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Untransfigured Night

  Thu 30th April 2020

I'm back from an unplanned evening walk, deliberately following darkened streets and alleys, the underpass with its anti-shooting-up blue light, until the sky opened to a lambent half moon in the park, like a Bristolian Verklärte Nacht. The couple there weren't close in any sense though. The man stood impatiently at some yards' distance from her, looking backwards, huffing, waiting for her to catch up, treating her like a dog on an invisible extending lead.

Back in Hayley's street, a black woman in colourful long layers fails twice in her kissing. "Goodnight!" she says. "See you tomorrow!" "Mummy! You haven't done it properly," says a little boy, as she goes to sit in the car. "Oh Lord," she says, and kisses him again.

"You still haven't done it properly!" I give her a sympathetic look. He allows her this time. "Got there eventually," I say. "Eventually!" she smiles back, and I skip up the steps to Hayley's flat on an arpeggio of neighbourliness.


Saturday, and Hayley and Harry arrive at half past eight in the morning. This means it is still last night for them. I am slow to start, but we get going on her birthday, the cider, the crack and the mdma. The music is too loud.

I offer to go out to replenish our stocks of booze, and sit for half an hour under some dogged trees in the Bearpit, a roundabout with a sunken pedestrianised area avoided by most pedestrians. An old bearded man standing still. A couple playing frisbee boringly. I want them to kiss, touch, stroke, but they just toss the plastic disc to and fro, to and fro.

Back at Hayley's, they give me a rock to suck on. I am a little sick and hot, and go to sit down. It passes; I am aware of my skin. Everyone talks sotto voce and I feel close to them. With a calm so intense, it becomes suspicious.

"What is this?" I ask? Oh fuck, they're getting me into smack now. "What is this we're having, now?" "Crack!" she says, like an impatient, worn-out teacher. I quieten, ashamed of having doubted her, upsetting the collective reverie.

Harry and Hayley share a plan: Harry moves into Hayley's; I illegally sublet Harry's flat. It makes sense, since I think I have burnt my bridges with Cath at The Lovely House. They are pleased to hear it, and next day go off to start cleaning and clearing it out.


The following morning, after a few hours of tossed-about, imperfect sleep, I am in the garden when Cath calls. I don't want to face her, but she's friendly and asks me if I'd like to come back. I say I'll return the next day, Monday.

On Monday I wake up at dawn, and immediately fall into the hyperthermia, bad nausea, sweats, and vomiting unto bile and then simply retching, of mdma poisoning. I recognise it from a previous experience after a weekend in Blackpool with Trina. It can go for days, and doesn't grant you an interval in which to sleep.

I get up, having been in bed since 7pm on Sunday, at 10am on Tuesday. On Monday morning I did what must have sounded an impressive ringing in sick, in which I was sick during the phone call.


They keep coming back with reports of their latest little improvement to "my" flat; but I can't rely on an illegal tenure that depends on them sustaining a relationship. In my usual anxious and cowardly way, I haven't told them I'm moving back to The Lovely House. I can't even get lost in alcohol: I've been off it since Sunday, an uncommonly long time for this devotee.


The agency rings to say that there is no work next week, and that the agency itself may have to fold in a month or so if we're not let out by then.

9 comments »

Just Say No

  Tue 21st April 2020

In what I hope is a kindly indication that I might be rehabilitated once my compulsory re-education is finished -- it's a course without a specific graduation date -- Cath offered to run some of my stuff over to Hayley's. Thus I was able to attend the last couple of days at work in my own trousers, rather than Hayley's, which exhibited the gnarled spindles that are my Max Wall-ish legs rather too explicitly.

The author yesterday

I say "last days at work" pointedly. On Friday, as I was sliding into my own more concealing trousers, I received a call from the agency, informing me that that day was to be my last at the hospital. A couple of people who have been self-isolating, but finding no trace of plague in their breasts, have come back to work, ousting me.

I got in to read an email from the HR Manager, saying that he is going to have a look round to see if he can place me anywhere else. I've applied to be an ambulance call handler. They're paid £9.40 an hour, a poor wage for that job, but I need something.


Crack, of which I have had more since moving here on Tuesday than in my entire life, is a fucking waste of money. Like art, it's put into the market to absorb any amount of spare income. Me, Hayley and Harry stood around in her / our living room-cum-kitchen with a proper pipe this time. Harry moaned in a way suggestive of an orgasm aftermath, ran his hands through his hair, and said he had to sit down. I analysed my pleasure, wondering why it wasn't matching the others'.

It's pleasant, but lesser in physical and social warmth than that produced by the second bottle of red in familiar company; and the worst value drug of anything I've tried. I've done well the past year, living relatively frugally, working long hours in jobs where you get fed, so all I've had to find is rent, bus fare and alcohol. I've given Kirsty four hundred pounds towards our Brittany holiday, and have more to give her. I don't want to see my advantages go down a crack pipe.


