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A right ding dong

  Sat 18th January 2020

On Radio 4 the other morning there was an interesting programme about the future of work. Academics and policy advisers on what? 60K?, were being interviewed by someone on more than that, to talk about the redemptive value of work. An ex-GP said that he had wished that he could have prescribed "work -- like shelf-stacking" [sic]. You don't need to read a thing to acquire a class consciousness: the middle classes will dole it out to you daily with their giveaway speech.

Payday. From top to bottom:

  1. Savings.
  2. For when I'm 65, or my funeral, whichever is the earlier.
  3. The week's rent.
  4. To Kirsty, for our family holiday in Brittany in August.
  5. A week's pay.
  6. Booze.
  7. Cash withdrawal done after I got paid to stop any direct debits or standing orders being taken.
  8. A pint in Wethers.
  9. Bus fare.
  10. A bottle of Katy from the Co-op. So hardly the balance sheet of a spendthrift.

This is becoming a typical week. It's not viable. I started an application for Universal Credit, but got stuck at the point where they wanted details of my landlord and rental arrangements. I can't involve Cath in anything like that. She's sub-letting to me -- I don't want to complicate things further for her. However, things are about to become complicated for all of us.

There's a knock at my room's door. I checked to make sure that I am neither mid-wank nor mid-drugs. "Can I have a word?" says Cath. I feel my breath decide to exit from what might be an awkward situation.

She explains that the landlord has raised some issue to do with his mortgage conditions, and that it's likely I'll have to move out at the end of next month. Cath has lived here for twelve years: she's more or less bought the house for her landlord. Now, he's arguing the toss over her having lodgers. We are model tenants, late fifties, employed (after a fashion, in my case); a random inspection would reveal our gleaming toilet bowl.

"It's a rather extreme idea", she says, "but it might just work, if you and me entered into a Civil Partnership. You are single, I suppose?"

I agreed to the plastic marriage plan enthusiastically. I said I'd love having a party over something fake. We might have to kiss publicly, but that's what cheeks are for.

I like living with Cath and Simon. They're my age, bright, well-travelled, uncynical. We're on a quiet, catty street with little traffic, yet only a couple of minutes away from Gloucester Road, in case you fancy queuing behind prams carrying Beaumont and Tilly, pushed by parents in walking gear, to pay £3 for a biodynamic loaf. I will report back after our summit meeting tonight. In the meantime, I've been considering my options.

1) I ask to move in with Hayley. I think I would become exhausted with her within a fortnight, although she's got a full time job now. Me and Hayley work best as druggie dance partners.

2) I try to find somewhere by myself. But a fiftysomething man has little capital in the sunshiny world of young house sharers, and I have no means from which to raise a month in advance, a deposit, and removal expenses.

3) Trina said I could live with her for a bit while I prostituted myself out at the hiring fairs, until such time as I could afford a room. I'd greatly miss Hayley, my Bristol adventure has hardly begun, and Trina lives in a drowsy city.

At the Extraordinary General House Meeting last night Cath made us a delicious peanut soup out of the Lidl brochure that came in the junk mail the other day. We're all in this together: if I were to move out, neither Cath nor Simon could afford £675 a month each to stay here.

The situation is that we can have a maximum of two separate households occupying this house. There are currently three: Cath and her daughter, Simon, and me. Were I to merge with Cath in a civil partnership there would only be two. Cath is less enthusiastic about that than I am, but will consider it. Once we've got the certificate to shut the landlord up we could just wait a couple of years and obtain a separation. Don't buy your hat just yet though.


Jump For Joy

  Wed 15th January 2020

Hardly any money, hanging on till payday again, card refused at the monocultural pub full of dependently rich students, wondering how I will drink, and pay my rent.

Tonight, on the bus home from work at The Big House, a bulky black man was sat opposite, playing gospel music on his phone. He turned it off. I said "that's good music brother, don't turn it off." "Are you a Christian?" "No but that's good music. We should try to lift ourselves up, overcome things. You carry on playing that." I never used to use the word "brother" like this before I came to Bristol.

Then Hayley texted, saying she's got her own flat. A sparkler lit in my head. An old rave track, called Jump For Joy1. Say jump, say jump for joy. She just needs furniture. We can do that. I look forward to scavenging, kitting her flat out with free furniture, buying fairy lights, lamps. We're going to make it her own; not tell The Abuser where it is; send him down a vortex of neediness. He'll have a key, but it'll be to my house.

I rang her, knowing it would go to voicemail because The Abuser doesn't want her to have any outside contact, so her phone always has to be on silent, but knowing that, maybe in the toilet, she would read it.

1. My first ever footnote in fifteen years: I don't mean the well-known 2Unlimited track with the same name, but this one by KC Flightt. It's fucking dreadful, but at the time (1990), it sounded great.


A good bit of crack

  Sun 12th January 2020

I'm in a pub in Bedminster, a comforting, down-at-heel suburb. From time to time, sticks belonging to the infirm spank the floor. Fat, chatty waitresses who know everyone, take the gentle piss out of the knarled 11am drinkers. I said to the woman behind me in the queue at the post office, "I'm only in here for a stamp," and she gave me one for free. Bedminster's a relief from the over-smiling in my white laarger up Gloucester Road.

