Kim's been here for a few days during a local soul festival and the unattractive prospect loomed of her meeting Trina, but as I watched nervously, they managed a civil-looking chat on the dancefloor. Trina sent me a text later that night saying that "she's far nicer than you." Back here, Kim said the music was too "smooth and loungy". Kim prefers it harder, and is the same with her musical choices too, and I couldn't convince her to go back.
There was a weird atmosphere towards the end of Saturday night. It had started well but in the last hour or so something changed and I couldn't shake off a feeling I was being stared at, when I just wanted to dance -- although seeing as we'd started Kim's visit by staying up on Thursday night till 8am, and there were various refreshments involved, it's possible I had lost my usual acuity.
That much might have been in my imagination, but there was nothing imaginary about seeing a girl slap another hard round the face and seeing the shocked and fearful expression on a friend's face as she and her husband got up to leave as a result; nor about the boorish men, outsiders, who strutted onto the dancefloor and stood aggressively looking around, or leering over the women. I stayed, but was trying hard to enjoy myself after that point, contemptuous of the drunken, coarse gatecrashers into our culture.
On her last night, we were in bed when I heard her little murmurings of wanking and saw the quilt ticking up and down. I love it when she starts wanking, and so we had the second instance of our occasional non-contact sex life, in which we masturbate in the bed together.
I saw her off at the station. As her train passed through the Lake District, she sent me a text remarking how beautiful it looked in the rain. "Yes," I replied. "It's very pretty and very wet. I'm not surprised you can identify with the place." Back home, she thanked me for having her. "Oh, I'm sorry about that. I thought you were asleep and didn't notice."
It was the final of Eurovision on Saturday and a merry band of teenage girls -- my daughters and their friends -- gathered to watch it. I thought Trina was going to be in Wigan with a friend but she cancelled that afternoon and so she invited herself along. I didn't want her there really. But ever generous -- or buying her way into my social life, depending on how you look at it -- we went to Booths for booze (that won't catch on -- not the image they want) -- where she paid far more than half of the cost.
I made little flags, printed the scorecards, and arranged a sweepstake. My eldest helped me make Marillenknödel -- Austrian apricot dumplings -- which needed quite a bit of encouragement when set amidst the more enticing crisps, hummus, breadsticks and soft cheese. I gave the guests a glass of Prosecco and the wilder girls knocked back a whole tin of Kronenberg.
Teaching Practice Colleague had warned me she'd be late after a party for a friend who is emigrating, and turned up with two songs to go, which given the generally dreary pallor of last night's offerings, was inadvertently a good idea.
All was going well. The contest ended and the girls were chatting away with that simultaneous multiple-threaded conversation that women can manage and enjoy. Teaching Practice Colleague was in a bit of a giddy mood and started pawing me and smothering me with herself and chatting away in a mock-flirty way, making what I found were funny, giggly and clever remarks. She came and sat on my lap and I felt some un-jokey physical attraction towards her.
We were laughing, but I felt all naughty in front of Trina. My youngest tried to take a large cushion out of the living room and knocked over and broke two glasses. Teaching Practice Colleague kept going to dart upstairs but the loo was occupied. "I could go outside I suppose," she said. I felt like kissing her. I told her that there's some kitchen roll on the side.
Broken glass cleared away and Teaching Practice Colleague's yard-piss over, she came back and sat with me in the armchair, her legs across mine; it all started again. "Oh dear," I said, your dress appears to be riding up over your thighs. I'll have to just make sure this hem stays down at a decent length." You must bear in mind that at this point there is an oakum-ravelled girlish banter going on -- it's not that my children and their friends were earwigging in embarrassed silence.
All of a sudden, Trina was in the front room, and leaving. I wrested myself clear of Teaching Practice Colleague. "No, no -- you don't have to see me off, you idiot."
"That wasn't awkward at all, was it?" said Teaching Practice Colleague. "It's OK, it doesn't matter, really. She's convinced I'm her boyfriend so that's why she reacts like that."
We drew the sweepstake and my youngest, having drawn Sweden, won eight pounds; she then did a most gallant thing of walking one of her friends home. A couple got taxis and the others walked by themselves and sent us texts when they were in.
