Renting is a bit shit

  Sun 2nd December 2018

Friday evening I was at the Town Hall, "showing" as one says in the drinks trade, some beers at a local wine company's Christmas tasting. It's a great gig. I get paid expenses which more than cover my hotel, and I get to sample a dozen uncommon beers. It's a dressy night, popular with women around my age.

Several weeks ago, Fitbit expressed an interest in coming, and surprised me by asking if she could stay in my hotel room afterwards, adding quickly the expected stipulation. "Don't worry Fitbit, it'll be like sleeping with your little sister."

I rang the organiser. It had long since sold out, and there was a waiting list, but he agreed to let her in if we pretended that she was helping me with the stall. He couldn't issue her a ticket as he'd sold the quota that would keep him within the fire regulations.

Five days ago, she texted (not even rang) to tell me that she'd "forgotten" that her ex-sister-in-law had invited her to a "pamper night" in a hotel near Skipton. "I'm gutted that I won't see you tonight," she texted. No, you're not love, you've chosen not to see me.

I told her that I was a bit pissed off with her, given the efforts I'd made to get her in, but she suggested meeting up the following day at 2.00 in The Shipbuilder's Armpit. At 2.40, she texted "be right there love!" And that's the last I've heard from her, my calls and texts going unanswered.

It was dosing day, and I could feel something lovely waiting to be welcomed in, which wasn't going to happen in the Shipbuilder's Armpit, with the objectionable ex-copper who thinks he still rules his bailiwick, now shrunken to a banquette in a cheap pub. He always tells me that a vacant place anywhere near him is taken. "No you can't sit there, they're coming back." "Sit there looby," overuled his friend.

At 4.00, I gave up, went to The Fur Coat and No Knickers Arms and read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and the Preludes. But first, I wanted to state my case to Fitbit.

"Fitbit. This is the second time in two days that you've let me down. I put a great deal of effort into coming to see you, but I'm starting to feel like a sucker. Little reliable looby. If we bump into each other when I'm in Lancaster I would happily go out for a drink with you, but I am not making any more arrangements to see you."


I texted Wendy and Kitty: "Oh Wendy/Kitty, you must try this. It makes everything gentle and lovely. So wish you were here! xxx "

It was raining and I had the urge for the raw vegetables for which LSD serves as a gateway drug. I bought a cauliflower, a red pepper, some cherry tomatoes and a few dried apricots for an al fresco tea. I bumped into one of my oldest friends in Lancaster, as I was walking along, chomping on cauliflower florets like sweets.

Then the something lovely thing happened: Wendy rang. Her and Kitty had half an hour to spare and wondered if I was in town. We met in the arthouse cinema's bar, where I had soda water: not for show, just because I didn't fancy a drink.

Kitty looked worn out with having to carry a very overloaded plate for a long time now -- a mourning and needy dad, a recalcitrant teenage daughter and a poorly-paid job in "education" that is much nearer social work of a sometimes distressing kind. Wendy was witty, pisstaking and gorgeous. Wendy had to go and I had another ten minutes or so with Kitty. I told Kitty, honestly, that I love and care for her.

That night I was staying in an airbnb in Carnforth -- a town utterly miserable and without culture. I so wanted her to invite me back for an hour or so, and later found out that they did indeed spend the evening together with a few bottles of wine, careful in the cinema bar to avoid telling me of such plans; but it's too early in my probation to expect anything else. It puts a hurtful twist into my stomach, felt all the more keenly because of their evading telling me until I was safely away in my room in Carnforth.


I paid my rent the other day: £450 (for a room, not a flat, let alone a house). On Monday my landlady texted me, asking me to buy some toilet rolls, "as we're out."

"I can certainly buy some toilet rolls, but I'm in Lancaster until the weekend, and aren't toilet rolls included in the rent?"

"No they're not. We'll get some." Can't you feel the petulance?

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Bristol -- London -- Paris -- Bergen -- Oslo -- Paris - Middlesbrough

  Wed 28th November 2018

I got my deposit back from my previous house, The Negative House -- no kitchen, no living room, no heating. Chatting to Helen, my friend in Norway, I rather rashly booked a flight over to see her for a couple of days. She's in a couple of flavours of trouble at the moment, and so I went to hold her hand.

I bought us a 4-bottle box of wine from duty free. Helen is convinced she paid for it, but that would mean my bank statement has been doctored. I had a couple of glasses from it before I went to bed. A few minutes later some friends of hers came round. In Helen's oft-repeated description of them they are "lovely", but I can think of other adjectives for a couple who drank every drop of the wine before leaving.

