Home ownership

  Tue 27th March 2018

5am in Amsterdam airport, and a swaggering bullyboy security guard, followed deferentially by two tamer and more considerate colleagues, is poking at my comrades in sleeplessness curled up on the floor.

Trina picked me up from Manchester and drove us back to Lancaster. I wondered how Lidia and Hera were coping with the extra classes I had shrugged on to them, whilst cowardly relieved that the SIM card transmitting her reactions lay snapped in a litter bin in Astana.

She stopped the car outside my house. Reducing the power of the gesture's effect by mistakenly dangling a key to a bike lock rather than that to a front door, she turned to me and made an announcement. "Let me give you the keys to our house." She'd bought my house, offering £10,000 more than its asking price.

I feigned delight and performed a hug. "You've bought it? Wow! Fantastic," I said, smiling through my detachment. Possession, her project for me from which she will never tire.

We drank Prosecco and I chewed over the news, unsure whether it was silly to be robbed of having to deal myself with the imminent termination of my licence. It felt like hers straight away; me, a licensed squatter.

Going upstairs, I saw that she'd already moved some boxes of her stuff into the smaller bedroom. "You don't mind if I stay here in the interim, do you? Until it all gets finalised?" Without mentioning anything to me, she'd moved in.

We had a couple of days in which I went along with her cohabitation fantasy, which was suddenly all too real, but which I find oppressive almost straight away. Texting me from town one day, she came out with the unwonted (and unwanted) suggestion that I show her a few new things in bed. Trina enjoyed the bland, obvious sex we used to have, but more than a year has passed since the last time I dismounted from her, ashamed at myself for having availed myself of her, and an absurd sense of infidelity to Wendy. I have no desire for Trina, least of all after her unilateral takeover of what is still legally my house for another couple of weeks.

Things soon reverted to drunken type. On Tuesday we had one of those arguments for which it is impossible to trace the source, where one wishes in retrospect that one could have identified the tipping point into hostility, so as to deflect it. She ratcheted herself up to a tirade of frustration and aggression. Too used to this by now to offer any opposition or self-defence, I nodded my way through it, wondering at what point she was going to get in her car and drive a risky ten miles to her boat on the back of a bottle-and-a-half of wine.

Moments after she had slammed the front door to do so, pausing only to rip her birthday card to me into pieces on the way out, Wendy rang. I related what had happened. "You've got to get out of this co-dependency looby. She's dangerous."

To my shock, the front door was suddenly flung open, and there stood a raging, drunken Trina. I fumbled to switch off the phone, making myself look guilty. "You're talking too loudly," she said. "I know who you're talking to, I know fucking well who it is." I readied myself and sat down in the armchair as she stood arched over me with clenched fists, yelling slightly misheard phrases from my conversation with Wendy.

I managed to persuade her not to drive home. She had a couple of glass-shuddering slams of the kitchen door, before returning for a couple of repeats of her somewhat imprecise moral criticism of me. Thinking her temper had run its course, I fetched a quilt and lay down on the sofa, but half an hour later she was standing over me again, with a coda of a stream of abusive repetends. "You're a fuckwit, a twat, a total twat, you fucking little shit. You can get out on 6th [the end of my term]." She finally went upstairs; from there, I could hear her sobbing and cursing both herself and me.

The following day I was meeting Wendy. As usual her lips deftly refused at the last moment; she sat opposite me, which is too far away. The precision of distance.

After the lour of Trina, being with Wendy was like being able to breathe again. She told me that she gets looked at less now. "I know you look at me, but you see me through rose-coloured spectacles." "I see you absolutely clearly Wendy." She told me about momentary fantasies of killing The Little Dictator's father.

At her suggestion, which chimed with my own curiosity about the man, I have started writing to her Dad. Three pages came without effort. I opened by introducing myself as the latest in the long line of men who have become smitten with his witty, intelligent, literate and gorgeous daughter, before going on to an account of my time in the Gulag. "He was made up to receive it, but T-- [his wife] found it unsettling. She's not used to someone being so self-disclosing." She's probably from Lancashire.

Wendy correctly predicted that Trina would be winding herself up for another onslaught of bitter, groundless jealousy, but we shunted such thoughts away. She walked sexily up to the bar, and returned with a flourish of two large ports.

