Lockdown Walks #2 | Brian LewisPosted: April 8, 2020
Day eight. 11.30am. I’ve stopped noticing. Somewhere ahead are the cars I’ve stopped counting. I count the book orders as they trickle in, not to lose track, another visit to the Post Office. I see the queues up and down Middlewood Road and it is clear that one of them is for the Halifax, another is for B&M, another is for Eve’s Fruit Stores, it is not clear which is which, however, you’d have to ask, the starts and the ends look the same. I wait at the door of the Post Office. I think about Sheffield’s flood maps and cholera maps, this was part of how I came to build a knowledge of a city in which I wasn’t born, in which I hadn’t lived, at a distance, first, then intimately. I think of the new maps that the people here are making, of the pharmacy, the grocer, the supermarket. How to navigate a shop. How to stand on a pavement. I squint at the door of the Post Office, there is no queue after all, I put my face to the glass and the door is opened from the other side. On the way home I make a detour via Hillsborough Place. Two neighbours are talking across the length of their street, they are discussing a shopping itinerary. ‘I’ll try my best, Shirley’. I stop at the modular planters that I stopped at yesterday. The tulips that I thought were losing their colour are not losing their colour, this is their colour.
Day nine. 7.05pm. I make an attempt at the washing-up then remember the thing I was trying to remember which is that there is no milk for the morning. The shops are opening later and closing early. I abandon the dishes and leave the pans to soak. I find the shopping list, a scrap torn from an envelope, some of the items were scribbled on it ten days ago, others have been added and crossed out and reinstated. I stuff the list in my pocket and leave the house. It’s still light. There are a few cars, they race up and down Holme Lane without slowing, there are one or two people, the one ahead of me is a man, the one who passes me is a man. The street doesn’t seem safe and it’s hard to say why. At Hillsborough Interchange there are no buses in the bays and no-one is waiting. I descend the steps to Morrisons where the entrance has been reconfigured with plastic barriers, this has been in place for a few days now, everyone accepts it. There are no staff to manage the queue because there is no queue and so I walk inside. I make three tours of the aisles, decelerating orbits, the things that are not on the shelves are not on the shelves, the things that are on my list will remain on the list. The people with trollies are moving with purpose. I am distracted by a packet of remaindered cheese scones, I stare at the packet, not quite taking it in. Cyndi Lauper is in the overhead speakers. I have an affection for the tune, always it surprises me, to hear it, to think of it. If you fall I will catch you I will be waiting. After a minute or so I lose my place in the song. When I go to the checkouts I find that half them have been taken offline, alternate terminals only, this is to help with distancing. It’s hard to know what the staff are thinking. I pack a few loose bananas into my bag and turn for the exit, keeping six paces behind the customer in front, you can relax now, he says to his phone, it’s the same for everyone.
Day ten. 7.30am. Every day there is a new rainbow. Today it is a double rainbow in an upstairs window, halfway along Holme Lane, two sheets of A4, one above the other. I am walking to the garage for a newspaper. All the traffic is going the other way, then the lights change at the tram terminus and the eastbound lane catches up with me. A slow flare, is it familiar, the red and yellow markings of a maintenance vehicle. I cross Hillsborough Corner and stop to read a poster in the window of Wilko explaining why it is open. Someone calls my name. I turn and see no-one, then turn again, it is Matthew Clegg, Ruth Palmer, they are framed in the entrance of the Hillsborough Exchange. We stand around and chat. Everyone feels out of place. I say that I am going to the garage. Matt and Ruth are going the same way, so we walk together and separately, this is awkward, we say. I see you’re writing a blog, Matt says, yes, I say, I’m running out of ideas though. We stop at the garage and Matt and Ruth say goodbye, where are you going now, I say, Iceland, they say. I stare at the newspaper display stand, half of the papers are missing, the other half are the Daily Mail or likenesses of the Daily Mail. I turn back, I will call in at the Hillsborough Exchange, I think. I try the doors and they open but everything is closed and the arcade is empty. There is 1950s rock and roll in the speaker system, it is unusually loud, there are no bodies to absorb it. I turn back to the doors, can I still get out, will someone be along later.
