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Bring out your dead

  Sat 16th January 2021

On the bus on the way home from work on Thursday, I get a text from Cath. "You're not going to work tomorrow! Ha!"

I assumed that there had been another slalom in government policy and that those of us whose lives are very boring because we're office clerks had been indefinitely released from our bondage. When I got home it was revealed that Cath's daughter had tested positive for the lurgy. Cath immediately placed us all under house arrest, her mood brightened by the thought of wiping everything all the time. Inwardly I was wailing for beer.

Work said they'd sort some online homework for me next week, but yesterday was bliss: I was put on "special leave".

And I had news of my own. I have been offered a tenancy in a housing association studio flat for which I just qualify by reason of my age: it's in an old folks' block safely equipped with grab rails. It crossed my mind that they might have removed a plague-struck corpse from the flat recently.

It has a huge communal room with wing-backed pink armchairs and bored plants. The neglected website advertises "bingo nights, a luncheon club, and outings," an attractive programme, in which I'd play around with that mildly suggestive banter that English old dears enjoy. It's in the close of a church, so I hope that Sundays are marked by ineptly rhythmned campanology. The most succulent pleasure there though, will be Mel, keeping me firm but supple.

After a year's probation, I will have a tenancy for life if I want it, and should I wish to move (it's a wee bit further from the city centre than I'd like to be ideally), I can seek a swap with any council or social landlord tenant in the country who'd like my flat. No more will I carry around, like a dormant virus, the insecurity that comes from relying on private landlords.

None of this solves the problem of how we are to escape our tenancy here five months early, but I imagine Cath to be a dogged negotiator, and she can now tell him that we have all found the exit.


Cath takes me by surprise

  Mon 11th January 2021

Mel and I went on an essential business trip on New Year's Eve, which required hotel accommodation. There were two receptionists on duty; fortunately we got the Spanish one, who was less searching in his questions than his English colleague, who was asking for proof that the man he was checking in was in Bristol for work.

We had a completely enjoyable eighteen hours together. Drunkenness, and the kind of unhard, laughing sex that alcohol can produce, then I woke her in the middle of the night with something more serious, which continued episodically till late morning.

"You're a funny one looby." "Am I?" "Yes, all the clothes and shoes and rape fantasies." I thought "rape fantasy" was a bit of an overstatement but lit up at the casual, permissive way she said the phrase. "I didn't expect any of this from you."

Saturday morning and Cath is chatty as I make my coffee. She tells me that her and Ingrid are interested in a shared ownership flat which they want to buy. She will have to persuade the landlord to terminate our lease five months early, but should that be granted I'd have to start looking for a place around the end of March. I'd love to find somewhere self-contained if at all possible, and make a love nest where I can indulge my "rape fantasies" with a willing subject.

I discuss it with Mel, all the practical obstacles conjured away by a deus ex machina, gabbling on about the food I'd like to make for her, the films we could watch together, and of course, the sex we could have.

I was in a card shop on Saturday. Good-looking fortysomething running it, in a scarlet dress, reaching just below the thigh.

I was picking up some cards and reading them and she came up to me and she said "sorry sir, but could you only touch things you'd like to buy?"

This cheered me up a great deal. It really did look like a card shop.


The last letter

  Sat 2nd January 2021

I got off work on Tuesday, remembering not to tell anyone where I was going, stowing my luggage under the desk, ready for a 4.30pm flit to Lancaster. My erroneously-issued and now out of date rail pass added another £170 to the thousands it has saved me.

Back in Lancaster I was clasped back into the bosom of my family, a warm and comforting place, full of wine, women and the occasional song. Long hugs from my thin daughters.

On Christmas Eve my mum rang to say that her sister had been told she's got breast cancer, and that my disabled brother had tested positive for corona. He was immediately placed under a needlessly harsh form of room arrest in his home. They wouldn't let him make or receive phone calls because they won't let him touch the phone.

As you might know, I've been writing one-sidedly to Wendy's dad for about three years, him being too infirm to reply. The letter I had with me to give to Wendy will never be read: on Boxing Day she me rang to say that he'd died on Christmas Day.

Later that day, my mum rang again to say that my brother went into an epileptic fit that wouldn't stop -- Wendy told me it's called status epilepticus -- and was hospitalised for a couple of days. He's out now and my mum has been able to ring him. He has been congratulating the "lovely porridge" served him during his stay. The staff still won't let him have the phone; a care worker holds it at two metres' distance so they both have to shout their conversation publicly.

Sunday evening, at Kitty's, I am watching her face as she unwraps her present. She used to live in Blackpool, and I had bought her a poster, one in a cautionary series advising against British seaside resorts.

"Oh..."she says, doubtfully. "Oh, erm...who's the artist?" "No idea love." "Oh well. I wonder who the artist is."

I'm puzzled by her reaction, until she shows me a gloomy C19th portrait of a tired-looking man dressed in black resting his head on his hand.

