Suburbia0572

Suburbia

The suburbs considered collectively, typically treated as if a distinct community or country with its own characteristic traits, mores, or way of life, esp. (depreciatively) characterized by a dull ordinariness and monotonous conformity; the inhabitants of the suburbs, or their way of life.

Cat watching cars72

Scenes of life – Week 003

My breath catches in my throat, trapped within my lungs. I look back at the fox, their ginger fur set alight. We stare at one another us, neither of us moving. In the quiet of the morning, neither of us expected the other’s presence. Footsteps muffled by the mist, echoes trapped in the air, we have both believed this place to be ours and ours alone.

Morning light amongst the trees72

Scenes of life – Week 002

A car caught the sinking sunlight, the reflected glint blinding me. White spots flickered behind my closed eyelids. When I opened them again, their was one more balloon over the shopping centre, its figure small and distant.

Crossroads72

Scenes of life – Week 001

Back upstairs, I automatically spray my hands with sanitiser. I watch the motions of my fingers woven together, sliding along my palms and over my wrists. I am unable to understand how I feel. C.’s words finally reach my brain. So, we have come to the conclusion that we need to have a redundancy of one.

Self-Portrait-with-mask72

#LockdownDiary – One of many – The Last Entry

I was paralysed, crippled by doubts and fears, unable to read, to write or focus on anything that was not a manual task. I remained afloat, my legs kicking frantically under water, my body unnaturally still above the water line until I gave in.

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 109

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 109

Day 109

Through the paths of the nature reserve, I walk alongside my friend and colleague. She is moaning about work, venting about all her woes about customers, management, and whatever else that is not right. I remember the first time I walked with her to work when lockdown restrictions where beginning to ease. I felt disconnected then, incapable of connecting to what she was saying. I wanting to talk about other things, about our life, about anxiety, about what had happened since we last saw each other on the 23rd of March. Our lives had been vastly different during those hard lockdown months. I had been free to use my time for me while she had been working from home, so it was only logical that she had plenty to say about this.

But today, I do not feel this disconnection. Work is still distant, something I used to do, something I will have to do again, but I feel closer to it. And as G. is ranting to me, I feel a connection to this long ago world. I remember the pressure of summer days when there was more work to do than employees to deal with it, when to-do lists could never be completed, and when the non-absolute essential tasks to the business were forgotten and relegated to the distant future days of winter.

By sharing our old rants, I feel a part of something, of a world starting again. As we reach the warehouse were our offices are, my manager wheels past on her bike, a grey figure clad in lycra blurring around the corner. She gets off her bike and wave at me from a distance.

‘Hey! I like your hair,’ she exclaims.

‘Oh yeah,’ I reply forgetting that nobody but G. at work has witnessed my new hairstyle. ‘Thanks.’

‘How are you doing,’ she asks concern in her voice. She is one of the few people at work I have shared my anxiety with.

‘Better,’ I reply honestly. I do not want to dive deeper into how better is still not good. Not on a parking lot.

‘Hey!’ I raise my head to see two of my other colleagues popping their heads out of the office window on the first floor.

‘Hey,’ I wave and beam at them, the sight of them lifting my heart. I am flooded with memories of banter, jokes, and eagerness as I see them.

‘Not too bored yet,’ one of them ask.

‘Not at all. I’ve got so many things on the go!’

‘Hey there.’

I turn around to see yet another colleague walking out of the warehouse to greet me.

‘How are things?’

‘Yeah, good,’ I reply again. ‘Though I’m sure I’ve forgotten everything about how to do my job,’ I laugh.

‘I know, paperwork is a nightmare, I can’t remember anything.’

We laugh, carry on talking for a while. My body is vibrating with motion, wanting to go forward, into the belly of the warehouse and let the dark blue shutter close behind me, swallowed in a world I didn’t think I missed. But I stay rooted to the spot, at the edge of the parking lot.

Eventually we all wave goodbye, smiles on our faces, and I walk away, back home. I do not turn my head as I step away, not until I have turned a corner and I can only see one side of the building, one where there are no windows or doors for anyone to see me.

