January 2020

Sat 25 Jan 2020 – At Tam O’Shanter’s Urban Farm, I notice that the bird spotting poster by the pond categorises by colour: 'Green and/or yellow | Black | Black and white | Black and grey/brown | Brown | Brown and grey | Orange or pink on breast | Spots or streaks on breast'... but all of the illustrations have been sun-bleached to the same pale blue.

Wed 1 Jan —

On a New Year’s walk around Leasowe, taking in the Typhoo Tea Factory and the Lighthouse, I notice that the logo for Bristol Myers Squibb (Biopharmaceuticals) resembles that of the Umbrella Corporation from the Resident Evil video game.

It’s dark when arriving at Leasowe Train Station to head back to New Brighton. While waiting for the train I hear a gentle, melodic ringtone — a bit like the polyphonic sounds that occupied that brief window between the shrill, omnipresent Nokia ringtone and the advent of being able to set actual songs as ringtones — I look around to witness the polyphonic sounds heading up the steps to the footbridge over the tracks. As the mobile phone is answered, the soothing soundtrack is replaced by angry swearing: “Tell him I’ll fucking break his head, the fucking nugget.”

Thu 2 Jan —

A bunch of almost completely deflated balloons lies next to the kerb on Rowson Street. All of the balloons are green or turquoise, making the cluster of 15 or so resemble a bunch of past-their-best grapes.

Fri 3 Jan —

Grey dust and brown gravel. I discover a mouse hole behind the loose skirting board in the kitchen. Turns out mice can burrow through thick sandstone walls.

Sat 4 Jan —

The three new giant red cranes that have joined the original five haven’t yet been brought into use. Their heads are all lowered. One of the original five cranes, neck stretching upwards, has sidled over to them, as though training them or welcoming them, or telling them there’s nothing to be shy about. Join in any time you feel ready.

Sun 5 Jan —

On a walk up to The Cliff tower blocks, I pass the big houses with the fancy blue chimney pots and see a pair of houses are undergoing regeneration. One has a yellow shipping container in its back garden. The neighbouring house has a giant cockerel sculpture.

Mon 6 Jan —

A confident cat is sprawled out in the middle of Virginia Road.

Five photocopiers are gathered together in the atrium of the new School of Law and Social Justice building, waiting to go up in the lift to their respective floors. This might be the last time they see each other.

Tue 7 Jan —

Looking through the windows of the vacated open plan office in the Eleanor Rathbone building, white Bulky Bob’s confidential waste bags lie in a pile under three abandoned clocks labelled Cayman Islands, Liverpool, Singapore.

Wed 8 Jan —

Photos arrive on my phone from the builder showing the extent of the sea air erosion to the chimney. It’s not just missing a couple of bricks, there are huge holes behind the lead flashing. ABBA’s The Day Before You Came comes on the radio in the office to add to the melancholy.

Thu 9 Jan —

There’s a new sponge on the side of the sink in the third floor kitchenette. The green brillo has a posh backgammon board-like pattern in different shades of green.

The flagship Forever 21 building on Church Street has closed down and is empty except for large wheeled bins.

I wander New Brighton on Google Street View, looking at the buildings around Victoria Street before they had murals painted on the facades and gable ends. I drag the orange avatar down to the seafront and I find an amazing time slip. The Bella Italia by the roundabout glitches into ‘Brooklyn’s’ under greyer clouds circa 2012. I step closer to Marine Point and whoosh, it is 2008, pre-development of the front. There’s suddenly no Bella Italia or Brooklyn’s now. No arc of restaurants overlooking the marine lake. There’s no Morrison’s supermarket or Light cinema or Travelodge. There’s just an expanse of sunken grass where the world’s biggest lido used to sit.

Fri 10 Jan —

A leafless tree on Bold Street outside Wok & Go and Johnny English Fish & Chips still has large silver baubles in it, reflecting the crumbling Art Deco Oxfam building on the opposite corner.

Browsing in Blackwell’s at lunch, I discover there is a chapter on New Brighton’s Perch Rock lighthouse in Tom Nancollas’ Seashaken Houses.

Sat 11 Jan —

A blue cherry picker sits in the Morrison’s car park, fully extended skywards, not near to anything reachable.

