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Useless, like Dad

  Fri 4th January 2019

My landlady suggested we could all go down the pub where her boyfriend works on what is commonly known as New Year's Eve, although she had to point out to me that they don't normally celebrate festivals on their dates in the Gregorian calendar. This modern mania for individuation.

They were making an effort to include me, I know; but why would I go straight from work into the bellowing mire of New Year's Eve, shivering outside all night so that they can smoke?

I got in. "I'm very sorry -- it's just I've spent an easy shift of well under ten hours being nice to people," and lumbered up to my room with a show of factitious tiredness. It occurred to me that as they've not had a single visitor in the three months I've lived here, and as I hear little about any friends, they might be a bit lonely.

On Christmas Eve, my girls' twentieth birthday, I managed to get to Lancaster after work for 7pm. We went down The Macrame Belt with a shop-bought cake, but my youngest left early. Kirsty later told me that she'd got a bit upset, and said that she felt "useless, like Dad," a remark which caused much merriment when it was disclosed to the rest of the family. Always set out to disappoint, then ordinary competence surprises.

On Christmas Day, my eldest, Fiona tossed insouciantly into the room a remark that she has a girlfriend now. This disclosure -- which is only an instantiation of a long-known generality -- met with indifference, overshadowed by the more important question of whether it was to be Swan Lake or Bake-Off next.

The former, Fiona's preference, prevailed. Fiona got amusingly tipsy on port, clapping violently along to the more strident numbers. "All the the Ruskies clap along in this bit...whoa, come on!" It was like watching a heavy rocker who'd wandered into the Royal Opera House.

On Boxing Day I went round to my old house in Lancaster -- the one that Trina announced she was buying for "us" when she picked me up from the airport after the Kazakhstan episode -- wondering if my key would still work.

It did, and I let myself in, pushing the shoal of post away to look round the denuded house. A list of weekly inspections going back to May was in the kitchen, surveys which had failed to spot the stray tab of acid in one of the kitchen drawers. I collected some letters: 5.7K still outstanding, despite it having been thrown around in the debt market, its value decreasing with every new "Assignment", as the correctly-buttoned letters called it.

An hour or so with Kitty, in her fairy lights- and lamp-lit front room, cosy and unaffectedly arty. We drank to her success in getting her new job, and her escape from the institution which might have once been a school but is now a combination of a children's day hostel and palliative psychiatric unit for the under-11s.

At this point, with my pleasant demeanour starting to dilute her reserve, I knew I should have stopped or greatly slowed my drinking. But no, the juggernaut trundled forwards, the brake marked "self-control" flat to the floor yet ineffective. I got truculent with her over her doubting that the microdosing is actually that.

The mood was gone now, but she offered me some tea, which I should have refused; but never cooking in my place in Bristol I am often hungry, or malnourished on train sandwiches. I ate it and left, the Days Since I Have Acted Like a Twat to My Best Friends meter, set back to nil.

Kitty sent me a text. "...I wish you weren't so self-absorbed and so easily hurt."

Rght then, 2019.

1. Continue to get a grip on the drinking. Most of the unpleasantness I inflict on others comes from the bottom of a pint glass.
2. Rebuild the trust and perhaps, in the long term, the closeness with Kitty and Wendy. Almost everything I need to do is in Kitty's text, but points 1 and 2 are closely related.
3. Get my own place.
4. Get out in Bristol more. Find a couple of pals to go out dancing with.
5. Fillet three chapters from this blog to dangle in front of an agent.


Stomach pains

  Mon 24th December 2018

To Lancaster for a couple of days. Wendy rang as I was in The Shipbuilder's Arms. I'd told her that I have some presents for her and wondered if I could pop them round before I went back to Bristol to work Christmas Eve. To my delight, she said that she'd rather us leave it until we could arrange an unhurried handover, maybe in the New Year. An afternoon or evening with Wendy is what I really wanted, not just a brief hello at the door while her possessive ex simmers with unjustified jealousy inside.

