Dick Dudley on Durley Road
Dick shuts the front door behind him, softly. It’s 7 am on this brisk spring morning and the old man is off to get the morning paper. His beloved wife of 63 years is still fast asleep in their rickety terraced house on the outskirts of the (now classed as trendy) East London Borough of Hackney. Having lived a full life in this humble home since the mid-50s, the place is as much a relic of the old times as Beatrice and Dick are – couple and home slowly decaying into a beautiful symbiosis of stupendous stupor. With only essential works being done on the house and its interior for decades of no end, it has acquired a particular smell that is unshakeably Beatrice and Dick. Captured and held onto by the hardened wallpaper and trod-on carpet.
Beatrice keeps the place in check the best she can, and their cleaner frequents the house once a fortnight, but with pensions drying up and too much time behind them, it’s only a thin lacquer of grime that she manages to spruce away. The underbelly of dirt is as stuck to the place as they are. The ecosystem of 22 Durley Road is the wet part of a social science student’s dream, as it remains perfectly insular since its inception all those years ago.
Dick shuffles along the concrete path that runs through his preened and proper front garden, taking note of the dewy rose petals, heavy from a thick with humidity night. He reaches the garden gate. It’s only a small gate. Barely one metre in height, but it’s an effort for old Dick to open. With a little jiggle and jive, he opens, steps through, and re-secures the gate, making out for the corner store at the bottom of his road. Breathing in the youthful morning air in the same fruitful way he has always done. “A small reminder toward enthusiasm”, he thinks.
Dick’s attire is of a lost generation. With tweed jacket, slim-fitting cardigan, navy slacks, old London-made shoes, and a newsboy cap, he is dressed as if his self-respect is forever lasting, which it is. Walking down Durley Road with pride in his heart, Dick’s in his element at this hour of the morning. Before the madness of the modern world has taken over his neighbourhood and his street. He keeps an excited eye out for the local skulk of foxes who can often be seen chancing their luck at the break of dawn. With a distinct lack of human-enforced sound, his ears are also pricked to the glorious morning gift of bird song. This very instant, he senses a murmuration of starlings, wistfully woosh and weave their ways right overhead, destined for Victoria Park’s worm-riddled grounds. They fly with an eager tone that Dick makes sure to study. With squinting eyes, his gaze is affixed to the birds right up until they morph into a distant ball of moving energy. He is enthralled by this most pleasurable of moments, glancing from side to side in the hope to see a familiar face to share in his excitement.
Unfortunately for Dick, the street is all but deserted, so his excitement and gentle smiles are kept to himself. After another five or so minutes of this slow-paced paper scout, making sure not to trip himself up on the bulging and slumped pavement, he reaches the corner store. “Ahh, Good morning, Mr Dudley, nice to see you, how are you this morning”? Mr Singh asks Dick as he enters his shop. Dick takes a few more steps inside, making his way over to the newsstand. “Very well Mr Singh, thank you. It’s looking to be a remarkable day out there today, I do say”. “Yes, it certainly is, hopefully it’s a sign of another good summer to come” Mr Singh replies. “Yes indeed, but it’s too early to tell just yet. In a couple of months, we’ll know”. Dick casually replies as he hands over the 70p for the Guardian; his paper of choice since he can remember. He does however remember it costing a hell of a lot less back when he started buying it. The two men exchange money for print without a word about it, just as they always did, each and every day since Mr Singh took over the shop some 20 odd years ago. And just as they will continue to do until Dick can’t no more. “Thank you, Mr Dudley, enjoy your day now won’t you”. “Same to you Mr Singh, same to you” Dick replies as he turns to leave the shop with a slight nod of the head.
With his key to the world tucked calmly under his arm, Dick begins the amble back home. Again, the street is remarkably sparse, without a single person to greet. This surprises Dick, as it’s quite typical to see a family or two anxiously bustling into their cars and zooming off to work and school and all sorts of young idea riffraff. Just as he paid particular attention to the starlings, he enjoys seeing this enthusiasm each morning. However, for whatever reason, today is not one of those days, and he’s now back at his front garden with just the simple pleasantries of Mr Singh, and he’s okay with that.
