April 2020

A seagull on the corrugated roof of a bowling alley, with two red shipping cranes in the background
Wed 29 April — Seagulls walk around on the roof of the bowling alley, protecting a nest perhaps, undisturbed by the non-clatter of half strikes below.

Wed 1 April —

A fight breaks out in the street at lunch. Three men swing punches and grab each other in headlocks right outside the downstairs side window. A woman in the driver seat of a black car parked outside the Jet Ski shop has her window down and is shouting for them to stop. The biggest of the three men leaves the scene while the other two continue to wrestle. A younger man with his hood up throws the bald middle-aged man to the ground. But he bounces back up, dusts himself down and shouts for his foe to come back for some more, shouts for them both to come back. 

Police arrive. A car does circuits with its blue lights going but no sirens. A police van pulls up at the side of the house and I look out of the bathroom window to see two more police cars parked up behind it.

The red shipping cranes are arranged as follows at the end of the day: Left-most lowered, followed by upstretched neck, large gap followed by three upright cranes. Another gap and then the three right-most cranes, all with necks lowered, clustered together.

Thurs 2 April —

A council van parks up at the side of the house and a metal leg slowly emerges from the side. Two men in high-vis jackets load up a cherry picker bucket at the back of the van. One of the men rises in the cherry picker, up past the landing window to the pair of broken street lights. He examines the rounded lantern that is missing its top and half filled with rain water. The cherry picker lowers and then returns. The man uses a small power-saw to cut a hole in the base which allows the rain water to run out. It sprays and arches like piss.

Fri 3 April —

The two white huskies walk past the tree, neither stop for a wee. Their walker has his hood up and his top zipped up over his chin.

The old lady with the short-legged dog and the boxy shopper cart crosses where the kerb dips. I still can’t work out what the illustrations are on the fabric of the cart.

Two adult collared doves perch on the railings on top of the brick wall. One of them wants to mate, the other wants to exercise social distancing. Feathers are ruffled and then they sit still, five corrugated bowling alley vertical lines apart.

The red shipping cranes are three lowered, two raised, three lowered.

Sat 4 April —

There’s a note through the door explaining that a letter was posted here accidentally. It was destined for this house number but in a parallel street. The note says that it was meant for their daughter’s friend and asks if we’d mind popping it through the correct door. I retrieve the envelope with the cute crayon drawings of sunshine beams and hearts on it from the coffee table and am relieved to now know where it needs to go.

In the back yard I lift up the broken kitchen window pane and parcel the loose shards in newspaper. I pull some of the remaining shards from around the edge of the unscathed pane. The black treacle-like glue resists but then releases. I’m surprised that there’s still a gloopy stickiness to a window that was made a quarter of a century ago.

I decide to finally dismantle the Jones & Chapman ‘Sold’ sign that’s been propped against the outside kitchen wall since the end of 2016. For a time I thought the estate agent might one day come round to collect it, to re-use it, and then for a much bigger time I just left the thing there. The corrugated plastic has become brittle, edges crumbling and flaking away. The side that has been facing out is very sun-faded. The extra strip of pink plastic with ‘Sold’ on it hides a ‘For Sale’ message against a much bolder magenta. The five overlapping circles of colour – green into yellow into orange, red and pink, plus the stand-alone circle of blue have all lost their vibrancy and become pastel. Lime is now mint. Yellow is off-white. Orange, red and magenta are all degrees of pale pink.

Sun 5 April —

I wake up to a notification that I had a missed call from a Burkina Faso number in the middle of the night. I look up the time difference and learn that West Africa is only one hour behind, so the call was made in the middle of the night as well as missed in the middle of the night.

At 5.45am the sun is rising beyond the Art Deco arcades. Five shipping cranes in a row have their necks up. Only the three right-most cranes remain lowered and clustered together.

The old lady with the box shaped shopping cart passes and through ultra concentration and determination I am finally able to focus on the illustrations on the canvas. There are kennels, benches and twee arbour like structures for dogs to sit in. Maybe one in five appears to be occupied by a dog.

