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Black angel

  Sat 29th January 2022

I've been looking through the List of Missing Words, a pdf addendum to the most recent edition of Chambers which I am buying for me and Mel in the interests of non-marital harmony, as it rankles with me that Mel disallowed "abime" and "hap" in a recent game of Scrabble. We use an old Collins dictionary, which includes neither, as our arbiter.

So I can tell you that the trees that line our street have been pollarded by the Council's arboralists wielding averruncators (instruments for cutting off branches of trees); and this morning I told Mel -- who has spent most of her adult life on a Greek island -- that in an ideal world, I would like to aestivate with her this year. That is, "(Zool.) to pass the summer in a state of torpor".

I sent her the word and its definition, and with the domino effect that internet access provokes, we ended up discussing going back to her former island home for a week or two in June. I would love to go. Greek food, wine, sex, swimming. Sitting outside of an evening without a
coat on.

I went out on my scooter for no reason other than to enjoy the sensual pleasure that scootering affords. The fine drizzle was luxuriating. I stopped to turn into the park. A woman was leaning over a child. "You did amazing waiting at the bus stop. You did amazing eating your breakfast. You did amazing putting your coat on." I wanted to go over and tell him that the bar gets a bit higher when you get older.

On another scooter ride, I slowed down as my gaze was caught by a weird mannequin posed in the window of a doctors' surgery. It was of a black nun, or nurse, in an A-line blue head dress and a plastic apron, looking down at a clipboard. I assumed it was some sort of diversity equality and inclusion tick box statue. I was startled to see it move. It was a real nurse.

On a train, a woman and a child, maybe about eight years old, are stood up in the corridor, ready to get off at Bristol Parkway. In the unsettling way that children do, she is staring at me. I want to break the spell.

"Where have you come from?" "Wales,"she replied. "That's a long way." "Yes."

The woman then moved her leg against the girl, pushing her away from me. I smiled and waved at her. I looked up at mum, who immediately turned away from me, almost flinching, seeking the door.

I am constantly poor. All the time. I owe Mel fifty pounds, NatWest four hundred, and Paypal two hundred and eighty. I am sitting on a BA, an MA, and a long-unused teaching certificate. I didn't mind my primary school teaching job in Dagenham many years ago. A pupil's father got stabbed by his neighbour, and there was a case of suspected child abuse going on, but that's deindustrialisation for you. I found London a hard place, devoid of conversation between strangers, a city best suited for individualists. I pined for Lancaster, where people plonk themselves next to you on the bus and tell you about how they've just been to their granddaughter's who said the potatoes in Lidl looked a bit manky so she didn't buy them. I rang a supply agency the other day and they said I'd have to acquire some more recent classroom experience, unpaid, first. Might be an idea.


Not for the first time, I find someone's wife attractive

  Wed 19th January 2022

Me and Mel got the lergy at the same time I think.

Her Aussie friends were over two Saturdays ago. Kev had procured these cannabis sweets which mimic, at least in flavour and appearance, those bittersweet rubbery snakes of English childhood.

I was in a giddy mood soon after we arrived down the Suffolk Arms. At one point I had to correct myself when I started finding Kev's wife attractive: her dry, funny comments, her sandy, untrammelled hair and her slender "figure", to use a word one only ever hears from women and art critics. I wished Kev and Mel could disappear for a minute so that we could have had an inconsequential snog.

The young people behind us seemed to be bemused by these dancing oldies, perhaps wondering what we were on. Me and Mel made a complete hash of trying to use the juke box, poking inconsequentially on illuminated buttons for so long that the machine took the matter into its own hands, playing its own choices.

On the Monday, Mel said she felt a bit rough and had tested positive for the lergy. Just to placate her, I took a test. To my astonishment, it came out positive. Scenting an opportunity to get out of work, as I took a pillow and suffocated the other voice in my head which was asking me about who is going to pay for such indolence, I took another test a few hours later with the same result.

We've spent seven full days with each other at hers, where she's been feeding me delicious food, beating me at Scrabble and Gin Rummy and us watching an incomprehensible State of Play on dvd, the resolution of which I found confusing. I was surprised at how little I resented being holed up with her (although we stretched the meaning of the word "isolation" a little, with walks down the disused railway line and trips to the shop).

To my disappointment, I got my second negative test on Monday so told work I'm out of purdah and went down the pub, had a few pints and did some speed, and had the lovely experience of a swervy, windswept scooter ride home. Some cunt in an Audi came a bit close, irritated perhaps at his imminent loss of dominance as the balance of power shifts away from cars, but also some gracious nods from more considerate drivers letting me go first round an ambiguous roundabout.

