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Being (in bed with) a prostitute isn't much fun

  Sat 16th February 2019

In the pub an attractive middleaged woman is sitting by herself laughing at something on her phone at a volume that seeks to advertise her amusement.

"Something's tickling you," I say, and she invites me to sit down. She tells me she's an offshore tax advisor -- "avoidance really". She's likeable and kissable. She'd come from her Dad's funeral. "I'm fed up with crying. Tell me something else."

She wanted to show me a picture of herself, and I got my face ready to fake interest in some dreary scene involving a child, or a wacky drunken night out with the girls. It was infintely better. She's sitting crossed legged on the bed, in black high heels, stockings and suspenders, a red camisole top. There were a couple of failed attempts to send it to me. I repeatedly took her phone off her, enlarging the picture, combing it. "Not bad is it?" she said. "For a fifty-seven-year-old." "It's a bit more than not bad. You look fucking gorgeous."

We go back to her flat across the road. She gets us some drinks while I rack up. She's new to phet and quizzes me about what it'll do.

Any moral doubts about employing a prostitute were confirmed in the hours that followed. She's not a tax advisor, but in her word, a "hooker." "I have these fat, ugly men, and I do that just to pay the rent. It's... wrong." She veered between contextualising stories of her past, tearful self-disgust and regret, during which it was impossible not to feel for her; and checking herself, pressing me to continue a story to get her mind off it.

"Are you staying then?" she said. She wanted to show me her tits, and undid her top to show me several grand's worth of work. They were gorgeous, but my fondling was rationed. In the bedroom, she issued me with pyjamas. I put them on, disappointed, and in that sexless costume we went to bed, and wrapped round each other. I ventured a hand down from her shoulder, destination tits, but it was repositioned.

We got up at twenty past seven. "No," I said. "I'm not drinking till half past. Standards love." We spent some of the morning in amusing video calls with Faye, a cigarette-voiced friend of hers and her new boyfriend, during which we hatched one of those half-serious drunken plans to go on holiday together. "I've not even seen his cock yet," she said. "Not through want of trying!", I interjected. "He was like Mr Tickle last night." "Mr Tickle? I have to say, Faye, that's the first time I've been compared to a Mister Men character whilst attempting sexual intercourse."

The author yesterday

She said she charges £150 an hour, which is the amount that the central Bristol call girl I got in touch with charged. I wondered if this was indeed her, but although she's on the same site, her alias is different.

We went back to bed. "No touchy feely," she said. I lay gloomily awake, staring at the curtains, and composed a little speech which thankfully went unsaid. "So, you're allowed to touch me but I'm not allowed to touch you. I feel like a limp rag doll. I like you, and I find you sexually attractive, and I'd like to express that physically." The weight of my own rationality depressed me.

Late in the afternoon, I got up, and left her a note. "Esther, I am so glad I met you. I'm your friend now. Keep in touch X." Tonight she sent a text saying "I LOVE YOU" nine times.

My knack of meeting women who are interested in sleeping with me -- literally -- continues on its reliable, frustrating course.


Suck cess

  Mon 11th February 2019

What is success in life? Loving children, a happy and mutually supportive relationship, a close circle of friends, a stable job you enjoy, and cultural interests that expand your worldview?

No, it's falling off the waggon at 9.45 on a Monday morning in Lancaster Wetherspoons. I lasted twelve days.

It's Kitty's birthday tomorrow so a few days ago I tentatively suggested I could be around in Lancaster, whilst knowing that my presence might not be welcome and that The Injunction would mean I'm not allowed at Wendy's. She wasn't keen and said she was too busy and tired to be doing anything. I decided to come up anyway. I told Fitbit I'd be here, who was more enthusiastic and kept checking to see if I was still coming.

I found a bargain place to stay for £15. It was in this little terraced house near Kirsty's. The front window was crowded with cheap coloured vases, dozens of them, lambent even in Lancaster's resentfully granted light. In my room in the attic, he had an open drawer for his shell collection, sectioned in little open boxes. They were gathered together in a taxonomy of "mere" physical resemblance. I liked that he privileged visual similarity over any other kind of classification, and it was a long pleasure to pore over them.

Fitbit was in the company of three women: a friend with whom she'd recently been reconciled after calling her a fat bitch, her mother, and the latter's best friend. It was Fitbit's birthday last week, and I'd sent her a card with two common garden birds on it with the words "nice tits" printed on it. I love the way that her shirts fall and rise over her tits.

"Your card!" she said, looking at me with faked displeasure. "Yeah, well, you're a common bird, so obviously I thought of you straight away. And you have got lovely tits." She slapped me on the arm, a dissembling show of offence.

We went to another pub -- the roughest, it's alleged, but watery tame in even regional competition. A bloke I vaguely know from Lancaster pub life kept leaning over and shaking my hand in that overstated demonstration of closeness peculiar to the uneducated working classes. Me and the old bird got up and danced and got snogging. I liked it, and I liked that no-one in the pub gave a fuck.