Mon 6 April —

The sun shines through the red curtains with a new silhouette. The large Georgian street light lantern has gone and now there is a small arch with something like a baseball cap at the end of it. A pigeon lands on it and poses in profile, ruffles its tail and faces the other way. The bird flies away, the lamppost moves along to the left and the disused satellite dish makes an appearance at the right of the frame. The shadow of a pregnant lady on stilts.

The huskies walk past, neither of them stopping at the tree for a wee, or even a sniff at the London Plane bark.

Tue 7 April —

A magpie plucks twigs from the branches of the tree to the side of the house, to take to the tree opposite the front of the house. One tree gets (very partially) disassembled and rearranged in another tree. 

The shadow of the landing window tree is North West of the trunk, or 10am, and the branches sprawl up the orange and brown bricks of the wall behind it. 

Two wood pigeons peck at the moss and weeds around the base of the tree until they are chased by a black and white cat that arrives out of nowhere.

Wed 8 April —

The two white huskies walk past and one of them cocks its leg at the tree.

The news talks about large event spaces and conference centres becoming Florence Nightingale field hospitals and of ice rinks becoming temporary morgues. I remember watching a basketball match at the Manchester G-Mex on a school trip, and seeing Björk play there in 1996. I think back on being part of an unsuccessful curling team at Deeside Leisure Centre. We were called Brush With Death.

Dog piss stains on the flagstones behind the tree are shaped like bulbous dinosaur bones. The stains run narrowly down the edge of two flagstones before broadening out down the middle of the next slab and then gather back in for another mossy groove between flags. The yellowy concrete is lighter where the dogs have urinated, like some half-arsed jet-wash of the mildew has been attempted. Reminds me of those ambient media ads for Nike or Puma where they got away with graffiti because it was technically ‘cleaning’ an area of otherwise dirty wall or pavement. It just so happened that the only cleaned area was in the shape of a corporate swoosh or wildcat.

Thurs 9 April —

A Morrison’s food box is delivered by a DPD van. Feels strange to order food in when the supermarket is a two minute walk away. The box is a random selection of essentials. A loaf of sliced white bread, long life milk, a bag of carrots, potatoes, a cabbage, everyday teabags, sandwich ham, penne pasta, mature cheddar, three mini baked beans tins, four rolls of Andrex, a tin of Potato & Leek soup and a tin of Weight Watchers tomato soup. It’s like a harvest festival hamper, just missing sweet corn and tinned butter beans.

The two white huskies walk past on a mission. Neither stops at the tree. They have their good leads on. Royal blue and bright orange.

Fri 10 April —

The one remaining box of eggs on the supermarket shelf last time I ventured out was of the never-before-noticed ‘Maran Heritage Golden Yolk Eggs’ variety. This morning I crack open the dark shell of a soft boiled Maran Heritage egg and witness its bright orange yolk. It’s the same orange as the plastic cockerel egg cup it sits in, purchased from Berlin’s DDR Museum in 2018.

I decide to obscure the unused electric fire in the front room behind piles of books. I stack black, red, orange and yellow spines to imitate coal and flames. I discover I have far more yellow books than I realised.

Sat 11 April —

There is a mist over the Mersey. The red shipping cranes are barely visible through the haze. The four left most all have their necks up, stretching to see. There’s a large gap where one of the curved, cornflower blue gable ends of the Art Deco arcades sticks up, and then another upright crane. A smaller gap is followed by the three right-most cranes which are all lowered and clustered together.

Two medium sized dogs run free along the wall behind the bowling alley. A woman in a luminous salmon pink jacket follows with a tangle of leads hanging from her right hand.

On an evening walk through the grassy dips behind the crazy golf course, I see a fox running alongside the green mesh fencing of the New Brighton Landmarks course and I smell weed wafting from a small group sat on the sandstone cliff. Further up, past the Footgolf fairways I see the sun setting behind the metal Pierrot the Clown sculpture. Two police cars pass Pierrot’s roundabout and one slows to watch me photographing the traffic sign with yellow Lights Alive lettering that reads “THINK OBSERVE SOCIAL DISTANCING”.