Day eleven. 11.50am. I have been up since 6am, which is normal, and lack energy and focus, which is not. I have lost all the thoughts and tasks that were not written down. Among the tasks that I did write down was the parcelling of books, this has taken up most of the morning, cardboard and Sellotape and Pritt Stick. I shake off the trimmings and go to the Post Office with the day’s orders. On Haden Street a man scales a ladder to a first-floor window and cleans the glass with a cloth. It is overcast, the light is soft and grey, the air is still. I turn into the next street and adjust my course, stepping into the road, making way for returning shoppers. Here is a man, a heavy bag in each hand, he looks done in. It’s all the waiting. At B&M Stores the queue has changed direction, stretching back to, and overlapping with, the Post Office queue. There is some confusion. Everyone in the queue stares back at the queue. I find my place in the Post Office queue, which is very short, and try not to look pleased with myself, what’s the word, smug. Some people are getting used to this, some are not. Some of us think we know better. A counter becomes free and I move toward it, hesitantly, not wanting to take up too much of the distance. On Tuesday the staff were wearing masks without gloves and today they are wearing gloves without masks. ‘This is a Large Letter’, I say, ‘and so are these.’ The parcels are labelled with postage and placed in a sack. I leave via a gap in the B&M queue and walk back the same way that I came. On Haden Street the man with the ladder has moved to the house next door, he is in his element, it is hard to tell if he is starting or finishing. The people here will have clean windows to look out of. Is it important, though, is it essential. What is essential, who is essential.
Day twelve. 12.50pm. I have several errands that I have been saving up, a round trip, a few miles of deliveries and deposits. I pack a rucksack with a map and some water and the things to hand over. What will it be like in the city, I think, will the city still be there. On Langsett Road I realise that I have not been this far east in almost three weeks. The Bamforth Street tram stop is just ahead. The trams were cut in half, then half again, then half again, the frequency dropping from 12 minutes to 20 minutes and finally an hourly service. A blue tram passes on the other side of the road, it is bound for Halfway, I count six passengers on board. The Masons Arms is secured and alarmed. I see people in the street, here and there, in ones and twos. Some of them are walking in the road, the traffic is light, is this for avoidance. Everything is moving very slowly. At The Wellington it hits hard, the things I didn’t do, the things that can’t be done. I think of all the things I will do when this is over and I know I won’t do any of them. I cross the roundabout to Shalesmoor and see the vulnerable premises that have been boarded up, which makes them look more vulnerable, and the message STAY HOME ESSENTIAL JOURNEYS ONLY on the electronic message sign above the eastbound lane. I can unpick the birdsong from the old furnace sites, and here is the Nichols Building, now a furniture depot, the furniture is FURTINTURE on the printed canvas. Every third car seems to be a police car or an ambulance. Is it that there are more emergency vehicles on the road or is it that there are fewer non-emergency vehicles on the road or. A second roundabout at West Bar, there used to be a town gate around here, then uphill, Silver Street, Paradise Street. I sometimes stand in Paradise Square and listen for the hum that rises from somewhere near Scotland Street or Solly Street. It tells me that I’m in the city. I don’t hear it today. I climb past the cathedral and around Church Street and into Fargate. I feel inside my fleece pocket for the cheque that Emma has asked me to pay in at Santander, it is there, the cheque, the bank card. The Santander website says that the Fargate branch is open until 2pm today. I draw level with the doors of the bank. It is closed until Monday. I shuffle over to a cashpoint, there is an option for deposits, it gladdens the heart. The machine sucks the card from my fingers and invites me to feed the cheque into a slot. I feed the cheque into the slot, the slot flashes green, a mechanism behind the slot whirrs and clicks and catches. There is a pause of several seconds. A message on the screen advises me that the cheque deposit has not been successful and that the cheque will be returned to me. The mechanism whirrs and clicks and catches, the green light flashes, then stops flashing. The cheque is not returned. After a minute the screen defaults to the transaction menu. After another minute I leave. Everything on Fargate is closed, no, that’s not true, Marks and Spencer is open, Poundland is open. There are no cars at Castle Square and just one or two stationary buses, engines off, stopped at their stops. The city is simpler without traffic. I follow the tram lines, High Street, Commercial Street, breaking off at Ponds Forge, scaling the steps to Park Square, an elevated junction where three lines intersect. I turn right at the intersection, as if I were bound for Halfway, as if I were a tram. I pause at the rear entrance of the railway station, there is no one going in or coming out, I step towards the Departures board, it looks like a full schedule, trains in all directions, all the services on time. I back out of the entrance and lean over a concrete wall and search the platforms below but