It was a blank hour with Tess the other day. In an uncomfortable cafe in which two snarling dogs were trying to establish a hierarchy between themselves, we had Earl Grey tea to accompany what we both knew was an inconsequential conversation.

I had put myself in a fix. I had suggested Tess could come out dancing on Friday, but not knowing if she'd want to I'd asked Hayley first.

It was left to Wendy to suggest that asking along another (young, sexy, miniskirted) woman to our first night out together was not the way to treat a blameless woman who has taken the risk of contacting me on a dating site. As I've found that middle class people are sometimes more sympathetic to any ruse based on the accumulation of money, I invented a lie about being offered some work that night, gambling that she wouldn't go out by her own and find me and Hayley on the dancefloor. She at least pretended to believe me.

I rang Kim, who offered different advice, saying that it might make me look better in her eyes if I said that Hayley was coming along, but I stuck to Wendy's suggestion, which was probably for the best given the ensuing events.

Hayley texted as I was on my way to meet her. "I've got a treat for you." I thought it would be a new miniskirt.

We had a pint in Wethers, during which she told some edited stories about the vile treatment she's getting from her boyfriend, who is indeed a boy but no friend. She has a lack of self-pity which moves me and brings out my tendresse towards her. She's high on the priority list for social housing, and when she moves out will give her abuser a false address and a key: to my house, not hers. He met me once, and doesn't know where I live.

We then went round to the flat of someone who sings with a very well-known Bristol band, and her producer boyfriend. "The thing about [your abuser]", he said, "is that he's just about bright enough to realise he's thick." Hayley passed him £40 and he cooked the crack up on a spoon in an illictly fascinating process. Hayley divided the crack into little piles, before putting one in the pipe. It's lovelier because it's got boundaries of affect: it strokes all your skin at once but leaves you clear-headed.

A seventy-year-old ex-Navy bloke popped in to buy a not inconsiderable quantity of coke. "That's a good firm handshake you've got sir," I said. "All those years spent dragging people out of the sea."

In the little club, where two of my favourite DJs were playing, I was irritated by someone stood stock still on the dancefloor staring at his phone. "Could I just very politely say, that you standing there looking at your phone really kills the atmosphere." "I'm just texting my daughter," which left open the question of why one has to stand on a dancefloor to start texting.

I was caning the poppers somewhat (crack has a rapid diminuendo). With no prior indications of anything being wrong, I passed out, causing more of a disturbance on the dancefloor than anyone on a mobile phone. I was hauled out by the door staff and thought my night was over, but with rare tolerance, they let me back in after ten minutes in the open air. I gave all my poppers to Hayley.

Back inside, friendly enquiries about whether from strangers restored my spirits and my legs; my brain pleased to have its oxygen supply back. Hayley got chatting to a man who thought she was about twenty-five; two decades out.

We went back to Hayley's friend's art gallery-like flat, a Gothic-Catholic cabinet of curiosities. We slept uncomfortably, on the same settee on which Hayley was so overwhelmed by the sex we had the night we met in February, that she hasn't dared suggest it again.

I was late for work at the crack of six pm, but they're always glad to see a kitchen porter when they've got a big function on. From the loos, I texted Hayley.

You, my darling, have it so hard yet you never let it get you down. I don't know how you cope, but you do. I'll give you my spare key and as long as I'm in you can stay at mine any time. You are a loveable little [pet name no.1] and [flirtier, miniskirt-related pet name no.2] and I am very fond of you. I can't wait till you get your house, and we will watch [the abuser] collapse into his own needy heap of shit when his violent controlling behaviour has no victim to pick on. I love you Hayley, you are dear to me xxx.

I swallowed everything, and went back to washing up two hundred side plates. She replied asking me what I'm doing for my birthday and whether I fancied a night out in London.


I am open mouthed

  Sat 4th January 2020

To Lancaster. Sitting around with Kirsty and our girls makes me miss the companionable ease of family life, whilst I remember how suffocating I found it when it was there all the time.

I saw Kitty and Wendy for an hour or so, before Kitty got back to her coursework and Wendy had to return to The Little Dictator. The nostalgic memory of our open-ended drunken, druggie evenings, and everyone's restricted timetable, made it feel a bit forced. Too upbeat, making the most of it.

It was the girls' birthday on Christmas Eve, and Melanie, my youngest, had arranged a gig with her band, upstairs at The Job and House Price. She came down in her boho gig gear, reached to remove a lump from her breast pocket, and produced a die-sized nugget of dope. "Oh gosh," she said, amusing everyone with the quaintness of her phrase. Her band was tight; well-rehearsed sudden endings. I danced uneasily, not wishing to appear aloof.

On 27th we all decamped to Middlesbrough. My Mum's house was stiflingly hot, and getting even one window open took considerable negotiation. One or two of my rellies look de haut en bas on our side, but the nieces and nephews are intelligent and interesting.

