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A Sky Full of Stars

  Sat 6th January 2018

Christmas was lovely. Kirsty's glittering and overfed artificial tree, the cat arching in front of the gas fire, and most of all, my girls back after their first term at their various universities.

On 27th, me and Trina went over to Middlesbrough. My mum enjoys a trip to the Toby Carvery, where we can eat food sweltering under lamps which ferment every airborne excrescence that your average sneezing, coughing, spluttering, nose-picking Smoggy can fling at it.

As part of my New Year's Resolution -- to have the kind of difficulties I want to have, rather than the ones I have in Lancaster -- I started answering ads for TEFL jobs. With her connivance, I'd forged a reference from ... and played the Caring Dad card by explaining the hectares of vacant space on my cv with the unanswerable "full-time childcare responsibilities".

Fifteen applications yielded three interviews, one of which -- for a job in Kazakhstan -- had to be scheduled for mid-carvery. I borrowed Trina's phone and we Instawhatted for half an hour. She rang back to say I'd got the job -- but -- "please could you not tell anyone at the school that you haven't got any recent experience?"

So I'm typing this tonight from my grace-and-favour apartment in Astana, the second coldest, and the gaudiest, capital city in the world. I'm bang in the centre of town, surrounded by Our Glorious President's monuments to himself.

A day later, at the Christmas meeting of the Unholy Trinity, Kitty and Wendy sparkled. "Maybe he'll meet a female yak farmer," said Kitty. "Maybe he'll meet a female yak," said Wendy.

I called in at the The Shipbuilder's Arms, where Les gave me a betting slip. "Your going away present, he said, "because you're a star." The horse, called A Sky Full of Stars, came in at 8/1 and I had a free afternoon's drinking. An ex-Army bloke, as drunk as un-habitual drinkers get on furlough, released his ambivalently friendly grip around my neck only when I reached a pitch of repeated and increasing force to iterate that I was not going to Afghanistan.


The night before I was to leave, sleep was almost impossible. Amongst my preoccupations was The Injunction. Issued by Wendy's ex, administered by her, and obeyed by me. It makes me glower with resentment that both me and Wendy comply with its terms. Wendy can do what she wants, but I'm not going along with it any more. Neither am I waiting on her months-old promise to "sort it out".

Possibly spoiling the pre-departure goodwill, I sent a text to Wendy saying that, as far as my own actions are concerned, The Injunction no longer applies. "I'm fucked if I'm doing all this and then coming back to obey some little twat's orders -- having to hide behind a car when I simply want to drop a card off!"


On the flight out, there was a three hour stopover at Frankfurt. To get out to the big concourse where all the bars and cafes are you have to go through security again, whereupon I was taken aside, in the company of a German gentleman carrying a yard-long gun, because my computer had tested positive for explosives. I've had my finger in a couple of dodgy pies in the past but I'm not a bomb-maker.

They made me switch it on and load it up, and so I stood shaking like a leaf while Herr Flick stood over me with his weapon while it came on.

As soon as the "server not found" message came up on the start page, they let me go. I asked the marginally more approachable of the cops what the problem had been and he unhelpfully repeated "it came up for explosives."

On the second leg, I had a very good spinach and cauliflower curry, plentiful large glasses of red wine, and enjoyable sign language banter with my neighbour. As I went to get off the plane, the man behind me genially poked me in the back to indicate that I was wearing one of my own shoes and one of his.

I arrived in Astana at 5.30am, fending off the predatory taxi drivers picking on foreigners to offer their services at special prices before I was met by the school owner's aunt.

We walked into the car park. The cold was shocking; my trousers had turned into paper. She couldn't find her car for a few minutes, but when we did, she turned the heated seats on, which felt weird. Cold should be a holistic experience.

She kept talking about taking us to "our house", and I imagined us living together, and how secretive I'd have to be about my drinking. We went to the block, where to my partial relief I given a mercifully briefly tour of a flat adjacent to hers. As soon as she left I collapsed into bed.

