Me and Trina went to a friend's boat party in Chester, dancing down the River Dee to superb music, with subcultural people in the stylish know, then onto a little nightclub in town. Twin beds in the hotel; a worry that Trina would climb in next to me which wasn't allayed until she started her semi-snoring rasp.
The following day she had to change trains in Wigan, but being in no rush we spent a few hours in a couple of pubs. She turned, soured by drink, dragging the mood down with the precise details of how I am so thoughtless and unkind. I went to the loo, partly to escape the dissection of my failings. When I came back she had gone. I didn't text or ring her, knowing that a drunkard's apologies are the most reliable thing about them.
I fell asleep on the train home and missed my stop, ending up in Oxenholme instead. The last train back to Lancaster had gone, and I spent a freezing cold night in a phone box. I texted Trina. "Missed my stop. Quality night in a phone box coming up!" I was hoping she might get her brother to come to collect me. "You idiot! You can't expect people to bail you out with taxi fare for doing that." "I'm not after your money! Anyway, you have a nice night in your warm bed. Night night."
I tried curling up, but modern phone boxes have a gap of about six inches at the bottom, so the wind blows straight through. I was shuddering with cold, and sobbing with the lack of Wendy and the weight of everything that I've got to deal with. I almost thought I could get hypothermia. I tried jogging up and down on the spot, then at about 4am I couldn't stand it any longer, and walked round and round the village for two hours until the first train. Dog-walkers interpellating you into their bracing, clubby bonhomie of morning.
I finally got into bed, still quivering with cold; and another run of tears, wishing it were Wendy. She rang just after I got up and I told her all about it. Her lovely voice. "If it were you, Wendy, there is no way I would leave you in a phone box. I don't care how much it would have cost, I'd have come and got you."
The following day, still irritated with Trina, I drafted, but didn't send, the following.
I have an invite for you. It's to the next few meetings of the Let's Criticise looby Club.
It's a fab social club. There's plenty to drink, and looby will be there, ready to hear all about his limitlessly varied failings, faults,
misdemeanours, moral errors, mistreatments of others, his drinking, his neglectful and selfish behaviour, his blindness to the needs of others, and the thousand and one other ways in which he fails as a decent human being. He's a fantastic doormat and will be incredibly patient as a boringly pleasant evening is changed into something much more enjoyable -- endless criticism of him.
One thing we know you'll enjoy at The Let's Criticise looby Club, is the opportunity to terminate the evening without such tiresome things as basic manners -- which can be so burdensome when you're with others. But at the Let's Criticise looby Club you don't need to bother -- you can just walk out without saying a word.
The meetings can be arranged whenever suits you. Occasionally looby is busy with people who treat him kindly and who enjoy his company, but don't worry -- they're not there all the time.
We look forward to seeing you at the next meeting.
Let's Criticise looby Club
branches in Lancaster, Wigan, and throughout the North
I feel overwhelmed at the moment. I'm going to lose my house soon, and I can't afford the rents in Lancaster. Even a room in a shared house here starts at about £75/week. I'm going to have to give all my furniture away, everything I've collected over the years, because I can't afford storage.
The miserable prospect looms of having to go to stay with my mum in Middlesbrough, and then when would I see the girls? How would I ever get back to Lancaster, unable to afford the train fare over here for job interviews? I'm getting rejected for minimum wage jobs. I didn't get the job in the pie shop, and the other day, failed even for one in care work. And most corrosive of all, above everything else, I can't stand the situation with Wendy, which is worse for knowing that there is nothing I can do to change it. There's a weight of water behind my eyes, every day.
It was Wendy's auntie's sixtieth the other day. Kitty had invented a story about us taking her out for a pizza, but in fact we were planning a surprise party for her at Kitty's. I got annoyingly under Kitty's feet in her kitchen.
Wendy turned up in a gorgeous dress. Desire, sadness, self-control. Don't say anything. A clamp-and-release hello, pursed lips diverted onto my cheek, an arsehole-tight kiss. Right that's your lot looby. Now sit down and don't get any ideas.
Kitty took a photo of us -- the only one of her I have. Later, she stood in the kitchen inches away from me with her back turned unselfconsciously towards me. Her slender back and the incredible curve of her arse and her legs; she's got the most beautiful waist. Her dress and her hair, and most of all -- her. The sadness of knowing it'll never be me she'll want to stroke. A touchless, one-way desire.