I am smiling, aching to step inside still. This is not the work that I miss. This, I know is a nightmare at the moment, too much pressure applied on the too few people that have been brought back. I miss the people, my colleagues and friends that I have not seen in so long. I miss the banter and the laughs. I miss the rituals of phrases said a hundred times over, of complaining about my computer, and the silence of the first cup of tea of the morning. I miss moaning about customers, making fun of them to release the tension, and sharing a packet of biscuits or a box of chocolate to make it all better.

My eyes water with tears as I disappear into a side street that is leading me further away from my colleagues and closer to the four walls of my home. I wipe my eyes, feeling silly for the rising tears, and grab the camera out of my bag. There are no shots I want to take here, but it helps shifts my attention away from the people I miss. I still have some way to go before I am allowed back behind those dark blue shutters. Until then, time is mine to shape as I will, and for now, I want to take some pinhole photographs.

Day 10872

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 108

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 108

Day 108

‘What about this colour,’ my partner asks.

‘I’m not sure,’ I reply unconvinced by the variation of white she shows me. ‘It just reminds me of those ugly pale colours in some schools and hospitals,’ I hasten to add as I notice my partner exasperated expression.

We have been talking about painting the walls of our home since we moved in back in September, but so far we have not been able to agree on colours.

‘What walls are we even going to paint?’

‘It depends,’ my partner answers. ‘It’s either we paint this one or those three others.’

I scan the living room, my eyes slowly taking in all the walls and corners. ‘Yeah, I see what you mean.’ We have designed the living room in a way that two of the corners accommodate some of our furniture, the sharp angle of the walls broken by the diagonal of a chair and a television.

‘So just the one wall,’ my partner ask.

‘I think so.’

We stare the wall where the dining table is. Next to it, a bookcase filled with books and paraphernalia stand tall, almost reaching the ceiling. Next to it, an old poster of a painting is framed, half hidden by a tall green plant I have taken to name George. The wall disappears quickly after that, hidden under the slants of the stairs.

‘Remember, we’re going to put Paris there,’ I say pointing to the empty white wall above the table.

‘Oh yeah. I’d forgotten. What colours is it again. Blue, isn’t it?’

‘Yes. Blue and brown,’ I add. I google the painting of shepherd Paris by Van Dyck and show it to my partner.

She nods. Our gaze alternate between the wall and the samples of paint on the coffee table. ‘This one,’ I say, my fingers edging towards one of the pale blue.

‘Blue?’

‘I don’t know.’

I stare at the wall for a while longer, a sea of white. I am both daunted and excited about the idea of painting walls. This is the first house where this has been a choice. I am used to living between white walls. I don’t think about them. They are a fact of life.

‘This one,’ my partner points to a deep blue tinged with green.

‘Yeah, possibly.’

We highlight the name. ‘What about the other rooms?’

‘Let’s have a look at the prints we have for the stairs.’

We make our way to the study where I unearth the prints that have been hidden from the sun for months.

I lay them on the sofa bed, imagining them on the wall of the stairs as I go up and down everyday. My phone rings as I point to a colour. It is nearly time for Analogue Television and this week, I would like to see it live rather than on catch-up.

‘Can we leave that room until tomorrow? I’d like to watch my thing.’

‘Sure,’ my partner replies. I turn my laptop on, head over YouTube, and open the relevant live video. The countdown is ticking along, leaving me just enough time to make a cup of tea.

Day 10572

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 105

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 105

Day 105

Which area of Bristol are you? The text come shortly before lunch.

I reply quickly to the stranger’s message. We have been chatting on and off following an advert I put on Freecycle.org for old film cameras. I am unsure why I put this advert out. The last thing I need is more film cameras, but I am curious to know how many are lying around in attics and boxes, unused.

I’m going to Selco by F. I’ll be there about 12/12.30pm, any good for you?’.

I double check I have the correct Selco and we have a plan. I leave my laptop alone, grab a pannier from the recess under the stairs and hop on my bicycle. Twenty minutes later I am standing in a car park filled with van, a stranger handing me a couple of camera with bags and straps included.

‘Thank you very much,’ I tell him as he hands me the last piece of analogue photography equipment he located in his house for me.

‘It’s okay. I have no use for those anymore,’ he replies brandishing his phone to me. ‘It’s so easy nowadays. You can just snap.’

‘Absolutely,’ I agree. I add nothing more, not wanting to go into the whys I am shooting film as well as digital now.

