The Opal of the West

Permalink Mon 29th September 2014

Trina got into a strop the other day because she found my profile on the dating site, which inconveniently reports when you were last on it. A couple of days later we were down the pub, exhausted after the weekend, the disinhibition of drink contesting with our mutual desire not to spoil anything before bed and our forthcoming holiday in Madeira.

"If you met someone else," I said, "I'd be happy for you, and glad, and as far as I'm concerned it wouldn't change anything between us."

But that's an incomprehensible idea to her, so we let the topic die in shrugs and a conciliatory rake of my hand through her hair that I didn't mean. Back came the comedown, comprised of equal parts of nausea, hunger and a revulsion towards food, in the body; and in the mind, a desire for sociability, as I turned and scanned the unpromising fruit of our fellow drinkers; and a physical restlessness which for the previous forty-eight hours had been poured into dancing at a Modern Soul and House weekender in St Annes, in the hotel next to the Conservative Club.

Erica and her uncouth husband came along this year. I was a bit worried about how it would go with them, aware that if Erica or hubby offended anyone it might reflect me. A couple of hours after we'd arrived at the hotel, me and Trina went to fetch something from her car, and found that he'd stuck empty cider cans underneath Trina's windscreen wipers, which I suppose seems funny if you're thick. In 1926, he won a prize for his dancing to Northern Soul, but it's not a Northern do, and he did awkward, slow movements at the edge of the dancefloor.

But nothing bad happened and the weekend flashed past. On Saturday we had a trawl round the chazzers, my prize item from which is a ladies' lime green Laura Ashley overcoat.

Me and Trina took far too much of the Beecham's Powders, which arrived in Lancaster last week in a plenitude of temptation. When we got home I was ill, throwing up horrible black bile, in bed for thirty hours, and not really right until Thursday. On Tuesday night I had this horrific, realistic, nightmare, with sounds, about being forced by the Nazis to play a game to decide whether my children were to be taken into the camps, in which we had to match quotations to their author, by sticking a pole into the correct one of several tubes which floated before us on a little lake. I got the questions wrong, but someone else in the same position told me it was rigged, so off they went for my children, and I was led into a large hall of desperately starving dogs and weeping mothers, whose teeth rotated laterally.

As you know I am under investigation by the police. What for exactly I'm not sure, but it's something to do with drugs.

I received the following misdirected email the other day, sent from my solicitor to the police officer dealing with my case.

Dear [Christian name]
Regrettably looby cannot make the appointment as he is attending a funeral. Can I rearrange it for a later date I will make sure he doesn't duck out next time.

The email then proceeded to discuss another client of his, speculating about whether he could be charged at his local police station. I wrote back.

Dear Mr ---

Thank you for your email, some of which, concerning another client of yours, was clearly not meant for me.

I am most surprised and not a little offended that you think my attendance at a close family member's funeral, together with my responsibilities as the eldest son in looking after my infirm father during a distressing time for my mother, constitutes "ducking out" of what has been described as a "voluntary" interview.

I am on my way to the airport later this morning and will be back in the country next weekend.



We've been and gone since I wrote this so I'll tell you all about Madeira next time.

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Worse case

Permalink Thu 18th September 2014

From: Polly
To: looby
25th August, 23:06

Yes I'd like to meet u asap. Worse case we mght not fancy each other! Can u make this Wed in manc? I have an appt in Leeds which finishes at 4pm. Or how about Ilkley?

We met in the best pub in Ilkley. She was skinny, pretty, four years younger than me; her hair, somewhere between light brown and dark blonde, was dissolutely arranged around her face. She is into partying and all that entails. A thin square-necked printed dress to just above her knee, jeans, and trainers. My intuition, after a few minutes' chat, is that I'm too old in my mind for her, too thinking.

We walked along and she talked about the damage done by the imported shrubs that feature just below the old bridge at Ilkley; they did smell unpleasant. My boss at work rang, and I talked in front of her for a couple of minutes about the problems with the fax machine and the move to the new premises, pleased to be normal.

To my relief she soon suggested turning back to the pub. I was glad she didn't suggest pressing on to Owler Park and down to the golf club. I enjoy country walks which extend across the curlew-encircled plain of the car park and into the pub.

