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.
Did a bit of mystery shopping in Morecambe the other day. I had to pretend to be interested in buying a diamond ring. "Well...we're engaged and I have no idea at all about the prices..." "What's her name?" "Wendy." And I went into this long improvised story, answering the assistant's questions about what she wears, what jewellery she likes, fluently. It was my most enjoyable mystery shop yet, talking a half-correct fantasy about Wendy, making up a piece of faked theatre in real time.
Afterwards I repaired to a pub which has been greatly improved by the new licensees. What passes for genteel society in Morecambe has been ousted by the gap-toothed and borderline homeless; the elderly female couples with spray-stilled candyfloss hair replaced by the tracksuited and prematurely aged, hair straightened by grease, bodies like plumped potatoes. We sat watching the horse racing and someone tried to explain how a Lucky 15 works.
Outside, an ambulance was attending to a man lying comatose on the floor with a bloodied head; he'd shat his kecks and pissed himself. "Not the first time -- won't be the last," said the man next to me in the loo when I asked him about it. I texted Wendy with a vignette. "...It's fucking marvellous in here".
I have to find somewhere else to live by 4th June. There's a scheme here called property guardianship, where properties which are in some sort of ownership limbo are let out, on highly advantageous rents, to tenants who serve as informal security guards.
I cycled out to Halton, a village about three-and-a-half miles from here, and was shown round a house which was compulsarily purchased so that a new motorway extension could be built to Heysham. Roads are the one thing in the UK for which there is a bottomless budget. With the competence that we have come to expect from our public bodies, they didn't need it in the end, so it's now back on the market for £1.8 million. "There aren't that many people round here with that sort of money," said the agent, "so there hasn't been that much interest."
The available room was quite small, and there wasn't much of a kitchen, only a small ante-room with a couple of electric rings, but there was half an acre of attractively neglected garden, a large conservatory and a huge room with French windows which was yearning to be used for entertaining. £40 a week, all bills included.
They listed the various documents that I'd need. Proof of identity, recent utilities bill, landlord reference...but the only one I wouldn't be able to produce is a wage slip. The internet is a wonderful thing however, and for £15 someone will produce one for you on that authentic-looking blue paper, with any details you like. I rang them back afterwards and said I'd be most interested in taking it on, although they had said they'd had quite a bit of interest in it.
Wendy rang this morning, wondering if we could meet for an hour or so once she'd been to see her elderly Dad. Of course, I leapt at the opportunity. I was already down the pub. A woman who has unconvincingly changed her sex invited herself to our table and produced an edition of Flaubert's letters, and was talking interestingly about the myth of genius. I'm limited with Flaubert to Madame Bovary. "Yes, the great French novel of adultery," I said; and immediately that stupid sentence had had time to travel from my mouth to my ears, I winced in my stomach and on my face with the recognition of its banality, and urged her to go on and tell us about Flaubert's correspondence. Later, my friend got a bit snippy to her about some minor detail of R.D. Laing's autobiography and I had to console her a bit. This is the kind of
actually quite untypical conversation we have down the pub on a Monday afternoon in Lancaster. Lancaster is better than almost anywhere else.
Ten minutes before she was due to arrive, Wendy rang saying she'd had a puncture on her bike in Morecambe. Had she wheeled her bike home without meeting me, she could have got to the school just in time to pick up her daughter, but she engineered the timing of her phone call informing her lazy fuckwit jealous unemployed fifty-year-old infant of an ex, who sleeps on his mum's sofa every night, would have to do the enormous favour of picking up their daughter, so that she could spend a bit of time with me.
You don't need any more slathering prose from me about how loveable, seductive, cock-hardening, slinky, subversive, exciting, bewitching, strokable, stupefying, and desirable Wendy is to me. But we talked, her in a close red and white dress which sloped fuckingly down over her, as she told me of how The Infant is quizzing her all the time about who she is going out with on 31st (when we go out dancing in Manchester all night, and for which she has bought a new dress), and about the dog getting a bit aggressive in the park the other day, and then me telling her about the house I went to see.
I yearned to have my arms round her, to pull her close and kiss her, to smile at her, and for her to know that it is precisely her, with every action and word, that it is her, you Wendy, you at this moment, by everything you do, that makes me love you.
On the way back to the girls' house, I stopped on the street and texted her. "I've never loved you more." I meant it. It's a breath-easing liberation to never once say a syllable to someone which is untrue. I love her. The intensity of it, and its novelty, helps me turn aside from my knowledge that this unreturned love will run itself into wanking as a wretched substitute for love, over-sexualised and devoid of the closeness I want with her.
....this is terribly disgusting but even the act of texting you makes my cock stiffen. You looked so lovely XX.
Didn't get the Halton house. I'm ever so sorry darling, it all does come out when I've had a few.
Seriouscrush and her boyfriend -- the owners of this house -- came round this morning.
