ON the estate where pretend owls outnumber the human population by two to one, a woman was tending her plastic window boxes. She wore gold rimmed Reactolites, marigold gloves, flip-flops and a grey fleece jacket/trouser combination.
Her patio of pink stone flags with electric cabling running through the joints is decorated with an assortment of garden ornamentation: a gnome riding on a snail’s shell, a pair of disembodied hands holding a small bird with a solar panel in its back and a lamp in its chest, a hedgehog riding a tractor etc.
The poodle startled the sparrows from the beech hedge and made me jump. I nearly tripped over the top half of a woman with no arms and a crocodile swimming in a sea of gravel.
I saw a man’s brown lace-up Clark’s shoe on the pavement outside the house with the ring of miniature standing stones on the lawn. The other was twenty yards down the road at the bus stop where the chubby goth boy was being chased by a wasp.
It was raining steadily as I made my way through the beer garden of the old Bare Knuckle Boys’ Inn (recently renamed Bar-Celona) with a parcel for the landlord. All the wooden picnic tables were empty apart from one – where three young looking students were sitting with a single glass of orange juice between them.
They were all smoking and discussing the pros and cons of giving up. One of the girls – long slightly back-combed, dyed-black-bob and stripy tights – said: “I couldn’t give up, no way, I even smoke in the shower”.
When the slightly camp boy with the thick rimmed glasses and the bandolero-style record bag said “Really?” she went on to explain, “Yeah, it’s the most difficult thing ever”.
THE man with the tartan Thermos, the pea-coat and the all-year-round woolly hat has started crossing the road when he sees me. We pass each other at 6am every morning, and he’s often the only other person I see as I walk to work.
After a few weeks of ignoring each other I said “Morning”. He didn’t reply.
As time went by and I persisted, he started to respond but he never seemed very comfortable with it. His eyes would start flickering nervously at me from about twenty yards away, I’d say “Morning”, which would elicit an awkward choking sound accompanied by a twitchy sideways glance. Now he crosses the road and keeps his eyes fixed on the pavement.
Two women in their 70s were discussing custard tart: “It was lovely. I had the custard tart”, said the tallish one with the mid-calf length floral print pleated skirt and the Summer Wine perm.
“Ooh, I do love custard,” said the shortish one with the mid-calf length floral print pleated skirt and the Summer Wine perm.
“My mother used to make the best custard tart – lovely thin pastry,” said the tallish one.
“Lovely. My husband says he doesn’t care how thick the pastry is,” said the shortish one, eyebrows outraged.
“Well, that’s it you see. Men don’t mind so much about the pastry. All they’re interested in is the custard. All men love custard.”
“That’s true. Whenever we go anywhere the men always go for the custard option. It’s a schoolboy thing I think.”
AN old man with no teeth was wheeling a broken swivel chair out to his bins. “Nothing lasts for ever,” he said.
A young man in a track suit was cutting his own hair with a pair of blue plastic-handled scissors as he walked down Cross Lane. He had no mirror and was feeling the hair at his temples with his left hand as he snipped with his right.
The man in his 60s with the faded Just Beachin’ T-shirt featuring a kitten on a sun lounger was showing a neighbour – another man in his 60s (who has a half-sized resin statue of a horse “tethered” to his house) around his new car.
He pointed out something on the dashboard: “It’s guaranteed for life, that. Mind you, I’ve heard that before...” he said, before pausing to greet the two men in high-viz vests who were walking past.
“Hiya lads!”, he said with a small wave. “Ayup”, said the tallest of the hi-viz men, a pair of long ladders balanced on his shoulder. The other, slimmer and older with grey hair, just nodded and smiled. He was carrying a plate of cup-cakes decorated with blue butter icing and little silver balls.
Later, I was talking to a woman with very straight hair, glasses and a large canvas shopping bag about the problems she’s been having moderating her body temperature since the hospital put her on Warfarin.
She was concerned her fleece jacket might make her too hot on her way to the bus stop, even though she’d taken out the lining.
In her garden on Meadow Way, an old woman in a dressing gown was emptying a jug of custard onto her borders.
“Oh dear! I told you to go before we came out! Oh dear,” said the woman in the twinset and obvious wig to her King Charles spaniel.
Up the driveway of replica stone setts, past the box trees, the cobbles, the blue slate chippings and saplings with their nursery tags flapping in the breeze to the faux timber door. A large cockchafer had turned turtle on the doorstep, so I righted it gently with the toe end of my boot.
Mrs Shaw gave me a bag of home grown tomatoes. She said she was completely self-sufficient as far as tomatoes were concerned.
I still pass the man with the tartan Thermos and the all-year-round woolly hat on my way into work, but I’ve stopped saying hello to him since it obviously makes him so uncomfortable. This morning I happened to glance up as he approached and he faked a trip to avoid making eye contact.
I knocked at a house on Westmoor Road. A boy of about three or four, wearing nothing but a nappy, was sitting on the window sill drinking milk from a baby bottle. A thin woman in her 40s with braces on her teeth answered the door and shouted “Toilet!” at me. She said “Oh, sorry love, I thought you were someone else.”
An old lady whose light blue fine knit cardigan exactly matched the colour of both her garage door and her meter housing box was very pleased with her parcel of garden bulbs; she said it was “just the right size”.
Two black labradors were barking at each other from opposite sides of the street while their owners conducted a conversation about black labradors above the noise.
AT a house on Tunnel Road, an elderly man with a florid comb-over and one of those zip-up, rib-knit raglan cardigans with the suede elbow patches said “I’ve lived here for forty year and never seen a single person come down here with a bit of salt. It’s disgusting!”
Out in the sticks, where shreds of polythene stream like bunting from barbed wire along the fireweed verges, you can see around corners in cracked convex mirrors. It’s all lavender and hydrangea, gravel paths and improvised containers.
Wellington boots, wooden windows, cabling suspended via a tree to a shed who’s door is propped open with a lump of cement the shape of a bag of cement. The sign says “Caution, Free Range Children” and the black labrador is “deaf as a post”.
An old man says “Thanks, Pat”, and gives me the thumbs up. I kick the ball for his dog. The first frost of the year has severed the head of the stone tortoise that stands by his door.
“More rubbish!” said the man at number 14 as he saw me coming, “I’m gonna put a letterbox on my dustbin so you can post it straight in.”
“Oh, leave him alone, he gets paid for that,” said his wife from her plastic patio chair. She was thumbing through a magazine and smoking a cigarette.
“Aye,” said the man, “And the bin men get paid to take it away. The postman giveth and the bin man taketh away.”
“Aye, it keeps the world going round though dun’t it, love,” said the woman, winking at me.
DELIVERING NEW PERSPECTIVE
Kevin Boniface is an artist/writer who lives and works in West Yorkshire. He graduated in fine art and geography from Liverpool University in 1993 and became a serial diarist after returning home and starting work as a postman.
He has two published works, Where Are You? and Lost In The Post, a collaboration with photographers Shaw and Shaw.
His self-published Artists’ Books have been exhibited internationally. His latest project, The Most Difficult Thing Ever, is a relentless trawl through the street-life of a Yorkshire town, viewed from the unique perspective of a postman intimately familiar with every detail.
The Most Difficult Thing Ever book, published by Victory Garden Press, is available from www.victorygarden.co.uk