May 2020

Sat 2 May — On a walk through the Dips I pass a gathering of seagulls sitting on the grass and pavement near one of the Art Deco shelters. There are white flecks dotted all over the grass and on the red tarmac traffic island, too. The same but different... daisies on the former and shards of smashed seashell on the latter.

Fri 1 May —

On this particular Friday evening, there’s an #EndOfTheWorldFilmClub discussion on Twitter at the same time as the virtual book launch for Jolts by Fernando Sdrigotti on Instagram Live. And a Curzon cinemas #LivingRoom Q&A is coming up on YouTube. And an exclusive virtual preview of Pablo Larraín’s EMA on Mubi. If these events were all taking place in the physical world it would be impossible for me to attend them all, but here I am, trying to act like a multi-tasking digital native. Using the work iPad, I reply to the Twitter thread with some Assault on Precinct 13 thoughts, while listening in to Instagram authors on my phone and thinking of questions for the director of 45 Years. I take my phone into the kitchen and rest it on the worktop so I can carry on listening to Wendy Erskine discussing short stories while I get a glass of water, all the while forgetting that the radio is currently kept on in the kitchen to deter the mice from venturing out from behind the washing machine. A layer of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon is added to my aural intake and I imagine the mice swaying beneath the sink as blood surely comes close to trickling down from my ears.

Sat 2 May —

It’s sunny and the prom is busier than I’m comfortable with. I cross over the road a couple of times between the crazy golf course and the boating lake. On the yellow concrete studs of a sunken kerb, I spot a dropped headband. It has brown felt ears attached and fawn antlers that almost match the foot-braille flags. An out of season reindeer startled by traffic after six weeks of quiet.

On a walk through the Dips I pass a gathering of seagulls sitting on the grass and pavement near one of the Art Deco shelters. There are white flecks dotted all over the grass and on the red tarmac traffic island, too. The same but different… daisies on the former and shards of smashed seashell on the latter.

Several sawn-off branches cling on to a chain link fence next to a closed golf course where a tree has been cut down. A graph paper dot-to-dot of what a tree might look like beside the fairway.

Sun 3 May —

In the background of a family FaceTime conversation I see my nephew dressed as a cardboard robot and my niece climbing up the frame of her garden swing. She wraps the ropes of the swing round the cross bar to bring it higher off the ground. I remember clipping their father in the head with our garden swing when he was two and I was six. He’d been running up the lawn to see me and I was swinging as high as the metal poles would allow. My dad was gardening and turned to see what was about to happen. He shouted for me to stick my foot out but my CPU was too slow to react – why would I kick my little brother? – and then the dark green painted metal corner of the wooden seat sent him flying back down the garden. I remember the silent drive to A&E in the brown Saab 99, the waiting room that smelled of TCP and grown-ups talking about stitches and butterflies. The WiFi is glitchy so I can’t quite pick out my brother’s Harry Potter scar today, but I know it’s still there.

Mon 4 May —

A woman in a Budweiser baseball cap stops by the tree with her bike. She gets off it, flips it around to face the other way and remounts for the return ride.

Today’s blue sky contains Super Mario clouds. The red shipping cranes are arranged as follows: Left-most lowered, large gap, next one lowered and partially obscured by the arcades, large gap, three raised and evenly spaced. No gap*, three lowered and clustered together. (*so technically four clustered together on the right, with the raised one trying to fit in with both the extroverts and the introverts).

The huskies come past the tree and one of them pulls against its (plain) lead, staring back hard at something they’ve just passed. The dark tabby on the corner, perhaps, or the little boy in the bright yellow Barcelona away kit (with ‘MESSI’ on the back) crouched next to the planter with his scooter.

Tue 5 May —

The huskies pass the tree and one (the slightly larger of the two) cocks its leg for a wee.

News on the radio (the kitchen radio, kept on for the mice) comes through about a goose making a nest in a planter on a quiet platform at York Train Station. Apparently it has chucked out all the plants to make it ‘just so’ and laid four eggs.

Walking back from my first supermarket trip in a fortnight, I notice that the ‘Now Showing’ posters have been removed from the windows of The Light cinema. In the dark areas of my reflection I see chairs stacked on tables in the bar area. Meanwhile, the ‘Coming Soon’ posters remain in a strip of quad holders above. Wonder Woman 1984 (June 5), A Quiet Place Part II (March 20), Black Widow (May 1).