Sun 12 April —

My right shin is still missing a rectangle of hair where artist David Shrigley shaved an area to draw a biro tattoo on my leg in the shop window of Utility on Bold Street in 2011 (as part of the Abandon Normal Devices festival). It was a drawing of a swimmer’s head and arms sticking out of several wavy lines of water. A speech bubble shouted “Help me!” I bottled out of preserving Shrigley’s biro by getting it turned into a real tattoo, so now the swimmer has long gone. I had no clue nine years ago that the shaved rectangle would be permanent.

An evening walk in the rain to avoid people. Other people are walking in the rain to avoid people.

Mon 13 April —

Dad tells me via video call that he noticed all eight cranes were down on Sunday – he can see them from the other side of the Wirral – said there were two huge ships being unloaded at the same time. He looks them up on a Marine Traffic website and I worry that I will now start to do this too. I was happy seeing which ones had their necks up and which ones were lowered, but now I might need to learn why and when and where the ships are from, where they’re going next. I’ve always thought of the upright cranes as being the busy ones, but of course the lowered cranes are busy too – busier, perhaps – offloading the multi-coloured crates from the backs of far-flung vessels.

Watching the ITV drama ‘Quiz’ which stars Michael Sheen as Chris Tarrant, there is a scene involving a meeting with a shady character in a pub who is part of a secret syndicate. Part of me thinks this character is far-fetched while another part of me thinks this character is uncannily similar to a character I created for an unpublished short story as part of my MA dissertation.

Tue 14 April —

A mouse tail disappears behind the washing machine. They’re back, or they never left and they’ve just been keeping a low profile.

The two left-most cranes are both upright and bunched up right next to each other. Normally when they have their necks up, they give each other space.

The Huskies walk past the tree and one is so keen to sniff the weeds around the base of the trunk that it has to be dragged onward. They are wearing their old leads. A khaki green and a dirty dark red.

An orange Iceland van and a purple Ocado van perform circuits of the one way system. Another Iceland food truck passes – this one looks like an American ambulance. A big square box, wider than the wheel base, on the back.

A pair of goldfinches hop around the smaller branches of the tree. I only spot them because the twigs are moving about. One small branch is hanging upside down, caught amongst the others. I wonder if it has been there since the theatre truck drove into the other tree. And then I remember storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge have all come along since then. I wonder if the main tree is holding on to it, unwilling to drop it to the road.

Wed 15 April —

I check the cupboard under the kitchen sink after yesterday’s encounter. A tiny mouse hops up and out through the washing machine pipe hole again. I should put another bait station down. Either that or a hamster wheel.

The remaining shards of old kitchen window slide from their gluey edge in the heat of the sun. I break the two larger shards down so I can accommodate them in old Observer New Review supplements. One large shard halves easily while the other decides to obtusely break length-ways into a pair of unwrappable daggers. I hammer again and they shatter. Satisfying albeit messier than what I was going for. It makes me think back to being on the caravan site in North Wales as a kid and hearing about the two boys who got their families banned after throwing stones at the windows of an old farm hut. I’d played with those boys on occasion, building dams in the River Dee. One of them took the gun turret off his Action Man tank so he could fill it with water and catch fish to put in it. I also remember a school fête where a teacher was handing out tennis balls and inviting people to throw them at a load of old fluorescent tube lighting that was stood end-on against the brick wall of the Technology wing. The satisfying smash was followed by a cloud of white powder. I tape up the many layers of newspaper and a shard immediately rips through one end, narrowly missing Jessie Buckley.

Thurs 16 April —

I receive a text message to say there’s a parcel outside. A small, rusty barbecue and a bag of coals have been left outside the front door. It’s a hazy, sunny morning and there is a smell of gas in the street.

A couple of hours later, a yellow Fromica drop-leaf table arrives from the 1960s, sits outside the front door. A gloved hand gives a thumbs up from the open window of a van on the kerb.

