Caught by the River

What on earth is that?

23rd January 2020

Kevin Boniface shares insights from his daily Huddersfield postal round

“What on earth is that?” says the elderly woman when she opens her front door to the florist with the pink hair. “Some lovely fresh flowers!” says the florist. “Oh Lord! What am I supposed to do with those?”

A plume of two-stroke exhaust rises from one of the back-to-backs where two men in tracksuits are tinkering with a noisy pit bike. At the next house along, the front door is decorated with a pink tinsel wreath in the shape of a star. The cardboard tag attached to it says “Decorative Star £2.99.” A few more houses along, another large wreath hangs from a door; a ring of woven twigs and pine cones. Its postcard sized cardboard tag outlines its fire resistant credentials in several languages.

On the estate, the elderly woman with the anorak is tending her garden. I compliment her on her hedge which is red with berries. “Is it a cotoneaster?” I ask. “I’ve got no idea” says the woman irritably, wiping a dew drop from her nose with her cuff. “All I know is it grows. It bloody grows! And the berries go everywhere. If I could pull it out, I would.”

Past the For Sale board: Yorkshire’s Finest Properties. Past a flock of long-tailed tits in a beech tree. Past that thing on the telegraph wire which, from the corner of my eye, I often mistake for a starling. On closer inspection, It’s not, it looks just like the cardboard middle of a toilet roll but it can’t be, It’s been there for years. It would have degraded to a pulp by now and why would someone have put it up there anyway?

The sad birch droops on the corner of the road lined on both sides with Vote Labour signs. 

On the estate of 1970s detached houses in fake sandstone there’s a flock of sparrows and a wood pigeon rustling about in the papery beech while a robin dives for cover into a cypress hedge. I knock at the house on the corner and a man in his 60s opens the door while holding back two agitated terriers. “If it’s a bill you can take it back!” he says. “I’ve got something for you” I explain. “Oh, have you brought me a turkey?” He asks. “I don’t think so” I say and I hand him a parcel. He consolidates the dogs into one hand, takes the package and holds it up to his ear, “Is it ticking?” I ask him for a signature but he doesn’t understand how to work the PDA and I have to sign for him.

Back in town, it’s pissing with rain and the rusty needle bin next to the chip shop is full of litter. Wet pulped paper porridges out from the aperture and drips onto the scarred asphalt creating a miniature lunar landscape of papier-mâché stalagmites. Crouched opposite, next to a deep puddle is a thin man in a dirty brown tracksuit. A young man in grey sweat pants and a hoodie approaches him, his pool sliders kicking up water from deluged pothole craters. He glances around conspicuously before handing a small package to the dirty brown tracksuit man and they jog away in opposite directions.

I wait in the queue at the shop behind the tall elderly man in the old fashioned threadbare overcoat, food stained v-neck sweater and beanie hat. He is talking to the Sikh proprietor with the handle bar moustache. “They’ve caught that one in Walthamstow but not the other one. It’s out of control down there, that mayor of London hasn’t got a grip on it. He doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. He’s bloody useless!” An elderly woman in an enormous purple anorak pushes past me. “Sorry,” I say instinctively. “Never mind ‘sorry,’ you shouldn’t be in the bloody way!” she says with a scowl.

On the street of dilapidated buy-to-let Victorian terraced houses, the wind has blown open the wheelie bin lids and there is rubbish swirling around the gardens and pavements. In the ginnel next to the house with the smashed fence there are sodden mattresses, a kitchen sink, assorted lengths of polythene, a bent sun lounger, empty dog food tins, bulging black bin liners, and a 1980s taupe and Burgundy velour three piece suite in a busy floral design.

The next street down is a small cul-de-sac of tidy 1990s brick built semi-detached bungalows with fake wooden plastic facias, well tended gardens, milk bottles on doorsteps and Vote Labour posters in the windows. An elderly woman who has secured the doors of her meter housing box with a colourful elasticated spider hook is putting a pair of money trees on the doorstep to wash them off in the rain. She catches sight of me and dashes inside. She returns with an envelope in her hand, “Would you post this for me, love? It’s a birthday card not a Christmas card.”

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Reposted from Kevin’s website, kind courtesy of the author. Kevin Boniface reads from his book Round About Town, alongside Kathleen Jamie, Amy Liptrot and Chris Watson, at our third and final Arts Council-funded Social Club – which takes place at The Constitutional, Farsley, on 6 February. More information/tickets here.