Wednesday, 23 April 2014

World Book Night Special: Wednesday 23rd April 2014

This year, the World Book Night annual collaborative book event at the Centre for Fine Print Research, University of the West of England, will feature Charles Bukowski's 1971 novel, Post Office and I'm pleased to have been asked to contribute some thoughts.

Bucket of Crabs*

I left the post office in 1990 to study art at university in Liverpool. I graduated in 1993 and spent the next twelve months looking for a job and doing voluntary work in galleries. The only ‘DSS welcome’ place I could find was a room-share with a neo-nazi who burnt my belongings and threw them out of a first floor window. 
Frustrated, I decided to spend my time more productively; I mainly smoked weed which I rolled with tobacco sourced from the ashtrays of a biker bar in town. When I wasn’t doing that, I was drinking 25p cans of Skandia Green lager and trying to stay away from my flat. 
One day, I went for a Restart at Toxteth job centre. I was told to bring three job cards with me. I searched the racks but they were all empty; not a single card in the whole place. I went in for my interview and the R.E.M song, Shiny Happy People played over the P.A. as the job centre man signed me on again.
Cutting a long story short, I eventually found myself back at the Royal Mail in Huddersfield, utterly defeated. This is when I first read Post Office. It was an easy read and very funny. As objectionable as the book's main protagonist is at times, I could identify with him. Henry Chinaski's impeccably flawed combination of bravado, cynicism, righteous indignation and pissed-up bewilderment made him seem real and authentic and he operated in a very familiar world. 
I think Charles Bukowski wrote himself into the book as the Chinaski character; a fantasised, exaggerated version of himself in a profoundly observed environment.
Where Bukowski wrote himself into his books, I write myself out of mine. I’ve found that being a postman makes me almost invisible on the streets. Drama is everywhere and it is my anonymity that facilitates my access to it. I am looking in from the outside. In effect, I have escaped the post office by writing about it from the outside on the inside. Unfortunately for Charles Bukowski, he never thought of this clever little conceit and his only option was to leave the post office and fall back on his career as a massively successful writer of short stories, novels, poetry, and films.

Suffice to say that reading Post Office this time around was like pulling teeth. In fact, I was struggling through it in the dentist's waiting room the other day and was relieved when the receptionist called me for my treatment.

*The Centre for Fine Print Research handed out copies of Post Office and asked the recipients for three word reviews. My review was 'Bucket of crabs' and I thought I'd also use it as a title here. It is a reference to Charles Bukowski's posthumously published poem 'The Great Escape' where he explains how he finally overcame the post office.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The wind picked up on the estate and Mrs O’Leary’s wind chimes chimed

The wind picked up on the estate and Mrs O’Leary’s wind chimes chimed while the scrap men threw the old telly and garden swing over her broken fence.
Further down, the overweight old racist man with the moustache and the 1970s-zip-up-raglan-cardigan-with-suedette-detail was hiding the Asian children’s toys behind the wall by the bus stop again.
Down by the house with the ceramic cart horse in the porch, the kestrel that was perched on the steering wheel of the builder’s van, stared at me as I walked past. 
Next door, the woman who always calls me ‘my dear’ was wearing her red coat with leopard fur trim. She was unloading Lidl and Wilko bags from a taxi. She paid the driver and carried six bags up her path at once, past the countless woodland-creature garden-ornaments that incorporate solar panels and lamps. I waved and she shouted “Hello, my dear!”
A funeral cortège passed through the estate. It was led by a man in a top hat and a cane. Mrs Perkins adjusted her vest top and put out her cigarette. “I don’t know who that was,” she said, “but you should always pay your respects, shouldn’t you?”

At the large, detached houses near the park, an elderly man in a fleece jacket told me that, ‘Steam railways make life worth living’. 
At the house next-door-but-three – with the black BMW on the drive – another elderly man in a fleece jacket was in the garage, working at a Black & Decker Workmate whilst listening to Ken Bruce play The Three Degrees on Radio 2. A Tesco delivery van arrived. The driver was also listening to Ken Bruce playing The Three Degrees on Radio 2, “How are you?” he shouted to the Black & Decker man. “I’d be a lot better if the sun was shining!” the Black & Decker man replied.

