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Bang on a drum

  Sun 13th September 2020

Yesterday I felt like I had so much sunshine in me that it was a good job that I bumped into neither Cath nor Ingrid when I got in, as I'd have spilled a radiant spume over them that they might have mistaken for drugged-up error.

A lassitude came over me on my cycle ride home from the pub, and I chanced a pub that looks as though it'll fall down tomorrow, or, as likely, now. Inside, four men and a television and an elderly deaf landlord with a gammy hand. I said "good afternoon, sir", and he turned his back on me and found something to do in the cellar.

On his resurfacing, I thought I'd try a less formal tack, which worked. "Hiya. Pint of Bass please." He took the glass in his good hand and hooked his crooked one round the pump and pulled a pint that was unmarred by his dodgy claw. I thought he said "one fifty", an impossible sum in Bristol, so I gave him a fiver. He returned three pounds fifty onto the bar.

After that I got chatting to two women and a bloke, late thirties, in the park opposite, and started stroking the close-haired short fur of their Staffie, who was soon purring as much as I was. Somehow we got talking about shoplifting. "Yeah, we're really good at it. We go to Birmingham, Exeter, everywhere, and raid it. I started when I was eleven."

They began talking about getting some spice, so I shook his hand and kissed the girls and got on my bike and set off down the cycle path to my suburb. One of the many Spandex speeders undertook me, irritated with my slowness, shaking his head as he powered off to share his officed day with a Monsooned woman whom he calls "my partner".

Near home, I spot the local loon, who has a bike which he adorns with plastic carrier bags and coloured ribbons, and a drum which he bangs at the bus stop. He was drumless, but was improvising by banging on one of the tables provided along the path for respite from lycra, chanting "an osser in a stirrer on her." I thought this was very appealing, and parked my bike up at the side of his bench. I started banging too, and we started a call and response of banging as he repeated the thing about his osser in between our phrases.

It petered out, and he, a big black unit of a bloke, and me, a sardine as a white man, stood up together and laughed a sentence-less goodbye. He walked his flapping bike off and I gripped my fists with the day's accumulation of loveliness.


"...and for some reason Mel, I seem to have downed a bottle of Bordeaux, and while I am feeling a wee bit relaxed, I'll tell you that the thought of assembling all those shelves appeals to me far more than wrapping myself around you and kissing you as we're laying together in this bed."

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Rural rides

  Wed 9th September 2020

Sat down in this noisy little semi-circle of concrete seats where the bus drivers sit. They should have a proper mess room but they have to sit here, with us, the alcoholics and homeless. Someone had left a copy of The Science of Self-Realisation, that Krishna Consciousness drivel. "Well if there is a God, he's a cunt," said a bloke from Manchester. I wanted to ask him questions about how he'd landed here but that has got to be a long process of trust.

A sixtysomething woman, with the thinness of long term drug use, started chatting to me. "It's this," I said, gesturing to my cider, "that's got its claws in me."

"Do you take anything else?" You never know whether that question is leading up to a smack solidarity. "Well, my thing is speed really," and she astonished me by saying she likes it too, and gave me the last of a nearly exhausted bag. I fished it out with my licked little finger as the Primark shoppers went blindly past. "Oh, you do it up your nose?" "Yeah, I can't wait. Oooh this is nice, to find you. It's quite hard to find here isn't it?"

She was going home and I wondered if I could go with her and buy some more, but she made such a hash of telling me her address that after a few requests for clarification, the penny finally dropped that she didn't want me to know where she lived, nor acquire a customer.


Mel texted from Greece wondering if I was free for a chat. She wants to talk to me. A ripple of pleasure; a gift, something I never feel I deserve. "Mel, what a lovely surprise!" She's switched me on. I have a seam of sex in me now, so that I'm untouched by this idée fixe that Wendy and Kitty and Hayley have of me -- half performing seal with my stories of my "interesting" life; and half a sexless, semi-gay gelding, in whom any expression of desire is found comical.

Today I cycled a long way round to the hospital to take my DBS Certificate up, in order to lessen my chances of a job there with my drugs conviction. I went through the ominous-sounding Snuff Mills, an old gladed landscape by the banks of the River Frome. I texted Mel from there, planning a picnic when she gets back. "Might be a bit classier place for kissing than the bus stop on Fishponds Road," I said. "Your kisses are always classy. Mine are sloppy." "They all count Mel."

Trees susurrated in the soft warm wind. Yes, we know: just now, you're happy. That's what this sound means.

