A nice number

Permalink Wed 17th December 2014

In the low-ceilinged room, the polka dot lighting skated along the floor and spangled off the foil decorations hanging from the ceiling. The music was irresistibly dancy, the sound quality was like a caress, and the scenery was excellent. The most attractive woman there, someone I've had my eye on for the four years I've been going there, came over to me on the dancefloor, put her hands on my shoulders, and started talking to me.

I'd had a Smartie earlier, one of the ones known for making one excessively openly affectionate. I smiled and slid my hands down the sides of her shiny, tight, blue, knee-length dress, pulling her against me as I kissed her on the cheek. I was in paradise.

Releasing her (but not very far), I noticed her husband watching us from the bar, with the same immobile expression that his face has carried for four years. "It's OK," my Smartied mind thought, "I'm just stroking your gorgeous wife's body through her tightly-fitting dress," with as much concern as if I were talking to her about the air conditioning at a yard's distance.

Later on we had a dance together which went on for several minutes. I was blind to Trina, but she had moved away considerately. When she came back she said, with a lack of rancour as surprising as it was welcome, "I thought I'd leave you alone while K--- chatted you up." I told her that she's married, and noddingly indicated her husband.

On the way out we bumped into a couple who extended a half-hearted invition back to their room in the hotel for a bop, which we didn't take up, I think to our mutual relief. She made a reference to drugs which sounded forced.

Trina started her nocturnal bellowing, so I took all the pillows in the room and a bath towel and went to "sleep" in the bathroom. I tried running the bit of film in which I stroke K---'s waist over and over again, adding a voiceover in which I tell her how gorgeous she is and how much I like watching her dance in that dress; but it's difficult to get turned on when your feet are clanking against a pedal bin.

The following night we had sex for the first time in many weeks. Even by our tepid standards it wasn't the greatest of fucks, and my imagination had to work hard to shut out her well-meaning but unspontaneous talking in which she tries to be "dirty". She was trying to please me and make me come, but it had the opposite effect.

Afterwards, I felt ashamed of myself. It was opportunistic and venal. We cuddled for a while, my smiling and kissing as false as her sextalk. She got up to go to sleep in the front room. I spread myself out luxuriantly in the futon, smiling genuinely this time in anticipation of mentally fucking K--, Donna, and whoever else; but I had to correct myself quickly a minute later when she walked back in.

Through a chink in the door, she'd seen the young postgrad Christian lodger sitting topless in the unheated kitchen with a computer and headphones. We both imagined the same thing about what he might be doing. I asked her if he was naked, but she said she'd recoiled at seeing only his bare torso and had hastened back upstairs.

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The Elephant in the Room

Permalink Thu 11th December 2014

The Christmas mood is upon Lancaster, everyone giving up any pretence; drinking a great deal, even by English standards. Here, it's not being able to pay my rent, and dealing with this by having another pint.

Down the pub I sat at a table I thought was unoccupied, until a large twentysomething man and his Dad came and sat down at it. I vaguely know the father from the railway, and latterly, boozing.

I told them my Dad had died recently in Middlesbrough and he told me about a recent job he did up there. "I got this phone call and he said 'I don't want any fuck ups on this'." "So I said 'No, no, there won't be any fuck ups'." "No but seriously, this is Network Rail you're working for on Saturday." "Network Rail? I haven't worked for Network Rail before. Have you got a contact number for someone?"

"And he said 'What do you mean? Just dial C-U-N-T on your phone and you'll have his fucking number'. And then he slammed the phone down. How the fuck do you respond to that?"

I then got talking to the couple sat behind me, who were an Anglo-Irish couple straight out of Father Ted, arguing bitterly in between buying each other drinks. They reminded me of the kind of resentful co-dependence towards which Trina and I were heading. He told me some useful information about applying for council housing, and how he got housed in a couple of months by "bidding" (that means "expressing an interest in") on an unpopular property. We talked at some length about this, which was of great interest.

My current situation is untenable -- in every sense of that word. I'm fed up interviewing new tenants all the time, in which I have to apologise for the bathroom. I constantly worry about the bills, which I can't meet unless I live like I did when I lived here alone, in which the heating goes on for fewer than ten days a year, and when it gets chilly I sit in a Santa hat, a scarf, and a blanky. I don't like living in a mainly Muslim street, women in niqabs shunning you, and men who use politeness as a distancing technique. I don't like occupying simultaneously the positions of a rentier and a tenant, almost feeling that I have to tug my forelock in gratitude when I see my landlord and landlady; and over us all the time, his unspoken knowledge of the affair I had with his girlfriend, Seriouscrush.