Wed 6 May —

A survey comes through about my BFI Player watching habits, asking if I am watching more films online since social distancing. I’m also asked if I would attend a virtual version of the London Film Festival and if I’d be comfortable going back to the cinema once the social lockdown measures are eased.

At 8pm all eight red shipping cranes are in their lowered stance. Two left-most together, small gap, a solo crane, large gap, solo crane, small gap, four cranes clustered together.

Thurs 7 May —

Sun comes through the unlined orange curtains. The old disused satellite dish isn’t yet casting its ‘pregnant woman passing at first floor level’ silhouette. The sound of a rumbling engine and bleeping travels up from the road – oh shit, it’s green bin day and they’re early.

Three left-most cranes are all lowered, one is on its own followed by a small gap and then the other two crouch together. A large gap – a gap in which sits the arcades and the three concrete cylinders – followed by five right-most cranes clustered together. They are all lowered apart from the second from left – the index finger is pointing up to the sky. I know it would be more exciting if it was the middle finger that was raised but I can’t mess around with the truthful configuration just for entertainment purposes. If and when the cranes ever do flip the bird, or stick two fingers up, it will be logged and you can trust it to be an honest report.

The lady with the box-shaped shopping walker crosses at the dipped kerb by the tree. She moves more quickly today. Good job I don’t need to scrutinise the dog bench illustrations anymore.

A cream coloured skip arrives for next door and is dropped opposite the house. Builders throw in pieces of old plaster board and lean a set of gloss white interior doors against the side. How many years have these doors been stationed down the hall from one another, or across the landing? Now, gathered outside while the rest of us stay indoors, they can finally exchange tales of protecting the rest of the house from smoking ovens, witnessing the evolution of TV sitcoms, or enduring the slams of teenage tantrums. One builder returns to saw them in half to better fit them into the skip.

Fri 8 May —

I wake at 3:55am. The London Plane tree outside the landing window —despite becoming so familiar to me during lockdown— looks different at four in the morning. Illuminated by the new LED streetlight at the side of the house, its leaves take on a hard sheen of holly. If the pair of white huskies were to pass by now they would surely glow as bright as they do in the day.

On an evening walk along the prom, I spot a large orange moon sitting on the Liverpool skyline. It nestles between the University of Liverpool’s ‘Lights Alive’ building and the Metropolitan Cathedral. It looks like some inflatable pop-up exhibition centre on the horizon until it rises and becomes shrouded in charcoal grey cloud.

Sat 9 May —

In the back yard a tiny black and yellow spider runs around on the palm of my left hand. A money spider maybe, or one size bigger. It scales my index finger and then sits still on the edge of my fingernail having reached the peak. I wonder if it is considering burrowing in underneath. I picture it crawling back down my finger, back towards my palm, except under the skin this time. I take it over to a chimney planter and it reluctantly makes the transfer from keratin to terracotta.

Sun 10 May —

I weed the front planter and the side of the house while it’s cold and windy, with fewer people passing. I pull up a clump of long-grass from the base of the One Way sign on the corner and find myself venturing further afield. I am across the road weeding the base of the London Plane tree. Husky piss or no.

Bright light from the low setting sun shines along ‘THE ROCK SHOP’ signage above the shutters of the Art Deco arcades. The chunky back-to-front lettering of the vertical ‘OPEN’ sign casts a shadow above Chick’n’Hut takeaway. ‘O’, ‘P’ and ‘E’ display the right way around against the blue and peach plaster, while the ‘N’ becomes a square block of dark reflection on a first floor window.

Mon 11 May —

Back at my desk on the landing after the three day weekend, I see the tree’s leaves are bigger and brighter now, but the branches between are still visible. I worried slightly that the huskies might be less interested in stopping by the tree since yesterday’s weeding, but I’m pleased to report that the larger of the two dogs just spent the best part of a minute sniffing the forked soil between the metal grid around the trunk.

Painting the bannister from pine to grey, I tackle the uprights with a small brush while sitting on the stairs. I move from the landing to the hall so slowly that I am surprised to find myself downstairs when I get to the last couple of spindles. I wonder if snails surprise themselves when they get to where they were going. How the hell did I wind up here?

