A bridge too far

  Tue 23rd May 2017

Saturday night. We're all off to the theatre for a festival of short films from the Northwest, in which my middle daughter is lead actress in her best friend's film. My girls distance themselves from us: there is no shame worse for a teenager than to be seen socialising with her parents.

I had the good fortune to fall in with the director's parents. She is good company and magnetically attractive, especially in her high boots, black tights, and black miniskirt and white top. It was impossible to avoid glancing at her legs.

It was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had in a cinema. The film's a love song to her friends and to Lancaster, infused with a joyous sense of how the city has shaped their lives, coloured with their ambivalence about leaving the place in a few short months. It won First Prize. In the reception afterwards I couldn't find my voice, and a big teardrop ran involuntarily from my eye. We all went up to the Yoghurt Knitters Cafe where Foxy Mum bought me a couple of drinks.

Seeing my lovely little girl (she's eighteen and she's still my little girl) surrounded by with such intelligent, feminist, socially sophisticated, arty and creative sisters and friends, was even more affecting than the film. How I will miss them, even though I know that they've all got to spread their wings now and have the kind of education at university and drama school that will ripple through the rest of their lives.

The same daughter has acquired a boyfriend. He slept over at Kirsty's the other night. "Er...you're going to be careful aren't you? I don't mind most things but not a flipping baby," I texted. "No Dad, I've got a secret plan to throw away my place at a top drama school and get preggers at eighteen and live in a bedsit in Morecambe."

The hotel sank my mood on Sunday night, offering me the kitchen porter job. The following day I got the train to Grange-over-Sands and had a couple of swift pints during the forty-five minute wait for the bus to Newby Bridge.

I got on, and pulled from my pocket 14p and a small packet of refreshments; I'd forgotten to ask for cashback in the pub. The bus left, and seeing as I am not to be paid for my trial shift the other day, I thought "fuck that hotel" and went through my contacts, thinking who would be prepared to help me out. The Racing Commentator offered, even though he was describing the action at Sandown. Then another friend rang back.

When you want someone to lie for you, you can always rely on a Scouser. Harry rang the hotel saying I'd come off my bike and was in A&E. Which is the truth, if we overlook a slight chronological inexactitude in that that happened about ten years ago. I wrote a postcard for Kim.

Not for the first time, I misunderstand a girl.

Donna number 2 (not the girl of the passionate affair in Milton Keynes, but a girl I know through Kitty and going out dancing) rang. After a bit of a preamble she said that was was feeling "a bit lonely" and "could do with some company".

My presumptive mind assumed that she was after -- well, at least a bit of snogging, and I couldn't wait to get round to her house. "I'm a bit pissed, Donna," I warned. "Don't worry I'm wankered too."

We sat on her settee and started talking about a vague plan to go out on Saturday. I slid my arm round her back and up to her shoulders. She moved away and put my arm back, and I realised that there wasn't in fact any sexual code hidden in her invitation.

I thought she might come round to the idea, so I decided to give her half an hour to see if she warmed up, but we spent a sex-dampening time flicking through her phone looking at pictures of her children. Why do women think that one is going to be interested in seeing pictures of people who combine two ways to be uninteresting, being strangers, and children?

I went back to the pub, where the motley crew were still there. "You went off quite suddenly there." "Yeah, I thought a girl had invited me round for sex."

Being dressed for work, I was wearing narrow black trousers and a white vest top. I walked past another table and saw The Russian and his friend there. The Russian, who's gay, made some appreciative noises and started pawing my top. It's lovely to be found physically attractive. As regular readers will be bored of hearing, I could not give less of a shit about whether I am funny or intelligent -- I just want to be fucked. We started chatting and inching closer together, doing unnecessary touches. "Anyway, Ruskie...I'd better get back to my table now, but if we were in a different setting, I'd snog the face off you now."

At the bar, my card wasn't working. "No I think it's me," I said to the barmaid. "I'll shove it in a bit further. There, it's in as far as it'll go now."

I think it's the weather.

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A quiet night inn

  Fri 19th May 2017

Few things in life are as weird as your first day at work.

My shift at Newby Bridge started with a handshake with the head chef, before him and the sous chef started a ping-pong in which the sous chef read off names of films he'd seen, while the head chef said "got that." "Pulp Fiction." "Got that." "Casino." Got that." Over and over again went this bagatelle of status. I stood between them, unwilling to say anything in case I put myself into a position in this hierarchy. It was pitiable to see, the junior trying to please the senior with his inferiority. It carried on in their conversation for hours.

