Not you, Dad

  Sun 17th September 2017

It was Trina's birthday last week. We went to the pub and had Prosecco and a pie. We went back to hers, where in bed, she did that writhing, please fuck me, which I did not indulge. There is only one girl I want to fuck, and love; neither will ever happen.

Trina dropped me off in Ormskirk, where I went for a couple of pints in the pub. Competition for tables was keen, and I walked to a vacant one just as a couple I had met there before were aiming at the same one.

"Hello!" I said. "Oh, are you...?" "No, please, sit here, with me." She recognised me and knew my name; he looked at me confused, not remembering me. "He's not very talkative," she said, as he was sent out to get something from the car. "He's always saying 'why were you talking to him?''" She's one of these elderly former public sector workers who seem to have limitless amounts of money.

She said she liked New Zealand wine. "Oh, that's a shame," I said, "because our wine club did New Zealand last month." I invited her up to the next one and she's coming, without her husband. I am prone to over-read things to my advantage, but I wondered if she was being a little flirty.

It was the annual house music weekender in St Annes. Two-and-a-half days and nights of house music, which to many people would sound like torture, but for us, it's subculturally indulgent. Overheard in the pub: "Who said you could sit here you Burnley bastard? I'd rather sit next to a Paki. I'd rather sit next to Bin Laden." "You'd have a job, 'cos he's fucking dead." "You'll be dead if you sit here you fucking Burnley bastard."

And then last night, a shock, the intensity of which I still can't dim.

Later today, my youngest is off to Liverpool University. Ever since they expressed an interest in going to University, I have just assumed that I would be there, with Kirsty and her boyfriend, at their halls, settling them in and biting my lip as we arrange their crockery and make sure they have enough things to eat and exchanging a few pleasantries with equally distressed parents.

Last night, I was at Kirsty's, all of us sitting around having a last supper, slagging off the contestants on X Factor. Melanie had had a pre-university haircut which makes her prettier. I didn't say that I preferred the more doleful, lank hair of her late adolescence.

Melanie, her sisters, Kirsty and her boyf are going down in boyfriend's car. Knowing there wouldn't be room for me in the car, I had planned to get a train to Liverpool. I asked where would be the best place to meet them.

"Well, why don't you come down a bit later, maybe a bit later in the term. The new computer will have arrived by then and you could take it to her," said Kirsty. I looked to Melanie for help in such a gut-wrenching rejection, but she just nodded in assent. Every member of my family, bar me, will be there. I am not allowed to accompany my youngest to University today as she leaves home. I sat there stunned, a reservoir of tears building behind my eyes, making comments about the X Factor contestants to display an inscouciant cover for the worst rejection I have ever had.

I am up at 6am wondering why. Wondering how bad a Dad have I been to make them not want me there. I'm not a horrible person. I don't deserve this. Is this going to be repeated then? Should I not buy the tickets to Loughborough and Bristol for the other two? Am I to be excluded for their leaving as well? Wendy and I are going Kitty's at 10am today for one of our brief little mornings together, --Wendy's controlling, jealous ex thinking that it's just Kitty and Wendy -- but I'm not going to be great company.

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You're with us now

  Tue 5th September 2017

In The Shipbuilders Arms, the dwarf, who has attached himself to the group of darts players with a degree of camaraderie slightly in excess of that with which he is welcomed, shows his hurt too openly on his face when the landlady brings out drinks for the darts team, of which he is not a member. In the toilets, men lean against the wall as if exhausted, sighing as they stare down at their penises.

Kim came over for the Bank Holiday weekend and stayed here for three days. I can't think of anyone else who could be in my house that long without me inventing lies to get rid of them early. We got up late, took picnics out, went to Morecambe and had chips and Sauvignon Blanc and trawled the secondhand bookshop.

Back at home, we had the comfortable silences that are the mark of closeness. Reading. "It'd never have worked out between us looby. You don't realise how much I want to be dominated."

In the pizza takeaway, an acquaintance is looking at his watch, asking why his order is taking so long, histrionically sighing, the breath of his own self-importance adding to the heat in which the employees were working to serve privileged people like ourselves. A burn of class consciousness lit the alcohol in me.