I rang Kirsty to share my pleasure that our twice-postponed family holiday in Brittany might go ahead this year following France's decision to let the be-poxed British back in. The conversation meandered into me telling her about a book I'd asked for from my mum for my Christmas present. Never heard of the author, it just got a good review in the LRB. Annie Ernaux's Exteriors.

"Is it intellectual wank?" she said.


I leave my family's Christmas presents on a train

  Mon 10th January 2022

To Lancaster for Christmas.

I worked for hours to get the fare down to £33. Coach to Birmingham, dodge the train as far as Stoke-on-Trent, single to Alsager but stay on till Crewe, single to Preston, dodge it from Preston. On the last leg, a masked guard from my railway days, whom I didn't recognise at all, greeted me warmly and chatted away until he suddenly remembered he had to open the doors at Lancaster.

This year we only had two of my own girls and our semi-adoptee. The eldest was away selfishly earning £600 a week with full board in Cambridge. She was "teaching English" in a place tellingly described as a "camp". It's a private school where rich parents can pay for immunity from accusations of child neglect.

On 28th I used another set of half-unpaid-for trains to Middlesbrough. I turned up a wee bit merry to my mum's house, which was stuffed with brothers nieces, nephews, girlfriends. They're all teetotal Christians, so they'll understand.

I'd left all their Christmas presents on the train. I recovered them from Northern Rail's hideout on platform five at Newcastle Central station. The lass handed me my bag full of spangly-wrapped presents, unmolested by chav attention.

Last night I was in a near-deserted Tesco with my scooter. At the till was an unhappy lass, who might consider a move to Wigan, where she'd find the diet more to her liking.

"You're not supposed to bring those things in here." "Am I not?" "No, there's going to be a policy about it." "Oh right. Can't see any notices about it." "Well, there's going to be a policy."

Got a response today from Tesco HQ saying that they "don't have a particular policy [...] However as with most new technology it's common sense at the moment." There was nothing in her email to suggest they're considering formulating a policy towards scooters.

So why do people like Mrs Blobby pretend they're spokespeople for their companies as a cover for inventing policies? She's translating her own response, which I'm guessing might be one of these.

"I can't stand all you scooter riders, having fun and getting about town for pennies a day. You represent a sort of freedom I am secretly envious of, but I'm too fearful of joining in with."

Or, "I'm poorly educated and struggle to adapt to situations with which I am not already familiar. I'm only being unfriendly towards you because I try to limit the number of novel events that I've got to deal with."

Anyway I wasn't in the mood for an argument and bade her goodnight.

In future I'm sticking to the local Pakistani-run shops. More expensive, but better (cricket-related) chat and no fucking arguments about scooters, masks, pay only by card, keep apart, one way systems...

Mr Khan treats me as a person. Mrs Blobby treats me a mud-scraper to temporarily rid herself of her own resentments.


She's like me, but without the hassle

  Fri 3rd December 2021

Last weekend's edict from the Department for Anxiety scuppered my plans for my European Tour.

I was going to Lancaster. The cheapest way was to fly to Manchester via Venice on the way out and Riga on the way back, which was £22 return, plus £12 to get from Manchester airport to Lancaster and back. Had I gone on the train, it'd have cost me £120. Instead, I hardly paid, mostly bunked the train.

The best blag was the Birmingham to Bristol bit on the way back, which saved me £60, by saying to the guard that I'd been seeing my daughter in her student digs "and I distinctly remember putting my cards -- and my train ticket -- on the windowsill in her room. I've got my booking reference, and I..."

"It's OK. Just sit down and ignore me when I come through. It'll get me through the carriage quicker."

Before then, on Friday, me and Mel flew to Newcastle to see my mum in Middlesbrough and to go to a house do a friend of mine runs in Glasgow. Cider in the airport at 8am.

Storm Arwen roughed my mum's house up a bit. Roof tiles clattered to the front garden, and her fence, erected by my late father, whose ability at using tools was as poor as mine, was wrenched off in two long sections. The fourteen-foot-wide trampoline in the back garden went AWOL, and, at the time of writing, has not been found.

We couldn't get to Glasgow. We turned up at the station for the first leg of the journey and everything was cancelled in both directions. Instead, we had a pleasantly drunken couple of days in my mum's house and Wetherspoons.

