How are you doing?
No need to answer.
Wish you were here, just the two of us walking like we used to.
How long has it been?
I swear I remember you lifting me out of my pram.
So now, given the circumstance, I’ll walk for you like you walked for me back then, writing letters I don’t send either.
Did you ever get the emails I wrote, from hotels around the world, back when people travelled? Did you read them, the thank you’s I could never pluck up the courage to tell you to your face?
It took me years to stop being angry Dad, an eighteen year old’s vocation that went on too long, pushing everything you offered me away except the money you couldn’t afford to leave. It must’ve hurt. I mean, seeing me living like that, but you never said. Did you ever get my emails? You never acknowledged them. It’s what men do where we come from, right – crack on?
Clouds are coming out of the ground today.
The left boot has shrunk again, or my foot got fat in the night – a dimensional conspiracy to piss me off. It works… fleetingly.
It’s raining that June type of rain, reminiscent of holidays in Wales when Dad used to build me plastic models of fabulous grotesque creatures riding hot-rod dustbins and wheelbarrows. Today’s walk even smells Welsh. Sweet and green. The corn is blond and luminous beneath a billowing grey sky. Tiny pink horn sections blow their hearts out in the grass at the edge of the main road. The detail down there is precision Swiss.
I’ve got my waterproofs on
Walking with Johnny Cash
Walking with Fats Domino
Walking with Harry Dean Stanton.
A low slung hot black car overtakes on a blind bend beneath the old oak that will one day drop its rotten bones on the road, and only the slow will survive.
There’s a new can on my side of the road this morning, lying in the dirt, just outside of the white line where the traffic brings terror. Cannonballs and weapons erupt from the cover of summer hedgerows. Guided by the cock-sure hands of drivers buzzing from pushing it, eyes fixed on destinations, swerving, alarmed to find me waiting to cross the road.
Today’s new can is a thoroughbred. Black and silver, a racing car doing yoga in the dirt. A discarded lover tossed through an open window.
I say ‘Good morning’, but it says nothing. Tin legs pressed flat against the earth doing upwards facing dog to greet the sun.
It’s weird to find a mute can, they are the most garrulous of objects. Something’s going on this morning.
On the opposite side of the road, lying exposed on the bare earth where cars pull in to do things in the dark between towns, a black and gold can has set up camp. The two cans make a glamorous couple, neither prepared to say anything, like the voice has been sucked right out of them. I cross the road, noticing gossamer threads, delicate steel cables strung between them, festooned with tiny light bulbs. The cans are building the Do Lung Bridge from memory. A safe place for inanimate things to cross without fear of the wheel. Francis Ford Coppola watches from the bushes, awaiting the arrival of a tiny river patrol boat bringing tiny Captain Willard to his destiny.
I wave, “Good morning Mr Coppola.”
Nothing. A collective vow of silence runs rampant this morning.
My favourite old silver can has built a swimming pool in the night.
A lake to lie face down beside and contemplate. It knows something is coming and tries to conceal the fact that its’ burrowing into the dirt by moving as slow as tectonic plates. Leaves and algae exchange stories on the bottom of his pool turning green in silence when they see me. The pink towelling flannel has unfurled, relaxing, courting a Skittles packet, corner ripped off ragged, mouth open like a fish gasping for air. The old pink flannel gets comfortable, waiting for a new friend to be tossed from a passing car. A Maltesers bag bleaches, head down in a patch of bramble. A decomposing paper bag swims in the new pool of the old silver can, the longest surviving tenant of the dirt patch on the other side of the road.
A small black piece of cloth hides its face in the lap of a vigorous weed that strokes its head and glares at me.
“Hello,” I say.
A pointed silence bounces back.
The lack of conversation between me and the objects is getting weird.
Dr Doolittle can no longer talk to the animals.
A pact struck in the night between all discarded things. Or is it me?
The left boot’s definitely too tight.
Cars are moving fast again.
The hot ones with lowered suspension,
Stickers the width of blacked out rear windows
I AM HOT.
A white car approaching too fast swerves just in time and waves as I jump into the long grass between the tarmac and corn. I’m being phased out. White trumpeted creepers slither, point their holes at me, adjust their embrasure and wait for a sign.