"Why are you moaning at them? Give them a break -- they're doing their best." "I just want to know exactly how long it'll be." "For fuck's sake Kevin, do you think they're not trying hard enough? This is the difference between working- and middle-class life. You have absolutely no fucking idea about how most people live. They're doing their best. They're on the minimum wage, so fucking leave it."

He's a stuck-up prig, and this is but an extract from a rant I had at him, of which I regret not a syllable. When he passes me in the street now I make a point of looking at him with disgust. The satisfaction of severing relations.

Kitty said that Wendy and her daughter were coming round for tea; the little twisting hurt of my exclusion, the looming of her ex. Today, she texted me saying that her and Wendy were going out for lunch. "Can I tag along?" I asked. "Yes! No Little Dictator!" (her daughter), both events driving home how obedient Wendy is to her ex's controlling, jealous command that she must never meet me when her daughter is with her.

I told them that I had worked out at the weekend that I was being paid about £5 an hour in my new job, and that I was going to ring a local business development agency who can offer help to start-ups, because I am being exploited to an extent that marks a new nadir in even in my own tatty career. Wendy's gorgeous smile as she suggested a pun on my name for my business.

I had to get back to work. "I want..." and I dipped a finger at Wendy, alarm and the moral imperative to be sympathetic struggling for supremacy on her face, "...well, you know what I want Wendy, but failing that, another dinner date would be great." She smiled and concurred. No woman, apart from Trish when she ended it, has ever made me feel so rejected.

Spending my £5 an hour in advance of receiving it, I went to Manchester for my techno fix. Everyone my age thinks their raving days are gone -- which is a decision, not some kind of chronological inevitability. It always works out OK at Hidden though, as I always get adopted by someone. Last night it was these two lads from Stockport, one an accountant and the other on the dole, brothers. I sometimes feel like a bit of a curiosity at techno nights, but they were charming. "Who are you with?" "Well, no-one." "Right, you're with us now," and we all danced together and sat on the settees together.

I love nights like Saturday, even despite the constant wish that Wendy could be with me. An 8am finish. E'd up people dancing and chatting and flirting and stroking. A cool black security guard at the afterparty who couldn't resist dancing with us, a pleasant change from the ones in the main venue, who couldn't resist imposing themselves on the most harmless group of people. As I was talking to the brothers from Stockport, a group of people were crowded onto one of those sofas which has an extendible foot rest. A "security" guard came over and kicked down the footrest. Once he had turned his back, we all looked at each other and laughed.

Afterwards, a stagger to Piccadilly Wethers and a veggie sausage roll and a pint of Mordue at 9am, where I wrote postcards to Wendy and Kim. A disappointing pie and chips in Wigan at midday waiting for my train home. I got into bed at 2pm, a distaste at my own sweatiness, but too tired to shower; the drive of fantasies and stories with a compliant and desirous Wendy.

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My girls are going off to University and it's fucking terrible

  Thu 24th August 2017

The other night I went through my phone, an old Nokia which struggles to hold more than about forty messages, transferring all Trish's messages into the internet's unsafe keeping. My non-sexual favourite text of hers, is the best compliment that anyone's ever paid me, made better because it came from one of the two girls in my life who have physically fancied me: "You write beautifully, but you talk like shit."

It hasn't helped. At some point I'll have to clear again the drain now suffocated with texts from Wendy telling me that she loves me. Which is bollocks.

"You don't love me Wendy. You manage me. I recognise it and I know what you're doing, because I'm doing the same with someone else. I'm useful to you; you're wary of me. That's not love."

I don't even need to send it. She knows all this. She encourages me to continue to financially exploit Trina's feelings for me, in conversations which I suppose she thinks of as some kind of matey honesty between us. In the background, the tacit, glaring shared knowledge that she's keeping me at the same distance from her as I keep Trina away from me. What a depressing trigonometry.

"You are incorrigible and very dear," she texted the other night. It's a strange form of being dear to anyone. I hear little about her day-to-day life but through Kitty. I'm an intermittently amusing sideshow for her, my currency nothing that I want to be of value.