The work was relentless, hour after hour of pan-scrubbing, bent over a sink. The crockery is OK, but the difficult things are the yard-wide metal dishes of burnt-on lasagne, the huge saucepans coated with some sauce or other with bits of leek and hard-layered egg, and the metal "flats", into which food leeches fat, which ends up gripping the surface after a few minutes under the lights whilst it's waiting to be plated up and taken to the restaurant. You have to scour them manually, and in the meantime the waiting staff are bringing in more and more crockery which ends up stacking up as you get further and further behind.

No breaks, eating forkfuls of lasagne when you can. "I don't want to put you off mate," said the head chef, "but this has been a quiet night."

He showed me some caravans at the back of the hotel, which you can rent, sharing with another employee, for £150 per month and no bills. I worked out that a full-time job there would come out at about a grand clear, so I'd have eight hundred and fifty to spend. But at an immense cost -- hardly ever seeing my girls, no spontaneous nights with Kitty and Wendy; a chattel of the hotel, trying to wank quietly with an illiterate film-lover in the next room.

Afterwards, I could hardly walk, a curve in my back as I went to the bar like an old man. I slugged down two pints. At the bus stop, I watched my bus roar past, me gesticulating ineffectually as I realised, too late, that I was on the wrong side of the road.

I creaked open a phone box, which had a card for a taxi firm stuck in the corner of a notice advising you about a consultation period before the phone box is removed. Alarmed spiders shrivelled to their corners, strands of cobwebs stretching to an unaccustomed widening of the door. We agreed on thirty quid. Four hours of work.

You can only get as far as Ulverston on public transport at that time of night. I had planned a night of couchsurfing with a stranger, but after talking about it, Trina rang me to say that she'd paid for a hotel there instead. She's very generous sometimes, and I was glad to be free from having to pretend that I'm interested in someone else's life that sleeping on their settee would have involved.

I got to the hotel, worn out, dependent, and dejected, and had a pint which was so expensive that I'd have refused to pay for it had I not been staying there. I watched wordless skiing on the TV.

In the morning, the alarm went off at 10.30. It felt like 6am, and it was an aching body that I took to the shower.

I rang Wendy, who said she could come down the pub for an hour. She was wearing the green dress. I wanted to make the most of the one second of clasping, the only times I ever get to touch her, her smiling hello before our embrace intended to remind me of my unreachable distance from her. I slid my hand up from her waist up to her bra-strapped back, and it was over. Wanting to stay holding her, I sensed and agreed, against every fibre of my will and my body, to her slight movement away, as I heard her wordlessly saying "enough, looby. Exterminate, at least in your outward actions, your desire for me. You have no choice if you want this conversation to continue." The separateness she writes into our bodies.

"When I used to work in advertising, I was young, and, I think, fairly beautiful, and I used to just walk into offices and get jobs. It's different now though." "You're still beautiful though." It's the first time I've ever known her acknowledge how desired she is, and even then, it was by reference to her past.

The hotel hasn't rung me about any more shifts, and I'm pleased about that. I do not want to leave Lancaster. Not now, not while my girls are in their last summer here. Not while I cannot get over Wendy. Not while Kitty is here. Six girls -- my daughters, Wendy, Kitty, and Kim, are elements of myself. They stop me being an individual, a state much less attractive now than it seemed earlier in my life.

It pains me constantly that the particular form of love I feel for one of them, the love I most want to express -- a natural and unforced desire as selfish and is it selfless -- isn't wanted. Instead, I have to cultivate its opposite -- an unfeeling, an operation performed without the anaesthetic that would work on emotions and desire. I can act out lovelessness towards her, but doing so makes me know how false this is for me. Only a dishonest gloss of my feelings makes her comfortable; honesty is overbearing and unwelcome. When I tell her that I love her, she'll often say "and I love you too." She doesn't love me. It's her way of changing the subject.

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Down and out in Newby Bridge and Lancaster

  Tue 16th May 2017

The recipe for interview success is two glasses of red, a quarter of a valium, and two pints of bitter.

On Sunday afternoon I am rung up by a hotel in the Lake District asking me if I could come the following day to an interview for a kitchen porter job. Not wishing a repeat of the Kendal disaster, I relaxed myself with the aforementioned cocktail. And I had the best interview ever.

I was introduced to a chatty boss, Emma, with whom I felt at ease straight away. It felt like what it half was -- a conversation in a bar. I found that I kept using her name. "If this goes pear-shaped Emma, I'm going to moan about you on Facebook," and at some point I used the word "arsey". I enjoyed our social tennis.

Towards the end of our half hour, spent in a room under those garish paintings about hunting that all hotels which fall short of their original ambition possess, she asked me if I could come in for a trial shift tomorrow from two till close. The hotel's location is going to be a problem, but we'll worry about that if they want me back. We stood up and shook hands. "Pleasure, Emma," I said, into her eyes.

