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Lager for Rosie

  Thu 22nd February 2024

Mel suggests getting the bus out to a pub she remembers, in a small village near Bath. We time it well as the locals are coming in after work. It's a cosy place, the bar in a low-ceilinged one room with a coal fire. Mel meets someone working on the house next door, which for decades has been occupied by a couple she knows. I feel local by proxy and start to unwind; I go to stand in front of the fire.

The same man points to my cast and asks me what I've done. I explain the broken wrist and fractured elbow, before throwing any advantage away.

"It's great," I say, "I'm on more or less full pay whilst I sit on my back side. I'm going to milk it."

There's a pause. "I'm not sure I hold with that attitude myself."

In the concentrated atmosphere, and surrounded mainly by self-employed men, it feels a bigger faux pas than it would in Bristol.

Whilst we were in Tenerife I became interested in the disputed territory you'd hit if you sailed East by South from Tenerife's southern tip.

Back home, ignoring the slight nag in my head that my girlfriend might not be interested in Pre-Modern West African History, I say "there's a suggestion that the Phoenicians might have been the first non-natives to reach Western Sahara."

She looked at me quizzically for a second, then said "where's Westminster Harbour?"

In the corner shop a woman cradling four bottles of cider clatters in with the bustling movements of the unhinged. She apologises for interrupting (but continues anyway), and starts on one of those voluble monologues that I've witnessed many times in there.

"I want to change these, change them you see, he wants a strong lager, not cider, no, he wants a strong lager, so can I change these? Some of them won't let you."

The unworried shopkeeper tells her to get four of something else, presumably a strong lager. As she show signs of leaving, she concludes "...and I'll think you'll find I'm sixty-five tomorrow!"

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Getting shirty in Spain

  Sun 11th February 2024

I apologise for being late in replying to some of the comments in the last post. I should have told you I was off cavorting in the Canaries.

I've lost the cutting now, but in some un-internetted magazine, someone who, like me, once fancied himself as an academic, but unlike me finished his PhD, wrote a piece about how he felt himself drifting away from his schoolfriends, who, eschewing further education, ended up in well-paid manual trades, "with attractive wives and girlfriends, paying in cash." He snatched at a temporary lecturing job at a distant university. He struggled on with a couple more of those, before ending up in admin work.

At least I've avoided office work; but it reminded me of an episode on the train one late afternoon, when these two couples, working class and very well-dressed, stood round my buffet for a couple of hours. Lager for the gents, Prosecco for the ladies. "I might sell that place in Tenerife. If you're not there quite often, it goes downhill."

The unofficial head man noticed that everyone's drinks were getting low. He looked at me and nodded his head upwards, before making a circular motion with his finger above the glasses. He opened his wallet to pay. It was swollen by twenties. I fetched them another round, recognising something of the failure that the unsuccessful journeyman lecturer described. I'd like never to have to ask Mel if she could help out with a hotel, restaurant or bar bill.

Lacking a fat wallet to flash, but with a sick note magnetted to the fridge, I took my woman to Tenerife at the beginning of the month for a week, for a house music event over four days and three nights -- a sunny hotel terrace in the afternoon, then into a club in the night. It was joyous: chatty, dancey, dressy, friendly.

The median age was something around forty or fifty, so everyone had got passed the stage where you're afraid to introduce yourself. At the terrace bar one afternoon, the woman next to me was wearing a similarly-patterened shirt to mine.

"Hey," she opened. "Rocking the blue shirts. Are you a librarian?" "Yes I am," I said, "have you read any good books lately?" "I got her off this prossie site," her husband said. "But not a very good one."

I was making notes about people I was meeting in order to remember them next day. I scribbled down "Gary and Deb, funny, [neither of whom were] librarians, Black Country".

Back at our flat the next morning, Mel saw my notes on the table. "'Susie - nice tits'," she tutted. "And 'black cunts'! Who are the black cunts?"

We took a bus excursion up to Mount Teide, Spain's tallest mountain, a theoretically active volcano that's over 13,000 ft. Our guide told us that in the Middle Ages, there was an eruption that went on for several decades.* I wish we'd had longer up there, to get away from the car park and intensify the silence.

* Following Exile on Pain Street's scepticism about this, I had a look at a page about Teide's eruptive activity from the Smithsonian Institute. For the eruptions of which we know the durations, there's none that have gone on for longer than a bit over three months. It should also be noted that these eruptions are of both the central Teide and its sister volcanos in the same complex.


