Lockdown Walks #3 | Brian Lewis

Day fifteen. 6.30pm. The road outside my house has been resurfaced overnight, or half of it has, the nearside lane. The material is light in colour, pinkish grey diluted, and is loose at the edges. The maintenance crew have left traffic cones at intervals along the terraces. They woke me up at 3am for this. I cross the road so that I am facing the oncoming traffic, there isn’t much but it is steady. Everyone is driving into the sun. At the gates to the flats above The Cake Shop and The Sugar Craft School someone has forgotten the code. They stop, step back, try again. I stand on the Walkley Lane bridge and make several attempts to photograph the weir in the evening light but the brickwork looks drab and the river looks drab. Above me, above the side door of Pizza & Co, a woman leans out of a second-floor window to make a telephone call. Everything seems so far away. I start walking to Morrisons and am suddenly anxious about shopping. I should have prepared, I think, but how do you prepare. What if the rules have changed. I arrive at the modified entrance, there is no one before or behind me, the security guard rocks on his heels. I make for the tinned tomatoes aisle. There are empty cardboard trays with the imprints of tinned tomatoes but no tins. This is reassuring, I don’t know why, no one likes to miss out. Imagine a person, imagine travelling to meet that person, imagine meeting that person. Imagine you are that person.

Day sixteen. 7.05am. I manoeuvre an empty green bin over the front steps, through the narrows of the house, and set it to rest on the gravel. Two weeks ago the garden waste collection was suspended. This week it has been reinstated. I don’t see the Veolia lorry arrive, but I hear it as it leaves, and then I hear the tram, is this the second one today, the vibrations as it passes, tremors in the kitchen, the house feels brittle. I leave the house again and set off towards the garage on Bradfield Road. The road maintenance crew reappeared at 11pm last night, I saw them through the window, their machinery parked beneath an ordinary moon. It is hard to know if the work is finished, again there is loose material, on the road, on the pavement, is this the cause of the vibrations. It doesn’t look right to me but what would I know. I wait for the traffic to clear at Hillsborough Corner, this is unusual, waiting for traffic to clear. Wilko has raised its shutters and set its plant displays on the pavement and it is not yet 7.30am. At the pedestrian crossing that links Wilko to British Heart Foundation there are two men up stepladders, one on each side of the road, cleaning or servicing or repairing the traffic lights. As I near the crossing I notice that they are Amey contractors. It should feel good to know that there are people maintaining the infrastructure, at all hours, but I don’t feel good. One of the men sprays a signal with a long-handled hose. The work draws attention to itself. I pick up a newspaper at the garage forecourt and shoulder the door of the kiosk. A plastic shield has been installed at the counter, there are little vents in the shield, it is still possible to have a conversation. The cashier is not wearing gloves. Perhaps there is spray behind the counter. Perhaps there isn’t. Think about everywhere you’ve been in the past month, everyone you’ve seen.

Day seventeen. 2.45pm. I have amassed an extraordinary quantity of carrier bags since 1993, albeit very few in recent years, and approximately one-tenth of this archive now lies scattered on the kitchen floor. I opened the archive in a search for three carrier bags with their handles intact. After several minutes, I select a Sainsbury’s bag and a Lakeland bag and a bag on which the branding is now illegible. I return the other carrier bags to a kitchen cupboard, there is some difficulty in closing the door, I mash the bags down with my tiny fist. The three carrier bags are stuffed into a rucksack and the rucksack is shouldered across my back. I leave the house, not for the first time today, I paid an unsuccessful visit to the garage at 7am, there were no papers, that’s not true, there were papers, they were the wrong papers, someone must have got to them. I am having to go further and I am coming back with less. At Hillsborough Place two men in orange overalls crouch at the open doors of a green telecommunications cabinet, there is some distance between them, it is hard to judge from here. At the tram stop a woman asks another woman if she is waiting and the second woman says no. I dislike shopping in daylight. It interferes with the rhythm of the day, perhaps it doesn’t matter now, the days have no rhythm. I reach the back of the Morrisons queue. It builds slowly and moves quickly. A man in khaki takes a trolley, he shakes his head, a grown man in short trousers, scowling, demanding that we take him seriously. I am waved inside, there is nothing new in the nothing, no flour pasta yeast spaghetti icing sugar risotto rice peeled plum tomatoes. Fifteen minutes later I set down my basket at the self-service counter. ‘Unchained Melody’ starts up in the overhead speakers, the Righteous Brothers version, it’s a nice enough song, a bit overdone. Hunger, touch. Then the behavioural announcement comes on, again, I think, that’s twice at least today, all I hear is the tone, waiting for it to end, the odd word slips through, distance, time.

