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I flip my last burger today

  Wed 1st June 2022

My last day at work today before I return to my natural habit, the railway.

Some of the more advanced culinary techniques demanded in the role are beyond me. The other day it took me seven eggs to crack one without breaking the yolk.

My slovenly bosses have been easy-going and sweary, addressing me as "babs" and "love". My colleague made koftas yesterday -- basically long lamb sausages, skewered. A customer remarked on their similarity to a turd, whilst another, hearing him, said "I'm not eating that shit."

I am itching to leave now though. I regularly work an eleven-hour shift, and once a month or so, I'm there from seven till nine. In eighteen months I've had one break of twenty minutes. I am fed up with cleaning the place, only to come in and see the manager and her husband have fucked it all up again, yellowing grease all over the cooker rings, knives laying unwashed on a jumble sale of cross-contaminated chopping boards, the sink spattered with the ingredients for Vegetable Surprise, and a permanent lining of scum on the dishwashing machine. And making endless fucking cheeseburger and chips. "Cheeseburger and chips." How I resent that phrase now..

Soon, I will be pushing my trolley through the train as we trundle along past Tenby and Carmarthen. Bit of flirting with dolled-up middle-aged women on their way to a night out, bit of banter with rugby lads. There will be times when I'm looking out of the window upon the comely contours of Wales. One is encouraged to learn some Welsh, a task I relish taking on. My other two (very ropey) languages are both Romance, so it will be good to wrestle with a bit of Brythonic.

Me and Trina spent the week before last on Brač, the largest island in the Adriatic. I enjoyed myself, although I didn't quite realise what a poolside holiday with DJs meant. It seemed to involve sitting by the side of a pool and listening to music being played by DJs.

I found the glare of the white stone and the water a bit intense, to the same degree that I didn't feel comfortable being the only person poolside dressed in long trousers, leather shoes and a long-sleeved shirt, being too timid to expose my pasty Lancastrian figure, and lacking any covering for my manly area other than my Ethel Austin pants.

The music veered between a superior school disco and, occasionally, top drawer Soulful House, including an all-too short half an hour of early House and New York Garage. There was a bit of unpleasantness one evening when someone went over to four local girls, late teens or early twenties, jabbing at her armband which showed she'd paid for the event and clearly asking that they exit the dancefloor. FFS, they live on an island of thirteen thousand people. Let them have a night out.

They went and sat in the bar and I rushed out to ask them back in as my guests; obviously they didn't fancy doing so. Interesting that she didn't say a word to the beefy Argentinian rugby lads who'd been in there most of the week without wristbands, but maybe it's easier to pick on young girls.

What I most enjoyed though, was a week with Trina. Apart from her snoring, which led me to sleep on the balcony from Monday onwards, she was funny and, at last, has ring-fenced her unrequited love for me. She was full of deliberate malapropisms and was cracking open the wine at a decent hour of the late morning.

We had a day at hers afterwards before I came back to Bristol. In Wethers, she went off to the loo, so I seized the chance to make a quick phone call to Mel. She came back to the table so I wrapped it up.

"Who was that you were talking to?" "Mel." "Oh, it sounded like you were talking to someone you didn't know very well."

"I'm trying to not hurt you my love," I didn't say.


The rat's tale

  Fri 13th May 2022

My colleague tells me of the visit from The Environmental Health to our workplace. On seeing the appalling state of the kitchen, he starts throwing unlabelled food away. Karen, the manager, starts crying. I am glad not to be there. A few days later, she's back to her old ways, leaving the salad ingredients and the bacon out all day long, and a general slovenliness which shows in spilt fat left to harden on the cooker, bits of food left strewn over the floor and a daily festival of cross-contamination.

A Chinese man is much amused with the word "rhubarb", and asks me to write it down for him. I get a piece of paper but he says "no, here," and offers his palm to me.

To Lancaster for Easter. Wendy turns up at Kitty's, as glossy as ever in a green velour zip-up top and a green knee-length skirt. I am asked to investigate a persistent smell from the drain in the back yard. I discover a decomposing rat which is host to hundreds of maggots. I don gloves and wash the maggots away with boiling water before burying the rat at the back of the garden. I stride back in, trying not to feel too manly.

Coming back, I can only afford the train as far as Birmingham, and have purchased a coach ticket for the rest of the way; but arriving at New Street and seeing a train to Bristol on the board leaving in half an hour is too much of a temptation.

