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In the black

  Sat 20th April 2019

My day off. There are some property guardian flats going near me for the same amount as I'm paying at the moment for a room. I stand outside them for a moment. There is a hairy man in a red jumper standing a couple of yards away from me. "I'm thinking of moving in here. Above here, it's all flats."

I have to simplify it for him. He's Polish, and was pleased about having the previous day acquired an NI number, so he can work legally now. He lives -- in a tent -- and works, in what is now Bristol's port, eight miles away. We have a broken chat for a bit then shake hands and part.

In Tesco, I meet the two youngish white blokes from my previous exercise session in the park. We're all full of sunny bonhomie, and nattered about the locations and severity of our aches after we joined in with the wiry black men who were far more practised than us.

I took my three for 5.25 cider into the park and sat down. An irritating couple talked vacuously about their jobs in finance. Plastic domed drinks with straws. "You know, it's not a problem if a company isn't making money as long as it can service its debts..." while ahead of me, a bit too far away for reliable reception, a more interesting conversation was going in a group of two young girls in tube dresses, and a Spike Lee impersonator; all drinking cider. "It's only because we care about you Chloe that we don't want you to go back onto that stuff." Eventually finance couple leave, trailing their balance sheet drivel into inaudibility.

I have finished my drink. I do my mental fencing with probity, in which I know the result. I ask someone to look after my jacket and go back to replenish.

On the way back to my patch, I see the hairy Polish man standing stock still and silent in the face of a ranting white man whose lips are lined with foam. I put my arm around the Pole. "Hey, leave him alone. He's alright. He's Polish. He lives in a tent. What's your problem? Why can't we all just be nice? It's a lovely day, we're all in the sun, some on."

"So if he's your friend, why did you take so long to come over? Eh?"

"Come on mate, let's go." I turned back to the foaming man. "Fucking arsehole," I said. "Bristol's not like that mate, don't worry. He's pissed as a fart. I'm sitting here if you want to join me." He said something in Polish and indicated that he was going elsewhere. I shook his hand for the second time that day.

I was drawn, again, to the black men exercising. I'd shed my shoes at this point and was wearing odd stripey socks, the eccentricity of which I only realised when I got a text after recounting the episode to my eldest. "I am so glad I live hundreds of miles from you."

As I was trying to do more of those squats where you hold your legs horizontally and lower yourself towards the floor, I felt a repeated painful spasm in my left side, ignored it for a while in my quest for a horizontal approach to the floor, before giving up.

"You like cock?" one of the men said to me.


"Cock. You like cock?"

I initially thought it was a homophobic insult. I'd heard him on his phone earlier using the term "batty man" so I had to doubt his commitment, at least in public, to the LGBTQ+ cause, but realised that his accent was occluding the commercial nature of his question. He repeatedly fished into his underpants, withdrawing bag after bag of contraband. We settled on a tenner's worth of weed. Me and his friend went to have a joint away from him. It was lovely to be stoned. I haven't done that for months.

On my way home, the pain got worse and worse, and by seven o'clock I was in bed, moaning in pain, massaging the unnaturally beetling mound just northwest of my manly area.

At work this morning, I made all sorts of mistakes on the till and gave inappropriate greetings like "goodnight". I explained about my bulging groin.

A week ago I was in the bank to get some money out. I can't use my card at the moment after the Mistakenly Ordered Bulk Buy Poppers Episode. They had a display on a table which reminded me of the kinds of things that the church to which I was compelled to attend used to make in a vain hope of interesting children. "What do you like about our mortgages?" it asked. There were little paper cut outs of idealised houses, trees, gardens, and children. I got the pen and wrote "How fucking sad is this?" on a blank space in the egalitarian garden city.

Today, I went in to get some more money. The transaction concluded, I was about to leave, when she said, "just one more thing Mr looby, we're going to have lots of those displays out there and we really don't appreciate what you wrote on the last one, so please don't do that in future." I straightened up deliberately in order to conceal how sheepish I felt.


I catch a man pumping in a sex shop

  Thu 11th April 2019

I apologise for the many editing mistakes in earlier editions of this post. This was due to posting a draft too early then getting into a muddle with what I was uploading, and had nothing to do with the fact that I had been in the pub for a couple of hours prior to commencing work.

Wandering through Castle Park on my day off, looking for somewhere convivial to sit. I decide on a small paved area with never-used bike racks. They're situated in the precise spot in the entire city where your bike is most likely to be stolen.

There are two white blokes amongst a group of black ones. They are drinking, smoking pot and there is hip-hop playing. They were using the bike racks as outdoor gym equipment. I managed six of those squats where you support yourself on the bars, hold your legs parallel to the floor and then lower yourself down towards the ground. I've got a bit stronger since starting this job.