I didn't plan on eating anything, but she suggested we did and to split the bill 50/50. Yes, but I might not have 50. The food was first class, some of the best pub food I've had for a long time. I had scallops (the shellfish, not the fried potatoes which is what I immediately think "scallops" are), which came dressed in a sort of thick ratatouille-ish sauce and a parmesan crumb crust. Our waiter looked like he'd just got back from spending Daddy's money on a grammar school skiing trip to Switzerland. He remembered what we were drinking--bumping up the bill.

She put her hands on the table. "Right," she said, "hands on the table time. Yes, my hands are on the table! Erm...I don't feel any sexual attraction to you and..." I drifted, the age-old experience of watching oneself from a distance whilst having to delegate motor functions to a less impaired region of the brain. I wanted, more than anything at that moment, to keep control of myself. I sat there on automatic, nodding understandingly, hearing nothing except the commands from my other-self. "Be like Stephen in The Mill On The Floss. You must do that now. Do it, now! Go back to her, and behave like Stephen!"

Obviously that's the Stephen when he's suffocating any signs of his passion for Maggie in the drawing room in front of his fiancée Lucy, not the wild Stephen who recklessly rows her too far down the river after his shocking kisses on her arm.

I turned back to manual control and we managed a good coda. I told her that it's good that one can be this honest ab initio nowadays and told her how much I liked her hair. We stood up and did a neutral, desexualised kiss, and she went off to the station to get the train back to Leeds.

From: looby
To: Polly
27th August, 23:16

Thanks for a nice night Polly even if it didn't end up where I think we were both hoping. I'm not really looking for any more female friends and I don't want to get into yet another friend thing where I feel like a gay confidente. But the champagne was nice! All the best

From: Polly
To: looby
27th August, 23:27

Ahh I'm sorry to too. I had hoped for a sexual connection with you. I imagine it would be v playful. And in the past I may have persisted and hoped it would develop and its likely to get messy for both of us. I'm glad I checked it out with u. I felt very seen and listened to. Even if u were only paying attention to the way my hair falls! You're interesting and lively company. U I guess we won't make pans to meet given this disparity of feeling. Do stay in touch if u want and swap stories of our love and party lives. Xx

I went to the nearest approach to a rough pub that one can find in Ilkley, the Midland Hotel, opposite the railway station, and fell in with this group of blokes who were playing what seemed a very complicated game of dominoes. They were sat in the only decent place to sit in The Midland, in the large bay window and I wasn't sure whether it was a little intrusive, but at that point, kneading my rejection, I wanted to talk with someone uninvolved in it all.

"That seems a very complicated game of dominoes," I said, and immediately I was taken under their wing with a long explanation of their game and its rules. I relaxed into my role as the naïf, the curious offcomer. "You have to watch him," one of them said. "I just put my best one down but he can remember what you've put down and work out what's in your hand. He plays in the league."

I was staying at my old Uni pal's house, but he rang to say they would be late at his father-on-law's birthday do. I asked the domino chaps where Wetherspoons is. One of them started to explain it, then tailed off, took my arm and said "No, here, here, I'll take you there," and walked me round. "Have a good night then lad." It was crap. False eyelashes, Hollister T-shirts. I wished I'd stayed in the Midland.

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My 24-hour grlfriend

Permalink Sun 14th September 2014

Donna had been worryingly quiet for a few days, but at last, she sent a lovely, heart- and cock-melting email.

She explained that while it's been "fabulous", we should bear in mind that the original plan, settled upon when we decided to meet in Glasgow for the first time, was that she would be a 24-hour girlfriend. Obviously that was before I realised how I could gaze stiff-cocked at her, combing her body with my eyes, and the vivid recall of the things she said, my pleasure in her fabrics against her skin, the way we had this quickly understood power balance, the exciting sex and the constant wanking over her when she wasn't around.

We have exceeded twenty-four hours by a long way, but she -- like me -- wants someone whom she can see often, and can call in without lots of planning and expense. She thanked me for making her "feel like the sexiest creature alive" and said lots of other things in an email which, although I know will disappear in one of those frequent erasing calamities of the digital age, is something that in a previous time I'd have tied up with ribbon and kept in a shoebox. In my phone, she is not "Donna", but a sluttish nickname.

She rang at the time she said she would. We said a twenty-five minute end. For someone who has to lie all the time in order to maintain the life I want, it's paradise to be able to say lovely, truthful things to a woman who, were she nearer, I would love to fuck, cook for, dance with, chat with, go out with her friends, buy clothes to put her in and undress her, and fuck, and fuck... often.

