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Mindlessness is best

  Thu 19th December 2019

Straight after Bordeaux, I had an email asking me if I could cover on Friday and Monday at the private school where I was a dinner lady for five weeks. It's like working in a cafe where you're only open for an hour but five hundred people turn up.

On Monday, we had to do a big Christmas dinner. I prepared Brussels sprouts from an almost bottomless sack. I like the mindlessness of it. Who wants to be mindfull? Then, carried trays of dirty plates and crockery up and down, up and down, the pleasure of my muscles getting pushed again. I love the physical aspect of my work there.

The Difficult Girls came in, the fifth- and sixth-formers who are allowed to wear their own clothes, whose short skirts and tight dresses and shapes of their bra straps and hair draped towards their tits must be ignored studiously. The womanly (apart from me) crew, mopped, polished, wiped, soaped, emptied, arranged, binned -- and we were done by three. I went into the office to put back my hat and apron and as I was leaving I overheard the kitchen supervisor say to the Catering Manager "just give looby it? He's looking for something in the mornings."

I pretended not to hear it, and bade my lovely colleagues a warm and sincerely meant Happy Christmas.

That'd be good. Proper hard graft to build myself up in the mornings, then my more effete work at The Big House ironing underwear, polishing tables, arranging flowers, and making mild comments about the issues of the day to judges in the evening. The same food and wine as them, and none of this unpaid break shite. The venues are within walking distance of each other in the poshest suburb of Bristol.

Last night I was working at a big do for EDF, the privatised foreign company from which we buy most of our electricity.

It wasn't too bad. Except for one fat cunt who put his hand on my back to get me out of the way as I was trying to clear his table. Not in an "excuse me, I'm sorry but could I get past?" way, but almost pushing, dismissing me, both physically, and as a person. I'm the same as you brother. You're an engineer, I'm a waiter. We are the same, except that I'm respectful to you and you're not to me.

I hate being touched whilst I'm at work. People do it to me all the time. I'm trying to help you by taking your plates away! God knows how much worse it is for women.

I wish I'd put my tray down and had words. There's work coming out of your ears here in Bristol so I could have decked him, got the sack and started again.

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In Bordeaux

  Sun 15th December 2019

I was informed a few weeks ago that I'd accrued ten days' annual leave. I found a return flight to Bordeaux for thirty-eight quid and asked Trina if she fancied a week with me there. Apart from a couple of hours when I had to work a bit trying to extinguish her jealousy of Wendy, and latterly, Hayley, we got on with only the small, expected amount of effort.

The petite studio was a skilfully photographed single room. Once you'd put the canapé-lit down there was a space a yard square to stand up in. After a couple of nights on it, one was glad to do so. In the shower room, the damp, and a pumping, testosteroned air freshener, vied for olfactory dominance. I had to take the batteries out of the latter to suffocate it.

On our first day there we got caught up in the grève générale, walking in parallel with a march which stretched as far as the eye could see along the esplanade, until we found ourselves behind a row of riot cops who started firing tear gas onto their fellow citizens. The smarting eyes and the feeling of having sandpaper being rubbed inside one's throat wears off, which is perhaps why the police kept renewing the volleys. So much for the fraternité bit.

We took meandering routes through the old town. Some of the smaller roads have a soft beauty which is all the greater for being neglected. We found a bar with people dancing to folk music and a cat asleep on a table. Getting round without walking was cheap. For forty-five Euros you can buy an annual bus and tram pass (whereas a month in Bristol sets you back nineteen pounds), although you need something cheap to offset the almost Scandinavian beer prices: in the cat bar, a pint was eight Euros, but it reached eleven for a Basque beer in the outdoor Christmas market.

In the centre d'art contemporain we drifted quickly through an installation by Lubaina Himid. In the catalogue she says that her aim is "to be banal", an objective certainly attained in her installation comprising of painted wooden cutouts of images of slaves, drawn from paintings in which they appear.

More interesting was an exhibition about contemporary architecture, which included a 1967 Danish documentary film about the first adventure playgrounds there. A lorry dumped a lot of waste wood on some wasteland, the children were given saws, hammers, nails and other now-censored threats, and encouraged to build themselves little houses. They also kept animals, and we saw the chldren gleefully watching the project's pet rabbits copulating. "Don't stick your nose up its bum," said a girl, turning one of the rabbits round, sucessfully inducing another frenetic coupling.

My reading was Rosamond Lehmann, The Weather in the Streets. Virago's feminist glue doesn't hold much together, but once I'd reunited the cracked sections and lone pages escaping to the floor, I found it an intense, enveloping story of a doomed affair. In a pub's gloomy bedroom, our heroine looks at a "staring hard bed." I can feel a complete works coming on.

That all makes it sound more arty than it was. Mainly, we drank.


My boyfriend rapes me every day

  Tue 3rd December 2019

Finally got a couple of hours in my own house. I've been kipping overnight at work, after kipping overnight at Trina's, after we went out a-bopping in Glasgow. A friend of mine knows his house music backwards and has the knack of attracting a good crowd to his events, so it's worth the effort.

I'm doing a split shift today. Karen, my boss, said that I could stay around in the big house. I declined, saying I had to do a couple of things at home. The real reason was that both my pairs of socks I took to Glasgow stink.

To Glasgow then. At Cheltenham, these expensively dressed ladies of a certain age got on, looking for their seats. I had one of a table and I invited them to sit at mine and the one opposite. "You're going to be crowded by women," one of them said. "Oh, I can think of worse ways to be crowded."

It was Fiona Bruce and her mates going to see Giselle in Birmingham. They had loads of scoff with them, which they shared with me generously, so I had a brunch of pigs in blankets, prawn and smoked salmon blinis, and Lindt chocolates. She couldn't finish everything she had brought so she gave it all to me at the end, and me and Trina scoffed it in the Euro Hostel later.