Yesterday, at 4pm, I was informed that my shift would be changed for today and that I would be in this morning at 8am today. The blitheness of my boss's tone was eloquent about the degree of respect that one is afforded. However, I now carry an insulating secret with me to the cafe each day.

The screws of the exam season are being tightened, and I've found some work making student's essays weller than wot they rite, cos a lot of em are forin and get it rong. The rates are very low, but I should be able to make more from about twenty-five hours than what I'm on full-time at the moment. The cafe can subsidise me until I am sure that the new work is viable.

I went round to Esther's after work. Esther wanted me to meet her friends Fi and Ed, a couple in that six-month in stage where they have to remind you at hourly intervals of their Damascene experience of transforming love. As is often the case when I meet couples, the woman is more interesting, but the man too takes a liking to me, interpellating me into a manly closeness, perhaps out of a relief that he's not in competition with someone for once.

He was very generous with the Pepsi, racking up long line after line for all of us. They were excellent company, demotic and scurrilous. Fi with her smoke-fucked voice and faux broderie anglaise white skirt to knee level taking the witty shit out of everything that we said, without dominating conversation.

Esther wasn't quite there. Even with a quiet me, she has a mental scale of attention she should be getting; and when the banter between me and the couple was taking off beyond her reach, she unzipped her pink pyjamas to waggle her tits about. She's a child really, doing the most adult job of all. Once you've been neglected at the important stage, it's almost impossible to compensate for it later on.

Me and Esther slept on the sofa. I went to work the following morning, despite them urging me to ring in. In the evening, the mood had soured, cokeheads on day three. "Behave, or find another boyfriend," said Ed. Fi was deflecting it skilfully, but he was being unpleasant to her. "I wouldn't ever get like that," she said. It was time for everyone to go home, have a nice cup of tea and go to bed. I left after a couple of hours, having worked through a day on the irritability of cokefade, and unwilling to play moderator.

I fancied getting some poppers online the other day. I ordered six bottles from a website, but the payment wasn't going through, so I repeatedly stabbed at the pay button. An email arrived, confirming that I'd ordered thirty-six of them at a cost of £104. In a panic. I cancelled my card at the bank, and emailed the poppers firm asking them to revoke the transaction, saying it was fraudulent. Now, I can now only get money out by taking my passport to the branch during their opening hours.

I still lacked the poppers though. On my fifteen-minute walk into town in an unselect neighbourhood of Bristol, I pass two sex shops and three massage parlours. I went into the first sex shop. It was a deep room lined with DVDs of flesh and grimaces, and tools. In the entrance lobby by the till, there was a real clothed man bent over, fiddling with a bike. "Well, this is the first time I've walked into a sex shop to see a man repairing a bike."

"I'm not repairing it!" he said, annoyed with me for lacking a more precise understanding of why someone would be manipulating a bicycle in a sex shop; and went, without further comment, back to his inner tubes.

They fuck you up though. Even with my latitudinarian standards of pleasure, I can't recommend solvent abuse. My new headphones arrived off ebay the other day. Now I can bang out the music in my room to only me, but on butyl nitrites' company, I've been hacking away the last three days like an old sailor.


I open a forty-year-old can of worms

  Tue 2nd April 2019

Raoul Vaneigem described work as "a prison of measured time," and by the time I get home I am sapped of the energy to do much else, although I'm not too tired to plan my escape.

In the pub the other day I met a young couple from Yorkshire who offered some ideas of how to make a living in Bristol in a more interesting and less physically punishing way -- teaching English to foreigners, investing a few hundred pounds in acquiring a licence to sail the tame tourist boats that navigate the inland waterways of Bristol, or leading walking tours round the city during the summer. I spent many hours on an application and an online test for a post in policy research.

In the meantime, the job has its own menu of idiocies both small and large. My boss told me that a pen is part of the uniform. "You're supposed to bring a pen, looby," as she stood by a drawer containing a dozen of them. Daily we throw out kilos of food, which we are allowed neither to take home, give away, nor buy, hours before the shop's doorways are used as poor open air shelters by Bristol's homeless.

Trina asked if I wanted to come up to Liverpool the other weekend where an old friend of mine was DJing. We're falling into old patterns of behaviour: she pays, and I'm half friend, half escort, but without the sex now. We've been out dancing again this weekend, this time in Manchester. I arranged for flowers and chocolates to be sent to my mum, got drunk with Trina, who urged me, almost shouting in the pub, referring to Esther, "give her up! Just give her up!" I'm not giving Esther up at all. I'll be home in three hours and I'm going round to hers.