‘Where are you from,’ the man ask as the conversation dies down. ‘You’ve got a bit of an accent.’

‘I’m originally from France,’ I answer lazily wondering if I’ll ever be able to have a conversation with an older man without being asked this very question.

‘I would have never said. I’ve got a neighbour that’s just moved in. She’s French and married to a guy from New Zealand.’

‘Well, I’ve been here for ten years,’ I add, the words coming out automatically.

‘I use to live in Germany years ago. My German was spot on then but I still had a bit of accent, you know. But people could never guess I was from England.’

‘What did you do in Germany,’ I ask curious about his time living abroad.

‘Oh a bit of everything. I was in construction for a while, but I also worked in a pub. That was years ago though. I met all sorts of people there,’ he adds. ‘There was this one guy on a construction side, Fritz we called him.’

I listen to his story with attention, his eyes bright with memories of those bygone days. I wonder how much has been transformed in his mind from time and the version of the stories he has no doubt repeated to many people. As he talks, his feet inch closer to me. I inch back, trying to keep a distance between us. Her is not threatening, just trying to bridge the strange gap between two people chatting.

‘This one day, the manager came round and said to me and my mates ‘I don’t need you for the next week. You can go.’ And then he pointed to Fritz and told him he needed him. But he was having none of that because you see, he had taken us under his wings.’ He pauses and smiles, no doubt remember the moment it happened. ‘And Fritz said ’No. If you’re not needing them, then you’re not needing me. It’s all of us and none of us.’ And he just walked out with us. Just like that.’

I nod and the man carries on. ‘He didn’t have to do that, but he was like that Fritz. We were used to being in and out of work. It was just like that with construction, you know.’

‘Did you stay there long,’ I enquire, my interest picked in his memories.

‘Oh about seven years. I saw all sorts of things in that time. But Germany wasn’t for me.’

‘Why not?’ I remember my brief holiday from a year ago in Berlin and Leipzig rather fondly. But then it was a holiday and as most holiday, I only got to see a rosy snapshot of a place.

‘You know, there’s still a lot of,’ his voice comes to a stop as he raises his right arm and mimic a Hitler like moustache with his left fingers. As quickly as the gesture appears, it is gone. ‘There were nice people too, mind.’ Without a pause, he launches into another anecdote, this time from working in a pub.

I listen half mindedly, bothered by his use of the present tense while he hasn’t visited Germany for a very long time. We are still dancing with our steps, back and forth his body moves closer and mine further away. I wonder how many people are not adapting their behaviour to social distancing out of habit, the virus slipping from their mind. Or maybe I am too overcautious, my anxiety diminished but still present?

‘Anyway,’ he breathes out. ‘That’s enough of my stories. I hope you enjoy the cameras.’

‘I sure will,’ I answer smiling. ‘And I’ll send you the photos if I find any rolls in the camera.’

‘That’d be great!’.

We remain standing awkwardly for a second, each of our arm twitching for a hand shake to terminate the conversation. But we do nothing. Instead, I thank him again, stuff the cameras in my backpack and hop on my bicycle.

I wave one last time as I exit the car park and disappear into a side road that will lead me to quiet spaces. Turning the pedals, I realise I have not feared getting on my bicycle once today. What would have been an inconceivable journey a few weeks ago, has become matter of fact. I smile at the thought, my arms extending wide, catching the wind under the palms of my hands. My legs turn and turn, my body balancing the bike, I glide on the strangely smooth asphalt of this little used road.

At a corner, I grab the handlebars once more, turn into a different street, my mind mapping my local area to extend the journey home as much as possible.

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 104

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 104

Day 104

‘So paper doesn’t have a fix ISO and it is sensitive to blue and UV light, not the whole spectrum,’ I mumble to myself as I write notes from a YouTube video I’m watching.

Over the last few days, I have grown increasingly curious about shooting on photographic paper instead of on film. I have no intention to stop shooting film, but I like the idea of shooting an image in camera, developing it, drying it, and hanging it on a wall without any further steps. With direct positive paper, it turns out I can do just that.

‘There’s less latitude too and more contrast,’ I add to my notes.

The video over, I glance back at my notes, scanning through what I have just learned. It is a complicated process if you listen to the Internet but I am convinced it doesn’t have to be as technical as this in practice.