And so it was. We had arranged that I would help Trina move some stuff onto her boat, but she huffily cancelled it saying that I should spend the afternoon with someone I really like. I went to bed, not out of tiredness but from a desire to avoid her presence. She stamped about the house, raising her voice when she was outside my room.

Her motor of anger wound down. In the morning she was apologetic and careful around me. "It's ok Trina, don't worry. I'm planning my escape"

Kim asked me to imagine how it would be seen if a man took up residence unasked in a woman's house, where he repeatedly yells abuse at her. When I was in Kazakhstan, Kim said that I could stay at hers over the summer, and has reiterated that offer. In the short term I'm going to request a few day's respite. I'm on eggshells when she's around; they become thinner the more she drinks.


It is very easy to find people in Astana

  Tue 13th March 2018

Tuesday 10am, Astana airport

Never has an overpriced Hoegaarden tasted so good. This ill-starred venture is coming to an end. I have snapped my Kazakh SIM card in two, and in the immortal words of Dick and Dom, "flushed it down the lav."

I was falsely accused at school yesterday of hitting a girl. Her aunt is a Senator and has threatened to make difficulties for me in Kazakhstan. I did not touch her. I told her off severely (without raising my voice) for doing fuck all during my lessons, sitting with her back to me throughout them, and refusing to pick up a plastic cup she had thrown onto the floor.

At the end of the lesson, I kept her back and gave her a bollocking about being so insolent and bone idle. She looked at me with victory assured in advance, clearly practised in the art she was about to deploy. "You kicked me." She rang her mum, adding being hit to the fiction.

I was summoned to the Director's office. I was alarmed to see a policeman in the office but Lidia assured me it was nothing to do with me; they arrive unannounced at schools to check the roll and its employees against a list of undesirables.

The policeman left, apparently satisfied that we were not harbouring anyone dangerous, like journalists or trade union organisers. I nodded and opened my hands insincerely as I sat through a torrent of Russian from the girl's Dad. I was "invited" to make an apology of which I meant not a word, to her and her parents. The economics of private education means the rule of the child. When it was over, Lidia burst into tears on the stairs, saying that she had only translated a little of what he was saying. "I haven't heard so many bad words for years. It reminds me of how little we [teachers] are here."

Check-in opens in two hours' time so none of this will be my problem soon. Spoilt little Erina, the darling niece of the ruling classes, will have got her way -- again. I only hope that one day her fall will be more painful because it will come from the high place in society she knows she will sail into, despite being a lying, manipulative little bastard.

All of which was the greater shame because there was a ray of hope on Saturday. I took a baby step in Kazakh when I understood verbally, rather than through her gestures, the bus conductor's offer of a vacant seat, and managed to put "it's OK thank you, I'm getting off at the next stop" into satisfactory Kazakh. It's a lovely sounding language. Its rhythms are Brucknerian -- it rolls on and on, keeping you waiting for a climax that never comes.

However, the school's anniversary concert later than day was sadly not remotely evocative of C19th Austrian High Romanticism. Groups of pupils recreated a series of rejected Junior Eurovision entries playing on the mother-whore iconography. Domestic tableaux of rural life were spicily interleaved with hip-hop dance routines featuring older girls in tight skirts and white blouses knotted above the waist. Afterwards, Lidia and I repaired to her house, where I was introduced to her detective husband and her two personable daughters, ready with questions for me, so different from the sullen self-absorption of the English teenager.

I forced down the horsemeat, fighting off the extra ladlefuls of mare's buttock stew that were constantly being introduced to my plate. The warm room chilled for a moment when he said "it is very easy to find people in Astana", and part of me is wondering whether I'll be lifted from the airport and frogmarched back to school. I glance nervously across to the policeman here showing something on his mobile phone to the barmaid, wondering if he's saying "have you seen this man?"

As the delicious local cognac extinguished the taste of mare and had the desired relaxant effects, hubby went off for a sleep and Lidia got us dancing; she's a good dancer, and we resolved to go out one night with the groovier of the teachers.

"You're a handsome man looby," an adjective I cannot ever remember being applied to me. "You need a nice Kazakh girl," and talk turned to possible matches. I'd want one with eyelids, I didn't say. Travel truly narrows the mind. Then we came to business. "Everyone is taking money from us, you know looby. We do the work and Valery, he..."; she was looking for something like "skims off." "In our school, we could keep all the money."

