Sunday, 31 January 2016

There Was A Gale Blowing



There was a gale blowing and the tattered and bleached remains of a flag of St George flapped furiously from the miniature manor-house dovecote with the model Morris Traveller parked out front.
The woman with the bin liner wrapped around the aerial of her Citroen C3 looked nervously at the straining beech trees that surround the playground, “There’s that many tree-huggers in this village, we’re not allowed to chop them down!” She shouted, as a kestrel flew backwards over the school.

A squall ripped at the surface of the flooded potholes sending miniature tsunamis flashing the full length of the street and flipping open the bonnet of the big black BMW as it rounded the corner by the church. The driver was confused and continued on his way for several seconds before stopping in the middle of the road to clamber out in his suit and pointy shoes to slam it shut again.

Eventually, the storm passed, leaving a clear blue sky dotted with glinting aircraft. 
The high-end plumbers' vans and the Mitsubishi pickups cast long shadows across the road, passenger seats and dashboards littered with red-top news, McDonalds bags, biros and notebooks.

Later, on the estate, the man who looks a bit like Dennis Waterman with the tombstone teeth and brown blouson leather jacket told me he’s on the sick and bored out of his fucking mind. He said he can’t really complain though because his neighbour is deaf and only has one leg.

Bird-wise today, I saw a nuthatch on the bird table at the famous modernist house, a pair of yellowhammers in the long grass at the side of the farm track, and a brace of pheasants hanging from the door handle of Mr Gaunt’s in the village.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Stepping Around the Shit Streaked Toilet Paper



Stepping around the shit streaked toilet paper that trails from drain at the bottom of the hill, I make my way up the flotsam strewn pavement into the village: Cooper’s of Stortford, Capri Sun, an empty pack-of-three Oral-B toothbrushes, a snapped off cricket bat, some Walker’s salt & vinegar, a KFC box, a Cadbury’s selection box, floating polystyrene, festive wrapping, an overflowing wheelie bin, half a dozen leaky black bin-liners, a bent roller-skate, and a big Porsche 4x4. The woman in the twin-set says she’d report the rubbish but she 'can’t do whatsit-ing’ and she mimes typing on a keyboard.

There are pine needles on everybody’s doorsteps.

The old man with HATE and HATE tattooed on his knuckles is complaining; his new glasses are crap and he can’t see to sign his name.

The ladders slide from the roof of the Land Rover Discovery and clatter onto the road. The driver begins lashing them back into place in the heavy rain.

Mr Briggs pulls up next to the still half-flowering blue hydrangea. He winds down the window of his Bedford Rascal and points to the house opposite. He shouts above the noise of the rain and his idling engine, “They’re funny buggers them; you never see ‘em!” He drives away again after conceding that “He’s ok, but she’s a funny bugger; I’ve never seen her!”

The Jackdaws are cawing, 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.

Back outside, the small woman in the big coat at the bus stop thumbs her phone. “David Bowie’s dead” she says.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

2015 Highlights



2015 Highlights

Karaoke Thursdays.

Sambuca Saturdays.
Vaping outside the Costcutter.
Finding One Direction perfume for under a tenner: not to be sniffed at.
Kicking decorative spars back behind the concrete rope-edging with the toe end of your boot.
Hoping Michael’s not lying dead behind the hedge.
Exhaling a long thin wisp of white smoke vertically up and over Lockwood Taxis.
Drawing a half-arsed cock-and-balls on the postman’s pouch box.
Approximately Doric architraves.
Plastic lawns.
Remembering Stumpy.
1980s heavy metal on heavy duty radios.
Leaving a trail of weed smoke from a Toyota Yaris.
Leaving a trail of aftershave from a Porsche 4x4.
Polythene: flapping and cracking in broken trees.
Often wearing a bathrobe to shout at a dog.
Carrying Margaret on your shoulders.
Cross-legged cellulite while sipping a gin & slim.
Holding your new toilet seat under your arm while you argue about parking spaces with a man with ketchup on his face.
Not giving a shit about anything other than your fags and your phone.
Hoovering your driveway
Comparing your experiences of electrocardiography
Watering down your Fruit Shoot.
Lifting out dandelions.
Soft-toy trophy-lynchings.
Asserting that steam railways make life worth living.
Waving an enormous arm in the vague direction of half of Huddersfield.
The underlying murmur of people in tight shorts commenting on the warm weather.
Shuffling past a pile of dried dog shit in your open-toed sandals.
Strapping an office chair and a postcard display rack to the roof of your KIA Rio.
Listening to Lessons in Love by Level 42 through discreetly mounted speakers at quite a high volume.
Soberly dressed men drinking extra strength lager.
Mainly discussing caravans, caravan based holidays, and the football transfer window.
The smaller, less cocksure, banana and ketchup stained promotional air-dancers they used to have outside the Fiat garage when it was a Peugeot one.
Smeared dog shit and the sandwich packaging.
Spreading solvent with a yard brush.
Retiring to make chainsaw carvings of owls to sell at country art fairs.
Begging to differ with the woman with the bag-for-life.
Seasonal Ugg boot Cleaning Services.
Explaining that you could NEVER eat Weetabix without sugar.
Larger-than-life-sized white-stick-defying pedestal-mounted Clear Channel hoardings.
Being overtaken by an empty packet of Lambert & Butler and an energy drink can.
Wearing your anorak indoors.
Wearing your bathrobe to the shop that sells dusty bottles of Mateus Rosé, Lion Bars, Bisto Gravy Granules, and Andrex Toilet Tissue.
Not really doing wine.
Checking nobody needs a wee.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