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For administrative purposes, Italy

  Mon 7th September 2020

I'm in the Old Post Office. The capital "O" gives it away: it's been deracinated from the state and turned into a pub. I was caught in the vestibule to have the rules explained to me, now runaway regulations loosed from science, stoked gleefully by young people relishing a scrap of authority and control at work. I was told not to stand up, and to follow the arrows.

I miss mine and Mel's pub, where no-one gives a shit who you sit with or stand up with or talk with, its weed-perfumed garden, little dots of powder on the toilet roll holders, signs saying that anyone found doing drugs will be barred - always a good sign -- and where on a Sunday afternoon we'd be snogging and stroking and undoing.


I got back to Bristol last night from Rovinj, in Istria, in Croatia. I told Cath I was going to Bergamo in Italy as Italy's unquarantined. She surprised me by telling me about her holiday in Bergamo two years ago, so I had to look up "attractions in Bergamo" to get my story straight for when I got back. I couldn't be doing with a fortnight of her anxiety about isolation, a dance on the landing every time I want to go to the loo, and worse, having to handle her, acting as counsellor and defendant, as tolerance and condemnation wrangled for precedence in her head.

I got through security OK -- they never search near your cock -- had a £6.50 pint of cider in the bar, and then went to the loo, leaving all my stuff on the table. Got back and couldn't find my phone. I'd taken the "smart" phone I never use which had my boarding pass on it. A helpful Welsh couple at the next table rang it repeatedly as I tipped my bag out onto the table, all my cheap underwear looking ragged in a pile on the table.

I missed my flight, and sat annoyed with myself for being downhearted. I went to a car hire place, where I asked to borrow their work phone to ring my eldest, Fiona. I keep important numbers written down in my diary. They were on a different flight, the day after, from Liverpool and were staying in an airbnb there.

It was five o'clock. I could still get to Liverpool. Fiona, with a lack of at least audible exasperation, bought me a sixty-eight quid ticket for their flight. I got the bus to Temple Meads. A train in five minutes. I got halfway through asking the conductor if I could go to Crewe with him as I showed him my erroneously-issued rail pass, when he cut me short and ushered me into first class.


I didn't know how it'd work, an ersatz family of me, my eldest and the middle one, and Fiona's ex Imogen, but lacking mum and the youngest. We went swimming, the equality of near-nudity, in a warm sea which was as popular with the locals as it is with jellyfish, throbbing gelatinous blobs looking like domes of smoked cheese gone mouldy, as big as your head, and hundreds of their smaller harmless children.

On the last day we went for a meal out in a slippery cobbled square. Wary cats looked up hopefully at our table. I was tense about Fiona throwing her food out to them, as though it were disrespectful to the staff. I said "Imogen, I have loved having you on this holiday. I hope it's not the last time you come with us." She welled up, as did Jenny, who tearily stared at me as I put my arm around Imogen. "No, really." I laughed with the hilarity that expressing affection can provoke.


At the airport I still had a wee bit of speed. The alarm went off as I walked through the sensor arch. They ushered me to one side, and said "your belt", which was a bit confusing as my belt was in the tray, and swabbed both my waistband and my bag. I stood, trying to calm a tremor, for some elongated seconds, before the test came back negative and I was waved through. A pint of the local beer, post-security, was three pounds. I ordered two, and felt myself deliquesce into the beautiful liminal space of an airport.

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A long-winded proposal

  Sat 22nd August 2020

Thursday. Mel rings and wonders what I'm up to. I'm very pleased to hear from her. After the usual preambles, it ends up where I know it will: in the pub. She suggests a country walk, which I'd be interested in, knowing that with Mel it never lasts more than an hour or two, but I have wrenched my ankle and bashed my coccyx, in an accident of which I have only the recall of its pain, not how it happened. I plead injury, and she agrees to meet in the pub.

As I'm walking through town to get the bus, I notice a trendy burger shop is advertising a very expensive beer which uses my uncommon surname in its title. "Hiya, can you just have a drink?" "Well, we have to serve it with food. Just some chips or something?" "OK, it's just because that beer -- that's my surname."

"Oh well, I'll just put a portion of chips through on the house." I thought they'd do just that, but they cooked them and brought them out to me with my eponymous beer. When I went to pay, they said they had a spare glass from the brewery, which they'd already wrapped and put in a wee cardboard box, and presented it to me. People are so kind to me, all the time.


I advise Mel I am near the pub. A woman in a white top and sunglasses is bustling up the hill. I don't recognise her at first. Mel's a plain dresser normally.

We sit in the garden. The arrangement isn't as good. I'm facing her; I want to be next to her. I shuffle our chairs a bit. Kissing, a bit leaning, a bit of an effort but nothing if it means kissing her. She has on this lovely white top. Curved little high collar, V-neck, and an arrangement of buttons doubled at stations of the cleavage. I gently pull the bottom of her shirt down. She undoes the two top buttons.

