1st Tuesday of the Month

8th August 2020











This thing happened.


The Leeds Liverpool Canal passes near where I live.

There has been a plan to build a new, huge estate.

Just on the other side of the canal.

For years now.

I think.

It feels like that.


Last year.

I think.

The last attempt to stop this development failed.

We sank our chins, knowing it was inevitable.

We knew it was wrong.

Knowing that it will irrevocably alter the place.

The wild geese that live in the fields will be displaced.

Moved on.

But to where, exactly?

Is ‘moved on’ a euphemism for ‘die’?




All through lockdown.

The tow path and these fields have been a lung of peace and hope for so many people.

Every day I see people, walk, stop and watch.

Watch the horses and cows and the geese and the swans and ducks and the heron.

Feed the ducks bread and pasties and whatever shit they have on them.

Don’t by the way.

It’s not good for them.

The ducks.

Bread isn’t good for them.

Duck junk food.

But they like it.

So maybe it doesn’t matter.

I don’t know.

But I do know that this place has mattered.

I have watched us all breathe alone-together-alone on this bit of land.

And it’s been good.

A good thing.


But it can’t last.

It won’t last.

For ages then, we have known that it’s all going to be gone.



Or maybe lockdown will mean it doesn’t happen at all.

We don’t know.

There’s no news.

The community communications and contact officer must have been furloughed.

There’s no news.

Though to be fair.

I don’t seem to know anything anymore.

I used to think I knew a lot about my own life at least.

Now I’m not so certain.

Lock down kicked that certainty away.


And yes.

I’m still in lockdown.

I’m writing this in Bradford.

We’re all back in full-fat lockdown.

Though no one is entirely sure anymore what lockdown means.

We all seem to make it up now as we go along.


Anyway, the thing, that happened.

About the fields?

About losing the fields.

I was saying we’ve known about this moment coming.

For ages.

But knowing something doesn’t mean we’ll ever be ready.

Does it?


Anyway, this thing happened.

A couple of weeks ago a sign went up, on the road that runs down to the canal and by the side of the field that we’re going to lose.

The sign said the road was going to be closed for essential electrical work.


Essential Electrical Work.


I knew, right there and then, that it was the start of the end for the fields.


I felt heartbroken and furious.

Those fucking new houses.

Of course they needed to do essential electrical work.

A euphemism for build our fucking stupid houses.

That’s what that sign meant.


What will happen to the toads and the geese and the swans and the ducks?

The horses were already gone.

Now I stopped to think about it.

I hadn’t seen the horses for weeks.



I was fucking angry.

Fucking angry.



I started to walk and take photos of the digging work that was starting on the road.

I thought.

This is what I can do.

I can witness the changes.

I can witness and draw and feel and put it down in ink and colour and words.

That’s how I can honour the fields and animals that are passing.

I thought.

This is how I can handle this grief.

My grief.



So, I began.

I began to walk and take photos and sketch when I got home.

I’d been doing this for a while.

First as a healing journal.

Drawing everyday as I recovered from my hysterectomy operation last year.

That morphed into the lockdown journal.

Drawing everyday documenting the journey through covid time.

Now, I thought.

Now, that lockdown was ending.

Because the road sign went up before we went back into lockdown.

Here in Bradford.

While I was beginning to dare to feel a bit more certain.

A bit more certain.

I thought.

I’ll just morph my journal into a journal about the end of an era.

I thought.


Sure enough.

As the work on the road ended.

The work digging up the field began.

I was right.

And I was heartbroken as I began to draw and


Then last week this thing happened.


Me and my wife were walking along, talking, doing our morning lockdown walk.

Janey and I walk on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays we run.

I remember things now by thinking

Did that happen on a run day or a walk day?

Even though we were coming out of lockdown at this point.

We were still not out of lockdown.

But we were in lockdown-lite.


So anyway, it was a walk day.

A Monday.

And this thing happened.


I looked across the canal to see a digger parked up in the ripped up land.

The earth torn.

On the field opposite me.

Across the canal.

The angle was interesting.

Above, the clouds were being all looming.

Just how Emily Bronte liked them.

All S and M, brooding and fucked up.

There were some trees next to the digger, looking magnificent but fragile.

I thought.

That’s an image I want to draw.

That I want to take.

That I want to witness.

That I want.

So, I stopped to take a photo.

For later.

To draw once back at home.

In silence.

Alone with my anger and pain.


But then, this thing happened.

This man, who was working in the team.

On the field.

The field that was being cut open.

He looked like he was leading the team.

The team that was ripping my field to pieces.

How do they sleep.

These guys.

This man.

He shouted over.


He said

Excuse me love, can I ask what you’re doing?


I shouted back.

I was nervous and scared and angry.


I shouted

I’m taking photos.


