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Somaliland

  Sun 13th October 2019

Waiting on at a wedding in a country hotel. They've hired a string quartet, which in the room's laminate acoustic, becomes irritating. I tell my colleague so. "Oh. I'd have thought with your age, you'd have liked it."

A week later, another wedding, the same venue and colleague. "So how old are you, if you don't mind me asking?" "I'm fifty-six," I say, an inverted vanity adding a year to my actual age. "Oh. And you're still quite fit and healthy!" She's Welsh -- in as far as people from Newport are Welsh -- and I like working with her. I can banter with her, poking at the sensitivity of borderland people who don't have an acknowledged identity.

But the Hungarian man likes to distribute the stress he feels when it's busy, rushing and swerving around, seeing his immediate task as more important than anyone else's. Touching me all the time, little taps on my back and side to get me out of the way in a narrow bar, swatting the space I have just vacated as I stand up from fetching wine out of the fridge.

It's an attempted exercise of power, which won't succeed, because his touching me is a sign, not a symbol. (I think that's the first time I've ever found a use for my short weeks of semiology, which as its name suggests, can be a bit wanky.) In the car on the way back with my female agency worker colleagues, complaining about him released some stories.


I am early for the coach to London. I'm meeting Trina in Streatham, to see a soul singer that I introduced her to. I buy a bottle of cider and sit on the steps outside one of Bristol's pestilential student residences, hoping to offend someone whose parents pay for their tertiary education. A Somalian teenager greets me warmly with a fist pump and a "bro". He must be one of The Horn of Africa Hernia Boys, with whom I used to exercise in the park. He sits down a yard from me and gets his weed out.

A young woman walks past. "Would you grind her?" he asks. I laugh, an evasive technique I use to avoid explicit complicity in everyday sexism. He looks at me steadily, and I realise that he's asking if I have a grinder for his weed.

He starts talking about his brother. He nods towards the Tesco from which I have brought my cider, and says that he's inside. He's not referring to the Tesco Metro though. He means that he's in prison, serving a minimum of twenty-three years for a murder -- "a really bad one." I'm salaciously eager for the detail, but silence is sometimes the best way to draw someone out.

My friend says that he came down here to escape all the drug-related violence of Hulme. I tell him about a party a friend of mine went to once in Hulme. It was a tropical beach theme, so they borrowed all the electric heaters, sunlamps and other sources of heat they could find, and ordered a skipful of sand which they had poured through the flat. We swap numbers and share a joint.

On the coach I was deliciously stoned. I had no desire to drink. I started on my new book, Our Mathematical Universe by Max Tegmark. The multiverse idea is religiously seductive, a vista of limitlessness that carried me smiling halfway to London. The tired Japanese girl next to me kept jolting herself awake as her head tilted towards my shoulder, looking disgusted at herself every time her head sought a cradle. Streatham at night has an easier feel to it than I remember from twenty years ago. I wonder if it's because the Somalians are here now, diluting the per capita alcohol intake.


Jenny, my impoverished, but unselfpitying middle daughter, tells me of the times when her and her sisters were only able to go on some extra-curricular trips and overnight stays with school because of assistence they had from the school's Hardship Fund. She found out a few weeks ago that there was no Hardship Fund. The money came from the teachers having a whip round for them.

7 comments »

7 comments

Comment from: Scarlet [Visitor]

I had an interesting night out in Streatham, in the eighties - the pub I was in was stormed by about 30 policeman. A fight ensued, and I hid under the table.
Anyhow, regarding age - do you reckon there will come a point when younger people genuinely ask us what we did during the war? And when we’re in the care home do you think they’ll force us to listen to Vera Lynn?
Sx

Mon 14th October 2019 @ 07:04 Reply to this comment
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

I know – she should see how some of the fifty- and sixtysomethings I know behave. Young people are the conservative ones nowadays.

I remember Streatham as dog rough too. I wonder where the ruffians went?

Mon 14th October 2019 @ 07:18 Reply to this comment
Comment from: kono [Visitor]

There’s never a dull moment ’round here now is there? I once spent a very drunken, drug-addled and debauched week or so in Streatham roughly 19 years ago, took the bus into Brixton to score drugs on the famous Cold Harbour Lane, there’s a bit more to it than that of course, think there’s a post in there somwhere…

And sometimes humanity is capable of brilliant and beautiful things, those teachers were ace.

Wed 16th October 2019 @ 14:06 You are currently replying to this comment
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

We only missed each other by a couple of years then.

And the teachers…yes, what an admirable, compassionate thing to do.

Wed 16th October 2019 @ 23:12 Reply to this comment
Comment from: monkey man [Visitor]

I used to vomit on Streatham Station every Sunday morning on the way home after post-Saturday-gig drinking sessions. I’m sorry.

Fri 18th October 2019 @ 10:23 Reply to this comment

‘cha Looby,

Lots of good reading in this post (obvs. not just in this post), ta muchly. Not least, the adjective use of pestilential, or the mention of my mother’s childhood manor; or, indeed, the mention of long forgotten sign vs. symbol skulduggery but definitely the mention of the book I’ve put on my Xmas list. I luv me a bit of quantum quaking.

How’s the new gaff going? All settled in now?

Tue 22nd October 2019 @ 10:18 Reply to this comment
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

Yo sis! (Sorry, just trying to start as “down” as you).

Yeah, there’s some good things in that book. I’m only at the bit which he says appears uncontroversial and accepted in moidern cosmology, but fucking hell, that’s wild enough. There may be billions of iterations of you and me, living lives differing only in one tiny atomic difference at once moment. I had a good quake at that.

The new place is ok. Very middle class. I feel a bit tense about going to the toilet in the night. The woman says “fuck", but then reminds me of the weekly cleaning schedule. They’re good people though, intelligent. I feel like a bit of a wrecking ball from the wrong side of the tracks, holdig himself in.

Tue 22nd October 2019 @ 20:22 Reply to this comment


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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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