I don’t see anyone. The steps to the amphitheatre and South Street are closed so I take the long, low path to Clay Wood Bank. The path climbs gently, then sharply as it meets the bank, there is another path into Clay Wood, steep and winding. A woman is picking flowers at the metal bike barriers, she waits for me to pass, I wait for her to pass. All this green ascending. The last time I was here was three years ago, a poetry walk, led by Angelina D’Roza and Pete Green, there were twenty of us, climbing the city from Lady’s Bridge, this was our last stop, Angelina reading at the foot of the Cholera Monument, Pete with their back to the city. Today there is no one but me and a woman, sitting on a bench, looking out towards Highfield and Nether Edge. I make a slow half-circuit of the monument, leaving the woman to her view, her moment. The interpretation board has gone but the plaque at the foot of the monument is intact. It tells me that the deaths from the 1832 cholera epidemic totalled 402, that the bodies are buried nearby, that the monument was raised a few years later. A light, fresh breeze ripples the air. I scan the skyline, its clutter, the SHU buildings, the car parks, the upscale lofts, a few suspended cranes, a city holding its breath. I step back from the edge and take the path for Clay Wood, I think it is the path, there are several paths criss-crossing the grounds. After a few minutes I am out of the woods and on Granville Road. I could not plot a clear route to my first delivery and this will be slow, I think, I have a Sheffield A-Z in my hand. Norfolk Heritage Park is closed. I turn south along Donnington Road where several cars are trying to reverse out of their driveways. I stop to look at a utility cover embedded in the pavement, it reads POST OFFICE TELEPHONES and is in good repair. The cemetery is somewhere on my left. At the junction of St Aidan’s Road and St Aidan’s Way I find a motionless bee. I crouch to the pavement and set my rucksack down. The only thing I have for it is water, I take out the bottle and pour half an inch into the cap, then carefully empty the cap on the asphalt. ‘Is it a dead bee?’ calls a woman from a house on St Aidan’s Way, she is standing on the threshold of her doorway, a small child just behind her. I look down at the bee, it is stirring slightly and making for the water, I look back at the woman. ‘It might be OK’, I say, ‘I’ve given it some water.’ ‘Bless you’, she says, and goes back inside. There is nothing more that I can do for the bee, I try to keep the thought of it close as I climb Brimmesfield Drive and Northern Avenue. An hour before I set out, I received a message from a friend, the message asked if I could deliver a book to a friend in Arbourthorne, I said yes, here I am at what I think is the house of the friend. I know nothing about the friend other than that he is a climber and has been self-isolating. I knock on the door, then take several steps back, I am wearing gloves. The friend answers the door and I hand the book over. The book is Rock as Gloss by Mark Goodwin and I mention that the poet is a climber and that the jacket artwork is by Paul Evans who is also a climber and do you know Paul. ‘Yes’, he says, ‘I know him very well.’ We say goodbye and I turn back up the road. A few doors down a radio blares from a garden, it is ‘Fast Car’, Tracy Chapman, the song is interrupted by a commercial. The map tells me to head south then west along East Bank Road. It is downhill now, there is not much to see, on the brick facade of the Lotus House someone has painted the greeting HAPPY 40TH JOEY. I nearly miss the turning for Daresbury Road, I take it, although I feel that I am turning back on myself, at the bottom I turn right onto Gleadless Road, I try to keep the navigation in my head. The sun comes out on the descent into Heeley. There are dandelions and what might be speedwell on the verges and in the gardens. There are rainbows in the windows. On the metal railings of Heeley Parish Church a canvas banner declares HOPE IN OUR VILLAGES TOWNS AND CITIES. I am always surprised to see The Sheaf View from any direction and here it is now, at the foot of the hill, empty kegs stacked up like silver ballast. Somewhere near the former Primitive Methodist Chapel a telephone is ringing, it is a landline, it sounds old, it seems to be coming from Thermax or Prosol. A train crosses the railway bridge, three carriages, two of them empty. I pass under the bridge and try to work out my second delivery, it isn’t far, Abbeydale Road near London Road. I cut through an alley and into a side street. I take out the parcel and check the address and cross into Abbeydale Road and there is the house. I knock on the door and another door opens and we say hello and I hold the parcel out at arm’s length and leave. That was easy, I think. On London Road I see a police car at low speed, a few minutes later I see another, I realise it the same police car, it is a patrol. I reach the bottom of The Moor and think that I will pay a visit to Sainsbury’s. There is a queue but I am half of it, we both look to the security guard, the security guard waves us in. Inside the floor is measured out in black and yellow hazard tape. I reach the chilled aisle and see Andy. ‘Andy’, I say, I have not seen him in over a year. I keep my feet behind the black and yellow tape. I ask him how things are and he asks me how things are. ‘Fine’, I say, ‘people are still buying books.’ ‘Well, there’s not much else for them to do’, he replies. I suppose not, I think to myself.
