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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 umma 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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Piss and chips

  Mon 13th November 2023

Unleashed from work, and in charge of a credit card, I take myself to Grimsby to have a good shout with the other Morecambe fans. We scored in the 90th second and the 86th minute, but in that interval Grimsby scored thrice.

After the match I was taken to what I was assured is "the roughest pub in Grimsby" by three men I met on the train from Cleethorpes (Grimsby's ground, confusingly, is in Cleethorpes). I stayed for a couple, but got a bit tired of one bloke telling me at length, with photographic illustrations, of what great sex I could have if I went to Thailand.

I had booked a "hotel" for 35 quid. I was welcomed into a large living room where a silent man was watching the television and a dog was eating the remains of their dinner from a plate on the floor. The owner was a Chinese woman, who, in between nodding like an oriental Parkinson's sufferer, took me into the yard and showed me the outdoor privy which was to be the loo. We then went upstairs, me wondering why the inside toilet on the first floor was barred to me, and she showed me into a room-sized fridge which looked like some drug rehabilitation hostel, with a mattress directly on the floor.

Back in town, as I thawed out in a well-known chain pub, I was tempted by a notice about rooms being available. I texted the "hotel" to say that I had decided to stay in town and would be back to collect my things the following morning. I had a large double room with a bathroom the size of my bedroom for 68 quid.

I went down for breakfast yesterday morning, Remembrance Sunday, and thought I was in some sort of film set for Carry On Up The Colonials.

Doncaster. The only town in the United Kingdom
where they eat cafes

On the journey back I had a bit of time to kill in Doncaster, so I went to The Plough, where a bloke said that he'd been to Blackpool where he bought a present for a friend. "I got her this cock rock. Be more of a man than she's had for a while." The landlord, who looked like a character from an Alan Sillitoe novel, with slicked back thinning hair, brought out a free buffet of cheese, crackers, sausage rolls, and black pudding.

Back on the train, a couple of Scousers were counting out hundreds and hundreds of pounds in twenties and tenners. After a verification process that seemed to be taking place, with confirming nods between them, they started chatting to me, asking me if the Morecambe fans had taken up the usual away supporters' chant, "We Piss on Your Fish."



  Fri 3rd November 2023

On Friday, I went for a drink after work. I got talking to a man who showed me some official papers, issued to him on his release from police custody earlier that day. He'd damaged a door. "I don't drink that often, but when I do I lose the plot," he said, setting his new pint of Stella before himself.

I didn't rush my pint, but made it my last; bade him farewell, and wished him, insincerely, good luck in his trial.

I was intercepted on my way out by the first person ever to speak to me in that pub after starting the job in ----. He was sitting with a man who half an hour earlier had lent me his glasses, as he saw me squinting at my bank card. My account is still frozen -- originally with £490 in it, but now, with payments that are being dropped down the same well, is holding around £850. I needed my account number in order to apply for a loan from Bank of Mum.

James told me about breaking off his engagement after he bumped into an old flame and transferred his affections. His fiancée found out, and at their last meeting threw his pint over him.

James has regressed into teenagerdom, showing me farcebook posts about her I didn't want to see; but I enjoy these kind of stories. Sometimes I miss the gossip and scandal of a small town.

On my scooter ride home, I got to within a couple of yards of my front door, tried to ride up the kerb, and came clattering down. At that moment, a car slowed down and pulled over. Wanting above all to avoid the driver's solicitations, I stood up quickly and gaily smiled and shrugged, trying to indicate that I'd rather she carried on her way.

The pain that night was some of the worst I've ever had, but I thought that if I could just bear it for a few hours it would go away. I was awake all night, then at the hospital the following day, I was told that I'd broken my wrist and my elbow.

I was delighted to read, in the leaflet they gave me when I was discharged, that I'll probably be in plaster for about four weeks; but worried about what my manager would say at work when he returned my call. The phrase I feared hearing was "alternative duties".

To my surprise, it was all over in a couple of minutes. He said that there were no alternative duties available for me, and wished me well and to keep in touch.

I put the phone down, shouted, and did a victory punch with my good hand. "You have turned that phone off, haven't you? cautioned Mel. The phone was indeed off, and a radiant vista of a month of paid leisure, riding on Tramadol, opened up before me.

On Thursday I received an invite to a competitive online geometry-themed arcade game, one of the bizarre recruitment practices the railway industry uses as the gatekeeper at the citadel in which the better jobs are kept. I have unambiguously failed before at this test, but that might prepare me better for it this time round.



  Sat 21st October 2023

I am a bit worn down from too many events.

My uncle passed away recently, so it was off to Brighton. I'd forgotten how attractive the centre of Brighton is. It still has a pleasure gardens feel to it; as long as one doesn't think of the economic cleansing caused by the uncontrolled rents.

The relatives, some of whom are in steep decline, gathered in a brick-built crematorium whose harsh geometry had an air of the concentration camp about it. My mum didn't hear a word of the service, as she refuses to take her hearing aids out with her. In the pub afterwards her sister-in-law asked her who she was.

