I met up for a coffee with Melissa, who's up from London for a few days to see Kitty and Wendy. It's been a long time since I held a baby. I like the smell of their heads but that's about it.
But they're bringing up baby properly. I don't mean by paying him attention, talking to him a lot, putting his physical and emotional needs first, and all that poncy Southern rubbish. I mean that he's being trained into an appreciation of the finest game ever invented. We're going to clear a day for a visit to the Oval this summer so that all of us can go to see Lancashire beat Surrey.
Middle daughter went to London last week for an audition-cum-interview at a top drama school. Part of me is hoping she chooses the place in Glasgow instead; when we looked through last year's graduates on their website the other day, we noticed that apart from a couple of Welsh people, they all list their "native accent" as RP. One of them has a surname which includes the connective "de"; several of them list "skiing (advanced level)" amongst their skills. She'd be the only person paying her rent herself, and neither me nor Kirsty are in any position to match the subventions that the others will receive. The not-so-hidden injuries of class.
I was at Trina's that day, who was going a bit spare with Demented Mother. I took a recipe from Lancashire Life with me and was making a tomato and pumpkin seed bread. My phone went off in the other room. Before I realised what she was doing, she answered it. Even by the ragged standards of Trina's stunted emotional intelligence, I was staggered at the arrogance of her doing that. It was my actress daughter, enthusing about being chosen for a recall next week.
I didn't send Wendy a Valentines card; it's too obvious. Instead, I sent her an invite to a techno night in Manchester, having first got provisional agreement from her auntie that she could childsit.
I met her today. She was wearing possibly the sexiest of her dresses, although that would be a very difficult decision. Would you like to fuck me in this dress looby, or would you like me to change into that one and see which one you like fucking me most in? She said that she's going to arrange it at work so that she's off the following day, and as long as we can secure auntie's services, we're on.
Kitty's birthday, and we're in the liberal accepting bar that is tolerant to all things, except differences in class. Working class speech and manners are repellent to them. Dogs are used as a proxy to introduce a vicariousness into conversation which makes their owners feel sufficiently distant from their interlocutors to be comfortable.
Earlier, me and Wendy spent a couple of hours down a proper pub. The ex-Navy man's voice from two tables away was boring, in more senses than one, into the couple next to us. "The thing to avoid," Wendy said, "is to make eye contact."
In the over-smiling bar, Wendy has changed into a different dress, a wraparound one which I longed to undo, to slide out the knot behind her back and unravel her.
There was five minutes when we were on our own. "You're such a romantic looby, but it never works. You end up being told off, and controlled. You've got lovely friends, you've got loads of people you know, you've got lovely daughters, and you've got a great life."
"I know that, I know all that. But I've got everything except what I want most." I was speeding and had had a few pints. I felt this hollowing behind my eyes, a sadness, a resignation. "You know Wendy, the person I want to be with, is you." She shook her head. Don't fucking impose that on her, I thought to myself; I recomposed my face and we went to talk about something else.
Kitty went home, and me, Wendy, and The Little Dictator, went back to Wendy's. Wendy told me to hide round the corner in her kitchen. The Little Dictator started wailing. "Looby's still here! I want you to come to bed with me!"
"Looby's gone home," said Wendy. "No he's not, he's in the kitchen."
She drained herself with histrionics, fell asleep on the settee, and Wendy cradled her up to bed.
Wendy gave a sigh; sat next to me, and put her head on my lap. I stroked her behind her ears and down the side of her head, slowly. I was arching down towards her because I wanted, very gently, to kiss her, but I couldn't get low enough. It was a slow paradise of feeling my fingers through her lovely dry hair, across the side of her face, and along her neck. My fingertips, and me wondering at her. Too much. I can't look at her any more. Closing my eyes, sliding touch.
Today, we all met up in The Fur Coat and No Knickers Arms.Wendy said that when The Little Dictator had gone to her Dad's this morning, the first thing she said to him was "Mummy lied. Looby came back with her last night." "Did he sleep in her bed?" he asked.