Tue 12 May —

At twenty past eleven in the morning, the shipping cranes are arranged as follows: left-most crane is lowered, small gap, next crane is upright, small gap, third crane is in-between being lowered or raised, tiny gap, upright, small gap, upright, large gap, two cranes lowered and clustered together, small gap, right-most crane is lowered.

The pavements feel busy again on a lunchtime walk up to Liscard. I feel like I’m playing the old Spectrum game, Paperboy, stepping out into the road to avoid all obstacles. Lawnmowers, children on scooters, joggers, a block-paver sitting on the wall with a cigarette. There’s a socially distanced queue outside Dodgson’s Bakery, which I’ve always read as Dogshow Bakery on account of the illustrated sheaf of wheat behind the ‘N’.

Wed 13 May —

Another virtual event delivered via Zoom. If there’s one type of event that translates well from physical to virtual, from extrovert to introvert, it has to be the literary event. This time it’s Fictions of Every Kind with open mic readings from Leeds, and a special guest reading of an unpublished story by David Constantine. One thing I can never be sure of is how many people I’ll find myself in a room with. Sometimes the group is large and automatically muted by the host, and/or attendees are asked to have their videos switched off during presentations so as not to cause distraction or a cacophony of background noise, other times it’s a smaller, more interactive group. As I join tonight’s Zoom session, with the sound coming on moments later, I find the organiser is commenting on the patterned green wallpaper behind me. I’m very much in Leeds tonight and Leeds is in my back room.

The five left-most shipping cranes are all evenly spaced as their necks and red lights stretch upwards this evening. The three right-most are lowered and clustered together.

Thurs 14 May —

The dark tabby cat from across the road – the one who likes to use the front planter as a giant kitty litter – is crouching low by the tree. It slinks down onto the grid and hides against the kerb as it watches something at the side of the house. It is now up and running across the road, still keeping low to the ground.

Fri 15 May —

The London Plane tree’s leaves are larger now. They take on a shape not unlike those of a Canada maple. A pale grey ring-necked dove swoops in and up amongst them and finds a small horizontal branch to rest on. It’s only with a bit of movement of the leaves in the breeze that I am able to see there’s another ring-necked dove already in there. The small upside-down branch that still hangs from the main trunk has been exposed as a fraud now that it is the only sprig with no leaves.

The huskies trot past in the direction of the grassy dips with their plain leads on.

The third fortnightly Morrison’s food box—or Harvest Festival hamper of random supplies—that arrived yesterday, was the first to include anything dessert-like. A packet of Malted Milk biscuits. I have a distinct memory of eating Malted Milks at playschool and thinking that they featured a cow and a fish. Of course, my adult self knows that it’s two cows. One standing, the other lying down in the background. My adult self knows that milk comes from cows and the biscuits are called Malted Milks, but three year old me saw a fish next to a cow and had no issues with that. The cow’s head is a fish tail and the cow’s rump and hind leg are the fish head and the gill. The space I was eating this Malted Milk in was an upstairs room in St James Church Hall, looking out onto Church Road South and over towards Woolton Woods. There was a vacuum cleaner with an exoskeletal bag standing on the window sill, and the carpet was a yellowy green with a pattern of rounded oblongs embossed into the pile. We weren’t allowed our second Malted Milk until everyone had finished their first, and there was a girl who was very slowly nibbling around the edges of hers. I saw that girl—or woman, rather—about ten years ago on the top deck of a bus in town, and immediately recognised her as that 3 year old. I didn’t say anything to her though, what would I say? That I was still bearing a grudge from thirty odd years ago? I bite into the biscuit and it’s saltier than I remember. Must be the fish’s contribution.

Sat 16 May —

A pair of seagulls are pacing around on the bowling alley roof. One of them has a huge clump of something in its beak. It looks like seaweed but I suspect it is whatever has been gathering in the guttering.

Heading out for the first evening walk in a few days, I hear chattering voices through the front door as I open it. Three teenage girls are hanging out on their bikes in front of the house. I hover in the doorway, putting gloves on and exuding a force-field of middle aged uncoolness, just long enough for them to unconsciously agree to cycle away.

Sun 17 May —

A rusty white transit van with one blackboard-grey front wing is parked half on the pavement beneath the London Plane tree.