I had to keep my weekend quiet, since all my siblings were up in Middlesbrough as they unveiled a little plaque to my Dad at the place where his ashes -- i.e., some admixture of his and those of and whoever else was burnt that day -- have been placed. In vino veritas, I sent my brother this, about an incident decades ago of which he was unaware.

"Just to put you in the picture. I could have got today off and come up. But my relationship with my father died the moment he was kicking me in the head in the hallway when I was nine, and Mum had to pull him off from doing that. From that moment forth I froze him out of my life."

"I'm so sorry," he replied.

"Yeah so am I. It fucking hurt! Anyway, that was then and this is now. It was in the past and God knows what his relationship with Nan was like. It's gone now, and I hope it was a good ceremony."

"How dreadful."

I sensed I had the upper moral hand, and wanted to push my virtuous stance into the face of my brother, who is kind, generous, and priggish.

"It's ok it was forty-six years ago and whilst I can't ever forget that, he was probably visiting his own problems on me. He basically meant well and I've no idea what his upbringing was like, except that it lacked some love and affection. I don't know and I don't care. I feel sympathy for him rather than love him. Anyway I hope the whole weekend has been a good one for everyone."

"Seeing it with pity rather than blame. A good attitude to take."

Whether it was a good idea to bring this up after all these years I'm not sure. I was just a bit irritated by my brother's beatification of a man who never apologised for an act of violence upon his son that could have left me brain damaged.


Down and Out in Bristol and London

  Sat 16th March 2019

The work in the cafe is demanding. Not sitting down once, hauling heavy yard-wide trays of crockery about and sweating over an industrial dishwasher. I don't want this to last long. It's too physically demanding at my advanced age -- although I'm not the oldest there. Apart from an unpaid half hour for dinner we have no breaks during the day; worse than this, we only have two consecutive days off once a month. We throw kilos of perfectly good food away at the end of every day, yet we are not allowed even a coffee on the house. All this for 14p above the minimum wage. Like most companies, it behaves like a sociopath.

I have a day's annual leave to take before the financial year ends. Naively, I assumed my wishes in its allocation would be taken into consderation; I was handed a slip of paper by my boss with some date on a Wednesday wrtten on it and told that this is when it would be. I can adapt to the physical demands, but had I known about the single days off I wouldn't have accepted the job.

Nevertheless I am getting on well socially. In the midst of a sweaty afternoon at the dishwasher, the cycle of its moaning stopped to allow me to eavesdrop on a younger woman's sentence which ended "he's really nice." A witty and knowing woman round my age, who says that she only does the job to cover up her other better paid and untaxed one, said that she'll have me round next time she's throwing a dinner party.

As intensely as it burned with Esther was it suddenly extinguished.

On Sunday night I was at the Jazz Cafe in London, for a gig long since paid for. I got back to Bristol at 5am and had to start my first day at work at 9am. I rang Esther when I finished. "Please come up," she said. I need reinforcements."

Esther had seen two -- what? "clients" is too decent a word -- and she is always worked up to a pitch of anger and self-dislike when she's been through that, which we'd got into a habit of mitigating with alcohol. On just three hours' unrestful sleep, her mood was trying, but my work had yet to begin.

There is a male stranger in her bed fast asleep. "That fucking cunt just dumped him here. He's drugged and he's had three grand out of him." In as far as her tangle of talk allowed, over the television, I gathered that "that fucking cunt" was Midge Ure's Best Friend mentioned in earlier editions, who had been on a three day drink and coke bender with a friend of his, the man in Esther's bed. Midge Ure's Best Friend had dumped him at Esther's, where he'd promptly gone to bed.

Esther was distressed, shouting, and trying to ring Midge Ure's Best Friend on Whatsapp. I rapped on the bedroom door. "Alright mate, you've got to go now. You've got to get up and go." He went into the bathroom and I was waiting for him outside. I guided him -- he was much bigger than me -- into the living room. Esther's crazed sequence-less shouting and that fucking television, and a complete stranger slumped on the sofa.

I found his shoes and put them on him. He lives somewhere in south London. I told him I'd get him a taxi to the station but then I saw that he'd pissed himself and there was no way anyone would accept him. I managed to get him outside, Esther's ranting following us down the stairs.

I tried walking him down to the station. "I just want to go to bed," he kept saying. "Yes I know you do, but your bed's in London isn't it? Come on lad, man up a bit and we'll get you to the station."

He was heavy, leaning on me, and I got as far as what would be for me a five minute walk to the station, when he crashed against a barrier separating himself from the adjacent waterway. I gave up; I couldn't manage him any more. I rang an ambulance, which came in five minutes, and I told them that I'd found him there. What happened to him I don't know.

