The following blog was originally posted on my old Moonfruit site in January 2012. I had the idea at one point that I’d occasionally post ‘Guest Blogs’ written by my imaginary neighbours, just for shits and giggles. I never actually got round to developing the idea so this one remains a one off…
Bit pushed for time this week, so instead of writing a blog myself I got the miserable old git next door to have a go. Hardly the usual laugh a second you’ve come to expect, so anyone who’s not visited before should maybe have a look at previous posts to get a more general feel for the place, but we all have to do our bit for care in the community, eh? So without further ado – take it away, Albert.
There was a bird singing in the garden this morning. Not a chattering magpie or a croupy collared dove but a proper songbird that could carry a tune. It was a song I remembered from childhood, when collared doves were rare visitors to Britain and scruffy sparrows hopped and flitted on every tree and lawn as though they owned the place. It was a song I remember waking me in the early mornings of summer holidays, when I would lay in bed listening, watching dust motes dancing in the rays of light that broke through the heavy curtains of my bedroom window.
I was taking out the rubbish when he started his singing, standing by the wheelie bin sorting plastics and cardboards and tin cans into their separate boxes. He didn’t sing for long, but I stopped and listened until he had done, then I came back into the kitchen and made myself a cup of tea. I left the door open in the hope he would start singing again, but he didn’t. Just the magpies, and the jackdaws and the collared doves. I thought about making an egg on toast but then didn’t. I don’t seem to get hungry in the mornings any more.
I used to love the garden; would spend the whole weekend out there, keeping it smart and tidy. Saturdays were working days; digging, pruning, mowing lawns. Sundays were for relaxing, for sitting in a deckchair with a glass of beer and a book and listening to birds or occasionally the afternoon radio. Now it looks like a bomb’s hit it. I never seem to get the time, even though I’ve nothing else to do. Garden’s are hard work.
I was never one for weeding – I preferred the heavy, manual stuff, working up an honest sweat and feeling my muscles complain. It made a nice change from pushing pens all week, and was about the only exercise I got. I loved my bath on a Saturday evening, long and deep and hot with a sprinkling of garden scented Radox. We kept a nail brush in a pot on the side of the bath, and even though I’ve always chewed my nails to the quick I’d still scrub each fingertip individually, freeing tiny particles of rich, black loam from the few cracks and crevices my teeth left behind. My back’s not up to the heavy stuff anymore, and the bits I can do hold no interest whatsoever. I keep the little bottom lawn mown, so I’ve got somewhere to sit if I want to, but the borders and the vegetable garden have been reclaimed by brambles and nettles.
I wandered over to the hole in the fence while I was out there and took a piss. They say it keeps the foxes away, but I’ve not seen much evidence that it does. I see the cheeky bugger out there sometimes in broad daylight, and the look he gives me when I open the window and shoo him away isn’t one that suggests he’ll be put off by a bit of stale urine. The only thing that would really work is a shotgun, but I haven’t got the heart for that and don’t own a shotgun anyway. Pissing in the wind.
I was just finishing my tea when the phone went, and for a moment I thought it might be Sally. I jumped up to answer it, but remembered as I did that it wouldn’t be Sally and never would be again. I felt that sickness and emptiness you feel wash over me again, that cold knot in the pit of the stomach. My hand was shaking when I picked up the phone. Wrong number. Some bloke trying to get hold of the meat federation. I told him the right number, carefully explaining which two digits he’d got transposed, but he can’t have been listening because he phoned me back again a few seconds later. He must have got it right after that, because the phone stayed silent.
I hear from Ray sometimes, and he visits a couple of times a year – just before Christmas, which is when Sally died, and for her birthday in July. He drives me to the crematorium, and we stand in front of Sally’s plaque for half an hour or so. She’s next to her mother, of course, but Ray never got to meet Katie, so it doesn’t really mean anything to him. Cancer. It’s a bastard. Took both of the women I love before their time, handed down from one to the other in their genes, just like their green eyes and red hair and smiles. Cancer in Katie’s family, hearts in mine. I’ll probably go quietly in my sleep without ever really knowing about it. Either that or a quick shock and then out like a light. They drew the short straws. Fucking cancer.
It was a beautiful day today, so I took myself off into town and sat in the recreation ground. It’s changed a lot since I was a kid – or even since Sally was a kid and it belonged to her. The bowling green has gone, the mini-golf. You wouldn’t believe the things they have got, though: there’s exercise equipment and zip wires and even a skateboard park where the bandstand used to be. All we had was a roundabout and a couple of swings, and they were broken half the time. We had the woods, though, and we had the fields behind. That seems better, somehow, more fun. We’d climb trees instead of climbing frames, and swings were made from a piece of rope and a heavy stick and went out over the river in a perfect half circle before bringing you back to land.
The river’s low again this year. There’ll be a hose-pipe ban before the end of the summer. Funny that, English summers and hose-pipe bans: the two hardly seem right together, do they?
I find it odd at the park these days because it’s always full of big kids, even when school’s in. They’re all sitting around eating chips and burgers from paper bags. I guess they’re all let out for lunch and they’re avoiding their Jamie Oliver school meals, but it seems a funny choice to me. I used to love school dinners – especially the sausages. They were baked on trays until their skins wrinkled, their juices dripping onto a layer of onions which were served alongside with a dollop each of lumpy mash and sticky baked beans. Sausages and gypsy tart, hot-pot pie and banana custard, all free to the kids from the council estate like me, all free and bloody lovely.
There was a little girl crying in the park. Lost her mum. She looked terrified, poor little thing. I wanted to go and help, but you can’t these days, can you? Instead I looked around and found another young mum with kids of her own and asked her to go and help. Even she looked uncomfortable, but she went. Then the real mum appeared, running up the hill looking every bit as terrified as her daughter. She thanked us, but she seemed more angry than anything else, like she blamed us because her daughter had wandered off. Funny that.
If there’s one thing that really annoys me about the park it’s those red bins by the footpath for putting dog’s mess in. It’s not the bins themselves – they’re a great idea – it’s the dirty buggers who don’t use them that annoy me. They go to the trouble of picking up the mess in one of those little blue baggies then just chuck it into the trees instead of putting it in the bin. Nowhere near as offensive as Billie Holiday’s strange fruit, but ugly and disgusting none-the-less. Why would you do that? It makes no sense.
I had a cup of tea by the river, admiring the canal boats moored along the water’s edge. There are more there now than there ever were when I was little, rescued from redundancy to ply their new trade as holiday lets. I’d taken a sandwich as well as my flask, but the squirrels got most of that, as usual, then buggered off as soon as they realised it had all gone.
Back home, I knew something was wrong as soon as I walked through the door. The cat’s always there waiting, crying to be fed as soon as the key goes in the lock even if it is only mid afternoon. Her silence always tips me off, so I knew what to expect as I walked into the kitchen, and I had my sandwich bag at the ready.
The bird must have put up a bit of a fight; there were feathers everywhere and blood streaks all over the lino from where it had been flapping around. One wing was by the cooker, torn from the rest of the carcass which had been carried under the table and toyed with at leisure. I picked up the broken body, the limp neck and head dangling in the space between my forefinger and thumb, then inverted the sandwich bag and added the broken wing. Even in death the song thrush was beautiful, the cream and brown speckled feathers on his chest delicately tinged with russet highlights. I twisted the top, tied a knot and dropped him in the kitchen bin.