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A little sea

  Fri 12th July 2024
A little sea

Our Breton holiday, more than two weeks long, flashed by, as holidays are wont to do. It's the same thing every year: a diet consisting mainly of butter and cider; swimming in the "little sea" (mor bihan in Breton); mild walking and trips to the market; reading and afternoon dozing in the little garden; coming back with resolutions to improve my French which last a couple of weeks. Walking along the headland and on the beach, especially in the liminal time around dusk, staring at the infinitely graduated colours of the sea and sky, it is so beautiful that you don't know what to do with it.

I lugged my old heavy computer all the way there and back so that we could watch the football. I hadn't paid for anything but a carry-on bag, but have developed a technique of slinging my man-bag over my back to hide it somewhat, and then waiting until the gates are about to close to go through, when they are less likely to spend time charging you for your extra bag.

We did online shopping, with everything brought to the door, which made me wonder at how we used to manage in the past, lugging it all back from the village. It also makes you realise how much you're all drinking.

I had an enforced night in Nantes on the way back, due to there being no bus from the village to get me to the railhead in time for my train to the airport. The poor public transport out there seems to be getting worse. I stayed in a book-lined room in a flat full of art, with a woman who spoke French to me throughout, for which I was grateful, despite the many times when I was saying what I could, rather than what I wanted to. I was surprised by her tutoyering me from the outset, and it took me until the next day until I could reciprocate. Brittany seems to be loosening her stays.

I was early to the flat and she wasn't in, so I found the local bar, where I was latched onto by the local loon, who wanted me to buy her a glass of wine, despite her shaking a fistful of euros. I declined her request. Later, I saw her riffling through people's wheelie bins.

The gloom of work was lightened somewhat when I found out that we are to be given European rail passes -- something I've always had in my employment with other train companies but which Transport that Fails did not provide, and aligning with other companies in another respect: we are to be put onto a rolling roster, with the occasional "long" weekend (of three days, as opposed to five elsewhere, but it's a start). At the moment we don't find out until Wednesday (at the earliest) what we're doing the following week.

I'm not celebrating yet, as TtF spout more rubbish than Thames Water, but should these changes happen, Mel will be receiving quite a few postcards. I suggested we could fake cohabitating in order to get her a pass too, but she hasn't the same willingness to lie as I have.


French letter

  Mon 24th June 2024

We (me, Kirsty, the children, and one of their girlfriends) are on our hols in the same place in southern Brittany where we've been going for twenty-one years now.

The queues to get a metro ticket at Charles de Gaulle airport were twenty minutes long; the train from Paris was two hours late, and on the bus for the final leg into the village, the driver, knowing our destination, chose to keep the information that it wouldn't be serving our stop near the village centre to herself. We trudged like donkeys in an advert for forty-five minutes to reach our asylum. All is calm now. Bees burrow into the rosemary, which is flowering in a fluorescent cerise; a fat yellow rose over there is waving to me from behind a drying bikini.

Last week, I was in Doncaster, on a residential course with a railway union, for which I am a rep now. A man told us that his short-lived career as station staff ended after an incident in which he asked a man to stop smoking inside Glasgow Central station. The passenger told him that he'd smoke wherever he fucking well liked, and exhaled a lungful of smoke into his face. Conveniently positioned at the head of an escalator, the smoker was kicked down it for a painful descent to Glasgow Central Lower Level. It was cheering to hear a rare tale of the Revenge of the Customer Service Assistant.

I got an email on Friday telling me that I've got through to the next stage for the Sheffield job. Part of it is the shapeshifting task that I seem unable to crack, but one of the Young People in our band has offered to do it for me. She's going to do the practice test today, and see how she gets on.


Campus insecurity

  Sun 9th June 2024

The bloke I mentioned in the last post, whom I consider to be my intellectual and social inferior -- I mean in the sense of lacking a social adroitness that I can put on when useful -- got the job. Perhaps he has talents he reveals exclusively in job interviews.

My dejection was exacerbated by a post-weekend chemical comedown. I wrote a carefully-worded email to my interviewers and to our HR person, asking them to make an exception from the standard company policy of not giving feedback to rejected candidates, given that this is the fourth time I've failed at the final hurdle.

A few days later I was told that I'd passed the first stage of the selection process for a job in Trina's home town, almost as if someone was feeling guilty about turning me down a couple of weeks ago.

I must now proceed to a test I've failed before, a sort of shape sorting exercise where you have to mark off a certain shape, plus every occurrence of the one at the beginning of each line. The deadline to take it is Wednesday; I've paid a tenner for some practice tests to try to get up to standard. Some of my inaccuracy comes from gripping the mouse too hard through nerves, causing a tremor in my hand.

As ever, I haven't thought this through. Where to live: I enjoy a priceless secure social tenancy here, and I'm not sure what the rules are about transferring it elsewhere, even if a flat were to become available at the right time. What to say to Mel: it's a three-hour train journey from here, so feasible, at the price of killing any spontaneity. And other difficult topics.

To Newcastle, to see our semi-adopted daughter's graduate art show.

A couple of days prior to our arrival, there had been a violent disruption on the campus as the police and "security" waded in to a protest against the actions of Israel in Gaza. The very "security" who were filmed manhandling protesters, now controlled access to the art department.