Had the lodgers not still been in bed, they'd have been able to have a look round, and might have been surprised at the state it's in. One of the panes in the back bedroom window moves away from its rotten frame if you try to open it. There was a ten foot by four foot patch of damp in the front bedroom until Nadia painted over it with anti-damp paint. I was very grateful to her for doing it, but I doubt that anti-damp paint solves anything in the long term. The kitchen floor is buckling and the bathroom has no shower, not even into the bath. From my side, there is the issue of my rent arrears.
Nadia's boyfriend told me last night that they'd be giving the room up at the end of the month. Nadia's landed a highly sought-after job in avian conservation, which involves them living in situ on a island in the Inner Hebrides.
Whether I haven't had enough sleep lately, I don't know, but I was almost tearful with the idea of yet again, having to
beg interview another set of strangers, and having to adjust, again, to another's modus vivendi, with its pleasures and irritations. I don't earn enough to live here, but I've been here for so long I am sedimented with furniture and bookcases and records and a futon and sofas and god knows what. What do I do with all this stuff? Give it away, I suppose. I'm not attached to anything, apart from my clothes, my records and my futon and the autobiographical geegaws on my mantelpiece, the records of my friends. I haven't got any money and I knew one day that things would start unravelling; and as things unravel, they can hit you.
Anxiously clutching at straws, I rang Trina, and broached the idea of living on her narrowboat for a while. She refused, and said that she wished I hadn't asked her. Afterwards, by text: "...go and live with your mother in Middlesbrough...I'd have done anything to help you if only you'd been able to love me. Good luck x"
I let Seriouscrush and boyf in. I had to shorten middle daughter's phone call; she was sparkling down the phone at having heard this morning that she's got a recall for the acting course at The Old Vic (applicants: c.900; places: 14), and wondering if I could pay her train fare to Bristol in a month's time.
Seriouscrush and boyf wandered wonderingly around the ground floor of the first house they lived in when they got together. In ten (?) years since I moved in, they've been here once. We talked about the state of the windows and the kitchen for a while.
"Well," boyf said, crossing his legs ominously. "Shall we talk about the rent?" Seriouscrush showed me a back of an envelope account of my arrears, which began to accumulate about three years ago. They are more than double the figure I had in my head. They then made this stupendously generous offer.
"Right. We need to sell this place. Our business isn't making much and we need the money -- like we said last time. But it isn't saleable at the moment, and I'd like to do a lot of work on it over the summer then put it on the market." I could sense what was coming, and breathing more deeply with anticipation.
"You can't afford to pay us back this, can you? You're broke. So how about -- we give you notice, say, the beginning of June. We write off this [debt], and you stay here until then with no further payment."
"Maybe if you didn't have to pay us till then, that would be enough for a deposit on a new place."
We let out a collective sigh that the elephant in the room was going to be banished soon. "Why don't we all just go out for a drink in a week or two?" boyf said.
All my life, I have been treated with kindness, each incidence of which surpasses in generosity that of the previous one. They left, and I wanted to run to the pub and douse the tension and anxiety that has tensed me night and day since they told me they were coming round. So I did.
As I go to post this -- sitting at a table next to the jazz section in the library -- I notice to my left a Sonny Rollins CD.
I was telling Wendy about how Trina used to take me to expensive hotels and then, a day or two later, would turn on me, telling me how horrible and selfish I am. "It's not worth it," I said. "Yes," she said. "Take me to a posh hotel and abuse me."
I turned this idea over for a second or two. "What a lovely idea Wendy. If you ever fancy doing that, let me know."
I had a job interview, two days a week on the minimum wage, down a shop "bakery" that sells the kind of pies that microwave cheese into a liquid. "Right here we go then," I texted Wendy," my job interview.. And if I can't get a job in a pie shop, it'll come down to sucking blokes off down Preston bus station."
"Oh ho ho," she replied, "hilarious. What if you failed at the butty shop, went down the bus station and some horrible old pervert said you're not coming anywhere near my cock :)"
(A minute later): "And then the old pervert says, you can wank my dog off if you wear gloves. Sorry -- bit sleep-deprived."
(Again). "And the dog says I wouldn't let you make me a butty. Anyway, I haven't had the urge since they had my knackers off. So sorry Xx."
Kitty suggested we all go to see I Was A Wife by Polly Lister, a one-woman show about a relationship break-up. She used the idea of being a wife as the most difficult role she'd ever taken on. It was one of the best things I've seen in a theatre for a long time, an episodic, lurching piece that mirrored the way that emotions can swing within seconds in such a situation.
We were all stoned, and to the evident dislike of the woman sat to my left we also commenced the second half with what I thought was a politely discreet bit of refreshment done quietly on wettened fingertips. Wendy got the giggles at one point, laughing loudly and for a bit too long. Polly Lister looked over, wondering momentarily whether she might have to cope with the girl with teary, running eye-liner.