He shouted

Can I ask you what you’re taking those photos for?


At this point, Janey, my wife, who I was walking with, shouted

You can’t ask that.


He stepped a bit closer to us on the bank.


Him that side of the canal.

Us this side.


He shouted

It’s against the law. You can’t take those photos.


Janey, shouted

No, it’s not.


He shouted, louder

Yes it is. It’s against the law.


Janey shouted

No. That’s not right.  It’s not against the law to take photos if you’re taking photos in a public space. It’s just good practice to ask first.


As I heard her say that, I thought to myself

Oh. I never thought to ask


I was thinking that.

I never thought to ask.


While the man, the leader of the team of men, over on the other side of the canal stopped and looked at Janey for a moment


And then he said



Then there was a little pause.

No one said anything for a moment.


Then he added

Are you sure?


While that was going on, I was still thinking

I never stopped to think to ask them if they minded or not. Shit.


While I was thinking that.

Janey was shouting

Yes, I’m sure.  It’s not illegal to take photos in public spaces, it’s just best practice.


Oh shit.

Best practice.


Oh shit.

I thought


While the man was shouting

Oh. Right. I see.


We were both wrong.

The man and me.

Both of us.


There was another, longer pause.

Then the man came closer to the bank.

He was still shouting because he had to shout.

Because he was one side of the canal and we were on the towpath on the other side.

So yeah, he was still shouting.

But not quite like he was shouting before.

It was different.

We were all different now.


He said

It’s the lads. They’re worried about everyone stopping to take photos. They don’t want to end up on Facebook. You know what it’s like now. On Facebook.  How it gets. It was alright when we were doing the road, but as soon as we started in on the field, everyone’s stopping, angry, taking photos, having a go about the houses going up.


I shouted over

I’m not going to put anyone on facebook. I’m just taking photos so I can draw them at home later.


He looked at me.

Then he did a little dink of his head, like he was thinking.

Finally, he said



I shouted back

Yeah. I do drawings.  I’m really sad about the fields going. I thought it would help to do a journal. I keep a drawing journal.



He said



I said


We were all so close to our sides of the canal now.

We only needed to raise our voices a little bit.

To be heard.

Really it felt like we were just having a conversation.


He said

It will change the area a lot. The houses. The houses going up. It’s a shame.


I said

It will.  I feel really torn about it.  I don’t think it’s right but also, people need homes and my house used to be a field  before it was built too. So. Yeah. Dunno. Sad.



He said


There was another pause.


Then I said

It’s not right that people are shouting at you. I’m sorry about that.


He said

We didn’t used to get this. It’s all changed. We get it all the time now. Now we’ve got Facebook.


I said

Well, I promise I’m not going to be putting any pictures of your faces on Facebook.


He didn’t say anything, he just smiled.


Then I said.

It popped out.

A joke.

I was joking.

I said

I’ll come and show you one of my drawings when I’ve done it.


He smiled.

We smiled.

Janey and I went on our way.


Time passes.

This must have been a Wednesday.

Because it was a walk day.

And this conversation happened two days before Lockdown returned to Bradford.

So, it must have happened on the Wednesday.


But I was still thinking about it on the Friday.

I kept thinking about the joke.

That ending.

The bit I said at the end.

To the man.

I meant it as a joke.

I didn’t really mean that I’d take my drawings to show him.

It was just one of those things you say.

When you don’t know how to end a conversation.

A kind of jokey full stop.

A ‘ho ho ho’ thing, that people say.

Some people say.

I say.


The thing is though.

I’d said it.


And the thing is.

I’d never asked them if I could take their photos.


And the thing is

I’d never stopped to consider that these men.

Who were tearing up the land.

These men.

I’d never stopped to think about the fact that they were people.

Not really.

I’d just seen the high-viz and hardhats.

I’d not stopped.

To think.

All that rage I was drawing out onto my page.

That same rage might be pouring out of other’s people’s mouths.

At these men.

I never thought that these men would be getting abuse.

But that’s what we do with grief now, isn’t it?

That’s what we do with our grief in lockdown.

We rage and scream.


I was still thinking about that.

It was Friday.

It was definitely Friday.

I think.


And then this thing happened.


It was a Friday.

I know it was a Friday because it was a walk day.

And also it was the day we skype with Janey’s Mum and Dad.

And that’s a Friday.

So, I know it was a Friday.


That morning I got a rush of blood.

I took some of my drawings up to the canal to show to the man.


I’d hoped not to have to shout across the canal again.

But I couldn’t get the men’s attention.

I was over the bridge from him.

Next to the canal.

They were digging up the field further away.

They were a way off now from the gate.

They’d made good progress.

Good progress.

There was a huge cut into the land by now.

The geese were heads up, and huddled.

Looking around.

