A friend in need is a pain in the arse

  Mon 5th June 2017

There are Syrians in dinghies tonight hoping that that's Malta over there, but relativism isn't any use in quashing one's own moaning.

The worst thing about not knowing where I'll be sleeping from Saturday night is not the consuming worry that that causes, but the amazing realisation that my closest friends are reluctant to have me littering the settee for a few days. I find it difficult to ask for help as it is, and the slightest hesitation in it being offered is reason enough to make me swear never to request it again.

Everyone is "sure it'll work out." Everyone except me knows I will be fine. Everyone thinks someone else can put me up for a bit. I'm being passed around like the unwanted parcel, and the music isn't stopping.

I keep wondering if it's me, whether I am making an unreasonable request, but I would never leave a friend to fend for themselves, saying "it's a bit difficult". People whom I've known for two hours, and internet phantoms I had never met before I opened the door to them, have had my settee when they've needed it.

Something has shifted. I can't, at the moment, think how we'll resume the status quo ante. And in this way, completely unexpectedly, I find signposted my way out of love with Wendy.

Kitty and Wendy did today say that they could lend me the money for a deposit on a room or flat, which is kind of them, since they hardly earn anything; they've also offered to loan me the £50 I'll need to put down immediately should the property guardian place I'm looking at this morning be offered to me. With this new-found backing I have requested viewings on seven places, but it's a nerve-wracking schedule, to start looking for somewhere to move into on Saturday, on Wednesday.

I went round to see the property guardian place. It's a two-bed terraced house on a steeply sloping street in a middling part of Lancaster, where a diacritical mark is a bad result in one of your GCSEs. It's in a mess, a dead shoal of post on the mat and smears of paint pot samples on the walls attesting to abandoned decorating. The real draw though is the little south-facing garden out the back, which needs Prosecco and cricket commentary and barbecues -- and alas -- Wendy, with her untouchable summer dresses and their untouchable hems.

A few days ago Donna no.2, whom I don't know at all well, said that I could move into hers for a while. She rings to withdraw the offer, as her son's up. I asked Wilma again, who said that I could stay for the weekend, then a few hours later said that the thought of my being there was creating so much anxiety that she can't accommodate me.

Thursday's was a long shift; I got back at half past midnight. I woke up at midday, having slept right through my appointment to see a flat which was fixed for 9.45am. Trina arrived, and we hauled my more than a thousand vinyl records down from the second floor and into her car, and installed them in her mum's house outside Southport. We went to the pub and sunned ourselves with Prosecco.

Walking back to the station, I get on the phone and upset Wendy. I downgraded my request to asking if she could keep my clothes at hers for a while. "Yes," she said, "but you'd have to wait until G--- [the fuckwit lazy ex] has left." Her mention of that name and how yet once again I am to be kept in quarantine from him, poured fuel onto my bonfire of instabilities and resource depletion. "It's OK, it's OK, I'll find something else, don't bother," and put the phone down.

Her response was perfectly reasonable and helpful; mine, an insulting over-reaction, but I have run out of reasonableness at the moment. I apologised to her later, saying that I am "stressed to fuck at the moment, and unfortunately I'm visiting this on the people closest to me." We're meeting up on Thursday but some of the lustre has gone. And why would I try to get it back? "...and I love you too x". Which means not a fucking thing.

Today, Monday
I spent the weekend working mainly, and staying at the girls' house. Made several mistakes on the till during this posh reception at work, then cocked up a couple of orders. I am worried, worried, worried, and missing the chips off someone's order assumes inordinate importance. Will I get sacked? And what then? "Please give me another chance Terri. I'm ever so sorry the till's out and that that couple didn't get their chips."

I had arranged to couchsurf with someone on Sunday night and tonight. I left to go to her house. Looking like a bag man with a couple of shirts, a computer and a little bag with my undies, a razor, and a toothbrush, I bump into Kirsty, boyf, and the girls in the street. They all burst out laughing. "It's funny for you, but not for me."

