Tue 6th November 2018

I met up in person this weekend with an immensely patient user of this blog's platform who spent several hours with me finding what I had done to break this blog. Unfortunately I've accidentally deleted the posts I added on a subdomain since the last entry here in May, so here's a truncated version of my eventful summer.

After an involved and costly process, funded by the meagre balance available in Bank of Mum, I secured a job in Bristol. This required drawing up a almost entirely fictitious cv, two online assessments, two overnight trips to Wiltshire for an assessment day and a drugs and alcohol test; a nerve-wracking wait for my criminal records check to come back, and enlisting Helen and Erica to write made-up references for me -- after all this, I landed a job which involves pushing a trolly up and down a train all day, the same job I had when the children were little.

I had only a weekend to find a place to live, and last week moved out of the first place I found. It honed the word "unfurnished" to new extremes of sparseness, with not a table, nor a chair, nor heating a kitchen. Someone in the house remonstrated angrily with me one morning for moving the bed so that my eldest could stay over one night; later that day all my underwear and shirts disappeared off the line. As it is all but impossible to get into the garden from outside the house, I assume it was Mr Angry, who once told me that he had five hundred rounds of ammunition.

I share a seventies house in a quiet street with a couple and their cat, which does a magic trick poorly. More about this over the coming weeks.

Unfortunately, what I will remember most vividly from this summer will be the ruination of my friendships with Kitty and Wendy, a catastrophe that I have worked so hard to effect. I drank cider all the way on the four hour journey to Lancaster, then when I arrived there, I got into a completely unjustified angry text exchange with Kitty because I misunderstood where we were meeting. I was all set for stomping off back to Bristol but decided to go up to Kitty's, remembering guiltily that Wendy had made arrangements for her auntie to look after her daughter. I lasted about an hour, before taking drunken umbrage -- at what I can't remember -- and huffily leaving, a picture of ridiculousness.

I was supposed to be staying at Kirsty's that night, who had already warned me not to turn up pissed, so I went and slept down a quiet street for an hour or so, and we managed an evening of pizza and Strictly the civility and pleasantness of which was in almost mystifying contrast to the scene earlier.

This happened two Saturdays ago, and there has been no contact from them since. Kim advised me to leave them alone for a good while. Helen thinks it can be repaired in time. This mess of my own making preoccupies me, and casts a shadow over my new job and house.



  Tue 8th May 2018

Wendy's dad is a retired journalist. A while ago Wendy suggested I could start a correspondence with him, a suggestion I have taken up with pleasure. He's infirm and unable to write back, but I enjoy writing to him, and vicariously, his daughter. This is my letter to him which I wrote yesterday.

Platform 2,
Durham Station

Dear Charles

It's 7pm and I'm on my way back to Middlesbrough, a town described on a comment on a newspaper article about my adopted local, as "like Doncaster but with learning difficulties." I've spent the weekend with Kim, and for part of it, with Sarah, a girl -- I say "girl", she's 52 -- who contacted me on the dating where I've put myself up for adoption.

She turned up in pleasing attire: a tight-ish red dress and red heels. As first impressions matter, I suggested Wetherspoons. We had a couple in there, getting on very easily. She's bright and open and straightforward -- to the point where she said "right looby, I'm going to put you in the friend zone. But you might want to meet some of my friends. I'm sure you'd get on with them."

On that somewhat dispiriting note, which momentarily had me thinking that I might put myself forward as a candidate on The Undateables, we went to another bar which the wincingly high prices were slightly compensated for by it having an outside area. I gave her a Penelope Lively novel on which to sit, as the only space available was on the wooden frame of these half-hearted flowerbeds which were bordered by a rim of centimetre-high plastic spikes. I folded up my coat to dull the feeling of being of one of those Indian fakirs who lay themselves on a bed of nails while someone walks along their back.

As is my wont, I acquired a few compadres, which included a couple, the man of whom knew quite a lot of the music that I like. Sarah's hold on the Booker Prize winning insulation I had provided for her rather appealing but now inaccessible arse, was becoming unreliable, and the rosemary bush that she was using for support was proving inadequate in righting her list.