Trying to work out what the fuck was going on.


I whispered inside my head to them.

So that no one would know I was talking to the Geese.

I didn’t want anyone to think I’d gone mad.

But I said to the Geese, in secret

I’m sorry Geese, you have to move on.


They didn’t take any notice.


And I couldn’t get the attention of the men.


So, I went back onto the canal.

I shouted towards a man who was nearest.


I shouted

Excuse me.


He came towards the canal edge.

I recognised him.


Excuse me.

I said again

I think I spoke to you at the beginning of the week?


He smiled.


He said

Where’s your friend?


I thought.

I can’t cope with coming out to this man.

Not while I’m shouting at him across the canal.

To tell him I’ve come to show him my drawings.

Because I said I would.

As a joke.



I said

She’s at work.


He said

On a sunny day like today. That’s a shame.


I said



I said

I brought you the drawings that I said I’d do.


There was a pause, while I thought

Why the fuck did I do this?


He smiled.


He said

I can’t see them from here. You want to go and talk to Mike in the site office.


He didn’t say Mike.

That’s not the name he gave for his boss, in the site office.

But, I think its probably safer not to use Mike’s real names.

You know.

Because of Facebook.

So, it’s not Mike.

But from now on.

We’ll call him Mike.


I said



But as I was saying



I was thinking

Shit. What am I doing?


But here I was.

On a walk day.

On a Friday.

Doing this thing.

That was happening.


I found the site office.

I shouted through a porta cabin door

Excuse me, is anyone in here called Mike?


Mike came out.

Squinted at me.

You could see him have a sigh inside.

You could see him preparing himself to soak up some shit.

To soak up my shit.

He was assuming that was what I was here for.

You could see it in his neck and round his eyes.

Tired of all the bullshit.



He said

Yeah. I’m Mike.


He stepped towards me.


I immediately thought

Shit. I didn’t remember a mask.


I stepped back.


I said


I was just talking to Barry (Barry isn’t his real name) up at the canal. And he said to come and talk to you. You see, I’ve been taking photos to help me do some drawing.  But Barry was worried about me putting my photos on Facebook and


Mike interrupted me

Yeah, the lads have been getting a lot of. You know. They don’t want their faces on



I said


He said



I said

I know.  I’m not going to put their faces on facebook.  I’m just taking photos to do some drawing.  Of the changes that you’re making. You know. While you’re building the new estate.


Mike nodded.

Looked at the drawings.

Did one of those chin-dips that mean

Well, that’s not great. But to be fair, it’s not totally shit either.


I decided to take that as a positive.


I said.

There’s this artist in Keighley.


I couldn’t’ remember her name in the moment.

Since my hysterectomy names just seem to disappear sometimes.


Whole sentences.

Just go.

The artist’s name is Deborah Rehmat and she’s amazing.

Check her out here:


But I wasn’t saying that then.


I said

There’s this artist in Keighley. She did a drawing journal when they did renovation work at Cliffe Castle museum.  I was wondering if I could come on site maybe. While you’re working on building the new estate. And do some drawings, like she did?


While saying all of this, I was thinking

What the actual fuck are you saying? What the fuck! This wasn’t part of the plan. Are you fucking mad? You’re not Deborah Rehmat. What. The. Actual.


Mike said

While we’re building the estate?


I said

Yeah. Like a journal? But with drawings?


I thought to myself. He’ll think I’m a cunt. Especially as I was nervous, so did an involuntary Australian uplift thing, at the end of my sentences, which made it even more cunty. I watched too many episodes of Neighbours and Home and Away as a teenager.


Mike just looked at me.


I said

Maybe? (ANOTHER Australian uplift. FUUUUCK)


Mike shook his head. Then said.

We’re not here to build the new housing estate.


I said

Sorry? (Another uplift. Fuck, fuck fuck. Cunt cunt cunt)


He said

Everyone is shouting at us, about building the housing estate. But we’ve got nothing to do with it. We’re just replacing some electric cables that are dangerous. You know the over head ones. That go over the field? They’re degrading. So we’re putting in new lines and burying them underground.


I think my jaw might have dropped.


I think I also said

Oh. So?  But. You’re not building the housing estate?


Mike shook his head.


Mike said.

We’re replacing the electric cables. We’re doing it all over the area. We were up near Skipton a few weeks ago.



I said.


While I thought



But I didn’t say that.


I said

So you don’t know who’s building the housing estate?


He said



There was a long pause.


Mike smiled now.


He said

Look, you want to talk to Dom (not his real name). He’s in charge of everything on site. He’s just off getting a sarnie at the moment, but he’ll be back soon. You’ll know him cos he drives an Audi (not the real make of Dom’s car)


I said



I thought

I wish I’d never, ever started on with this fucking stupid idea, but I’ll have to do it now, because Mike is watching from his portacabin, so I can’t run away and


Which is how this thing happens.