An exhausting few days for someone who's not used to discipline. I was working at the elections. As well as the General Election we had elections to the City Council to run. My main job was Presiding Officer at one of the polling stations at the University.
The alarm went off at 4.40 and I got up straight away, having spent most of the night worrying about whether it would go off. The taxi, a splendid old BMW, was driven by someone who, from the note of embittered resentment running through her chat, I guessed would be voting Tory. Had we gone a few miles further, it would have been all these immigrants.
I started setting the polling station up in an old stone farmhouse which has been swallowed into the University's seeping reach, and welcomed the other staff. We ate and drank constantly, mainly out of boredom. My stick-thin poll clerk drank large glasses of this pulped vegetable drink. The sludge colour came from kale, a vegetable which the Lord above, in His infinite wisdom, intended only for goats and pigs.
I made a joke which didn't go down very well. We have these long poky rod things to push the voting slips down into the ballot box, and using it I measured the volume of voting slips in my ballot box compared to that of the other (female) clerk. "Well you've got this much," I said, opening my thumb and forefinger to a few inches apart, "and I've got this much," narrowing it to an inch. "Not the first time I've had to say that to a woman, boom boom." Never was a subject changed so quickly.
The president of the Student Union, along with a friend, chained themselves to a barrel at an anti-fracking site in Manchester recently. A merry band of us, plus a well-meaning tweed-clad vicar who turned up from somewhere, went down to Manchester Crown Court to support them in their appeal against a charge of Obstructing a Police Officer in the Execution of His Duty.
One of the party put on some drum n' bass as we walked to the Court, which I found slightly embarrassing. In the court, Bez from the Happy Mondays turned up to support us. "I was at a rave last night in Bristol," he said, "and at some point I've lost my false teeth."
We waited around for six long hours, before being informed that the case was adjourned, pending the outcome of a similar case currently before the High Court. I was looking forward to some extra-judicial socialising, but one disadvantage of going out with environmentally conscious social activists is that you end up in a vegan cafe rather than a pub. I said I was going to have a quick look round a nearby record shop, and managed to quaff a couple of pints. On the way back to the cafe, I sneaked in to a sex shop -- unseen, I hoped, by my right-on pals -- to buy some poppers.
As we were about to leave, one of the arrested asked us all how much we'd spent on the train fare, and refunded us all in cash from the proceeds of a benefit gig a while ago. That was humbling.
On the packed train we went and sat in first class. The woman opposite shuffled and squirmed for a while. "I hope you've got first class tickets," she eventually said. "We're first class people," I replied.
It's half past ten and I'm up at 5am tomorrow to be Presiding Officer at the polling station at the University. Morgane came in an hour ago and told me she'd split up with her boyfriend, and I said that me and Trina had done the same.
I took the ballot box and all the other stuff up to the Uni yesterday. The taxi driver knows Wilma and we were chatting about break-ups. I told him about mine and he said he'd broken up with his. "Fancy a swap?" he said. "She's gorgeous. Sixty but looks about forty-three." "Yeah, Trina's sixty as well." I was on the edge of asking him for an introduction.
We had a pre-booked holiday in St Malo, so agreeing that there was no point in wasting all
her that money, we set off to Portsmouth, from where the MV Bretagne made lowing progress across the Celtic Sea. We sat in at cabaret, where an artiste threw three oranges onto his head and they all landed still on top of one another, that kind of thing. An almost extinct, technical, unthinking craft, a relief from pop music's and theatre's seriousness.
A chatty Norwegian woman joined us. She surreptitously passed us a bottle of aquavit at thigh level whilst talking at length about her fuckwit husband -- a story of which there might be another side. The aquavit was delicious; the man balanced two sabres on his chin, connecting them at their points. At the next table a group of three beshorted lads rejected my eye contact and laughing attempts to merge the two tables.
We went to our cabin. Trina started snoring so I went to sleep in the corridor. I'd forgotten to take a pillow so it was very uncomfortable. At some hour a female security guard type person someone came round and roused me, asking me what I was doing there. "Desolé. Elle ronfle -- bruit." "Is OK," and she went off smiling.
