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."

"Totally!"

"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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You're growing on me like a wart

  Thu 28th September 2017

A "couple of drinks" after work with Karen.

After an hour or so, her boyfriend turned up. He bought me a drink, and we all sat in a line, resolutely ignoring any hint of awkwardness. A funeral plan salesman rang me up. I took him to the porch of The Shipbuilder's Arms where an Irishman was also loudly on the phone. "I'm pissed as a cunt," he said. "And you've got to turn up with your knickers on this time."

He passed the phone to me to tell his interlocutor where to find the pub he was going to next, all the time some poor minimum wage callcentre worker trying to interpose his questions.

"No," I said to the Irishman's friend. "You've got it right. It used to be called The Boar's Head but it's called Ruxton's now, or The Mad House as we call it. Yes, corner of Dalton Square. Also, love, you've got to turn up with your knickers on this time, 'cos I believe you've got previous in turning up knickerless." I gave him his phone back and he grasped my hand in a fracturing labourer's handshake.

"Is this going to take much longer?" I said to the callcentre bod. "It's just that I'm neglecting a younger woman in here." I put him off till tomorrow and went back to Karen.

Karen's boyfriend said he was leaving. "Alright, see you," she said. A minute later he came back when he realised that neither me nor Karen were shifting. The atmosphere was stiffening with his presence. He finished another pint, then stomped off definitively, saying "well, there's no point me being here is there?" Self-pity; attempted control; insecurity. Got you sussed mate.

Karen and I watched the door for a couple of minutes to make sure he had actually left, so that we could sigh.

Karen said about how she didn't like that he rarely texted her. I said that I like how she texts me every day asking how my day's been. "Helps that you're a right fittie of course." She clasped my hands in hers and said "you're growing on me like a wart."

"You know, looby. It's going to happen, isn't it?" our legs and arms touching now. "To be honest I didn't feel about you in that way at first, but we're getting closer now aren't we? And you know -- it's going to happen." I felt a mixture of disbelief and exultation.

She's got a travel agent friend who can get cheap holidays. "What would you say if I asked if you would be able to come to Tenerife or somewhere with me warm with me, say in November? I need a holiday." "I'd bite your hand off Karen! I'd love to!"

We walked to the bus stop arm-in-arm. We stopped and she kissed me, beautifully, wrapped round each other. We parted and she smiled, walked a yard away, then came back and kissed me again.

We're meeting again after work on Friday. "I'm going to wear my little skirt. Would you like that?"

This morning, she says that she's been dumped by text. "Told him that's fine by me! not even bothered any more"

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Risk Street

  Wed 27th September 2017

Sunday morning I was up at six, crying and talking to myself with a mixture of self-blame and self-pity over why my youngest didn't want me in Liverpool to wave her off to University, receiving solid support from the kitchen worktop.

I went round to Kitty's for an hour and a couple of Bloody Mary's with her and Wendy, before going to Kirsty and the girls' house: its calme habituel, only a slightly watered smile from Kirsty to me when we were alone and hugging for a moment in the front room, giving anything away.

I went up to Melanie's room and said goodbye, saying that I would send Dad's Book of Home Recipes to her as soon as she could give me her address, and saying that she could always contact me.

I sought the last refuge of the self-loving -- Farce Book -- and saw that my friend Sarah, whom I've met through going out dancing, said that she was going to be in Liverpool too, taking her daughter back for her second year. Sarah, her daughter, and I sat in an unaccustomed sun, taking the the Mojito and Prosecco Cure, efficacious in all cases of separation anxiety.


Trish sent me the most unbelievably lovely texts; which indeed proved unbelievable, when she dumped me hours after sending the last one; so reading texts from Karen along the lines of "Me to miss u xx", "See you Wednesday my love XX", and "I'm so looking forward to seeing you tomorrow xxx", I feel detached rather than excited. Kim's advice: "I know you like her but just be careful. You tend to get fucked about a bit by women."