My fingers hover over the keyboard of my laptop, itching to type in the web address my mind is whispering to them. Do I really need to get more photographic paper and explore yet another area of analogue photography?

I look around me in the study. To my left, on top of the film scanner, a small pack of photographic paper rest in a dark plastic bag hidden from sight by the cardboard packaging. The dark bag is mostly empty by now, the paper remaining inside cut up in all sort of varying sizes. I have used it a lot during lockdown to learn about solargraphy and lumen prints. To my right, there is a row of black empty film canisters, waiting for me to turn them into pinhole cameras. Behind me, under the sofa bed, an arsenal of darkroom tools is stacked up hidden from sight, ready to be pulled out when I need to develop film or attempt to contact print some film onto paper.

At the edge of the sofa bed, a storage unit is weight down by old cameras, random photographic equipment found and bought, and a plethora of paper, books, microphones, cassettes, magazines, and a box of administrative paper. Do I really need to add one more thing to this room?

I return my attention to the laptop screen. My fingers lower onto the keyboard and I begin to type Ilford’s web address. Within minutes, I have a selection of photographic paper put aside in my basket. I do not intend to buy them all, but they are all contender, I will return to later for a final decision.

I close the laptop before I begin another search on photographic paper and look out of the window. The sky is grey, clouds hanging low above my neighbourhood. The bright blue sky of the early days of lockdown are gone. I remember the rush of these days, the fear, the growing anxiety, but also the outpouring of creativity that kept me afloat. I have tried and learned so much thanks to the time that I have been granted. It is a double edge sword this lockdown, paralysing and freeing all at once. A blessing and a curse. A reflection of my privileged life too.

We are almost mid-July now, almost 120 days of being housebound and not working. It is more than a quarter of the year. Gone. I still do not know when I will return to work. My guess is August but I am not sure, my employer refusing to enter this conversation. I try to picture my life with work in it, but it is too distant a memory now and a part of me doesn’t want to think about it. How will I be able to create and experiment when my time will be eaten up by work again? I know my focus will slip, my time becoming compartmentalised, regimented. Preparation and planning will become key to my free time once more, the easy flowing rhythm of time constricted again, a watch by my side to remind me of its passing.

But this is for the future, I remind myself. For now, I am home, not working, and free to let my mind and creativity roam where it will. I leave the study for now and join my partner in the living room, a decision on photographic paper can wait another day.

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 102

#LockdownDiary – One of many – Day 102

Day 102

‘We don’t have any nuts,’ I shout through the door of the kitchen.

‘And,’ my partner question from the first floor.

‘I said there would be nuts. And cake!’

‘Well, we have almonds.’

‘I think I’ll roast them.’

‘Okay.’

I turn to my phone and Google gluten-free chocolate cake recipes. Too many are far too complicated but I end up finding one that is easy to follow. For the next hour, the kitchen turns into a mess of flour, dirty pots, and stirring utensils. The sink is piled high with dishes, my face red from the exercise and hot oven by my legs, and the counter is covered in chalky white flour, twigs of rosemary, and lines of chocolate goo.

‘Okay,’ I say to no one at all. I take a deep breath and check the clock. I have a good half hour before my friends arrive. I wipe my hands on my trousers and set out to clean the kitchen. First I wipe all the surfaces, the wood slowly being revealed once more. Crumbs fall to the floor but I don’t mind them for now. Next, I set out to do the dishes, getting the awkward big pots out of the way so I can access the smaller ones. Soap and dish brush in hand, I scrub until everything is sparkly clean and drying on the mat by the sink. I grab the broom and sweep the crumbs, dust, and dirt away into a corner of the kitchen. It can be hoovered later.

The clock tells me I still have about ten minutes before my friends are due to arrive. I run up the stairs, taking them two at a times, and swerve into the bedroom. I change my dirty clothes for clean ones and look at myself in the mirror. My haircut is still wonky from the day before, my hair not having had enough time to grow to hide the mistakes I made. I am trying to create a gradient of length at the side of my head but with only a pair of scissors to help, I have missed the mark more than once. I don’t care. Cutting my own hair and experimenting with it, is still very fun.