It was bin day and the low sun cast long, regular stripes of wheelie-bin shadow across the road



It was bin day and the low sun cast long, regular stripes of wheelie-bin shadow across the road as I drove into the village. I parked up and walked across the luxurious carpet of vivid green moss to Village Food & Wine: pet bedding and dried 'dog-food systems’ on display underneath a tatty awning. Inside the shop, the counter was littered with the presentation gift boxes first inspected and then dismissed by the thin, middle-aged woman in the three-quarter length anorak with the muddy hem. “No, they’ve all got chocolate in; she’ll not eat chocolate”, she said. The proprietress, a thin middle-aged woman in a torn body-warmer and jeans bent down behind the counter again, vocalising a strange involuntary exhalation as she stretched to the very back of the bottom shelf of the cabinet. “How about this?” she said, righting herself and then setting down a plastic gift box containing a small wine glass and an even smaller bottle of pinot grigio.
“What is it?” said the customer, cleaning a stripe through the greasy dust that coated it with her thumb and wiping the residue on her bulging pocket.
“It’s wine” explained the proprietress.
“Is it dry?”
“Yes, I think so”
“I don’t really do wine, what’s it like?”
“Apparently it’s very nice, it’s what everyone has now.”
“I’m not sure, I don’t really do wine”
“No, me neither, it makes me drunk.”

Suddenly, it clouded over and the rain started. A squall flipped up the horse shit in the road, flapping it about briefly before unsticking it from the asphalt and blowing it loose down towards the old vicarage where even the stone cat that I always mistake for a swan (the tail being the neck and head) had blown over.

Later, back in town at the corner shop, the proprietor was sat on a stool behind the counter watching the small TV set balanced on top of the display of crisps. “Drug dealing”, he muttered under his breath, then he looked up at me and said, “Drug dealing; is that all they’ve got to do in London?”

On my way home, I called at the supermarket for some milk and a packet of Mini Chedders. Without looking up, the till woman scanned my stuff and said "£1.60". As I went through my change she stood up, leant forward and shouted down the line of checkout staff, "DOES ANYBODY NEED A WEE?" I put a £2 coin in her hand. Her colleagues all looked up, shaking their heads in unison. "RIGHT!" she said, "I'M GONNA BAIL OUT AFTER THIS ONE" and she nodded briefly in my direction. "Thank you" I said, but she'd gone.


Saturday, 28 November 2015

Half-a-Dozen Crows, Definitely Crows, Pick at the Very Last Remains of a Dead Squirrel



Half-a-dozen crows, definitely crows, pick at the very last remains of a dead squirrel in a squall that knocks me sideways on the bridge over the ring-road. Outside the closed-down brothel, a young woman wearing only a long T-shirt and heels is in a hushed discussion with a tall man in a big parka. 200 yards further along, the man with the tattooed neck stops suddenly, throws up all over the pavement, wipes his mouth and continues on his way. I catch his eye as I pass him. It’s 3.30pm.