They all had to go home but me and Wendy's aunt carried on for another few pints. "You know, looby, you've got no chance whatsoever with Wendy?" "I know, and I accept it. I've had -- I am having -- a fucking great life, but I want to give. I've got a shedload of affection and care to give to someone, and I want to give all that to Wendy. I know how controlling it can sound coming from a man, but I want to care for her and look after her."
Before bed, I text her. "I'm going to read more Ulysses then wank myself to sleep over you. High and low, but what's low about you? I love you Wendy, despite me being perfectly aware of the futility of such an ambition."
To Wigan, and an afternoon in a fine, sweary old pub. Above the coal fire, a gallery of photos from the World Pie Eating Championships and further along, a collection of early C20th erotic photographs. I texted Wendy about it, "... let me take you to Wigan for a pie, petal." She asked me if I was having a Wigan Salad. "A Wigan Salad?" "Yes, pie and chips."
It was generally a gnarled, frame-assisted clientele, with the exception of a mother and daughter, the latter with a pint of lager, and dressed in a tight scooped-necked grey top which delimited the outlines of her bra beautifully, a wet-look black miniskirt, black tights and flatties.
The in-house bookie herded money on a table. I put £2 on a horse with a name composed of Wendy's real name and an abbreviation of her daughter's. I texted Wendy saying that any winnings were hers; it came third. A man moaned about an acquaintance. "It's like that cunt Arthur. Right fucking grassing bastard he was."
At the station at Wigan, two policemen are arresting a man for not paying his fare from Warrington. All that effort and resources to wring £5.10 from a poor man, as silent millions are nodded into nondescript addresses in the British Virgin Islands.
A few yards away, a man is talking telephonically into his importance with all the vacuity of modern commerce, a meeting and a heads-up and Anna can confirm the details so if you can just get back to me on that.
I had a bottle of port and Ulysses for the journey home. I sank back willingly into Joyce, and wished that I could stay on the train all the way to Glasgow.
Back in Lancaster, and one for the road, I am bored for a while with an ex-Navy chap I have made the mistake of talking with, one of the many who make not the merest enquiry about you in conversation.
I am glad to get away when I notice The Barmaid, (the girl who didn't turn up for our drink the other day), her landlady, and a very attractive fortysomething barmaid, Emma. The Barmaid explained that she had passed on a message to Emma saying that she had had to cancel our meeting. Emma said that she hadn't known who I was. "What do you call a good-looking Paki?" asked The Landlady. "Asif." I'm afraid I found that very funny, so we'll pretend it's "transgressive" rather than "racist".
"Are you single then?" said The Barmaid. "Yes, I'm on the market. Not sure what I'll fetch but I am at the moment. Are you, Emma? Are you single?" "Yes, but I've got a date tomorrow." "Do you like him?" "Yes." "Well you know, if it doesn't work out, I'd go out with you. Seriously, I'd like a date with you. I think you're pretty fit."
I went along with the laughter before looking sideways at Emma. I'm not fucking joking, love. She had her hair tied up, for work maybe, but it looks lovely when it's down. "Why don't you ask [The Landlady] out?" "Because she'd be a fucking nightmare."
Doesn't look like there's much of an opening there, but a good afternoon's work I think: Expression of Interest and Tender Documents delivered to the relevant party.
They published my letter in the local newspaper last week.
The announcement of the latest block of several hundred student flats presents a good opportunity for Lancaster to face some tough decisions over the city’s future.
We have to face up to the fact that students, not residents, are the dynamic force in Lancaster society. With their high disposable income, gregarious nature and the way they dispel the sleepy, quiet gloom on our residential streets at 3am, students are to be welcomed with open arms.
The clear brake on such positive developments is the presence of so many long-term residents – those who have worked here, brought their children up here, and contributed to the cultural and economic life of the city.
Whilst I am sure we appreciate such people, and whilst we undoubtedly need local citizens to service the needs of students, it must be accepted that the city cannot accommodate all those who would like to live here.
Far too many well-maintained, attractive terraced houses are underused at the moment, housing only couples and small families. Look down any street, and you will see the odd gap where a student house does not presently exist, a house perhaps occupied only by an elderly couple, who together have given a hundred years of labour to the City, which today results in Lancaster being such an attractive destination for young people from Hemel Hempstead interested in reading Change Management Performance Assessment Evaluation Mindfulness Studies.
