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'Tis pity she's a smoker

  Mon 17th August 2020

Cath's in the garden, and suggests a smoke inside. Obvious sexual tension, about which I do nothing. As I was stroking the cat, she said out loud, in a curious dope-induced muddle of persons, "he's only stroking her because he wants to get me into bed."

She runs out of patience with my inaction, and takes herself off to bed.

The following evening, we are watching something on the telly, both sat on the settee, when she gets up to sit on the armchair. "What's up Cath?" She tells me that I smell of drink. I currently have a fifty-minute cycle ride to and from work. I tell her that I'll never be teetotal and I think I deserve a pint of cider after my arduous journey home on a hot day. She gets up in a huff and goes to her room, all the pleasure and promise of the previous evening screwed up and thrown away. I take it as a translation of her irritation over my passivity of the previous evening.

With Mel, however, it ends more happily.

I met Mel during my brief time working at Parks and Carks.

I am lugging a copy of the two volumes of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, which I purchased on the way there from a curio shop, and my burdensome jacket, which repeatedly ejects my cards onto the pavement.

I'm early in the pub, and a man wearing a T-shirt with some regimental badge on it can't open his packet of peanuts. I was going to make a comment about not relying on the British military in a crisis, but ex-Army people are sensitive souls.

We went to the garden, where the SOED became a conversation piece. We joined tables with these window fitters and their boss ("no, I own the company, I just watch them work"). We started a game where we had to give the meanings of words picked out randomly from my volumes. Peart: clever, sharp, intelligent.

They shared their joints round, which got me and Mel gigglingly stoned. At the bus stop I said "go on, give us a snog," and we did.

Yesterday in the same pub, we were adopted by three women and a bloke from the Dictionary Game. It was good, raucous, sexualised banter. I told one of the women "you've got fucking lovely tits you have." She said I looked a bit like Dirty Den -- a murderer in real life.

The author yesterday

The light was fading. Mel draped herself across me and took my hand. Her soft fingers stroking a small thrill into my palm, my arm around her shoulders close to her breasts.

At the bus stop, we start kissing. She unbuttons her shirt, takes my hands and put them on her tits. But she wants an unmediated touch, and pushes her bra up over them.

The bus arrives suddenly, and I withdraw, leaving a disarranged sixty-year-old woman on a high street.

My youngest texts. "I'm reading a book about cults, and I'm more and more glad that we had an effeminate ninny for a father rather than some mad patriarch. Love you x"


Bird on a wire

  Fri 31st July 2020

In the park with Tammy, Hayley and Harry. Little repeated qualms in my stomach as Hayley kisses him.

Kim came up to my room in a green thigh-length dress, tightly presenting her beautiful tits; difficult not to stare.

A long walk, by my feeble standards, over the Suspension Bridge and through Leigh Woods, before we came across a cider pub near the docks. A bin man who had found some blood pressure tablets and several Viagra that morning was trying to sell them for a fiver a box. Kim sat there crocheting. It was restful watching her.

The barman had an American accent. He said he was from North Carolina. "Do you hang blacks there?" I asked, because it's good to open conversations with foreigners in a friendly and uncritical way.

Today we went to Clifton, meandering amongst its C18th terraces softly beaming in the sun, before settling in a public garden with our cider. I was a bit wary of saying that I'd already had one while she was getting ready. "It's OK, I've been on the vodka this morning."

We went to a gallery and she liked this ugly wire sculpture of a bird: blingy, gold-painted. I thought it was shite, but just said "hmmm", and she walked off without buying it. I rang the gallery and bought it for her birthday next month.

Cath took me by surprise last night. She said she'd been to see a house. She'd had a couple of glasses of wine, so I wasn't expecting her to offer to drive me there to have a look at it from the outside, and its down at heel area. "You might prefer it there," she said. "It's a bit more...", and she couldn't find the word. She didn't need to, over my laughing. "Are you implying I'm common, Cath?"

I commented on the young women walking around in bras and shorts, and we wondered together about prudishness and feminism. A thick, unrefreshing wind blew into the car. Lidl, an empty plot with a litter of pallets and half-bricks, a small modern housing estate, tatty student houses.

