Saturday, 21 February 2009

Street writings

I have a piece in this week’s New Statesman about the archaeology of the contemporary past which you can read at As part of the research for this article, I walked round my neighbourhood picking up street debris, and discovered a surprising amount of writing discarded and neglected on our pavements. Some of these works are as gnomic as imagist poems; others are as gripping as mini-novels. Here is a sample of what I found on scraps of paper:

‘A Passage to India: A Journey to Authentic Indian Cuisine. Tikka Dishes will have £1.00 surcharge.’

‘Do dodgy electrics get you in a nark? Then ring your local bright “spark”!! No job too small. All electrical work including alarms. Available evenings and weekends 7 days a week! Call Michael on -----. Anytime!!!’

‘Year 10 and 11. Please could Mrs Hornby see all girls that are interested in attending a Dance Leaders Award at Childwall College during half term. Meeting at break time today in the Dance Studio. Please do not be late. Thank you.’

‘Please could I have 2 extra pints and 2 bread. Thank you.’

‘Dear Parents/Carers, Next week, Thursday 12th February, we are having an own clothes day to raise money for school fund. Children may come to school in their home clothes for a donation of 50p. Kind regards, Lisa -------, Deputy Head.’

‘Home Bargains. Tunnocks Caramel Wafers 4pk 0.59. Total to pay 0.59. Cash tender 1.00. Change due 0.41. Please retain your receipt. You will need it in case of product exchange, refund or warranty claim.’

‘Village Satellite Cars. Your nearest not dearest. Fed up with your usual taxi service? Paying over the odds? Waiting to long? [sic] Drivers grumpy? Want a lady driver? Or do you just want a change. Village taxis!’

Written on one side of A4 paper along with lots of street names: ‘Mass marketing gloss leaflets: 10,000, £155. A7 flyers: 10,000, £135.’ I hope this is the price for producing the flyers, not someone’s fee for sticking them through letterboxes. That really would be slave labour.

‘The Star 0.20. Football Cake 5.47. Total 5.67. Cash 6.00. Change due 0.33. Sign up for Clubcard. You could have earned 5 Clubcard points in this transaction. Tesco: Every Little Helps.’

On a piece of laminated card: ‘Certificate of Achievement. Oliver ------- has earned this certificate for Excellent work in Spanish. All Star Student. Trabajo Excelente !!!!!!!!! Senora Volante, 9th February 2009, Mrs Volante’s Spanish Club.’

On the related theme of tantalisingly incomplete pieces of writing, the poet Simon Armitage has a column in the Observer Music Monthly in which he recounts his attempts to spend exactly £33.33* on old vinyl records. I liked this description of the writing on one second-hand record:

“My final purchase is Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy, mainly for the handwriting on the back, saying that the album was once the possession of one Malcolm Dunn of Yeovil. Inside, a sadder note: 'Mandy 4 Malc', it says, but with Mandy's name semi-obliterated with blue ink. I search the net: are you Malcolm Dunn, webmaster of the Mill Church organisation, Somerset, or are you the Malcolm Dunn that came 570th in the 2003 Beachy Head marathon in a modest five hours and 44 minutes? In my head I hear the voice of Simon Bates and the music to 'Our Tune'. I feel that Malcolm must be found, that the Malcolm and Mandy situation needs closure, and that Malcolm must once again allow himself the pleasures of the mighty Zep. Malcolm, are you out there?”

*If you don’t know the reason for this precise sum, you are clearly an unredeemable member of the iPod generation. Off with you, you young whippersnapper.

1 comment:

  1. I once tried to cross a busy road junction with the first 15 mins of a play I had just penciled tucked under one arm and a small child clamped in each hand. The children broke free and ran in front of on coming traffic and my papers blew down the road the opposite way.
    I had to make a decision.
    You would have had a field day.