In order to address this problem, I urge the Council to consider a Resettlement Scheme for residents, who would be given incentives to move to camps on underused brownfield sites such as the wasteland around Ocean Edge or land that could be reclaimed from Salt Ayre tip. The experienced sands guide Cedric Robinson could be consulted on which mud flats in Morecambe Bay are least likely to swallow a Portakabin and a family of five.
This would leave the city to thrive as an exciting student super-village, with residents and those born here allowed in on a day pass scheme administered by the Council. Those allowed to enter could have some sort of identifying mark, which could be something as simple as a brightly coloured badge in a bold geometric shape, to help the toll bar personnel. A special grade of Night Time Pass could be introduced for those who have a genuine reason for being in the city after midnight – for example, for those employed cleaning up sick after 2-4-1 Shots Night at Hustle.
We may even see an upsurge of creative endeavour in the camps. For example, talented residents could arrange chamber music and other concerts for visitors, as I am sure that even international organisations would be keen to see how Lancaster would be leading the way in Europe, in tackling a problem to which we had previously struggled to find a definitive answer.
I ring Diane, and we talk about anti-fracking for an interval that I hoped would be long enough to disguise my purpose. "Do you fancy a drink or two on Monday?" She's got no money, so I suggest I could bring some tinnies of quality lager from the Polski sklep round to hers. On Monday morning she rings to cancel -- again. When you've asked a girl twice, and it's fallen through both times, it's time to give up.
The same evening, Wendy rings to cancel the next of our chaste, cosy and stoned afternoons, but the Little Dictator is ill and off school, so nothing could be done about that.
The Barmaid's suggestion of a drink made me worry from time to time. Friendship must be based on selfishness, and I can't work out what she wants. On the day, I meet up with Vic and have a couple of pints first. Fifty-two years old and I'm still nervous about meeting women, even in contexts which have no shadow of a date colouring them.
I arrive at the pub we've agreed upon. The racing is on on the TV; calm, meditative lone men and couples sit looking straight ahead; the woman at the bar in a thick fleece with a print of wolfish animals relocated to a stylised Arctic, long khaki shorts and trainers: such a ridiculous combination, she looked like something out of Vogue. Laddish worker types in hi-vis jackets who make me envy that security of self that comes from doing something needed; a tattooed young woman swaying around her boyfriend, who was skinned into a tight white T-shirt, the better to show off his muscle-bloat; the old fellow who walks about restlessly with his mouth tic, thrusting his lower jaw forward and plumping up his lips.
Forty-five minutes after our agreed time she hadn't turned up. I laughed inwardly at the concatenation of my cancellations. I texted Vic. "Looks like The Barmaid has either forgotten or stood me up. Fucking women! Do you fancy one down here?"
My only winner was a horse which came in at a barely remunerative 5-4, just enough for a free pint. An ex-marine started talking in detail about his knee problems. Most men who come and sit next to you in a local boozer at 5pm on a Wednesday are ex-marines.
And so to the last of the cancellations. Wendy said she couldn't come out to the techno night in Friday in Manchester, but texted me at 11.30, just after I'd arrived at the club, saying that she wished she were there. Thanks, but a fucking useless thing that is to say now, isn't it? Usual shite. I don't believe a word anyone says when they say they'd like to come out with me.
It was a good night, although I wish young people wouldn't stand around on the dancefloor texting and reading FB. I wish people wouldn't keep pushing their way through a crowded dancefloor as though they're on a perambulation, rather than finding a space and then staying there to dance.
They were so friendly though. I was taken under the wing of a twentysomething couple as soon as I got there. She said "You're the coolest person we've ever met here." Later, I was blathering on to a complete stranger about having tried some lovely rum the other day, and he went off to the bar and got me a double of their vintage rum. Another stranger gave me something you can't buy in a bar, and a bloke on ketamine rambled on incoherently to me for a while before trying to undo my zip. (Not the highlight of the evening).