I pull myself away from her and make my proposal, tortuously. "Mel," and I place my hands on the table in a gesture of honesty. "We never got married but had he been my father-in-law, Kirsty's dad once said to her, and I think it's good this, 'always ask. What's the worst I can say? No'. Well, look, I was just wondering if on Sunday you'd like to um..."

She finishes it for me. "Have sex?" I laugh and kiss her on her head. "Well, as you might have noticed, I fancy you and I just think it'd be a nice way to spend an afternoon on Sunday. Everyone's going to be out at my house. We'd have the place to ourselves. Might be nicer than a bus stop."

"I'm not sure looby. It always changes things." "Not for me it wouldn't Mel." "I don't know, things become different afterwards." "You'll carry on being you, as I will."

There's no-one in the garden and I'm all over her again, us both glancing doorwards to see if anyone's coming in. "Do you want a feel?" she says, and puts my hands on her tits. I quash a laugh about her phrase, as sophisticated as me saying to her two weeks ago "come on, give us a snog." But the act is lovely, playing with her buttons, tugging her blouse down to show her tits off better for my sex-gaze. She smiles down at herself being fancied.

The agreement is sealed and I go home and spend two days trying and failing not to masturbate, before Richard (our co-lodger) tells me he might be in and out all day as he moves into his new house.

I ring her to tell her that we will not be able to liaise in our intended way, "but were you inclined to meet me in the Suffolk Arms in that white blouse you had on on Thursday I'd be very happy to meet you."

"Well I know you're moving so don't worry if you're busy with that..." "No, of course Mel, if there's a possibility I could spend Sunday afternoon assembling an IKEA shelving unit rather than spending some time with someone I slightly fancy, of course I'll choose assembling the shelving unit."

I tell Kitty all about it. Part of what she says is "be generous to her in all ways."

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The Bus Stop of Sex

  Thu 20th August 2020

Mel texts. "Still mortified for behaving like a wanton sex starved lush on Sunday...in a bus stop! No standards, obvs." I reply telling her that she's met another roué, and that I regret nothing.

I tell Kitty about the events at The Bus Stop of Sex. I tell her that it's made me feel even more sexually alert than I am normally. About the woman about my age in the cafe the other day, knitting, wearing a close-fitting lilac dress to below the knee, bare legs, dark blue wedges. I expect she had no idea how desirable she looked.

She says that I could suggest to Mel an afternoon in for when we meet again on Sunday. Cath would raise an objection putatively based on her fears about corona, but which perhaps might derive from her desire to monopolise my sexual attention. If she's moved to the new house by Sunday we could have the place to ourselves. If Cath is in, she'll let us know it, repeatedly.


Harry, inexplicably, is insufficiently excited by one of the sexiest women I know. Hayley is bored of a monotonous diet of cunnilingus. "I fake it now, to get it over with." He enlists my help in obtaining some pills to remedy his failing. As he seems unaware that it is possible to obtain them from any pharmacy or on the internet, I got him some and doubled the price. What a distasteful degradation: buying tablets to get another man's cock into a girl I want.


Sexy Ex-Boss at The Big House texts me to see how things are going. She says she's bored. I suggest we take advantage of the titteringly-named eat out to help out scheme. We meet in a pub garden with her husband and my fellow housekeeper, policed by young staff who take too much pleasure in telling us that standing up and going to other tables is not allowed.

I stand up and go to another table to enlist a young person's help with the app-based menu, which we can't work. Our little policeman scurries over and it's only with difficulty I restrain myself from telling him to fuck off.

There's something giddy about the night, encouraging disclosure. We have The Drug Talk, and I am not at all surprised at what I learn. Sexy Ex-Boss reminds me of the time when I was working there and came out of the toilet with a white-ringed nostril. "'Hayfever', you said. Yeah, hayfever in November."

She says that they haven't had sex for several years. They invite me back and we sit up doing coke, before I am invited to luxuriate in a vast bed in their elegant mid-C19th Italianate villa. I lay there, thinking about all these bright, witty, attractive women going to waste.


For the first time since moving here two years ago, a date. A couple of hours in the pub, chatting easily. She says how much she misses going dancing -- something I stress how much I enjoy on my profile. "There are two types of men," she says. "Those who dance and those who don't. My husband didn't."

Next day she says she doesn't want a second date as she lives too far away and the last bus to her village in Wales leaves too early. It's either true or at least she's made an effort with a plausible story.

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


M / 56 / 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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