Next night we went to a bar where I was introduced to the Norwegian cost of drinking. "A glass of red and a pint of bitter? That'll be £21 please sir"; I was later informed by a local that it was an expensive bar even by Norwegian standards. There was an open mic night, a phrase which depresses me in the same way as does "large screen sports" or "rail replacement bus service", and the first act did nothing to disabuse me of that preconception.

Clad in black, failing twice to get her fingers round Fmaj7, (the chord of clunk and thud for the small fingered guitarist) she sang some unintentionally comical dirges of Nordic gloom: "I am a visitor / I stand alone / I am sucked into the fire / I am a visitor / I stand alone." Helen looked at her with understanding and sympathy, but I was wondering if there was a house or techno night going on -- anything where we wouldn't have to look inside ourselves in order to find the cliché within.

It picked up greatly thereafter. I was taken aback by the people who turned to me and said "hej" as an introduction. It's literally just "hej," and then they wait for a response. Once you get used to it, it's a very welcoming feeling, an open-ended question far better than my standard closed opener, of "hello, looby, pleased to meet you," which leads nowhere. I found out about failed marriages, dangerous and well-paid railway jobs, and spoke to someone who was setting up a publishing house who hadn't heard of Knausgård.

We were the last ones in the bar. Me and Helen, and this wide boy who came up to me at the bar and rattled off something in Norwegian. "I'm very sorry," I replied, "I don't speak Norwegian." "Well fuck off then," he said, and I knew we were bound to get on. An hour later, we were being driven at high and possibly drunken speed out to God knows where, to look at his boat. Then we went to his friend's flat where the latter said "you will never have heard guitar played like this before" and played guitar just like I have heard it played a thousand times before; but we will forgive him because he gave us a lift back to Helen's.

This morning, I missed my 6am flight. Helen got in a mood, accusing me of freeloading, forgetting about the box of wine she'd donated to her lovely friends, and flinging a letter I'd written to Wendy's dad onto the floor.

I left her flat, jumped the tram to the airport, and my eldest paid the 277 quid it takes to get to London from Bergen at three hours' notice. "Of course I'll bail you out, you hopeless twat."

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Small improvements

  Tue 20th November 2018

I went to Lancaster just for one day, to see Fitbit. The day and early evening fell into an old pattern. The first theme, and the longest, far exceeding the point at which a development or modulation would be welcome, is The New Boyfriend.

A more interesting and varied one follows, albeit with many quotes from, and variations on, the first appearing within it. The coda comes suddenly when The Old Boyfriend turns up. At which point I am ignored -- with the occasional sop in which she pops over and asks me if I am alright. Once your friend is repeatedly asking you that, the evening's over. I was irritated, but managed not to mention it, and made my farewells friendly this time.

Talking to Kim a couple of days later, she was describing the boorish behaviour of the pub landlord with whom she had a dalliance a few weeks ago, and said "I don't expect much. The bar's quite low for a boyfriend of mine." "So I fail to make even that, do I?" I didn't say. The little injuries we can inflict on each other with not the slightest malice aforethought.


Kitty sent me a card, saying that whilst she's still my friend, she has to keep me at arm's length for a while. She's overloaded with work and she's got her daughter to think about. She said that for the time being, she can't be doing with such a high maintenance friend.

It ended optimistically though. She said she'd like me to be her "equal, for fun times and confidences." My heart did a little leap at that. And what I have to do is so simple: "Just be a decent person when we meet."

I sent her a letter, partly thanking her for yet another act of undeserved generosity, but mainly aiming at something anecdotal and light. A couple of days later some friendly "night night" type texts. And to end the week, Wendy texted. "...I couldn't fall out with you for long, even though you can be such a tit Xxx." The high I felt from that was drug-like.


But why stick to drug-like? I began the microdosing experiment yesterday. I followed the dosage midpoint recommended by James Fadiman, the psychiatrist who pioneered research into therapeutic uses of microdosing. It started with a familiar slight weakness in the legs and a mild wooziness, a desire to nest into a thick quilt with a cup of tea and a cow biscuit.

A couple of hours in and I was texting Wendy, who was round at her dad's, with brief updates on progress. "No, not by any means wasted but I think I'll reduce it in the future. It's just a bit too lovely :) Like you! Xxx" "The giggles are looming. This is definitely too high, in more ways than one! ... Everything seems a bit comical."

A couple of hours later I had to go to work, where I successfully tiptoed through a bit of a minefield. I was serving four Jewish property developers who wanted to pay by card, except that I didn't have a card machine available, so I asked them if they could rustle up the cash, whilst silently resisting the urge to make any jokes about four Jews being short of money.

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Shadowed

  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, nor 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.

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Barred

  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
Monday

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

looby

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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

5:4
Desiring Progress
John Fallas
Lauren Redhead
NewMusicBox
The Rambler
Resonance FM
Sequenza 21
Sound and Music
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