I've got to tell them that I can't pay the rent this month -- or not in full anyway. But I'm also going to tell them that in the medium term, I will be relinquishing my occupancy of 44 Acacia Avenue -- which might be a bargaining position. The rent is good, but the house is a crock: cold, no shower, just one of those bendy tube efforts to wash yourself with, a gappy, cheap MDF kitchen with dirty woodchip wallpaper hanging open from cracks in the plaster; single-glazed windows, one of which I have to tell tenants not to touch, as the glass comes away from the frame if you open it. It'll be a long wait for council housing round here, but in the meantime, it might be a way of negotiating Seriouscrush down a hundred or so.

In the short term though, there's a Scouser coming round to have a look at the hovel in half an hour. I just hope he's desperate enough to enter into another form of co-dependence.
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Permalink Mon 8th December 2014

Another long night coming up. I've got to finish editing the local real ale drinkers' magazine by tomorrow morning. People send me their reports, pleased with themselves, thinking that they're submitting the finished article, imagining that all I do is I click Ctrl+C and then Ctrl+P, before sending it away in an email. They don't see the hours and hours I spend correcting their shite formatting, reversing their repeated taps on the space bar in place of paragraphs or indentation, their longwinded imitations of speech with capitalisation used instead of punctuation, all composed in the lazy dictionary-shunning spellchecked spelling of people who sit in pubs bemoaning modern educational standards.

Both the lodgers announced that they are moving out the other day. It didn't really sink in until Friday. I was in town and bumped into --- who used to live in this house. "What are you doing in half an hour?" she asked. "I think we know that, don't we?"

I went to get £20 out and it wouldn't let me, because Tom has -- correctly -- cancelled his standing order for the rent, so the ATM would only let me have £15. I withdrew that much, and met her in the pub. I apologised for not being able to buy her drink, and told her about Donna, whom I'd rung earlier; and Trina reading the letter to her. She told me about a threesome she'd had in the place in which she works once everyone had gone home. It was an enjoyable, sexy chat.

I came back to the girls' house. On Saturday night someone rang me asking to see the room "now" -- as only foreigners do. I told her twenty minutes and went back to the house to let her in. She's Polish and a cleaner. Polish -- that puts her, in the net of stereotypes by which I judge prospective tenants -- in the first class. They're grafters, and direct. She's likely to be able to pay the rent and will be out all day, not like these irritatingly shy Vietnamese students who take "all bills included" to mean using the central heating to re-create the climatic conditions of Saigon for twenty hours a day.

I showed her the two rooms. Both Tim and the other lodger were out. Both their rooms were in a strewn disarray, the carelessness of people to whom a house will never belong, just as, recursively, this house is not mine and will never be a home.

She noted the lack of wardrobes. There's these spindly metal things with canvas pockets at the sides. "There is not much space. I am a woman," she joked, second language-ly. Haven't heard from her since.

It is a problem for me, and I went to bed at the girls' house imagining sleeping in foil wrappers in the park and wondering what to do with my record collection. If no-one replies soon I can only ask Seriouscrush for a deferral of the rent which was due four days ago.

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Called up yonder

Permalink Mon 1st December 2014

The people from the particular flavour of Evangelical Christian religion in which my Dad was a Minister for over thirty years arranged a funeral that was much more personal and knowledgeable of the deceased than many. My brother, who is still in the God Squad, did a most impressive oratorical exposition of Psalm 23, full of rhetorical devices in his speech and gestures. Overhanging the ceremony was the reason Dad lost his job and his (our) house -- his affair with one of his congregation, about which one can never speak.

One of my other brothers, and my sister, gave a short reading. This was mine.

My Dad didn't have the easiest of starts in life and it didn't get a great deal easier as time went on. Dad didn't find the outgoing, social game an easy one to play, but he did well under often difficult circumstances. The two ways I remember him dealing with this were first, by using his strong work ethic, exemplified most clearly in his going to London, friendless and homeless, receiving no help at all in doing this for his family.

And second, through his sense of humour, which was very English, located firmly in his delight in the absurd and the endless fascination we have with class difference and awkwardness, along with a pleasure in physical humour – which struck my next eldest brother quite literally one Christmas Day. Dad stood in the middle of the living room energetically swinging a key around on a yard-long piece of knitting wool. “Wouldn't it be a pity,” he said, “if this flew off and hit someone” – a couple of seconds before the key unleashed itself and shot towards [my brother], hitting him just above his eye.

Earlier this year, it was a pleasure to see my Dad on fine form at his and Mum's Golden Wedding celebrations, which was a day he clearly enjoyed – with all the extended family and one or two recent acquisitions from the online mail order catalogue.

Whilst it wasn't planned that way, I am glad that is those memories of that afternoon, seeing my Dad happy, relaxed and contented, that will stay with me from one of the last times I saw him.

Afterwards in the short service at the crematorium my brother produced three last letters from Dad, which, he said, he hasn't been able to read yet. Every time I attend a cremation it seems more repellent. You claim to love someone, then at the end you put them in an oven and burn them.