Earlier, the weather was calmer; a big, feather-duvet cloud was slumped over the valley-head but the sky directly above was blue and still. In the leaf litter at the bottom of Mrs Brook’s drive a sparrowhawk was opening up a steaming kill and, in the field behind the road sign with the buddleja growing from it, a kestrel was hovering above the half blown-away barn.

The Most Difficult Thing Ever on Facebook

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Starlings are Excitable and the Flats at Park Court still Smell of Piss



1.
The starlings are excitable and the flats at Park Court still smell of piss. Outside, a man in jeans and a T-shirt is blowing smelly ginkgo leaves. He consolidates them into a neat pile, exposing again the small memorial stone dedicated to the dog named Mowgli and the fallen-over A-frame poster board advertising The Dana Ali Band’s next appearance at the Clothiers Arms.

2.
There’s a man in a field shouting at livestock and the excitable starlings are ganging-up in the near-naked beech. Outside the big detached new-build with the statue of the bulldog by the front door, the man on the vintage motorcycle is talking to the man with Cuprinol down his top, “I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that it stays mild,” he says. I’m not so worried, says the Cuprinol man, “I’ve just had the van fixed and it’s running like a dree-am”.

3.
The woman in the T-shirt with ‘Porn Star’ written across it winces as she walks. She leans on the wall of her porch while she kicks off her muddy trainers and leaves them on the step. In the street outside, a small group of full hi-viz men are gathered around a hole in the ground. They are leaning on their tools and chatting: “He got to the middle of the field, dropped his kegs, did a shit and just carried on walking...”

4.
In the garden of the big house, there’s a man in an orange helmet with a perspex visor chopping down the leylandii. Outside, at the bus stop, the old woman with the belted herringbone coat and Marks & Spencer bag-for-life is complaining about this year’s I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, “When they showed the pictures, I thought, ‘I don’t know any of them!” then she adds, “It’s not worth going to the hairdresser’s when the weather is like this; I only went on Tuesday and it’s flat as a pancake already!”

5.
There are old women in anoraks and gloves with small grey curly dogs that match their hairdos. They are on their way to the shop that sells dusty bottles of Mateus Rosé, Lion Bars, Bisto Gravy Granules, and Andrex Toilet Tissue. The excitable starlings compete with a car alarm and the farmer who is half-in and and half-out of his overalls, closes his eyes as he reaches for the latch on the blind side of the gate.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Storm Drains Are Overflowing



Storm drains are overflowing. An empty packet of Lambert & Butler and an energy drink can overtake me in the swollen run-off channel at the side of the road. 

In the big yellow cherry tree, Starlings make noises like excited children waiting for a coach trip.

A Jack Russell terrier escapes from the woman with the mid-calf length, floral print, pleated skirt and the summer wine perm, and chases the Land Rover as it reverses onto the driveway. “Stupid bloody dog!” says the woman, “it’s his boss that’s come back, that’s what’s done it!”

The flats with the absurdly pretentious name smell like a swimming pool today.

The man in the long overcoat is reading a book and drinking White Star cider inside the phone box. 

The man in the white 7.5 ton truck blows his horn at the man in the bright orange fleece jacket. 

The boy of about eight in the passenger seat of a Ford Focus shouts “You fat bastard!” to the fat man at the cash machine.

The teenage boy with lots of tattoos and no shirt in late October scowls and sticks out his tongue at the little girl in the back seat of the brand new Audi.

Two young girls are in conversation:
Girl on a pink Barbie bike with snot in her hair: I’m going to my nan’s and granddad’s and me dad’s tekkin’ me.
Slightly older girl with bed head and pyjamas at one in the afternoon: No you’re not cos he’s going scrap yard.

Two women are in conversation:
Woman with dyed black crop and striped jumper: You off up to t’church?
Slouching woman with cigarette: Not yet
Woman with dyed black crop and striped jumper: I thought you were off up now, I were getting stressed!

The woman with the yellow teeth who wears her anorak indoors is shouting at her children. She doesn’t get on with the man next door who sits chain smoking in his garden all day.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Backlit, paper-diorama-skyline autumn morning



Backlit, paper-diorama-skyline autumn morning: headlights, streetlights, a pile of bakers’ trays outside the corner shop, students taking photos of leaves.

On the bus, the man in front of me said that café culture is wasted on him because he doesn't drink tea or coffee. He went on to explain that he could never eat Weetabix without sugar.

