The newest lodger, a professional vaper with a cover story of being a third year undergrad, is getting on my tits and I apologise in advance for a bit of domestic whinging. Whilst his irritations are manifold, I will confine my examples to ones based around food.
I am in the kitchen caramelising some onions. He comes down and stands about, getting in the way, wiping his eyes histrionically. He opens the cellar door to get some air in, whilst remaining within a couple of feet of the offending alliums.
I get some skate wings, sold off cheap by the man on the market at five o'clock. Fusspot comes down again, and says "Fuck, that smells really fishy! That's really fishy fish!"
I make a tarte au moutarde, which involves Gruyère. Despite the fact that by this point, three months in, I am wishing he could accidentally swallow a mixture of lorazepam and fentanyl, I am willing to offer him a slice. However, in his new-found role as Kitchen Policeman, he comes down announces "that smells like fetid socks." "Well, thank you very much Fusspot. I won't offer you any then."
Then there is the competitiveness. I have absolutely no interest in competing with anyone, for anything, ever. Well, perhaps, I do try to dress better than other men, but that's a low bar to hurdle in Lancaster.
I make a nut roast, to be reheated on Christmas Day for Kirsty, the girls, and me. It's a recipe from Kirsty's late Dad, which involves a middle layer of prunes soaked in Armagnac. "Oh," he says, "you should taste my nut roast. It's just fantastic. I've had lots of people say they love it." The tarte au moutarde caused him to say that he can make an excellent butter pie. "Yeah, you should make it then," I said.
But such fabulous dishes never materialse; instead, he lives on Cup-A-Soup and Iceland pizza. Recycling bins do not lie.
I was revolting on Tuesday ("only yesterday, looby?") in Blackpool. As Bill Bryson once said about the place "They spent eleven million pounds on cleaning up Blackpool. Now the turds sparkle." The poverty, away from the town centre is still startling. Torn net curtains hang listlessly across filthy windows; endless closed cafes with broken plywood signs.
The Government is refusing to accept Lancashire County Council's decision to refuse two fracking applications in the county, and has "called the application in", which means it will be decided by a fervently pro-fracking minister. Yes, just the one minister from central government, not local, elected councillors.
It was humbling, after my gruelling forty-five-minute ordeal on a warm train, to meet someone who had set off from Oxford to get here for the beginning of the enquiry. Another lad had come even further, from Chelmsford, draped in an England flag across which he'd written "Essex supports Frack Free Lancashire."
I had to repair to a pub afterwards in order to check on the progress of the frostbite, so asked directions to Churchill's, my favourite pub in Blackpool, a somnolent place drugged with Cliff Richard, where tatty people of my age and older go for a good afternoon's swearing. I was hoping that I'd have some carbon-neutral company but anti-frackers are a fairly restrained fiftysomething crowd not given to afternoon drinking in public houses.
The new regime with Trina continues smoothly. Met up with her for a drink in Ormskirk yesterday. One of the regulars is a bulbous disabled man who has become as one with his scooter, growing into and around it. He came over and started talking to us, amiably enough, but was reluctant to go until I started saying "OK, see you then. Bye." He repeatedly did a thumbs up at us, over what I'm not sure. As he moved away, I said, not quite sotto voce, "right, thanks, now fuck off." Unfortunately he heard it and I had to pretend not to have said anything as he looked back at us.
At a table opposite, a couple were not happy. "I'm not sure where this relationship is going," she said. "I bought you haggis, neeps and tatties, didn't I?" he rejoined. "Yes, but I wanted black pudding as well."
I go to make a phone call and stand at the top of the stairs. A thin, middleaged woman has got there first and is talking loudly on hers, so I have to pretend to have forgotten something and go back downstairs, but her voice carried well enough. "Have you seen her? Well, you make your own mind up, but I think she's a weirdo. Right weirdo. You decide when you see her but she's got this right pointy little head. Probably takes it up the arse."