As she handed her food to me, she said "I bet your friends won't believe this later," which introduced a false step. They will. And don't get ideas above yourself just because you're someone on the telly. But you don't bite the hand that feeds you.

The bop was in Stereo, a bearded venue behind Central Station with good memories for me. It was where I persisted in nodding insouciantly one night to a woman who said she liked the performance art I'd just done in a venue opposite, until she had to insist, in several emails and examples of her own work, that she wanted to work with me, and we ended up getting paid to cavort in Brussels a few weeks later. The night sold out and got reviewed in a New York art magazine, before I resumed my career as a drunkard.

Me, Hayley (black denim-ish jacket, black scooped neck top, black zipped shorts, black tights, flatties, fucking sexy, the shorts especially, drawing my attention to her lovely cunt area), and a man from Rochdale I'd picked up five minutes earlier, are walking to the sex shop in Old Market.

We'd met up in Wethers but I wanted to get some poppers to take to Glasgow. Hayley dressed like that, magnetic, me in my shameful ensemble of thin polyester purple Primark jumper and black work trousers, the hanger-on at the end of the reel. It's not like that. I'm her friend.

We left our new pal absorbed in reverse cowgirls in the sex shop, and for all I know he's still in there. Me and Hayley walked back to the cider house and met a couple of Hungarians who gave us a small bottle of some sort of alcoholic hazelnut and chocolate drink they had, after I'd expressed my genuine like of pálinka.

"I get loads of sex. My boyfriend rapes me every day. 'Do this, do that'," said Hayley merrily.

And Kim's on-off thing with a man she met down the pub bloomed succulently into action a couple of weeks ago. They've established an enviable arrangement, of him staying over once or twice and week, but also turning up for, in Kim's phrase, "a fuck and go." "It feels so fucking fabulous!" The unintended power of others' happiness to make one feel the opposite.


Are we saving the orchids?

  Tue 12th November 2019

My temporary position, bordering, as Scarlet opined, on being a butler, brings novel sentences out of my working class mouth. In the fireplace in the drawing room, the radiant orchids were outshining the older, wrinkled flowers, and it was with regret that I obeyed the housekeeper's instructions to discard the lot.

Collecting the main course dishes the other day, I slow down to eavesdrop. "He's great at [throwing parties]," says one judge pointing to his neighbour. "He just invites everyone. Last time he had Ken Clarke, J--- S---, the only black English archbishop, the Headmaster of C--- Ladies College, and the deputy editor of a synonym of Observer."

They're at it again tonight, "throwing a party" by getting other people to do all the work. The main challenges will be serving people in the correct order, and maintaining a rock steady horizon line on the trays of champagne, eyeing the unsteady flutes silently conspiring to synchronise their collapse.

But after they've gone, we'll eat the same grub as them, without having to glitter. I don't envy them. I have a freedom they don't have, and if only people like me could collectivise, to that we could add considerable power.

Trina came down for the weekend. We had some of the worst amphetamine I've had for a long time, and lasted only a couple of hours at a housey-disco night which was too alcoholly and insufficiently druggie. Young people restlessly moving about on the dancefloor, bumping into us constantly, but standing still to check their phones.

A woman around our age bounded up to us. "Old people!" she exclaimed, offering her hand. She introduced us to her husband, whom she'd met in the club five years ago. "It was all e years ago, everyone bobbing about," he said. I don't associate a gentle rhythmic up and down movement with raving, except in the silent masturbation I had to practice afterwards as Trina lay asleep, the aphrodisiac qualities of the speed providing a handful of an invented, willing woman.


I have my hands down a High Court judge's pants

  Thu 7th November 2019

I was asked to work at a "boxing match". It wasn't a boxing match, it was cage fighting. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

We were doing table service so you could watch a lot of the bouts. As I view women purely in terms of their moral characters and intellectual qualities, I didn't notice the young women in high heels, fishnet stockings, thongs and bustier tops who walked round the cage holding the round numbers up. It was a real family affair too with children from nine-ish upwards there. Seeing young girls seeing women dressed like that was my only qualm about the evening.

Women don't swoon any more but they do a lot of hair flicking and dancing in front of the fighters when they came out to have a drink with their friends and family. Only one female fight which was a shame as it'd be good to see women kick the fuck out of each other rather than having these inward psychological dramas.

Apart from when I went to the casino in Manchester one night, I've never seen so much cash in one room. I did a round for eight people of £177 (paid in cash) and he gave me a £13 -- the first and biggest of several tips during the night. We had to add up using pen and paper and show them our workings out, although not one of them wanted to check the amount, which made me think that next time I could tax a couple of quid from each customer and come back a ton up.

This week I am working in a grand early C19th house, which accommodates High Court circuit judges and their clerks. There are still the parallel sets of doors, corridors and staircases, to make sure the servants travel different paths through the house.

The first thing I was called upon to do was a bit of flower arranging, in old Bonne Manam jars for each sumptuous room, the blooms from two five pound bouquets from Tesco. This afternoon, I was ironing. I expected the shirts and collars, but was surprised when the judicial underwear appeared, blue cotton boxers on which even the bleaching washing powder used can't dispose of the evidence of the courtly emissions. Nevertheless, I got inside them and gave it my best.

But this will not last long. I went to my interview the other day and with a charity that provides help for women seeking an abortion, and I'll be starting my training with them to be an advisor, on 6th January. Soon I can leave the chthonic, windowless rooms underneath hotels, with only a roaring dishwasher for company, to someone else.


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

M / 55 / 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

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