She announced that she'd like something to eat. I concurred in this proposal, but she straight away gathered her things and walked off in search of fish and chips. I downed my pint inelegantly and chased her up the high street, where, with a hungry woman's keen nose, she had found the nearest chip shop.

We sat on the bench outside and I opened a bottle of beer I had bought earlier. Thankfully, she declined my offer of one for her.

It was a warm evening and the more refined sort were out promenading. We were joined by a homeless couple, the woman of whom opened my next bottle of beer with her teeth, while the man requested I buy him a bottle of Lambrini. In a spirit of solidarity with my homeless brother, I bought two, and we all shared the bottles between us, me safe in the knowledge that swapping small quantities of saliva with two heroin addicts poses only a small risk of contracting hepatitis B.

The evening was drawing to a close, and I returned to Tesco for a couple of bottles for the walk back to Kim's. I went to enter the shop, whereupon an employee interposed his person, informing me I was barred on the ground that I had been seen buying alcohol for a person who is himself barred. I went to McColl's instead up the road, where my reputation is as yet unblemished.

Sarah refused all aid in getting to the station. I returned to Kim's, went straight to bed and lay there wondering why I wasn't more upset about yet another physical rejection.

Today me and Kim have been at a "Labour Party Fun Day" -- four words rarely combined. We had to sit through the obligatory amateur socialist choir mangling a morbid song about a mining disaster, but one or two of the speeches were good and to my great relief there was a beer tent.

I'm coming to Lancaster soon to see your preternaturally lovely daughter, and I very much hope that we can all arrange an afternoon of whisky and blather together.

Best wishes


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A good spread

  Sun 29th April 2018

Being in Wetherspoons on a weekend afternoon makes me wonder whether Herod is an unfairly maligned historical figure.

The adults, though, are endlessly amusing. "Look at the size of that fucking arse," said a woman, as shards from a nearby glasshouse landed nearby. "Christ, there's a bit to go round there." "Hey, hey, hey, look," said her friend. "Is that that one that let your car tyres down?" "No, that's not her. If I saw her, I'd fucking deck the cunt." There's an unapologetic working class speech round here, which bares the best and worst of white lower class culture.

Absolutely plum job in Switzerland, in an Alpine town where you go skiing like people in Lancaster go down the pub, or people in Middlesbrough miss appointments at the obesity clinic. I only stuttered once when I was told I'd be teaching adults from Kazakhstan. That'll be Nazarbayev's coterie then. Perhaps I'd have met someone related to that fourteen-year-old former pupil of mine in Astana, whose manipulative skills in levering me out of a job I can't help but admire. She's learning how to wade through the mud of Kazakhstan's hierarchical corruption.

Got through to the second interview stage. Was told it would be at 8pm last night. Waited until 9.15. No call, and no response to my polite enquires about why this was the case. Maybe a cuckoo clock exploded. Maybe they were down in the caves admiring the paintings that were "transferred" from the house that once belonged to Mr and Mrs Goldstein. Maybe he fell in to the Large Hadron Collider and is now having an experience that makes LSD look like a vicar's tea party. Maybe he was out voting in a referendum about whether to have a referendum about the future of referenda.

Stayed the last two weekends in Durham with Kim. First night, before she said she was taking me round Darlington, Darlo as everyone calls it, she went upstairs to change.

Sat in the pub, the aphrodisiac effects of speed kicking in, I could hardly keep my eyes off scanning her, in the moments when she was looking away; her Bridget Riley wavy black and white dress, her rough kinked hair, and worst of all, when she crossed her legs. Just turn it off looby, she's a friend. Women, if you want to lure a bloke, it's this: thigh length dress + black tights + crossing your legs + give the hair straighteners to Oxfam. I want to take photographs of you Kim. Open legs, your lovely tits, pull up your dress. One hand splayed in your hair, the other resting on your cunt.

Next day, we made a picnic and walked with her eleven-year-old niece up to a rough bit of woodland. We got all the food out and I laid it on the bench. "That looks like a nice spread Kim." "You're not the first bloke to say that looby."