At the golf club, the four grey haired golfers in black fleece jackets were gathered around the bearded, grey haired golfer in a black fleece jacket, asking him how much they owed him. It transpired that three of them owed him £25.00 and one of them owed him £28.00.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Two thin young men in snapbacks and bum fluff were eating eggs...

Two thin young men in snapbacks and bum fluff were eating eggs in the café on Market Street, a copy of The Sun newspaper open on the table in front of them. “He paid £106,000 to look like that!” said the one in the white hat, poking his yolky knife at a picture of a semi naked man with very pronounced abdominal muscles.
“Why?” said the man in the blue hat”
“Because he’s a fucking knob”.

At the Costcutter on the other side of the road, a young woman in a polka-dot onesie, heavy make-up, drawn-on eyebrows and a big up-do was waiting outside in the drizzle with two Staffordshire bull terriers. A large truck passed, blowing over the steel Huddersfield Examiner sandwich board with a crash and the dogs yelped in surprise.

Later, out in the sticks, a pair of frogs were in amplexus on the steps of the house that once featured on TV’s Grand Designs programme and a sparrowhawk killed a wood pigeon on Mr and Mrs Mitchell’s driveway. As I crossed the road by the Conservative Club, my hat blew off and a woman under an umbrella walked into me as I bent down to retrieve it.

On the estate, the man who always wears the same baggy tracksuit bottoms and unusual cap-sleeved T-shirt said he was looking forward to some nicer weather because it puts people in a better mood. Further down, in the car park by the flats, the old man in the tweed suit shouted “We’re getting posh, aren’t we?” to the Rastafarian man who was fitting some new wheel trims to his Vauxhall Astra.

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

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The woman with the bit of cake on her face looked perplexed at the pair of boxing gloves in the road

The woman with the bit of cake on her face looked perplexed at the pair of boxing gloves in the road. It was raining hard, occasionally sleeting, and the lights of the cars were reflecting in the wet road surface.
I crossed to the street lined with empty pizza boxes, food tins, cooking sauce jars, energy drink cans, navy blue underpants, cerise pink shoes with missing heels, rolls of sodden carpet, mattresses, children's plastic ride-on toys, a sofa, broken glass, an empty satnav box, and a massive burst-open bag of aggregate. Near the top, at one of the houses where they have sold all the stone flags from the yard and replaced them with dog shit, the woman with the tattoos and the bath robe said, ‘Ooo, it’s snowing!’
‘I know’, I said. 
‘I take it you don’t like snow’.
‘No, not really’.
‘Hahahahaha! I do’, she said, as she closed the door and disappeared back inside.
Next door, the stocky terrier on the windowsill was on its hind legs, pulling down the curtains, its cock flopping from side to side as it scrabbled its front paws against the glass, trying to get a better purchase. 

Later, it was still raining when I knocked at the house with the crumbling concrete driveway to tell the owner that the driver’s door of the S-Class Mercedes saloon with the low profile tyres, was wide open. A man in his late-twenties answered. He wore a meticulously manicured beard, three-quarter length tracksuit pants, flip-flops and a T-shirt. ‘Yeah,' he said with a laugh, 'I got to take it to the scrappers. Cheers, mate’.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

I’d just passed the single, left footed bowling shoe in the gutter

I’d just passed the single, left footed bowling shoe in the gutter – just before the pub chalkboard that’s had Bitchcraft written on it for weeks – when a young man in a black-tracksuit-with-white-bits-on passed at full throttle and very high volume, standing up on an exhausted old scooter. “That’ll be stolen”, said the toothless man with the tattoo teardrop from under his threadbare hoodie, “It’s a wonder he’s got a helmet on”.

Mr Mahmood has paved over the paving that he paved over his garden with. He’s laid some new, bright yellow concrete flags over the old cracked ones. He has used no bedding, mortar or fixture of any kind except at the edges where the flags adjoin his crumbling garden wall; just a lumpy smeared trail of cement runs around the perimeter joints.

