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La peste

  Mon 6th April 2020

I work at the hospital thirty hours a week over five days, so there's nothing particularly leisured about my week; yet the virus has quietened the din of consumerism. The showy jobs which most of us do are now admitted to be useless.

On the ward, I went to pick a hair off my trousers the other day, and winced as I discovered that it was connected to my groin. It was a pube that had somehow managed to protrude through the fabric.

Emptying the bins reveals the popularity of cakes, biscuits and crisps amongst the administrative classes, and goes some way to explain why many hospital staff are huge.

On Thursday's mapless walk I wandered around a near-silent suburbia, detouring into the road when elderly people approached. I acquired a print, left outside someone's house. Stamped on the back in red ink "The French Picture Shop, Pimlico, SW1," it's an engraving by one Adolphe Martial Potémont (1827 - 1883). I laid it down on the cricket pitch of a private girls' school that I found myself in and contemplated it over a pint of cider.

I've also been spending time with a couple of seagulls and the ceaselessly wandering homeless in Castle Park. The radiant sun, the feeling of mental emptiness and vivid intensity at the same time. The silhouettes of the trees against the wide sky; the bullshit consultancies and accountancy firms on the riverbank all turned off.

I repeated a persistent beggar's spiel back to him before he could start it. "Yes, I know mate, your name's Charlie and you don't mean to disturb me but you need your train fare." Try varying the story a bit at least.

They're converting a university conference centre into a temporary hosital for plague victims and offering £14 an hour for cleaners, with enhancements for Sundays and Bank Holidays. The small disadvantage is spending eight hours a day surrounded by people coughing corona all day long, but I've applied anyway, because I'm hard.

I am displeased with our Rector. Contrary to information on the church's website, he was not in fact there at 10am on Saturday to open the church. Me and two elderly ladies talked briefly, at a distance, before I decided at least to make an inspection of the exterior with the notes from English Heritage. As I turned the corner, the couple broke out in loud exclamations. "Well I don't know Edith. You could die, I could die. I only wanted to come out for a walk!"

I found John Frost's grave though. Even now, it's tucked away in the most inaccessible, overgrown part of the graveyard. "The outward mark of respect paid to men merely because they are rich and powerful...hath no communication with the heart."


An open field of filth

  Thu 26th March 2020

I live in a shithole. That's what my suburb's name means in ye olde Englysshe.

I went on a random walk this morning. No map, no plan. I went down an alley and stumbled across a 50s council estate, with semis and play areas for the urchins, from the lost time when people were housed decently and not for profit.

Then, again by accident, to the parish church with a jumbled graveyard, full of primroses. The oldest remaining parts of the church are from C16th, although according to its bell ringers' website, the peculiar shape of the graveyard suggests pagan origins, and it's possible that no less than St Augustine, or one of his followers, had a church built there to replace the heathen cesspit of un-Christian activity.

In the graveyard is buried John Frost, a leading Chartist, showing that even then Bristol was full of revolting peasants. He was hanged, drawn and quartered for his trouble, and his lumps now rest in my parish's graveyard.

There are some gifted, beplaqued benches, which I have earmarked for peaceable drinking. The website says that the Rector will be opening the church on Saturday mornings, so I'm going to call in to express my appreciation of the erection, to locate its architectural features noted in the English Heritage citation for its Grade II* listing, and to find Frost's grave. What you find when you look without seeking!

I've had some interesting birthdays in my time, but I've never spent one cleaning a gynaecological ward.

On my first day at the hospital, me and an uncommunicative man starting at the same time as me were shown into a tiny room. We were given a stapled pamphlet which told us that we should respect each other, embrance change and celebrate difference, or respect change, celebrate each other, and embrace difference. I forget which. When my fellow starter was made to speak, his speech impediment was revealed, which made me ashamed of my silent irritation with him earlier.

I was relieved to be told that they were not expecting me there for fifteen hours a day, but just the second part of it, from four till ten, Monday to Friday. We get time-and-a-half from eight o'clock, which makes up for the short shifts.

I was visited upon an Anglo-Chinese man in his early thirties who wasn't expecting me. He dealt with this unexpected coat-tails hanger-on with admirable forebearance. We have to clean examination rooms, in which there are instruments that would make the hardiest man quail. Now, even the word "speculum" makes me cross my legs.

It's a doss of a job. I was told to slow down as I gave the taps an excessively vigorous hand job. Now that he feels safe with me, we sit doing nothing in reception for at least an hour of each shift, which I spend with A Confederacy of Dunces.