On Monday I met up with Wendy for a walk with the dog. We sat on a bench with a table next to a Christmas tree decorated with merrily colourful bulbs, where we drank port and smoked dope. She gave me the best present of all -- the last book that her dad had read whilst he was still able to read, Sweet Thursday by Steinbeck, with a dedication from the two of them to me.

She read me the obituary that her brother has prepared for the local papers, about his roistering life, financially supported by his career in a smokier and more alcoholic journalism than we have today; and the first paragraph of Cannery Row[1], which she'll read at his funeral on Thursday. "These were his people," she said.

We then went round to Kitty's, who, in a typically simple, kind act, had made us all soup. I wasn't sure about to what degree of talking about her dad, or wanting us to be merry, that Wendy wanted, but it was more important that we were just there, chatting, Wendy holding it back but still taking part.

Kitty made a comment about Wendy looking "beautiful", which means completely different things for a man and a woman. I jumped in to wrest the word from the sexless sisterhood's interpretation, and reminded her that she is stunningly beautiful, in the proper sense of that verb.

I came back via Leeds, where I spent a freezing cold twenty minutes in a churchyard with my old uni pal. I was hoping he'd allow me into their house, but we stood on the heatsink flags instead. I had an expensive coffee I didn't want.

At Leeds station, I made the decision to have a shave. I have never felt glad to wear a face mask until then, since the cheap plastic razor left me with several cuts, and the inside of the mask is now all bloody.

Walking home, I suddenly realised that I'd left my holdall on the train. Everything else can be replaced, but not Bill's book. I'm very much hoping it finds its way back to the lost property office in Bristol. I've done this before -- readers with long memories will remember the time I joined my family to travel to Brittany on our hols, and arrived with only the clothes I was wearing. The rest were last seen on a luggage rack on a train, and were never returned.

Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink,
a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia,
a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin
and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement
and weedy lots and junk-heaps, sardine canneries of corru-
gated iron, honky-tonks, restaurants and whore-houses, and
little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flop-houses. Its
inhabitants are, as the man once said, "whores, pimps,
gamblers, and sons of bitches," by which he meant Every-
body. Had the man looked through another peep-hole he
might have said : "Saints and angels and martyrs and holy
men," and he would have meant the same thing.


I have a substantial meal

  Mon 14th December 2020

Me and Mel meet up on the bus. We are stealing a few miles across the boundary into Bath and Northeast Somerset, where one can go to a pub, as long as one eats a "substantial meal".

The bus gets to Keynsham, (it's pronounced "cane-shum") where we have forty-five minutes to kill on a very cold evening.

In Sainsbury's, for want of anywhere warm, we walk ridiculously round the aisles, fingering objects we don't want until we get to the alcohol. I get a bottle of cider and she gets one of those mini bottles of wine. I am urgent for a piss so I go off to this tiered (sorry) garden area behind the now closed Sainsbury's cafe.

I get back and Mel has acquired company, with a teenage boy sat cosily next to her on the short bench. He's with a gang of yoof, who are admirably ignoring the harsh conditions by standing around eating takeaway food.

Me, Mel and him, pelvises in touch, are chatting away. He wants to return to his own though. I hear him say "yeah but you got to be fly or you don't get anywhere."

Suddenly two staff from Sainsbury's come out, looking busty and officious. The yoof scarper and we are suddenly alone.

After we'd finished our meals, we ask the waitress for another glass of wine each. We are not allowed, because we have stopped eating, which made me wish we'd left a morsel on the plate. It's a let-down of an evening, and my chivalrous gesture to pay -- for one course each and a bottle of wine -- set me back £60.

On Saturday Hayley came over. I met her at the bus stop, where she was in need. We went down the side of the Turkish supermaket where she pissed in the alley while I held my coat open like a gallant flasher.

We sat in the park drinking cider. An eighty-year-old man came up to us and started forcing out some fractured bits of Nessun Dorma. After a long ninety minutes of Hayley's complaints on a loop about her impotent boyfriend, the sparkling side of her came out. "The trouble with gay men is that they listen to you."

We had "arranged", in a Haylean sense, to meet up tonight for a dance and a drink at hers, but as you can see, dear reader, I'm writing this rather than sucking on a crack pipe with a sexy miniskirted younger woman.

I left Hayley kissingly, and made hurried preparations for another night across county lines: to Bath, where we were staying overnight with her friends.

The evening was dull work for me, listening to them talking about their years on a Greek island where they all used to live, and loud, prolix anecdotes from Neil, who hasn't heard of turn-taking. It dismayed me when the girls started talking together and I was cast as Neil's sounding board. On top of this, jarring pop-rock given a form of attention I find impossible to understand.

To attempt some noise abatement, I chewed and screwed up some paper and stuffed it into my ears. I excused myself to bed; Mel came up later and wanted sex, sighing as she gave up fiddling with a useless cock.

