I've been working at the fag end of Lancashire in an open-air shopping centre in Fleetwood, a wind-blown place with the smell of rotting fish stewing in wheelie bins. To get there for 1145, when I start, I have to leave on the 0938 from Lancaster. In the morning, the journey gives me time to read, and I have finished the second volume of Knausgård and am now wrapped up in Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend, about her childhood and adolescence in 50s Naples. She's a better writer than Knausgård, manipulating language into evocative conjunctions, and able to still a moment better than he.
On the way back, weary from cajoling people into answering questions in which they have no interest, and filling in half the answers myself based on imaginative extrapolation from their clothes and manners, I have taken to cancelling my evening at home and settling into a pub in Blackpool.
You have not seen obesity until you have sat at teatime in a cheap pub in Blackpool. Massive couples sit with legs splayed, eating, with cutlery seen as a refinement too far. One man was so fat he couldn't turn his head as far as he wanted to follow a boob-vested teenager out the front door. It's a coarse and accepting place and I like it.
Walking back to the station the other day, I fell in with three homeless people in a shop doorway. They were intelligent, fallen middle class people. The bloke offered me a bottle of lager. In a well-meant but unthinkingly superior gesture, I refused, saying "No thanks -- we can go better than that!" and produced a bottle of Prosecco intended for my journey home. One of the girls struggled with a mouthful, her manners in a competition for her face with a contortion brought on by the wine's acid sparkle; she made her thanks, and went back to the Carlsberg.
I constantly lie to strangers to make my imaginative life more interesting and my lived one lazier: I told them I was a security guard in a shopping centre. A few weeks ago, at the opera, I told a curious elderly lady that I play the viola.
There's a vacant room in the house at the moment and I was supposed to be showing a teacher round it 8.30. Enjoying myself too much, I rang him with a tale of having to "finish a project in Blackpool", which, devoid of detail, is a lie only by omission.
He only wants the room for a few weeks, which suits me, as I am moving out of here. I am sick of this house. I am sick of living with the cycle of strangers, sick of being around Muslims and their smiling separatism, sick of the insatiable desire of the gas and electricity meters, sick of homely soups and bonhomie in the kitchen, sick of never knowing if anyone else is in, sick of shit and piss and flushing that isn't mine.
Trina has offered me her narrowboat until (or if) Kirsty decides to move in with boyf and let me rent what used to be our house, sharing it with the girls. Therefore, I've got to start giving away my furniture and belongings. I only want to keep my hifi, my records and the futon. I got the beds, the fridge-freezer, the tables, the sofas, the washing machine -- everything -- free, and I am only attached to those white goods that can be crushed and put up your nose.
Wendy's ex is a manipulative man who sleeps on his mum's sofa every night in order to claim that he can't have their daughter round and who controls her by using their daughter as his proxy. He's very jealous of me, and poking around on her mantelpiece the other day, he read all the postcards I've sent to her over the last two or three years. Worried about the postcards? You should see the texts, mate.
Kitty has been superb in all this, the best of critical friends. I went round to hers on Wednesday: Prosecco, acid, and laughter to the point of crying with it. She wanted me to feel her thighs, proud of the tautness brought on by going to that outer circle of hell known as the gym. "Oooh yes," I said, in a put-on northern accent while pincering her legs. "That's the finest specimen we've seen in the Heifer Class at the Westmorland Show for many a year."
When we'd calmed down, we talked about Wendy's situation. Kitty said she had proposed that she gets him to give her back his key and set a deadline for him to move all his paraphernalia out of the house.
When I got in I texted Wendy about it. "...it's just that I'm concerned that this is turning into a borderline abusive relationship. We'll do anything we can to help you. I love you and I want to do anything I can to make your life better. I can help with re-decorating and I can have the dog when you're at work and help take his stuff to the tip. Me and Kitty can help you. Everything though, the key, his stuff, and having [their daughter] more, you've got to do it xxx." And later, from bed, aching with the lack of her, "...night night. I send you a hectare of love, a metric ton of tonnage of love, a wharf of love, and a little hayfever of love that I turn around along my lips xxx"
Wendy and her ex set up a Summit Meeting for today. They met in a beige pub whose interior decor seems designed to drain emotion from tense meetings with exes. It was all I could think of all day. She rang me afterwards, saying that it went surprisingly easily -- almost too easily, with keys handed over voluntarily and a couple of dates arranged when he would have his daughter. She said that her relief was only tempered by wondering whether such a ready capitulation was another round in his manipulative game.