A bee limps over windowsill objects, intermittently stopping, rolling onto its back and lying still. I take it into the yard and give it an all you can eat buffet of watery golden caster sugar. It can’t get enough of the stuff – shovels it in with its little black leg-hands. The sugar and the bee are on top of a chopped log of London Plane tree. The tree that was knocked down by the theatre truck. The

At the end of tonight’s 8pm clap for the NHS, as the banging of pots and pans faded out, a neighbour treated the road to a moving violin solo of You’ll Never Walk Alone and Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

Fri 17 April —

A magpie sits in between the metal bars of the railings on top of the brick wall that runs between the back of the bowling alley and the tree. It looks too big for the gap, like it’s stuck, but it’s just watching the road. A Royal Guard, expressionless in its box.

Sat 18 April —

A scene in Rocco and his Brothers (1960) features characters walking atop the slanted roof of Milan Duomo. It was just the other week, when Andrea Bocelli was on the news for performing in there without an audience during Italy’s lockdown, that I was remembering walking about on the slanted marble roof back in 2008. This black and white Milan I’m looking at on the screen is 60 years old, but it was only 48 years old when I was there.

Sun 19 April —

Had a dream last night in which I was heating up a dish of black seeds on a little flame to eat. A few tiny black and yellow spiders ran out from the ends as they warmed and I flicked them away before a friend (Ian?) told me you were meant to eat them as part of the delicacy. In another scene I was going up and down in a lift looking for the gents and I’d come out in different places on each floor. One floor was the open plan office at work, another was an ornate cinema (with the overhanging balconies of Manchester Apollo and the carpeted staircase of Leeds Hyde Park Picturehouse). In a separate scene (or possibly a separate dream), I had returned to my old school which was mostly demolished and rebuilt but with certain elements preserved. The darker bricks that stuck out of the end wall of the Juniors’ block in rhombus patterns had been kept. I looked up, pointed them out to someone, and reminisced about the discussions we’d had as kids as to whether they stuck out enough to climb up. They didn’t. Now, in the dream, the lower section is encased in glass, forming part of a covered walkway which has other tall buildings intermittently sprouting up from it.

Five cranes up, three lowered.

Mon 20 April —

Back on the landing after a week away from the desk. The tree outside the landing window has small green leaves now. Tall weeds reach up behind the bowling alley and poke up above the wall.

The three left-most cranes have their necks raised. A small gap and the next crane along is lowered. Small gap and another stretches up. Large gap in which the three concrete cylinders that often blend into the sky pop out as they are being hit by bright sunlight. Mint green tin sheds on top provide them with square heads. Robots, modelled on a trio of unpainted Russian Dolls. At night, they have pairs of light-up white eyes. Another large gap followed by the three right-most cranes, necks lowered and clustered together.

The two huskies pass the tree. They have their old, muted colour leads on but their white coats glow in the sun. One stops for a wee while the other stares handsomely across the road at something vaguely in my direction.

Tue 21 April —

A green box-on-the-back Ocado truck passes. Maybe the purple Ocado vans carry red wine, black grapes and black olives and this green one is sent in with the white wine, the green grapes and the green olives.

My first supermarket trip in just under a fortnight. On my way back from returning the trolley I take a few pictures of the empty and closed restaurants of Marine Point. A man in his 60s wearing a flat cap and mirrored sunglasses shouts over to me that he knows a couple of New Brighton photographs that I just have to take. He edges closer to me, keen to share his local wisdom but he sees that I’m wearing a makeshift mask (cut from a t-shirt) and respects the 2 metre gap. He describes in great detail the shot I can get from the causeway looking back at the stripy spire of St James with the Dome of Home just behind it. He then tells me about a shot of the Floral Pavilion I should get from a specific angle when the tide of the River Mersey and the marine lake are at specific levels of stillness. He tells me to count the panes of glass along the front. It should be about five he thinks. The shot it will give you will look like the Starship Enterprise. I give him a thumbs up and thank him, promising to check it out. We tell each other to take care and he goes on his way. I photograph a couple of the “Bye for now” closure notices on the restaurant doors and then I hear the man shouting to me again. He is coming back. Tells me he forgot to tell me about another essential shot I need. The blue lights of the vertical ‘Open’ sign on the arcades. I give another thumbs up and tell him I know the sign he means and that I like those Art Deco arcades. He is not done though, he wants to tell me the exact angle I need to shoot it from. He is now bending backwards into an arc. He looks uncomfortable as he shouts “it’s a bit of a back breaker, but it’s worth it for the angle”. I give another thumbs up and thank him again and he tells me he couldn’t leave out the ‘Open’ sign. Third best shot of New Brighton that you can get… It’s only as I arrive home, a whole half hour later, that I realise I probably just met myself, twenty years down the line.