Sun 12 Jan —

There’s a full moon over the cast iron canopy of Birkenhead North train station. This is where the black and white station cat used to come and sit on my lap when the loop line was being replaced.

Mon 13 Jan —

Kellogg’s have made a feature of the barcode which is now tall and full-width at the bottom edge of the Rice Crispies box. Perhaps it’s for ease of self scanning. Turbulence by David Szalay features a boarding pass on the cover which doubles as the book’s ISBN barcode. I wonder if there is one person somewhere in the world still wandering down supermarket aisles playing on a Barcode Battler.

There’s a feature on Meatloaf in the Metro and I notice a resemblance to the builder who has been up on the roof repairing the chimney.

Tue 14 Jan —

The plant room door is open in the new School of Law and Social Justice building. A workman is painting a metal trip-hazard yellow. Inside I see a wall from the original building where the board-pressed concrete is still visible.

The frosted window panes on the doors to Conway Park’s Vue Cinema make the entrance not look like an entrance. I wonder if this is deliberate.

Wed 15 Jan —

As the credits roll at the end of a double-bill of Japanese animation, a Picturehouse usher speaks in a raised voice from the doorway, asking if anyone has lost a pin-badge. When no-one replies, he says that he’s pretty sure it will belong to someone in this screen. He says he’ll leave it on the kiosk outside. Exiting the screen, I’m intrigued so take a look – it is a UFO beaming up a human.

Thu 16 Jan —

A woman sitting opposite me on the train is reading a book called You Are Dead.

The builder comes round to collect payment for the chimney repairs and the gutters. He is driving a brand new metallic red Jaguar.

Fri 17 Jan —

Having recently learnt that the brutalist Rendall Building on the University of Liverpool’s South Campus used to be the Arts Library, it dawns on me that the vertical concrete reliefs that stick out at skewed angles – some leaning out at the bottom, others at the top – resemble books on a shelf.

Sat 18 Jan —

We happen to be in Blackpool on pigeon weekend. Enthusiasts gather by the Winter Gardens carrying white cardboard cartons with handles and holes in them. Holes to breathe and possibly to see out of. The cartons come in pairs, two birds in the hand. There are regular pigeons milling about on the pavement too and I see a couple of carton carriers look down at them and smirk at each other.

Two men covered in tattoos wait by the door for a table to become available in the busy Hive Cafe. I invite them to sit opposite us. One is more chatty than the other. The chatty one enthuses about his love of films and pulls his t-shirt down, and his trouser legs up, to reveal cult TV and film-themed tattoos. A penny farthing from The Prisoner. The Joker from Batman. The less chatty man stares out of the window, only perking up when he sees a man in a cap walking by on the other side of the street. “He touches everything,” he hurriedly tells me, “the man in the cap has to touch everything – watch him.” And then, sure enough, the man in the cap reaches up and touches a blue heritage plaque as he passes it.

Sun 19 Jan —

New towers rise up in Manchester and disappear into the fog. Elizabeth Gaskell’s house sits across the road from a poor housing estate. A small box on a desk says ‘Open me.’ I open it and the room fills with the scratchy sound of a fountain pen. Inside the box is a label that reads ‘Can you hear Elizabeth Gaskell writing?’

Mon 20 Jan —

A stuffed Luigi and Scooby Doo are tied to the caged back of a garden waste collecting truck near Falkner Square.

The front yard of a Georgian town house is full of pot plants, wind chimes and ornaments. A cherub stands next to a windowsill that has a lucky horseshoe attached. There are two planks of wood propped against the wall. One of them has ‘Thick’ painted on it. The other has ‘Very thick’ painted on it.

Tue 21 Jan —

A seagull stands confidently on top of a twin pillar box. It is unbudging as I approach with a letter.

Wed 22 Jan —

Everywhere is shrouded in fog. Both cathedrals have lost their towers.

For the second Wednesday in a row, I am walking into a cinema screen at FACT behind an incredibly slow old lady and her walking frame. I don’t want to be rude and push past her, but I also can’t politely pretend that this is the speed I would be walking regardless of whether she was in front of me or not. I politely pretend this is my normal walking speed.