Today I came up to Middlesbrough to see my mum. Middlesborough is the socially warmest place I have ever been to. You make the slightest effort and you're in; you don't make an effort, and they wonder why you're not trying.

My mum makes me laugh. We often visit the same topic, our impure, darkened bloodline. I knew that one of my uncles was called "The Nigger", ("well, we never meant anything by it, just that he was dark") but I didn't know until tonight that my grandma's sister was nicknamed Inky.


Half done

  Wed 6th February 2019

All day and all night, there is a large self-destruct button in front of me, with "push me" printed on it.

Round midnight, I send Wendy a drunken lascivious text. As usual, scrabbling apologies in the morning. She doesn't like it, and tells me so, that it's alienating her. Kitty rang, saying, amongst other things, that Wendy doesn't want anything to do with me for at least the time being.

It would help everyone I know, but especially Wendy and Kitty, if I could drink less. To this end -- and I know it's not much of an achievement to most people -- this is my ninth day off the booze, which is the longest I've avoided the pop in over fifteen years.

I divide the day up into two-hour segments, since facing a full day without a drink is an ambition too remote. All I have to do, when I get up, is to make it through till 10am. I have to start it that early, as I've had many a drink before 10am.

The next milestone is midday, and so on. The hardest hurdles are the 4pm and 6pm ones -- that's when the yen comes on the strongest. Once the 8pm one is reached, I know, even with my reflex towards instant gratification, that it would be a shame to throw all the attainments of the day down a pint glass -- for example, by sending unwelcome sexualised texts to a friend.

The following morning, I give myself a silver star and add it to my star chart. I like watching it develop into a constellation. I am being a good boy; my inner teacher is giving me a reward. I earned my first green star yesterday, the badge of a complete week. Green for go.

I told Kitty all this last night. Her justified scepticism about whether this will make any difference in the long run is an incentive. Avoiding behaving like a lecherous man towards someone with whom I'd like to recover our former closeness, is a far greater one.

I go raving with someone I know slightly. Outside the club, we wait to be searched. It's a perfunctory show of "zero" tolerance, but they find something inadequately buried amongst his tobacco. I sail through, my refreshments safe in an area that is rarely touched by anyone other than myself.

He's led off to a table removed from the queues. Unwanted memories of the London rave scene in the early 90s reappear, of people being taken off to closed rooms and strip-searched, before the bouncers intimidate clubbers into buying what they've found; but things seem softer nowadays: the stupefacient is confiscated and he's told to go home. He returns in different clothes and gets in.

As often happens, I am adopted by younger people. A twenty-five-year-old man asks if I can budge up on the sofa and asks me how old I am. "Wow! Well, I hope I'm doing this like you in thirty years' time." At the end of our chat, he gives me a bomb of mdma "just in case you need a lift later." "I'm really sorry," I say, "I haven't got anything to give you in return." "No, no, I wasn't..." I feel awkward, regretting turning his simple generoity into a transaction, but he doesn't seem to mind. " could come and dance with us if you like." I'm willingly led, by the hand, into the thick of it.

Walking home, me and Mike attempt a bit of banter, but it misfires, so he starts telling me about some caves under the city centre that he has explored. He's more comfortable when he's telling me things. I get into bed, sex in my veins.

On the London to Bristol train last week, two women have finished the wine and are now on the G&Ts.

"So I said to Mark, 'you know it's my birthday soon? Well, how about you pay for a boob job?'" "'Alright', he said."

"'How much can I have then?'" "'You can have two grand'." "Well no, because it costs about four." "'Well, you could have one done'."



  Wed 23rd January 2019

After our day in Manchester for her birthday, Kirsty invited me back to hers.

I order us pizza from L---, run by a Mezzogiorno immigrant, who left his rented shop on Market St to the highest bidder and now runs it from a phone order only and pisshead-free unit on an industrial estate. He's an habitué of a betting shop in town. He always smiles the same smile to me -- outside the bookie's, as when he arrived at Kirsty's. I like the uniform lack of apology on his face.

I'm on a warm high from the gas fire in Kirsty's house and the cheap wine from the corner shop, when L arrives with stacked boxes of pizza and garlic bread. I shake and then clasp his hand and we chat for a couple of minutes. It's lovely to be warm with someone without the slightest qualification.

We watch shit telly, which I enjoy, fat people and first dates and baking disasters. I say to Kirsty "I like you Kirsty. I'm still fond of you." I feel free saying it, not aiming at something, nothing tendentious. She gets me a quilt and I snuggle down, contented, on her settee.

In the pub the morning after, I'm with the 11am drinkers. Mel is there, the man who knows a bit about horseracing and who once won me eighty pounds. "Very well thanks. I'm in Bristol now." "Yeah, I know." I like Lancaster's monitoring reach.

I went over to talk to the Scots man I know. Twelve months ago he was all pally, inviting me into a fraud he was setting up. "You're as dodgy as me looby, so shut the fuck up," he said, when I demurred. I didn't want to get involved with him in that respect but went along with it. Business inconcluded, he told me he was getting married.