We were told that we would have to be escorted around the galleries by security guards, but the Head of School, having to negotiate access to his own department, persuaded them that he could accompany us instead. After a few minutes' of tense diplomacy, we were all allowed in. As soon as we were out of sight of the goons, the Head of School let us wander around unaccompanied. It felt sinister, the university's autonomy erased in a bullies' coup.

I had to change trains at Darlington, where a mock-up of the new concourse suggests that they are expecting to welcome a levitating man laughing at a passenger who's unknowingly shat his kecks.


I have a competitor

  Mon 27th May 2024

Last Sunday

It's Sunday afternoon and I wish I were in Blackpool, where Lancashire are 232-4 against Durham, and our captain is into his second century of the match. The BBC's commentary is a substitute. It's gentle -- the commentators' inoffensive jokes receive a response of a couple of seconds of rapid nasal exhalation.

No news, ten days on, from my interview. I was startled yesterday when a colleague, who works in the kitchen, told me that he's got an interview for the same job on Friday. So none of us have got it then, and they've re-opened the advert? I don't know.

I hadn't told anyone that I've had an interview for it. Outwardly I was encouraging to him; inwardly I was outraged that someone who is not the sharpest pencil in the depot, who never listens to you, and has to include his identity statement that he is dyslexic and "has" anxiety, into every monologue, might be awarded the position over me. In that asymmetrical way that can characterise work relationships, he likes me, and is always comparing me favourably to the other union rep. He gives me out of date food which would otherwise end up as a rat's dinner.


I didn't get the job. It's too early to know if my competitor got it.

Yesterday, due to engineering works sending my train round a funny way, I ended up having an hour-and-a-half to kill in Trina's home town. Fifteen minutes before we were to arrive there, I sent her a speculative text, asking if she were free. She was.

She met me at the station and we went to the pub opposite for a coffee. I was a bit disappointed that my colleagues on the train didn't see us embracing and kissing at the ticket barriers, and then felt a bit pathetic for wanting them to see me in Trina's arms. "Hey look at looby! The old bastard's still got it!" like a scene from some elbow-nudging seventies TV comedy.

I came home dog-tired on Friday, sleeping open-mouthed on the train from work, but dredged up enough energy to apply for a position as trainee guard based at Trina's nearest station. I had little time to complete it, so it was mainly copying and pasting from an old application which had got me on to the next stage previously. I altered a few details to try to defeat any duplication-detection program they might use and submitted it with twenty minutes to go before a midnight deadline.

I haven't got a plan. I often do this -- applying for things requiring upheaval if they come off as a provocation to my future. More simply, I am desperate to get a job with a predictable roster. I like Trina's company, which can sometimes slide into getting turned on. We never act upon it, which makes the desire more intense, and then self-conscious, and we get all circumspect again, and laugh; we haven't drawn up our constitution yet.

This weekend, me, Kirsty, and the two younger of my daughters are going north to see our family's semi-adopted daughter's graduate art show at Newcastle Uni. She explained her art to us at Christmas and my very inaccurate memory of it is that it's something to do with x-ray pictures of food they give to long-term elderly patients in some sort of mental home. Me and Kirsty are staying with my mum in Middlesbrough while the gals stay with the graduand in the Toon. I must try not to drink too much. My teetotal mum calls alcohol my "medicine".


Welsh farts

  Thu 9th May 2024

I'm on the balcony of my new flat. it's in a quiet cul-de-sac in the city centre. A few years ago they put bollards up at the end of the road and it's eliminated all but residential traffic. There are a few shouty people, but lunatics are often energetic walkers, so their evangelism and advice rises and falls like a passage of bad music.

I bought a rusting old folding seat this afternoon for three quid from the junk shop down the road, so that I can sit and look at the sky, the trees, and the fat black cat who fearlessly walks along the wall separating our block from the council block opposite. In my old place, I opened my front door onto a corridor, which made it feel a bit institutional and stifled. Here, there is an outside. I face northwest, so I get the sun twice a day.

Yesterday I had a job interview for a railway job in C---. 7K rise, fewer hours, long weekends every six weeks, and the thing I want more than anything else -- a roster, so that I know what I'm doing more than three days in advance. (It'd be thirteen weeks in advance).

I was interviewed by two men, senior experienced railwaymen. I would far rather be interviewed by men. You can have a bit more banter with men and let your guard down a bit. The manufactured, pretty young women, with their nails and hair and smiles and cold friendliness, unnerve me. You can't break through. At the end, the men asked me if this was to be my only job. "Yes, it will. I've closed my Only Fans page down," and there was a bit of blokey chortling, with the knowledge that all three of us will be wanking at some point soon.

In the pub garden afterwards, a woman on the table behind me farted. "Fuck me, that was good for a woman," her male friend said. "That's why you're common," her female one said. It had me in tears of laughter. I turned to them and said "don't do that again love, I'll piss me pants on the train home."

I spent last weekend with Trina. The original plan was to go to Glasgow for a night on the bop and stay in a hotel. Rail Replacement Bus Services killed that plan, so I stayed at hers instead. We slept in separate bedrooms and mainly spent the weekend eating and drinking. I walked off with another man's coat from the pub, then in the morning, wondered how I had slimmed overnight. I returned it with an apologetic note and a lottery ticket, and he somehow found my email address and wrote back to me. It was all most gentlemanly. Less gentlemanly was me telling Mel nothing about staying with Trina.


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

M / 60 / 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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