You are cancelled

  Wed 18th October 2017

Karen cancels our dinner date for the third time.

The night before, I text her to ask if she's still coming, and she says that she'll let me know. On the day, I ask her again, as gently as I can phrase it. "Don't know if you're still ok to come round for a bit of scran me petal?" "Just at my dad's love," which struck me as a non sequitur.

She went on to say that she's going round to see her friend on Thursday, and that I'd be welcome there. I tell her that I'm meeting Wendy at dinnertime and ask if the afternoon would be OK. "Yes, I'm meeting my friend T--- for dinner so it'll be afternoon love." "Great, that'd be lovely," I reply meekly, my status confirmed.

I wonder both at her lack of tact, how she didn't think that I might find it a little hurtful to be informed of another dinner date in the same exchange in which she'd cancelled ours an hour before it was supposed to happen, and at the knowledge that she's fixed the boundaries of our relationship at their present position.

I wanted to rid my thoughts of her. I made £40 on the horses the other day, thanks to a winner called Big Les. An habitué of the Shipbuilder's Arms -- Les -- made a lot more, having put a hundred pounds on it. In one of the occupational hazards of professional drinking, I got stuck for a long hour or so with a man who proves that having a degree is no warranty of intelligence, nor grants one an awareness that the word "conversation" has an element which means "with" or "together". His disjointed lecture, tolerating no interruption, reminded me of Don Paterson's adage about all his teachers having been women, whilst men have often told him things.

"I know you like her but just be careful," said Kim, a couple of weeks ago. "Because you do tend to get fucked about a bit by women." How prescient.

I ring her, and we slope into a mutual consolation of misery, talking about loneliness and the hard work that is the cost of being single, ever self-reliant, never getting a hand with anything. "I want to be looked after a bit," I said, and before we bucked our ideas up in the disciplined English manner, there was a bit of unhappy sniffing and the quavering voices that impending tears cause.

I felt close to her, and as the call ended, I told her that I loved her. "The feeling's mutual pet." We're having a weekend together in Penrith week after next, me taking the hotel place intended for her ex, from whom she split up this year. We'll be in a double bed together, and whilst the rules are established and respected -- apart from that simultaneous wank in my bed last year, which made me come with an orgasm which went on and on and on, and had me shuddering like an epileptic, a translated expression of everything I feel about her -- how I would love a bit of spoony physical closeness with one of the very few people I can really talk to.

"Let's text each other more often," she said. "We don't keep in touch enough." "I'd love that," I said, swallowing to control my voice.

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I used to fuck your mum

  Sun 15th October 2017

Karen, her unhinged friend, and me, in the pub, our table accreting with a community of the uninteresting. Karen looked like sex, in a black miniskirt, black tights and black flatties, and an embroidered loose black top. Whilst she was in the loo I texted her. "You look fucking gorgeous."

Unhinged Friend told us, at great length, rewinding every section of the story to pile on more narrative-stunting detail, about a disastrous night away in Ambleside with a bloke she hardly knows. A twin room which became a double on arrival; him letting her sit on her own in a pub for four hours whilst constantly inventing excuses not to join her but asking her to come back to the room "for a cuddle." "He thinks he's bought you," I said. "He sees you as a prostitute." She showed us the text history, which she concluded by thanking him for acting like a gentleman. Men spot women like her a mile off.

I felt that I was losing Karen, that those kisses last week were to be the last. We're always with other people, bores, all of them; endless unintelligent drinking. My constant worry about money and the distasteful combination of declaring that I'd have to go Dutch, and refusing with a false nobility, a banknote pushed across the table from Unhinged Friend.

Walking home, I felt low, and lonely, another foray into girlfriend territory which ends up dashed. I rang Kitty and drove out a fifteen minute volley of my self-pity and frustration. At home I texted Karen asking her how she was and to let me know if she'd got home OK. I put some music on and texted her again in the small hours. I thought it unusual, not to hear from her.

About eight o'clock n the morning she texted to say that she'd been mugged, her bag stolen after an unsuccessful fight with a robber. She told me that she was OK and no, I didn't need to go round. I got up and went into town, where I stole some chocolates and a card and paid for some cheap flowers, and went round to hers. I felt momentarily silly standing there with presents more appropriate to someone who's just had a new baby rather than having been attacked and robbed.

"Oh thank you," she said. "This means a lot." We went through the details of her attack, but it soon merged into more generalised tears. "It's so hard, being by yourself all the time. I give and give and give and everyone just expects me to be all sunny all the time. They never think what I might be feeling." I told her that I feel precisely the same.

