March 2020

Sun 1 March — Rusty water has gathered in the cupboard below the boiler. Notepads from my Creative Writing MA and my Comma Press short story course have all been turned to mulch. I attempt to open them to see if I can photograph any of the pages before binning the sodden pile, but all I get is Rorschach tests or old topographical maps...

Sun 1 March —

Rusty water gathers in the cupboard below the boiler. Notepads from my Creative Writing MA and my Comma Press short story course have all been turned to mulch. I attempt to open them to see if I can photograph any of the pages before binning the sodden pile, but all I get is Rorschach tests or old topographical maps in green, yellow and brown. Black ink is now purple and runs in rivers between the hills. In a folder of equally water-damaged print-outs, I catch a couple of comments from my tutors in the least-badly-hit margins… “Deploy later”, “develop this earlier on”, “ha”, “lovely”, and perhaps most symbolically: “Do we need this?”

Mon 2 March —

I pick up a packet of Bic biros from Ryman at lunch. The alternative colours range is half price. Instead of your regular black, blue, red and green, here you get purple, sky blue, pink and lime green. I browse the other pens, pads, light boxes shaped like Pac-Man ghosts, and then I spot a packet of Paper Mate mechanical pencils. There are four: a purple one, a sky blue one, a pink one and a lime green one. I hold up my Bic biros in front of them and they line up. Same colours in the same order. I expect to hear a click and for a secret door to open.

Tue 3 March —

Walking down School Lane past the Bluecoat at sunset, the Liver Building pokes up at the end of the alleyway, above the Odeon and beyond the hoarding of an outgoing / incoming shop unit. In front of it, in the Liverpool One loading bay, the raised buckets of two blue cherry pickers chat to each other.

Wed 4 March —

There are noticeably more mouth masks being worn now. Mostly of the pale blue variety but there are white masks too and a few black ones. Three Chinese students walk past Mulberry Street furniture shop looking like an album cover photo-shoot for the Liverpool prog-rock band, Clinic.

Thurs 5 March —

Exams are taking place in the two meeting rooms on the third floor. The large flat screen monitors on the walls are being utilised to display oversized clocks on them. Kafka does Countdown.

Everyone in the Tesco on Myrtle Parade is wearing gloves now. Everyone, that is, except for the guy behind the lottery counter. He’s doing piano scales on the counter with the huge fingers of his right hand. Enjoying the dexterity of unrestricted flesh as he awaits his next lotto or cigarettes customer. A believer in good fortune and bad fortune if ever there was one.

Dry pasta and tins of plum tomatoes have been cleared from the shelves in New Brighton’s Morrison’s. The Terminator: Dark Fate DVD stand has also been cleared, with just an outer cardboard sleeve remaining in the racks.

Fri 6 March —

I hear the radio blaring out of a shop on Bold Street and look over to see a shiny new plastic ‘H&W newsagent’ sign now resides above the unit formerly known as Gaurdian [sic] and Friendly’s Cafe.

Kitchen noises (the clattering of plates and chefs chatting) travel along the pipes and into the toilet in Maray on the Albert Dock.

A piece of breaded chicken lies in the metal urinal trough in the Baltic Fleet. A man, somewhat worse-for-wear, props himself up at the sink while trying to make a phone call on loud speaker.

Flicking through an old water-damaged book about Liverpool (circa 1966), I come across a page titled ‘Liverpool, Great City of the North West’ which features an artist’s impression – in watercolour, using a palette of mostly yellows and greys – of the forthcoming St John’s Shopping Centre. The beacon-to-come looks more streamlined at the top than the actual concrete UFO that will arrive.

Sat 7 March —

On the Stalybridge – Dewsbury Ale Trail, we call into the Railway in Greenfield. While the rules of Killer are debated, I notice the window behind the pool table looks out over the hills. A couple of old houses across the road share a sloping, misshapen roof that mimics the landscape in slate tiles.

An Amazon locker in the foyer of a Leeds Premier Inn is charcoal grey instead of the usual egg yolk yellow. ‘Hello, my name is tajoori’. I’m not sure if this is a Leeds thing (like the way Leeds doesn’t have black Hackney cabs) or a Premier Inn thing… Perhaps hotels in general ask Amazon for something less in-your-face for their guests.

Sun 8 March —

Several Instagram photos appear in my feed from different friends and photography-inclined acquaintances, all visiting Stockport at the weekend. As far as I am aware, these friends don’t know each other and were visiting separately. ‘The Hat Museum’ with its vertical white painted lettering on the chimney of the old hat factory is a popular shot. I remember wandering round there some 18 years ago while waiting for a recruitment agency interview. The canteen was huge and empty and the only sounds were dual hums of the air conditioning and the sandwich fridges.

