Friday, 27 March 2015

On the estate where people in bath robes often shout loudly at barking dogs

On the estate where people in bath robes often shout loudly at barking dogs above the noise of high-energy auto-tuned pop, they were shouting particularly loudly today. The wind whistled through the streets, slamming knackered garden gates, flapping and cracking at the polythene in the broken trees, and inducing that weird clanging sound from the inside of metal street lamps.  A man of about sixty years old, in a tracksuit and an old Suzuki Swift pulled over to ask me whether I knew where he’d been born. I said I didn’t.
“Sorry… I mean… the thing is, my wife asked me where I was born the other day and I realised I don’t know. My mum’s dead, so I can’t ask her. I sent off for my birth certificate and it says Storths Road but I don’t know where that is."

Later on, I heard a woodpecker — in the tree above the owl that’s made of hundreds of tiny shells.

The elderly man in the stained anorak was sitting on an upturned bucket to paint his garden fence. He told me he used to work for the GPO, 
“…on the engineering side, like. I’ve got a good pension — it’s seen me right! I’ve been retired for twenty-eight years. I bet it’s not like that anymore though, is it? I couldn’t believe it when they privatised the Royal Mail — nobody wanted it! It was all just to line the pockets of the big boys. Greedy buggers.”
He dipped his brush into the paint,
“It’s water based, this.” he pointed out.
I commented on the unpredictable weather we’ve been having.
“Aye, but isn’t it grand working outside. I love it. I always have. I think it’s why I’m so fit… apart from me knees… and me back. I’ve always worked outside. It can be the worst job in the world but as long as you’re outside and you’ve got some good work-mates it doesn’t matter.
I agreed with him, and told him about my back and knee problems. He sympathised and then parked his brush. 
“I’m going to call it a do for today,” he said, groping for a dry bit of fence to pull himself upright. “I’ve enjoyed our chat. It makes the world go round, doesn’t it? Talking to folk? But there’re some right miseries around these days, aren’t there? My bus driver says he hates his job because everybody’s so miserable now.”

Three doors down, a tall man in a black anorak and sandals was looking directly ahead and holding his hands behind his back as he paced slowly round and round the perimeter of the small concreted-over garden of his terraced house.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Sunlight streams through gaps in the clouds, dramatically spotlighting both the Arqiva Tower and Mr Hussain’s plastic lawn.

Sunlight streams through gaps in the clouds, dramatically spotlighting both the Arqiva Tower and Mr Hussain’s plastic lawn. The past few weeks have seen Mr Hussain’s fake lawn divided into a series of rectangular strips by the long mohicans of real lawn that have breached its seams.

Next door, a big, gold, two-litre Mercedes is blocking the pavement. I walk around it while the jackdaws squabble noisily on a chimney pot overhead. There are four stone urns in a neat row below the big picture window. Three of them house a corresponding stone sphere, the fourth contains a weathered, regulation size Mitre football.

Further up the valley, the houses on this estate haven’t changed much since they were built in the early 1970s; a series of brick semis with postage-stamp lawns bordered with daffs and primulas. The cul-de-sac is lined all the way to the turning circle with regularly spaced identical ‘feature’ bay windows, glazed with stick-on-lead leaded lights. The wooden, approximately Doric architraves are rotting now and several have been replaced with moulded UPVC — as have many of the windows and doors — but all the brass reproduction Victorian stage-coach lamps have been retained. There’s evidence of the original concrete road surface through scars in the asphalt too. 
Audi, Audi, Ford Mondeo, Mercedes, Kia, Land Rover and, on the five-bar gated driveway at the bottom, underneath the leylandii that has been precision topiaried to accommodate it, a pristine, twelve year old Rover 75 Tourer in metallic red.

There’s nobody on the streets around here except for old women at bus stops and the occasional commercial dog walker. A Toyota Yaris goes past leaving a trail of weed smoke in its wake.

Friday, 13 March 2015

A shoal of jackdaws swell overhead...

A shoal of jackdaws swells overhead as the line of geese that are scouring the field off Hall Lane edge forward in unison like policemen in overalls conducting a fingertip search.

