I am at Kirsty's, where, having provided a buffet tea of hydrogenated vegetable fat and refined carbohydrates, I have beaten a tactical retreat to the kitchen: the living room has been taken over by underage girls, my daughters' friends, watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show. One of them hasn't seen it yet, as her parents won't let her watch it as it's classified as a 15 and she's only fourteen. They've got the gas fire on and the room smells of sweat and aerosols.
I am twenty-three days into the forty in which I am not drinking. However, I pre-planned for one non-fasting day, because someone was coming up all the way from London to our wine club with some of the South African wines he imports. I love his wine, and am aware of the need to suppress a teenagerish admiration of him when I conflate what he does for a living with assumptions about his character.
It was an important event in the social calendar, and it behoved Trina and me to present ourselves with an appropriate decorum. Well, good intentions are easy to have.
We started on the booze in Wetherspoons at half past twelve. Trina had one-and-a-half bottles of Chardonnay, while I got through an unknown number of pints of Kirkby Lonsdale's porter. After an interlude in the loos where we snorted amphetamine off the toilet cistern lid, we were compelled to tarry with my pals Davina and her boyfriend Richard, who walked in, during which I wagged my finger at Davina and said "You're a fitbit, you are."
Tess came down at midday today. Trina and I had been down to Wilko to buy a file to try to sort out my front door. I was hoping it would be sold in a packet describing it as a rasp, which has so much more a satisfying, vulgar feel in the mouth than the word "file." I'd been filing, not rasping, the front door jamb and the metal sill thing at its bottom, to try to stop my front door making such a fucking racket, a massive bang, when it closes. It was exhausting work.
"You were funny last night, Trina," said Tess. When people are "funny", that usually means they were a pain in the arse. "You kept falling up the stairs. Looby was just saying "Come on dear, come on dear," which made me sound very Radio 4-ish.
I emailed the wine club's coordinator apologising for walking off with four bottles of wine without paying for them. He said that I had in fact paid for it. I checked my bank account online and there was a withdrawal from an ATM last night for sixty quid. I have no recollection of getting sixty quid out last night.
I miss days like this. Long afternoons of unrealisable sexual desire, and the locals with their chat, as irritating as it is entertaining and local. Unplanned meetings with friends, and half-hearted, well-meaning sex with lots of kissing. Sobriety has nothing to recommend it. Saving money, I suppose. But what are the bailiffs going to do when I'm dead?
Me and the girls had a very enjoyable day in Manchester on Friday. The frisson that comes from stepping out from the station into a proper big city like Manchester, never palls. We went to On The Eighth Day, one of the oldest vegetarian cafés in the UK and reassuringly conservative, with its male waiter with his hair tied up in a bun, and some right-on ethno-techno muzak over the PA. I signed a petition asking Manchester City Council to pass a by-law making it illegal to give out plastic carrier bags for free.
We went round Affleck's Palace, a large old warehouse full of teenagerish stalls selling badges, T-shirts, secondhand clothes and other subcultural paraphernalia. I bought a strange Jesus bracelet, I don't know who for, and a pair of earrings made from plastic clementine segments, which my Mum will like. When we got home I showed the bracelet off to the girls. "Oh yeah, they were quite trendy about a year ago."
Then it was straight over to mine to get ready for Kitty and Chris's joint birthday do at mine. One of the felicities of the evening was
ogling seeing Karen "Nice tits" again. She turned up with a huge homemade cake for Kitty. Melanie came up from London, and Helen, who had to be in the country anyway, was over from Norway.
We acquired a couple of unknown men. One was a pleasant, smiling chap who kept saying that was just going off on a tangent and that he felt happy to be here because he can really be himself. Later, he went off on a tangent in Helen's hotel bedroom.