Mon 9 March —

So many of the books on the Waterstones new releases fiction shelf have the same cover art. Dark blue with a border of flower tendrils, leaves and/or butterflies. This design must have been original once, standing out from whatever the previous overly saturated trend was.

At a one-off screening of Jessica Hausner’s Little Joe at the Liverpool One Odeon, the sci-fi paranoia piece feels very close to home, both in the fact that the characters wear mouth masks and use hand sanitiser, and because so much of it was shot in Liverpool. The house on Falkner Street (No.48), the brass plaques and Brahms & Liszt rooms of the Philharmonic Dining Rooms, the yellow Merseytravel bus stop in front of the Anglican Cathedral. The cinema screen becomes more like a panoramic viewing box of the city, with a hyper real colour filter applied.

Tue 10 March —

A woman who I often pass on Bold Street runs down the escalator at Liverpool Central and I remember that I got the 15mins later train this morning. The guard’s whistle goes, the ‘doors closing’ bleeping sounds and I see the woman being blocked from diving on by the apologetic guard who looks like Johan Wohlert, bass player with Danish band Mew.

Editing the website for the European Children’s Rights Unit (ECRU), I google ‘ECRU Liverpool’ to see if the changes have published out on the landing page. The top search result comes through as a cream coloured LFC away kit from the 1996-97 season.

Sitting in the dress circle of the Playhouse listening to Roddy Doyle in Conversation, I flip over his book Two for the Road, to hover the Goodreads scanner over the barcode. As I’m adding it to my ‘Want to read’ list in the app, the camera phone scanner starts to focus on the black & white striped rug beneath Roddy’s armchair on the stage. It asks me to try moving closer to the book.

Wed 11 March —

Crossing the junction by the bombed out church towards Bold Street, I look up at the turret on the Sainsbury’s that was once Rapid DIY, and I spot a plaster face at the base, just above the gutter for the roof. It’s a dirty white against the red brick and I wonder why I haven’t noticed it before. The shouting male face is flanked by two spirals which look like part of the head. It could be John Hurt’s John Merrick in The Elephant Man. And then from the cheeks emerge a pair of tentacles on each side. A double moustache perhaps. And then I see who it is… it’s Tony Harrison, the octopus head from The Mighty Boosh.

The old kitchen window pane that had a permanent fug of condensation trapped between its double glazing has been propped against a wall in the back yard since the builder replaced it with one that you can actually see through. The wind has been whipping up outside all evening and it’s bins night so the lids are banging. It’s not stormy enough to be named Ciara or Dennis or Jorge but the wind is strong enough to knock over the Sold sign that still lies on its side at the back of the house because it was never collected by Jones & Chapman. There’s a crashing sound and I venture out to find the old kitchen window lying flat now. The upper pane is in tact, while the lower pane lies in large shards beneath. The condensation has finally been freed.

Thurs 12 March —

An orange cherry picker with its neck lowered is being pushed down Hardman Street, much to the annoyance of morning traffic. One man in a hard hat rides in the cradle while two of his colleagues push from behind. There’s a spluttering generator noise, like that of an ice cream van’s freezer, but perhaps this just powers the crane, not the vehicle itself. They manage to steer it left into Pilgrim Street and with a wave, one of the pushers thanks the backlog of cars for their impatience. Perhaps Pilgrim Street is its destination and they are just saving fuel for a short distance, or maybe it is going there to die, to lie wheezing behind the doctors’ garages.

Fri 13 March —

Walking up the escalator at Central station I see a tote bag in charcoal grey with geometric patterns on it and for a moment I think it’s the book cover for Exercises in Control by Annabel Banks that arrived in the post from Influx Press yesterday. This makes me think of the ads that suddenly appear at the side of my inbox or on my phone between Scrabble moves, dangling my earlier Internet searches before me.

A square piece of plastic sheeting floats down in front of my face while I’m choosing a Mother’s Day card in Utility. I look up and see a high-up shelf of designer back-packs. I look down and see a shop assistant whipping the plastic up off my shoe.

On Church Street, someone is selling hot chocolate from a refashioned horse box.

Only myself and two other people in the screening of Calm with Horses at the Everyman Cinema. In the bar a councillor complains to a waitress about the fact that they were still serving ice cubes when they can hold germs for so long. The waitress argues that they’re an essential component of cocktails and he suggests they should just serve hot drinks then.