Ten years ago the pair of plastic ornamental bay trees either side of the door were quite an authentic ‘bay’ green but now they have faded and bleached to a kind of washed-out ‘toothpaste' turquoise. In the garden, Mr Walker is making the most of the spring weather and is carrying out some maintenance. He has balanced the frost-severed head of the stone tortoise on top of a statuette of a baby rabbit. The head has thereby been raised to a height and angle that has allowed Mr Walker to realign it with its headless body and create the illusion that the tortoise is still whole. I can hardly see the join, and the result is a touching tableau in which the tortoise appears to be glancing over the baby rabbit’s back to keep an experienced eye out for predators.

The temperature is into double figures, shag pile moss covers the top-stones, there’s not a cloud in the sky, and the man in the heavy duffle coat with the hood up wants to know what the hell it is I think I’m doing.

“Come in! Come in!” shouts the old man at the manor house on the moor as I approach the door, “I hear you’ve grown a beard!” he says, mistaking me for somebody else.

Anyway, a woman in a little hat with netty bits on has just waved to me from a passing Rolls Royce.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Things are slowly drying out in the first real sun of the year.

Things are slowly drying out in the first real sun of the year. Snowdrops and crocuses are appearing on the verges. The big woman in a dirty pink onesie on the bench at the side of the main road inhales from her cigarette with her eyes closed. She adjusts her posture, unfurling like an enormous pink fleecey rose, stretching out her arms across the back rest. She tilts her head back to absorb the warmth of the sun on her face and exhales a long thin wisp of white smoke vertically up and over Lockwood Taxis.
Across the road, an old man in synthetic fibres rustles past the upturned pushchair. The sun has yet to coax him out from his tightly secured drawstring hood, despite its low glare turning his Reactolite lenses black, opaque. His vision must be impaired because he almost bumps into the woman in the grey hooded top, black tracksuit pants and enormous pink fluffy slippers as she comes out of the off-licence.

The estate is a spiky forest of broken saplings, TV aerials, and satellite dishes where the last few puddles reflect lowered hatchbacks and the dogs bark all day long. Somebody has drawn a half-arsed cock-and-balls motif in biro on the postman’s pouch box.
Half a dozen scruffy men on pit-bikes systematically doorstep the residents:
“Alright, love? Just wondering if you have owt for scrap? Okay love… Sorry darling… Right love…”
A knackered white Transit follows in their wake, pausing outside the house with the bright blue plastic hanging baskets either side of the moulded Ionic columns in filthy, chipped UPVC. One of the pit-bike men has discovered an old car tyre on the drive. He opens the Transit’s back doors and chucks it in.

Out on Hangingstone Road, a couple of workmen appear to be dismantling the CCTV gantry that sometimes gets mail addressed to it.* A long crocodile of primary school children march by. One of the teachers is standing with her feet either side of a large pile of dog shit on the pavement and is physically guiding the two-by-two children around it:
“No, Thomas. I am not standing in it, I am standing next to it! 

*On two separate occasions I have come across mail addressed to: The CCTV Camera, Hangingstone Road, Huddersfield.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Snow on the Tops was Striped with Icy 4x4 Tracks.

The snow on the tops was striped with icy 4x4 tracks. It was laid thick and muffled both the early wood-pigeon call and the shouts from the high school football match; hi-vis vests and a hi-vis ball.

The man with the dewdrop on his nose was polishing his Jaguar XJ. He lives in a park-home on the moor. He has one of those old ‘ding-dong’ door bells (black plastic box with a solid, reliable button that looks like a sun-bleached Trebor Refresher) that are more usually found on the big houses, like those with the heated driveways further down the valley. The man told me his neighbours have fallen out with him.
“They’re jealous since I got the Jag'”, he said, “Them over your left shoulder… Don’t look!” he said, not taking his eyes off mine, “They’ll know we’re talking about them. They complain every time I step out of the house. And them over my left shoulder, they rang the council because I took my dog out without a lead!” 
I glanced down at the floor and kicked a chipping of the decorative spar back behind the concrete rope-edging in an attempt to look nonchalant in front of the neighbours, and he continued, 
“I don’t know why we can’t all just get on, I bet we sound like a load of school kids don’t we? But we’re all pensioners!”

Later, In the garden of the man who hadn’t put his teeth in yet, I saw a ring-necked parakeet in the cherry tree. 
In the garden opposite, a large and rowdy flock of black-headed gulls was squabbling over something on the lawn. The man without his teeth said they’d frightened him when he’d first come outside, 
“It’s like that Alfred Hitchcock film.” he said, “You know the one I mean?”
“The Birds?” I said
“Aye, that’s the one. Let’s just hope Michael’s not lying dead behind that hedge.”