Much better was a few moments of flirty-going-on-sexual dancing with a gorgeous girl in her thirties with lovely tumbling curly black hair. It ended abruptly when her boyfriend found her. He approached her from behind and started stroking her shoulders -- the control to her, the warning to me -- but she responded by dancing facing me, wriggling down and opening her legs, which I don't think was meant for him.
Just this moment, a girl in the pub where I am sitting has walked down the stairs wearing a sweatshirt with the slogan "property of no-one".
It occurred to me that one way of preventing Trina from inviting herself to any night I go to, would be to describe it as "techno". The night's more open when you're on your own.
I gave these students from Leeds Uni a blast on my poppers and they spilt it all over their nostrils. They'll really be regretting that today. It's corrosive and gives you a delayed stinging if you get it on your skin.
I got talking to someone who was sure there were two people on the settee next to ours when there was only one. "Yes I know there's someone sitting at that end, but are you sure there's no-one sat at this end?" Once the night had finished, me, him and his brother, and someone who wanted help finding his way back to the station, walked back to Piccadilly. The brothers were droll, spending the time on a running joke about raping me and killing me and their experience in picking up men from clubs before to do this. Somewhere on Deansgate we lost our latest friend. "Have we lost that bloke?" I asked. "No, we've killed him. You're next."
Their taxi arrived, and I shivered outside Wetherspoons for ten minutes until it opened at 7. I wrote a postcard to Wendy and made a half-hearted effort on a sausage bun, before starting on the pints at 9am, watching the the all-night raver wastrels, football fans getting tanked up before a midday kick-off, sweary shift workers, a hen party, and gummy morning drinkers.
Went with Trina to see an absolutely shit show by Elf Lyons, supposedly about thoughts about killing her mother. I'd have killed Trina's a long time ago had I been able to negotiate immunity from prosecution. It was a waste of thirty-four quid (I had offered to pay for Trina's ticket). It didn't discuss the issue, but gave Elf (ffs) a vehicle to rabbit on with humour that in its highest moments attained the mordant acuity of a half-hour on Radio Four with Wendy Cope.
So then, tell me looby, what are you looking for, in terms of a relationship?
Well, ideally, I'd like to meet a girl with whom I could develop an intensity of feeling sufficient to drown out the futile, one-sided longing I have for someone who will never reciprocate it.
Well, there you go. Is that the time? Mustn't miss my train!
Wendy came round the other day, another chatty, stoned afternoon watching the the coal fire like a mesmerising television channel. I misheard her when she asked "Did your package come through?", hearing it as "Did a giraffe come through?"
I've got to give up. I've got to train my mind and my desire away from her. She's not interested, and it's debasing to myself, my character and my dignity and my adulthood, to be insufficient a master of myself to lack the practical means by which I can shut this down. I am colonised by my own unreturned feelings.
I get so much help, kindness, compassion, and encouragement from others, every single day; but I want to give now. I want to give affection, I want to make that effortless effort that is loving someone. I want to share someone else's hopes and desires and difficulties as my own. But there's only one person I want to do that with.
Maybe, through this blog, I hope that talking about it all the time will help it go away. Fucking pathetic. But what else can I do?
I contacted someone on the dating site the other day who said that she was in an open marriage and was "looking for a sort of part-time boyfriend". She wasn't that good-looking but the proposal was interesting. She replied thanking me for my interest and saying that she was getting involved with someone else. Well take your fucking profile down then.
Trina, watching my face as she said it -- her own lit with anticipated Schadenfruede -- told me that Helen had said to her, "[looby's] just one in a long line of [Wendy's] admirers." "As if I don't know that, Trina," I said.
At the bar, the barmaid says "so when are you and me going out for a drink then?" A couple of weeks ago, through a seemingly unremarkable exchange, I had an apprehension that she knows what I am up to, and sees through the story about me having a cat which provokes the hayfever which makes me sniff and sneeze sometimes, afflictions which by coincidence happen when I return from the loo. We've got Monday pencilled in. She's interesting, and holds something back all the time.
Back at our table, Trina says to someone, "he's an alcoholic. A high-functioning alcoholic, but an alcoholic." I don't know which accusation is the more inaccurate, but the one about being high-functioning is the more insulting.