Sat 14 March —

The streetlight outside the bedroom window has been replaced. A simple square LED now protrudes from a black arc attached to the old lamppost. The previous Georgian lantern that had its glass panes half painted black on account of it being positioned close to the bedroom window has been removed.

Morrison’s New Brighton is still busy with customers as they stock up for self isolation, quarantine, lock-down or whatever may be coming our way in the next few weeks and months. As well as the empty shelves in the pasta and tinned food aisles, I notice that a stand for Potted Hyacinths in the florist section has also been completely cleared. Perhaps they have medicinal properties, like the plants in Little Joe, or perhaps everyone’s just realised this could be the last chance to get a Potted Hyacinth for the foreseeable.

With the front room darkened in order to watch a film (Bacurau), the only light besides the screen comes from a Wild Sage & Mint candle on the mantelpiece. The green glow is illuminating a crown green bowling trophy won by my late great Uncle Arthur. ‘Liverpool & D A B L Harlandic Scott Cup Winners 2nd Div Champions 1964 A. Upton’. The trophy features a crouching bowler and the flickering shadow cast by the candle projects his trilby across the chimney breast. The trophy is missing one essential part – his bowling arm is snapped off at the elbow.

Sun 15 March —

I look out of the landing window to see if any of the other streetlights have been replaced. The one closest to the side of the house is still missing a bulb. I notice that the lantern is half filled with rainwater.

Dad comes round to borrow his ladder back. It’s a folding set of ladders that reduces down to half the height of a stepladder but becomes four rungs wide. We talk about the corona virus at the door and Dad seems more worried about the economy. I pick the ladder up by the inner two rungs and pass it out of the front door. My dad grabs it by the outer two rungs.

All eight red shipping cranes have their necks down. Usually it’s a combination of some up, some down, but today they’re all bowing together.

The entrance on the cinema side of Morrison’s has been closed off. They often lock this side when it’s particularly windy, and indeed one of the nearby panes of glass appears to be shattered, so perhaps that’s why the shutters are down at this end. However, today they have gone further than locking the doors and lowering the shutters. Today there is an additional blockade outside the doors to hammer the message home. The extra barrier features three traffic cones, two trolleys and a wire basket bin, all with red and white striped tape running between them. The left-to-right order of these objects is cone-trolley-cone-basket bin-trolley-cone. Then, to the right of all this, and I’m not sure if these are intended as part of the blockade or not – but I’m going to include them because they sit in line – there are two green Subway takeaway cups filled with rainwater.

Mon 16 March —

Someone’s brown garden waste bin is sitting in the middle of the footpath. A couple of branches stick out, holding the lid open. Inside, I see clumps of soil. I wonder what is under the mud. More earth, or something buried, perhaps? A ready meal burial plot awaiting its drop-off at the landfill site.

No-one wants to touch the pelican crossing button. People wait for a natural gap in the traffic instead. New risk vs old risk.

A teenager places two shoe boxes of brand new trainers on the flat slab monument in Falkner Gardens. He takes out the trainers from one box and photographs them in various arrangements. From the bench I’m sitting on, I can see they are red Nikes with yellow swooshes. There might be a blend-to-orange too… Flaming upwards from the body-coloured souls or dripping down from the tongue and laces like paint. Or possibly neither of those scenarios. I’m ten metres away and colourblind. Then he carefully puts them away and gets out the other pair. A far more minimal white, with a pale blue inner. I can’t tell if there’s a Nike swoosh or Adidas stripes or something else on the sides, but whatever it is, it’s white on white. He photographs them side-on, front-on, overhead and jaunty with one propped up against the other.

Tue 17 March —

The leather jackets shop that was once Bits n’ Bytes has its shutters down. If it doesn’t survive the next few months, perhaps it will return as something else again, or re-emerge as the console games den of my youth, with 8-bit R-Type playing on the big screen above a Sega Master System.

Inside the Post office that doubles as a cafe bar in the basement of the old Lewis’s department store, customers queue patiently and stand a few feet apart in the tensa barriers below the giant oxymoron signage for ‘Guilty Pleasures Healthy Eatery’. An old man has a scarf wrapped high around his face. The tables and chairs are empty and the bar is unlit.

A van has its back doors and sliding side door all open, revealing boxes and suitcases. There is also a large, round empty fish tank with gravel and plastic seaweed in the bottom. No water or fish. Do the fish travel separately, in a bag on the lap of a passenger, or was this their last home, and it’s only the tank that relocates?