Day thirteen. 2.45pm. I have set myself an hour for today’s deliveries to run concurrently with today’s exercise. I leave the house and cross the road. The business post is piling up on the floor of the Holme Fish Bar. I adjust my step to avoid what I think is broken glass on the pavement, I look again, it is not broken glass, it is cherry blossom blown from the cherry blossom tree. I cross the river Loxley at Walkley Lane and look down at the weir, the section that collapsed in last November’s floods is still unrepaired, brickwork and debris clumped in the shallows. I start uphill. After several weeks of Sundays this doesn’t feel like a Sunday. It is all stopping and starting uphill, Stony Walk to Parsonage Street, Walkley Road to Heavygate Road. At the junction of Heavygate Road and Northfield Road someone has chalked the name HENRY. I turn into a cul de sac, it is also uphill, the top of the road seems distant from the bottom. I reach into my bag with a gloved hand and take out the jar of damson gin that Emma has made. Last Sunday morning I found a jar of yeast on my doorstop, it was from Jo and Chris, they knew we were running low. I leave the gin on the doorstep, knock, and take several steps back. Chris answers the door and we speak at length and at a distance. I stand in the street, behind the garden wall, my head alone is visible. He mentions his colleagues, how the illness has touched each of them in turn, we talk back and forth, of contingencies, compromises. We say our goodbyes. I turn onto Northfield Road and stop and sit at the bus stop and take out a postcard and start to write on it. I am writing to a friend who lives nearby and who has not left her flat for some time. I try to say something about the street that I’m on, what is happening. A man on the pavement is talking with a woman on a second-floor balcony. At the edge of the Bole Hills someone has launched a kite, there it goes, in and out of view. A few minutes pass and I become aware of a sound, a rhythm, it is regular, close, it must have been there all along. The bus stop is ticking. I stand up and walk around the bus stop, there are no devices, no mechanisms. I leave the bus stop and walk to the flats. The postcard seems flimsy and all that it says. Outside the flats a week’s washing hung out, drying in the communal court.
Day fourteen. 9.10am. A light rain overnight, the last traces on the pavement, in patches and puddles that the sun hasn’t got to. I am walking to Santander to sort out Saturday’s bungled cheque deposit on behalf of Emma. It wasn’t my fault, it was the machine’s fault, but I feel responsible. On Langsett Road, sunlight hits the asphalt and the tram tracks, it is blinding, the light is unbroken by traffic. There are new flags at the Hillsborough Hand Car Wash. I don’t think the flags mean anything, they are there to lend height and prominence to the forecourt, it has always lacked a canopy. It occurs to me that this would be a good time to hide in the grounds of the car wash as it is not in use. Why would I do that, though, why am I thinking like this. I try to think of something else instead. I am thinking of last year’s walks in Holderness and Lincolnshire and how the maps led me to believe that I would meet very few people on the rural and estuarine paths and how the maps were correct. It is another thing to encounter an absence of people where the people should be. A woman tries the door of Dibco Tools, which I often misread as Disco Tools, she can’t get in. On any other Monday this would be any other Monday. I turn into Gibraltar Street, there is a delivery at the door of Yorkshire Decorators Centre, a pallet of paint. Every other door is closed. I pass the cathedral just before the clock starts counting to ten and by the time I reach Fargate the tower is silent. At Santander there is a queue, an uneven curve, it tails off into the precinct. I expected a queue and so I start writing a postcard to my mother. Dear Mum, we’re fine, I hope you are too. I finish the postcard, someone in the queue is talking to someone else in the queue, they are talking about the town hall, they are saying that the flag is at half mast. I turn around and look up and it is true. None of us know what this means. I reach the front of the queue and the gloved and masked clerk asks me what I want. I explain that my partner’s cheque is stuck in the machine and that it was the machine’s fault. I then pass a sheet of paper to the clerk, these are her account details, I say, and these are her contact details. The clerk goes inside and does something to the machine and returns a minute later with the cheque. ‘We’ll get this paid in today’, he says. I thank him and leave the queue. There must be a post box around here, I think, there must be a collection today.
Sheffield, 31 March–6 April 2020.
Brian Lewis is the editor and publisher of Longbarrow Press. Longbarrow Press is continuing to fulfil book orders via its website during the COVID-19 pandemic; click here for a full list of our current hardbacks and to order titles.