A few months later I came up for his wedding. Having just moved to Bristol with very little money, I "slept" under a tree on the cycle path that night. I thought this might be a good introductory anecdote, but he just nodded and shook his head through my tale, waiting for me to finish. He's still wrongly convinced I am after his wife. "Just go back and enjoy your drink." I shrug at her, and she shrugs back.

It's not finished. Back at my table, some unwanted reputation precedes me. "Hello," says the small-headed man whose eyes are too deep in his skull, who once burst into our cubicle when me and Well Meaning but Loud Mouthed Friend had just finished a chat. "Hello," he said, leaning into me. "I assume...I assume, you can get some coke for me?"

"No, no, not any more. I live in Bristol now mate, I can't do that." "Yeah but surely you can get it?" The best way to get rid of a cokehead is to make them wait. "No," he said, "I was thinking in the next five minutes." He looked at me disdainfully and walked away.

All that was easy to say; this is more difficult. It's Kitty's birthday in a couple of weeks. Wendy texts me to ask if I'm about in February at all. I'd love to see her, and I tell her that I'll be in Lancaster for Kitty's birthday weekend, although there's no arrangements yet, and it depends on Kirsty having me to stay.

"Oh dear," she replies. "I'm working Friday, then it's The Little Dictator all weekend."

This means: "At some point me and Kitty will be getting together for her birthday, but I just need to remind you that The Injunction still stands and as The Little Dictator will be there, you're not to turn up."

It cuts me so much, that I can't see two of my closest friends together, that I am excluded from the gatherings we used to have. I miss those times, but I can't talk about it with either of them. They take a resigned view of it, not being affected by it.

It's a re-run of the time when Helen came over from Norway. We were in the pub, having a great time, before she rang Kitty to tell her that we were going to come up to hers. I could imagine the call without actually hearing a word. "Oh God no Helen, are you with looby? No, The Little Dictator's here -- the invite's for you, not him!" Helen had to say "thing is looby..."

When is this going to end? When she's sixteen? Eighteen? When she leaves home? How long must this jealous ex have his power over me, and for how long will Wendy enforce his judgment?


ACAB redux

  Tue 15th January 2019

Me, my mum and my eldest are in her still, bright living room in Middlesbrough. Wide streets, houses with front and back gardens and lots of sky, built for working class people before they became landlords' villeins again. But mum is getting worried.

Fiona is asking me how to get on the other web, and how one installs the browser. We mischievously provoke mum's curiosity about this novelty with hints of rugs, weapons and fraud.

"So why would you be interested in that?" she asks Fiona. "Hang on, I don't want to know." We then compound her unease by discussing our plan to go to North Korea after Fiona's graduation. A woman who has never been abroad and doesn't want to, whose last two votes have been for the BNP and Brexit, suddenly becomes knowledgeable about life in the DPRK.

One shouldn't, but there is sport to be had with the uninformed elderly.

To Manchester, where I'm to meet Kirsty and the girls in Manchester Art Gallery. It was Kirsty's birthday, and she (we all) wanted to see the Martin Parr exhibition. Walking slightly behind them all at one point, I smiled inwardly and out at my bohemian, arty brood in their secondhand chic, bandying conversation about.

We were accommodated without a reservation at a lovely tapas bar. We'd left all our cases in the Art Gallery and a delegation was sent off from the restaurant to fetch them. We ran, advert-fast, through the city centre. I was very pleased at being able to keep up with two twenty-year-olds without feeling as though I were courting a heart attack, and without needing much recovery time. I was hoping they'd comment, but no-one said anything.

The food was delicious, and by the time I'd paid for three glasses of Manzanilla, I wish I'd ordered the whole bottle. I was supposed to be getting the last train to Bristol, but Kirsty wondered if I'd like to stay at hers and go back the following day. The rejuventation of our relationship has been an unforeseen pleasure of the past few months.

There is an unpleasant episode on the train back. Two young Asian men get on the little suburban train, and start jauntily moving up and down the carriage, the noisier one half-singing, half-shouting Allahu Akbar. He then stands and leans over a teenage girl sitting down; she looked at me imploringly.

Coming to a boil of anger at this point, I told him "shift your arm," intending to knock it off the stanchion, but he moved it before I could get him. I stood facing him and with my back to the girl, looking him up and down with as concentrated a look of contempt as I could manage. I looked back at her, and she mouthed "thank you."

After a few minutes I had to tell her that I was getting off at the next stop. The Devotee is still standing a foot away from me. As I moved past him, I spat a "fuck off" at him, then spent a good half hour wishing I'd made my parting shot much stronger. Later, I berated myself for not having had the presence of mind to ring the BTP; and later still, realised that it hadn't crossed my mind that he might have been equipped with the fanatic's current weapon of choice.

There's an old brewery near an older quay, on the roof of which someone has painted in large letters "ACAB". In case you're not quite au courant with the acronyms employed by British left-wing groupuscules c. 1990, it stood for "all coppers are bastards."

Underneath it, someone has appended a new translation: "All clitoris are [sic] beautiful." They were mean-spiritedly jetting it off yesterday.


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

M / 54 / 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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