After the latest tawdry episode between Trina and I, I suggested we clarify matters by not having sex any more. I said that we should rescue the good bits, like going out dancing. But no more sex.
"Well, we'll see," she replied. Dancing is easy. Rescuing it means a bit more. Starting with [dance music event later this month] x". Hang on, hang on, I don't want to "rescue" it. However, the new regime seems to be working fine. I am glad for her, pleased that she is starting to accept what I can offer, three-a-half years into trying to bend it into something more, during which I have not helped matters by having sex with her. It's a relief not to have her presence in the bed. Overnight, the desire has entirely disappeared.
Met Wendy for a couple of bottles of Prosecco today. Multicoloured top in that maddeningly apparently transparent fabric.
Wendy, take your bra off. Your tits would look lovely under that top if you weren't wearing a bra.
We talked about lying and its role in the presentation of various versions of oneself. She said that she was a bit of a delinquent at school (the same school in Morecambe at which I finished off my patchwork quilt of a secondary education), never doing a single piece of homework and refusing to sit any exams. We both got into University by dint of Adult Education evening classes.
I watched her go upstairs, raking my eyes down her lovely figure, wishing I had permission to do it overtly and often. "Erm... you know that packet of sparklydust we've been using? Can I have it?" I laughed out loud at her nerve and slid it under her purse. We kissed goodbye on the street, a moment's competition for her lips.
She texted. "Lovely afternoon looby! See you soon xx." "It was indeed. And in the interests of never denying anyone a sincerely meant compliment, you just get more and more gorgeous." Got in, took some more sparklydust, and spent a couple of hours wanking thinking about her, via a long and detailed fantasy involving sitting next to her on a train and making her shift her dress up high across her bare thighs and running my fingers along its hem.
I wonder when all this of this will collapse. My life feels like an experiment. Just one card at the bottom to fall over, and down it'll all come crashing. Such are my rug-addled thoughts at half past four in the morning with techno and a Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival sweatshirt on. I'm never sure whether they're representative of lucidity, or just tripe.
To Manchester with middle daughter. She's got an interview with a theatrical agent. "Look Jenny, as we don't know how long this is going to last, I'm not sitting in their reception -- I'll go and have a pint then you text me when you've finished." "Yes, I'm sure you'll sniff out a pub. Your conk's big enough."
Back in Lancaster, down the pub, I am sharing a toilet cubicle with my Loveable But Uncool Friend. "Right," I said, softly. "Make sure you wash your hands and try not to go sniffing your head off as you go downstairs." "OK THEN! RIGHT YEAH NO PROBLEM!"
He went out, and at least obeyed the first part of the injunction. A few seconds later, after I had tidied everything away, an unhinged and aggressive regular barged into the cubicle. I thought he was desperate for a poo. "It's OK, you can use it now," I said.
Back at my table, our resident lunatic came over. "Give me a line of that or I'm ringing the police." "Pardon?" "I want a line of that beak. You two were snorting it upstairs." "I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about." "Ok then, I'll ask the police to sort it out."
He went back to his table and made a show of pretending to ring the police. We resolutely ignored him, although my doubt that he was dissembling was sufficient to make me feel nervous. He then went up to the bar, spoke to a barman and pointed to me. The barman's insouciant nod reassured me. He went back to his table and nothing happened.
Yesterday, as I walked in, he greeted me with a "y'right?" You don't remember it do you?
Me and Wendy got through a couple of bottles of wine on Friday, then last night we met up round at hers with Kitty and another friend. Wendy spilt a load of stardust over the dog so we were considering sniffing it off the dog's back.
She told us all about last Monday morning. Getting into bed after waving me off at 4.30am, she set her alarm for 7am, to get her daughter up and off to school. To her shock, she woke up at 9am to see her estranged husband looming over her. "Wendy! It's 9 o'clock. [Our daughter] is going to be late for school. And what's been going on? There's three empty bottles of wine downstairs. Who's been round?" "That's none of his fucking business!" we all chimed.