Out in the sticks now, the wind is thrashing the trees and the sleet is thrashing my face as I slide around on slimy untreated millstone. It’s been wet and windy for weeks. The verges are scarred with deep miry tyre tracks and streams of run-off carry tree litter and even small branches along in the gutter. They are blasting at the quarry and a massive swirling flock of gulls is screeching overhead.
Two bald men in black-tracksuits-with-white-bits-on are overseeing the cross country run around the perimeter of the school grounds. Dozens of teenagers straggle through the gap in the wall and splash past, all muddy ankles and too big T-shirts. A lanky girl with a long ponytail shouts to me as she passes, ‘Help! This is child abuse!’ and a small, skinny boy with thick blond hair tells the taller heavier boy alongside him, ‘I was the fittest person with an inhaler at my old school’.

Earlier, in the valley bottom, where the moss on the dry stone walls is almost fluorescent, I watched a pair of heron flap by and disappear over the horizon where you can see the tips of the wind turbines on the moor. 
At the cottage with the electric gates, a TNT delivery man rolled his eyes and said, ‘Twat’, not quite under his breath as he tried to write out a form in a squall. 
Further down, by the joiner’s shop where it smells of sawdust, a large woman in jodhpurs completely ignored me even though her brown labrador had taken a keen interest in the backs of my knees.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

A grey Vauxhall Zafira pulled up on the canal bank next to the narrowboat with the big spotlights

A grey Vauxhall Zafira pulled up on the canal bank next to the narrowboat with the big spotlights — just down from where they pulled the dead paedophile out of the water in the Christmas holidays. A man got out and swept half a dozen Macdonalds take-out cups from the footwell and onto the tow path. He brushed crumbs from his fleece jacket and boot-cut jeans, stretched, got back into the car and drove away.

The shadows of the people in the bus queue are long. The man I used to think looked too young to smoke a pipe was there, smoking a pipe — he doesn’t look too young anymore. On the wall beside the shelter, someone has written 'I know' with a marker pen.

Hundreds of geese flew over in a noisy quarter-mile V formation. The white UPVC front door of the house opposite opened — the one with the fake leaded lights in the shape of a Yorkshire rose — and Mr Mohammed stepped outside in salwar kameez and sandals. He stood next to the soggy carpet in his front yard and looked up at the birds, shielding his eyes from the sun. Next door, the man in the torn gilet and jeans had also heard the noise and come outside. He leant on his door frame holding a mug of tea in one hand, shielding his eyes with the other, a digestive biscuit held between his teeth. The two men stared up at the birds until they’d all passed, briefly acknowledged one another and then went back inside, closing their front doors in unison.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

West View Study Centre

Dear All,

We'd like to let you know about our new project, West View Study Centre (WVSC).

On the odd occasion that we create something with vaguely commercial potential, WVSC is where you’ll be able to find it.

Our first vaguely commercial creation is a new extended print/audio (book/CD) version of Kevin’s award winning blog, The Most Difficult Thing Ever.

We’ve spent bloody ages getting this how we want it, it’s been hard work but we’re very pleased with the result. The book was designed by Georgia and it’s a sewn-bound paperback that features highlights from The Most Difficult Thing Ever, 2010 to 2013. As well as text and photographs, the book includes a fifty minute audio CD of readings and field recordings.

This book/CD was conceived, written, designed, recorded, printed, bound and published here in our home town of Huddersfield in the north of England. It has been a great pleasure to have been able to collaborate with our talented and likeminded friends. It is our intention that such collaborations continue at West View Study Centre.

There’s more info about both WVSC in general and the book/CD here:

Thank you for your time,

Best wishes for the new year

Kevin and Georgia Boniface

Saturday, 21 December 2013

The old man with the bag-4-life and the beige anorak didn’t have his hair styled in an incongruous mohican…

The old man with the bag-4-life and the beige anorak didn’t have his hair styled in an incongruous mohican, it was the shadow cast by the lamp post across his bald head by the low winter sun. 