Wilma came round with a stolen litre of port and a bottle of white. I had a bottle of red. We drank it all. She sat there and pissed over my chair and onto my kitchen floor, twice. Doesn't matter. The lino has never seen so much disinfectant. She's the size of a baby hippo and the effort of going up to my second floor, where the loo is, is more taxing for her than you and me. I wish she hadn't done that though. I'm always the social worker with her, but I do feel for her. She grips my fingers, the more or less stated offer of a fuck. No. There's only one girl I want that closeness with.
I want to be with my girls, all the time. Kirsty asked me if I fancied coming over on Saturday to make an Easter dinner for them. My eldest was brimming, glowing with being accepted for Politics and French at a good university in the East Midlands, as we all started making plans to crash her flat when she's on her year abroad in Lyon.
We all chatted, and I started gutting parsnips, triangling their middles out. I made a nut roast, roast potatoes, honey glazed carrots, sprouts, stuffing, boiled cabbage, roast parsnips, gravy, then piled everything onto their plates. Surrey v Lancashire on the radio. Looking sideways at Kirsty, still attractive, in her 50s miniskirt and her tilting her feet upwards with her charity shop wedges. Thinking about Wendy. Unsaid, untexted: I love you Wendy, and I love my girls, as you do your daughter. You make me want to be unselfish.
Yesterday, five in the afternoon.
I am sozzling, with two fellow sots. FS1 goes to the bar to get us all a closing pint each of a beer at 8.5%. "We can only sell that in halves, I'm afraid." "OK, I'll have six."
Today, a quarter past four in the morning.
I'm in my kitchen at the back of the house, and have been staring out at the back of the row of houses opposite. One gas ring on to refuse the voracious central heating. A house opposite still has their lights on and there's someone moving around the house. Perhaps they're blogging about someone in the house opposite moving around the house. There's a spider, working, working, working, on my window frame's right-angle.
Kitty rang and we went to the Fur Coat And No Knickers Arms with Wendy. Wendy said that in the techno club in Manchester on Friday, I had fallen over "at least fifteen times". I was mortified, thinking that I had now ruined the possibility of going out with her again. She said that she'd come outside to see how I was and I was on my hands and knees. I don't remember it like that at all. I remember going a bit wobbly for what I thought was about half an hour, being taken outside, and then feeling fine again.
She said that her ex had noticed her new dress on the line. "He [her ex] is trying to hold on to me, but his fingers are slipping down the glass," she said, making a sliding gesture with her hands.
"Wendy," I said, pushing a hand towards her (which I knew wouldn't be touched, let alone held). "I'd like to say..." "There's nothing to say, looby. At least now I've got my own looby story." She's so forgiving, and I think we will go out again.
She only had an hour or so. After she left Kitty said that when Wendy had finally told her possessive ex where she was going, Wendy had told him that Kitty was coming as well. I was re-saddened that she hadn't told me that -- she'd told me that she'd said that she was just going out with me. She's got to manage him I suppose, lest he becomes even more obstructive about looking after The Little Dictator, but I was dismayed to know that despite her occasional meaninglessly phatic text in which she says "and I love you too", she still holds me at the distance at which she can't even say a small detail like that. My thin mood sank through the cat-ice upon which it stood, and I was pleased I was with Kitty to force me to suppress showing how upset that made me.
We went to another pub, where Kitty was as irritated as me about the muzak colonising your ears like the drone of a half-deaf pub bore. We tried to stifle it by putting menus over the speakers. The last time I was in there I yanked the cable out of one of the speakers and bent the connector so that they couldn't plug it back in, but they've replaced them by ones that are recessed into the area behind your seat. I wished I'd had a bradawl on me to drive it through the cone, but that's probably an irascibility too far.
Half past two in the afternoon.
I'm on the train to Preston; fifteen minutes with Ulysses. As many others have noticed, it is a work of genius. You're the essence of vulgarity, she in gliding said. Shells on beaches "chatter"; men in pubs have "ruined mouths", and the description of them eating is so supernaturally repulsive, it's difficult to read without a similar horror with the grisly act of mastication turning into sound and vision. The sustained invention, over seven hundred pages, is stupendous, and Joyce, this afternoon, helps me, indirectly, with Wendy.