And then she asked me what I am doing tomorrow, saying that she had a couple of hours free while he took daughter swimming, and was thinking of going up to the park. "I'm going out with you, of course," I said. "You and a bottle or two of Prosecco. It's been ages. I've missed you."
I was standing in the dull vestibule of the pub, but inside of me, as I put the phone down, I felt as though a liquid joy had been poured into me. It was a mixture of admiration at what she'd done, the joy of having her back in our circle ("The Unholy Trinity", Kitty named it), a pleasure at having such a brilliant friend as Kitty to urge her into action, and -- and here I descend again into the folly that Wendy provokes in me -- a lip-bite of hope that perhaps at some point in the future she might come to love me in the way I do her; followed immediately by a foreboding of the pain that such a hope will cause me in the future.
I rang The Racing Commentator and tumbled away about it for an hour. "I must love her", I thought to myself, "talking to people about her like this." He was advising me not to exploit the situation, to tone down the declarations of love, and to play a long game, to be practically helpful and a good friend, to wait. I must keep reminding myself though, that nothing is going to develop, no matter how much I want it.
Meta: I managed to throw my computer to the ground in a leg-meets-wire accident. Alcohol may have been involved. It made a funny buzzing noise and the hard drive appeared to be knackered. I've changed the hard drive now but the keyboard's still a bit moody. The greater problem was having to re-write my style sheet and all the shortcuts again. I've lost hundreds of emails, my address book, my RSS feeds, my...
Yes, I'm getting bored too now. Let's get on with it.
I went, out of a reluctant parent's duty, to watch middle daughter in a professional open-air play in our spectacular park, which is a dreamy, wonky jumble of hillocks and dells colonised from a former quarry. It poured down, and I was ill-prepared. By the end of Act One I was soaked even unto my underpants. No-one wanted to help me with my bottle of Prosecco so I drank the lot. Rain was dripping off my hair into the glass. It was poetic for a while until it got a bit cold. At the interval I said I wasn't enjoying it and was going home; the selfish, alcoholic impulse. I apologised to everyone the following morning and they were charitable about attributing my departure to the rain, when in fact it was because I found it a wearyingly boring play.
Three weddings (but no funeral yet): first was that of two friends of mine who met in the same week as did Trina and I. Laura's well-endowed in two ways, but Richard's fairly poor, and with such a financial mismatch I'm always curious about whether they've made a morganatic marriage. You won't get anything out of Laura though. She observes the middle class taboo on any discussions of money other than by its proxy, house prices.
My first thought was how to avoid all of it, and ended up attending nothing more than half an afternoon at Richard's pre-stag do drinks. It was a pleasant enough couple of hours spent around a table with men I didn't know, trying to look relaxed as I mentally scrabbled around for common interests. I sometimes wonder at the ease with which others seem to respond to situations like that. Perhaps, like me, they're dissembling but being more successful in doing so; or maybe they're happy with having one personality which doesn't change according to circumstances.
I was evasive about whether I might turn up later, whilst knowing that I wasn't ever going to spend a night with a rock guitarist and a load of pissed-up men in a basement.
One night last week, and out of nowhere, I was overwhelmed with a pre-emptive grief about my Mum dying. I texted my brother, telling him that I was in floods of tears thinking about her, "Don't reply, I selfishly said, "it's just me sorting myself out."
The following morning I sent him a card apologising for burdening him with it, and saying that I'm sure he doesn't need me adding to what might be his own worries about what's to come. He sent a generous and couth reply, saying that he recognised that it came from the heart and that he's got big ears and is always willing to listen.
The following weekend it was my sister's. The uncooperative owl carrying the rings was the star of the show, much preferring a perch on the deep windowsill in the C14th castle in which the wedding was held, rather than the best man's forearm.
At the reception I was pleased to be sat opposite my mum's best friend's personable early twenties daughters, who were both dressed in the same sunflower patterned mini-dress. They both liked them when they saw them in Topshop and neither would back down. The prettier one -- the one that has kept her eyebrows -- helped me with a bottle of red, then I got her mum to pinch another one looking forlorn on an adjacent table.
We had canapés and Cava on the lawn, during which middle daughter took a picture of my youngest, who works in a record shop and is into the modern beat music. I think it looks like a future album cover. There's one of me side on with my big conk which makes me look like a well-dressed rake, which I would post here had I not lost my password for my ftp client.
On the same day it was Denise's. She has been my work colleague, sexting partner and confidante; she's none of these any more. In one way I'm pleased I couldn't go: it would only be a goodbye, a long second of wordless recapping of everything we've said.