We stayed in a ruthlessly modernised flat in a grand 1770's corsaire's building, with plastic wood-effect panelling stapled over the stone. It had a precipitous staircase and only one window in the whole flat, which made the bedroom stiflingly hot. In the middle of the second night Trina came down and demanded that I go upstairs and sleep up there. In the morning she said that she didn't remember how she came to be sleeping in the living room.
We spent most of the time on the beach with our Carrefour haul of cider and wine, thus sustaining the reputation for decorous drinking behaviour in public for which the English are renowned. I was pleased one day to to see the habit spreading to some young people, sitting there with a carry-out of Grimbergen.
Back in England, any implied hope for a reconciliation died as sulphorously as an extinguished match. For example, here's this evening's email exchange.
From: Trina, 1601
Win tickets to the Ashes on [Hardy's, the winemaker's, website]
From: looby, 1637
Brill! Thank you -- any of those matches would beat the last day of today's inevitable draw between Northants and Lancashire that has provided gripping entertainment today!
From: looby, 2019
Ahh... I understand now ... it comes off a bottle of Hardy's :)
From: Trina, 2024
Once a drunk always a drunk.
From: looby, 2029
No doubt unintentionally, you sent that twice :)
From: looby, 2106
But not that bad a one if it means a day at the cricket!
From: Trina, 2112
Actually I get several messages from you twice. The latest was today - "Thank you. It will be a very interesting night" You were probably drunk though anyway.
This refers to a text message I sent this afternoon referring to the election tomorrow. I hadn't had a drink at that point.
From: looby, 2115
Of course I was! For God's sake woman, do you have so little respect for me to think that I would still be sober at 4pm?
From: Trina, 2117
Fed up with word-playing. Good night.
She's nicer than this most of the time, and was generous and kind to the last, leaving me with some Monsoon Malabar coffee before she started clearing out her room. But it's too fraught for me. I am simple and want a quiet life without much drama.
The Lancashire anti-fracking stormtrooper avant-garde made a pincer movement upon County Hall last Friday in order to hand in one of several petitions against the drilling for shale gas in the county. I was 1/7th of the regiment but due to my retiring nature I wasn't in the photo.
Afterwards I repaired to the bewitching surroundings of a new pub in a Grade II listed former bank chambers; it glinted and spangled. There was a giddy, holiday atmosphere. Looking around at the sea of Fred Perry and Ellesse -- surely the most feminine-sounding brand ever to be adopted by self-consciously manly men -- the penny dropped. Preston were away to Port Vale. Mid-afternoon, they drifted off to get the train to Stoke.
They took all the breath in the atmosphere with them, and so I turned to the bothersome matter of my drugs charge. The constable in question had texted me whilst I was mid-protest asking me to contact him for a "chat."
"By the way," I said, "based on what you've outlined in your letter and what you've just said now -- just to say, I'm not going to be contesting this." I arranged to see him at Lancaster Police Station at 9am the following day.
The policeman walked in to the reception area, and I swallowed my embarrassment as I saw the man who had herded me away from being a pest to everyone at the Castle that night -- but not without riffling through my pockets first. He shook my hand, which seemed wrong for the relationship.
We went into a windowless room and he started the tapes. I sat poised in a way which I hope demonstrated worry and the desire to be helpful. "So, you bought these items from this man in the nightclub in Manchester. What did you buy?" My reply avoided the terms used by those fluent in the argot. "It was four tablets of ecstasy, and four little square things of LSD."
"And what did you do with them?" he asked, fishing about for a supply charge. "I just kept them till the right occasion turned up, and I thought a rave in a former prison was such an occasion." "Right. I'll just have to find these drugs on the computer now." After a bit of constable-ish faffing he said "Hmm, it's not letting me add the LSD, so -- we'll just put it down as ecstasy."
He said he'd have to check his decision with a superior officer, but that he was going to recommend a Caution, with a condition that I attend a Drugs Education and Awareness course. "It's only two days but it is compulsory."