Her daughter, seeing her parents rowing again, started crying, but was soon becalmed by the sight of Wendy's vibrator on the bedside table. "What's that blue thing?" she asked. Wendy swiftly moved the blue thing under her pillow, before soon-to-be-ex-husband noticed it. "What's that blue thing?" daughter continued to ask, while hubby self-righteously started gathering a few things she would need for school. "It's a pen, a big pen," Wendy said.
"He's got absolutely no right to march into this house -- my house, not our house, and if it had been up to me I could have rung up school with some excuse and we could have had a duvet day. What a dick. The sooner he goes to Japan the better."
It was a funny story, with more detail than I've given here, but in the midst of the general laughter, all I could think about was why Wendy had been using her vibrator after seeing me. Vainly -- in both senses -- I was hoping that it might have been connected with our evening together.
On Sunday night I was walking home at about 10pm when Wendy rang. We chatted as far as my door before she asked me if I had any wine in. I had -- so got the two bottles and took them round. Wendy is strikingly attractive, witty, and clever, and has excellent dress sense -- I mean generally, and literally, in that she almost always wears dresses, secondhand, close-fitting dresses. Her good-natured rebuttal of my advances came in the form of my Christmas card which depicted the front cover of a 60s novel.
"I'm not entirely sure where I stand with her," I told the taxi driver. "What do you think a woman means," he said, "when she invites you round at ten o'clock?" "Yes," I thought, "but not Wendy. It really is a friendly invite to take fully-clothed advantage of the fact that she's not at work for a few days."
We sat up until half past four, assisted by a couple of games of "Whose line is it anyway" and talking with uninhibited openness about everything except the one taboo subject: how I want her. She's got a gratefully affectionate dog, which she rescued, mid-pregnancy, from the streets of Blackburn, onto which she'd been abandoned by its previous owner in the middle of winter. It snuggled down on an old quilt in front of the gas fire. Wendy put a blanket over her, and after a bit of stroking, the dog started snoring.
Meanwhile, upstairs, things were more tense. As if sensing the repressed desire and cross-species domestic harmony going on downstairs, Wendy's nine-year-old daughter started crying. "She never does this," said Wendy. When Wendy came down she said that her daughter had been wailing, asking who she was talking to downstairs. No doubt her daughter's anxious over her Dad leaving.
At the end, Wendy left herself in my arms for a long time, I sloped my hands along her back and down onto her beautiful waist and back up; the ridge of her bra strap. Silently, I so wanted to
fuck kiss her. It was a new year's resolution of mine to stop sending her the sex-tinged texts I've been wont to send, so all I sent at 5am was "Lovely evening Wendy. Please could you wear that dress again? That would be much appreciated." She replied "Night night petal. Yes I will x".
Me and Trina stayed in Southport for a couple of days whilst she was working nearby, a harmonious period of drinking, drugs and sex. We resided in my favourite sort of hotel -- creaky and scratched, the calm of the lounge broken only by the occasional clattering to the floor of those tick-tick metal sticks that announce a lopsided elderly person.
Back in Lancaster, I cooked us a tortilla. "Why are you chopping apples?" she asked, leaning over. They were red potatoes. We went upstairs and put some music on. Trina, for some reason, took her trousers and knickers off.
Whilst she danced about in this state -- a sense of distaste arising in me -- I was curious about the contents of a letter that had arrived in my absence. "What's that?" she asked. "I'm not sure. It could be Refreshers or Sherbet Dip." "You mean you don't know?" I have in the past ordered both, but I was confused by the foreign postmark, a land with which I have little commerce.
I poked about a bit on the internet, and eventually found out that they were Sherbet Dips. I haven't had them before but it is Try January. (I can't be bothered with footnotes, but Try January is a practical riposte to Dry January, the imaginary invalid's version of dieting -- ineffectually staying off what you fancy for a month, ostentatiously cutting la bella figura before the relief of recidivism on 1st February). "I am blessed with the lack of any desire for self-improvement," I told Wendy the other night.