A fast blue throaty speedster slashes past without swerving or waving, DIVERSION written across its tinted forehead, hugging the road as the sky starts growling with increasing regularity. I don’t have to check the app to know what airline it is but I’m disturbed by where they’re coming from.
Now I’m standing in the ditch in my fluorescent orange waterproof.
The corn turns blonde with orange leaves. I look official but drivers don’t care, taking bends at speeds that offer no mercy.
Now I tightrope walk the white line where tarmac crumbles to kiss the grass, a nurse waves passing at moderate speed looking serious. Tiny white trumpets of creeping weed form colliery bands of remembrance in the grass at the side of the road.
Let’s get off this road.
I need to find something discarded to talk to.
At the next intersection turn left.
It’s raining beautifully.
A fine, relentless mist
Keeping all but devoted walkers indoors, grumbling.
Everything around me exhales oxygen.
I inhale deep.
Blackberry blossoms drip.
A bird buzzes in a blackberry thicket, vibrating like a comedy hand zapper from the back pages of an American comic book.
Wood pigeons call from the woods to the right where buzzards rise to circle over solitary houses.
The sky growls.
Planes return to pierce the clouds.
The old ones are the loudest.
A pheasant clucks once then vanishes.
A thicket of wood pigeons congregate amongst hawthorn and nettle where we harvested elderflower to freeze for future cordial.
I’ll bring you some.
The left boot is getting better or my left foot is shrinking as I pass a bottle green car reversed to talk out of it’s arse to the sleek metal gate that bars it’s entrance to the wood yard. The gate is radiant this morning; it works outdoor all day, fully connected to seasons, living on slow time.
Up ahead, a small silver car disgorges a rotund man in stripes,
Pablo Picasso returned from a parallel universe with hair.
I look and smile yet still get nothing in return.
I follow a trail of horse shit in a perfect line up the middle of a narrow country lane to the accompaniment of a small bird quacking like a big duck. The horse shit sprouts four kinds of mushroom. The sky growls, wounded, pierced by metal arriving from Londonderry.
Wood shavings undulate in the wood-yard, imitate reptilian roofs remembering Barcelona, smelling treacle sweet as a motorbike sings in Japanese on the road we left behind. Scenery slips past left and right, things behind get further away. Now, from the West, three orange traffic cones appear, clockwork soldiers lined up dutifully, directing errant walkers back to the footpath that cuts through someone’s garden. There’s a lot of that around here. To the East, our friends the blue plastic bucket and the rusting wheelbarrow queue up with a tiny trailer to get into the horse field. The horses are gone or microscopic, shrunk by the rain to grow again in the sun. The wheelbarrow is trying to give up smoking to impress the tiny trailer.
The cornfield to the West is on the turn, green and bronze.
Hazel stripped of its nuts by a squirrel with a crystal ball.
Long articulated bugs alight on my arms. I give them a ride, grateful for the company.
I wish you were here to transmit some wisdom, show me how to whittle a point on a stick, explain what a distributor does (I think I know now).
Up the lane comes Morning Lady, driving a black off-roader, one of the few who still smile and wave. Two tiny dogs snarl through a hawthorn hedge. These I fear, barks equivalent to bites. Now in unison, my feet swerve automatically.
A crow laughs.
There’s an irritating rhythm in my pocket.
The corn down here is still turning, powder green, getting ready to go for gold. Time moves slower the further we get away from the road.
Turn right at the blue fluorescent twine, tied in a bow to the bones of a rusting fence. We’ll visit the giant oak, the one my friend living in Manhattan says is ‘small’. It’s all about architecture, a normality of bigness.
That oak is the giant around here.
The small bird continues imitating ducks.
An old blue tractor discusses politics with a chicken coop. A small tree tries to join in, feeling excluded. Looks around for a friend as a tiny dog barks and everything gets normal for a second.
But I’m not looking for normal.
Crows screech as swifts fly fast and low, catching midges and gnats and things I should know the names of being a country boy. Those crows keep laughing at me. I laugh at me too as the giant oak hums to its self in the middle of a field. It’s no conversation, but it’s better than nothing. Something’s going on. The grass to the left of the oak is tight and mown, spider corn barely growing to its right.
The earth is poor here.
Crops struggle every year, yet still the farmer sows. Spider corn bends heads in arcs that describe the spit-ball paths of the dancing waters of Melbourne Crown Plaza Casino.