Got back to Middlesbrough and didn't want to sit in my mum's house, so went down the Black Cat. There's a fellow there who has been quite welcoming and I met his son and his wife. The son asked me into the bogs, with that winning combination of a key and some Pepsi. When we came back the wife went on at me for doing Pepsi whilst I'm an English teacher. "I'm out of work love, how can I corrupt children now?" Displaced jealousy, policing her boyfriend, me as the proxy.

I was asleep when I got a phone call from them at 1am. It was a bit incoherent. "But he'll want some anyway," he said, to her. She took the phone off him, and addressing me, said "he just wants to know you."

I got two mutual likes on the dating site. They are rare. Kerry, who is fit as fuck in a succession of dresses, has proven to be an uninteresting as she is attractive. A week in, and we're still talking about her decorating project in her front room.

Sarah though. She contacted me first, saying that she was "imaginative in a dark way." I don't like being seen as this semi-gay sexless gelding, every girl's friend, and Sarah makes me feel sexual, like a man, and no mention of shelving units.

I told Wendy about it all. "I don't think people see you like that looby. I think they see you as a complete pisshead who's always on the lookout for some fanny."

She asked for a photo of Sarah, which I sent with the subject line "Dirty fucking slut.". She replied, firmly grabbing the wrong end of the stick. "That's not a pleasant way to talk about someone who looks openly honest and disarming," completely missing the incipient closeness and warmth and desire that one has towards a girl you can describe like that. Were me and Sarah to get it on, as I hope we will, "dirty fucking slut" is only the start of how I would talk to her. Successful sex, for me, depends on a power relationship. Equality everywhere, but not in the bedroom, kitchen, stairs, park....


Hemel in whatever Rotherham is in Latin

  Fri 13th April 2018

A chilly train from Carlisle to Newcastle, on my way to stay with my mum in Middlesbrough. The ochre sandstone houses of the Borders with their lipped, white-painted lintels. Lambs closing with their mothers; the finely concealed horrors of farming. A sign next to a reservoir says "Deep Sludge". A van in a scrap yard squats, superannuated now, but once part of the "Northumberland Spill Response Unit". Two Chinese men erupt into loud conversation in a speech I can't help but find comical. I silently laugh, and the heavily processed young girls opposite catch my illicit smiling and return it. The ticket collector bends to answer a passenger's query, sticking out his uniformed bum. Polyester stretch.

Kim sent me a long text saying that she had a "sense of foreboding" about my staying there. It didn't actually withdraw the offer, but I pre-empted that, and told her that I would stay at my mum's instead. Having nowhere to stay immediately however, a friend kindly took me in for a couple of days. It soon became clear that he would like me to make it a more permanent arrangement, but I'm not keen.

Unwashed food bowls are scattered about the floor. The litter bin has a curve of tissues, Stella cans and cigarette packets, over its rim. Everything I have, my clothes, my hair, smells of smoke. On his wall, a Romanian icon of Mary wearing that drugged-out look she is apt to adopt when pressed into devotional service; Chinese sages, their homely wisdom prescient of the 99p moral comfort of today's occasion cards; and a yard-square poster of a braless young woman crawling on a beach, whose left tit has narrowly escaped fire damage, as a neglected candle ate hopefully up towards her tits, only to be retarded just short of them. Tabloid-greyed girls in the same undress. This is where he does it. What's on the carpet? What's in that bin? What's on this sofa I'm sleeping on?

I arrived at my mum's with little more than the clothes I have on. On the day of my move, I told the removal men that everything was to go. Taking this instruction at face value, they included in their collection my suitcase of belongings that I had assembled, my kit with which to face the vocational gatekeepers of Middlesbrough.

I gravitate, to the roughest -- or best, depending on your perspective -- pub in Middlesbrough, where the denizens are as large in heart as they are in body.

Three girls and a bloke at the next table. "Are you on your own pet? Sit here with us! Don't sit on your own!"

Me: I'm 54 love, I'm a lot older than you, I've got these wrinkles now.
--Kelly: Hope they're not on your cock. Anyway Tracy there will make all them go away. She'll get you straightened out.

Tracy (to a girl at another table): Fucking skinny bitch.
--Me: Don't bother with her. It'd be like shagging a xylophone.
Tracy: Hey, Tad. What's a 68er?
--Me: A 68er? No idea.
Tracy: 69 but with a fat bird.