His descriptions of outwardly banal events, in its seasick transcription constantly telescoping from an excessive, impossible sharpness, to cloudy, lost, drunken, sing-song absurdity -- together a lambent song of love for life -- makes a parallel in my head with the improv acting for micromanagement of going mystery shopping in Preston, and telling the assistant a story about being engaged to Wendy: mystery shopping -- this imaginary theatre, the only place in which I will ever have the chance to talk about her, the real descriptions of her jewellery as a surrogate for an unreal love, the unaffected warmth of sympathy in the assistant's eyes.
I'm in the budget pub in Preston with its small but first-rate collection of nineteenth-century art: Millais is next door. Middle daughter, the one of all five us in the original family who works hardest, rings me to tell me she's been accepted for the BA in Drama at a University in the real second city of England. Sod Birmingham.
I go to the bar, partly to stem the welling in my eyes; a girl over there has noticed me wiping them. I will miss my daughters when they leave Lancaster, with the churning nausea of separation that starts in your stomach and spreads everywhere. The one on the left.
Sure I can trust you, but be nice: it's my daughter; no downloading.
Up till we were actually on the train, I was convinced that I wouldn't be going out dancing all night in Manchester with Wendy. On the day, she rang me saying she could spare an hour or so to go for a drink at dinnertime. I was convinced this was a sweetener to break it to me that she couldn't come, something to do with either the dog or the daughter.
But no. She said that her new dress that she'd bought for the occasion "isn't exactly a shrinking violet dress." "Oh no," I thought, and my mind ran through how it would fold and touch and line her. I wanted her to dance again and pull it up with one hand and watch me looking at her taut hemline across her lovely legs, as happened a while ago at hers.
I told her about my mystery shopping, supposedly interested in buying a diamond engagement ring at a low-end jeweller, in which, not expecting any questions about the "lady", I had to think on my feet, so invented a story about us getting married. "Yes, if I'd known which jeweller it was I was going to come in and cause a scene." A little I love you tinged in my head.
She said that her ex had again been pestering her about what she was up to, "so I just told him: 'I'm going to a techno might with looby'." I wanted to send him a postcard. "Fucking hell, your ex is a goer! One of my favourite positions is the reverse cowgirl and she's great at that and what a fabulous feeling it to be right inside her and looking at her lovely arse. You always seem very curious about us, so I'll keep you informed."
She came round to mine in the evening, and as we were sorting the optical brighteners out she noticed a blue pill fall from my pocket. "What's that?" she asked. "Well, er..." I said, trying to avoid answering. "It's V---." The depth of my self-delusion is so profound, my hopes so incommensurate with what will actually happen, that I thought that there might be a possibility that we would end up fucking, and my refreshments of choice have a dampening effect on one's ardour, which means that the mechanism needs a bit of chemical assistance.
Her dress was superb, fitting over her body as though it were hand-made. We looked as colourful as the event's poster, her irregularly-patterned dress in greens and purples and yellows, me in a shirt with thin orange and yellow stripes and my best powder-blue Italian trousers.
Mdma can creep up unexpectedly and at one point I found it impossible to stop myself "dancing" with my back arched almost painfully concave, striking a ridiculous figure before I fell over onto the floor. As I get older the imperative to conduct oneself with decorum in the presence of younger people becomes more pressing; I abhor the figure of the old crazy. The security man was helpful and low-key. When he came over I thought I was being chucked out, but he just told me to get a bit of fresh air outside for a while. When I got back in, everyone in the club -- well, warehouse -- had reached that sweet spot of shared ecstasy, literally. I started dancing properly again, and a girl came up to me and said "you've recovered well!"
At Piccadilly station, Sainsbury's was opening just in time for me to get a bottle of wine for the journey home. I'm reading Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, and on the train, we had a boundaried intimacy; the impossibility of touch. We were living out Paglia's title: cheap red wine at 6.30am in those squashy plastic cups that require a delicacy of holding to prevent you from blurting the contents over oneself, to fulfil the decadence bit; me, charged with my fifties sex drive which courses in me now in a way it never did in what should have been my rutting years; and then remembering her telling me in the pub a few hours previously "I'm celibate now" -- driving home the sad gulf between our sexual personae.
I was pleased that we got talking to two lesbians. They said that Canal St (the fraying centre of the Gay Quarter in Manchester) is getting a bit pervy now with hetero tourists. The quieter one was either very tired or on something, or both, and her eyes kept rolling so that there was nothing but white.