After Dick’s wretched iron gate has mocked his wearisome limbs once more, after he has walked past the still heavy with night’s perspiration rose bush and after he has fiddled with the key and opened his front door, he shuts it again with the same quiet tone as when he left. He heads straight for the filter coffee maker to flick its switch onto his world of caffeinated light and love. He then cuts himself a decent chunk of sourdough straight off the loaf. One of the plus sides to the hipsterfied gentrification of Hackney Borough is the quality of bread has gone A-wall. Dick runs a tight ship where his and Beatrice’s accounts are concerned, but if there’s one thing he’s happy to shell out for, it’s bread. He pops his perfectly proved, light and crusty delight into the brown-stained toaster. The slice needs a bit of convincing to set it properly into the old-style slim and sleek design. “A bit like the gate in its stubbornness,” he thinks.
Dick stares with a rare intent at the coffee slowly making its way through the filter and dripping to collect in the pot. With the gurgles of the pipe spurting and spittering the last drops of boiled water up its spout, the process is officially complete. Dick remembers his mother always saying, “listen here Dick, now listen good you hear me, stop watching that bloody pot. It won’t boil any faster if you keep staring at it like that”. But ever since he was a kid, Dick has always taken comfort in the boiled pot, its process, his process. So, he took his mother’s words from childhood and made a mental note to repel against them, watching as many pots as he possibly could. His mother, bless her soul, could never understand the satisfaction in the exact second of mastery when the pot breaks free and begins to boil. It’s the same with his coffee machine, he appreciates that he’s the first person in the world each morning to see its first. Again, symbiosis of home and heart is rife in number 22.
Dick brings the coffee, the paper, and the thick slice of bread which has now been smothered in French butter and English marmite - his favourite across the channel pairing. He brings this whole feel-good entourage over to his throne in the corner of his front room. Slowly, of course. All of this takes time at Dick’s age, but that only helps to fish more joy out of it for him. The whole process of Dick’s morning ritual, the waking up, the splash of water to his puffy face, the labour of getting dressed, the shoehorn to help his feet into the stiff old leather, the iron gate, the walk to the store, and the unravel and collection of goods. All of that. All of it has been leading him toward this glorious hour on his humble throne.
No one can ever know the companionship Dick and his golden in the sun throne have. It’s been in the family since before he was born. He remembers his Aunt Margaret sitting in it, chain-smoking Marlboro reds until her fateful death bed. His Mother then begrudgingly ended up with it. It stunk terribly and had ash burns all over it. So she shoved it deep into their back shed until after the war when Dick had a place of his own and he acquired it off his mother. He got it reupholstered in the early 50s and through a good amount of attentive care has managed to keep it in decent enough nick all these years later. To be sitting in it like the King he is.
It’s now 8:05 am and Dick has his legs up, his backside down and his coffee and toast at the ready. He has arduously pulled the blinds up to the tippity top of their Venetian heritage. The morning sun is just starting to break over the row of houses opposite and hits his wall in a burst of light and pattern. Dick pours himself a big helping of coffee from the pot to his mug, watching as the steam beckons up in a call to peace – Native American style. He then places the pot back on the side table and reaches for the toast, which by this point is dripping with melted butter and oozing marmite. Spread right to the edges, it only takes him one bite to crunch down on all that warm, and salty goodness. He then leans back in his thrown and smiles the most understated smile he ever did feel.
He sits in this hovering like fashion for a good long hour. Until the coffee pot is empty, the residual butter has solidified, the sun has risen, and he’s read his way through the paper. It’s only just after nine on this idle spring morning but Mr Dick Dudley from 22 Durley Road has already won. Through his appreciation for the process. Through his very earnest desire to still feel something, even in the small moments and successes, he’s done it. And he gets to do it again, each day, until he can’t no more.