They were singing a verse about the abuse, rape, and enslavement of poor uneducated young girls in Telford, Dewsbury, Rotherham, and other places where Pakistani Muslim middle-aged men congregate, which has been going on for decades, safe under the cover of this inexplicable insurance from criticism that Muslim men and their practises have acquired in England.

The verse, sang at the top of their voices, was about fingering the girls for a sniff test on their hymens. Never mind about heaven, the virgins are in Rotherham. Satirically accurate, demotic working class poetry. I was party to something secret but which should be discussed.

Kitty texts to say she's "just been round to Wendy's after work." How I would love to just go round to Wendy's after work, as a friend. Popping round to see a friend after work should be normal but not for me. I'm disallowed. The fearful look on her face that would be caused by my appearance at her front door, breaching The Injunction. It makes me wet-eyed. Stomach churn.


April showers

  Thu 5th April 2018

I had a shave in preparation for an internet interview for a TEFL job in Kraków, spotting my jawline with a dozen toilet-papered cuts. Dashing downstairs unready to answer the phone I tore off my improvised plasters and was interviewed -- blessedly unseen -- naked from the waist down. They offered me the job but I turned it down on seeing the contract: an hourly rate rather than a salary, no accommodation or flights. More applications awaiting a response: Hungary, Italy, Finland, and the best one, adults and business English only, in a walled city in Aquitaine.

Trina and I went out dancing in Glasgow on Saturday. Everything was going fine until I left the room to iron my shirt. She took her chance to go through my phone and read all my exchanges with Wendy, with predictable results. She threw my bag and coat at me and told me to fuck off and sleep in the station. With the diplomatic skills which her unpredictable character has honed, I talked her down and we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening, but the rift the following day was only thinly papered over with determined smiles avoiding the issue.

My Licence to Occupy expires on Friday. Trina has yet to complete on the purchase of the house, and the solicitors and agents are being stubbornly uncooperative, refusing to grant me an extension to the Licence. Having exhausted civilised, negotiated avenues, we will have to force the issue by inviting them to initiate legal action to remove me, and hope that by Trina will be the freeholder before any practical action is taken.

Kitty, in the course of a text, said that she was round at Wendy's; a little stab of a reminder that The Injunction is still very much in force, one of its provisions being that I do not visit Wendy's house when The Little Dictator is in residence. In my more self-pitying moments, I imagine that Wendy quietly welcomes The Injunction, in giving her a way of holding me at a safe distance, a notion driven into nonsense by her ringing a day after I wrote that sentence to arrange a drink.

Trina is doing her best to get the vendors to let us leave all the furniture in the house, rather than move it all out and move it back in two weeks later, but five o'clock arrives and the solicitors can be badgered no more that day. We go for a drink. Everything is cordial, until she hears me on the phone talking to Kitty about how I am planning to sever contact with her. In a repeat of the episode involving Wendy, she had been hiding behind the door, listening. What she hears -- about me not wanting her here -- sends her into another fury.

In one of the gaps in her rage, I text Kitty asking if I could stay at hers. "No. [Daughter]'s here. Can't you ring the police?" Her refusal upsets me far more than Trina's obloquy. In the morning Trina drops her keys off and says that she will be back to collect some stuff she has left in the ginnel. Knowing that it is final this time -- the unintended consequence of a terminated contract -- still provokes some irrational weepiness.

I am in the pub, my excuse being that she's taken the mobile wifi hotspot we have been using. I have twenty-seven hours to clear everything out of my house; nowhere to stay after tonight. Back to the same position I was in this time last year.

I tell the barmaid I'm moving. The man next to me is a removal man and gives me his number. They've been staying in a hotel for a month while their premature baby is in an incubator. Someone joins me at the table. "You're as dodgy as me, looby. Now listen, you've been in the frame for a year for this." If it comes off, I get £5000.


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

M / 54 / Bristol

"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

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

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

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

Desiring Progress
John Fallas
Lauren Redhead
The Rambler
Resonance FM
Sequenza 21
Sound and Music
Talking Musicology

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