Her friend rang her and told us to get into a taxi to her house. Her friend has a startled, fixed expression, as though she's just fearfully arrived in a foreign country. Her son and his wife turned up. I wasn't introduced. "Do you like being a dad?" asked Karen. "No, it's fucking awful." They chatted more than me and it was good to see Karen getting distracted. Son made the inevitable statement that has to be included, by some unwritten fiat, in every working class intergenerational chat. "There's only ever been one person who has stood by me, and that's her."

I stayed for a few hours, then left Karen there, on an excuse. She's texted a ftew times since, and she's coming round for this much-postponed meal on Monday, but it's withering. I've acquired another social work client who doesn't fancy me.

In the Shipbuilder's Arms, I start chatting incontinently with the daughter of a married couple I went to university with in the late eighties. "You know I had an affair with Celia?" "Really?" "Yeah, I used to fuck your mum." "How long for?" "About a year I suppose. We used to drive up to Jubilee Tower."

"Why do we need to know that?" chimed in her boyfriend, not unreasonably. "Well, I don't know, I suppose, it's just that I see Carrie as someone I can say more to." "Yeah but you shouldn't have said that." "Well, OK maybe not, but why not? It was thirty years ago. It's a long time ago, it's all water under the bridge now."

He shook his head in a gesture indicating both disagreement and a desire that I would leave. "OK, well sorry then," I said, and went away to sit down. A few minutes later Carrie passed me on the way to the loo and made a winking, pointing gesture to me which I took as forgiving any impropriety.

Three women and two men at the next table. "We're nicompoos. Nicompoos." "Nicompoops," her friend corrected her. "Idiots." "We're all idiots who come in here." "Well I am." "We all are." "At least we know it."

A man whose character is joviality comes in. We've both lived in Madeira in the past. Like all my friends with no recent knowledge of me, he assumes I recline on pensioned cushions of financial plenitude, and he invited me to spend all of next February with him in Funchal.

With my ropey Portuguese and my curiosity for the lowest types of bar, I could show him a side of Funchal beyond his enclave of waistcoated, name-badged waiters; as much as I would enjoy, in an anthropological sense, him introducing me to the complaining wealthy, England's chief export to Madeira. "Really, Keith, I'd love that, but I can't stretch to it financially," not knowing if he'd interpret that as an excuse.

Off mystery shopping later this morning, pretending to buy a diamond ring, checking that the staff are as robotic as management insists.

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Minimum wage

  Mon 9th October 2017

It's all crashing down.

My bike's been stolen again; and now that I have a month's bank statements to look back on since I started this new job, I've been through the figures.

Pay: 540 (for a full-time job)

Rent 250
Council Tax 90
Gas 27
Electricity 30
Internet 25
Debt repayments 25

540 - 447 = 93/month.

Three pounds a day.

Until I can find something else, that's going to be quite a challenge. I'm an adept shoplifter, and I can cook; the drugs should pay for themselves by their retail markup. It's the drink and the going out dancing that's going to be the problem. It's almost laughable, except that -- or rather, because -- it's real.

Edit, 12 noon

My girls have all gone to good universities or drama schools. While their new friends may be sitting around "oh, my father's a management consultant" or "oh, my father's a civil engineer," my daughters might soon be able to say "well, my father's a Christmas Elf."

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Head girl

  Sat 7th October 2017

Trina came round on Wednesday, after fishing hard for why I couldn't make a different day reserved for Karen. "You've got a thing about Karen, haven't you?" "Yeah, I like her a lot."

I cooked us some tea, and things were going well until we plunged into the familiar vortex of her drunken, despairing interrogation into why I don't love her. "Please, Trina, can we not do this?" but she's not to be dissuaded.

We went to our separate beds. In the middle of the night I heard a lot of banging and slamming of doors downstairs. I didn't go down. In the morning, she'd left for work, after ripping up her New Home card she sent me and strewing a pile of my clothes around the living room. She left a note with an arrow pointing to a card from Kitty. "You have so much support. It's a shame you don't deserve it!" The usual apologies a few hours later to complete the cycle.

The following day I met Wendy for a drink. She was radiant, autumn sun glossing her beautiful, untouchable brown hair; her loose dress waving as she walked to the bar.

We got drunk, at that accellerated rate that lunchtime brings, and with that unattractive tint of self-pity that I can fall into halfway through the second bottle, I told her that she's the perfect girlfriend I'll never have.

Her dress was riding up little by little, until she noticed that I was finding it difficult to stop flicking my eyes to her legs. "Don't pull it back down Wendy, please," I didn't say. "I'm sorry Wendy," I did say, insincerely. She told me that she'd bought two new dresses.