Went round to the girls' the other night. Watched the women's rugby, France v England, with my eldest and Kirsty. Kirsty offered me some soup. Kirsty rarely offers me food when I'm round at hers, once even having asked me if I was going when I'd made and served up a tea for me, her and the girls, timed for when she'd got back from seeing her boyfriend all weekend. The last days are here, aren't they, Kirsty?

This morning, Erica texts. "Yo!!! Do you fancy doing some content writing? Cash in hand?" "Yes, if I''m capable of it?"

Erica showed me into this beautiful Georgian building. She had a radio playing Now That's What I Call Shite in their office, in which she is clearly queen bee, at least in terms of her choice of musical pollutant. What they do is take off-the-shelf Microsoft or Weebly templates and re-sell them to gullible plumbers, cakemakers, and childminders, charging them for a bit of SEO and content saying how marvellous they are.

The boss came in and took me up to an empty room. "So what are you doing now?" "Well, I do a little bit of freelance work, mainly content editing, a little bit of SEO."

Am I fuck. "I think about this girl Wendy all the time. I make up elaborate sexual fantasies about her and wank thinking about her. I sometimes also imagine sex with my other two close female friends. I like spending time with my daughters; I'm going to be sad when they leave Lancaster. I worry about money and my housing situation. I've got a blog. I want to be held and cuddled -- I never am. I drink and take drugs and enjoy both. I like dancing very much, and also cooking, reading, and cricket."

We talked a bit, me worrying, because I can fuck up even a shoe-in. But no: "Well, welcome on board," he said. "I've actually sat round a table with you late at night with Erica at hers." "Oh no..." and I faked embarrassment, "all my secrets are out then." "Well, it was late, and it's OK. It's nice that you know her."

The rates are subcontractual and nothing like they should be, but there you go, I am a full-time content writer from Tuesday, whatever that'll turn out to mean.

I informed the girls and Kirsty first, in a severally-distributed text. "I hope you're sitting down for this momentous news. Your father, or, in one case, your ex-boyfriend, is now a full-time copywriter with a web design company in Lancaster. You may all now go to university and say your Dad is something in IT."

For the first time I can ever remember, Kirsty suffixed her reply with a kiss.

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Small difficulties

  Mon 21st August 2017

I was supposed to be going to a Modernist opera based on Hamlet yesterday, but Karen asked me if I fancied a drink, as she's lost her job, facing the same difficulty at work as I had at the pub -- being offered so few hours, and at such short notice, it wasn't viable. Perhaps unwisely, we decided to embark upon this venture at 12 noon. The opera would have been the cheaper night out.

The woman sitting at the next table said "I just had to come out for some fake tan and now I'm absolutely fucked [at midday]. I'm just killing it with more beer." We fell in with The Geordie Shopfitters, which gave me good practice in understanding my third langauage. Karen was on form and looking prettier with every pint.

There were a couple of small difficulties, literally. She nearly got into an argument with two former colleagues, and an ugly little roly-poly dwarf had to be dissuaded from having a go at her -- disguised jealousy that she was out with me and not him. Poor fucker, he should have a prossie on the social.

We shared reports this morning. Karen decorated her neighbour's doorstep. I too, had experienced some minor difficulties in returning home. My bike fell over by itself and then the pavement kept asking for a fight. I wanted to leave it, but it just wouldn't let go. A bottle of wine I was carrying got smashed when the wall I was leaning on suddenly moved, and one of my ribs might have suffered somewhat because it hurts when I laugh or cough.

Neither did my shirt didn't come off very well, I've got a gash under my jaw and the pillow looks like a baby has been murdered in the bed. It looks worse than it is. A bit of it is blood, but most of it is Syrah.

In other news, I was delighted to be asked into my neighbours' garden the other day, for a drink and something else. That's handy. Don't have to pretend.

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You don't understand me

  Fri 18th August 2017

I went to have a haircut before meeting Karen. The hairdresser said she was from Bradford and had taught herself a bit of Urdu.