The couchsurfer isn't in. No answer on the phone or text. I sit down on her step and have a little sob. Absolutely out of ideas now, I ask Kirsty if I could come back and stay for the night. I am humiliated, my secret now out with the girls. The cat curled up with me; my back ached from my unaccustomed labour.

A day off today, and this morning, I am pulled off the dinghy: Seriouscrush emails, agreeing to my desperate request (phrased more insouciantly than that) to stay at my old place for another week; my employer cc's me into an email confirming my employment status with the agent for the new house; and Seriouscrush informs me that she'll send back my landlord's reference today.

An advert on spareroom. Note the characteristics of the local paternal vegan landlord: the micro-management of your footwear, and to watch television is aberrant in ways akin to those that condition wanking, although I bet Dennis and Geoff like to get a New Private Window out at night. I'm tempted to set up a subscription to Mayfair for myself, then, after a careful perusal to ensure that there are no images unsuitable for a shoeless vegan, repackage it in transparent plastic, and deliver it each month to the Father of the House.

Local readers will note that Our Father has mistaken "his" property as a "converted Victorian Post Office" when in fact it's the old Victoria Hotel. I used to buy speed in there, and comparing the length of the lines I used to stick up my nose after my purchases there with the much shrunken ones of the greatly improved amphetamine available to one and all now, it makes me wonder how much belly fluff of a chav I sniffed in the 90s.

At least he's honest about the fees which will soon be illegal. A pedant would point out that quoting agent's fees without VAT included is already illegal, but it's the way that you'd find no-one to join you in a night of tinny lager, Iceland pizza, and Gogglebox, that really puts me off the place.

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Lost in knitwear

  Mon 29th May 2017

Sent a polite email to Newby Bridge apologising about the consequences of my invented accident in which I was knocked off my bike at Grange-over-Sands, providing my bank details in case the manager might be pining for them, longing to pay me for my trial shift. I have already been informed that I won't get paid for it, but I don't remember that conversation. I'm looking forward to a bit of ag.

Went round to Kirsty's and sat out in the sun today in the pretty yard, with her and the girls; my eldest sat Protestantly scribbling notes for History, on a circular glass garden table more intended for salad and wine than revision. "Dad," Fiona asked rhetorically, "do you want to know about The Great Terror?"

"What? A-levels?" said Kirsty, which made us all laugh and Fiona end her revision. I wanted to have a go: "A-levels were introduced in nineteen blah di blah. Many opponents of this change lost their jobs in official positions for expressing their reservations about this innovation." Kirsty's so quick and bright; she gives me things to follow, things that ignite a sentence I wouldn't have had without her.

Middle daughter came in, hot from rehearsals, and proceeded to remove her shirt. I looked down at a completely uninteresting report about a rugby match, but then noticed that she wanted to show us and talk about her new and comfortable bra. "It's nice isn't it?" I talked about the problems Trina has with bra straps that saw her when she walks, and Jenny told us about a girl in her school who is going to have a breast reduction.

Jenny reclothed herself and went off by train and phone call to her boyfriend's. I hope they're having kind and forgiving and laughing sex, or an approach to it. Me and Kirsty talked bits of The Observer out to each other.

I rang Donna number 2 because we were supposed to be going out tonight. You'll get the gist from my texts to her.

1834: No Donna no. 2, I don't want to just come round, I want to go out. Otherwise, I'll stay where I am, with my girls.

1841: OK, but next time, only tell me when you really want to go out! All the best x

2157: Well if you change your mind at the last minute I'm getting a bus at half ten from the bus station.

No reply. I've marked her card: unreliable.

I got the bus there, which for some reason seemed a very trying half hour. Other people were being searched as they went in but the bouncer ignored me flashing at him. Inside, a yoof said to me: "It's great that people your age still go out." "You," I said, pointing my finger at him, "are a cheeky bastard," and from then on he was me bessie.

I was also asked where I was from, and what I was on, so Morecambe's learning the etiquette at last. Fabulous venue -- a working men's club in the West End which looks clapped out and run down, probably because there aren't any working men in Morecambe.

