A good spread

  Sun 29th April 2018

Being in Wetherspoons on a weekend afternoon makes me wonder whether Herod is an unfairly maligned historical figure.

The adults, though, are endlessly amusing. "Look at the size of that fucking arse," said a woman, as shards from a nearby glasshouse landed nearby. "Christ, there's a bit to go round there." "Hey, hey, hey, look," said her friend. "Is that that one that let your car tyres down?" "No, that's not her. If I saw her, I'd fucking deck the cunt." There's an unapologetic working class speech round here, which bares the best and worst of white lower class culture.

Absolutely plum job in Switzerland, in an Alpine town where you go skiing like people in Lancaster go down the pub, or people in Middlesbrough miss appointments at the obesity clinic. I only stuttered once when I was told I'd be teaching adults from Kazakhstan. That'll be Nazarbayev's coterie then. Perhaps I'd have met someone related to that fourteen-year-old former pupil of mine in Astana, whose manipulative skills in levering me out of a job I can't help but admire. She's learning how to wade through the mud of Kazakhstan's hierarchical corruption.

Got through to the second interview stage. Was told it would be at 8pm last night. Waited until 9.15. No call, and no response to my polite enquires about why this was the case. Maybe a cuckoo clock exploded. Maybe they were down in the caves admiring the paintings that were "transferred" from the house that once belonged to Mr and Mrs Goldstein. Maybe he fell in to the Large Hadron Collider and is now having an experience that makes LSD look like a vicar's tea party. Maybe he was out voting in a referendum about whether to have a referendum about the future of referenda.

Stayed the last two weekends in Durham with Kim. First night, before she said she was taking me round Darlington, Darlo as everyone calls it, she went upstairs to change.

Sat in the pub, the aphrodisiac effects of speed kicking in, I could hardly keep my eyes off scanning her, in the moments when she was looking away; her Bridget Riley wavy black and white dress, her rough kinked hair, and worst of all, when she crossed her legs. Just turn it off looby, she's a friend. Women, if you want to lure a bloke, it's this: thigh length dress + black tights + crossing your legs + give the hair straighteners to Oxfam. I want to take photographs of you Kim. Open legs, your lovely tits, pull up your dress. One hand splayed in your hair, the other resting on your cunt.

Next day, we made a picnic and walked with her eleven-year-old niece up to a rough bit of woodland. We got all the food out and I laid it on the bench. "That looks like a nice spread Kim." "You're not the first bloke to say that looby."

Got back to Middlesbrough and didn't want to sit in my mum's house, so went down the Black Cat. There's a fellow there who has been quite welcoming and I met his son and his wife. The son asked me into the bogs, with that winning combination of a key and some Pepsi. When we came back the wife went on at me for doing Pepsi whilst I'm an English teacher. "I'm out of work love, how can I corrupt children now?" Displaced jealousy, policing her boyfriend, me as the proxy.

I was asleep when I got a phone call from them at 1am. It was a bit incoherent. "But he'll want some anyway," he said, to her. She took the phone off him, and addressing me, said "he just wants to know you."

I got two mutual likes on the dating site. They are rare. Kerry, who is fit as fuck in a succession of dresses, has proven to be an uninteresting as she is attractive. A week in, and we're still talking about her decorating project in her front room.

Sarah though. She contacted me first, saying that she was "imaginative in a dark way." I don't like being seen as this semi-gay sexless gelding, every girl's friend, and Sarah makes me feel sexual, like a man, and no mention of shelving units.

I told Wendy about it all. "I don't think people see you like that looby. I think they see you as a complete pisshead who's always on the lookout for some fanny."

She asked for a photo of Sarah, which I sent with the subject line "Dirty fucking slut.". She replied, firmly grabbing the wrong end of the stick. "That's not a pleasant way to talk about someone who looks openly honest and disarming," completely missing the incipient closeness and warmth and desire that one has towards a girl you can describe like that. Were me and Sarah to get it on, as I hope we will, "dirty fucking slut" is only the start of how I would talk to her. Successful sex, for me, depends on a power relationship. Equality everywhere, but not in the bedroom, kitchen, stairs, park....


Hemel in whatever Rotherham is in Latin

  Fri 13th April 2018

A chilly train from Carlisle to Newcastle, on my way to stay with my mum in Middlesbrough. The ochre sandstone houses of the Borders with their lipped, white-painted lintels. Lambs closing with their mothers; the finely concealed horrors of farming. A sign next to a reservoir says "Deep Sludge". A van in a scrap yard squats, superannuated now, but once part of the "Northumberland Spill Response Unit". Two Chinese men erupt into loud conversation in a speech I can't help but find comical. I silently laugh, and the heavily processed young girls opposite catch my illicit smiling and return it. The ticket collector bends to answer a passenger's query, sticking out his uniformed bum. Polyester stretch.

Kim sent me a long text saying that she had a "sense of foreboding" about my staying there. It didn't actually withdraw the offer, but I pre-empted that, and told her that I would stay at my mum's instead. Having nowhere to stay immediately however, a friend kindly took me in for a couple of days. It soon became clear that he would like me to make it a more permanent arrangement, but I'm not keen.