The ditch to our left is deep. It hides in the bushes, whispers to itself, waiting to receive what the earth beneath the corn releases. It’s still raining and I’m happy, daylight turns yellow as the copse ahead rattles with the sound of violent hacking.
Pause to listen.
Birdsong clears a space to let ears in.
In the distance, that bird keeps imitating ducks.
Everything is green and succulent, hanging low from the pressure of last night’s rain, a bit like the fringe of that woman on the telly who does the dancing program. Nature is alive and perpetual. While the rest of us try to get back to our lives, the green stuff keeps moving forward.
Blackberry buds turn from bruised to black. I pause to pick and eat some on the move. They explode, gratifyingly dusty and sweet. A cockerel crows, fantasising it’s living on a Greek island where neither virus nor madness took hold, everything done by the book, obediently safe. The cockerel keeps dreaming.
Deep pink blackberry blossoms, purple thistle blooms, grass turns to seed and yellow, sheltering under oak and hawthorn trees that line the edges of field ditches hungry to flood with the run off from fields.
Wood pigeons coo, call to one another from sporadic copse. It’s the same song they’ve been singing since I was little, when you used to take me walking into the forest every Sunday to ‘get out from under Mom’s feet’.
A freshly dug ditch dribbles through a pipe that emerges from a wall of concrete bags. A dirt bridge carries a bridleway South West through tunnels of overhanging hawthorn to where the horizon roars like old times again. It’s been like that ever since travel restrictions were eased. The pipe is deep in reverential conversation with another that sticks its head out from under a clump of nettles, trickling in succulent clicks. The dirt is dark and wet. I want to stop and push my fingers in, smell the earth, make mud pies.
The giant oak, humming louder, says,
“You’re getting warmer.”
A chainsaw moans from amongst the trees ahead of us. A wood pigeon sings that old song again above me on the bow of an oak as I walk between the vibrating shed and a dead stick with dangling copper leaves.
There’s a statue in the garden of the house with the vibrating shed, a grey stone woman looking forlorn. She watches me with a sad expression, clasping her hands to her chest like something bad has happened.
If you were here you’d say something funny and make her laugh.
I think she needs a holiday.
There’s a trail of horse shit in front of us. Follow it.
Turn left at the wooden finger, past the black dog bowl. A wheely bin, tattooed S and M waits obediently to be emptied by heroes. Delicate green crab apples cling to the black spider branches of a Van Gogh tree that longs to be Japanese. For a second, I get this melancholic yearning to walk through the forest in the rain to the Meiji shrine, like I do every time I’m in Tokyo.
Did I ever take you there Dad?
I hope I did.
I wish I had.
There have bean no aeroplanes for minutes.
I like that word.
The world smells green in tunnels of trees. I know you know what I mean. The earth makes soft sounds underfoot, reluctant to let go of the soles of my boots. Im getting taller with every step.
Take the footpath between the green shed and the house that exposes itself. Arrive at a field of maze rubbing its leathery limbs together laughing as Thomas Mann slips between them to meet Shoeless Joe. Spider fisher-folk cast nets festooned with beads of dew, then retreat into dark holes, waiting for food to deliver its self. Someone’s burning something on the other side of the hedge as the copse up ahead trembles with a fluttering of wings. A black bird escapes.
Two statuesque thoroughbred horses catwalk, blindfolded, delicately nibbling the grass of an immaculate field.
They raise their heads and turn to look directly at me, it’s a great trick. Which one has the crossbow, which one the apple? I applaud.
They turn away in disgust.
The sky starts howling again, the clouds pierced with metal.
My left boot is mysteriously comfortable. Maybe my foot walks alone at night. Or sits for parallel Pablo Picasso to paint. It’s acquired an inflated sense of itself, and it shows. I’ve somehow perfected walking and typing at the same time, guided only by peripheral vision and a fear of holes.
The chainsaw grunts and putters, pausing for breath, as tyre tracks conceal themselves beneath the grass.
The aromas make me feel good.
The smell of brown and green is magnificent. I woke in fear this morning, thinking hard about the cruel future. Those fears were soon soothed by the hissing of long grass and a gentle breeze.