The flat has dried out now, but it wasn't Alpine dew seeping in from upstairs -- it was water filtered through the clothes and cigarette-strewn carpet of a Bulgarian alcoholic who walks up and down the street in his pyjamas drinking vodka -- but the housing association might be giving me vouchers with which I can get new fitted carpets. I still have no light in the bathroom: the workmen who said they were coming yesterday to fix it didn't turn up.

Then on Wednesday my bank informed me that my current account is frozen. Yesterday I spent an hour on the phone trying to find out why.

A friend, whom I think is bipolar but who reacted violently the only time I suggested that to him, has accused me of defrauding him. We used to have a commercial relationship, that worked fine until recently. I've got £150 of his which I am trying to return to him, having told him that I'm shutting up shop (for him, anyway -- I can't be dealing with his 4am rambling voicemails, endlessly changing orders and loony bin messages), but he's refusing to give me his bank details and his phone number doesn't work. I've told him, through Farce Book, that as soon as my account is unfrozen I'll make sure he'll get his money back. I'll deliver the cash by hand to his address next time I'm back home. And make sure I film or photograph myself doing it. In the meantime, I'm suspected of fraud and the bank is holding on to £490 of mine.

On Friday I was working in the first class carriage. I get flustered and forgetful. I served four or five meals, then, after everyone had decanted at Manchester, I realised that I'd not taken any payment for them (passengers in first class on Transport That Fails don't get meals for free any more). That evening, at Mel's, I got rather upset and and self-dramatising, to the extent of saying "I'm losing my mind Mel." As they usually do, things seemed a lot better in the morning. And it would appear that the error hasn't been discovered.

I very much want to find another job though: I have no interest in what I do; it's devoid of any meaning or purpose. My first aim every day, is to do the least work and if possible, get out of it altogether. Little things, like a colleague saying "amazing" as a customer paid for his coffee, rile me.

Mel's birthday: I got us tickets to the opera, and we sat through, and nodded off in, a dull modern work supposedly about the life of Lorca but which was eighty minutes of wailing and lamentation in the most banal Spanish, tepidly bathed in a modernism-lite soundtrack. The evening's highlight came before curtain up, with a couple nearby having one of those tight-lipped domestics in which the middle classes excel. It was a relief to get to the pub next door and watch the last third of England v Italy.


Troubles, in Belfast and Bristol

  Mon 2nd October 2023

I didn't realise before I booked it, that our airbnb was bang in the middle of hardline Unionist East Belfast. There were Union Jacks and paramilitary flags all down the streets. Although I had gone trying to remember the advice "don't mention the war", I actually found some people, especially in the Loyalist pub that we adopted as our local, were quite keen to talk about the Troubles, which I was assured are in no way over.

"It's a good job you weren't here a few years ago. They'd have thought you were informers. But it's not about religion any more, it's about drugs." And in the city centre, on finding out where we were staying, a man said "oh no, over in the west we have proper guns. And Semtex."

I became utterly absorbed in the question of whether the pub's doorman, who waved us in without a word, was collecting money for the cause. People came in, paying nothing, or something only in coins, or sometimes, with a note. I approached him after an hour or so, saying "were we supposed to have given you something on the door there?" "Well, it's just for the DJ, but yous two can just give us three quid between yous." "Yes, but is it going to Loyalist groups?," I didn't say.

We tried another "pub" -- a pizza place with a large range of lesser known ales on tap -- but our round came to just short of fifteen pounds, and they refused my paper money. We met some friendly Hondurans, who were interesting about the violence in their own country, but the bland, international atmosphere with young people and their orthodox positions on everything, was dull, so I was pleased when Mel said that we could return to brave the disco at the Balaclava and Timing Switch.

It was a shame it was so loud; I was learning a good deal from a woman who came over and talked to us; but on the dancefloor there was an animated version of The Fat Slags going on, lots of tit-wobbling and dry humping in the doggie position, and we joined in with the dancing once the Guinness kicked in. A woman broke off from giving it backwards to start jabbing her finger at another who was sitting down, reminding her about "that time you were calling me a fat cunt." A man next to me asked me if I liked rain. He looked confused when I replied saying it reminded me of my home town, before I realised he was enquiring whether I enjoyed wine.

Which I do, but not at the prices charged at the airport. A 250ml glass of Shiraz is precisely priced at £13.78.

Friday before last, I woke up to two missed calls and a couple of texts, saying there had been a flood in the flat. The Bulgarian in the flat upstairs had put in a load of clothes into the bath, and started the taps running. Settling into the vodka, he fell asleep. I came back to find sodden carpets, streaks down the wall, water in my kitchen cupboards and worst of all, a damp bed. There was no electricity, and the emergency lights in the corridor outside had run out.

The electrician had just about finished sorting the lighting out when he looked with concern to the ceiling. "That looks like asbestos to me," he said. There was enticing talk of me being put up in a hotel -- I claimed I don't know anyone in Bristol who could accommodate me -- but they put me in the guest room on the floor above instead.

I've moved back only today. It's forced me to have a big clear-out, and apart from the distressed carpets, it's looking a lot better compared to antediluvian times. I found a cabinet thing in the local community secondhand furniture shop for fifteen quid which, by hiding unruly miscellanea behind its MDF doors, has already started calming my flat down.

The dipsomaniac Slav has not been seen since, and I would greatly prefer it if he remained missing.


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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

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