Home entertainment

  Mon 23rd March 2020

Bristol, Wednesday

Immediately I got back from working at Cheltenham races -- four long days for £287 net -- I came down with some sort of lergy. It wasn't the c-word; I wish it had been. I slept for fourteen hours one night, thirteen the next, clammy and sweaty, in between moving my heavy bones with effort into my school dinner ladying. My hearing is muffled and my mind confused: on Monday I walked into the walk-in freezer thinking it was the toilet. The rest of my work has dried up, and I've no sick pay or any kind of safety net.

I'm advised by a group of multi-millionaires to work from home, so I've invited seven hundred children round to my house for dinner tomorrow. I'm advised to self-isolate, so I'm going to wait for four hundred and fifty pounds a month to be dropped at the door by a DeliveRent person until this blows over. I can shoplift the rest.

It's not without its advantages though: both universities here have closed, which civilises the pub, no students shouting their way through the afternoons.

Before the collective hysteria got going, me and Trina went to Whitley Bay for a soul weekender. It was a flat weekend, poor DJing, music too poppy; regretted sex.

Trina dropped me off at the station in Wigan. I spent a couple of hours in one of my favourite pubs, a middle class-, hipster beard- and coffee-free zone, where gap-toothed blokes sit fucking and bollocksing their way through their habitually leisured afternoons. Sharon, in her short leopard print skirt, was as adept at keeping the conversational spinning top circling as any Tolstoyan hostess. Or, in the ugly argot of academe, she'd be said to be "facilitating".

The racing was on the telly, a pint of mild was £2.30, and an Alsatian-ish mongrel sprawled itself seigneurially across the floor. A bloke said "he's a plumber, but I'm fucking fitter than him." If you saw the speaker you'd realise how low the bar for physical fitness is in Wigan. How I will miss all this now.

A train near Lancaster, Monday

I'm on my way back to Bristol to start work cleaning a hospital. Four weeks, at least. On Friday evening, on my way to Lancaster, the agency rang up and threw me this financial lifebuoy. It'll exact its own cost: today it's 4pm till 10pm, from tomorrow its 7am to 10pm, with a two-hour unpaid break in the afternoon. My relief at having an income again comes with a worry about how I'll cope with the cumulative lack of sleep. Yet another short term solution.

I spent the weekend in Lancaster. The girls are, perforce, back at home. It was also my birthday weekend, although that was marked with not a single card nor present from anyone in my immediate family.

On Saturday night Jenny found a Eurovision journalist online who suggested camping up our quarantine by tuning into one of the previous years' contests at 8pm precisely (if one still "tunes in" to a "broadcast" nowadays). I was almost sold Twitter, with Jenny reading out the funnier comments of some of the people who were watching at the same time. The girls had set out bowls of those delicious, unsubtle crisp flavours which set your tongue throbbing.

Yesterday, after telling me on Thursday that she thought it best if we didn't meet up, Wendy suggested a turn round the park. "You've turned up without any alcohol?!" she said, and hugged me, which I wasn't expecting. "Oh...that's better," I said, like a physical relief. We got two small bottles of wine from Spar, and found our old spot where we used to sit during my intoxicated years.


My daughter writes a sketch about wanking

  Sat 14th March 2020

Spent last week at Cheltenham Festival giving myself the best chance of catching the lergy. Eleven-hour shifts where I carried heavy crates of glasses into and out of the bar, over and over again.

I stayed with my brother in his large flat in the private school where he teaches. I was allocated his wife's sewing room, which is littered with inspirational quotes on postcards, a hectoring wall of reminders about how God understands your weaknesses, how one should always be kind, how one can't change the past but your self-redemption can start now. Substitutes for thinking. I caught the same bus in the morning with my nephew, who went and sat away from me, which astonished me.

I was working in a big upstairs viewing room where they had to pay £1500 a day to get in (£2000 on Gold Cup day). We had a bloke there who'd won £11 million on the lottery and was having his seventy-eighth birthday. There was a compere who went round betweeen races, taking the jovial piss. "So Charles here, he's making the most of his win, as he's in a high risk group." Stuart Pearce the ex-England player was there. "He's played in quite a few semi finals, so he's a bit of a loser really."

There were these "hostesses" who looked after a couple of tables each. They were in their twenties, kitted in tight red dresses and being asked if they were married. Large screen TVs between races showing previous hostesses smilingly serving drinks. I picked a betting slip up off the floor for a losing bet of £600.