A wet-wipe lies crumpled in the grass, waiting for the sun, hands behind its head. Blissed out with an expression on its face that tells you it’s arrived. A string of white concrete fence posts dance, holding hands, paper cut-out men reliving childhood’s playground games.
No one says anything. No music, they imitate joy, but have forgotten how. All the inanimates are tongue-tied today, a conspiracy of silence. Only the giant oak is free to hum, master and mistress of everything.
There’s no need to play the game when you’re royalty.
We’re getting closer to the chainsaw that arrived in the small blue car hiding under a hedge. It’s a pocket-sized cutter, wailing and pausing, not like the two-stroke monsters that chewed through the forest when we walked together.
Out from under Mom’s feet.
A freshly laid track of broken bricks has appeared over night. Whose house was this I’m walking on? Whose stories pave the way for heavy wheels to pass?Turn left, ignoring signpost 22 that offers a shortcut to home. And now the sun! Damn! The smell of green turns warm, less sweet.
Parallel Pablo Picasso comes striding toward me in shorts and welly-boots, smelling of shower gel. Bird song is different here. It’s lighter, like grandmothers canaries. A blacksmith’s hammer hits an anvil. Somewhere nearby, horses are being shod. The sky recovers from its piercing. Blackberries ripen in tight bramble scrums that separate us from open fields. A grey stone cat, camouflaged in lichen, hides beneath a garden shed. Waiting, watching, seeing everything. Only a matter of time before some careless food source wanders into the open. A lone pigeon launches off a single power line strung between wooden poles.The cracks in the tarmac of this tiny lane, the one that leads us out of the fields and back to the road, are mute today. Diebenkorn is not in residence. Blackberries and rose hips are still green. This years crop of hazelnuts will be stolen here before they’ve ripened.
It starts to rain again
Writing in my phone
Looking like a text addict
We arrive back at civilisation. Two wheelie bins do Bingo 88
The heroes of our refuse collection park their big white truck in the village car park gathering numbered bins, keeping us moving, previously invisible, now riding into town saluted and proud astride white horses. I’d be your Tonto any day.
A woman in a soft top luxury car smiles at me, pulling out onto the main road, disappearing slowly down the hill into the village. A camper van has replaced the naked plastic woman that used to stand on a blind bend distracting drivers. Let’s get off this road and turn right towards the church. We’ll shelter under the porch or beneath the ancient rowans, dense enough to protect us from the heaviest of storms.
Follow the dirt track lined with wooden rockets, messengers to congregations returned from the isolation of the online sermon to ‘keep of the grass’. The beautiful old wooden kissing gate to the church yard, worn smooth by generations of hands is missing, presumed stolen. Damn! It was you who told me what one of these things was and how it got its name.
I loved your walking stories.
The entrance to the church porch is barred by black iron bones. I push my face between them and a cool scent escapes from under the heavy wooden doors on the other side. There’s a hissing coming from behind them. Something’s in there, preparing for the faithful’s return.
OK. So we can’t sit down. Better keep moving. There’s a tunnel through the hedge in the corner of the church yard, we’ll cut through there instead, drawn to a bird that clicks like the sparks of dodgem cars.
No Brylcreemed riders today.
Take the left fork, the path has been freshly opened up between beach hedge and wire strung posts, a canopy of elm and horse chestnut. An old post lurches towards us clutching rusted wires, vibrating in the wind. Another points a bony iron finger to the sky predicting weather.
The green here smells sweet. There’s no screeching, no laughing crows.
Only wood pigeons cooing from deep in their throats and penny whistles perched amongst the branches of hazel trees. You’ve been on this path with me before, not literally, but by the letter. It’s better than the silence we’ve cultivated between us for years.
We greet every fence post we meet. They nod, each in turn. I feel a softening of objects here. At the bottom of the path there’s a low hanging bower of green beneath a massive poplar. Take your time here and listen. The main road enters a ditch to the left. Gets quieter. Wood pigeons call, deep throated, hidden. The dodgem car bird sparks in the garden of the giant American hard gums behind us.
We have a choice before stepping back out to where we can be seen.
Turn right away from the village and visit the old drunk gates, or straight on down the edge of the corn field into civilisation. I’m feeling sociable today Dad. Come with me. Let’s see whose around.