Wed 22 April —

A bulky-looking military plane flies overhead. Over the tree and over the bowling alley. Matt green like an Airfix model.

The huskies hurry past the tree, pulling at their regular, non-showy leads.

Thurs 23 April —

The tree is greener today – leaves are slightly bigger, but still small enough that you can see all of the tiny branches. Like a sketch of a tree. Three starlings hop around on the pavement at the base of the trunk. One of them picks up a white feather in its beak. Not to be outdone, another sticks its head in amongst the weeds and comes out with a discarded white tissue in its beak. All three birds fly up and sit on the railings, keeping tight hold of their treasures. I imagine the starling with nothing in its beak is going through feelings of both jealousy and disgust.

On a lunchtime walk, I venture up to Wallasey Water Tower, an elaborate eight-sided sandstone tower with a church-like door and a slightly taller, much thinner tower attached on one side. Various window panes are patched up, boarded up and replaced with different types of glass. Up above, a series of mobile phone transmitters are poorly camouflaged. The round, drum-like elements are painted brown, while the vertical oblongs attached around the top are wrapped in sticky-back plastic that bears a fake brick pattern.

I pass a shop called Print 2000. The ‘2000’ is built up of lots of narrow horizontal lines – like a stack of paper or an eighties lo-res loading screen, or an actual print-out that is running low on black ink-jet. Some nearby flats have similar sticky-out bricks to those on the side of my old junior school (as featured in a recent dream). Rhombus patterns of darker bricks against a yellowy brick.

The huskies have their good leads on. Bright orange and royal blue. One of them inspects the tree and the other one looks over towards the house while it waits.

Fri 24 April —

A pearly pink balloon bobs quickly along the pavement in front of the tree and past the Jet Ski shop. Fully inflated with no string attached. Late for a party or fleeing from one.

At lunch, the shipping cranes are a palindrome. Three lowered and clustered together, large gap, two upright in the middle, large gap, three lowered and clustered together.

Sat 25 April —

On an evening walk to the crazy golf course I find the gate to the FootGolf fairways has been locked with a motorbike chain. I have to take my chances with the pavement and the promenade. In the first of the grassy dips I spot the two huskies standing in the far corner of the triangle with their human. So this is where they come to when they pass my landing window at speed. They don’t just disappear once out of view, they have a life down here. They hurry to the grass so that they can just stand still on it. I can’t tell what leads they have on from here, or if they’re looking at me.

Sun 26 April —

It’s misty out and all eight shipping cranes are lowered. Idle or busy. None of them sit to the left of the raised end of the Art Deco arcades today. A cluster of three cranes is positioned in the middle of their domain and a cluster of five sit to the right-most of their range.

I go to put a new packet of blue seeds in the bait station under the kitchen sink. It’s supposed to be a three stage treatment. But I find the base of the cupboard to be strewn with tiny blue flakes and cobalt crumbs. Like a Roger Hiorns installation, with surface areas coated in glistening copper sulphate crystals. I find the cardboard lid of the bait box has been chewed through and the mice have impatiently helped themselves to the next stage of the treatment. The box contains two empty see-through sachets. 