For the first time in this country I am about to leave, I felt relaxed, laughing and even wondering about at least a temporary future here.


Passing away

  Tue 6th March 2018

Saturday 24th February, Budapest.

It's 11am and I am drinking luscious Soproni IPA in the capital city of the country in which it is made. I have told a unnecessarily big, old lie to get here.

I woke up and checked the time. Ten o'clock, so plenty of time to have a bowl round Budapest before getting my flight to Manchester. Put the lights on and thought the little studio apartment might face onto a forcibly collectivised wall.

I look outside; a few brassy stars making it through Budapest's cloak of electrification, and wonder how long we will persist in the nostalgia of calling the stars' competitors "artificial light". I realise that it's dark because it is 5am, my phone and my body both still on Kazakh time.

Tuesday 6th March, Astana.

Living here feels like being in some sort of KGB stress test experiment: once you get however shaky a grip on a certain level, they invent new tests. There isn't much teaching in what I do. Sometimes I feel humiliated and small, a plaything for the children to belittle. I find it difficult to cope with the anxiety that accompanies me every day: she's the only thing that sometimes gets into bed with me.

On Thursday of last week, after a humiliating "lesson" with Year 5, many of whom completely ignored me, I started jotting down some short and medium term escape plans. Eventually, I self-pitied myself into thinking that even having to wait until pay day on 10th March would be unbearable. I emailed my brother, asking if he could get in touch with my mother to take her up on her offer of loaning me at any time, the fare home.

By the time I had sloughed off the day, the not inconsiderable sum it takes to leave Astana quickly was in my account -- a gift, he said, not a loan. I then stupidly yoked myself into one of the inept and cowardly lies to which I am prone to resort: I told school that my mother had died. Just before I arrived, I rubbed some snow into my eyes in order to induce a tearful, reddened visage appropriate for someone recently bereaved.

Back in Lancaster on Monday, I had a rare moral qualm, as everyone at the school sent condolences -- tempered with a couple of unsubtle requests that I deal with my mother's demise as quickly as possible. I felt guilty about shifting all my work onto Lidia and Hera, who already work harder than me for a quarter of my salary. After a few days, I invented a Saturday funeral and told them I would be back today to resume teaching on Monday.

Meantime, I fell back into the same easy ways of Lancaster. I saw Wendy. I had almost forgotten how headily enjoyable it is to be in her company and how I much I love looking at her; little moments of still wonder, staring at her when she had her back turned to me at the bar, the slow seconds of stroking her all along her back -- my only regret being that I can only use my eyes to do this.

I arrived back in Astana on Sunday, tempted to wait an hour and get straight back on the plane. I rang Lidia to let her know I was here, and after a few pleasantries, she alleged that I had agreed to work through the forthcoming week's holiday. I would never have agreed to such a thing. Lidia said that she would talk to the Director about it, but there's no "discussion" possible.

Yesterday morning, wide awake at 4.30am with the fear rising and shading into a despair about my powerlessness in school, and faced with the prospect of losing my longed-for holiday, I resolved to throw in the towel, but to do it properly this time: tell no-one.

Yesterday, everyone was far more pleased to see me than I them; and by the end of the day, their kindness had worked again and I had conditionally, and temporarily, shelved my plan to leave the country this weekend: whilst it would be greatly helpful for my future to get a reference from the school, I'll be on a plane to Manchester this Sunday if they insist on me working through the single week of holiday I get in a six-month contract.


I tell you what I want, what I really really want

  Tue 20th February 2018

Another disastrous double period with Year 7. According to their whim, they mock me in a language they know I don't understand, or ignore me altogether. I look at the clock constantly, counting down the minutes until I can get rid of them. Then, later in the afternoon, a therapeutic calm with a younger class who have taken to a project about writing a newspaper with more enthusiasm than I'd expected. I wish I could crack open the heads of Year 7.

I had a phone call from my boss in London, who runs the agency for which I am a sub-contractor. To my surprise, and somewhat to my disappointment, she told me that I was the teacher they should have appointed in September. I don't want to be wanted here. I assumed that word would have got round the school now about the poor quality of my teaching and that we were all gritting our teeth until the end of the year when we could force a smiled farewell.