She began to berate me for my ignorance. "So you're prepared to take something and you don't even know what it is?" "I'm clarifying that ambiguity now. Now stop nagging. It's like having my mother breathing down my neck." "I can't believe that you're so immature to take something so dangerous." "Trina, you've got a glass of one of the most dangerous drugs in the world in your hand right now."
This juvenile, chav-level argument went on for a while. I might have told her to shut up or fuck off. She went to sleep downstairs. In the morning she came back into my bed, stayed there for fifteen minutes, then did a stage whispered "Alright then, I'll go and get ignored somewhere else."
An hour later, she came back in with some coffee. "A peace offering," she said. I thanked her, drank it, and came down into the kitchen. I said I don't want to have any more nights like that. "It's beneath us both, and it happens over and over again."
She gathered up her things, handed me the front door key and said "Thanks, it's been a blast."
At 1640 she texted "...and tell Viv she was right all along. What was I doing with someone like you? And end of contact now please. Bye x"
At 2139 she was back. "Just to make it real this time I've told people (i.e., your friends) that it's the end of us. No going back this time. I'm really sad but I never want today to be repeated, as I know you don't either. Today was awful. Not needed on the journey. Thanks anyway.
2229: "It's going to be hard x", to which I replied "Well, not any more! :)"
0018: "Now I'm in a comfy bed it's actually OK, phew x"
0135: "It just wasn't quite enough, was it? Sending me flowers and forgiving me my failures and weaknesses was well on the way to learning how to care. But you couldn't quite break through your wall of self, could you? Such a shame. Music is your substitute for caring. Good luck. Be lucky. Be happy."
Tomorrow dinnertime, I'm going for a drink with Wendy.
I spend weekends at the girls' house; drunk in charge of teenagers. The power went off all of a sudden while I was on the phone to Erica. Our electricity substation, built for some unfathomable reason next to a river, was flooded. All the mobile networks went down too. Me and the girls sat in the darkness, wondering what was going on. My youngest produced a battery-powered radio, but no local radio was broadcasting.
We found a torch and went scrabbling round for candles and batteries. Middle daughter, with the pellucid eyesight of the young, by reading out a creepy passage from Jane Ayre.
Following morning, the local radio station was back on. They performed heroically, two DJs broadcasting without ads or music for over thirty hours to keep everyone informed with what was happening. One by one, schools announced they were closing. There was joy in the house as Melanie and Fiona's school was announced as such, then redoubled delight when Jenny found that no buses were running to her school in Preston.
Next morning, we went out like disaster tourists to find out what was going on. Hundreds of others had the same idea. A single shop was open -- an off-licence, running on candles. There was debris everywhere, yard-high tide marks in the car park. People went down to the Quay to watch the Lune in replete flow. Erica said that she saw a container blow off a lorry and fall into the river. It was crashing and crashing against the stanchions that hold the road over the river, after which the police closed both the bridges which communicate Lancaster. We were cut off from Europe, or at least Carnforth.
There were long queues at the very few phoneboxes still working. Many young people struggled with the alien, antique machines. One youngster was seen trying to swipe the little screen.
The next evening, with the town still in darkness, drivers showing manners for once, without any traffic lights, I went back to my deserted house in search of candles. On my way round, I was most surprised to see that one pub had had its power restored.Back at the girls', we were playing Twenty Questions whilst ekeing out the tea lights. "Make it really complicated," said Fiona. "Make it Fifty Questions, because we're going to be sat in the dark for ages." I made them a tea of half-defrosted chips and vegetarian sausages, but the mood was sinking, so I suggested we take a pack of cards down the White Cross.
The White Cross attracts a fair number of students and young people, and it was amusing to see entire tables of people staring into phones and tablets and the other paraphernalia of our technologically-centred life, plugged like Davros's head into extension cables plugged into extension cables, serving a multitude of yoof from a single socket. It was a wonder the whole pub didn't explode, shattered screens preserving the last moments of that update. Like. If you wanted evidence for how we are becoming androids -- half-human, half-machine -- you should have been in the White Cross on Power Cut Sunday.