Afterwards, me and and Trina went to Appleby for a couple of days. There is absolutely nothing to do there, an advantage that in this tourism-saturated age is one possessed by fewer and fewer places. In the old market hall, you can fondle polished stones made into earrings by a local artist, while you are stalked on your way round by someone who thinks a pestering quiz about your stay will make you want to buy a brooch, and that's about it. We ate and drank, mainly, and sat in our room overlooking the town square making
snippy and derogatory remarks about the populace.
The main pastime in Appleby is talking about others. In the Hare and Hounds, one of the greatest pubs in the north of England, three burly agricultural types were talking in that way that is ostensibly private but meant for interested others too.
A rotund man was talking about how he reacted when he asked his son, after years of suspicion, whether he was gay. "Dad. Do you have to ask?" "I wasn't keen at first," said Dad, "...if I'm honest, but --- why not? I don't know. As long as he's happy." It was a delight to hear everyone's reactions, which amounted to a Westmorland shoulder shrug. In pure farming territory.
At the bar, the barmaid was talking about wine. "I thought Shiraz was a type of sausage." Another habitué told the assembled company about a time round last Christmas when he got so pissed that he had to be helped to stagger home by one of the barmaids. "Yes, yes, I remember that," she chimed in. "You got to Grant St and then you said 'you'll have to go now, Jean'll see me with you', and I said 'I'm helping you home, I'm not shagging you'. And you stood gripping those railings for so long saying 'I can't go on' that I had to leave you and come back here."
Trina got intercepted by some women as she came back from the loo, who told her that as offcomers they were just a bit wary of how we'd react to the language in there. "But we saw you laughing away so we knew you'd be OK."
Wendy said that her ex had commented on the fact that she looked "dolled-up" when she came to meet me the other day. I looked down at the carpet and at the table, the vast and unbridgeable two feet of distance between us, a Prosecco sadness, knowing that what her estranged husband imagines is going on, is what I wish were happening. I have thrown my last die at Wendy, which means I have reached the height of delusion and folly. Half past two in the morning, from my bed. It took absolutely fucking ages to write, a drunken man on a very old phone.
"I love and fancy Wendy [sic -- missed out the "you"]. I would do everything in my power to make you feel loved and wanted and to be a good co-parent for [her daughter]. I absolutely ache for you at night. I want to be yours. I miss you, I want you, and I love you."
Then, next morning, a clarion banging in my head, saying "Why do you carry on like this when she is not interested?"
The lock is buggered on my front door so we can't get in or out through it. The bit that sticks out has come off its spring in the lock and is stuck hard. This means that I am treating the neighbours to the unseemly spectacle of me climbing in and out of the house by the front window. After some sweatily unsuccessful efforts at sawing it off manually, I am hiring a mains-powered jigsaw and slicing through the fucking thing completely. If that doesn't work I'll drill the whole lock out.
That will happen when I've finished these few days of working doing "exit surveys" for a market research company. "Exit survey" sounds to me like something you do with people at the point of death, which -- seeing as these are being done at a stinky open-air shopping centre in Fleetwood, with its embittered coach parties -- might not be too inaccurate a description.
Fuckwit Lodger and his mum came over to collect his belongings, first amongst which is "his" cat. No friends, no girlfriends, no visitors ever, just a cat. His mum's voice was a forty-minute unbroken drone of her health problems, moans at Fuckwit for incorrect packing technique, and a detailed disquisition on different types of dog food.
I don't care about them; I'm just sorry about the cat. Poor thing will now be cooped up twenty-four hours a day in a bedsit in the worst part of Morecambe. I've been letting her out for hours at a time, and overnight occasionally.
Me and Trina had a jolly night at a soul and house do in glamorous Clayton-le-Woods. Walking there we got a lift with these three gorgeous, chatty women who'd driven up from Derby, although their accents were Scottish.
Arrived and met several of the usual suspects. I made the mistake of buying a "fajita" from the van outside. It was like a cold stew of slimy veg and salad. I asked them if they were doing Clitheroe Food Festival which is coming up on 13th August. "Well, Clitheroe's never really worked for us," she said. "No, that's 'cos your food's shit," I thought.
There was problem with the volume though. One DJ in particular was wrecking the speakers and the music yet again with absolutely ear-splitting volume. I politely asked him to turn it down just a notch, and he stuck two fingers up at me. Poor lad's deaf as a post. I wish I could install an electric shock machine into the volume knob when he's playing. In the future, I'm just going to avoid events where he's on the bill. He's like a patient you can't help.
We went back to the hotel to wait until he'd finished and put some music on. I got a couple more ales down me neck while Trina did her bit for the Swedish vodka industry.