Dress down

  Thu 18th January 2024

On Friday I went out, after a fashion, with the woman I bumped into the other week. A minute after I'd sat down with a pint she texted saying that she was in a different pub, saying that it was too crowded in the one we'd agreed to meet in. I texted her. "I've just got a pint two minutes ago so I'm not wasting that :)"

She turned up ten minutes later and said "I can't sit facing the mirror". We swapped places; I started feeling like a mental health worker. We lasted about forty minutes. She didn't like the pub and said she was going. She walked out, taking her glass of wine with her then came back looking for her scarf. Everyone good-naturedly got up to have a look for it. "Someone's stolen it," she said.

She's just rang, saying that "it's a bit odd that you've got two girlfriends" and "I'm a bit traditional like that."

"Hang on," I said. "I've got only got one," as if I were trying to rescue something. In fact I was pleased that she seemed to be working up to saying goodbye. "I know I'm not very attractive, but -- not to be nasty -- you're no George Clooney are you?" "Wouldn't claim to be, love." Then she said "well, I've run out of things to say," and hung up.

Pity she's a nutter. A female lush around my age would have been a useful addition.

The women at Mel's friend's 40th do the following day were altogether different, more sparkly, both in terms of dresses and personalities.

Mel knows the birthday girl from a community garden project she's involved in, and the guests were all Community Engagement Equality and Participation Inclusion Officers, or things like that. They were off the leash, with their husbands at home looking after the children. One of them in particular, a slim girl with tousled dyed dark blonde hair, wearing a spangled black minidress that she let ride up, posed a difficulty.

The karaoke was lazily run by a man in drag who sang several songs himself, and joined in, unasked, with some other people's songs. I'd been practising my song, You're My First, My Last, My Everything, but he'd set the mic levels wrong, so I couldn't hear myself. I got a couple of pats on the back as I came off, and Miss Minidress spoke to me briefly.

"You were a bit touchy-feely with Miss Minidress," Mel said the next morning. I sank into regret: the salacious older man, tarnishing Mel by association, and trying to remember, precisely, in what way I had been touchy-feely. I remembered the harsh touch of her chemical dress, its glittered surface and its scratchy surface. So yes, I must have had my one good hand on her.

"No, don't worry. Really, it's OK, I don't think she minded. She was drunk anyway. Don't think about it." I did think about her though.


The Body Electric

  Wed 10th January 2024

I've just got off the phone to a woman who said "I'd really like to see you again," and "you know, it's not a sexual thing", and "I know I'm not that attractive," and "you drink every day? I thought it was just me."

Before Christmas, Mel had to take her mother up to the Infirmary for another set of tests to discover why she's getting old. I went with her, but left them at the doors, at Bristol's largest open-air smoking arena. I went to a pub I'd never visited before, full of inescapable televisions showing people with clipboards standing up talking about Gillingham v Swindon, or something equally as niche.

The place was filling up, and a woman about my age, or a bit younger, came in and looked in vain for a free table. I waved her over and opened my hand towards the chair opposite me.

She's been barred from four pubs, but I couldn't get precise details of any of the incidents out of her. Admirably, she went up to the bar to ask that one of the ignored televisions be turned off, to be told "no, they want it." When she went to the toilet, she said "you will be here when I get back won't you?"

There's a rough plan to have a drink together on Friday.

A couple of hours to kill in the beautiful town of Ludlow.

I perch somewhat uncomfortably, on a narrow window-sill. The man standing near me at the bar has one of those externally-fixed hearing aids consisting of a disc attached to the skull. He attributes his deafness to working at Wooferton, the UK's last remaining shortwave transmitter site. It was stolen from the BBC -- I think the term in economics is "privatised" -- in 1997.

For many years, as a boy, I thought I'd become a broadcast engineer, so I know a little about Wooferton, but nothing compared to the volumes of first-hand information and social history my new friend possessed. He said that the intense, invisible but audibly thrumming electromagnetic fields caused many of the employees to become clinically depressed. The farmer in the nearby farm burnt his hand on an invisibly radiating metal door catch; one of the secretaries spent some time in the loony bin after working there.

I kept revising my time out of the pub until I caught the very last train back to Bristol.

Since I came back from Tenerife in February, I've been saving my £2 coins up.



My town is full of gippos

  Mon 27th November 2023

Wrexham 6 Morecambe 0; Bristol City Women 0 Manchester Utd Women 2.