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Buses Were Racing Each Other Between Stops

The buses were racing each other between stops. The world flew past the window in a blur: BEST CARPET BARGAINS … Klippers Hair Salon … Sambuca Saturday … Karaoke Thursday … MEGA BOXES FOR £8.99 … Royal Travel and Money Transfer … iTaste … Extra Care Housing … 2 For 1 on Essentials (illustrated with a photograph of packet of digestive biscuits) … YOU CAN’T BUY CHEAPER … Gold International … LE UVST TIPE X [sic] … FREE BOTTLE OF POP. A man got on looking flustered in fake leather and Fair-Isle, “It’s always bloody late, this bus! He’s supposed to be five minutes in front of that other one”, he said out loud as he walked down the aisle. “Bloody rubbish!” He sat down next to me in a fug of damp and sweat. The woman in front of us with the grey perm and turquoise gaberdine coat turned around, “These people are much more helpful than the Metro people though,” she said, “And it’s 30p cheaper”, she added, her knuckles white on the hand rail as the bus swung out into the middle lane, overtaking its rival. “Go on, lad!” yelled the damp sweat man to the driver, pumping his fist.

A pride of door-to-door salesmen (beards, short-back-and-sides, black bomber jackets, black too-long-in-the-leg trousers, black winkle-pickers, black zip-up briefcases) were gobbing on the floor and vaping outside the Costcutter. I passed them on my way to the terrace of houses where, during the course of the last twenty-five years, the sheds, the painted lintels, the hebes and hawthorne, the privet and the pyracantha, the decorative limestone and calcite have all been replaced with soiled nappies, empty Skips packets, sundry broken pieces of board — mainly hard and chip — sodden underwear, empty milk cartons, a football boot, a stained mattress, empty paint tins, a broken toothbrush, a dustpan, a bent trampoline on its side, assorted lengths of polythene, a broken monster truck toy, party-popper shells, broken bottles, rusty pieces of micro-scooter, bits of an old gate, dog shit, traffic cones, energy drink cans, a kitchen unit with mould on it, a car with lichen on it, takeaway trays and a partially incinerated (artificial) Christmas tree.

The woman in the faded pink anorak and Nike trainers was talking on the phone as she got off of the bus. “I got her some One Direction perfume … I know! Me neither. I’m gong to put it away for her for next Christmas … It was only a tenner ... You can’t go wrong, can you? And it’s lovely and fruity — I’d wear it. Those princess ones she has are vile… I don’t know … Horrible …Yeah, just as a stocking filler … perfect … I know! Lovely and fruity, I’d wear it — much nicer than these princess ones … Yeah … only a tenner … I know... Not to be sniffed at …”

Sunday, 28 December 2014

2014 has been a great year for holding a digestive biscuit between your teeth.

2014 has been a great year for:

Holding a digestive biscuit between your teeth while you watch a flock of geese.
Laying some new, bright yellow concrete flags directly over the old cracked ones.
Having a bit of cake on your face.
Selling the stone flags from your yard and replacing them with dog shit.
Poking a yolky knife at a picture of a semi-naked man.
Discovering two frogs in amplexus on the steps of the house that once featured on TV’s Grand Designs programme.
Emptying your catheter bag into the storm drain by the bedroom furniture shop.
Adjusting your vest top and putting out your cigarette (as a mark of respect).
Asserting that steam railways make life worth living.
Watching two ducks eat some chips.
Being a goth, then normal, then a muslim.
Spraying an old push-bike yellow in the rain.
Having two-thirds of your arse showing while you mend a Transit Connect.
Sleeping in a shopping basket attached to a walking frame.
Being in your 60s with a crew-cut-and-rat-tail and referring to your Mercedes using the pronouns ‘She’ and ‘Her’.
Asking Robert, ‘Have you any food on?’
Calling Robert ‘A robbing bastard’.
Holding a gobbing-out-of-the-window-contest in a Fiat 500.
Wearing noteworthy trainers and a low maintenance hairstyle to have your tits grabbed by Kyle.
Recommending a cut of pork loin.
Selling a pebble for a pound.
Being inside a Range Rover.
Swallowing a mouse in just three gulps.
Being important enough in Fair-Isle and corduroy.
Watching crows squabbling while you piss against a tree.
Wearing nightclothes in the daytime.
Polishing your alloys while smoking weed.
Avoiding soiled nappies and an enraged goose.
Sharing jokes and cigarettes outside a strip club.
Wearing your hard-hat over your hood.
Talking to the lonely pig on the moor.
Bemoaning all this rigmarole.