I've had thirty-five years of drug comedowns. Sometimes I hardly notice them; sometimes they make me sad, the way they strip away the facades upon which life depends; most of the time I enjoy them. I'm unsure of the one I'm in now, but I wrote a postcard to Kim.
I don't want this. I wish I could be her friend without all the longing. I don't want to wank myself to sleep with my endlessly elaborated imaginings of unzipping her -- a poor translation of the sex and closeness I want with her. Every day I live is all about me, and I am sick of it. I want every day to be about being kind to her. I want her to be the first and last concern I have every day.
But I can't. I can't move. My love for her is stuck, stoppered-up. It is the the worst form of unhappiness, because it comes from something I can't change. It's so upsetting. It's turning something that should be giving, and caring, constantly developed and renewed, into something I've got to bear; love deformed into a burden.
I am on a train from Glasgow and I am sat opposite a man who is a dead ringer for 70s and 80s soul superstar, Johnnie Taylor. I absolutely love Johnnie Taylor's records, and I keep glancing at my fellow passenger, wanting to say, "go on Johnnie, do Just Ain't Good Enough and I'll do the backing vocals."
I turned fifty-three the other day, and once I'd got over being slightly miffed that neither the girls nor Kirsty could manage even a text to acknowledge the fact, I enjoyed three days in Glasgow, my main recreation there attempting the Subcrawl, where you get off at every stop on the subway -- fifteen of them in total -- and have a drink at a nearby pub. I was going well but fell at the tenth hurdle.
As I know you are all dying to hear summaries of my subjective impressions of pubs you've probably not been in and couldn't care less about, here's my report.
1) Cowcaddens: The Station Bar. Young barmaid was jolly and forward, in figure as in conversation. Patron Saints Ale, 3.50.
2) Buchanan Street: Shilling Brewery Company. Gleaming copper vats baring their chests in the brewery upstairs. Waitresses in aprons fiddling with tealights. Incongruous hammer metal on the muzak system. Half of Black Star Teleporter, 2.10. Too poncy for me.
3) St Enoch: Hoonenanny's. The worst pub of the day by a long chalk. Trying to be a cool rock pub, but it can't do that with over-cold keg beer at 3.00 a pint and TV screens everywhere, showing a programme interviewing F1 drivers, who have such interesting things to say. Now That's What I Call Shite coating any conversation.
4) Bridge Street: The Laurieston. At last. It looks untouched since c.1970. Those odd double decked Formica tables. A letter from the Polis from 1974 authorising singing in the pub "as long as it does not inconvenience neighbours." FFS, since when have you had to have permission to sing in a bar? Much original art, including an arresting painting of an emaciated female nude, ribs visible and without The Modern Abomination [a shaved cunt]. She was reclining with an ambiguous expression on her face, turning on its head the male-constructed trope of blissful private female sensual pleasure, which runs in recent times from the Lady of Shallot to last month's edition of Mayfair, with girls taken to raptures with opening their legs for you (and I'm fucking glad they are -- don't knock it).
A bit of a trek to the next one, but more interesting dereliction on the way.
I was toying with the idea of seeing if I could squeeze in through an inviting gap when a car drew up and a couple asked me if I knew what the building was.
5) West Street: The Brazen Head. A Republican, Celtic FC pub, the walls warmed with original shirts from Celtic's adventures in Europe and spoils from Scotland's sparse catalogue of international victories. A copy of the Declaration of the Irish Republic; a huge flag of the county of Donegal. Bellhaven Best, which made me wonder what the worst would taste like, at 2.60.
There was a better pub recommended for the next stop, but what the crawl still lacked was one really properly hostile, unfriendly pub. I hoped to find it at the next one but was disappointed with the complete of aggression shown me.
6) Shields Road: The Quayside Bar. The Union Jack flying outside had been embellished, if that's the word, with "No Surrender". Click-clack tappy-tap floor that announces your arrival. Soft furnishings and hard Unionism. Tennants in a race to the bottom with Magners. The former, 2.80.
7) Kinning Park: The Bellrock. It was with some difficulty that I talked to the man next to me at the bar. I commenced the conversation by referring to a photograph on the wall which was captioned "The Landlady". It was of a curly-haired lass doing that stage-managed come-hither over-the-shoulder pose for some half-arsed wedding photographer. "Landlady's a bonny lass," I ventured. "What?" "Landlady's a bonny lass." "What?" "LANDLADY'S A BONNY LASS!" "Oh yeah, that's her there," he said, pointing to the woman a yard to my left. Whyte and MacKay's whisky, 1.80.