At 10.45pm I watch episode 3 of Limmy’s Homemade Show! on BBC2 and there’s a funny sketch about him forgetting to turn off the stop-watch on his mobile phone, and how he feels sorry for making it do all that extra counting for no reason. In bed I go to put my work alarm back on and I find that my stopwatch has been running for 13 hours, 43 minutes and 17 seconds – I accidentally left it running after boiling eggs this morning.

Mon 27 April —

A small blue Nissan van is parked askew between the Jet Ski shop and the London Plane tree outside my landing window. Its passenger door is wide open next to the pavement.

Huskies have their plain leads on. Perhaps they’ve been naughty. Two wood pigeons peck at the weeds around the base of the tree. Seagulls gather on the roof of the bowling alley, a pair of them touch beaks.

The two left-most shipping cranes are raised. A large gap. Six cranes clustered over to the right, two up and four lowered.

On the monitor plugged in beside my laptop I watch the Prime Minister’s statement outside No.10. He goes back in behind the shiny black door and the live feed video is left running for another five or ten minutes on the Guardian website. I listen to snippets of off-camera conversations between lingering journalists and camera people. Someone gets told off for packing up too slowly.

“If you go any slower you’ll be unpacking again for the next one”

“Trying to maintain social distancing… Didn’t want to block you… I was going to do a cut away shot… but then thought better not.”

“Ooh look, Dalek bollards” / “Have you not seen those before?”

“Is this power cable staying?” / “No, no.”

“We’re nearly done, cheers mate”

“I was going to try and get the rainbows in the window but it just didn’t happen.”

A woman in a charcoal grey pinafore and a white sleeved blouse leaves No.10.

“Boris has done his thing, hasn’t he?” / “Yes he has, yeah” / “Boris has done his thing?” / “Yes” / “I’ll wait here, out of the way.”

“First day back after the holiday. Bit slower than normal.”

Pings of two text messages.

“No teas, coffees?”

A slim man in a blue shirt knocks at number 10 – or rather, he hovers his fist in front of it, unsure as to what the procedure is. It opens.

“You’re a genius.”

Sound cuts out. Live feed ends.

Tue 28 April —

The sky is grey and the tree casts no shadow today. I’d become used to seeing it as a sun dial, with the shadow of the trunk starting over to the left in the morning, moving North and sprawling its less-defined branches up the wall and then sharpening up again as it climbs back down and becomes a long, straight line on the pavement, pointing East. The leaves seem paler, a pistachio green.

On a video call with an old friend in Hebden Bridge, we discuss our favourite films of 2017 (it’s been a while since we caught up). He applies a virtual backdrop filter of green hills and blue skies to his screen but it fails to detect what is foreground and what is background and his face is obscured by clouds – all except for his glasses.

Wed 29 April —

Seagulls walk around on the roof of the bowling alley, protecting a nest perhaps, undisturbed by the non-clatter of half strikes below. Two approach the edge behind the tree. Their white heads and chests pop out from the murky sky that almost matches the grey tin of the back wall, minus the corrugated lines.

Neither husky stops or slows down by the tree in the rain. Plain leads and heads held low. Three lowered cranes to the left of the arcades. Five to the right, two raised followed by three lowered and clustered together. The arcades become two different shades of blue when wet, like a Global Hypercolor T-shirt or a Hot Wheels car.

Watching an ‘Arvon at Home’ live reading by Mark Haddon, I spot a stripy cushion on his couch that resembles the cover to his short story collection, The Pier Falls (minus any text). I put the question forward in the Zoom chat and he excitedly explains that it is made from the same deckchair fabric that was photographed for the cover artwork.

Thurs 30 April —

No birds in the tree today, unless they’re just harder to spot now that the leaves are getting fuller. No high-contrast large birds at any rate. The two seagulls are back on the bowling alley roof though. The white of them still far brighter than the sky behind. They walk up the slight incline as a pair, occasionally tilting heads to tap beaks.

Shipping cranes are behind a haze. The two left most have their necks up, heads in the cloud. Three in the middle are lowered. Three on the right are lowered and clustered together.