The city had its fifteen minutes of fame in the Guardian, which illustrated a vox pop article about the floods by local architect Ian Martin with a set of pictures taken in Carlisle, which does make you think that for even the better national newspapers, it's all a bit vague once you get beyond Hemel Hempstead.
Martin's article wasn't an interesting to me as one posted by the other half of Lancaster's blogging community at Unicycle Emptiness.
I went on a date with a woman from Fleetwood.
She picked me up from Poulton-le-Fylde station. She greeted me with a kiss and sat me in her car. A ripple of aphrodisia from her hair -- just onto the shoulders, an outgrown bob, halfway between brown and ginger. A red shift dress with broad blue straps, at that sexy length of just lower than the knee; black boots and tights. French graduate, fifty-four, retired from something clerical in the NHS. Her house surprised me, pebbledashed and uPvC'd, on a kicked-in, wind-swept estate.
We went to the "best" pub in Fleetwood, which is a bit like saying that we went to the best gay bar in Jamaica. A sweeping early Victorian pile, its sophistication wrecked by three huge televisions with the sound on, a programme about Ian Wright's goals for Arsenal.
Ignoring this, we passed a friendly enough three hours. Her Dad has had to go into a home as he has Alzheimers and had been leaving an unlit gas ring on the cooker on all night, before attempting to climb out of his bedroom window to find the loo. She was touching me occasionally to mark the feet in her sentences. "So, what do you do in your spare time in Fleetwood?" I asked. "Gut fish."
I paid for two lots of dinner, two glasses of her wine, and two pints for me, until I ran out of cash. She still had almost a glassful left, and I said "I wonder if I could be so rude as to ask you to buy me a drink? It's just that they won't accept a card for less than ten pounds."
I liked her and wanted another meeting. We left the pub, and she walked me to the wrong bus stop. She assumed that the bus to Blackpool might possibly leave from the ferry terminal, but in the way that the English refuse to co-ordinate public transport, there is no bus stop there, just a pole with a yellow thing on its top that looks like one but which is actually some public art bollocks about Fleetwood's fishing "heritage."
"So, possibly see you again?" I ventured, the wind-whip of gills and fins desiccating our faces. At this moment, time slowed like frozen vodka. She flinched away from me as I went to kiss her on the cheek, jerking her head to look over there. She then walked off without a word, leaving me confusedly standing next to an information panel about cod.
The bus came and I waved it down. It carried on serenely, and the realisation came to me that this isn't a bus stop. Breathlessly late for my train at Blackpool, I ran on to a carriage suffused with that special quality of fug that only Northern Rail can manage.
"Had a great time this afternoon. Maybe meet for another drink / coffee / bottle of turps sometime?"
Nothing, no reply at all.
The following evening I sent another text. "Come on Veronica, don't keep me in suspenders like this!"
Oh dear me. Three days later:
I haven't bothered to read your further messages because you have totally overstepped the mark.
1. I told you my text allowance had run out & that the few mins I had left on call allowance were for emergencies only.
2. Did it not occur to you that something might have happened to my dad, (considering the call I got on Wednesday, & which I told you all about), you selfish idiot ?
3. On top of that, we met once.....let me repeat that....once!! How dare you harangue me with texts or messages on here just because I didn't respond when you wanted me to?
4. You are so self-centred & self-absorbed it's untrue.....anyone with a modicum of intelligence or maturity would not have behaved in the way you have done. So grow up, man up, & behave like the adult you are. I have absolutely no interest in you either as a man, or as a human being.
Thanks for clarifying that. I'd have been only too willing to be whatever a shoulder I could have been vis-à-vis your Dad. I went through the same thing myself in November. [That's not quite true. My Dad died November last year and he didn't have Alzheimers.]
Never mind though, thanks for getting back to me, and I wish you well.
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