Smiley Man brought this friend of his who had that lack of social competence and interest in others common amongst members of historical re-enactment societies. I can see the black T-shirts and loud discussions in Wetherspoons about war game tactics now. In the kitchen, he drew himself up and announced to a hapless guest that his Celtic name is such and such, his Roman name is something else, and his Viking name is something different again. By something o'clock he was asleep and snoring on the settee.
Barry rigged up the music, with a proper amp and speakers. It made me anxious, thinking about next door and Tom trying to sleep upstairs, and I kept surreptitiously turning it down. I was worried about the noise all night, as there was a lot of banging of the front door as people went outside to smoke. I don't mind ecstasy and amphetamine in the house occasionally, but I draw the line at tobacco.
Trina and me went to bed at about 7.30 and got three hours of "sleep", and came down to tell the still continuing party that we were off. First, a Wetherspoons breakfast, a sunshiny bright and smiling affair, full of shift workers and wedding parties glad to be let off the leash to be drinking at 11am; and then to Leyland for the Soulful House weekender.
The music sometimes veered about in style a little too much for me, but that gave us plenty of time to sit in the pleasantly crowded bar and chat. Trina was being very affectionate, and the carpet started to take on a life of its own. On Sunday morning, we declined the £10 hotel breakfast and went to Tesco's in Leyland instead, where we got earwigged by one of the local loons, who was keen to explain some writing on an envelope she had.
Back here and we had a rocky couple of days as we bumped ourselves through the seratonin and dopamine crash and her stew of neediness and the painful awareness that I can't reciprocate her feelings. Only a few hours ago I thought it might have ended altogether, and so I sent off an email on the dating site to see if Irish Lawyer was still around.
Trina has spent today being conciliatory. I told her that all the post-dancefloor stress could have been avoided had she gone home on Monday, hoping that she might infer from this my desire to spend less time with her when we have nothing in particular planned. I lack the psychological strength to relate to you the tedious detail of the negotiations, but I am hoping that we have agreed upon a modus vivendi which might increase the ratio of the times we both enjoy. Although if I am honest, a part of me was hoping that this might have been the end of it.
These rare times, living in a shared house, when you can breathe freely for an hour, are precious. Tom's at the Uni, and Tess has gone to see Ned off on a 12-hour journey back home to Cornwall, where he's staying "for a few weeks" (we'll see). It must have been difficult for him, moving all that way just to follow Tess and her academic interests, and Lancaster isn't the easiest place to gain an entrée. It's not like Brighton or Edinburgh; we're not that interested in strangers and fun meet-ups. We're comfortable as we are, thanks. But I remember what it was like when that didn't include me.
I'm going to Kim's for a long weekend soon. I spent some time on the internet getting the fare down from the £60 it is, if you just type in "Lancaster to Kimtown", to £21. I paid for the tickets and all is well. Her Valentines card and its invitation, is to my right on the chest of drawers.
Yesterday evening, she sends an email with the subject "Erm... how to say this?" Apparently one of her long-standing friends has invited himself over for a night. I've never met him before. She asks me if that would be OK, apologising for the situation. I rang her to discuss it but she was entertaining.
I'm not in the least bit jealous of her boyfriends and lovers; neither am I interested in them beyond the extent she chooses to tell me about them. The Sunday of the weekend will be my fiftieth birthday, and I was immensely looking forward to having her to myself. I never know quite what's going to happen with Kim, but out of the everyday--walks round the neglected rec and drinking cheap Polish lager on the swings, afternoons in the coarsest and funniest pubs, a dire Indian takeaway (the Indian in Kimtown, you have to take your own flavourings with you to add afterwards)--I always end up feeling very close to her. I love being in bed with her. I find it thrilling and intimate, and I feel the most privileged man alive.
I (sort of) understand the position Kim's in, and I do not want to create another job for her during the weekend, of having to cope with my displeasure. But I fucking wish with all my heart that he wasn't going to be there. Apart from anything else, I'm not going to get off my head with someone I don't know--for, dear reader, alcohol is but a minor item in our menu of intoxication. It's too high a risk. The only people I'd ever take anything desiccated with are people I know and trust and like.