With half an hour to go before my bus, I said that I was going over the road for a pint in one of the other hotels in the village to check out the opposition. "You don't want to go over there," she said. "Ours is cheaper, and it's all local, if you like your beer." (One of the few honest interludes on my cv is where I list my interests as cricket, reading, and real ale.) I sat in their bar for a bit, next to one couple playing cards, and another pair comprised of a man in a kilt and a woman with a mouth permanently set to complain. I sent a bulletin to my coterie.

In the meantime, Trina has been sending me details of the few jobs in her area that don't involve cabbages or drainage, keen to have me cloistered in the blank hinterland of Southport.

Seriouscrush and her boyf -- who own this house -- came round to sort out which stuff belongs to them and which items are my imports. I had made them an apple cake. I gave the slices some soured cream to cuddle and passed it round. For some reason I came over all priestly, and said "here you are. Now you're partaking of the body of looby."

Wendy's birthday do never rose beyond the pleasant. Me, her, Kitty and a couple of other girls went out to a Chinese restaurant -- about my least favourite idea for a night out. Wendy and Kitty insisted they would cover my bill so I just had a starter and asked for tap water, but they gave me a glass of their wine. Their generosity made it worse.

I much preferred the half hour beforehand at Kitty's when it was just us three. Even for the unidirectionally beloved, there isn't much money, but I found this lovely tile or coaster. (The iridescence isn't banded as it appears on the photo -- it glisters evenly).

Her other present was an empty box of matches.

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I kissed an (old) girl and I liked it

  Mon 8th May 2017

Middle daughter has started working in our local brewery's tap. "Come and say hello and have a pint. We're very quiet."

On the way I saw three thirtysomethings doing the map reading head-swivel of the lost. I got a couple of yards past them then turned round to help them. "Where are you looking for?" One of the men glares back at me. "Nowhere," with a defensive, rising intonation. "Well fuck off then."

I saw my little girl (she's eighteen) looking so vulnerable and eager to please behind the bar. To my relief, the bar manager seemed understated and patient with her.

On the astroturf outside, a christening party was settling into the drink. Catholics definitely have the best parties. Young mums in lurid high heels and those Elastened tubular dresses which only girls of Wendy standard can get away with. (There were no girls there of Wendy standard. As if).

I sat down at one of the tables, and it occurred to me that there was a bit of a ligging opportunity. I prepared a story about working for the caterers, and strolled into the marquee and assembled a modest selection of pasta salad, quiche, sandwiches and cake.

My daughter came out and looked at me scoffing. "Dad!"

"Are you admiring my audacity or are you ashamed of your father again? And would you like a couple of these sarnies?"

I made what I hoped was an observed point of chatting for a while with a woman who was widely occupying the next table; I wanted people to think I knew someone there. She was sitting in the refined Lancashire open-legged style, looking like a half-deflated bouncy castle. Thus prepared, I went to collect my seconds.

I got a bit tipsy in the Penny Bank on Saturday afternoon and started snogging a seventy-year-old. The landlady came over and told us to pack it in.

I can't quite remember how it started. I was chatting to these Geordie lads, then this woman I know by sight, a somewhat frayed local, came and sat next to me. Then the next thing I know we were at it. "Fucking hell, you're good at that, "I said. "What a lovely kisser you are. Do it again." And we did. It was superb for several minutes, until the landlady stepped in to separate the contestants.

I went back to the pub yesterday as soon as it was opened to confess. "Hiya Kelly, can I have a quick word? I'm sorry about yesterday. I got a bit carried away with Sarah." "Yes, well, it's just that a couple of people around you didn't appreciate it. But it's OK, don't worry about it," and gave me a little indulgent, absolving, smile.

Later I bumped into the Geordie lads. "Here's Jack Russell," one of them said. "What do you mean 'Jack Russell'?" "You yesterday, and that woman. You had your leg crooked over her." "Oh fuck, I don't remember that bit. Oh well, never mind. I got pissed and started necking an old bird. I enjoyed it to be honest!"

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No overall control

  Sat 6th May 2017

I got up at a quarter to five on Thursday to work at the Local Government Elections. I was garlanded with the title of Presiding Officer and stationed in a ribbon development village, where houses tremble trying to front lorries.

Many good-looking middle-aged mums. One came in with ruffled hair, a long dress over trousers. Their little girl, about four or something, walked in looking like an interested invitee to a cocktail party, a beetling nappy showing up her spindly legs.

She was running up and down, doing a long "haaaa" and giggling as she ran from one end to the other of the click-clack floor of the community centre. We turned it into a game, where I would lift my hand, hesitatingly, hesitatingly, no, no, no....and eventually I dropped my hand like a race starter, and I said "haaaa!..." and she ran across the room, laughing, It was just fucking lovely. The two of us playing.