At the supermarket, the woman with the piercings and leggings was complaining because the Festive Yard of Scrumptious Jaffa Cakes Christmas Pack she’d bought “is just a long box with some normal packets of Jaffa Cakes inside”.

I turned the radio on and a woman said she’d had to leave her son to get himself to university on his own because she'd had to go and visit her "energy master" in Bali. I turned it over and a man was singing “She maxed her credit cards and don’t got a job” to the tune of a Duran Duran song. I turned it off again.

The blind man with the green hi-vis coat and white stick was tip-tapping the high stone wall as he made his way from the bus stop towards the hospital. He nimbly rounded a couple of junction boxes and a litter bin before walking face first into the larger-than-life-sized white-stick-defying pedestal-mounted Clear Channel hoarding promoting SlimFast Slim-Taki™Noodles: DATE NIGHT FRIDAY Chop-chop.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

The man two seats in front of me on the bus was wearing 1980s suit trousers



The man sitting two seats in front of me on the bus was wearing 1980s suit trousers, a beige anorak, and something that looked like it could have been bird shit in his hair. He was repeatedly slapping himself about the head and face. 
Behind me, the important-in-corduroy-man was begging to differ with the woman with the bag-for-life opposite, "It's not! It's gonna be another sodding Chinese! Why we need another sodding Chinese when there's already one at the bloody bottom I don't know!” he said. He went on to explain that he'd given up drinking but the woman looked sceptical.

The weather has turned over the last few weeks and they’re selling Christmas decorations at Sainsbury's and Morrison's and the dry cleaners on the ring-road is offering a “Seasonal Ugg Boot Cleaning Service”.

On the moor, acorn and oak-leaves litter the pavement next to the beagles’ kennels. There’s shattered green glass in the gutter. There are concrete lampposts (Concrete Utilities Ltd) and GPO manhole covers, and a pile of dead wood behind an ivy covered wall. There are ferns and holly, rose hips, barking dogs, and cawing crows in the top of the trees. The house with the half-dozen muddy turnips on the doorstep is being clad in pretend wood. 

At the bottom end of the estate, driveways are being resurfaced with that glue-on stuff that looks like the top of a crumble—quite tasty. There are plastic lawns too, and rusty super-minis, and Octavia Hackney carriages. There are new plastic drain-grates and concrete top-stones to replace the stolen originals.

At the top of the estate, where the big, detached houses are, there are leylandii, succulents, rockeries and Alpines, some big toadstools that weren’t there yesterday, a beech hedge, a big overhanging silver birch, ornamental lampposts, pretend mail boxes that are actually bird boxes, yellow grit bins, water butts, high maintenance borders, patios, Burglars Beware neighbourhood watch signs, fire hydrants, bird baths, sundials, and vibrant hi-vis moss in the grikes between the expensive driveway setts. There was a power cut and all the burglar alarms went off at once.

Monday, 21 September 2015

A heron flew over Dale Cottage



A heron flew over Dale Cottage where the last of the pink fuchsias were poking out from holes in the blanket of fallen leaves and a woodpecker was assaulting the peanut feeder. On the driveway, the man in the blue Vauxhall Zafira with the ladders on the roof was listening to some contemporary pop music at high volume. He rocked back and forth enthusiastically in the driver’s seat, mouthing the words with a screwed-up, cum face. 

In the best kept village that smells of 2-stroke chainsaw oil, where the houses are never, ever finished, the builders have moved on a generation. Out have gone those firms, traditionally named after their proprietor, whose contractors have broad Yorkshire accents, gold earrings and 80s hits on their heavy duty radios: Don’t You Want Me, Baby? And in have come the firms named after a single word synonym for ‘house’—E.g. Home, Abode, Dwelling, Base—whose contractors have tattoo sleeves, full-face beards, and 90s hits on their heavy duty radios: A Design For Life
At the big house in the woods, one of the modern, 90s builders was hoovering the pattern imprinted concrete driveway while another was spreading a smelly solvent sealer onto it with a yard brush.

At the house with the big view, the woman in a bathrobe was talking to her neighbour, the man in the lumberjack shirt who has retired to make chainsaw carvings of owls to sell at country art fairs. Her, as yet unreconstructed builder, was up a ladder carrying out some never-ending repairs while listening to a histrionic heavy rock guitar solo from about 1986: Livin’ on a Prayer“I had the pheasant and Richard had the grouse,” the woman explained, “It was really nicely cooked. Really nice. Lovely."