Thu 23 Jan —

There is a dead pigeon on the pavement opposite the university swimming pool. It’s foggy and rainy and car headlights are intermittently lighting up the flagstone around the bird. The pigeon is large and barrel-chested and doesn’t look too physically damaged. It hasn’t been flattened, it is just lying there, on its back. One wing points outward like it had been trying to hitch a ride, or like it wants a helping hand up.

Fri 24 Jan —

FACT is lit up red for Chinese New Year and Chinese characters in black and red are on rotation on the LED window wall. I record a short video and the clip accidentally gets soundtracked by an opera singing busker.

Back in New Brighton, the blue GPS marker on my phone’s maps app drifts over the bowling alley, over the marine lake and out into the Irish Sea.

Sat 25 Jan —

On a walk to Bidston Windmill, we pass the tinned up Holy Cross church with its Italian inspired, dovecot-like arched openings in the square spire. As we walk out of the newsagent across the road from it – bottles of water in hand for the walk – we pass a young lad in a hoodie that has an image of the Mona Lisa on the front.

At Tam O’Shanter’s Urban Farm, I notice that the bird spotting poster by the pond categorises by colour: ‘Green and/or yellow | Black | Black and white | Black and grey/brown | Brown | Brown and grey | Orange or pink on breast | Spots or streaks on breast’… but all of the illustrations have been sun-bleached to the same pale blue.

In a café near Oxton, a man tells his daughter she shouldn’t wear so many elastic bands around her wrist. He explains that he doesn’t even wear a watch because he doesn’t want to interrupt the flow of blood to his heart.

Sun 26 Jan —

Flicking through the Observer New Review, I see a Q&A with a former writer-in-residence at the Centre for New Writing, who was there while I was doing my MA. A few pages in and I land on an feature about debut authors, and see a course mate from that same MA. Further on, there’s a photo of a guest author who came to speak to us, and finally, in a separate article again, there is a thumbnail pic of a previous CNW Professor. This small world edition of the paper reminds me of a childhood holiday to Coniston when I took my pocket copy of The Observer’s Book of Mushrooms, Toadstools and Other Common Fungi down to the water’s edge to look up a huge fungus on a tree next to a boat shed. The picture in the book for that variety of fungus turned out to be a photograph of that actual tree.

Mon 27 Jan —

On the Merseyrail into Liverpool, someone’s mobile phone goes off. The ringtone is the recorded sound of someone cackling and loudly eating crisps. Perhaps it is a favourite clip from a TV show, or the latest novelty Crazy Frog craze.

Tue 28 Jan —

A crackly PA announcement apologises to passengers in the middle carriage for the PA system being crackly in the middle carriage. “If you want it to sound less irritating, it’s working fine in the front and rear carriages.”

A girl wears a khaki military jacket with sew-on patches of embroidered peacock feathers pinned all the way down the sleeves. A nice contrast of camouflage and conspicuousness.

Wed 29 Jan —

A wooden laser-cut map of the world has been installed on a third-floor corridor. It sticks out from the wall on pins and islands are pinned to the wall separately, apart from Japan which is attached to mainland Russia from the top.

Thu 30 Jan —

A poster for a writing competition sits in a lightbox on front of the old Cornerhouse in Manchester. The QuietManDave prize is dedicated to a lovely man who I met just once, at the Victoria Baths Weekend of Words in June 2019. At the bar, we had chatted about writing and open mic performances, and he spoke about maybe moving to Scotland.

At the Deaf Institute, a Giant Drag merchandise stall has pieces of orgonite jewellery for sale, handmade by the singer, and presented in a cardboard doll’s house. A white-haired man in a sheepskin waistcoat works the stall. As the gig begins, he lights josticks and sits in the dark under the balcony, all of his whiteness illuminated by a laptop.

Fri 31 Jan —

A blue EU flag flaps down from a window of the concrete Geography tower. On the next window to the right is a round blue sticker with a yellow star and a red Liver Bird head. I can’t see this detail from down on the ground but I recognise the design and remember it from Liverpool’s bid to become European Capital of Culture 2008, circa 2004. So this has been a pro-European office or seminar room for at least 16 years. Everything is due to change after 11pm tonight. The brutalist building is also due to change. The campus masterplan has it down to be re-clad. A new outer-layer. New windows. A new outlook, perhaps.