Along with twelve hundred other Morecambe supporters I made my way to northeast Wales for their match against the nouveau riche club of Wrexham. You might know that the club recently won the Hollywood lottery by having two "famous actors" pour millions into their coffers, thus creating some ill-feeling amongst the fans of the other clubs in the same league, as they buy their way up it. Everyone wants them to fail to gain the promotion that looks likely.

I have no male friends, and two-thirds of my daughters fancy girls, so I enjoy the male camaraderie of my awaydays at the football and being off the leash. I'm afraid to say that occasionally, I enjoy making middle class travellers feel uncomfortable without doing anything identifiably offensive. I enjoy the class tribalism of football, joined in the ummah of heavy-drinking, train-riding pilgrims. But simply drinking can unnerve some people.

Wrexham certainly don't spend their money on making away fans feel well looked after. In the Wrexham Lager Stand, the away end, there was no beer; there was no hot food, and they banned us from taking our drums, whilst allowing the home fans to use theirs. But the people in the pub next to the ground were welcoming, ("no, not all, we're pleased to see you"), taking pains to point out to me that they'd been coming to Wrexham for many years, back when they'd be luck to get gates of two hundred.

We were completely outclassed, losing six-nil. Our new manager marked his first day in charge by getting sent off. Their chants were better than ours too: "Tyson Fury is a sex offender" and "your town's full of gippos".

The following day, I went with middle daughter and her girlfriend to Bristol City to see the women take on Man Utd. I could have done without it really, being full of beer, but I was curious to see a women's game, and of course my daughter, who lives up there now.

I bumped into a couple at Temple Meads, obviously United fans, and we shared a taxi there. I'd told them that I was wearing my Morecambe scarf in order to signal that I did not wish to be associated with either of the teams playing. "Where are you sitting?" he asked. "I've got a horrible feeling it'll be with you," which I was relieved to find provoked laughter rather than a long walk.

Ashton Gate is a quality stadium with a high rake so you see a lot more of the action. My daughter reported that a "fancy burger" was 12 quid, and the cider was 5.75. I spotted my first ever Muslim family at the football. Whereas I got a bit pissed off with this bloke my age who was fucking about on Instagram and farcebook. Even when Utd scored their second he barely glanced up, before going back to his phone. Meanwhile, his two boys started playing around by throwing jelly sweets into their mouths. It was an expensive way of catching up with what people are having for dinner.

There were a great many football novices there, looking all surprised and a wee bit supercilious when people started chanting -- even in the carefully self-censoring fashion that I gather is typical of women's matches. Yet it was the only thing that disturbed Instagram man's concentration.

The housing association gave me a voucher for £700 to replace the flood-damaged carpets in my flat. I was surprised to be told by the carpet fitter that to carpet my small studio flat, from the "Value" range, would cost double that.


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

M / 59 / Bristol, "the most beautiful, interesting and distinguished city in England" -- John Betjeman [1961, source eludes me].

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

WLTM literate woman, 40-65. 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

Tell me, why is it that even when we are enjoying music, for instance, or a beautiful evening, or a conversation in agreeable company, it all seems no more than a hint of some infinite felicity existing apart somewhere, rather than actual happiness – such, I mean, as we ourselves can really possess?
Turgenev, Fathers and Sons

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.
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

Using words well is a social virtue. Use 'fortuitous' once more to mean 'fortunate' and you move an English word another step towards the dustbin. If your mistake took hold, no-one who valued clarity would be able to use the word again.
John Whale

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

The Comfort of Strangers

23.1.16: Big clearout of the defunct and dormant and dull
16.1.19: Further pruning

If your comment box looks like this, I'm afraid I sometimes can't be bothered with all that palarver just to leave a comment.

63 mago
Another Angry Voice
the asshat lounge
Clutter From The Gutter
Eryl Shields Ink
Exile on Pain Street
Fat Man On A Keyboard
gairnet provides: press of blll defunct, but retained for its quality
George Szirtes ditto
Infomaniac [NSFW]
The Joy of Bex
Laudator Temporis Acti
Leeds's Singing Organ-Grinder
The Most Difficult Thing Ever
Strange Flowers
Trailer Park Refugee
Wonky Words

"Just sit still and listen" - woman to teenage girl at Elliott Carter weekend, London 2006

Bristol New Music
Desiring Progress Collection of links only
The Rambler
Resonance FM
Sequenza 21
Sound and Music
Talking Musicology defunct, but retained

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