I went out this morning and met a rather aggressive ex-paratrooper. He was sitting topless with a rucksack, its strewn innards of clothing, and a bottle of vodka nearing exhaustion. He gave me a can of Stella and invited me to sit down. His mother was a twat, apparently. A degree short of a cunt then?, I didn't say.

Asking after my background, he silenced me whenever I went to speak, apologised for doing so, then silenced me again after I'd resumed my story. His eyes brightened in brotherhood when I said I'd recently lived in Kazakhstan. "Yeah...I know Afghanistan too."

I gave him five pounds towards a bottle of vodka. He went swerving across the street, yelling about St George's Day in front of a bus, and came back with a carton of orange juice. "No, he won't sell me alcohol. I'm banned from there." I said I had to get a bus to go and meet my daughter. Most of them are more interesting than that.

I sat in the park. Middle class dyads and offspring, expensive bikes, the men in tubular shorts. Hayley rang and I said I was writing. I told her there was a salad in the fridge. "Thank you so, so much!" she said, the retarded hunger kicking in. When I got in I was pleased to see her and Harry there, and two empty plates, only a small portion out of a saucepan-full left for me.

"Oop!" she said, and got up to get a detergent spray gun to use on the spots of blood she'd leaked onto the settee. I felt like a good mother. They are like my children. I mop and clean and cook -- in as far as one can cook in a house with neither knives nor a cooker -- and every hour, give my silent thanks to her. Sexy, mini-skirted, and kind.

8 comments »

Chez nous

  Fri 17th April 2020

Monday night at Hayley's. She fashioned a crack pipe from a Guinness can, stabbing it with its folded ring-pull. She wanted us to go to her friend Harry's flat. She put lipstick on, straightened her hair, and wore this little skirt I'd not seen before. Black, one of those shiny thin things that have waves in them from deliberately too much fabric. Black, block heels. We walked through soft air. There was a stink of week-old takeaways on the ground floor of Harry's flat block.

I couldn't work out where to sit in the small lounge. Hayley was on the floor to my left, I was perched on the edge of the sofa, Harry was opposite. I felt too big and tentative, so I sat on the floor. More comfortable, more democratic. Crack, coke, speed, conversation. It was easy. Didn't feel forced.

I got back to mine at about seven o'clock and met Cath, my live-in landlady, on the stairs. "Have you been staying at someone else's house?" "Yes." "I think that's very selfish to be honest." From my bed, I texted Hayley. "Hayley, I might have to stay at yours for a bit. I'm in big trouble."

A couple of hours later, I was summoned into Cath's room for a show trial with her and Richard. I was told about the hazards of infecting them. "Weren't you arranging to meet someone that day anyway?" Cath said. Fuck, so you're bending an ear to my phone calls now. "No, I got the call when I was on my walk," I lied.

I was invited to leave, that day, for the duration of this mass hysteria. I gathered some of my things, and struggled with bags leather and carrier, onto the bus and knocked on Hayley's door. "Hiya Hayley, it's your Northern cunt here!"


Me, her and Harry have been sitting round nattering. She's gone round to his. My second night here. Most of my clothes are in the garden, laid out on the wall, because they both smoke. It doesn't matter. "You can stay here for as long as you like. It's nice having you here." Who else would have had me? What would I have done?

On my first morning, she asked me how I'd slept. I rephrased in a lessened way, that the springs in her old sofa bed had been nagging my ribs. She offered me a second quilt and threw it on the sofa bed as an insulator. Last night, I slept soundly, and had she been here, I could have kissed her for her double kindness: one big act, and one small one equally as considerate.


At first, I felt ashamed of what I'd done, an idiot, reckless, my hedonistic drive authoring my misfortune, again. Then tonight, once a little dust had settled, I feel miffed. Why has Cath raised objections neither to me working five days a week in a hospital, nor to me applying to the new plague hospital? Her decision to send me away is only putatively based on the risk I've posed to her and Richard. There's something involving fear, and control, that lies underneath my banishment.

But here we are, me and Hayley. I'm almost in the middle of town, can walk to work in fifteen minutes, and am quietly cleaning the place in what I hope is a way which doesn't suggest I'm taking over. She's had enough of men like that.

3 comments »

Cover up

  Mon 13th April 2020

My drinking is coming to the attention of my live-in landlady Cath, now that I don't have the omertà cloak within pubs. The betraying sibilant gob of a tin of lager as a housemate occupies the adjacent room. Yesterday I bumped into Cath in the off-licence as I packed away, just too late, a couple of bottles of lunchtime cider.

This morning, she drew my attention to a book she left out for me which she had said I could borrow in a conversation of the previous evening. "You won't remember; you were pissed," and no, I couldn't recall anything about it. Hers is at the moment a benign noticing, but it would be prudent to redouble my efforts in the alcoholic's unpaid job: concealment, not of the fact of drinking, but its extent.


At the very unHayley-ish hour of 8.30am, I get a text with her new number, suggesting, unarguably, that I could "save it under 'sexy Bristol blonde'."

