Round About Town - Kevin Boniface
ISBN 978 1 910010 18 1
“I see the waxwings again. This time they are in the tree by the flats where the skinny Asian man with the grey jeans and studded belt is trying to gain access by shouting Raymond.”
“I can see a figure lying face down on the pavement up ahead. I get a bit closer and I see his right arm move. He rolls briefly onto his side and back on to his front, where he lies still again. He’s wearing new, clean clothes: plaid shirt, dark blue denim jeans, and expensive-looking trainers. As I pass, I ask whether he’s okay. He rolls onto his side again. He’s young, mid-twenties, dark curly hair. ‘I’m just bored’, he says. ‘Oh, as long as you’re okay?’ I say. “Have you got a spare cig?” “No”. “Okay”, and he rolls back onto his front.”
The last time I was out of work I sat the Royal Mail aptitude test. I had this idea that I’d become a postman in the hard drinking and writing Charles Bukowksi mode. The truth of the matter was that I was desperate for a job and in the late 90’s there wasn’t that many kicking around. While waiting for the results I found myself some temporary work in a local factory and when I got the news that I’d passed the aptitude test for the Royal Mail I decided to stick out my temporary job with the hope of being offered a full-time one. Which is why I’ve still got the same job now twenty years hence and why I don’t throw a postman’s sack over my shoulder every morning.
I only live about ten minutes walk from the local sorting office and the 5.30 a.m. starts didn’t fill me with dread. I tried looking at the positives: lots of exercise, fresh air, a chance to meet people and pretend that I was Charles Bukowksi. I imagined myself walking down the gravelly paths of big houses, the householder already at the doorstep waiting to greet me with a cheery smile as I handed over their post on a crisp spring morning.
‘How are you this fine morning young Postie?’,
‘Oh, fine thank you and what a wonderful day it is to be alive. Here’s your leccy bill.’
I’m guessing that the reality is very different. A couple of years back Mrs Fisher had us delivering flyers for the Cleckheaton Literary Festival. We did a couple of Sunday afternoons in the surrounding streets and it gave me an insight in to what postmen and women have to put up with; letterboxes at the bottom of doors that you have to bend down to get to and when you do the spring on the flap is so stiff it takes you five goes to get anything in, doors with cages over them that makes the letterbox virtually impossible to get at, garden paths littered with dog shit, garden gates that you cant open, garden gates that crumble in your hands, doors hidden by overgrown vegetation, houses that stand on their own and take you an age to get to and get back from. And this was on a fine sunny summer Sunday. Imagine it on a cold February morning with a heavy bag over your shoulder and untreated frost and ice underfoot.
Then there’s the dogs. The cartoon postman being chased down a garden path by a vicious dog, letter’s flying from his bag and into the air behind him like oversized confetti while the owner looks on unconcerned. Kevin Boniface comes face to face with lots of dogs. And pensioners. And fake lawns with their cement ornaments. And geese and jackdaws and bikers and the man who wears waterproof clothing all the year round whatever the weather. Because Kevin Boniface is a postman. And an artist and a writer.
Kevin works his round out of the Huddersfield sorting office and when he gets home he writes a few lines about what he’s seen and heard. Round About Town covers seven years of such observations and together they form a picture of everyday Huddersfield life.
Life at pavement level. In and among the dog shit and the boy racers and Mr. Briggs in his Suzuki Carry and the drug dealers and the weary shop owners and workers stood at bus stops with Tescos ‘bags for life’ and people in black tracksuits with white piping, of which there seems to be a lot of in Huddersfield.
Over the course of these seven years and hundreds of observations a picture builds of the area, the countryside and the people who live in it. There is no linear narrative. Unless you count Mr. Briggs and his Suzuki Carry, the man who dresses in waterproof gear whatever the weather and various bored shop owners.
And he can name all the plants and the birds and notes when the buddleia is blooming and when the cotoneaster has been viscously pruned. He can be poetic, comparing a group of jackdaws pecking a field to forensic police officers combing for clues. Boniface has Alan Bennett’s knack of picking up dialogue too:
"On and up into Audi country: “Has anything changed since your last visit?” asks the dentist’s receptionist. “I’m drinking much more wine” says the woman in the quilted jacket."
Accompanying the text are monochrome photos as taken on his round. Which when coupled to the text highlight what a crap, gloomy and moody place Huddersfield can be. Pub signs abound; ‘What’s on … June 21st … Elvis’ and my favourite ‘Saturday 9.30 PM A Night With Daz!’ both quickly chalked on to weathered blackboards. Then there’s the fly-tipped sofas and wheelie bins, rotting garages and boarded up houses, misty moors and birds on telegraph wires. An image showing the impression left by a birds feet in thin melting snow is particularly poignant. Think Smokie covers bands, fake lawns, cement owls with solar panels that light up the eyes, the guy who paved over his paved garden and didn’t cement it in, Xmas parties advertised in May, the advertising board on wheels that says ‘MEGA CHEAP CHEESE IN FRIDGE’. The crushing mundanity, the boredom, the shitty-ness of it all, the unintended hypocrisy:
"The house that was built on the field where I used to race my BMX has a poster in the window: “SAY NO to greenfield development. SAVE OUR GREENBELT”.
"I pass a house with the tiny cluttered garden: children’s ride-on toys in faded plastic, dog shit and a fallen over gravestone: “Mum Gran Sadly Missed”.
Boniface’s skill is not only in documenting all this but for getting you to see the world in a new light, making you more aware of your surroundings. Since reading this book I’ve been taking more notice of my own streets and the people on them, making mental notes as to what they’re wearing, what they’re carrying, what they’re saying. Last week while in Scarborough I passed two men on the high street one of them telling the other in a loud booming voice how crap the special effects are in the new Terminator film and an hour later I passed the same two men at exactly the same spot, the same man still talking in his loud booming voice and I thought Boniface would love that.