So I will banish my irritation and go along with her proposal that he comes over on the Saturday night. I'm not possessive about Kim, but I like our time together--which is hardly any, a few days a year--to be uninterrupted. It'll either wrench the weekend out of shape, or we'll get on and it'll take on a welcome and unexpected quality.
Last night I was round at Kirsty's. Two of my daughters had been at a street dance workshop. Kirsty said to them "So, there was only you two, and a fat farter?"
Trina got the hump on Saturday because I didn't contact her for an entire twenty-four hours, but as a step towards the new regime, I am not going to rush to the phone with an apology, appending a meaningless kiss. She came over on Sunday night, my last day of drinking for forty days. I have reached a financial impasse of such severity that a drastic remedy is required.
To mark the occasion, we went to the closing night of a local dark ales festival. I imagined a similarly lively, sociable evening such as we enjoyed at its opening. Instead, we sat in a corner with a collective of grey, straggly hair, a committee with four hind legs. They started started arguing over the procedure for submitting votes, or something, talking over each other, not listening. I texted Trina. "Shall we bugger off?"
We went somewhere else, where one of the elderly regulars, a man who walks round with a huge pair of headphones always on his head, looked resentfully at us for having nabbed his table. I got fed up with him looking over, so, knowing that he likes to be on his own, I started returning his glances and smiling, threatening him with sociability. He looked away and made a point of being interested in something on his computer.
We got in and went to bed. Trina started saying that it's all useless, invoking Kim as being, in some way, the cause of her insecurity. I try not to mention Kim when I'm with Trina. "She'd be better for you anyway." She got out of bed in a loud, huffing stage whisper, and went to sleep downstairs, then came back at some point in the middle of the night and rigged up a makeshift bed on the floor.
My next day was seen through a glass of sleep deprivation and irritation. As we "did diaries" -- she likes to plan -- it emerged that she can't after all, be around for my fiftieth next month. My mind leapt on a possible opportunity; I said nothing. Later, whilst she was upstairs, I managed to ascertain from Kim that she is indeed free that weekend.
We went down town, and despite my best attempts at dissuading her from doing so, she paid my phone and internet bill, as they'd cut us off that morning. It was an unpleasant feeling, and I felt I ought to force myself into a better mood for £38.
She slept and snored soundly last night, so I, once again, got little sleep. She kindly got out of bed at about 8am to let me get some sleep, then came back an hour or so later--and started snoring again.
I got up, leaving her to rasp away, and went down to make some coffee. In the kitchen, I saw that she'd boiled some potatoes and sprouts (lately I've been having bubble and squeak for breakfast). She can be as kind and thoughtful as she can be irritating.
She came down again and said that she is sick of being so cold, so I lit one of the gas rings and she put her coat on. She finished her coffee, and gathered her things together and left in a huff. "You're not even listening to me." I recited accurately back to her what she had just said.
An hour or so later, I texted her with what I hoped was an erasing gloss of lightness, referring to the odd spot of drizzle we've been having here lately. "Did you get home by driving, sailing or wind surfing? X".
Just as I had closed the p tag on the previous paragraph, she texted. "All 3! X"
It can feel like work when she's here. If only we could sieve our lives out and just leave the good bits.
I went through last night's texts from Kim. She had arranged to meet one of her blokes down one of the dwindling number of proper English boozers, where the only things to eat are the greying pickled eggs on the bar, which could turn the place into a gastropub in a novel sense. "I've just walked into the Three Tuns," she'd written. "I think it's one of the barflies' birthday -- there are some macaroons on the bar. As I walked in it went quiet for a second. Conversation resumed with someone saying 'It's fucking wank out there'. What an truly splendid place. Miss you! X"
While I was at work the other day, I texted my boss, asking if my Criminal Records Bureau check had ever come back. "Yes it has, looby. Your secret's safe with me!"
I wonder which one.
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