I felt for my mum, in her eighties, stuffing cotton wool balls in the gaps in her windows and old birthday cards folded up in the front door. Heating turned up, expensively but necessarily. I took several photographs of the gappy frames, to use against a rich landlord who needs the prod of litigation before he'll do any repairs.

Mel was a bit irritated that I couldn't fuck her. "You haven't asked me to keep my bra on all the time we've been here."

I took her down The Astronaut, a pub which refuses anything internetty. As I thought she would, Mel settled into a proper working class pub, complete with shouty but harmless men, to whom Mel endeared herself by choosing an old Hawkwind track on the jukebox; and fifty- and sixtysomething women chewing over various disgruntlements, laughing. People talk in a collective way, which I encounter less often in Bristol.

The storm abated on the Monday and we flew back to Bristol. I got the train to London to meet up with Trina, who several weeks ago had secured my agreement to accompanying her to a gig by MOR jazz-lite crooner Myles Sanko at Ronnie Scott's. His neediness made me cringe a bit, as he repeatedly asked "is there love in the house?" Love for him, it meant. £37 for a bottle of the house red.

We slept in the same bed, her in her red slinky nightie. With her head on my chest and my arm round her shoulder, she said, "no, I'm getting a bit turned on," and went to sleep a few inches away.

This morning, she sent a text saying that she wanted to cancel our week at a house music event in Tenerife next February. She loves me; I can't reciprocate it. "Mel's like me, but without the hassle."


I lose a jacket potato

  Fri 19th November 2021

It's been all work and little play lately: fifty-seven hours last week, forty-seven in the one coming up. I just want to shift this overdraft and stop seeing my income merely change the shade of red on my bank statements.

I have been very tired at work, making some amusing mistakes. On Thursday, a man asked for a jacket potato with beans and cheese. He came back a few minutes later and asked about its progress. I looked around. I couldn't see the jacket potato that a couple of minutes ago was wrapped in foil on the warming shelf where we incubate the bacteria.

"Yes, sorry, just give me a minute." There was no jacket potato to be seen. I rummaged in the dustbin, thinking I might have thrown it away. Eventually I thought I'd have to microwave another. It was there in the microwave, looking limp and discoloured. I heated it up again and served it to him, with apologies.

He took it took it to his table. And I realised I hadn't put the beans on it. I heated some up in a Pyrex measuring jug, then had to do a walk of shame through the tables to pour them over his potato. Masterchef was on the telly. "Hey looby," shouted one of the customers. "You ought to watch this. You might pick up a few tips."

The other day I realised that I had left a bottle of cider in the fridge. I'd bought it on my way into work to save fannying about in the off-licence on my way home. My boss said she'd poured it down the drain as alcohol is not allowed on the premises. The following day I rang a couple of things incorrectly into the till and pocketed the money I'd spent on it, plus enough for a replacement.

On my one day off last week, I managed to persuade Mel to accompany me at a night of trippy-hippy dancing to Banco de Gaia and Transglobal Underground. Mel had met the leader singer of the latter band when she was working in Greece. Unfortunately by the time I came to book the tickets it had sold out, so we had a more cerebral night with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group instead.

As the air conditioning churned out its droning accompaniment, we tried not to think about being on a crowded, hot, dancefloor. The centre's manager bounced on stage at the end, dressed in the faux proletarian style favoured by artistic directors throughout the country, dispelling any reverie that might have been created with a puff about forthcoming events. "Wonderful", "amazing", "incredible."

Scootering through the park the other day, a cyclist behind me threw out a comment as we went through a flutter of leaves. "It the fall!" "It's lovely isn't it!" I shouted back. "It's like snow!" I felt all light and happy.

Mel has signed up with a cleaning agency with the kinkily coercive name Maid 2 Clean. She has also acquired a very attractive tight dress which gives me a great deal of pleasure. I try to encourage her towards a slight degree of tartiness. I find it a turn-on when I'm out with her and she's looking curvy and sexy, yet not being able to do much about it for being in public.

"I know you like it looby, but I don't want to go out looking like mutton dressed up as lamb." "Your problem Mel, is that you just don't realise how attractive you are." "Attractive to you."

I let it rest. There's no remedy against female self-dislike.


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

M / 57 / 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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63 mago
Another Angry Voice
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Guitars and Life
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"Just sit still and listen" - woman to teenage girl at Elliott Carter weekend, London 2006

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Golden Pages for Musicologists
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