Afterwards, we sat in the bar for an hour or so, drinking the theatre's drinks at Stockholm prices. Wendy had had to tell her ex that she was only going with Kitty; had he known I was there too, he would have meanly truncated his begrudged child-sitting shift even further.
Sitting there in the bar with my two favourite people, I felt giddy and delirious; my affection for them and the sensual pleasure of being with them, indissolubly together; light took on a washed and newly-windowed quality, and every glance and scan of Wendy was novel and sexy. The radiance of her browned skin and the way her tits pushed out her dress slightly so that there was a gap of a couple of inches between her shoulders and her tits where it didn't touch her, but shaded and darkened her beautiful décolletage and cleavage. Her blackly-clad legs, the contrast of the softness of her draping dress over the tight, polymer chemistry of her tights. Her hair, that I want to scrape my fingernails down and through.
Wendy had to pick up her daughter. I went back to Kitty's for a while, and we chatted in her cosy front room, all armchairs and wine and fairy lights and pictures and postcards and glittery low lamps.
Back at mine, I went to bed, but couldn't keep off my hands off my...phone. "I love you Wendy. I love how you look, and how you treat others. I love your witty, dirty, literate talk. I love you from my stomach, like now, when it's so difficult to stop thinking about you. I love you, I love you, I love you Xx."
Predictably, the following morning. "I do apologise Wendy. The disinhibiting effects of drink and drugs strike again, and I'm sorry about having yet again given you practice in deleting my night-time drivel."
"Good morning petal! No need to apologise! Yes, yesterday was lovely Xx"
In a couple of weeks we're going out dancing in Manchester all night. I wonder what she'll say to him then? He'll be powerless though, because her auntie is child-sitting that night and morning. She said that she's bought a new dress for it. Oh dear.
Coming soon: a post that is not exclusively concerned with Wendy.
Meta: This site had the privilege recently of being hacked. Someone cracked into several files, which were turned from the speckle of punctuation that characterises .php files, into something like a long encrypted email, and learning how to recover the site has been quite a test. I wonder why anyone would want to hack into this?
I'd arranged to go by myself to a new house music do in Glasgow which a DJ I know was running. With less than a week to go, Trina invites herself along, thus dashing my perhaps over-optimistic hopes of a flirty evening with a flame-haired Caledonian stunna.
In the hotel room, it dawned on me that I'd left my computer, my keys, my cards, and my favourite scarf, on the train. Enquiries at the station and with the police proved fruitless.
But I faced the music, and danced, in a groovy little basement club in the Merchant City with a friendly, informed crowd who were enjoying the privilege that comes from being in the know enough to be invited to the opening night. The scenery was excellent: most male house DJs I know have really fit girlfriends, and I can see why Tom -- the DJ -- moved up from Hertfordshire to Stirling to be with her.
Next day, we started drinking at a respectable 11am, with Glasgow already boozing, Wetherspoons in the city centre a luggage park for those wringing out the weekend.
Trina went to get her train, but I still had another three hours before mine, so I moved across the road to a different pub.
Being in a somewhat relaxed state by this point, I joined in with a
couple who were bantering at the bar. I told her she had nice tits; she called me a lippy cunt, and offered me a line and a wedding invite. He lent me his keys for a purpose other than which they were designed. I don't know how I get away with it.
"I've been waiting for her for eight years," he said. "I knew she was married to the wrong man" -- "soh did ah!" -- "and I found out on Facebook when she put her status..." "he pounced on me!" They folded into a laughing sideways nuzzle, which made a stone sink in my stomach. This will never be me and Wendy.
It was Wendy's uncle's sixtieth yesterday, and the plan was that me and Wendy would take the dog up the park
and get wasted for a few hours, before going to her uncle's birthday pissup, but she wasn't up to it, feeling ill. She still managed to come over to mine for a bit of rosé. I'd made some potato scones and an apple cake for her and I got a quilt down in case she wanted to snuggle down on the settee. "I bet I look awful, don't I?" She lay down; I longed to curl up behind her.
Her uncle's birthday gathered together a miscellaneous party including Diamond Dave, so named from his years of smuggling diamonds from Angola into Belgium. Someone else was saying about how his mate was worrying about turning fifty. "Well fucking top yourself then," I said, not expecting it to be as funny as they found it.
In four hours, no-one bought me one single drink, while I was buying double brandies and double this, Bloody Mary's and God knows what. All I wanted was a pint of bitter -- a drink which would set someone back 1.75.
Middle daughter went to London on Thursday for a recall audition at the National Youth Theatre. The journey down, normally about two-and-a-half hours, took seven, and she and her friend got stuck overnight in London on Thursday night after Doris blew all the trains from Euston into a ditch. The trains the following day were rammed with people getting back home 24 hours late.
This was taken on her train back. What a scene of delight. A day off work, and nothing employers can do about it.
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