I had my DNA swabbed from the inside of my mouth, I was photographed and measured. Back in the main room, the officer wanted a word, and took me down the corridor a few yards.
"I've had a word with the Sergeant, and he says that the course isn't really suitable for you. It's aimed more at habitual, hardcore users of drugs, and I think to be honest you've learnt your own lesson from that night, haven't you?" I took a slow breath in, bit my lip, looked downward, scratched my left eyebrow and said "Yes, you could say that." I was disappointed not to go on the course. It would have been most interesting to
get some new contacts understand the current state of official drug prevention strategy.
I was issued with the Caution and had to sign to say that I understood its provisions. He led me chattily back to reception. "So what are you doing for the rest of the day?" "I might have a drink later to be honest." "Well, don't get out of control again because I'm on till 7pm and that would be embarrassing." With another handshake, I was out.
I bumped into Wilma, who was on the way round to mine with the twenty quid she owed me, and a bottle of wine. Together with Trina, we decided that exceptional circumstances called for un verre. The following day Trina and me went to Brittany for a week but I'll tell you about that next time.
Wilma's in a bad way again with her drinking, and is almost becoming annoying, with the stuck record of her woes, in between bouts of crying. I went round to hers because she's run out of money, and I lent her twenty quid; we started on the sherry at 9.45. The other day, down the pub, she won £100 on a scratchcard. Like all decent depressives, she made the worst of it, saying that she owes her daughter £60, it'll soon be gone, hundred quid's nothing these days, and so on.
"Look Wilma, you've got a good job, your own house, a car, some very loyal friends, and you've just won a hundred quid. Fuck's sake love, how much better has it got to get?" I went to the bar and the landlady said "Doing your social worker bit again I see, looby."
Kitty was more enjoyable company the night before. She said that Wendy's Somewhat Controlling Husband was saying that he's thinking of leaving her, but apparently he often says this without acting on it. Kitty said that their relationship is sexless. I know that often happens after a while but how you would not want to fuck Wendy, in and out of her gorgeous secondhand dresses, which are just aching to be slowly unzipped, I do not know. I bumped into them again this afternoon and we sat in a beer garden for a couple of hours. As Wendy went to the bar, Kitty said "I can read your mind." "She'd be better off with me. She could have complete freedom and abject poverty."
Morgane suggested we have a dinner party as compensation for the Lancaster episode of Come Dine With Me getting shelved. I made Sussex Pond Pudding from a Saturday Kitchen Live recipe. Basically you bake two lemons inside a steamed suet pudding. I found some unwaxed organic Amalfi lemons in Booths and no I don't care how poncy that sounds. When you cut into it the juice and liquid sugar pour out and surround the pudding with a lemony pond. It's absolutely delicious, and could serve as a useful blood-clotting agent if required.
We got through what I thought was a modest amount of cider and wine. Next morning, Morgane said "I just can't keep up with your drinking." I didn't tell her that before the party Trina had had a bottle and one glass of wine and I'd had possibly five pints.
I got a message on the dating site -- the first for months. It's from a woman thirteen years younger than me, in a polyamorous marriage, who said that she likes "well-written smut." The spark from seeing a message appear is quite addictive. We've learned that we both know Chris, and she says I know her husband, although I can't place him from the name. Chris gave her an excellent reference. We keep it in the family up here.
My débâcle at the rave night is compounded. I got a phone call on Sunday morning from Morgane, saying that the police had been round wanting to talk to me, but assuring her that it was "nothing serious". I went back to mine. Morgane watched me intently as I read the letter "inviting" me to a "voluntary" interview in connection with the fact that "you were found in possession of class A controlled drugs on 15th February 2015." I had to improvise. "Oh, they want me to come in because I might have been witness to something."
It's just a very small amount of e and acid; I'll have to admit to it. Optimistically, a caution; perhaps, a fine. Pessimistically, local readers of this blog may enjoy tittering at the sight of me wearing a hi-vis jacket with the slogan "Community Payback" emblazoned on its back, before we are herded on to the miscreants' minibus, which takes us off to redecorate a youth club.
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