Then it was back to the hall where the local ladies had put on a tea. Mum bore the day well and my Dad's sister is staying with her for a few days. I got sat opposite these incredibly attractive two young sisters, the daughters of a friend of my Mum's, all black minidresses and diaphanous tops; but unspoilt and easy talking.

Me and Trina managed to get off for the evening and had one of the best pub nights out I've had in ages. People in the Northeast seem to have a confidence, or perhaps a carelessness, that you don't find so much in Lancashire.

In the first pub, we got talking to Ten Ton Tessie and her even fatter husband and sister-in-law. Next onto a brilliant couple of hours in Wetherspoons, where we got talking to a couple at the next table, for a woman with a pint is always going to be a conversation starter. They were both CAMRA members and recommended a nearby pub renowned for its ale, in which we became counsellors for a bloke who didn't seem to be sure whether he was going out with a girl who came and sat with him for a drink.

Trina went to get us another couple of pints. The barmaid, gesturing towards me, said "He's really into his real ale isn't he?" and presented her with a tankard for me. It was just a promotional thing that they had left over from Greene King, who brew real ale which tastes like diluted handwash, but it was a nice gesture nonetheless.

Next day all the family and friends (but not, unfortunately, the tightly-outlined sisters) went out for dinner. One pint and I was giddy, rewound from the previous night. We left that afternoon, since we were going back the following day to Huddersfield, for a full afternoon of the complete string quartets of James Dillon, a composer who Trina said looks like Frank Zappa dressed as Charles I, although I think the resemblance is more to 80s funkster Rick James. Great music though.

James Dillon

Rick James

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Huddersfield and the North

Permalink Wed 26th November 2014

It is November and so time for Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. As usual, the clothes rival the music for one's attention: a man who is at every HCMF, appears in a a thick grey top with large buttons, a long yellow and green kilt, and red sandals. A woman I spent a couple of short evenings with four years ago looks exactly the same -- long, unkempt greying hair, and an old red floor-length coat that a character in a Lynne Reid Banks novel might wear to buy records from Camden Market.

In the Commercial Hotel, where a pint of bitter costs £1.80, I wrote a postcard to Kim which ended "Anyway must go, I'm off to a concert of Catalan music for solo double bass." It turned out to be my highlight of the two days, two aggressive, impatient and scrapy pieces by Joan Arnau Pàmie which made full use of the entire range of percussive and melodic possibilities of the double bass except those of pure tone and held notes.

Tom, the loose-bottomed lodger who treats us to a solo performance of his own percussive techniques every morning, was there in Huddersfield too and we last saw him chatting animatedly to a couple of young women at the end of a dire electronic noodle on a sine wave by Eliane Radigue.

That night in the hotel, Trina is snoring again so I take the quilt from my bed and fold it round me in the bathroom, shutting the door on her bellowing. The next morning, there's something wrong. "Are you in a mood?" I ask her. After a rhetorical womanly denial, she starts sniffing and weeping. "You had to sleep in the bathroom! On the floor in the bathroom! How will anyone ever love me?"

"Well don't go overboard. Your epiglottis needed a good waggle, and I needed a proper night's sleep. Did you sleep well? 'Yes'. Well then--result all round." I didn't get a proper night's sleep, of course, sleeping on a hard floor and a bath towel and half a quilt, but the depth of her sympathy didn't deserve me saying that.

Saturday night, and we're buffed and depilated for a night of 70s and 80s jazz-funk and Modern Soul in hotel near Blackburn that I'd been looking forward to. The company was good, but the volume was ear-splittingly loud, driving us into the bar next door. After an hour-and-a-half, I cautiously suggested cutting our losses and going home. "Oh yes, thank God you said that!"

As Trina's car joined the M6, we saw a hitch-hiker with a ragged old sign saying "Scotland." "Shall we..." I said, and somewhat to my surprise Trina pulled up and we put him in the back. He was sixty-eight and had been to his brother's funeral in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and was going home to Motherwell. He chatted away, his accent fading in and out of my comprehension, as I calculated the temperature and the time.

We took him back to mine, got the quilt down to the living room and made up a little bed for him. Both the lodgers were in the kitchen. "Hiya. Just to say, there's a hitchhiker sleeping in the front room. He's trying to get to Motherwell but he won't make it tonight." We offered him tea but he wanted to sleep. Me and Trina went upstairs, had a dance, went to a sexless bed; and soon the cattle are lowing and the baby awakes.

In the morning he was sitting neatly dressed in the front room. We invited him into the kitchen and served him tea and porridge--made in my perfumed English way with soya milk and vanilla sugar rather than the rainwater and salt it stipulates in a book of Scottish cookery I possess--and he told us about his years spent in Blackpool, arriving there without a job after leaving his wife. He apologised to Trina. "Ah'm sarry, Theresa, ah canna get ye ah bax a chacklats ah anythen, I jast..." We drove him up to the M6 junction at the Holiday Inn and pointed him north.

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