January 2023 – mild, squally, turning awful. By Maxim Griffin.
First light and the foxes are getting busy – there are eyes in the thorns and the ditches – the odd call, mating barks, territorial spraying – they’ve been round the back of the swimming pool again – rich pickings from the bins of the café – Reynard, the fox, runs into the cover of the brown fields and shadows – someone’s swaying home up the railway line, three sheets to the wind. The moon’s still up, bright as milk – 8am and the sun hasn’t quite risen – the rain from yesterday yet to soak into the clay – a man with black dogs hurls a gnawed quoit – all the gulls drift in from the sea, grey wings luminous – a sharp wind sings in the telephone lines until the road becomes an aeolian harp. A few trees still up, probably headed for the tip later – the house on the corner smells of sausages – all the windows are thick with condensation, cost of living you see – the woodwork will be knackered by spring.
The middle-aged paperboy takes a shortcut through the barrows with a yellow sack of Mails and rams the supplements home through brass-effect letterboxes – a cyclist in full cyclist apparel adjusts herself before launching – glittering spokes and breath – she’ll be out past the mouth of the Witham in an hour or two – thin, mountainous clouds coming fast from the west and the old boys are already heading to the allotments – Barry has a polytunnel of fierce little peppers and promises to drop round a jarful later – Pete with the girls fills the composter – might have a bonfire in a bit.
Seems as though everyone is taking care of Sunday jobs – routine and ritual – get the papers, enjoy a designated walk – Hubbard’s Hills? Snipe Dales, perhaps – somewhere with trees and water, somewhere to work up an appetite.
A car park – information signs, arrows – country walks and historical information – five-mile loops for the harder walker, shorter circles for small dogs and kids – there’s a red kite high up, twisting on the warm air – the call, keening and weird, makes everyone look for a few seconds.
A fleet of Ramblers assemble – today’s walk contains aurochs and a pit stop at Spoons on the way back – the cagoules are on, in league with the Y3A, new boots because there’s a sale on at Boyes – jet black Dunlops – they step out into the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, clutching a new Landranger.
A small child rides a glittering bike – her parents fuss behind, arms held out for the inevitable fall – but the young cyclist defies them and scoots on, scattering all before her – she slices through the puddles and sends the oncoming pedestrians into the rough.
The sun makes an appearance illuminating the crowns of horse chestnut and hornbeam – the light comes and goes – quick sky squalling east, a few spits that never really land, vapours turn the spectrum inside out – a rainbow that keeps moving.
Rituals and routines
The dog walkers are mustering – 4x4s of red setters and bronze labs, wax jacket owners, red scarves, flat hats, thumb sticks – a pair of wolfhounds from a medieval painting loll in the boot of a Volvo – a man with five springers heads to the river – they’re steaming ahead through the water to the woods on the far side of the valley. Hardcore dog walkers are territorial – ritual and routine – you’ll see the same people with the same dogs at the same time – Roger and Meg leave the woods at 10 everyday – Big Tim and Benji walk to top path at nine and come back through at three – Big Tim will stop for two pints of Landlord and a bag of crisps before heading home with Benji to cook tea – ritual and routine – if he wasn’t there you’d miss him, you’d worry.
Four hundred jackdaws swirl out of the canopy with laser beam voices against slate grey clouds that are coming on heavy – milky, half-strength sun coming in and out of sight, full disc visible without squinting – colder days ahead, perhaps – the children asked why the images of Christmas are laced with snow when the days are eerie mild – maybe in February lads – they’ve got sledges stacked up outside Yorkshire Trading.
Along a weary metal fence are tied ribbons of remembrance and little padlocks with initials scored into them – love tokens – KB + CB 4EVER – from time to time people scatter ashes by the avenue of beech trees – a fresh dusting with a bunch of flowers – a dog plunges into the river thrashing at a splintered stick – a little boy charges uphill hollering.
A pack of eight-year-olds occupy a clearing with multiple Nerf weapons and foam projectiles – two fathers are trying to marshal the free-for-all – someone’s birthday – battle in the woods followed by burgers at the Scottish restaurant – sounds alright. A boy, red faced with tears, claims an injustice – no one hears or listens so he bazookas a tree stump and returns to the fray – the whoops and wolf shouts echo all over the valley – it’s a good sound. One of the fathers rigs up a tiny portable twig stove – a sack of marshmallows at the ready – this is genius work and it’s not yet 11am on a wet Sunday in January – hot sugar and guns – what’s the worst that could happen?
Cohen changes wellies to shoes as his partner arranges jet black flask coffees – conversation turns to lunch as the drizzle hardens – the small child with the glittering bike skids to a gravelly halt.