I excused my self and went outside to ring Kim. We had planned an evening together. I left a message. "Get that's man's cock out of your fucking gob and ring me back about tomorrow." Kim turned up in her Bridget Riley dress: her curves, and Riley's.

When I got back, my well-meaning, kind, irritatingly unserious brother, whose relentless self-deprecation is actually a form of egotism, said "what? You've been to the Rocket? That's a bit rough isn't it?", because a teetotal Christian Bible literalist knows more about my former local than I do.

I was pleased to see Eric, puffing away in the doorway. He's an ex-Royal Engineer who when I was briefly homeless last year gave me advice about how to dig a sheltering trench for oneself in the nature reserve.

The ex-landlord shook me firmly by the hand, searching for my name. We all cheered when the barmaid smashed two glasses. I had a game of pool with Nora, who's got this severe haircut and lovely tits. Reading my mind, Eric advised "I'd fucking steer clear of her if I were you." The men were flummoxed by Kim's sexiness and her confidence, the women envied her, and I got the kudos of the assumed boyfriend; three types of error.

New Year's Eve, I went to Trina's. After the airlessness of my mum's, I could breathe, in her restfully plain little house in a neighbourly suburb. The butcher, who fancies her, once minced any chance he might have had by saying, as they were alone in the shop one afternoon, "let's go out for a drink. Start as friends, and see what happens."

Later, I tried a more direct approach, prompted by some combination of drinks that one only has at Christmas. We found ourselves standing up, close to each other. "I don't suppose you fancy sex do you?" "No, I don't see you in that way any more."

I thought that was it, but in a similar state of inebriation the following evening, she revisited the topic without any prompting from me. "Yesterday you asked me if I wanted sex with you." "Yes I did." "I'll have to think about it."

"No Trina, if you have to think about it it's not going to work. I was a bit pissed and just wondered if you fancied sex, there and then, that's all." She insisted on having to think about it. As we said goodnight, we started snogging, an open-mouthed, cock-hardening kiss, before repairing to our respective bedchambers.

I had a date on Friday. I described it to Wendy thus.

It was OK. We're going dancing next Friday but she said she'll probably get off around midnight, which might work ok because then I can have two hours without having to worry about her. Chatty, easy to talk to, got an MA, middle class. Pleasant enough, but the search for a dirty, clever druggie will continue methinks. But possible friend material, and I could do with more than Hayley down here.

I sent my date a closed-mouth text, saying that it was nice to have meet her and that I was looking forward to seeing her on Friday.

I've now decided to tell her that I've invited someone else along, having previously mentioned it to Hayley.


Friendly society

  Sun 22nd December 2019

I got paid £198 pounds net last week. That's a bit lower than normal, and what with £112 in rent, a quarterly payment of £80 for a ten-year savings plan to a railwayman's Friendly Society I set up in more bounteous times, and my £25 pounds a week to the credit union, I was left with nothing. I had to transfer £10 from my rent account to get the bus fare to work.

I was worried about not being able to afford the ingredients for my contribution to our house meal today. I started planning a shoplifting circuit, in which I would steal single items from the places in which one is least likely to be caught (Lidl, the Co-op, Asda), before I heaved with regret and asked my mum for a bailout, again. It's sometimes disheartening to be doing all this work, sixteen-and-a-half hours yesterday, and to be in this situation, although one could argue that someone who spent last week in Bordeaux, albeit with subsidies from Trina, can't complain much.

At the end of the long shift, we sat down at 2am and had a drink on the house. The catering manager said that we can all be "mightily proud" of ourselves in making this Christmas season the best -- he meant "most profitable" -- in the three years the hotel's been open. "And still we only get the minimum wage," I muttered to my colleague sitting next to me. The restaurant manager stretched open her arms and said "yess!"

It was a depressing spectacle, watching people on wages which, a penny lower, would be illegal, celebrating their labour's surplus value being funnelled into the hotel owners' pockets.

I walked, my feet moaning, to the bus stop. I have an effective tactic with the beggers. "Sorry mate, I'm on the minimum wage myself, and I've just finished this really long...", by which time they've wandered off.

Central Bristol, 2.30am Saturday night.

Two thirtysomething women are the last to leave from a bar. There's some amusing drunken faffing and pointing, centred over whether to go to the kebab shop next door, before one of them wobbles off down the road, puts her coat on top of a wheelie bin, then yanks everything down and has a piss in a doorway. There might be a girl for me in Bristol after all.

A man comes up to me at the bus stop. "Hello," he says, and stands there. "What are you after?" I ask. "A Rizla, if you've got one?" "Sorry mate, no, I haven't. Someone'll have one." Then he says, "I don't suppose you're looking for anything else are you?" I eye him up and down a bit. "I am, but I can't afford it at the moment." I first thought he was a dealer but as he left it crossed my mind that he might have been a rent boy.

A couple came and moved along the bus queue with a rehearsed, synchronised dance, singing and wishing us all a Happy Christmas.

Someone sitting behind me on the bus says "If you kissed this man he'd shit on the floor. It's not a sexual thing."


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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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