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I do not know what I am doing here

  Wed 30th September 2020

Back here, Cath is keen to dispel any lingering Milanese warmth I might be cradling.

She emails me (emailing someone who lives with you?) "you sent the rent to the wrong account. Luckily there was enough in there to pay the rent," cc'ing her daughter in to my telling off.

Monday morning, and I've sorted the recycling incorrectly. In the street, she flings down the new bag we've been given from the council for Type a(2)(b) (not brown or multicoloured except if Type c(1)) paper and card. She shouts up to my window. "Looby! Can you come down?" "What's the problem Cath?" "Can you sort this out? They won't take it otherwise!", before slamming the car door and driving off.

This evening, she texts me about today's "house meeting" which I'd forgotten about. I lie and say I'm with Mel but could get back for about half past eight. "Not tonight then, but we have to have a meeting. Saturday 6pm?"

Why do we have to have a meeting? More generally, what is the advantage to them to me being here? Why didn't they get a two-bed place for themselves?


I'm walking down the high street when I am hailed by a woman. "Hiya looby!" She was sat with a bloke on the perimeter wall of a pub. She looked unrecallably familiar, until I realised that I'd met her outside a pub a month or so ago, when we ended up down a side street doing weed and speed on some office building's steps. It's a pharamceutically silly combination; but the social cement it formed was more important.

She texted me three times today. "Were u to"; "ring"; "meet down the park".

As I do so, work rings to offer me a housekeeping job at five hundred pounds a week and a one-bed flat. But you have to drive. I gesture to Cory with a questioning, drinking gesture. I think it's rude to take phone calls when you're with someone, but I need money. She replied with the apologetic shrug of someone who has none.

After the call, I explain why I took the call, and go to the offy to get us a drink. She told me about her friend who used to make mcat in the bath; her children, two younger ones with their dad, two older ones with her sister-in-law, and access arrangements; about getting off crack and heroin. Clean for five days now.

I told her about Cath's peskiness. "Well, I've got a three bed house. Just up there on --- Ave. All brand new. I wouldn't see you short of a place."


I don't want to push myself onto Mel, who's just back from Greece, but I ring her anyway, and I'm delighted when she suggests I come over to our pub. I'm tired from a night shift, ten till six, shelf stacking at Sainsbury's, so I nip back to mine and do a little speed. I bump into Cath at the front door who tells me that I've got something just there on my nose.

Our pub is closed, so we go to another, a cold, deserted place. She gives me a present and tells me to take a drink from it. It's one of those paint strippers that Scotland and southern Europe produce. I want to ask her to circle her finger in my palm, which excited me early on, the first time we started touching, but I don't. It's not the right situation.

The apologetic young landlady tells us that the pub is shutting at nine, so we walk up to my bus stop where there is no bus for half an hour. Her mouth is faggy from her smoking, and it's an effort to retrain myself to like it, but we spend the half hour kissing, my hands sliding around her anoraked waist.

The sad realisation of us having nowhere to go for our courtship other than bus stops comes upon us both at the same time: she living with her mother, me sharing a house with a wound-up spring in human form.

9 comments »

Un ballo in maschera

  Mon 28th September 2020

Back from Milan, and my favourite letter on the table is Scarlet's masterful transcription of Kitty's advice -- "be kind to her in all ways" -- in a calligraphy of a precise exuberance that doesn't really come across in a photograph, but there are some on her blog far better than the ones I was going to post here. The brilliance of the colours radiating off the page, and the energy in the lettering, in the collaged setting, come together in one beautiful ensemble.

Thank you so much Scarlet. I will frame it properly, without cheap Chinese clip frames from Argos that ping off every five seconds.


I have the feeling I am being taken for a ride, by the driver of a car that knocked me over yesterday.

I came out of the cider house, and seeing the road clear to the bus stop on the other side I darted across. Out of nowhere, a car appeared, braked hard, and gave me a small nudge which knocked me over. I'd had three pints of cider, which isn't usually enough to make cars appear.

I was fine apart from a slightly sore ankle and continued my dash to the bus stop. A few minutes later I was approached by the driver who wanted to show me the damage I had, he alleged, caused to his car. I was surprised to see a few concentric fractures a few inches in diameter and a larger one about a foot long extending vertically.

He was worried because it was a company car. This morning, I had a phone call from his boss. The driver had said that the windscreen had been damaged by my phone flying out and hitting it.

Feeling a little delayed shock, I left a garbled message for Hayley from the bus, using the same phone that had not only acted as a surprisingly potent projectile minutes earlier but which had somehow bounced back into my bag.

