there are fields of buttercups to the left and an elevated view across the whole of the valley on the right. Ivy and brambles grow along the dry-stone walls where the jackdaws perch unruffled by any wind. Elderflower crowns the overgrown verge-side vegetation; brambles, thistles, couch grass and nettles as high as the walls. 

I pass a woman hiking in an Aussie rules jersey with her phone on a lanyard around her neck. 

Phone cables hang from their poles like sound waves into the distance. A sun bleached road cone guards a hole in a rusty barbed wire fence where I say hello to the man with the Sebald moustache—or is it the postman from Mr Tickle? 

The hazy scent of summer swells; baking tree litter and fresh new foliage. 

Clouds wisp. Outside the hillside terrace, a well seasoned grit bin is almost buried in the undergrowth. The metal clasp on the lid has broken but part of the hinge is still in place and leached rust streaks the chunky faded yellow plastic. 

A chubby young man astride a stationary motorbike is talking to his elderly neighbour about the coronavirus. 'I’m not going back. I’m never using public transport again after this'. Further along, a man in denim jeans and a faded blue t-shirt says the view across to Holme Moss is stunning and I agree. 

A couple in their sixties sit on a bench surrounded by some unusually tall mother-die, she’s pointing out something on the horizon and he squints into the distance as two grey haired cyclists in lycra crest the hill.

In the village, a loud blackbird is singing in the big sycamore by the church, below it on the pavement are spatters of avian abstract expressionism. A big white cow lumbers down the sloping field in the distance towards the woman in the white vest top and coral pink shorts. She’s reaching for something in an orange bandolier style bag.

I’ve spoken to only four people in the last hour and a half. Just brief hellos to the young skateboarder in grey shorts and backpack, the young man with the big hair and nineties baggy skate clothes, the man in the pink polo shirt who was washing his Mercedes with a hosepipe, and the woman in with the blue twin-set and full skirt who was chasing her long haired corgi down the road because the paper boy had left the gate open again. 'You postmen never leave the gate open!' she shouts as she disappears up the path of the graveyard.

Jackdaws are chasing starlings and house martins are fighting over the old nests on the terrace. Among all the regular goldfinches, sparrows and robins is the first greenfinch I’ve seen for years as well a bullfinch, a chiffchaff and a spotted flycatcher.

Just as Mr Russell with the homemade automaton post box predicted it begins to rain heavily. His peony blooms have been flattened to the floor and there are petals everywhere. 

What were wispy flakes of sun dried leaves in the gutters are now a thick dark porridge and the rain is coming down with such force that it’s bringing with it a fresh green covering of foliage.

Later, in the baked goods aisle of the supermarket a man with a Roy Orbison lockdown hairstyle and purple flowery shirt fumbles in the pocket of his long-in-the-leg jeans for his phone. It rings loudly with the opening few bars of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid. Over by the cooking sauces two members of staff are replenishing the Old El Paso Original Smoky Fajita Kits. 'I mean, did you see all the media outside his house just because of what he did for his child?' 'I know, it’s like who can honestly say, hand on heart, that they’ve not broken any of the rules.' 'I know, I mean it’s like, as long as you’re not stupid'.