Me and Trina went over to Middlesbrough for the day on Monday to see my folks. I'm looking after my Dad for a week next month while my poor put-upon Mum has a carefree week in Lancaster with her grandchildren and Kirsty, away from my Dad's endless self-pity and a death-wish I would only be too happy to indulge.

It was partly for my briefing about what's involved, how much help he needs with going to the toilet, how to do his insulin injection, and so on, and partly because I calculated that if I went up now I can avoid seeing them at Christmas.

My sister's boyfriend was there and we got talking, with a slight edge of that male competition in conversation and the restriction of the topics to "objective" ones. We were talking about food and cooking. I told them I'd be bringing all my own ingredients, knives, and the flour with which to make bread. It was clearly worrying my Dad, in case he'd have to eat something alien and repulsive, like a boiled potato.

"I like plain food, very plain food," said my Dad. I'm happy to heat up his Asda spinal cord and toenail pies that he eats with a side of white shop-bought bread, spread with "spread", but I said that I'll make two meals every night.

My mother was poorly and has got bronchitis. It would be a brutally unfair injustice if she went first. My Dad would follow soon therafter, but my mother deserves several years of life -- preferably in her beloved home town Lewes -- happy and unburdened and uncriticised.

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What is the purpose of your journey?

Permalink Fri 5th September 2014

One of the pasty-faced anoraked band of believers that are to be found in Lancaster of a Saturday gave me one of their little booklets the other day. I suppose my dress and demeanour suggests that I'm convertible, so they always give me the latest cartoons.

As I mentioned last time, my uncle died recently, so I had to get to Lewes, where my mum's family are from. I spent hours trying to get the fare down from the £300 it offered me on the National Rail website, before a much fuckier and drinkier option suggested itself. Donna lives near Milton Keynes, which is on a line between Lancaster and Lewes, and after some emails I managed to arrange to stay with her for two nights.

Outside Milton Keynes station, there were two beggars sociably drunk, glad that it was warm, probably. As I gave them a fiver, I said "I'm giving you this on condition that you spend it on drink." "Have you had a good journey?" "The best bit of it is this part," I said, kissing her open-mouthed.

After dinner and some chat, I went over to kiss her. "No, not yet," she said. "Wait there." She reappeared in some gorgeous shimmery grey satiny underwear and stockings. "Fancy a change of scenery?" she said, after a while, and turned onto her hands and kness, showing me her, presented with the curving black lines of her hold-ups and the memories of her psychedelically powerful texts a day or two ago about "control" (i.e., her relinquishing of it). I find her sexually exciting, a state which is enhanced by the right amount of emotional and geographical remoteness.

We can't meet up for a few weeks now, and I am wanking myself so much thinking about her, that this morning I can feel a stomach ache with the tension of it.

Next day she drove me to my brother's, from whence were going to Lewes. It was the first time I'd seen my Dad since he broke his femur about six months ago. He can hardly move, taking tiny, slippered steps everywhere. He accepts everything that is done for him only with resentment. After breakfast my Mum was giving him his insulin injections. He turned to me and said "Left up to me I wouldn't bother with it." Later, I told my sister this and she said "Well, die then."

At the funeral, my mother was delighted to see her relatives again. My Dad, shuffling for about twenty minutes on the same number of yards to the toilet, turned round at one point and snapped at her "Never mind other people -- think about me!"

After another inching struggle to get him to the wake in the upstairs room in the pub, he was delicately shunned by my Mum's family, who offered the merest polite forumulas before rejoining their own. I sat with him and fetched him the endless tea that he drinks. He said that he didn't like the food, the caterers having provided a challenging menu of egg and cress sandwiches, roast chicken legs, and mini pizzas.

It was an event of surprising brevity. I knew my uncle hardly at all, but he was popular with his family and was remembered affectionately. But no sooner had I finished my second pint (the first one hardly touched the sides) than people started standing up and doing the farewell rounds.

We got back to my brother's, where we were all staying. Mum and Dad go to bed about nine o'clock, and it was heaven to hear my hosts suggest that I could take a stroll out for an hour and perhaps call in for a pint if I liked. All my family are teetotal and I think are a little frightened of pubs.