"Why did you learn Urdu?" "Well," -- the hesitation on the pivot of concealment and honesty -- "I had to." She told me of the pleasure it gave, listening to a headful of abuse from the local Pakistanis before sending them off with a rejoinder in a tongue they'd thought opaque.

Halfway through my inconsequential drink with Karen, I went to the bar and met a couple of the barmaids who work in the same pub as she used to. "How's it going?" "Naah, friendzone. And some bloke has plonked himself next to us and is going on and on and on about his fucking split-up." "Well, it's a bit of a stupid place to bring her, isn't it? Anyway, serves you right for being such a slag."

Karen's "friend" was wearing a repellent T-shirt, four images of women's arses (just their arses) in different knickers. He misses his ex-wife so much that after I left he started asking Karen to snog him. She told me that a few years ago he was acquitted of rape.

The landlady came round to clear the glasses. "How's it going -- Slag?"

After three hours, I was drunkenly paddling in a level of self-disclosure I didn't want to yield, so made up an excuse about the girls. "You off?, said one of the girls at the bar. "You know, you can do better than Karen." "Can I? Who with?"

Wendy came round to help me sort my house out a bit. My front room has been a depressing sight for a week or so since my book club friend dropped most of my furniture off, none of which I could move by myself.

Our efforts to move the awkward, tall bookcase looked like something out of Laurel and Hardy, but we managed it all. Kitty turned up to help, which she did by twiddling a glass of Riesling. I'd made them a bit of dinner, a simple potato and bean bake effort and a Non-Specific Levantine Salad, and was surprised at how much they enjoyed it. We sat outside in the sun with more wine, Wendy's gorgeous blue dress almost a character in itself. "Nope," she said. "Children and dogs now, and that's it."

Looking round the room afterwards, I felt rejuvenated (rescued?) somatically and mentally; whilst even at the time twinging with wondering if this new-found feeling would be sufficiently robust to withstand my nightly extended remix of mutterings of abandonment, of being unloved, the same sentences addressed to Wendy over and over again.

But in the meantime, I have a front room which has Wendy all over it, and is bordering on the pretty, and because of this, I've got right back into reading, for not reading itself is a form of unhealth. From the quotations that precede Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano, John Bunyan writes in Augustinian mood.

...gladly would I have been in the condition of the dog or the horse, for I knew they had no soul to perish under the everlasting weight of Hell or Sin, as mine was like to do... [A]nd though I saw this, felt this, and was broken to pieces with it, yet that which added to my sorrow was, that I could not find with all my soul that I did desire deliverance."

Deliverance. What a pregnant word.

As she was arranging my books, Wendy showed an interest in a collection of A L Kennedy's short stories but forgot to take it with her. I inscribed it. To Wendy, with a houseful of love X. I put it in an envelope, wrote her name in the form that her ex is now copying, and cycled round to deliver it -- something which required tactics from 'Allo 'Allo! I parked my bike a few yards away, crouched down close to the pavement, slowly and as noiselessly as possible pushed it through the letterbox, then eased the letterbox's flap back shut. A low voice from inside.

I ran back to my bike and cycled round the back alley to avoid being seen. I ran into her washing stretched across the back alley, her blue dress interfering with my face, her ex's voice unmistakable now.

A-level results day. I should be happy, stars and distinctions shining everywhere. But I'm going to lose you. Middle daughter, who goes went to a posh comp in Preston, said that after they'd all opened their determining envelopes, they'd had Buck's Fizz and strawberries and cream. Eldest, who goes up the road to a school sometimes described as "mixed", said that they'd had Tesco Value chocolate bites and tap water.

To Morecambe.

In the pub, I stroke every toilet roll holder for coke, but it's not rush hour. I'm here because I had a ticket to hear Jeremy Corbyn speak, but I didn't receive the email informing us of the top secret venue.

In the charity shop, a man is haggling over the price of two black corsets. "Hope it bloody fits her," he says. "Do you want a bag? Or do you want to walk round Morecambe with two corsets?" "Don't give a shit really. We're getting divorced. Last bloody present she ever gets."

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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.

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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.
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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.
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