The parents took a long time over voting, dawdling after they'd done so, noticing their daughter occupied in some silly racing game with the person who seems to be in charge. As they all left, mum did a little nod of appreciation. I dipped a headlight smile at them all.

Me and the clerks were fifteen-and-a-half hours together. I told one of them that I used to be a signalman. He had been one once too, and like many men when they light on what they think is a shared interest, went into a monologue that would have been interesting had it had a decent editor. My Life On The Railway: Fascinating Facts About Signalling In Lancashire In The Fifties. Do old people command the conversation because they know they're going to die soon, and they need to get their stories out? I hope that I never assume I'm interesting.

We did our complicated accounts, got all packed up, and drove the ballot boxes to the Town Hall. A camaraderie, men burlily taking the heavy work of relieving us of the boxes and screens, and anxious girls checking checklists. Everyone mucking in, a collective pride in what we are all doing, in the Council itself, in Lancaster itself. I asked a policeman outside the time, then laughed, and said "do you know, I'm fifty-three-years old and this is the first time I have asked a policeman the time. "Aye, and you're not pregnant and..." [male smut redacted]. A sinful joke of inclusion.

All done, I went to the Sun Hotel. Shouting men see-sawing on their foot pivots, girls dressed up for nothing, their treble-sharp laughter wrongly calibrated for the occasion. There's a back room, a bit quieter. I had Ulysses with me. I chewed the serviette corners into two spitty boluses and waxed them into my ears to pillow the canned music. Yvonne Elliman and James Joyce, both fine in their own fields, but not at the same time.

My housing options shrink by the day. 2.15am yesterday, Kim texted me to say that she'd started seeing her former boyfriend again. "I won't see you homeless, but you must see chez Kim as the very last resort."

There's a homeless shelter in a church where you can stay from 10pm to 7am, in the company of people whose idea of culture is the subtleties of heroin injection. Went on the church's website, and found out that it closes from Easter to October.

I ring Wilma to see if her offer of a room is still open. She was out of her head on Librium. "There's too much stuff in it and I'm not sure I can handle anyone else here at the moment. I've got to do this Librium thing."

Trina, however, texted saying that she had had an idea: me staying with her at her mum's house. She was secretly delighted that I won't be going to Kim's, pleased at my current state of dependency.

I turn over a plan, were I to go to stay with her. She lives in a hamlet of privatised Conservatism near Southport, but it's only half an hour on the train to Liverpool. I want to do this CELTA course and I found two colleges in Liverpool that offer it.

I rang the first one, and asked whether their CELTA was approved in such a way as they would be able to accept a student whose fees would be paid by an Advanced Learners Loan.

This was too convoluted a sentence for the second languager who answers the phone. An unerotic, nervous breathing. "Yes, all our teachers are experience." "No, I'm not asking about that." I tried to simplify my request. She played me some music, and came back with an even more irrelevant answer. Fucking dodge college. Certificates for the uncertified, so that they can work in their cousin's burger bar before accidentally forgetting to use the return portion of the ticket.

At the second one, a chatty Scouse DoS said that whilst they'd never had a student using the Advanced Learners Loan, they'd be willing to look at an application. And yes, they are accredited. By the British Council, and whatever the Department of Education is called this week.

Wendy said she might be able to come out for an hour or so today. She turned up in my favourite dress of hers -- that is, favourite in a competition won by an infinitesimally small degree of sex over the other ones she wears. Eye-stroking her, because that's the only stroking of Wendy that I'll ever do. My hands crossed politely in my lap, I am reaching, as distant as Mary getting the brush-off, noli me tangere. A small rib of dark blue bra. The relentless sexiness of her, the shape of her green dress over her; her rough, sexy hair.

I mention the plan to live with Trina for a while. She isn't keen, recommending that I continue banging my head against the cul-de-sac I'm in, going through application forms as long as essays, online webcam assessments, telephone interviews, failed face-to-face interviews, target-driven, hungry for success, minimum wage. "You living with Trina would be just be the same as with [her ex]. Getting control over you. You should tell her to stick that offer up her twat."

"I don't know what I'm doing here," I said. "My girls are going away in October, I'm never going to get anywhere with you, I can't get even minimum wage jobs here, and I haven't got anywhere to live in under a month's time."

She left to pick up her daughter from school, because it would be unreasonable to expect the unemployed father to rouse himself off his mum's settee at such an hour of the afternoon. As she left the pub, I watched her dressy slinking, till I couldn't see her any more.

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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

The more democratised art becomes, the more we recognise in it our own mediocrity.
James Meek

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

Partial archives only - uploading everything since 2005 will take time

"Just sit still and listen" - woman to teenage girl at Elliott Carter weekend, London 2006

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