Sunday, 9 August 2020

The Most Difficult Thing Ever, 10th Anniversary Reading. Leap in the Dark, 8th August, 2020


On August 8th 2020, I marked the 10th anniversary of The Most Difficult Thing Ever with an 'edited highlights' reading at Leap in the Dark, a live online broadcast in which musicians, poets, authors and performers gather to share their work. The following is a transcript of that reading. The film above comprises footage taken on the 3rd of August 2010, 2015 and 2020.

Mrs Shaw gives me a bag of homegrown tomatoes. She says she’s completely self-sufficient as far as tomatoes are concerned.

Mrs Hicks has spilt something down her front. She’s in the kitchen window dabbing at her black and white striped jumper with a damp cloth. Behind her, at the kitchen island, Mr Hicks sits with his laptop open. In the road outside, a jackdaw is eating a squirrel.

In town, the tall thin man I often see raiding bins for food is in WH Smith’s. A dew drop falls from his nose and lands in the pages of the boxing magazine he’s reading. He shuts it and puts it back on the shelf. Meanwhile, the man in the anorak in the queue for the checkout is saying he thinks 60p for a Cadbury’s Cream Egg is daylight robbery.
On the estate where pretend owls outnumber the human population by two-to-one, the woman in the big 1980s style specs and Lurex knitwear is having some Double 4 Designer Traditional Vintage Cream Vinyl Plastic Cladding fitted to her gable end.
The rusting metal uprights of a former fence top the wall around the big unmade car park—all puddles and hardcore. A large piece of rotten ply, the basis of a long gone sign spans four of them, the rest are unoccupied except for the occasional straggles of impaled polythene which flutter like shit flags.
Up on the estate again, the man with the bad teeth and brown leather jacket tells me he’s on the sick and bored out of his fucking mind. He says he can’t really complain though because his neighbour is deaf and only has one leg.
I follow a black and white cat onto the estate of headless buddhas, tailless schnauzers, earless rabbits, faded anoraks and unfashionable bell-bottom jeans in indigo. A grey haired man in chinos places a four pack of Galahad Premium Lager and a bag of green potatoes on his neighbour’s doorstep next to the faded plastic meerkats on a seesaw.
The snow gets heavier and an old Renault Mégane pulls onto a driveway. A woman gets out wearing fluffy slippers and a silk dressing gown with a dragon motif embroidered onto the back. She walks quickly to the house as large snowflakes settle on top of her luxuriant mahogany perm.
A funeral cortège led by a man with a top hat and a cane passes through the estate. Mrs Perkins adjusts her vest top and puts out her cigarette, “I don’t know who that was” she says, “but you should always pay your respects, shouldn’t you?”
Mr Barton has fixed a hook adjacent to his back door on which he hangs the fully loaded Super Soaker he uses to dissuade cats from fouling his borders. He has also been shooting squirrels with an air rifle. I’ve counted seven dead in his back garden in the last few days. When I asked him about it earlier in the week he claimed they’d all died of old age but yesterday he admitted to having shot them. He said “They don’t understand death like we do” and he made a fist with his right hand and beat his chest above his heart, “We are the only ones who know we’re going to die.”
The sun is out, the sky is blue. There is birdsong: sparrows, starlings, a woodpigeon. Somebody is playing a trumpet. A car pulls away from the kerb and its tyres crackle and pop on dry asphalt. A man of about fifty, wearing double denim and a black and white bandana tied around his head is using the phone box that I’ve never really noticed before. There is horse shit in the road. Further up the valley, there are boxy 1970s brick built semis with white fascia boards that creak loudly in the sun. There are big picture windows. There are Astras, Minis, Astras, Beetles, Astras, Minis and Astras on uneven concrete and aubretia driveways. There are monolithic decapitated leylandii as big as houses. There are birch and willow, catkins and moss. There are two pieces of litter: an empty Muller Rice pot and a novelty shaped luminous yellow pencil eraser. There’s a Union Jack and a Get Britain Out of the EU poster. There are silk flowers on the window sills. There are plastic lawns, footballs, grit bins. There are ‘moneysavingexpert.com’ A4 print-outs Blu-Tacked to porch windows saying ‘No Cold Callers’. There are whistling Eddie Stobart collectors in t-shirts smoking Marlboro cigarettes on hardstandings. They build kit-cars and boats and take things to pieces. There’s the smell of machine oil. There’s the smell of cooking oil. There are chips. There are solid homemade repairs, gates and fences, washers and hinges, ironmongery, fixings and grease. There are guinea pigs in hutches and terriers on the backs of settees. Girls play at hopscotch and boys dress as superheroes while they mend punctures with holes in their knees. A man insists I watch as he opens a parcel. Inside it, there is a small statuette of a blackbird perched on a twig.
The butcher is recommending a cut of pork loin to the thin lipped elderly woman with the big black canvas shopping bag and frown. He waves a large knife over it in the display counter, “That’ll be lovely, tender as a woman’s heart!” he says. “I’ll have the sausages” says the woman.
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 woman at one of the barn conversions on the moor has pressed her old aerobics step into use as a stand to display her houseplants on. She has created a two-tiered tableau in the big picture window at the front that looks out onto her neighbour’s Mitsubishi Animal.
The jackdaws are chattering, and the proprietor of the shop that sells mainly marrowfat peas, salmon paste, toilet paper, and dusty bottles of Paul Masson is sitting in the dark. I open the door and he gets up from behind the counter to put the lights on.
The bin lorry is stopping every ten yards. Its loading mechanism makes a noise like that long note at the beginning of ‘Rhapsody in Blue’. It dawdles its way down the long road which starts with pebbledash maisonettes and the smell of weed at one end and finishes with detached inter-war bungalows and the smell of seaweed fertiliser at the other. Somewhere around the middle a man who is naked apart from a pair of glasses, is playing with his Playstation.
At the newsagent where the Adele album is played on a loop, two men in their fifties compare their experiences of school. “When the bell rang and we were playing football, we’d just ignore it. Did you do that?” says one. “No, not really” says the other.
Mrs Woodhead is chasing a budgerigar around her front room in a bikini.