"Well, I'm glad you're OK," he said, moving to his real concern. "It's just the windscreen. How do you intend to resolve this?" "Well, we'd have to decide on liability wouldn't we?" He said that someone else would be ringing me tomorrow to discuss it further.

Something isn't right here. There is no way that a phone which weighs three ounces could have caused such damage to toughened glass. My guess is that the driver had done something to the windscreen and wants to pin the blame, and the cost of its replacement, on me.


Milan. Golly. For someone who delights that we have stolen the continental words "flâneur" and "dilettante", Milan is a gift, where people watching is worth every Euro of the pricey drinks in the bars with the best views. I overspent on clothes from the secondhand shops, but have ended up with three lovely Italian pieces which will last and last. The shops in the centre are Huysmanesque galleries. The beautiful arrangements of handmade paper and glinting, iridescent fountain pens in a stationer's made it look more like a jeweller's showroom.

We stayed in an ex-council flat with a filmmaker and her two cats, in what might be a fractious suburb. A bit of graffiti read "Romii sunt animali". Not a flicker of disharmony all week between me and Jenny, which surprised me somewhat. La Scala was open, but unfortunately the cheapest remaining tickets for La Traviata were 112 Euros. From Madrid came the news that audience members in the more crowded cheaper seats had forced the Teatro Real to abandon a performance. The opera? Un ballo in maschera.


Artist and title unknown due to author's Slack Alice attitude

My new haircut, modelled on the Beijing Military Academy School of Progressive Socialist Hairdressing, must make me look like an art thief, since Jenny and I were tailed by two security guards through every room of the Gallery of Modern Art, thwarting my attempts to strengthen my holdings of the Scapigliatura movement.

Once I'd got over the weird feeling provoked by complying with Jenny's wish to have me film her eating, we had a long lunch, where a waiter keen to talk about the brewing scene in Milan supplied us with free post-prandial digestifs of limoncello, something made from mango, and a revelatory drink new on me, Rattafia. It's a fortified wine flavoured with sour cherries that had us both going "oh!" in unarticulated pleasure. As we left, he gave me a bottle of the local beer I had had with my pizza.

Leaving for our separate airports on the last day, I felt wrenched away, sad to leave. "This is my city," said Jenny. I've made her a little card. She was excellent company. Organised, curious; considerate and chatty with our host. And looked great too, even by the testing standards of the Milanese.


I went to collect some post from The Beautiful House. The vandalising owner has grubbed up all Cath's years of gardening. I sat on the Common with some cider, when Trina, who always waits long enough so that the surprise is greater, texted with a proposal. She wanted to know if I'd like to go away with her for a week next year. To Milan.

4 comments »

Polish Cleaner

  Sun 20th September 2020

In a few hours' time I'll be in Milan with middle daughter. I saw a flight for £20 return and she's found us a cheap place to stay on the outskirts. Before that I had to finish a week's work as what was sold as an office cleaner, but there was a lot of toilet involved. One of the detergents was called Polish Cleaner.

It was in a fleet car leasing firm's offices. There were racks where you can catch up on back issues of Fleet Leasing. The packaging of an unwrapped headset had a picture of a baby crawling about with a plastic bag on its head and a red line through it.

On a whiteboard, people's names in circles together with a number, as if anyone's ever been motivated by being shamed. "Let's smash it!" said the slogan, above coloured stars in felt-tip. I debated as to whether dead flies are general waste or recycling, and wondered if the administrative classes and I were thinking the same thing about each other: "glad I'm not doing your job."

It began at six, which entailed getting up at half four. Cath lent me a front light for my bike. Scary bits of rusting public sculpture along the cycle path in the dark, looking like rapists. In the afternoon, male cyclists in skin-tight lycra tore along as though late for an S&M party.

When I left they offered me a full-time position, on the minimum wage. Instead, I went and had my hair cut quite severely. Middle daughter said "you actually look quite cool, which is a bit worrying as that's not the way I'm used to seeing my papa."


Breaking away from the loud improv theatre of the winos sitting around in the park, a large brown dog lopes up to me. I start stroking it and talking to it, and its owner comes up and apologises, swinging what remains of a bottle of rosé. "But you don't mind?" "No, no, not at all. She looks friendly enough."

He tries the traditional scam of saying that they're just off to get some crack if I'd like to chip in, but they remain chatty and I am invited to join them. On this occasion I wanted to ring Kitty, but I can tell it won't be long before I am admitted into park society.


Hayley, posing as an estate agent, rings and leaves a message on my phone.

Oh hello Mr Looby, this is Barbara from Abbey Lets. It's just about your references for the new house. Unfortunately it has come back saying that you are a dirty Northern cunt. If you'd like to get back in touch and discuss this with me, the number is 01637 suck my cock 425. Thank you!