The sky blew from black to blue and back again: leaves, jackdaws, Tesco bags, starlings and fieldfares windswept under brief rainbows.

All morning, the police helicopter had been hovering above Shakespeare Road where armed police were shouting at a man in a T-shirt decorated with distressed appliqué text. 

At the other end of the road, the young woman with the big afro who was reading a psychology text book was having a new settee delivered by two fat men who called her darling a lot and wore black satin darts player shirts, elaborate tattoos, shiny grey slacks and light tan, chisel-toe crocodile shoes.

Later, a man with a strong Polish accent explained why he couldn’t open his front door, “I bought a couch. It is too big. I can’t open the door.” 

Outside the next house, its contents – Ugg boots, a hi-fi system, a two foot tall vase and an upside down settee etc – had been dumped in miry puddles in the front garden.

I parked-up next to a discarded boat and drank coffee from a flask while a man smoking a joint – his coat only half on – took his small daughter – reindeer onesie – to the newsagent.

Monday, 25 November 2013

At the entrance to the park, the shaggy Border collie called Chicken was being restrained by its owner…

At the entrance to the park, the shaggy Border collie called Chicken was being restrained by its owner – “No, Chicken! Leave it! Chicken! No!” 
Around the corner at the house with the new pattern imprinted concrete driveway, I eventually realised that the large polished red and white streaked calcite sphere on the window sill wasn’t the back of the head of an elderly man with a ruddy complexion and a wispy white comb-over, and I stopped trying to attract its attention. 

Back in town, an enormous man driving a massive Mini passed me as I walked under the stalactites that hang from the arch of the railway bridge. He clattered noisily over the steel road plates that cover the hole at the entrance to Tesco’s car park, parked-up across two spaces and hoisted himself out by grabbing the door frame with both hands.

Later, the golf pro’ with the Hoxton fin craned his neck to watch a small yellow aeroplane from the nearby airfield as it flew low overhead. 
At one of the houses that back onto the green, a thin bald man in a fleece jacket and faded jeans was carefully stencilling the names Brian and Susan onto the back rest of a wooden bench in a swirly gold font. I passed him as he was admiring his work. He glanced up and waved briefly before walking up the gravel path, past the little tableau on the lawn; a stone tortoise apparently engaged in combat with a tiny plastic second world war infantryman painted white. At the entrance to the conservatory, the man popped his unlit roll-up on the window sill, kicked off his boots and disappeared inside behind a bookcase of faded hardback autobiography spines – Botham, Clough, Greavsie…

Saturday, 9 November 2013

I knocked at a house on the estate of Range Rovers and shop bought topiary

I knocked at a house on the estate of Range Rovers and shop bought topiary, where the fake cobblestones still have their barcodes stuck to them. I heard a dog bark enthusiastically from inside and a woman shouting repeatedly “Stay in there, you!” Eventually, the door shuddered open. The woman was standing there in a Fair Isle onesie, holding the dog by the collar, “He’s just bloody humped the gas man,” she explained, “I’m not letting him near you!”

It’s quiet round here among the lawns, the winter flowering pansies, the lavender, and the leylandii. There are more tradesmen’s vans than residents’ cars during the day. Occasionally, a disembodied arm extends from an open window to shake crumbs from a tea towel or an immaculate twelve year old Nissan Primera reverses slowly from a driveway. On the pavement outside the pebble-dashed inter-war bungalow with the rotten timber frames and the dangerous chimneys, a cat is fighting with a marigold glove. Further down, where the three empty cider bottles have been left in a neat row under the hawthorn, an elderly man hobbles by in a threadbare camel-hair coat secured at the waist with packing tape. In the gutter, a light breeze fans the pages of a discarded Max Hastings novel and, at the bottom of the cul-de-sac, an old woman bends to pick up a Virgin Media flyer from her doormat, “Red hot sale!” she says, rolling her eyes, “That’s going straight in the bin! I don’t even believe in Richard Branson!”