I went back to Esther's. She started to calm down, at least to the uncommon Esther level of calm, and at last she muted the infernal television. We had a tea of Quavers, chocolate, and wine.

We went to bed.

Next day, I went round after work again. All was going well until I explained that I had to drop something off at about eight-ish at my daughter's for five minutes, after which I'd be back. She turned horrible -- abandonment fear I suppose. By this point she'd booked me an Uber for my journey. Our argument and my irritation escalated and I told her to "fuck off then. After all I've done for you and that bloke yesterday." The Uber man was there and I asked him if he could change the journey to take me home.

As we were in the taxi, there was a phone call from Esther to the driver. "That Uber for looby. Cancel it. He's an arsehole." And so on, until the Somalian driver ended her rant with a courtesy of which Esther was entirely undeserving.

"Esther. I've done my utmost for you over the past month. I wish you a happy life. And it was a good month. Take care petal. I'll miss lots of things about you, but not being called an arsehole to the taxi driver after what I did for you and S-- last night. I hope you move on to higher things my lovely, but I am exhausted with knowing you x."

Since then, nothing. I like someone who can make a clean break.



  Wed 6th March 2019

I start in the cafe on Monday; these are the last days.

Saturday night, and the pub is very busy. I quickly squat an empty table, much to the displeasure of one of the two men who come back to reclaim their post. I recognise that my main work, in what I expected to be a short evening out, was going to involve placating Angry Man. The Pleasant One was doing the same. Angry Man went out for a fag.

"Is your mate alright?" "He's not my mate; I've only just met him. He says he's just got out of prison." "What for?" "He won't say."

It is about to come to blows between them, so I leave, which is a costly evasion as I've just given The Pleasant One £40 so that we could split a gram of Pepsi.

In the street, The Pleasant One catches up with me. "What a cunt he was. Do you want to come back to mine and I'll get that stuff sorted out?"

We get on a bus and get talking to a sixteen-year-old girl. It's midnight now, and she says she's "just come out for a bit." "Did you meet your friends?" "No, I just came out for a bit."

We sit in The Pleasant One's local for a bit. A thirtysomething man and woman turn up. In what was to be typical of the night, we told each other everything most immediate about our lives. The business done, me and The Pleasant One key up in the loos, then leave and go up to his flat.

Reader, I had a lovely night. Me and The Pleasant One talked openly and freely, me about my alcoholism, he about his addiction to the other thing; about relationships, music, and things I can't remember. At some point in the small hours, his friend came round and we went thirds on another gramme. I walked back, an hour in the rain. I miss walking home at eight in the morning, feeling as though you're behind a big sheet of glass yet imbricated with the fine grain of one's surroundings.

A few hours later: the city centre. I am meeting Middle Daughter.

"You mean, you went home with a complete stranger till 7am? What were you doing all night? Are you OK?" "I'm fine love, honest." "Were you on drugs?" "We had a couple of refreshers, yes." (She's known for a long time.) "I'm a bit tired, that's all. Could do with some coffee."

In the coffee shop, a tall black man in shorts and singlet was sitting bolt upright at the next table, opposite a white mild-mannered lecturer type, both talking in over-loud voices about their jobs, forcing everyone else to raise their voices in an arms race of volume against their declamatory middle class drivel. Nevertheless, we spent three hours in there, cheaply, undisturbed. A woman a bit younger than me was having her first day employed there, and I watched her smiling and awkwardness, and wanted to telepathically tell her that I hoped it was all going OK.

The other Sunday, me and Esther get up in time for an invitation I hadn't expected. She wanted me to come to this happy-clappy church she'd been to for the first time the previous week. Before that, we started on the white wine. "Looby, you know red wine is the blood of Christ? Well, this is his piss."

It's a majority female crowd, a few young Asian people, one black man. After a heteronormative preamble by the pastor (I had images of how he would pale -- literally -- behind some of the great black Pentecostal and Baptist preacher-singers-politicians), the service consisted of a Christian rock-lite group playing long versions of songs I don't know, although they mainly go I-IV-V-I so you can guess the melodic line if you've ever wanted to punch Phil Collins.

People do that one arm raised in the air Songs of Praise style of rapture. We then sat through an interminable sermon about a mustard seed, during which the twentysomething female preacher, who looked like she'd just got out of a washing machine and been ironed, unintentionally radiated ignorance about the world outside her moneyed life, as well as announcing a Christian duty new to me.

"And so here we see in Mark, that we are called to be the very fragrance and aroma of Christ." "Was that Christ in the bed with us this morning Esther, when you farted?"


:: Next >>

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

M / 55 / 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

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