At the bottom of Buck Lane, as the steep slope inclines ever steeper, one of the many motoring dickheads who express their social distancing frustrations by driving too fast and revving their engines, making a lot of noise and not caring who hears it, explodes up the hill in a cacophony of straining motor without a backward look, leaving a dense blueish cloud of exhaust behind for a heavily built and wheezing mother to laboriously wheel her heavily laden push chair through. The small child in front in the seat sits bolt upright and looks offended; as well he might.
Down by the shops, the traffic has built up in recent weeks, and a driver honks his horn in frustration at the car in front, which has stopped, waiting for another driver to vacate a parking space and causing an instant tail back. The horn, meant to be used in emergencies not as a sign of minor irritation, is loud and nerve jangling, obliterating all other sounds while it blasts and putting everyone else almost as on edge as the driver. Sharing is caring. A hefty sort of guy walking in front of me stares across at the driver, whose window is open, makes eye contact and calls “calm down”. In doing that, he is speaking for many of us, but gets the inevitable reaction of someone who is already angry and has just made a status gesture in front of his family – all gathered around and overheated in his car – and can’t afford to take a rebuke without losing face; so he escalates, leans out of his window all red faced and shouts back, honking his horn again. This is repeated ritualistically – and slightly comically now we are used to it -as the traffic queue slowly edges forward again, roughly at walking pace; so the argument keeps pace all the way down to the station.
In some ways I’m sorry for drivers. On the way down to the shops I get to walk through the Park. Nothing like walking to get your thoughts in order. And this time of year we have the wildflowers that the council has put in to encourage the bees. Right now there is an exhilarating flash of scarlet poppies. Its like an Impressionist painting but better, because its what would have inspired an impressionist painting. Manet live. Or, like stodgy old Wordsworth, your heart can’t help but “leap up”. People driving past miss all that. How much do you lose with the freedom of the not so open road? Invest in a shopping trolley and you get a walk in the Park, time to think and a bit of exercise too.
In the deep shade of a spreading Oak tree, the Roe Green Park Moot is meeting. A dozen or so elderly Gujerati guys – who now seem to be in permanent session -sitting in a circle, several on little camp stools brought for the occasion, two propping up black iron bicycles like props from a Satyajit Ray film, several of them talking at once and waving their hands. Further on, the open air exercise class is back. Mostly legs in the air like they are practicing for the synchronised swimming at the Olympics.
A little bit of implied violence from the sort of people who think that a high level of COVID infections is the same thing as being “free”. All the council posters urging people to have vaccines and take care have had pots of paint thrown at them.
By contrast, down in Grays at the weekend, someone has crocheted a thank you hat for the NHS to put on top of the post box outside the library.
On the way up Cromwell road, just opposite Mumford and Sons (the former fish and chip shop and Covid victim now being gutted, windows black and gaping like a corpse whose eyes have been eaten by crows) two youths walking past me. The smaller, meaner looking one tweaks the chest of the taller – who looks a bit like a browner version of Sideshow Bob – saying “I’ll flick your nipples if you keep chatting shit”. On the way back down in search of chips – having developed a habit of smiling at passers by during the pandemic as a sort of mutual affirmation (we’re still here then) – I pass a couple sweating their way up the hill and smile at them. A few steps on and behind my back I hear the bloke mutter “Fucking smiling! Ooo’s e fink he’s fucking smiling at?” and I realise that I’d almost forgotten that old reflex of keeping safe by keeping neutral. Like the safety advice on the New York Subway. “Avoid eye contact with anyone over three years old”. The motto of every Council in South Essex should probably be Qui tibi vultus (oo, you lookin at?)
One of the butchers in Orsett Road is now Halal and offers “real goat”. Makes you wonder what the unreal goat is and who sells it.
When I hang out my laundry on the whirly drier in the backyard, the sight of my trousers hanging upside down to dry is reminiscent of Mussolini suspended from that lamp post by the Partisans after they shot him in Mezzagra in 1945.
Out of the window
- a young guy on an electric scooter swishes past; like the ghost of a future that we might already be too late to build. You can’t help noting that the police in London have confiscated 500 of these in the last couple of months – pending the Highway Code updating itself to cope with them – while the gas guzzlers that poison our air and are helping overheat our planet rev happily along with complete impunity.
- a sound of hooves and a glass carriage pulled by two horses with huge pink plumes driven by men in top hats and full of tiny Asian girls in fluffy pink dresses appropriate for princesses but looking a bit bored and apprehensive trots by up past the castle flats; their parents driving behind in a nervous convoy, leaning forward over their steering wheels.