Went back and it was still too loud, but not to worry, it was warm enough to dance around outside for a bit.
Then we bumped into a couple of people I know, an ex-copper and a youngish DJ who made me glow very nicely with some comments about my musical knowledge. We acquired a couple of unknown girls, as all perambulations to hotel rooms require, and we all ended up in Plod's room where to my immense delight he produced a bottle of his Hungarian Dad's homemade pálinka.
The plan for afterwards was to go back to the DJ's room. Trina had gone back to our hotel by them, but I asked someone where room 15 was, and knocked on some person's door who expressed a small degree of displeasure at being knocked up at half two by some random. It was actually room 50, I'd misheard him.
As I walked back I realised I didn't have my key, nor my phone to ring Trina. I didn't want to knock the hotel owner up at 3am so wrote a note on a serviette telling her not to start her car as I'd be sleeping under it. Decided to try an alternative route into the hotel annex by climbing over a flimsy wooden fence with an 8 foot drop on the other side. I succeeded but I snapped the fence and was a bit worried I'd be on CCTV.
I knocked on the wrong window to be let in and saw this naked black man standing there with his mobile phone in one hand. I eventually found the correct room and climbed in through the window. Trina told me that a handsome black man had met her outside the hotel and walked her home. He had been texting her a bit trying to get her to go round to his room but she'd declined. In such situations I am expected to be jealous, but I couldn't have cared less if she'd had a bit of black pudding for supper.
For some time I have been vexed by the the closure to the public of the Storey Gardens in the city centre. Together with the Mechanics Institute, which later became the Storey Art Gallery and Museum, they were bequeathed to the City of Lancaster in 1891. So I don't see why they shouldn't be open to us.
All entrances are locked.
But three high gates present no obstacle to a nimble man.
Inside, a more difficult, flimsier fence to be overcome. It kept listing, making me cling hard as it leant backwards.
However, soon got inside to a anti-thrill let-down of no falling masonry or friable walls.
But eventually, I was thwarted by a gate set inside a ten foot high wall.
A hacksaw might be necessary for my next visit. On the other side is a neglected sculpture park thing. It's been robbed in the past so they probably want to keep the overly curious out.
I was pleased to see that my welfare in these endeavours is of concern to the Council.
There were a couple of interesting alleys to explore.
I was curious about the lower one.
Passing some sheds...
I came across an open fire exit.
And found myself in a gallery, where an assistant looked surprised to see me, and said it wasn't opening until tomorrow. I said I'd been doing some work with someone upstairs and he'd told me to come and have a look round.
I quite liked this one.
Probably won't be appearing in Exile On Pain Street's New York auction summaries anytime soon, but I still can't afford it.
Thank you Thomas Storey. I'll be back soon, better equipped.
To the opera. Well, a recording of it anyway.
A plot so predictable -- the maverick outsider winning a song contest and thereby a girl offered as a chattel -- allows you to concentrate on the orchestration and the grain of the voice. It's an idiotic artform and I don't find it musically interesting until you get to Die Soldaten or Lulu, but there's something luxurious about being in an era where massive resources are put into making something so silly, elaborate.
The cheapest seats with an unrestricted view at Glyndebourne are £80, so £13.50 translates the discount for a vicarious night not at the opera. The theatre's bar is staffed by young people whom I would have assumed, when those in that age group were less conservative than they are now, to be stoned. I think they're just self-absorbed. In the intervals, they dreamily offered up chocolate bars and crisps. It was a pity we couldn't have started an hour earlier and had a proper "long interval" with frocks and canapés and cava. They had us in there for five hours, and nothing to eat, although given the speed I was able to key up in the darkness, the amuse-gueles might have been wasted on me.
Thursday, and the First Test against Pakistan, and Mohammed Amir's first international match since spending a couple of years by himself in a small room for match-fixing. I got sozzled in my back yard listening to it. I was supposed to be going to Manchester that evening for a talk by some Cubans who were jailed for a longer time than Amir, over something or other, but I rang the co-ordinator up half an hour before the train went with a story about being detained in Preston having to wait for my daughter. Getting out of bothersome obligations is a rarely announced benefit of parenthood.
And inevitably, we come to Wendy. I wish I could come in Wendy, on Wendy. I would like to do everything short of coming, with Wendy.