The morning was entirely different though, and it was only by stopping another wave of mutual arousal that we got downstairs before midday.

There was time for one last intimacy though. "Mel, I've got some paper stuck in my ear. I rolled it up last night because it was getting really noisy. Can you get it out with your fingernail?" Taking advantage of the well-prepared way in which women travel, I plucked it out with her tweezers.

Isla and Neil know a first-rate pub where a small bowl of chips counts as a substantial meal, your licence to drink to your heart's content. We were legislatively hungry though, and ordered pie and chips.

We got talking to the bloke at the next table; in the toilets, I got chatting to someone who was standing in the cubicle swigging from a bottle of whisky, which he started sharing with me. It was exhilerating to have the unpredictable company of strangers again.

Isla and Neil went home; me and Mel stayed for another pint, and more stroking, my fingers in her hair, the selfish shunning of others in a house made for society.

Three long texts to Mel at half past one this morning, full of sex. Sexy Ex-Boss has invited us round on Saturday to The Big House, Me and Mel are staying overnight. Mel's going to wear what I've bought for her. She doesn't seem to mind me using her like this. The lack of negotiation is a turn-on.


I accidentally buy 154 stamps

  Wed 2nd December 2020

I am so robbed of time with this job. I am neglecting everyone.

I miss my old life. I went to Hayley's after work the other day. The front door was wide open, music playing. Hayley, just the same -- selfish, physically desirable, funny, talking over me, loveable. "I feel like an ant in a box," she said, about her gradual estrangement from her boyfriend. Which I found first mysterious, then hilarious. She was slightly stooped over the crack she was preparing for us, an oval ladder in her tights just below her skirt hem. I went to hug her for saying it, keeping a secret smile from forming.

She's working in security on a film set, getting thirteen pounds an hour -- three pounds more than I get. I was tired, so was she. As I left we kissed lips to lips. With my cock stiffening, I opened my mouth to try to encourage her to open hers, but she refused such an intimacy.

Back here, Cath is irritated that I have spent the weekend with Mel rather than cleaning. It's my turn to do it and she likes it to be done at the weekend. On Sunday I am happily tired from wrapping myself round Mel at her friends' house, so I start on it when I get in from work on Monday. She makes a fourteen-year-old's show of stomping upstairs as I hoover the hallway.

Later, she's downstairs again and I apologise to her if I chucked her out of the living room. "Why do you start it at half past six on a Monday?" she cries, with a passion fueled by the lack of regulated discipline in my cleaning behaviour. "Cath, I've got a full-time job and a girlfriend now." "But you had all Saturday to do it!" betraying how little interest she had in the gripping Second Round FA Cup tie in which Morecambe beat Solihull Moors in extra time to win a third round place away to Chelsea. "Well, it's too bad," I said, and she went back upstairs, my admonishment complete.

I was rattled by all this and wanted to go out, feeling the miasma of Cath's disapproval as I felt my way down the stairs in a house thrown into darkness at nine o'clock. Anxious people are never content only with fucking themselves up but see those closest to them as unsigned recruits. I texted the woman I met a few weeks ago outside the pub. "You about? Bored shitless. Just had an argument with my landlady. I'm going down the park if you want to come. I can get us some drink." She didn't reply but I went down anyway.

It was a mild still night, the plane trees almost denuded, just thin witches' fingers left; but most of the magic shouted down by the cars. The council has taken a third of a small park and given it over to foam-floored play spaces for children, giving us alkies fewer seats to share. There were four men there I didn't know. We didn't approach each other. I smelt an effort on their speech, something a bit dissembling.

The same evening I accidentally bought one hundred and fifty-four second class stamps. My mother sent me five hundred pounds the other day. It comes from the meagre savings of a woman who has never owned property, and has nothing but the state pension to live on. She refuses to accept any refund, so the ruse was to buy her fifty pounds' worth of stamps, as she's a keen letter writer.

I could have sworn I got a message saying the transaction hadn't gone through, so I tried it again. Same error message. Then I got two emails from paypal thanking me for my business, with two orders of fifty-two pounds to Royal Mail.


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

M / 56 / Bristol, "the most beautiful, interesting and distinguished city in England" -- John Betjeman [1961, source eludes me].

"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

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

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

The Comfort of Strangers

23.1.16: Big clearout of the defunct and dormant and dull
16.1.19: Further pruning

If your comment box looks like this, I'm afraid I sometimes can't be bothered with all that palarver just to leave a comment.

63 mago
Another Angry Voice
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Exile on Pain Street
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George Szirtes ditto
Guitars and Life
Infomaniac [NSFW]
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London's Singing Organ-Grinder
The Most Difficult Thing Ever
Strange Flowers
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"Just sit still and listen" - woman to teenage girl at Elliott Carter weekend, London 2006

Bristol New Music
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Golden Pages for Musicologists
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