Met Jenny, my middle daughter, who's struggling through the last months of her course at the theatre school. She's homesick, misses her sisters, class-alienated. "I can't keep up with a lot of their conversation. I've never been to Austria skiing." She was saying about some of her fellow students' farce book posts. "You know, leaving a partner, moving away...all these things that people say are difficult. It's not bravery you need to do something, it's money."

I asked her if she had any projects of her own. "Well, I don't know, it sounds a bit weird saying it to your dad..." I opened my hands. "Well, we've written this duologue between a girl who's never wanked and one who has saying, 'well, don't you think it's a bit weird, never to have had a wank?' I laughed and we started discussing the venues where they could present it.

Had a job interview on Monday with a utility company doing admin. I was so confident I'd got it I didn't open the email for a while. "Whilst you interviewed well..."


I address a bouncer as "young man"

  Mon 2nd March 2020

A pub closed after "trouble", has recently re-opened. There was a table of women who looked like they'd failed auditions for parts in Eastenders, one of whom was wearing her unhappily tolerant dog like a stole. A group of men stood about vying to be pack leader through volume, ignoring the only female in their party, whom they eventually drove to her phone.

As I got to the head of the queue at a a jungle and drum n' bass night, the bouncer said "are you sure you're at the right place?"

"I tell you young man," I replied, "I was around when this music came out first time. I just want to check that the young people here are treating it properly."

Hayley and her friend Faye turned up a couple of hours later. Hayley danced for about fifteen minutes, then left me with Faye, who was undemanding, off her head, and just wanted to dance.

A man came and sat next to me. He said he had some pills which he reckoned were comprised of mdma and meth. He wanted ten pounds, which is excessive at the current exchange rate, but I bargained him down to a fiver and some mdma crystal. Arms wrapped round my shoulders, smiles, for the oldest raver in town.

Towards the end the cloakroom started emanating one of Bristol's characteristic sounds: the hiss of nitrous oxide gas canisters. Everyone on the dancefloor waggling balloons about and grinning. We were all turned into children.

Afterwards it was back to Hayley's. A dirty futon to sit on, towels for curtains. The Fish Importer was there. Hayley was unwearing a short lacy dress with wide holes in it, designed to be layered over something, with her scoop-necked black top, and black knickers. I understood then why she'd only spent fifteen minutes in the club, what we had interrupted. She'd only come to deposit Faye.

The Fish Importer -- urbane; kind and low-key with Hayley -- generously kept cooking up more and more crack for us, which Hayley was crafty enough to get an inequitable share of. He let his original story go, telling us that whilst he did indeed work as a fish importer, he is now both addicted to, and deals, crack.

"My problem is," I said, "everyone thinks I'm gay. "You are," said Hayley. "It's not funny for me, Hayley. It holds me back."

Having spent Saturday on mdma, meth, speed, and crack at a jungle rave, I thought we could ramp it up on Sunday, so I suggested we all go to see a sea shanty group. Hayley took so long getting ready, our drug soup making tasks like finding a belt complicated -- that we caught only the last two songs. Pastel pensioners and the satisfied retired, and three crackheads.

Hayley disappeared for a long time. "It's The Abuser," said Faye. "I know. She'll be Whatsapping him. I wish...she's just feeding him, not letting go." "She's never been loved, really loved. And her mum writing her out of her will. It's all she's known." I often wonder how if on the night we first met when we had rather soft-cocked sex -- speed, erections's enemy -- if I'd been harder and a bit more ruthless, whether we might now be together. Then immediately following that thought, is an aversion to the idea, knowing how much repair work I'd get involved in.


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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

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
Eryl Shields Ink
Exile on Pain Street
Fat Man On A Keyboard
gairnet provides: press of blll defunct, but retained for its quality
George Szirtes ditto
Guitars and Life
Infomaniac [NSFW]
The Joy of Bex
Laudator Temporis Acti
London's Singing Organ-Grinder
The Most Difficult Thing Ever
Strange Flowers
Trailer Park Refugee
Wonky Words

"Just sit still and listen" - woman to teenage girl at Elliott Carter weekend, London 2006

Bristol New Music
Desiring Progress Collection of links only
Golden Pages for Musicologists
Lauren Redhead
The Rambler
Resonance FM
Sequenza 21
Sound and Music
Talking Musicology defunct, but retained

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