We met up in The Shipbuilders Arms. She looked gorgeous, in a stolen white embroidered top, black trousers and sparkly black pumps. "Oooh, it's hot in here." "Well, you could always take off some clothes." "There's not a lot to take off. Do you like it?" she said, smoothing her hand sexily down her side.

"I love it that you just ask me how I am, Karen. You keep texting me asking me how my day's been. It's a simple thing but no-one else does that."

She was getting more tactile as the evening wore on, every touch of hers sending a confusion of indecipherable signals. Going to kiss her at the end, she deflected me into a safety-kiss, followed by the quick, bright talking that girls use to reinstate boundaries. "Not to worry," I thought. "At the end of this week we'll be in Glasgow and in bed." I originally had planned to go with Trina, but in an unrelated incident which is too dull to relate, she had told me to fuck off. So I did, and invited Karen instead.

The evening before we were due to set off to Glasgow, Karen was still saying that she was coming -- despite me having made it clear that it was a double bedroom.

I should have known that Trina would regret what she'd said. I accepted her apologies; so at 5pm on Friday two women thought they were coming out for an overnight with me in Glasgow the following day.

I went for a drink with Karen after work, wondering how to extricate myself. Her Not Ex turned up, a publicly pleasant man whom she slags off behind his back, yet to whom she is still attached.

To my regret and relief, Karen got a bit upset about a silly incident which involving her getting barred from the pub in which she used to work. Her mother is also very ill, and her son had failed his driving test. Cumulatively, it was too much for her and she apologised for letting me down at the last minute in not being able to go to Glasgow.

I went round the pub from which she had been barred and told the landlady that I was barring myself because of the way she had treated Karen. "Right, fine." I came back and told Karen what I had done, vainly pleased with myself for all of a few short seconds, before I realised that I had debased myself by doing something as an act of competition for the woman sat between us. A man like me, with virtually no capital to deploy in the relationship economy, soon learns that resignation to being ignored is the only effective long-term strategy, even though the sour reward of dignity is a physical and emotional isolation that can feel relentless.


In Glasgow we had to ring the bell to get into The Laurieston. It was the day of the Old Firm game and they didn't want ruffians. The barman cast the briefest of looks over my intimidating 9st frame and we were waved in.

The Laurieston looks almost untouched since c.1975, appealing alike to young hipsters and those of who don't have to fake the distressed by age look. There's a rather odd painting of an emaciated nude on the wall, executed by one of the locals. "Do you not find that painting a bit odd?" I said to a woman sitting near it. "I just wish I had ribs to show."

Trina's quicksands of jealousy, dangerous in proportion to how much she's had to drink, called for some improvisation. "You seem to talk about Karen a lot. Are you seeing her?" "Yes. I see her down the pub all the time." Unsatisfied, she took hold of my elbow -- which is still a bit scarred after falling off my bike a couple of weeks ago -- and asserted that the redness must have been caused by carpet burns during sex. To that, laughter is surely the only rejoinder.

Writing my postcard to Wendy, which I refuse to do surreptitiously, she asked "has Wendy not got a surname then? I know you'd rather be here with her." "You're obsessed. Anyway onto more practical matters, there's a Matalan over there. I really need some new socks. Are you OK here for five minutes?" and I deliberately left the postcard there for her to pretend to ignore.

Some gay lads went out of their way to steer us to the hotel where the night was taking place. Downstairs in the club, the DJ's girlfriend gave me such a long hug that I had to say "OK Zoë, I get the message." Friendly people unbothered by our age; reaching the stage in the chat afterwards at which you affectionately call someone a cunt.


Walking home back in Lancaster, I unthinkingly applied the same easy speech of Glaswegians to a more timid folk, forgetting the conservatism of where I live. "You're going to take some time going on that route," I said to a group of men who were drunkenly meandering along.

"Who are you? Shut the fuck up."

I smiled at them, hoping to convey a touch of my own hostility, and walked away to jot the exchange down in my note book." "What are you doing by that window?"

I thought I might be going through it in a few seconds, but they satisfied themselves with a few volleys of homophobia and lost interest.

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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

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

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


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