Some riff-raff to skirt around on way back, although once out of the town I enjoyed the walk along the cycle path, and the dawn chorus of pissed up blobbers trying to find the kebab shop first and then their keys.

Walking through town up to mine at half past three, there was this bloke sat doing nothing in a car. There is always a bloke sat in a car doing nothing on your way home late at night in Lancaster. "No it's OK love of course I still fancy you, I just feel like driving to the next street and sitting in the car doing nothing."

My second shift at the golf club. There was a wedding so it had waves of being rushed. I had to be told what a "jaegerbomb" is. I thought it might be one of those surprise human telegrams, one where you get ambushed by someone in an excess of knitwear.

Edit: I've misspelt it. Depending on your norms of orthographic fidelity, it's either "Jägerbomb", or "jager bomb".

A couple of with-it staff, but also having to bite my lip with a slow-witted smiler, well-meaning but practically useless in that way that only boys from good homes can be. I made a mistake on a large glass of pinot blanc, so I had to dispose of it in an environmentally friendly way.

The boss asked if I could come upstairs afterwards to sort the paperwork out, and told me that I'd be on 15K to start with, for a forty hour week. Well, that's below the minimum wage, since 7.50 x 40 x 52 = 15 600, not 15 000. And I need to be sure that I'll get paid for my hours in excess of forty, so I'll have to raise that with her when I see her on Monday.

Which has suddenly become today!

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A fucking interview

  Sat 27th May 2017

I like job interviews like the one I had on Wednesday, where you spend a meandering forty minutes or so talking about each others' pasts, and in which the word "fucking" is introduced by the interviewer within the first ten minutes.

It was at the golf club, and waiting in the members' lounge beforehand was to watch an almost laughably conformist subculture at what counts for play amongst wealthy men, who are conservative in both spellings, and who look long untroubled by anything like sex. I made a comment about the weather to two men stood next to me at the bar, one of whom inspected my clothes disdainfully without answering.

The club is based in one of the finest country houses in the area, a Grade I listed building completed c.1381 that latterly belonged to a linoleum magnate, before the golf club members clubbed together and found a sum in excess of twenty million pounds with which to purchase it. Vast picture windows look out over the golf course and the grounds. The boss seemed to like me and asked me if I fancied doing a trial shift the following day. This time, I made sure that I was going to be paid.

I'm not in much of a negotiating position at the moment, but I was greatly disappointed to have to cancel an assignation with Wendy. We'd planned to take a couple of bottles of fizz and various other intoxicants up to the castle grounds. How I was looking forward to seeing her reclined on the grass, looking so desirable in one of her summer dresses.

It was a quiet shift to begin with. Being the kind of person who knows psephologists, I recognised one of my customers. "Yes Eric, I've been working here for all of three hours. I thought I'd try to move myself into the higher echelons of Lancaster society. But I didn't get that job, so I'm working here instead," a remark which hope caused a ripple of Tory titters in the dining area.

Afterwards, I texted Wendy: "The golf club want me back! Infinitely better work [than at the hotel]. I've been folding napkins into roses, polishing flutes and serving in the two bars, under the friendly supervision of the 28-year-old bar manager who adds a most pleasing dimension to the phrase 'front of house'. Will be a really nice cycle ride as well. Now...drink! Wish it were with you of course but hope that will happen soon Xx."

Trina came round to help me shift my records last night, but I'm afraid to report that we ended up getting somewhat distracted from the task in hand. Wish we hadn't. It clouds the issue.

Got a viewing on Wednesday at another property guardianship house, a small terraced house in an undesirable area of Lancaster, but at £250/month and no bills, I'd be relatively well off. There's bound to be a great deal of competition for it though.

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A bridge too far

  Tue 23rd May 2017

Saturday night. We're all off to the theatre for a festival of short films from the Northwest, in which my middle daughter is lead actress in her best friend's film. My girls distance themselves from us: there is no shame worse for a teenager than to be seen socialising with her parents.

I had the good fortune to fall in with the director's parents. She is good company and magnetically attractive, especially in her high boots, black tights, and black miniskirt and white top. It was impossible to avoid glancing at her legs.