Day eighteen. 7.15am. I have been doing jobs, little household tasks, for an hour or so. There is a point at which this ceases to be useful and it is necessary to leave the house. I set off towards the garage. The sky is always different even if the street is the same. This morning’s sky is soft white cloud stretched from end to end, the first few patches of eggshell blue, this will change, slowly or quickly, it will change when I’m not looking. It is Good Friday. I am thinking of another Good Friday, four years back, Easter was earlier then. I had come to the end of three weeks of uninterrupted work, not all of it satisfactory, three weeks shrunk to a screen. I got up at 4am and travelled to North Lincolnshire to start my walk at Ealand, because it had a train station, because it sounded like ‘island’, because I knew nothing about it. The train pulled in to the station shortly after 7am and I disembarked and walked up a lane and tried to work out where the village boundary was. I decided to make it the war memorial, enclosed by metal railings, orphaned by the ruin of the New Trent Inn, still marking the junction, a stone cross, plastic poppies. This is the village, I thought, and I walked into the village, it was still early, the lane was quiet. I looked at the windows of the houses as I passed, not through the windows, but at the windows, I saw printed posters facing out, advertisements of Easter services, the body nailed up, copies of the cross, colours fading under glass.

In every window
a crucifixion, the same
vision darkening
the pane, the numbered stations
dividing each reflection.

I never took to religion, or it never took to me, it didn’t add up, perhaps it was something to do with the way that the stories were handed down. In a village the size of Ealand it’s different, the scale is different, and it’s still going on. I got to the end of New Trent Street and stood in front of the Primitive Hall, the cross taken down, the nails left in the stonework. Then I walked on for another quarter mile and turned east at Outgate and glimpsed for the first time the wind farm at Keadby, the sun rising behind it, and it was all I wanted then, the village at my back, the track and the telegraph wires ahead, to walk toward the white thorns that crowned the lit horizon. I am thinking of this as I cross the garage forecourt and take a newspaper from the newspaper stand and pay for the newspaper and leave the garage. I look at the road, what is there, a slow-moving ambulance, a delivery van. A blankness until I reach the corner and the sound of maintenance, two men putting in a shift at the tram tracks, the power switching on and off.

Day nineteen. 12.45pm. I finish packaging the orders and put the orders in a rucksack with a map and some water. Someone in Crookes has ordered a book, this is a walk of one mile, someone in Totley has ordered two books, this is a walk of seven miles. I could post the books to Totley but the post is taking longer to get through and there are bank holidays in the way and I think that I need a walk of seven miles. I try not to think of it as a walk of fourteen miles, which it is, I try not to think about the walk back. I say goodbye to Emma and two minutes later I am at the weir. A man shuffles past with three large Heron Foods bags. Another man leans into the bridge, looking down at the weir, an open bread bag at his elbow, he is feeding the ducks or is he feeding the pigeons. I push uphill. Already I am finding it hard to be in the moment, any of the moments, nothing stands out, the broken glass on Stony Walk is only broken glass. It is warm, a little muggy, it is windy. I climb the steep and narrow ginnel from Walkley Bank Road to Walkley Road, I avoid the handrail, I avoid touching things that others might touch or might have touched. There are updates in the windows of every shop on South Road. The updates are not news, they were not news when they were printed, they are saying we remember you, please remember us. In the grounds of St Mary’s a clutch of red tulips. I turn right onto Springvale Road, upward to Crookes, I pass the streets where my friends used to live, I see strangers in their gardens, they have gone to the furthest limits of their houses. I find the first address and take out the package and knock and retreat to the street. A friendly person answers the door and we wave our acknowledgements across the gap. I continue uphill and reach the main street in Crookes, which is just called Crookes, imagine the confusion, and head south, everything else lies south of here, south or south-west. I know where I am going, Westbourne Road, Brocco Bank, Ecclesall Road, Ecclesall Road South, to Whirlow, Dore, and Totley, to the edge of the city, half a mile from the Derbyshire border. I know where I am going and I let my thoughts slide. I pass The Old Grindstone, I took my parents there in 1995, I had just moved to Sheffield, I didn’t know where else to take them. I pass Matt and Ruth’s old flat on Lawson Road, I used to hide there in 2012, it was the spring, I had moved back to Sheffield after thirteen years away, I was thinking that I’d made a mistake, moving back was not the mistake, the mistake was in me, I couldn’t explain it, I couldn’t get anything done, the things that I meant to get done. The Botanical Gardens is open, people wait their turn at the entrance, after you, no, after you. Endcliffe Park is open. I don’t see a way to close it, it is vast and porous. I hid there too, in summer 2012, a night walk through the Porter Valley, a night walk is a sort of hiding. I turn onto Ecclesall Road. That was how I ended the year, with a night walk, starting in Hull, a city I’d not visited since 1994, ending at Spurn Point, the mouth of the Humber. It was difficult, I remember that, I had a bad cold, the weather was foul, I was weak at the start and got weaker through the night. The path was barely a path. It hadn’t been walked since the summer, so it seemed, shin-deep grass on the embankment, sodden boots, slow, heavy steps. The moon came and went and I set my head against the wind and rain and then the sky cleared and I lifted my head to the moon above Sunk Island. I was scared. I was not scared of anything that might happen that night, of illness or injury or death, none of these things seemed likely. It was something else. I didn’t try to find the words for it at the time and now I can’t. There were no referents. I knew where I was going but I didn’t know where I was. The bright moon and the dark plain. It felt like something I wouldn’t come back from. I don’t mean that I thought that I would come back with something missing. But that I had cut myself off. That I didn’t know what I was going back to. That something was affecting my sense of scale. I cross the junction at Psalter Lane, where Ecclesall Road becomes Ecclesall Road South, three black O2 cabinets on the corner, are those fans whirring inside, the heat of them, the noise. I think of the last time I walked out here, I was delivering books, it was the fourth of January, there was illness in the family, the walk was a distraction. It was difficult to get the rounds done before dark. This is the thing, you go for a walk and your thoughts slide back, you take in less and less. I think I smell a barbecue and then I look up Brincliffe Edge Road and see a fire engine at the top. I walk a mile of Ecclesall Road South and then another mile. I measure the miles with thoughts of school, I almost never think of school, what went wrong. It was nobody’s fault. I just couldn’t envisage a future for myself, how to make a life, what would I do. The houses get bigger as the city gets smaller. How do you end up in a house like that, I think. The pavement runs out at Whirlow and I cross the road to where the pavement starts over then step back into the road to avoid three joggers and the air they leave behind. I pass a gated development with ENDYMION profiled on the gates and I laugh. I glimpse the edge of Dore Moor before turning onto Limb Lane, this is where we walked with Rob Hindle, the bus set us down just here, or close to here, a walk from Dore Moor to the heart of the city, the 70th anniversary of the Sheffield Blitz, it was the twelfth of December. Rob had written a sequence that reimagined the flight path of the Luftwaffe, that cold, clear, moonlit night, 1940, the city silenced, shut down. We were walking this route, walking back into the city, walking back through the poem. There was snow on the ground. The walk began in daylight and ended in darkness. So much of the city has been razed or rebuilt since then, The Moor, Arundel Gate, Fitzalan Square. I try to keep my mind on Dore, I see a brace of rabbits at the edge of a wood, here is the village, white blossom in the trees, burnt-out daffodils on the lawns, forget-me-nots in the vergeside. The road to Totley rises and falls. On Baslow Road a bus whips up dust and I close my eyes to the particulates. I stop to read an information board, it tells a story of Totley, that it was part of Derbyshire until 1935, it tells a story of G.H.B. Ward, founder of the Sheffield Clarion Ramblers. Engraved in the board is a quote, attributed to him, ‘the man who was never lost never went very far’. Yes, I think, until I start to think about it. I find the second and last address. I take out the package and knock and retreat to the driveway. A woman answers the door, she asks me about my journey, she thanks me for making the journey. We say goodbye, I hope you enjoy the books, I say, I will, she says. One of the books is The Footing, in which Rob’s Blitz sequence appears. It’s the last poem in the anthology. As I start back up the road the last lines come back to me:

Geese crowd the Wash, silver flats
full of their clamouring. Shadows ripple
over them, rows of crosses, another,
another.

Day twenty. 4pm. A friend has ordered a book, Meridian by Nancy Gaffield. Good, I think, and he only lives up the road, a few streets away. I dress the book in light packaging and remind myself of the address. I ask Emma if she would like to join me, she says yes, we rummage through a pile of shoes and gloves and make our way out of the house. Soft grey skies, it is quiet for an afternoon, it is quieter than yesterday. We turn right, then right again, into Beechwood Road and its distant slopes. We notice an elderly man on the pavement ahead and step into the road. ‘Good morning’, Emma calls out, then catches herself, we all laugh, we share a joke. Post meridiem. Emma is taking note of the houses that we pass and is suggesting improvements that could be made to our house. Her suggestions are good and insightful but I am useless at DIY and fearful of change and Emma senses this in my silence. We laugh, we smile, it is a longstanding joke. We turn right onto Portsea Road, where the gradient levels out, then left onto Findon Street. I find the address and knock on the front door, I leave the package on a boundary wall, we both take several steps back. After a minute or two Paul appears from the back door. It is good to see him. The last delivery I made here was ten days ago, his supply of Marmite had expired and he was unable to source any jars in Sheffield, I found a jar in Morrisons and took it round to him. He reimbursed me with coins soaked in vinegar. We talk for some minutes, Paul and Emma and me, how are we managing, are we getting any work done, what will happen, what is possible. A few people pass by on the other side of the street. We talk a little more and then say goodbye, Paul goes back into his house, we turn back for our house. The windows on the streets have so much colour in them, the little posters, it is commonplace now, we don’t talk of it, we hardly notice it.

Day twenty-one. 7.15am.

A two-tone hopscotch
on the pavement of my street —
twenty-one scuffed squares.

Think of a number,
remember all this colour —
pathways after rain.

 

Sheffield, 7–13 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; all hardback titles are post-free in the UK, and deliveries to Sheffield addresses are made on foot. Orders are prepared, packaged and posted in accordance with recommended hand hygiene and other preventive measures. Click here for a full list of our current hardbacks and to order titles.

The first instalment of ‘Lockdown Walks’ can be found here; you can read the second instalment here. Photographs taken in north and south-west Sheffield, April 2020.

 

 



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