Next morning I texted her. "It's always a pleasure to see you -- using the word "see" in every sense because you are breathtakingly gorgeous (and I can't wait to see you in your new dresses) and thank you for the advice re Karen. She's texted a couple of times so has started my day well. Have a good day my darling. You are constantly so kind to me, and I love you Xx."

Of course I was going to some trouble: rose hip soup, the amusingly named orata all'acqua pazza (sea bream in crazy water) and Apple Charlotte. She cancelled in picturesque language. "Don't be mad at me but can't come today love, it's coming out both ends!"

I didn't know what to do with my evening. It occurred to me I could jump on a train and acquire anonymity. On the train to Preston the woman sat next to me was reading an email with the subject "What do you want to achieve by the end of 2017?" "Karen," I thought.

In the pub, I found a brightly lit table, and enjoyed a holidayish pleasure of being left undisturbed with a novel and good beer.

I waved the last of my little girls off last week. "Don't come back posh will you?" I said. "Don't worry Dad, I'm a povvo through and through." I thought our family had coined that word, to mean a poor person of low social class, but in fact it's Australian slang.

She told me of the final question -- undisclosed in advance -- posed to the candidates when they were being publicly interviewed at her old school for the Head Girl position. "Describe yourself in three words." Every candidate but one hitched together three self-aggrandizing adjectives. The winner said "just like you."

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Death and the maiden

  Mon 2nd October 2017

"She's carked it," emails Trina. I offered to go over, and asked if there was anything I could do, but she said there wasn't much point. I told her that Kitty and Wendy sent their condolences.

At half past two in the morning, I was informed that I am a "selfish twat". "My mum dies and all you can think about is telling Wendy. You are oblivious to the effects your behaviour has on others."

"I apologise if passing on someone's best wishes was inappropriate."


"I'm sorry," she said a couple of days later, "I just feel I've lost everything, including you."

I'm not sorry, but there might be a bit of a wave of Karen-related posts for a bit. I'm excited, and I don't find keeping things to myself rewarding, so a few more details about last night.

"If you want to see the fittest girl in Lancaster," I said as I was leaving work, "come down the Shipbuilder's Arms." One of my colleagues did turn up. Whilst I was at the bar, she said to her "you know looby's got a massive crush on you, don't you?"

We were on our own for a while during which she started on some complaints about her ex (I hope I am not being premature in ascribing him that status). "He never...pleasured me." "That's handy," I thought, "because you might be getting involved with a bloke who likes just that." I held her look for a couple of teeming seconds and glanced briefly at her lips. "I've got ideas for you," I said.

"He said he could go and get a different girl every night. It's me that could get someone else every night," she said, correctly. But you're choosing to sit with me! I shouted inside.

"He never wanted to dress me up." I could hardly believe my ears. I would love to go out shopping with Karen, her darting in and out of changing rooms all afternoon, trying on clothes that fulfil the dual function of being stylish and intended for sex; for sitting on trains, hardly able to keep my hands off her.

Tonight we were texting about meeting up tomorrow night. "You will indeed see me Karen... and I slightly hope you remember what you mentioned you might wear....XXX"

"Bloody hell what I can't remember a skirt? X"

"Yes you mentioned a shortish one but just come in what you like. I love how you dress Xxx although I suppose if you did fancy wearing a skirt.....XXX"

I had the most expensive haircut I've ever had -- a bit of a waste of fifteen quid -- and took a change of clothes, my toothbrush and my Chanel scent to work.

At three o'clock, she texted to say she couldn't come out, as her dad was struck down with a bad case of diarrhoea. She's coming round on Thursday for her tea. I can't wait to kiss her again, kissing which will be infinitely more enjoyable than the kiss I had in Burnley on Saturday.

I was meeting Trina at our friend's 60th. I couchsurfed with an attractive, charming late twenties supply teacher. I got changed and went to meet my friends for a pre-bop drink.

In the middle of Burnley's bleak shopping centre, there was a woman -- probably homeless -- dancing to a silent music. Being a curious chap, I started dancing with her. She shared some of her tinned lager, me wondering what fluids other than lager we were commingling.

As I walked away, a second woman came after me. "I'd be careful of her you know. She can turn. Anyway love, do you want sorting out for a tenner?"

"No thanks. But I tell you what I would like. I'd like a snog. I'll give you a tenner for a snog."

People who end up as prossies have had any capacity even to fake intimacy beaten out of them, and it was the most expensive and passionless couple of seconds I've ever had. But she needs ten pounds more than me and I'm sure it will be spent wisely.

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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

Partial archives only - uploading everything since 2005 will take time

"Just sit still and listen" - woman to teenage girl at Elliott Carter weekend, London 2006

Desiring Progress
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