2 comments »

Bang on a drum

  Sun 13th September 2020

Yesterday I felt like I had so much sunshine in me that it was a good job that I bumped into neither Cath nor Ingrid when I got in, as I'd have spilled a radiant spume over them that they might have mistaken for drugged-up error.

A lassitude came over me on my cycle ride home from the pub, and I chanced a pub that looks as though it'll fall down tomorrow, or, as likely, now. Inside, four men and a television and an elderly deaf landlord with a gammy hand. I said "good afternoon, sir", and he turned his back on me and found something to do in the cellar.

On his resurfacing, I thought I'd try a less formal tack, which worked. "Hiya. Pint of Bass please." He took the glass in his good hand and hooked his crooked one round the pump and pulled a pint that was unmarred by his dodgy claw. I thought he said "one fifty", an impossible sum in Bristol, so I gave him a fiver. He returned three pounds fifty onto the bar.

After that I got chatting to two women and a bloke, late thirties, in the park opposite, and started stroking the close-haired short fur of their Staffie, who was soon purring as much as I was. Somehow we got talking about shoplifting. "Yeah, we're really good at it. We go to Birmingham, Exeter, everywhere, and raid it. I started when I was eleven."

They began talking about getting some spice, so I shook his hand and kissed the girls and got on my bike and set off down the cycle path to my suburb. One of the many Spandex speeders undertook me, irritated with my slowness, shaking his head as he powered off to share his officed day with a Monsooned woman whom he calls "my partner".

Near home, I spot the local loon, who has a bike which he adorns with plastic carrier bags and coloured ribbons, and a drum which he bangs at the bus stop. He was drumless, but was improvising by banging on one of the tables provided along the path for respite from lycra, chanting "an osser in a stirrer on her." I thought this was very appealing, and parked my bike up at the side of his bench. I started banging too, and we started a call and response of banging as he repeated the thing about his osser in between our phrases.

It petered out, and he, a big black unit of a bloke, and me, a sardine as a white man, stood up together and laughed a sentence-less goodbye. He walked his flapping bike off and I gripped my fists with the day's accumulation of loveliness.


"...and for some reason Mel, I seem to have downed a bottle of Bordeaux, and while I am feeling a wee bit relaxed, I'll tell you that the thought of assembling all those shelves appeals to me far more than wrapping myself around you and kissing you as we're laying together in this bed."

5 comments »

Rural rides

  Wed 9th September 2020

Sat down in this noisy little semi-circle of concrete seats where the bus drivers sit. They should have a proper mess room but they have to sit here, with us, the alcoholics and homeless. Someone had left a copy of The Science of Self-Realisation, that Krishna Consciousness drivel. "Well if there is a God, he's a cunt," said a bloke from Manchester. I wanted to ask him questions about how he'd landed here but that has got to be a long process of trust.

A sixtysomething woman, with the thinness of long term drug use, started chatting to me. "It's this," I said, gesturing to my cider, "that's got its claws in me."

"Do you take anything else?" You never know whether that question is leading up to a smack solidarity. "Well, my thing is speed really," and she astonished me by saying she likes it too, and gave me the last of a nearly exhausted bag. I fished it out with my licked little finger as the Primark shoppers went blindly past. "Oh, you do it up your nose?" "Yeah, I can't wait. Oooh this is nice, to find you. It's quite hard to find here isn't it?"

She was going home and I wondered if I could go with her and buy some more, but she made such a hash of telling me her address that after a few requests for clarification, the penny finally dropped that she didn't want me to know where she lived, nor acquire a customer.


Mel texted from Greece wondering if I was free for a chat. She wants to talk to me. A ripple of pleasure; a gift, something I never feel I deserve. "Mel, what a lovely surprise!" She's switched me on. I have a seam of sex in me now, so that I'm untouched by this idée fixe that Wendy and Kitty and Hayley have of me -- half performing seal with my stories of my "interesting" life; and half a sexless, semi-gay gelding, in whom any expression of desire is found comical.

Today I cycled a long way round to the hospital to take my DBS Certificate up, in order to lessen my chances of a job there with my drugs conviction. I went through the ominous-sounding Snuff Mills, an old gladed landscape by the banks of the River Frome. I texted Mel from there, planning a picnic when she gets back. "Might be a bit classier place for kissing than the bus stop on Fishponds Road," I said. "Your kisses are always classy. Mine are sloppy." "They all count Mel."

Trees susurrated in the soft warm wind. Yes, we know: just now, you're happy. That's what this sound means.

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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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