Wed 18 March —

The two white huskies pass the tree outside the landing window. Neither of them stops for a wee.

Thurs 19 March —

A man in his late fifties rockets past the tree outside the landing window on a motability scooter. He performs a u-turn when he sees he’s overshot the dipped curb for crossing. His top is pulled up over his mouth and nose.

Two magpies and two crows fly into the leafless branches of the tree outside the landing window. The magpies move further up to the thinner branches but are chased out by the crows. The crows then fly off and the tree is empty again.

A large lollipop with a sad face – big watery manga eyes – lies on the aggregate footpath between a line of trolley wheels and the glass facade of Home & Bargain. A single bite has been taken out of her turquoise hair. She stares up from the floor, as does her reflection in the dark tinted glass. I wonder if she was happy before she was dropped.

Fri 20 March —

The sun is out and a single magpie bobs around the patch of tarmac where the second tree used to stand, before the theatre truck drove into it.

There’s a crashing sound downstairs. A paper chemist bag filled with empty inhalers has fallen off the gas meter cupboard. Maybe one in fifteen still has the odd dose left in it.

Sat 21 March —

Up at 5.44am for some reason, I look out of the landing window and see a strip of orange sunrise behind the shipping cranes. The formation of the cranes is currently three together with their necks down, a space, one with its neck up, a space, four with their necks down.

Floral Pavilion ‘What’s On’ posters have been torn down from the cast iron New Brighton notice board. Two scraps that remain advertise The Simon and Garfunkel Story and You Win Again.

There are still plenty of apples in the supermarket but the top layer of braeburns has been left and the shaped card that they sit in has been peeled down from the top to gain access to the untouched under layer.

At three in the afternoon, the four left-most cranes have their necks up and the four right-most have their necks down. The giraffe-like ones are fairly spaced. The downward ones are bunched together.

Sun 22 March —

All eight cranes have their necks down. Crane, gap, crane, gap, two cranes together, slightly bigger gap, four cranes together.

The two white huskies walk past the tree opposite the side window of the house. One of them stops for a wee.

A single crow sits in the branches of the same tree, this time viewed from the landing window. It ruffles its feathers, pulls its shoulders up to its head, and stares at me.

The Adventure Golf is abandoned but for one father and son on the Fort Perch Rock hole. A rusty decommissioned electrics box sits outside the green fencing. It is missing its front and back panels. Five cream coloured sockets with cut-off wires sprout from the base like crocus bulbs preparing for this spring’s electricity.

This side of the dips is quieter than the prom. Safer for a socially distanced breath of fresh air. The main hazards here are the occasional bucket-sized holes in the grass for the ‘Foot Golf’ that I have never seen anyone play.

Mon 23 March —

Shipping cranes at 8.30am: 1 with its neck up, gap, 1 down, gap, 1 down, gap, 1 down, gap, 4 down and clustered together.

The huskies walker passes the tree with a shopping bag but no dogs.

Shipping cranes at 11am: 1 down, big gap, 1 down, small gap, 1 up, gap, 1 up, gap, 4 down and clustered together.

Shipping cranes at 12.45pm: the 4 left-most have their necks up and are evenly spaced, the 4 right-most are still down and clustered together.

The two white huskies glow in the sunlight. They have new leads. One bright orange and one royal blue. They tug their owner forwards and neither stops for a wee by the tree.

Tue 24 March —

The sun is shining on this first day of official UK lockdown. Red shipping cranes are up, gap, down, gap, up, gap, down, large gap, four down and clustered together.

A single magpie is in the tree at the side of the house, grooming itself. Before any saluting is required, it is joined by the other magpie. They are both chased out of the tree by the two crows. The crows don’t stay. Difficult relatives.

Wed 25 March —

Out of the landing window, the tree casts a long afternoon shadow across the pavement. No branches, just trunk all the way until it’s beyond the frame. A narrower shadow runs in parallel behind it — from a lamppost, out of view. This shadow hits the wall and climbs it, losing definition as it scales the crumbling red bricks.

Two middle aged ladies walk past the tree and stop, just in frame. They are not practising social distancing but perhaps they live together. One of them points at something beyond my view and the other regards it with a scrunched up brow. They both continue on.

The shadows of seagulls appear fleetingly on the back of the bowling alley. A zoetrope animation on the vertical lines of corrugated grey tin.

Thurs 26 March —

I push open the bathroom window for a shower and one of the magpies is sitting on the kitchen roof, looking in at me. It tilts its head slightly, curious.