Monday, 22 December 2014

The sun is low, boiler flues are pluming, the garden gate is slimy, and the old man with the eye-patch...

The sun is low, boiler flues are pluming, the garden gate is slimy, and the old man with the eye-patch, bandana, boot-cut jeans and biker jacket is bemoaning “all this bloody rigmarole for £1.63 in bloody pension credits...” to his neighbour, the tall, thin man in the plastic reindeer antlers with the dew-drop hanging from his nose.

All of a sudden hailstones are bouncing off the Santa, Please Stop Here sign that is planted in the pot next to the fake plastic topiary bay tree.

In the street outside again and a woman with an anorak and a bag-for-life is talking to a group of other women with bags-for-life.
       “I don’t feel the cold anymore because I’ve got…” she stops to think for a moment, then turns to the woman in the enormous scarf next to her, “What is it I’ve got, Joyce?”
       “Diabetes” says Joyce.
       “No!” says the woman, suddenly remembering, “A onesie”.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Lonely Pig on the Moor

Every day this week I've seen the lonely pig on the moor. It runs to the perimeter of its pen and stares at me as I walk past. Yesterday morning, when it came to meet me I made two pig-like grunts (I don’t know why, I wasn’t really thinking about it) and it responded in exactly the same manner.

Further up the moor Mr Briggs pulled up. He wound down the window of his Bedford Rascal and told me that he and his missus had been by coach to Eastbourne for a Turkey and Tinsel weekend.
“Aye,” he explained, “Tuesday was Christmas Eve’, Wednesday was Christmas Day, and Thursday was New Year’s Day. £125-a-head all-in — including four drinks, which is enough. We had a real time!”
Mr Briggs went on to tell me that by the Thursday (New Year's Day) he’d found he fancied a fish. He said he'd travelled to a chip shop in Brighton only to find that they cost £10.50 so he hadn't bothered in the end.

Back in town, the gas board are digging up the roads. The woman in the pink onesie, who was sitting on her front step surrounded by small statues of Yorkshire terriers while she smoked a cigarette, said, “It’s a right pain, there’s nowhere to bloody park.”

A gold KIA Picanto screeched to a halt outside the church and a man in his 70s with a beard and glasses got out brandishing a small hand-plane. He slammed shut the car door, shouldered open the gate of the churchyard and sprinted down the path through the open doors. Within seconds I could hear the sound of wood being energetically smoothed echoing out from the church interior.

At 2.30pm, at the top of the hill, I encountered two large women in their 70s. They were dressed in identical spotted Dalmatian onesies and appeared to be very drunk. They clung to one another as they zig-zagged across the middle of the road whilst inexplicably making load “miaow” noises like enormous bipedal dog-cats.

In the supermarket, the woman with the sensible shoes and bag-for-life was telling her husband about her dislike of Milk Tray chocolates.
“Don’t ever buy me Milk Tray again! I hate them! Joan bought me some last year and I’ve still got them. Yuk!”

PS: The film at the head of this post was shot from approximately the same place that Edwardian filmmakers Mitchell & Kenyon made their short film in Huddersfield a hundred-and-fourteen years ago. Link to BFI Player here:

Monday, 1 December 2014

Here's some shameless self-promotion: a link to my online bookshop. There's probably not something for everyone!

Where Are You? from 2005, a collaboration with world famous photographers Joanna Shaw and Christoph Shaw which won lots of awards and was totally ace.

Back 2 Front from 2007, which didn't win any awards but is still so ace that it was in an exhibition of ace books in America. It features the incredible Huddersfield Glove Watch project. Amazing!

The Most Difficult Thing Ever from 2013, which the mayor of Kirklees said he 'liked' — as did Wilf Lunn from off the telly in the 70s — and that cool man from Liverpool who said it was 'funny'.

Also, I have a few copies of Lost in the Post from 2008 which The Independent newspaper said would be 'A cult classic' — You'll have to ask me for those though; they're not on the website because they're so great.

Anyway, here's the link: West View Study Centre at Big Cartel