Why, I wondered to myself, does Cath want to carry me with her? Why doesn't she dismiss me once our tenancy ends? I lay in bed, occupied with the thought that she's willing to hold my hand.


10 quid to get in

  Mon 27th July 2020

At Hayley's there's no-one in. A man is delivering a table and chairs. I assist ineptly, down the awkward steps, round a stubborn corner, and into her flat. I am about to wave him off when he asks for £45. No answer from Hayley's phone. I leave an irritated message and apologise to white van man, who drives me to the cashpoint so that I'm able to pay him. She's lucky: it's far from every day that I have £45 laying around.

I get a phone call from Harry, asking if I've seen her. She went round to her dealer the previous evening and hasn't emerged since. No outsider can get through a pea-souper of crack, so I decide to sit in the park and compose myself.

About twenty minutes later, I see Harry coming towards me in the street. He's looking somewhat bruised and sore about the head. He says he's been mugged in the same park and has had his money and keys stolen. He says he can't cope with Hayley any more. Again, there's little I can do, and he walks himself home.

Later, Hayley rings, brightly not apologising, saying that I'll get my money, and asking me round. I want to see how she is.

On my way, and feeling somewhat fatigued by now with a hot day of cider and Hayley drama, I sit down next to an elderly homeless woman in the street. She reckons she's about my age, but I'd place her at the mid-sixty mark at the youngest. Homelessness is a dree for even the hardy, but seeing someone of her sex and age in that situation is particularly affecting.

I give her a can of cider and my spare coins. Near where we are sitting, there's a narrow lane locally known as Crack Alley. She asks me if I want to go down there, where she'll "sort me out" for a tenner. I decline her offer, at which point she tries to enhance her advertising by lifting up her T-shirt and showing me her surprisingly well-kept braless breasts.

I wished her well and set off to Hayley's, who was all blithe charm, none the worse for her sojourn at the crack den. She says she's coming off it, which is like me saying I'm stopping drinking.

Cath approaches the same topic, which involves me in an unsettling vulnerability. She tells me that she wouldn't be happy having me living with her and Ingrid, her daughter, if I can't get my drinking under control.

I had had (very unusually for me), two dry days at this point, and had been thinking about kono's suggestion of using a dose of mushrooms as an attempt at erasing at least some of the often irrational desires for alcohol that come upon me hundreds of times a day. I'd also had a chat with a doctor about my referral to the Drug and Alcohol Services.

But instead of saying this, I invented a story about having started on a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Course at the local hospital. "It's just an introduction so far. You know what I liked? We weren't asked our names or anything. I was expecting some sort of confessional AA-style meeting, but it was more like an academic seminar." And on and on, detail upon lying detail. I just have to remember now to be out of the house for an hour on Tuesday mornings.

Kim, who is laying in my bed across the room, is camping in the garden here for a couple of days. She dropped a clanger last night as we sat round the fire, peaceably drinking with Cath and Richard, by saying how indifferent she is to the risks of catching the lergy and that she takes no precautions against it. I thought she could have kept that to herself, when I have had to overcome Cath's reluctance to have visitors here at all. But all seems calm this morning. Cath was on the cognac, so I'm hoping its amnesiac properties have worked on her recall of Kim's tactless remarks.

Up in my room, I'm lamenting the lack of interest that my dating site profile is exciting in the middleaged women of Bristol. "Why don't you add, 'I'm looking for a fuck, or a friend'?" she suggests.

This strange poster has appeared off Gloucester Road. Richard deflated my enthusing about Bristol's artistic culture by pointing out that in tiny print at the bottom, it indicates that it's an advert for Halifax Building Society. I still think it's a strikingly confusing image.

Ageing ravers will need no help with the reference in today's title: Shut Up And Dance's 1989 cellar rave tune, 20 Quid To Get In.


It would help me if you died

  Tue 14th July 2020

In as insouciant a tone as I can muster, I suggest to Davina, the lesbian we met in the pub garden the other week, that we could follow up on our idea of going for a drink again. Her text, in which she suggests Sunday in a pub garden, has me beaming at the phone.