My body is resolutely refusing to adapt to Kazakh time. It's half past three in the morning here and she's taking me out for dinner tomorrow. Which may well involve something which once had a mane.

13 comments

Comment from: kono [Visitor]

That my good sir if fucking excellent!! Except of course for maybe the weather, we’ve been under this polar vortex and for over a week and stepping outside can quickly turn any man into a eunuch, eagerly await the Adventures of Looby in Astana… and for the record your year sounds like it’s off to a much better start than mine, i will raise the ceremonial peace pipe in your honor my friend!!

Sun 7th January 2018 @ 13:32
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

And I will raise a glass of the very reasonably-priced Moldovan Cab Sav in a westerly one to you too!

Thank you kono, it’s all been a bit frantic and worrisome but I need to get this arse in gear. And I’m a bit of an experience addict too, and by eck, you get experiences here. First day of teaching tomorrow. I’m only shitting myself a little bit.

Sun 7th January 2018 @ 14:32

The best blog in the ether is about to get even better. I’m strangely happy to read about all this. I have no skin in the game but it’s still a thrill. I hope these new duties leave time for posting.

Sun 7th January 2018 @ 21:16
Comment from: Homer [Visitor]

Bloody hell! “Looby’s first post of 2018 will have revealed him to have moved to Kazakhstan” was not on my list of things I expected to happen.

Mon 8th January 2018 @ 11:54
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

Neither was it mine! It all happened very quickly because someome landed them in the kvas over Christmas and they needed to find someone quick.

Happy New Year, by the way if it’s not too late (it’s only two days after the Orthodox one) to you, kono and Exile.

Mon 8th January 2018 @ 14:17
Comment from: organ grinder [Visitor]

Oh brilliant! Do take a weeny bit of care tho!

Wed 10th January 2018 @ 10:03
Comment from: Eryl [Visitor]

Holy crap, this is so exciting I can’t think of anything to say. But, how was your first day teaching? And, have you glimpsed a mysterious beauty on a roof terrace yet?

Good luck, and very happy New Year – and keep us posted, preferably with pictures.

Wed 10th January 2018 @ 15:27
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

Hello, man of the organ – yes, caution is advised here. I am picking up that already.

Hiya Eryl, Happy New Year to you too. Yes, it’s fairly full-on here at the moment. I feel a complete fraud as a teacher but I’m an absolute expert at bullshitting. That’ll see me through in Kaz as it has in many other situations.

Wed 10th January 2018 @ 16:31
Comment from: daisyfae [Visitor]

Marvelous! Such a dramatic change - a complete reboot of your life - is quite brave!

Get yourself some thick trousers and one of those fur-lined hats with the ear flaps. Fashion be damned, you need to stay warm!

Fri 12th January 2018 @ 02:55
Comment from: [Member]

Yes, it is Daisy – but its the kick up my arse I needed.

I’ve got some undertrousers and a silly hat. And you get used to it after a bit. It’s not as bad as people say.

Fri 12th January 2018 @ 03:20
Comment from: Homer [Visitor]

A Sky Full Of Stars was tipped on radio 4 at 8:30 this morning!

Sadly it came fourth.

Mon 15th January 2018 @ 17:07
Comment from: Furtheron [Visitor]

Wow… good luck with it all. Looking forward to reading the adventures.

Fri 19th January 2018 @ 20:09
Comment from: looby [Visitor]

The way my schedule is, I get home in time for The World at One so I miss the racing tips :)

And thanks Furtheron!

Sat 20th January 2018 @ 03:40


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


M / 53 / now in Astana, but from 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

Tell me, why is it that even when we are enjoying music, for instance, or a beautiful evening, or a conversation in agreeable company, it all seems no more than a hint of some infinite felicity existing apart somewhere, rather than actual happiness – such, I mean, as we ourselves can really possess?
Turgenev, Fathers and Sons

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

Using words well is a social virtue. Use 'fortuitous' once more to mean 'fortunate' and you move an English word another step towards the dustbin. If your mistake took hold, no-one who valued clarity would be able to use the word again.
John Whale

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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