Unwashed food bowls are scattered about the floor. The litter bin has a curve of tissues, Stella cans and cigarette packets, over its rim. Everything I have, my clothes, my hair, smells of smoke. On his wall, a Romanian icon of Mary wearing that drugged-out look she is apt to adopt when pressed into devotional service; Chinese sages, their homely wisdom prescient of the 99p moral comfort of today's occasion cards; and a yard-square poster of a braless young woman crawling on a beach, whose left tit has narrowly escaped fire damage, as a neglected candle ate hopefully up towards her tits, only to be retarded just short of them. Tabloid-greyed girls in the same undress. This is where he does it. What's on the carpet? What's in that bin? What's on this sofa I'm sleeping on?

I arrived at my mum's with little more than the clothes I have on. On the day of my move, I told the removal men that everything was to go. Taking this instruction at face value, they included in their collection my suitcase of belongings that I had assembled, my kit with which to face the vocational gatekeepers of Middlesbrough.

I gravitate, to the roughest -- or best, depending on your perspective -- pub in Middlesbrough, where the denizens are as large in heart as they are in body.

Three girls and a bloke at the next table. "Are you on your own pet? Sit here with us! Don't sit on your own!"

Me: I'm 54 love, I'm a lot older than you, I've got these wrinkles now.
--Kelly: Hope they're not on your cock. Anyway Tracy there will make all them go away. She'll get you straightened out.

Tracy (to a girl at another table): Fucking skinny bitch.
--Me: Don't bother with her. It'd be like shagging a xylophone.
Tracy: Hey, Tad. What's a 68er?
--Me: A 68er? No idea.
Tracy: 69 but with a fat bird.

They were singing a verse about the abuse, rape, and enslavement of poor uneducated young girls in Telford, Dewsbury, Rotherham, and other places where Pakistani Muslim middle-aged men congregate, which has been going on for decades, safe under the cover of this inexplicable insurance from criticism that Muslim men and their practises have acquired in England.

The verse, sang at the top of their voices, was about fingering the girls for a sniff test on their hymens. Never mind about heaven, the virgins are in Rotherham. Satirically accurate, demotic working class poetry. I was party to something secret but which should be discussed.

Kitty texts to say she's "just been round to Wendy's after work." How I would love to just go round to Wendy's after work, as a friend. Popping round to see a friend after work should be normal but not for me. I'm disallowed. The fearful look on her face that would be caused by my appearance at her front door, breaching The Injunction. It makes me wet-eyed. Stomach churn.


April showers

  Thu 5th April 2018

I had a shave in preparation for an internet interview for a TEFL job in Kraków, spotting my jawline with a dozen toilet-papered cuts. Dashing downstairs unready to answer the phone I tore off my improvised plasters and was interviewed -- blessedly unseen -- naked from the waist down. They offered me the job but I turned it down on seeing the contract: an hourly rate rather than a salary, no accommodation or flights. More applications awaiting a response: Hungary, Italy, Finland, and the best one, adults and business English only, in a walled city in Aquitaine.

Trina and I went out dancing in Glasgow on Saturday. Everything was going fine until I left the room to iron my shirt. She took her chance to go through my phone and read all my exchanges with Wendy, with predictable results. She threw my bag and coat at me and told me to fuck off and sleep in the station. With the diplomatic skills which her unpredictable character has honed, I talked her down and we had a thoroughly enjoyable evening, but the rift the following day was only thinly papered over with determined smiles avoiding the issue.

My Licence to Occupy expires on Friday. Trina has yet to complete on the purchase of the house, and the solicitors and agents are being stubbornly uncooperative, refusing to grant me an extension to the Licence. Having exhausted civilised, negotiated avenues, we will have to force the issue by inviting them to initiate legal action to remove me, and hope that by Trina will be the freeholder before any practical action is taken.

Kitty, in the course of a text, said that she was round at Wendy's; a little stab of a reminder that The Injunction is still very much in force, one of its provisions being that I do not visit Wendy's house when The Little Dictator is in residence. In my more self-pitying moments, I imagine that Wendy quietly welcomes The Injunction, in giving her a way of holding me at a safe distance, a notion driven into nonsense by her ringing a day after I wrote that sentence to arrange a drink.

Trina is doing her best to get the vendors to let us leave all the furniture in the house, rather than move it all out and move it back in two weeks later, but five o'clock arrives and the solicitors can be badgered no more that day. We go for a drink. Everything is cordial, until she hears me on the phone talking to Kitty about how I am planning to sever contact with her. In a repeat of the episode involving Wendy, she had been hiding behind the door, listening. What she hears -- about me not wanting her here -- sends her into another fury.

In one of the gaps in her rage, I text Kitty asking if I could stay at hers. "No. [Daughter]'s here. Can't you ring the police?" Her refusal upsets me far more than Trina's obloquy. In the morning Trina drops her keys off and says that she will be back to collect some stuff she has left in the ginnel. Knowing that it is final this time -- the unintended consequence of a terminated contract -- still provokes some irrational weepiness.

I am in the pub, my excuse being that she's taken the mobile wifi hotspot we have been using. I have twenty-seven hours to clear everything out of my house; nowhere to stay after tonight. Back to the same position I was in this time last year.

I tell the barmaid I'm moving. The man next to me is a removal man and gives me his number. They've been staying in a hotel for a month while their premature baby is in an incubator. Someone joins me at the table. "You're as dodgy as me, looby. Now listen, you've been in the frame for a year for this." If it comes off, I get £5000.


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.


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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

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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