Five cranes are up and three are down. The left-most two upright ones stand close together while the others are evenly spaced. The first two of the lowered cranes are also close together while the right-most lowered crane sits alone. A flock of seagulls flies frenetically above all eight cranes, or more likely above Dawn’s Burgers and Chick ‘n’ Hut at either end of the Art Deco arcades. Non-essential food outlets are re-opening and day-trippers are beginning to reconvene under the grey skies at the seafront.

Mon 18 May —

A seagull is carried along by the wind past grey corrugated tin. Not carried along elegantly, not gliding or drifting, but being hurled like a small carrier bag of rubbish, against its will, and with ruffled feathers, against the grain.

Four left-most cranes are upright, large gap, one crane stands centrally, upright and alone, another large gap followed by three lowered cranes on the right, with small gaps between each.

The pair of huskies pass the landing window from left to right on their way back from a walk. Plain leads. The larger of the two cocks its leg against the tree.

Tue 19 May —

A message comes through from a colleague about “discussing an authorship quandary”. For some reason I misread it as “discussing an airship quandary” and immediately begin picturing a heated debate in early 1930s New York City around whether they were ever really going to be able to dock a blimp at the top of the Empire State Building.

Wed 20 May —

On the fortnightly trip to the supermarket, I see that the makeshift barriers have been extended at the entrance. There are now two lanes, one for trolleys and one for baskets. The snaking lines marked out by steel bar barriers and red & white striped tape now stretch to the boarded up (and painted black) entrance of the Grosvenor Casino, which has been closed down since before I moved here. I imagine a new social distancing route that takes shoppers in through the old casino, past cobweb covered roulette wheels and through a dark maze of blackjack tables, still attended by croupiers who are shuffling and cutting decks of cards for nobody, and the way through is lit only by a perimeter of fruit machines. Alas, it’s the regular supermarket entrance we’re filing towards.

Thurs 21 May —

Two goldfinches flit about in the London Plane tree. They perch on the tops of a couple of high-up, vertical sprigs. The box cart lady passes with her dog, and the pair of huskies head home from their walk with plain leads on.

Left-most crane is up and alone, small gap, two more upright cranes, large gap, three evenly spaced upright cranes, small gap, two right-most cranes lowered and clustered together.

A young teenage couple lean against the wall. He is grey Nike tracksuit and Hitler haircut, she is skinny jeans and black bubble coat with fur collared hood. He grabs hold of the railings and pulls himself up the wall. He plucks a weed and throws it in her face. She laughs, he puts it in her hood and takes an interest in the fur.

Fri 22 May —

The London Plane tree is being blown about in the high winds and yet the upside down branch still clings on.

The four left-most shipping cranes are evenly spaced below painterly clouds. The first is upright and the next three are lowered. A large gap followed by another upright crane, a smaller gap and a third upright crane. Last two cranes on the right are lowered and clustered together.

Sat 23 May —

A café lunch is dropped off by the lady from The Waiting Room Café, her husband who runs the Wirral Model Shop from the same shop unit is in the driver seat with the engine running and the window down, shouting out where they’re going next. I imagine she is missing the bustle of her café customers while he is missing the quiet of sitting in his corner, gluing trackside goods sheds together.

Sun 24 May —

Walking down a quiet road that runs alongside the train tracks near the station, I step up onto the grass verge as a car reverses all the way down to park outside a garage. That’s all this road has on it, garages. To my left there are trees and railings with maximum penalty notices for trespassing. On the right are pitched-roof garages and wooden gates to the back gardens of the houses on the next road. Ahead of me, the road rounds a corner at the end, disappearing to the right behind a sandstone wall with a Private Property sign. I follow it to see where it leads and suddenly find myself on a plateau surrounded by more garages. Rows and rows of navy blue garage doors framed by white render cast long shadows on the grey tarmac. I have emerged on the second level. Emerged into a secret level, even. These are the flat-roofed 1960s garages that belong to The Cliff; the pair of brutalist tower blocks which now loom beyond with the low sun. A narrow metal staircase at the edge of this platform takes me back down to ground level, to the turning circle at the base of the flats. These unremarkable steps will have gone unnoticed on previous walks to The Cliff, but now I know they are Escher steps and the whole world is a Penrose impossible triangle.