8) Cessnock: District Bar. I haven't written any notes about this pub and I can't remember anything about it other than another Whytes and MacKay's at 1.85.
9) Ibrox: Go Glasgow Urban Hotel. A trip without drugs into the surreal world of hotel bars. Agribusiness lager was clicked electrically through shiny chrome necks, by an un-ingratiating fiftysomething dark-haired woman. A half of St Mungo's "craft" for 2.10.
As I was walking back to Ibrox subway station, I passed a hairdressers. There was the best craic going. "Who cut this?" she said, lifting my hair up disdainfully? I did, but I said "Oh this barber in Lancaster. He's a bit old." "Well shall I just take this back really short and cover it up? Lasses don't like all this long hair up here."
"What are you doing here anyway?" I told them I was out on the lash. "Well I'm going to give you a wenching haircut. You can go wenching after I've finished with you." It is the best haircut I've had since the Turkish bloke in Brussels in 2011.
And to the unskeining of the day, the articulate drivel, the honest bright haze of long-day drinking.
10) Govan: Brechin's Bar. I fell in with a bloke who had been homeless for five years, and who spoke in an accent that was almost a language. He invited me to stay at his flat up the road and I agreed to it. "You watch ya back. Lots of druggies round here. Don't talk to them. They'll see people like you as easy meat."
"The bracken heed?" my bessie said. "You've been in there? Taxis won't pick up from there. How did you find them in there?" "Fine. I just sat there and read a bit of my book." "You read a book?", he asked, laughing.
Then a group of students came in, also doing the Subcrawl for someone's birthday which is on the same day as mine. They took a suitably unsteady couple of photos of me and my fellow birthday boy. They asked me what I "did". I fucking hate that question. "I make blinds -- well I don't make them, I install them. Mainly commercial -- offices, you know, but domestic as well." I enjoy lying though.
I didn't go back to my bessie's flat, although I'd have been quite happy doing so, but went instead to my hotel for "a wee nap", thinking I could do the remaining five pubs later. I woke up at quarter to one. I wrote an over-sexualised cock hard postcard to Wendy which I had the rare reflectiveness to tear up and re-write.
My train today wasn't until three o'clock, so I went to the Imperial for a couple, where the TV switched from Frankie Goes To Hollywood to the news about the stabbings outside the Houses of Parliament. The ticker tape said that the suspect was "British-born" and had been arrested in Birmingham. "Police have not revealed the identity of the suspect..." said the ticker tape, and I muttered something racist under my breath.
I thought fondly of the girls in the hairdressers and thought they deserved at least a postcard. I'd told them about the time I was in Blackfriars a few years ago and ended up spending the evening with the most gorgeous girl in the whole pub, an Irish fortysomething from Co Mayo.
Hello. This is that lad from Lancashire you gave a wenching haircut to yesterday. I'm 53 today and I woke up this morning with the best hair do I've had for years. I didn't meet the girl from Co Mayo so there's no need to be buying hats any time soon but I had a cracking night. Will come back to your place next time I'm up. Honestly it was one of the highlights of my time here x
Had a fab night last night at Wendy's auntie's 60th. She's a really cool auntie, not at all fusty. Wendy said "Yeah, but a lot of blokes, they say they fancy you and then can't get it up." I stared at her disbelievingly for a second or two. Kitty saw me looking at her and laughed, understanding my wonderment and jealousy.
Every time she rings me, I think it's because she is going to cancel Friday, when we've planned to go dancing in Manchester. Her ex is interrogating her about what she's doing that night. He's frustrated that his usually successful way of controlling her social life by refusing to look after their daughter, won't work on this occasion, since she'll be at her auntie's that night.
And to think that on the first couple of occasions he met me, he was leaning on his elbows towards me, attempting to have this faux man to man conversation which I now think was an attempt to divert my attention from Wendy. He is an immature, insecure and jealous man who compounds his contemptible status in my eyes by using his daughter as an agent through whom to cling on to the last vestiges of control over Wendy, a girl only one of us loves.
In the meantime, the distraction therapy isn't really working.
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