I get on and approach the guard, holding a print out of my schedule that possibly might look like a ticket, with a cock and bull story about a cancelled train from Preston. "It's OK, go and sit down." When he comes round, he says "oh yes I've seen yours." You haven't seen anything mate but I'm not arguing with you.

Ceci n'est pas un billet

I sit opposite an elderly and exquisitely mannered Indian man. He asks my permission to make a phone call. I can't help but ask him what language he was using, and he teaches me a couple of phrases in Punjabi.

In Bath, at Linda's friends' house, I have expired from several hours' drinking, and am asleep in the converted loft. The accursed need steals upon me.

The loo is a long way away, downstairs. For some reason I decide that a minimalist outfit of a pair of pants will do, and I run down the stairs and through the living room where they are still drinking and chatting. Instead of carrying on to the toilet, I double back, go outside and piss in the garden. Coming back in, I say "it's OK, just stay indoors," and go upstairs again.

I had a second interview over the internet yesterday. I am attempting to restart my career as a trolley dolly on the trains, which I threw away a couple of years ago by turning up a bit tipsy one afternoon. I'm hoping that the railway companies don't share information about applicants who turn out to be drunkards.

I will find out in a few days' time, possibly when I'm on a Croatian island. I'm going with Trina on a holiday that has been postponed for two years but will finally start tomorrow. The organisers take over a hotel for a week and fill it with DJs playing house, contemporary soul, RnB, that kind of thing, till the small hours of every morning. I haven't gone into detail with Mel about the complicated course of mine and Trina's association. It would only muddy the waters.


An inspector calls

  Thu 7th April 2022

Well, a surveyor. He's here to check the "structural integrity" of my flat. I am glad that he dispenses of his mask a couple of minutes in to what seems a very easy way of earning forty grand a year. We chatted about our experiences of internet dating. He's got a few on the go. "I forget who I'm talking to sometimes."

In Tesco, a swarthy middleaged man rushes in, head bowed. "Beer, beer," he says, tracing a receding point on the floor in front of him. As he passes the cashier, he looks up at her and says "buona sera, signora." There are two punky girls in front of me at the till. Deliberately laddered tights, short inflammable skirts over stocky legs, heavy make-up. They're stylish, confident, deservedly pleased with themselves.

One of them fetches a bottle of that Spanish wine that is laced with an artificial gold criss-crossed lattice imitating the straw coat some wines used to wear, capped with an anti-theft plastic top. "It's in stockings and has got a condom on it," her friend says.

Then it's the turn of the gas man. He tells me that my problem is that my radiators aren't bonded. I didn't realise they had to have any relationship at all.

I host a couchsurfer from Germany. He said he chose me because of an old picture of me at an anti-fracking demo, which is just a self-advertising technique. I explain (beforehand) that I won't be in my unbedroomed studio flat and that I will be staying at Mel's, but I'll cook him a dinner and settle him in. He arrived, bringing a bottle of Pinto Grigio, poured us each one glass, then screwed the cap back on.

I made the most expensive meal I have ever cooked for anyone, fennel and vodka risotto. I already had the vodka (a Polish man gave it to me on a train), but couldn't find any fennel in the arse end of Bristol where I live, where B&M Bargains is the nearest thing we have to a greengrocer, so I had to scooter up to the trendy organic shop in my old suburb, where some arborio rice, a red onion, a packet of stock cubes, and a couple of lemons cost an astonishing twelve pounds.

I cooked it to the recipe but it was disappointing. I was hoping that the fennel and the vodka would give it a bite, but the arborio rice, as is its wont, flattened everything. He ate three portions of it though. It felt like having a little boy to stay.

Before he left, he said that he had gone to the pharmacist to get a thermometer and some tablets, but was frustrated that they didn't have the ones he wanted, and had slammed his skateboard down on the pavement, breaking it. He said he'd left it in the funny cupboard and asked me if I could send it back to him as it can't go on the plane. I am going to propose my costs, plus fifty quid, see what he says. Otherwise it can go on the tip.

My middle daughter, in a week off from touring with As You Like It, comes to Bristol with her girlfriend. They have an unforced rapport that is a pleasure to witness. Mel reminded them of when at Christmas my youngest opened the door to one of her friends and introduced me. "This is my dad. He eats cheese and farts a lot."

My new scooter helmet is going back, to be exchanged for the size above. This one pushes my cheeks forward like a hamster and makes me dribble. But the heightened respect you get on the roads is well worth the seventy-five quid.


Sodden in Gomorrah

  Wed 16th March 2022

Saturday afternoon. Down the pub, I am facing away from the telly recounting the first real nightmare of my life. I have nights when I can hardly sleep for it. Still, I've ordered a Ukrainian flag off ebay so that'll help the people stuck in Mariupol.