Mon 25 May —

In the back yard I spot a mouse in the drain. It’s not one of the house guests though. Neither living nor dead, it is a cat toy with string for a tail. It has circular felt ears and its matted grey velour has some sort of giraffe pattern… Orange amoeba-like blobs with red rims. In the small square grid that is deep-set in the concrete, the mouse lies next to a piece of tree bark and the paler grey fur of several fag ends.

Magnolia paint has chipped away on the lintel of the back room window. It has once been bright yellow, and before that, a cherry red.

On an evening walk, the beach is quieter than the promenade and the tide is right out but creeping back in. The concrete wave breakers are fully exposed on the wet sand, stacked up like a crashed science fiction spacecraft. They’re darker at the top, green but made black by the setting sun. At their base they’re pale grey and covered in barnacles. Like the remnants of a giant campfire surrounded by ash. Fisherman have been hiding down here, between the breakers and the Mersey. Without consultation, they’re all packing their rods away now, they know the pace of things.

A Stena Line ferry shrinks as it passes the cranes, its back end all lit-up like a dressing room mirror as it makes its way past Fort Perch Rock and out into the Irish Sea where it will sit on the horizon for a time with the Seatruck freight ferry that left the Mersey five minutes before it.

Tue 26 May —

Shipping cranes at half past three – two left-most are upright with a small gap between. Large gap, seagulls gathering on the arcades in the foreground, three cranes in the centre of the range are evenly spaced, upright, in the process of being lowered, upright. Decent-sized gap, three right-most cranes are clustered together, the first of which is upright, second two lowered.

Wed 27 May —

The pair of huskies pass the tree en route to the dips. The smaller of the two stops to sniff the lamppost while the bigger dog stares forwards, waiting. The scent mustn’t reach that far, and/or the smaller dog’s enthusiasm doesn’t spark any interest. There’s no “Ooh, what have you got onto there? Come on, move over, giz a sniff,” there’s just staring blankly and waiting patiently. Soon we’ll be at the grassy dips. Soon.

Thurs 28 May —

Four women sit on the front wall in the sun, drinking cans of cider.

The huskies pass the tree without stopping, plain leads and plain expressions.

The Budweiser cap-wearing cyclist stops by the tree to catch her breath and unstick her T-shirt from her back.

Two teenage girls pass the side window carrying flutes of champagne.

Fri 29 May —

A night walk to the boating lake. Deep blue water moves gently back and forth in the raised concrete tray. The miniature red and white striped lighthouse in the middle is emasculated by the reflected beams of two prom-side lampposts.

Sat 30 May —

The knife with the handle as flat as its blade has somehow made its way back into circulation. I have to slide it to the edge of the yellow Formica table to pick it up. Some of these knives have been redeployed as paint pot openers but others still cling to the seabed of the cutlery drawer and occasionally rise to the surface. To cut food with one is to also cut the palm – or at least that’s how it feels.

The knife with the handle as flat as its blade is unsurprisingly the last item in the sink. Still there, thin steel against thin steel, as the dishwater drains away. I slide it along and up the skateboard halfpipe and it impresses nobody.

Sun 31 May —

After watching Céline Sciamma’s Water Lilies on Mubi the other night, I decide to play the Girlhood soundtrack on my phone, scored by the same French electro act, Para One. As I enter the kitchen with the music emanating from my pocket, the kitchen radio is playing Rihanna’s Shine Bright Like a Diamond which also happens to feature in the film Girlhood (but isn’t on the soundtrack).

Walking along the beach, close to the water’s edge so as to avoid the crowds, I stumble upon a line of large barnacle-covered stones. One at the end sticks up and has a hole through it and then I realise they are not stones but chain links.

Near the chain, half buried in wet sand is a brick that has had its corners rounded off by many tides. On the indent of one side, deep initials are engraved: ‘R. P. B. Lathom’. I look up the initials upon my return and find an entire directory for “Old Bricks – history at your feet. Bricks with initials – where to locate them”. I scroll down and find that R.P.B. is Lathom, as already indicated by the brick itself. Lathom is near Ormskirk and Skelmersdale and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal passes through it. I wonder what building or structure it was once part of. Perhaps it was part of the notorious Ham and Egg Parade – the three storey terraced pubs and brothels that once ran along the front, fuelling drunken punch ups on the beach.