After a subtle bit of mutual vetting about The Drugs Question, I hand the speed round by putting it in her friend's cap, which we take turns to admire. The drink prices are forbidding though, and she suggests we take some bottled cider up the park. Davina's friend has to go, and me and Davina chat for hours until we're shivering in the dark. Some young people are importing the eighties, with a ghetto blaster playing Grandmaster Flash and the Sugarhill Gang over the soundtrack of Bristol: the repeated flaring of nitrous oxide balloons and the bright chinking of the canisters. Davina dances her way back from the improvised outdoor pissoir.

Cath invites me to take my breakfast porridge with her. Something's wrong. It's to tell me that the landlord is giving us notice on the house within the next few weeks. Our suburban stability dashed. She suggests that she'd like our little made-up family to stay together: me, her and her daughter, who was going to take over Richard's room. To the estate agents, me and Cath will present as a couple.

Cath's talking collapses into tears, worries about the elderly deaf cat whom she said, quite without justification, might have to be put down. "She's going to lead the rest of her natural life out with us Cath. She's not going to any vet." I'm not sure whether to put my arm round her.

She's already arranged a viewing of a house for Wednesday. I'm glad that we're in this together. Someone to pal up with, rather than doing every fucking thing in life on your own. And it's insulation against the prejudices of the spangly-dentured youngsters in the private rental market, who'll rarely consider someone so decrepit for the vacant room.

Nonetheless, it's unnerving. There's no particular need for Cath and her daughter to trail me around with them.

I apply for five jobs, none of which I want: working in a Covid testing centre, two warehouse jobs, train cleaner, and retail security guard. But I need something to show the estate agent. I ring round some almshouses, whose prospectuses use words like "needy". I'm not old enough for most of them, but I've got myself on the waiting list for a couple. "They tend to come up quite suddenly", said one home manager. I'm waiting for someone to die.

I notice a woman in the street opposite trimming her bush. According to a report from Northeast Lincolnshire University (formerly Grimsby Drugscope), incidents of voyeurism have increased by 37% since the onset of the plague.


I discuss nipples with a woman

  Fri 10th July 2020

I am greeted at Hayley's door with enthusiastic oral attention. Details are sometimes difficult to extract from Hayley, but she said she acquired the dog from someone whose boyfriend was getting jealous of it. I smiled to coat a sigh, wondering when she'd pass it on again, and how much I'd get lumbered with its walks and welfare. He's a meaty Staffie, friendly and well-behaved. I haven't heard him bark once in a week.

En route to the park, to which I now take a latex glove to handle the saliva-shined ball, I have to encourage him off a passing neighbour. "He's a boy," I respond to her question. "But he's got nipples," she says. "Yes but so have I."

Hayley's friend Faye was here at the weekend. We went to a pub garden which looks like a film set for a sitcom about the eco-slumming middle classes whose wigger hairstyles and turned-up dungarees are nested in half-million-pound houses. I felt a simmering disgust at them, blithely ordering rounds when a simple pint of cider was £4.50.

We went back to Hayley's slovenly street with its unapologetic public drinking, and played Rude Scrabble until dawn, tittering like children and arguing about whether "ox" is a rude word. "Yeah, but, you could say 'you've got a cock like an ox'," I proposed.

Hayley and Harry went to bed. What for, I don't know: despite him saying to me the other day "...because I'm quite into her, really," he hasn't been into her for several weeks now.

Me and Faye left together in the afternoon. She was off to work her tightly-trousered charm on the crack dealer. I went to the pub and tried to resume my correspondence with Wendy's dad, but my eyes wouldn't let me.

Dear looby

Thank you for attending your selection event for the vacancy at Discipline and Punish.

This vacancy attracted a number of highly qualified applicants and after careful consideration of all of the applications we are sorry to tell you that you have not been selected for appointment.

However, as you were a strong candidate we would like to keep your name on a reserve list. This list will be valid for 12 months from the date of this correspondence and if another vacancy arises for the same position we will contact you.

Shame, quite fancied flouncing around a courtroom.


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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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