I take a pause from my book, Deborah Orr's Motherwell: A Girlhood, and feel jealous of the afternoon's sociability. Two middleaged women touching each other often as they swayed, their conversation in their bodies and their faces as much as their words. The next day, still not quite having stifled my mood, I say to Mel, "down here it's just you and work."

So it was good to get out today with the Civic Society, for a talk and a trip to a postwar suburb in north Bristol. It was raining steadily, so I wore appropriate (but inadequate) armour. A few weeks ago I found an Everton bobble hat on the street and took it for my use. It's a good conversation starter, even though I care little for football and less for Everton. If I couple it with my manly fluorescent jacket -- which bears a logo which suggests I work on the permanent way -- I find I am paid a lot more respect on my scooter than when I go out in my normal clothes, which make me look like a homosexual Geography lecturer in a minor Welsh university.

About thirty of us met up in "The Hub", and had an interesting talk from a couple of the people involved with it. One problem they talked about was about how, because the City Council allocates council housing on a city-wide basis, this can end up with local people, with housing needs just short of the immensity of suffering required to get a council house in Bristol, watch, as a person (often of a different colour to them) is parachuted in, and given a plum flat which they think should have gone to the single mother down the road who's been trying to get a flat on the estate for decades. Then the locals get bollocked (I can't remember the actual term she used) for being a bit cold towards their new neighbour whose command of English is as weak as his or her links to the suburb.

There was a determination of everyone to enjoy the guided walk despite the rain. Walks like this attract the militantly healthy. But it was marred for me by the ever increasing leakage of my clothes. Even my pants didn't survive its ingress. Suzanne showed us many things of interest: the modular development lined up behind a street of sixties houses, which means scores of people can't sit out in their back gardens without being overlooked; the scraggy site of the school which only lasted fifty years before being demolished. "I was caned over there!" someone said. The snowdrops round the site's edge.

Back home, after a shivering ride home, I peeled off my sodden clothes into the sink, and had a luxurious shower. It was worth it though.


I receive thirty pounds anonymously

  Thu 3rd March 2022

The invasion of Ukraine preys on my mind far more than covid ever did. If only someone could assassinate him, then his support would collapse. At work, there are two Polish women. "Of course I am worried," one of them says, in response to a well-meant but stupid enquiry. "That's why I like coming to work. No news, just concentrate on work."

Down the pub afterwards I am trying to ignore the man at the next table who looks like Jamiroquai who has a knack of following me around in two of my haunts, Castle Park and the budget pub. He's at the next table scribbling away, in between flicking between chat screens and a Wikipedia article about The Evangelical Church in Germany. He does a performance of tics, scratching his hair vigorously and conversing with some computer-based entity. I think it's a strategy to get my attention. He's possibly looking for parity with the nurses I got chatting to at the bar.

A late twenties (?) woman is repeatedly moving her hand down her hip as she stands next to me. I open with "are you trying to find your pocket?" "No, I'm just looking for something....oh, it's OK. I thought I'd lost some money."

"Do you know what," I said. "The other day, I got a letter with a North Wales postmark and I opened it and someone had sent me thirty pounds anonymously. I don't know anyone in Wales. I don't think I know a single Welsh person."

"I'm from North Wales."

"Are you? Well it was wrapped in a letter from Santander."

"I bank with Santander."

"Really?" and I made this woo sound and waved my hands about, hoping to evoke the supernatural. "Do you make a habit of sending money to anonymous strangers?"

"I haven't got it to send."

Her friend came over, and I related the story of my mystery donor to her too. "Anyway, what's the excuse, you all out on a Monday?"

"We're nurses, we all work at Fatspanner Hospital."

"Oh I used to work there. I was a cleaner."

"So what do you do now? Are you retired?"

That's a question I'd never been asked before. But they bought me a pint so they're let off.

My middle daughter returned last night to the stage in Lancaster she first trod when she was eight, this time as a professional actress, as Celia in As You Like It. Trina emails and says she is going with Kirsty and my youngest to see it on Saturday. I'm jealous. I start trying to work out a way up there and back for less than the hundred quid or so that it'd cost on the train, but got tired with all the palaver of split tickets and dodging parts of the journey where you gamble on the conductor not coming round.


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

M / 58 / 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
the asshat lounge
Clutter From The Gutter
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Exile on Pain Street
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George Szirtes ditto
Guitars and Life
Infomaniac [NSFW]
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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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