Until today the story had been that she'd lost her old phone, but she said that she'd broken the previous one by dashing it over The Abuser's head; they still live together most of the week. Last week she offered me her flat to rent, for the same amount I'm paying for this room. It's on a quiet street on the edge of the city centre, with a large garden, but Hayley would be too unreliable a mistress, financial or otherwise.

I'm going round to hers tonight. I went to the loo just now, looked at myself, and went to have a shave, before realising that any effort is pointless: not only does she not fancy me, she thinks I'm gay.


Standing around in Kirsty's (née, our) living room, Jenny said that she sometimes steals things, and gave some examples of recent unpurchased items. "I got this from House of Fraser," she said, indicating a glitter-coated plastic water bottle of the type that are de rigeur amongst people who wish to reduce the use of plastic.

"How much should it have been?" "Fifteen pounds." "Fifteen quid? Well, you did right to nick it then." I can't condemn her. Shoplifting is the easiest, most immediately rewarding method of wealth redistribution available to the poor, the hazards of which are diminished now that the police will only come out if you can provide a live stream of someone gouging your eyes out whilst he looks at child porn.


Except when someone is sitting alone in a park during a mild touch of the plague. In Castle Park yesterday it was so hot I had to seek leaf cover. A panda car drew up and an official leant out.

"You can't sit there. You're allowed out for exercise, and sitting on the grass isn't exercise."

"But there's no-one near."

"That doesn't matter."

"Doesn't this count as exercise?" I said, moving the arm holding my bottle of cider up and down.

"If you're going to be funny I'll give you a ticket."

"I'm not trying to be funny."

"You are."

I wandered about the park a bit, then settled under the remnants of the church of St Mary-le-Port, twice bombed in the twentieth century, once by the Germans and once by the natives in 1962, who shoved a grey office block against St Mary-le-Port's thighs, grudgingly acknowledging the five hundred-year-old neighbour her legal right to remain unmolested.

Image reproduced without permission from https://manchesterhistory.net/architecture/1960/NUbristol.html which gives a copyright notice but no information about how to contact the owner and I am so locked down I can't be arsed with a whois.


On another of my mapless walks, I was clawed by out of control brambles many yards long and a centimetre thick, in a dell next to Lidl. I gave up trying to tramp the brambles down, and felt my way up the nettled bank, and back to the sudden flat tarmac. People standing apart for show, before they revert to type in their bottom obsessions with no care for distance.

Ringing Trina, I learned that the flicky-tailed bird I saw at the bottom of what charitably looked like a culvert's inlet, although had something of the sewage pipe about it, was a yellow wagtail, and the bee with a proboscis interested at something at my feet was a burrowing bee.

Back in our front garden, the message isn't getting through to these tarts.

2 comments »

La peste

  Mon 6th April 2020

I work at the hospital thirty hours a week over five days, so there's nothing particularly leisured about my week; yet the virus has quietened the din of consumerism. The showy jobs which most of us do are now admitted to be useless.

On the ward, I went to pick a hair off my trousers the other day, and winced as I discovered that it was connected to my groin. It was a pube that had somehow managed to protrude through the fabric.

Emptying the bins reveals the popularity of cakes, biscuits and crisps amongst the administrative classes, and goes some way to explain why many hospital staff are huge.


On Thursday's mapless walk I wandered around a near-silent suburbia, detouring into the road when elderly people approached. I acquired a print, left outside someone's house. Stamped on the back in red ink "The French Picture Shop, Pimlico, SW1," it's an engraving by one Adolphe Martial Potémont (1827 - 1883). I laid it down on the cricket pitch of a private girls' school that I found myself in and contemplated it over a pint of cider.

I've also been spending time with a couple of seagulls and the ceaselessly wandering homeless in Castle Park. The radiant sun, the feeling of mental emptiness and vivid intensity at the same time. The silhouettes of the trees against the wide sky; the bullshit consultancies and accountancy firms on the riverbank all turned off.

I repeated a persistent beggar's spiel back to him before he could start it. "Yes, I know mate, your name's Charlie and you don't mean to disturb me but you need your train fare." Try varying the story a bit at least.


They're converting a university conference centre into a temporary hosital for plague victims and offering £14 an hour for cleaners, with enhancements for Sundays and Bank Holidays. The small disadvantage is spending eight hours a day surrounded by people coughing corona all day long, but I've applied anyway, because I'm hard.


I am displeased with our Rector. Contrary to information on the church's website, he was not in fact there at 10am on Saturday to open the church. Me and two elderly ladies talked briefly, at a distance, before I decided at least to make an inspection of the exterior with the notes from English Heritage. As I turned the corner, the couple broke out in loud exclamations. "Well I don't know Edith. You could die, I could die. I only wanted to come out for a walk!"

I found John Frost's grave though. Even now, it's tucked away in the most inaccessible, overgrown part of the graveyard. "The outward mark of respect paid to men merely because they are rich and powerful...hath no communication with the heart."

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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

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