We bought two bottles of cava from Tesco, straight out of the fridge, went to a chazzer and bought two glasses for a pound, each assuming the other would bring them. We sat sun-speckled under a tree in the castle's grounds. All afternoon I could hardly keep my eyes off her dress hem. She reclined back onto her elbows and I was full of desire for her; specifically, to stroke her. "Wendy, I think your dress would look better like this," as I took her hem half way up her thighs. With the exception of what I really want to say, I talk freely with her, almost like word association. We keyed up some mdma and she had her vape thing for the kush. There was a gust of wind and her dress blew up over her knickers.
She texted me twice later that evening. "Thanks for a blissful episode -- spots of time we won't remember xxx." I was so off my head on mdma, and so enjoying the headphoned techno, and the tesselated, fractal patterns that were appearing on my bedspread when I opened my eyes, that I couldn't reply until the next day. "Oh Wendy, I was so deliciously wankered yesterday. Had a few more sparkles and was high as a kite all evening. Twas a lovely dappled afternoon. And I finally got a look at your underwear. See you as soon as possible. PS. You are so effortlessly sexy. You have little idea of what a pleasure it is simply looking at you Xx."
Trina texted me at about 10pm, annoyed that I had turned my phone off. "Is there a day in the 4 years I've known you when you haven't protected me from the truth. I doubt it. Whatever, I'm getting a bit fed up with it all, actually. You don't have to come round tomorrow. I'll just see you on Sunday for [a dance night we're going to]."
I went round in any case. She said she'd forgotten her messages, which became increasingly hostile after the one I've quoted above. We sat in her garden and got through five (oops) bottles of cava, then had sex. Wrong, wrong, wrong. But not wrong enough to stop me sexually exploiting her. The girl I want to reject me pushes herself towards me; the girl I want reminds me wordlessly fifty times in an afternoon, of the boundaries that she has set.
Four women at the next table.
"...sitting on't balcony, looking down at all them cunts down there -- she's dobbed him and she's ditched him and she's getting fingered in the bushes, fucking fat joint, fuck, no, it's not a blokes' holiday...no, no, you're not [going home], you're coming to Galgate and getting off your face."
One of them came over to me. I couldn't remember who she was. "You remember, you were talking about Jeremy Corbyn the other day." Two of them just had their wedding ceremony at the Registry Office. One of the brides was wearing a see-through red artificial lace top over a white bra, the other, trying much less hard, a plain black top and black jeans.
Two hours in and it's all winding down in a familiar vortex in which longwinded expressions along the lines of how lovely you are and how I've never met someone that is such a kind person, no shut up I'm talking, no listen, you know what I'm saying..." are now souring into bitter, drunken, loud, life-as-soap-opera. They've been refused any more drinks. One of the brides' mothers has grabbed her jacket and stomped off. "Fucking pricks."
Me and Trina went to Middlesbrough. My mum wanted a second opinion on her clothes for my sister's wedding next month. My sister has been fretting, asking me, amongst other inanities, if I'd like her to buy me a "burgundy" tie to co-ordinate with that of the groom.
We took my mum to a cheap pub for a dinner: a bolus of reconstituted potato, and stools of extruded vegetable fat. Back at hers, she tried on a boxy navy outfit, which I said made her look like a Tory councillor. She had another idea, a white and creme combo which at least has the advantage of a kinder colour. She said "I'd prefer to turn up looking like a scruff. I've no interest in clothes whatsoever."
I am spending the least amount of time possible at this wedding, since I avoid work whenever possible. Trina is collaborating in a lie to my sister that I've got to leave early in order to get to a freelance job in Glasgow.
In fact, we're escaping to a hotel in Appleby, a town whose attraction is that it lacks anything of interest. Dribbly, somnolent afternoons in the bar are enlivened only by the arrival of the militantly healthy types dragging the rain in with them, beaming with a self-satisfaction that comes from being razored for hours by sleet.
Me and Wendy ventured up the park. She wanted to nip off into the bushes. "Hang on, I need a wee. Have you got a tissue? No, I can't use my Barclaycard statement." We came back to mine and had a bottle of Prosecco and some weed instead. We text and talk like lovers. We are not lovers. "Being with you would feel incestuous," she said a couple of weeks ago. She sees me like a brother.
I've got sex on a plate with a woman I neither love nor fancy; I cannot have a physical relationship with someone I do. It pains me. It's sad. I feel it as a loss, a waste, a waste of ignoring the natural part of the spectrum of affection that I feel for her.
When she stood up to leave, angling her head and lips away to offer me a sisterly cheek, I held her for a fraction of a second beyond the moment at which I could feel her relaxing to tell me to unclasp her; desire, time racing, the intense few seconds in which I am allowed to hold her to me, desire as strong as the horror of appearing pestering or needy.
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