An elderly man in a fleece jacket tells me, “Steam railways make life worth living”.

“Fuck off!” says the thin man to his dog at the house that smells of piss.

There’s a man mending a caravan and shouting for Susan.

A skinhead in combat fatigues who is smoking weed asks me for directions to his own house.

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.

Margaret is in the bistro with her coat on eating fried eggs, chips, beans, and milky tea.

Back in town, the drunk man in the grey suit is emptying his catheter bag into the storm drain by the bedroom furniture shop.

The sun dries the rain and brings out the man in the shorts who hoovers his pattern imprinted concrete driveway and calls his Jack Russell terrier a knobhead and a tit.

On and up into Audi country: “Has anything changed since your last visit?” asks the dentist’s receptionist. “I’m drinking much more wine,” says the woman in the quilted jacket.

At the house on the corner of the estate, the man in his sixties is admiring his new St George cross wind sock. At the bus stop in the road outside an elderly woman with a pull-along shopping cart pulls her face mask down to have a long drag on her cigarette.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Entries from this blog for the period 3rd August 2010 - 25th February 2018 are available in book form, published by the brilliant Uniformbooks

Monday, 3 August 2020

6.30am: unlike ten years ago, my neighbour doesn’t intercept me as I’m leaving for work



6.30am: unlike ten years ago, my neighbour doesn’t intercept me as I’m leaving for work to show me one of those shallow tin trays that chickens come in when you buy them from a supermarket. “Marks and Spencer” he said, holding it aloft, “It came free with the chicken”. He died three years ago. His blue wooden front door with the hand written notes pinned to it for the milkman has been replaced by a new composite door with a pretend oak veneer and a Smart doorbell with integral camera and intercom system.

It’s dry, overcast and mild with a stiff chilly breeze. I set off up my road past the man with the long goatee beard, tattoos, black hoodie and Labrador on a lead with a harness. The weeds have grown mature between the cracks in the flags and in places along the base of the walls the lockdown pioneer re-wilding is shoulder height.

A scree of beech nut husks litters the road under the big trees at the edge of the wood. There are squirrels bouncing around in the canopy.

When I filmed the road sign at the entrance to the wood on October 3rd 2010, it was barely legible because of the bright green lichen that covered its surface. The sign has since been replaced but the new one is already developing the same verdant patina.

I reach the point at which, exactly ten years ago I noticed a figure lying face down on the pavement up ahead. I got a bit closer and I saw his right arm move. He rolled briefly onto his side and back onto his front, where he lay still again. He was wearing new, clean clothes: plaid shirt, dark blue denim jeans and expensive looking trainers. As I passed, I asked him whether he was okay. He rolled onto his side again. He was young, mid-twenties, dark curly hair. “I’m just bored”, he said. “Oh, as long as your okay”. “Have you got a spare cig?” he asked. “No” “Okay” and he rolled back onto his front. Today, the men who have been installing the new high speed internet cables have fenced off the spot where he was lying.

A woodpigeon hobbles around at the entrance to the park. The new sign on the gate reads “Love this space, put your rubbish in the bin or take it home with you.” Inside, the now resident black headed gulls have ransacked a bin, dispersing its contents as far away as the little Japanese tea-house ice-cream kiosk.

A man in a hi-vis vest passes me on an electric bicycle. He turns off up the path into the children’s playground where he dismounts, props the bike against the frame of the swings and sits down at one of the picnic benches. Meanwhile, the man in the beige anorak is walking laps of the pond. He does this every morning. The resting ducks are so used to him that they don’t bother to move out of his way and he has to skirt around them.