It was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had in a cinema. The film's a love song to her friends and to Lancaster, infused with a joyous sense of how the city has shaped their lives, coloured with their ambivalence about leaving the place in a few short months. It won First Prize. In the reception afterwards I couldn't find my voice, and a big teardrop ran involuntarily from my eye. We all went up to the Yoghurt Knitters Cafe where Foxy Mum bought me a couple of drinks.

Seeing my lovely little girl (she's eighteen and she's still my little girl) surrounded by with such intelligent, feminist, socially sophisticated, arty and creative sisters and friends, was even more affecting than the film. How I will miss them, even though I know that they've all got to spread their wings now and have the kind of education at university and drama school that will ripple through the rest of their lives.

The same daughter has acquired a boyfriend. He slept over at Kirsty's the other night. "Er...you're going to be careful aren't you? I don't mind most things but not a flipping baby," I texted. "No Dad, I've got a secret plan to throw away my place at a top drama school and get preggers at eighteen and live in a bedsit in Morecambe."

The hotel sank my mood on Sunday night, offering me the kitchen porter job. The following day I got the train to Grange-over-Sands and had a couple of swift pints during the forty-five minute wait for the bus to Newby Bridge.

I got on, and pulled from my pocket 14p and a small packet of refreshments; I'd forgotten to ask for cashback in the pub. The bus left, and seeing as I am not to be paid for my trial shift the other day, I thought "fuck that hotel" and went through my contacts, thinking who would be prepared to help me out. The Racing Commentator offered, even though he was describing the action at Sandown. Then another friend rang back.

When you want someone to lie for you, you can always rely on a Scouser. Harry rang the hotel saying I'd come off my bike and was in A&E. Which is the truth, if we overlook a slight chronological inexactitude in that that happened about ten years ago. I wrote a postcard for Kim.

Not for the first time, I misunderstand a girl.

Donna number 2 (not the girl of the passionate affair in Milton Keynes, but a girl I know through Kitty and going out dancing) rang. After a bit of a preamble she said that was was feeling "a bit lonely" and "could do with some company".

My presumptive mind assumed that she was after -- well, at least a bit of snogging, and I couldn't wait to get round to her house. "I'm a bit pissed, Donna," I warned. "Don't worry I'm wankered too."

We sat on her settee and started talking about a vague plan to go out on Saturday. I slid my arm round her back and up to her shoulders. She moved away and put my arm back, and I realised that there wasn't in fact any sexual code hidden in her invitation.

I thought she might come round to the idea, so I decided to give her half an hour to see if she warmed up, but we spent a sex-dampening time flicking through her phone looking at pictures of her children. Why do women think that one is going to be interested in seeing pictures of people who combine two ways to be uninteresting, being strangers, and children?

I went back to the pub, where the motley crew were still there. "You went off quite suddenly there." "Yeah, I thought a girl had invited me round for sex."

Being dressed for work, I was wearing narrow black trousers and a white vest top. I walked past another table and saw The Russian and his friend there. The Russian, who's gay, made some appreciative noises and started pawing my top. It's lovely to be found physically attractive. As regular readers will be bored of hearing, I could not give less of a shit about whether I am funny or intelligent -- I just want to be fucked. We started chatting and inching closer together, doing unnecessary touches. "Anyway, Ruskie...I'd better get back to my table now, but if we were in a different setting, I'd snog the face off you now."

At the bar, my card wasn't working. "No I think it's me," I said to the barmaid. "I'll shove it in a bit further. There, it's in as far as it'll go now."

I think it's the weather.

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A quiet night inn

  Fri 19th May 2017

Few things in life are as weird as your first day at work.

My shift at Newby Bridge started with a handshake with the head chef, before him and the sous chef started a ping-pong in which the sous chef read off names of films he'd seen, while the head chef said "got that." "Pulp Fiction." "Got that." "Casino." Got that." Over and over again went this bagatelle of status. I stood between them, unwilling to say anything in case I put myself into a position in this hierarchy. It was pitiable to see, the junior trying to please the senior with his inferiority. It carried on in their conversation for hours.

