I rang Helen last night. Twice. Twice she asked me to ring her back because "oh God, I've got another call coming in."

Is this the new phone etiquette? You speak to one person for only until another call arrives? But my problems pale to nothing compared to Helen's dreadful year of being over-trusting to two exploitative and eventually violent men.

We were discussing her coming over to England in September. Immediately I am back to my small concerns, worrying over a repeat of the miserable and hurtful exclusion last time she came over, when I was disbarred from going to Kitty's, with three of my closest friends, because of The Injunction. "No, no, Helen, he can't come up. You can, but he can't."



I spent a couple of days with Kim. Miraculously, she had preserved some rare refreshments from before I went to Kazakhstan, and we spent the night on something now very difficult to find, even with the modern technological gateways into the underworld.

I miss those glossy, shiny nights and mornings. We danced like we hadn't done before -- close and tactilely, not quite like lovers, hands running only over the permitted areas. How I wanted to kiss her properly.

We wended our way slowly into Durham for my train home. She was wearing her black and white dress and looked so sexy that my speech had to be parked into auto-pilot, my eyes doing the active work.

Walking through Middlesbrough town centre, I notice a fittie a few yards away. Late 30s? Early 40s? Long shimmery blonde hair; cerise top; pencil skirt; wedges. I scan her appreciately, then for one tiny moment I am on the verge of elation, as she turns and smiles at me. Girls never do that.

It's my sister.

Kim told me about her on-off affair with the local landlord. "It counts as a good fuck though." My sister has three blokes after her and at least one on the go. Everyone's fucking in the summer, and I'm masturbating thinking about a girl who doesn't fancy me.



Well, goodbye Middlesbrough. I will miss you.

I love how Smoggies treat you as one of their own. The only people I've encountered who match them in that respect are Glaswegians, but Glaswegians are too embittered and sectarian and obsessed with religion for me. Weegies always say how separate they are from England, but when they got a chance to enact that separateness, the majority went running back to mummy England's apron strings. like a gay in denial.

I won't miss Middlesbrough's way that a mixture of shouting at children in between long silences whilst playing with your phone counts for parenting. I won't miss seeing pregnant women smoking, nor involuntarily inhaling fag smoke every single time you step outside. I won't miss the exaggerated faces that men pull at me sometimes when they make a head nod to the next table where some gay blokes are sitting.

I will miss the matchless openness of the Smoggies. I will miss the way that people who hardly know you will start, with no preamble, upon what is precisely on their minds when you walk into a pub. I'll miss the sub-£2 pints. I will miss the swearing, especially hearing women swear unsqueamishly. I will miss the secret pleasure of hearing someone say "fucking Paki bastard" which makes me cover my mouth with disgust and amusement in equal measure.

I will miss people down the local alky pub who I've only known for a few weeks making insulting jokes about "when on earth are you going to fuck off to Bristol?", and segueing that into some comment about me not having had sex for a bit. I will miss someone from there who said "I've put you in my phone as 'That Fucking Lunatic'." I'll miss the local smackhead, coming in in his hiking boots, thick socks and orange waterproof, to fence gin and vodka.

I'll miss playing Fatso Bingo with my sister, where one player subtlely points out a tub, then the other player has to raise you by pointing out someone even fatter. I'll miss the woman who left the crusts on her pizza, saw me eyeing them and asked me if I wanted them, before stirring her drink with her upturned fork. I'll miss the way that brain damaged people, padded into their preventative contraptions, let out the strangulated yells of their private mental lives, and no-one bats an eyelid.

I'll miss Kim. I'll miss her mum and dad, who said "it's beans and chips" when I went round for tea. I'll miss the proper handshakes, where a man takes you full in the hand, palm, not these wanky feeble little finger-clasp efforts that you get from polite, academic, fearful men. Northeast people are the best.