I look past my reflection, my gaze lost into the memory of another reflection. I was eleven then, maybe twelve, waiting for a friend to ring the doorbell of my home. My fist clenched and unclenched at regular intervals, trying to get rid of the excess worry mounting in me. I never let people in my home. This was my sanctuary, the place where all of me was revealed, and I was about to let this friend see it. I trusted her. She was one of my closest friend at school and I knew she wouldn’t make fun of the posters on my wall, of the duvet cover on my bed, of the toys laying around the shelves above my desk. Still, I couldn’t help be afraid. I was letting her in my sanctuary.

The doorbell rang, my friend entered my house. I showed her around awkwardly, trying to avoid my little brother. After the tour, we retreated to my bedroom. My friend looked around, taking in her surroundings. She said nothing about the room. Instead she walked to the CD player and put the radio on before settling on the floor cross-legged.

‘So, this assignment. Do you have the tape for it?’

‘Yes,’ I immediately replied, beaming. ‘Here it is. I thought we could use the washing machine for the noise of the alien ship?’

‘Oh that’s a great idea!’

And like that, I forgot she was in my sanctuary. We were busy planning our art assignment for the class we almost always paired up in. She allowed me to be creative, offering space for my ideas as well as hers. I didn’t have to compromise and shy away, I could have my own thoughts.

The reflection in the mirror reappears. I am thirty again. My fists don’t clench and unclench at the thought of friends entering my home any longer, but I am still nervous. I still do not allow many people inside my home. It is still my sanctuary, a place I retreat to and that keeps me safe.

‘There’s not even coming in,’ I mutter. We are meeting in the garden and yet, I have dusted every surface, polished the wooden tables, and hovered the floor and upholstery to death. At least the house is super clean for us, I think.

I leave the mirror and head back to the kitchen. I check on the cakes and nuts I put to roast. They are both ready. I pull them out of the oven, turn it off, and leave them to cool. I return up the stairs to tidy a few bits in the bedroom.

A knock on the door echo through the house. I tumble down the stairs to open the front door to my friends. They are standing two metres back from it, smiling.

‘I’ll open the garden door,’ I say excited to see them.

I close the door and rush on the other side of the house to open the garden door. I step back, allowing space for my friends to come in. My partner gets out of the house and join us. We all greet each other and for a while I babble too much. We decide on drinks. My partner disappears to make gin and tonics and I carry on chatting with my friends. When my partner emerges with glass filled with the cool cocktail, I step inside to bring the various nibbles I have prepared.

As I sit, my friends disappear one at a time into the kitchen to wash their hands. They tread the carpet with their shoes, something I have never liked, but I say nothing. I am too happy to see them here, in my garden. I feel strangely proud of myself for receiving people that are not my family in my very own garden.

We drink, eat, and chat, our chairs pushed back further than they would have been a year ago. The sun is playing hide and seek with the clouds but it is warm enough not to have to retreat inside. We joke and laugh, sharing stories of lockdown, moments that made us smile and occasionally moments that made us despair, sad, and anxious. They are still happening but we are all adapting, doing okay. In this moment, we can forget about all the things that are not okay. I refill my friends glass, switching gin and tonic for white wine. I disappear into the kitchen for a few minutes, emerging with the chocolate cake on a tray, candles blown by the wind on top of it. I offer to light them again but we all decline, thinking that actually, she wouldn’t be able to blow the candles. We cut slices, pour cream and warm berries over the still warm chocolate, and devour our treat.

It is the first birthday cake I have baked during lockdown that the beneficiary has been able to enjoy. I cast a side glance at my friend whose birthday it was a few days ago. She seems to be enjoying herself. I miss spending time with her, moaning about work, watching films with her and her husband, discussing the films and digressing into philosophy and life’s big questions. But right here, right now, I forget about all those things I have missed. My friends are here.

The air is cooling quickly. I can see my friend pulling her cardigan closer to her body. My own skin feels cold, the hair on my legs raised to keep me warm. It doesn’t work. We say our goodbyes, my friend have a tajine on the go at home they need to eat. I close the garden door behind them. A few feet from me, empty glasses lay on the garden table. Patterns of cream and chocolate crumbs decorate the plates, forks resting by their side. The cake is half eaten, the bottle of wine almost empty. I smile and slowly carry each item back to the kitchen, my body relishing the warmth of the house. I pour myself one last glass of wine and settle on the sofa, the garden table in my line of sight.