A pale grey ring-necked dove sits on the metal railing on top of the brick wall. It is head-on so appears circular from the landing window. A grey felt tennis ball, perhaps. It flies up and lands in the tree. Looks young. A squab. Birds are loving the lack of humans and cars. Granted, it’s a sunny spring day, and they’d probably be out anyway, but they know something is different too. They can bob along the pavement now. No need to break into flight every thirty seconds.

Fri 27 March —

The stooping old lady with her short-legged dog and her box trolley cross the road by the tree. Her box trolley is white plastic or canvas like a big cool-bag. It features lots of small images in an evenly spaced grid that I can’t quite focus on from the landing window. At first I thought illustrated landmarks – Eiffel tower, Arc de Triumph, but no, not that. Benches, maybe, or garden arbors, with cute animals sitting in pairs? Are those the oversized ears of Mickey Mouse? She moves very slowly, giving me plenty of time to look but this just makes it more frustrating. If she passes again I might have to resort to grabbing the binoculars that sit on the windowsill alongside a Poinsettia that no longer flowers and a Lego mini figure of Hans Moleman.

Sat 28 March —

Three seagulls sit in a row on three chimney pots on the flats behind the back yard.

1pm and the red cranes are arranged as follows: one lowered, small gap, one lowered, big gap, one upright, small gap, two upright, large gap, three lowered and bunched together. Sunlight is hitting the cranes, arcades, bowling alley and fairground but the sky is an ominous grey. A heavy cloud looms just above the three upright cranes as though they are waiting to receive three prongs of lightning.

The caterpillar ride with green tracks that was dismantled late last year has been replaced with a shark ride with blue tracks but the miniature rollercoaster sits motionless.

11pm and the shipping cranes are five up, three down. Two on the left stand together, both with red lights at the top, red lights half way down the neck, and white lights around the wider part of the frame and down one back leg like a string of fairy lights. There’s a big gap and then there’s the three upright cranes in the middle. Only the middle of these middle cranes is as lit up as the left-most pair. The right-hand crane of these middle three only has the red lights, and the left-hand crane of the middle block only has the white lights. It’s neck is dark and I imagine a plane flying low through the gap, with the pilot thinking they have a good handle on all the red warning lights. To the right of the middle three cranes there’s another big gap, and in this gap sit the three concrete cylinders which recede like Russian dolls and have pairs of white lights on top giving them robots eyes. To the right of these are the three right-most cranes which are lowered and bunched, and as shy as ever. Red lights, no white.

Sun 29 March —

One of the magpies investigates an upside down Muller corner yoghurt under the tree. Two white flat-topped pyramids, one small, one large. Leaves, twigs, other small objects blow down the road but the yoghurt pot remains; has weight to it.

Mon 30 March —

The upturned corner yoghurt is still at the base of the tree. The young collard dove walks around it. A yellow ambulance drives past the landing window. Calm, no blue lights or sirens. Slow. There’s no white paint on the bodywork anymore, at least none that is on show. Perhaps the insides of the doors are still white, but the rest is lumnious yellow. I remember luminous yellow chevrons and panels being introduced and added to police cars and ambulances but I don’t recall the white disappearing completely. Like a passage of text where some key lines have been selected for highlighting and then the student has got carried awat and highlighted the whole page. The white page becomes a yellow page. Everything is important but nothing stands out.

In the yard at the back of the flats behind my yard, a round metal table with mosaic tiles on its surface and two black metal chairs that have the same wiry curls as garden gates sit on a small patch of artificial grass. One edge of the grass is pinned down by a green wheelie bin and another edge is still rolled up. Just enough has been laid out for the table and chairs. Next to the table, leaning against the wall is a plastic lightbox sign advertising ‘Wirral Phone Repairs’. Perhaps it’s to create a cafe ambience, or perhaps its just holding down another edge of the fake grass.

Tue 31 March —

One magpie sits in the branches of the tree. Two wood pigeons peck at moss through the metal grid at the base of the trunk.

Shipping cranes are arranged left to right as follows: Two with their necks up, large gap, one with its neck down, gap, one with its neck lowered and one with its neck up, gap, three with their necks lowered, bunched together. There is a low hum of dockland noise coming across the Mersey.

I read online about goats coming down off the Great Orme and wandering the empty streets of Llandudno, and turn see the pair of wood pigeons are now hopping about in the tree, while up on a high branch, a wet blackbird is shaking its dishevelled feathers dry. Or maybe it’s a starling and it’s not wet, it’s just got an oil-slick sheen.