My long overdue first social engagement on Saturday night allowed me to dispose of the unavoidable foreigner's rite of passage: a taxi to a hotel for a Valentine's Day do cost me a tenner; I was informed later that it should have been about two quid.

In a circular room, someone dressed as a giant tomato went round with a photographer, cajoling girls in expensive dresses into the angled cock-legged pose. Well dressed middle-aged men wearing the assurance of money, looking just like the engineers and teachers that most of us foreigners are, and the thin sliver of locals who can afford £4.50 a pint. On a low raised stage a man with the British chav-thug haircut -- shaved sides and an erect half-centimetre of crown -- was playing Yesterday and similarly stale covers on an electric violin.

I tried to locate my Kazakh teacher-to-be but when I arrived I was assured by two separate members of staff that the public internet which was asking me for a password was not working. I circulated the room for a few minutes looking at women's chests. We had all been issued with name stickers, and most women put them on the un-named zone just northeast of the left breast.

I fell in with an amusing couple of locals who had become friends after working in the same engineering firm. we talked about cross-cultural difficulties. I said I find the Kazzers' questions rather direct. If they don't get the information they want, they don't take the hint to change the subject, but will ask an even more searching one. "But don't you want to know people?" he asked.

The joint wasn't really jumping, with an inept DJ providing an interval of silence in between each track in order to keep the dancefloor regularly cleared, so when they asked me if I fancied a drum n' bass night going on with a DJ from London I responded enthusiastically. We got to the pub where younger women, friends of the bloke, kept arriving and sitting at our table. Unfortunately that's more than can be said for the DJ, who hadn't turned up.

The bloke went home but the girl was keen to try a third place. A warm wash of sexual desire for her in the taxi, about which I did nothing at all, hoping in some inverted way that she would read my silent inaction. I got out at my flat to get some more money but I still find the layout of my block confusing, because the lifts and corridors move about according to how much I've had to drink. When I got outside I couldn't find the taxi. A frustrating evening was completed by discovering, on going to ring her, that I had lost my phone.

My sister, a slender and stylish Home Counties girl now beached in Middlesbrough, tells me that she's had her first tattoo, is having more, and and wants to become a tattooist.

Coming across that decision whilst reading her long, honest and interesting email, I could hear an almost audible voice in my head. "Be a writer looby! It's so fucking obvious!" My book is already written. You're reading it.


Wine o'clock

  Fri 16th February 2018

I wonder how much longer I'll last. I'm out of my depth. I'm scared of the children and dread every day I go to school -- which at the moment is six days a week. I get paid again on 10th March, at which point I'll have the air fare home.

I did two very stupid things yesterday. I had two glasses of wine before I went to school, and vigorous teeth brushing was insufficient to conceal the wine breath. Late in the afternoon, Lidia and I were sat together in her empty classroom. She came over all serious, over-reaching herself in claiming to be a friend and that she knows me well. "Did you take a drink yesterday?" I said I'd met up with someone for a couple of drinks the previous evening. She said that another teacher had remarked upon it too.

Then, in the evening, I decided to plumb further depths of idiocy in acting against my own interests. I went to chat to the people in a refrigeration equipment company who want English lessons and I have agreed to twice weekly two hour lessons with them. When I finish school I cannot get home quickly enough; now, I've signed myself up to working more hours at the end of the day, with a bus journey home that is about forty-five minutes. I couldn't care less about the £17 an hour it will bring in, and I need to work out a way of getting out of this before the first lesson on Tuesday.

The owners of my house in Lancaster have put it up for sale. Kim said a while ago that I can stay with her in Durham over the summer, which I'll enjoy; and Trina's said that I can stay on her narrowboat. It just would have been handy to have my own base in Lancaster.

I rang Kitty the other night. She broke off for a couple of minutes to speak to me as she was in an informal meeting with her boss and said that she'd ring back a little later.

She forgot to put the phone down afterwards and I heard her say "that was looby. Kazakhstan. You kind of love him but want to strangle him at the same time." We had a good laugh about it when she rang back. I could listen to her voice every day. Just laughing with her for a few minutes was joyful, something in short supply here.


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

M / 54 / Bristol

"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

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

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

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

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