In the pub garden, there was a serendipitous accident with a misdirected text. Intended for Kim, I told Donna "Just had a lovely half hour on the phone to Donna. Even just talking to her turns me on. Classic situation, high-powered job by day but wants to be ordered about in sex. For me it's the opposite, so we just click. I can't fucking wait to see her again."

I realised my mistake. "Well there you go Donna, at least you know how I talk about you to my best friend." I've been somewhat evasive about it all to Trina. I've told her I stayed at her house, but thought it kind to omit some details. She sent me an email today saying she loves me.

Next day my brother said he could drive me as far as Sheffield. I settled down in my favourite pub with Isabelle and a pint of stout.

Me and Kirsty and the girls went to Dieppe on holiday. It was done on a budget, and we took a ferry from Newhaven which arrived at Dieppe at 3am. We tried, but had very little sleep on the corridors of the ferry. They let you sleep in the terminal at Dieppe until 6am, and then, rucksacks on our backs and bags for life in our hands, we walked to the gare, which we imagined our best bet for somewhere to have something to eat. The station was empty except for a few drunks. The girls slumped back to sleep as I went out to scout for a cafe which according to Trap Incisor was open at 6am.

We strapped the girls back into their rucksacks and walked them another fifteen minutes to the cafe. Where there was nothing at all to eat. We sat there till about 9, then got two taxis, at 16 Euros each, to the campsite, where we slumped in the bar over ineffective coffee as the morning aquafit classes started in the adjoining pool, to a soundtrack of Europop.

At half past one, almost delerious with lack of sleep and hunger, I went in to the campsite reception and shop, where there was nothing but baguettes. I bought two. The gorgeous receptionist--natural black straightened hair, scooped-necked black T-shirt--to my relief, said we could have our caravan a bit earlier than our official check-in time, in an hour's time. We sat on the grass outside, ravenous, and ate the bread and drank some bottled water. People stared at us.

For the rest of the holiday, it mainly rained. We discovered a dial-a-ride bus service that could get us into Dieppe, otherwise it was an energetic thity-five-minute bike ride that only me and Fiona could manage.

There was an open-air gallery, which turned out to be an alley onto which people has posted their art; it was down by the docks, and to get there, we were directed by a burly shipyard worker. There was an exhibition about the history of skateboarding in Dieppe, and a more conventional one in the Maison des Avocats.

In the hypermarket, we found the largest pack of loo roll I've ever seen.

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Permalink Fri 15th August 2014

I managed to postpone the "voluntary" interview with Plod. It was supposed to be this Wednesday, but I was anxious not to get arrested before me and Kirsty and the girls set sail for Brittany this morning.

When I get back I'll tell you more about my uncle's cremation and the shortest wake I've ever been to. The funeral was at 2.30, we spend the usual twenty minutes or so getting to the pub, then everyone left at 5.00! Most of them are teetotal, and this demonstrates the baleful consequences of giving up the drink.

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looby, n.; pl. loobies. A lout; an awkward, stupid, clownish person

M / 50 / Lancaster ("the Brighton of the North").

"Looby is a left-wing intellectual who is obsessed with a) women's clothes and b) tits." -- Joy of Bex.

WLTM literate woman, 35-63. Must have nice tits, a PhD, and an mdma factory in the shed, although the first on its own will do in the short term.

There are plenty of bastards who drink moderately. Of course, I don't consider them to be people. They are not our comrades.
Sergei Korovin, quoted in Pavel Krusanov, The Blue Book of the Alcoholic

I am here to change my life. I am here to force myself to change my life.
Chinese man I met during Freshers Week at Lancaster University, 2008

The more democratised art becomes, the more we recognise in it our own mediocrity.
James Meek

I hate the iPod; I hate the idea that music is such a personal thing that you can just stick some earplugs in your ears and have an experience with music. Music is a social phenomenon, and it’s about sharing with each other a certain oral tradition, ultimately.
Jeremy Wagner

La vie poetique has its pleasures, and readings--ideally a long way from home--are one of them. I can pretend to be George Szirtes.
George Szirtes

One good thing about being a Marxist is that you don't have to pretend to like work.
Terry Eagleton, What Is A Novel?, Lancaster University, 1 Feb 2010

The working man is a fucking loser.
Mick, The Golden Lion, Lancaster, 21 Mar 2011

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