There I am.

Waiting for Dom.

With my drawings.

That were meant to be part of my journal.

About the end of an era on the greenfields below Michlethwaite.

But which were inadvertently about the laying of some new electrical cables.

There I was.

Waiting for Dom to come back with his lunch.

So I could show him my fucking drawings.


I saw the Audi pull in.


And that’s when I thought

Fuck it. In for a penny in for a pound


I said

Hi, are you Dom?


Dom looked at me like he was expecting me to give him an ear full about something.

You could see it in his eyes

And the tightening lines around his mouth.


He said



I said

Hello, I’m Emma (that’s my real name) and I’ve been taking photos


Dom shook his head

The lad’s don’t like that.


I said

I know. They don’t want to end up on Facebook


He said

Well, it’s gone nuts now facebook, hasn’t it?


I said

I have an account, but I don’t really use it anymore. I don’t like it.


He said

Oh. Right.


I said

I’ve been taking photos, so I can do drawings, of the process of you working, you know? I wanted to document the changes in the area, as the housing estate goes up.


Dom said

You see, that’s the problem. We’ve nothing to do with that and


I quickly nipped in and said

I know. Mike just explained.


Dom said

The lads just get shouted at.


I said

I know Barry and Mike told me about that. It’s not right. I’m sorry.


Dom said

People getting angry with the wrong people. We’re just trying to do our job.


I said

I know.


He said

I won’t lie to you.  It might be that they’ve put us on this job, so that they can hurry that estate build along. Maybe. Maybe. But we don’t get to hear about that. We don’t even work for that company.


I said



Dom said

People just assume.


I said

It’s because they’re upset.  We’re upset. People round here. We’re sad.


Dom nodded.


He said

It’s a shame.


I said



He smiled.


I said

Is there an address? To write to? You know? For the company that’s going to build the estate?  So I can send my pictures to them? So they’ll know I’m really doing drawings and not putting people’s faces on Facebook. And then maybe, if they know I’m for real they’d let me on site and I could document the process?


He looked puzzled.


I’d forgotten I hadn’t even mentioned the drawings to Dom yet.


I thought



I said

I’ve been doing drawings you see.


He said

Let’s have a look then.


I showed him.

He did that lip-pinch combined with a short nod that suggests he thought they were OK but probably not what a grown woman should be wasting her time on.


I decided to take that as a positive.


He said

I’ve got a newsletter, it’s got an address on it.  You could try writing to them?


And as he gave me the newsletter, he smiled.


And as I walked home, I smiled too.

And that smile was real.

But then it dropped.

Kind of fell.

As I started thinking.

And then feeling overwhelmed.

How much of this culture of cancelling and fury is Facebook, Twitter and Instagram?

And how much of it is it just me and you?


I think it’s more me and you than we’d like to think.

How will we ever find a way back?

How do we find ways to disagree, while still seeing the people we’re disagreeing with?

How do we find ways to build homes and still protect wildlife?

How do we look life fully in the face and learn to respond not react?

I thought about the abuse Barry, Mike and Dom have been getting.

How do we build a world that can help us all be the best of ourselves?


I thought that jumble of thoughts.

And I haven’t got a clue how to answer any of them.

And they all need an answer.


But then Later.

I remembered something.


The last thing I said to Barry.

On the first day I met him.

Right after I said

I’ll bring a drawing up to show you.


The last thing I said was

Look after the hedgehogs on that field!


I must have been thinking

I’m sure I was.

I was thinking about how it had just come out.

On that Thursday.

Must have been a Thursday.

Because Janey told me about it as we were running.

So, it was a running day.


She told me that Hedgehogs had been put on the red list.

The endangered list.


She said

They’re in trouble Em.


So that was on my mind.

It must have been on my mind.

When I smiled at Barry

And shouted across that Canal

Yeah! Put some holes in the fences for the hedgehogs, please.


He laughed


Then he shouted back

We could build a Hedgehog Highway!


He must have thought it wasn’t worth trying to explain it to me then.

At that point.

He must have known I didn’t understand.

Must have thought

Let it go.

That it wasn’t worth trying to explain that he wasn’t even building the damn houses.

I expect he was just glad.

Glad that I didn’t want to shout at him.

Or put him or the other lads on Facebook.

He was probably just shouting

We could build a Hedgehog Highway!

He was probably just shouting that to me as a joke.

As something to say at the end of a conversation.

When you don’t know how to end it comfortably.

So you add in one of those ‘ho ho ho’ moments.


But I keep wondering.

If I could have said something as a joke.

And then thought about acting on it, later.

Because of a conversation I had with a stranger.

Maybe Barry might too.














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