The corn in the field is green and blonde. Crowds of daisies flock to watch it turn, peering between the stalks, jostling for position, desperate to be the first in and down the front, to keep their place and piss in bottles, when stadium doors open, and everything resets to normal.
When was normal Dad?
Was it Sundays in the forest?
The trumpets are bigger here, pure white and dangerous, their creeping vines choke everything. I smell burning again.
To our right a small gap opens in the trees, a glimpse of a tractor pitched precariously to one side, ploughing a field for the next crop. A marimba sits on bare earth beneath an oak tree encircled by sawn off logs, trying to talk its way out. A wooden toilet grows legs of straw and chicken wire, transforms into a ship-lapped giraffe wearing a plastic corrugated hat. It could intervene, wade in and relieve the marimba from its suffering, ride into Dodge on a pure white refuse truck. But it’s a sadistic toilet, so it doesn’t. Shame. Nothing would argue with such a creature, no matter how sawn off.
A mother and her two young daughters walk hand in hand through the cornfield as it curves down to a brutal horse bridge. A dog called Lilly runs towards me wearing a tiny metal heart. The brutal horse bridge wears a torn blue bandana that flaps gently in the breeze.
The mother says
“Sorry she won’t bite”
Turning pleasant, without thinking.
Cross the horse bridge. The stream beneath is calm and clear. A startled man appears wearing big headphones, leading a blonde dog that stares down at the ground embarrassed, then glances at me, smiles, and waves,
The man says nothing.
On the other side of the bridge turn left then left again, through tunnels of black naked hawthorn, and out into a freshly cut field with only the barest hint of a footpath curving long and right towards a slit in the hedge on the other side. A solitary oak waits in the middle, legs crossed, nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. A clump of trees squeals with excitement then pain, the kind concerned citizens should call the police about. A brown sun umbrella turns into a giant mushroom as squeals turn into screams. Should I do something? What if it’s nothing? What if it’s not?
Things were simpler when you and me went walking Dad, I could rely on you to do the thinking. A woman feeds miniature ponies in the corner of the field, whilst growling at a barking dog.
“Molly!” she spits, as we disappear into the bushes like James Earl Jones waving to Kevin Costner. When we emerge on the other side the road left and right is closed. We could carry on straight, just keep walking, never turn back, and for a second I seriously consider it, disappear. You, me and Harry in search of Paris. A school bell strikes down in the village, small and metallic, calling me back to reality. Shame.
The sky is made of grey milk now and growls for the first time in a hour, getting pierced again. Turn left. A field concealed behind houses squeals with the sounds of children having fun.
I like that.
Wheely bins line up outside every house to watch a woman running past like she’s stumbling to keep her balance. A small dog at her side strolls calmly, humiliated.
Only the school and a pub that may never reopen remain of what was an industrious hub.
Yet there’s an energy here you wouldn’t believe. A lot going on behind the scenes if you know what I mean.
Tea, cake and photographs on walls reminding us of how it was and how it could be. A yellow plastic grit salt box holds hands with a rubbish bin waiting at the bus stop in need of a scrub, they’ve been homeless for years. No one stops to ask their story.
An occasional shopper bus used to nod in passing but now even that doesn’t acknowledge them any more.
I stop, say ‘Hello’ and take their picture, remembering the stop where I caught the bus to school, eventually saving enough to skip town.
Driven by hormones into the open arms of Birmingham.
The sky turns grey as cigarette ash in milk but it’s getting hot and sweaty. All jackets are off. The postman recognises me and waves an arm out the window of his bright red van, hazard lights winking, blue mirrored wrap-arounds perched on his head, smiling, muscular and tanned. I like his stories. He’s a Morris dancer. Always says, “You should come and join in, you’d be good at it.” One day.
Now we climb the last hill West, back into the fields. The nice lady with the shaved head is talking to the village curator of everything. The Curator wears what looks like a butcher’s apron, though he never serves meat. He’s a collector of amazing things, objects found lying around or dug up from the fields around the village, that he assembles into fabulous tableaux. The Curator of Everything and the nice lady pause, to wave and smile at me. I wave and smile back, feeling good and included, momentarily connected to this place. The curator knows everything that’s ever happened here for generations. He tells me he’s writing it all down to be published.
“But only when I die”, he says, “people will be shocked,” he laughs, always adding, “But I haven’t started yet”
I know the feeling.