The work was relentless, hour after hour of pan-scrubbing, bent over a sink. The crockery is OK, but the difficult things are the yard-wide metal dishes of burnt-on lasagne, the huge saucepans coated with some sauce or other with bits of leek and hard-layered egg, and the metal "flats", into which food leeches fat, which ends up gripping the surface after a few minutes under the lights whilst it's waiting to be plated up and taken to the restaurant. You have to scour them manually, and in the meantime the waiting staff are bringing in more and more crockery which ends up stacking up as you get further and further behind.

No breaks, eating forkfuls of lasagne when you can. "I don't want to put you off mate," said the head chef, "but this has been a quiet night."

He showed me some caravans at the back of the hotel, which you can rent, sharing with another employee, for £150 per month and no bills. I worked out that a full-time job there would come out at about a grand clear, so I'd have eight hundred and fifty to spend. But at an immense cost -- hardly ever seeing my girls, no spontaneous nights with Kitty and Wendy; a chattel of the hotel, trying to wank quietly with an illiterate film-lover in the next room.

Afterwards, I could hardly walk, a curve in my back as I went to the bar like an old man. I slugged down two pints. At the bus stop, I watched my bus roar past, me gesticulating ineffectually as I realised, too late, that I was on the wrong side of the road.

I creaked open a phone box, which had a card for a taxi firm stuck in the corner of a notice advising you about a consultation period before the phone box is removed. Alarmed spiders shrivelled to their corners, strands of cobwebs stretching to an unaccustomed widening of the door. We agreed on thirty quid. Four hours of work.

You can only get as far as Ulverston on public transport at that time of night. I had planned a night of couchsurfing with a stranger, but after talking about it, Trina rang me to say that she'd paid for a hotel there instead. She's very generous sometimes, and I was glad to be free from having to pretend that I'm interested in someone else's life that sleeping on their settee would have involved.

I got to the hotel, worn out, dependent, and dejected, and had a pint which was so expensive that I'd have refused to pay for it had I not been staying there. I watched wordless skiing on the TV.

In the morning, the alarm went off at 10.30. It felt like 6am, and it was an aching body that I took to the shower.

I rang Wendy, who said she could come down the pub for an hour. She was wearing the green dress. I wanted to make the most of the one second of clasping, the only times I ever get to touch her, her smiling hello before our embrace intended to remind me of my unreachable distance from her. I slid my hand up from her waist up to her bra-strapped back, and it was over. Wanting to stay holding her, I sensed and agreed, against every fibre of my will and my body, to her slight movement away, as I heard her wordlessly saying "enough, looby. Exterminate, at least in your outward actions, your desire for me. You have no choice if you want this conversation to continue." The separateness she writes into our bodies.

"When I used to work in advertising, I was young, and, I think, fairly beautiful, and I used to just walk into offices and get jobs. It's different now though." "You're still beautiful though." It's the first time I've ever known her acknowledge how desired she is, and even then, it was by reference to her past.

The hotel hasn't rung me about any more shifts, and I'm pleased about that. I do not want to leave Lancaster. Not now, not while my girls are in their last summer here. Not while I cannot get over Wendy. Not while Kitty is here. Six girls -- my daughters, Wendy, Kitty, and Kim, are elements of myself. They stop me being an individual, a state much less attractive now than it seemed earlier in my life.

It pains me constantly that the particular form of love I feel for one of them, the love I most want to express -- a natural and unforced desire as selfish and is it selfless -- isn't wanted. Instead, I have to cultivate its opposite -- an unfeeling, an operation performed without the anaesthetic that would work on emotions and desire. I can act out lovelessness towards her, but doing so makes me know how false this is for me. Only a dishonest gloss of my feelings makes her comfortable; honesty is overbearing and unwelcome. When I tell her that I love her, she'll often say "and I love you too." She doesn't love me. It's her way of changing the subject.

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

M / 53 / Lancaster ("the Brighton of the North").

"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

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

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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