The conversation got round to Kitty. I had a text from her on Saturday, the day after she broke up for Christmas, but nothing since. I've left two voicemails and a few texts, saying that I hoped she was enjoying days of bra-less leisure. She had an interview last week -- her escape route out of her desperate current situation -- and I hoped that it went well.

"But she got the job!" said Wendy. I was shocked into silence. "Are you still there?", she said." "Yes." "Oh, sorry, I thought you knew."

I walked up to Kirsty and the girls' house, my stomach and eyes working somersaults over the distance that now pertains between me and Kitty. I texted Wendy. "Please don't say this to Kitty but I'm really upset that despite texting her and asking if I could bring her pressies round she never told me about the job. I suppose I've not been the best of friends this year though. It really makes me almost tearful." (It wasn't 'almost'). "Please don't tell her this. She's every reason to keep me at arm's length."

Still stunned, I went back to Kirsty's. The girls' birthdays fall on Christmas Eve so there was plenty of distraction. I was muttering, criticising myself for being yet another man upset at not being included, a telling-off unable to erase the visceral upset. I was glad to get to hers for a forced change in my self-pitying mood.

My three girls, and a suspiciously industrious Kirsty, who was using the busy occupations of the girls' birthday and Christmas to cover tipsyness or, more likely, the effects of something more dessicated. I improvised various precarious perches on the furniture in order to tack the paper chains, decorations, and card string into the walls and the ceiling, as The Wombles wormed their way into a semi-permanent lodging in my ear.

But thoughts of Kitty stalked insistently round my head. As I was leaving Kirsty's, Wendy replied, saying that Kitty's been under a lot of stress and not to take it personally, and asking me if I were seeing her. I'm not sure how I can not take it personally, but I didn't say that. "Yes, of course she has been. And as to seeing her, I think not -- she hasn't replied to anything since Saturday and I don't want to push it now. I'm just glad for her, and a bit upset that she didn't tell me. A lot upset really. Never mind, off to Bristol now x"

My instinct is to ring her, congratulate her, tell her that a little bird told me some great news, but she probably just wants me to leave her alone for a while.

With commendable timing, my adopted pub in Bristol has been kind recently. Last week I found a bag of what might be dangerous chemicals. Worried that these might fall into the hands of children, I took them back to my house for safe keeping. A few days later, there was a tenner on the floor looking unloved.

Thank you all, for persisting with me this year. Writing this is one of the few activities in my life that I care about intrinsically, where the effort involved doesn't feel at all like work; but it would eventually be a lonely furrow to tread without your reading and commenting on it. And to the small but almost perfectly formed gang of fellow bloggers -- your endlessly interesting and sharply individual styles are a source of pleasure to me all year. Merry Christmas everybody.


In which I get caught

  Thu 20th December 2018

I'm on a train to York, the youngest person in first class, on my way to see my mum and sister for a couple of days in the land of the two quid pint. We've just passed something labelled the Crewe Lifestyle Centre. I spent a week in Crewe once on one of those training courses that send you out with not a clue about how to do the job, after which I got the impression that lifestyle in Crewe is meeting in the bus shelter for a spit.

Yesterday, an overdue meet-up with polyglot and organ-grinder kalebuel of this parish, who has been educating, informing and entertaining me - and I hope, many other readers -- from the right hand side of this blog for several years. We wound round a couple of pubs, including a money-drenched place in Lincoln's Inn Fields for men with briefs, where I was served a cheeseboard that looked as though it had been regurgitated.

Then, rather glamorously, I discovered middle daughter was a few minutes' walk away having just left the Adelphi on The Strand. Little ripples of dad pride as we all chatted together easily. In fact, the whole afternoon was effortless.

I left my daughter at Charing Cross as she made her way up to her friend's dad's flat in Holloway, and fell into drunken kleptomania, a thrill, as well as a money saver which has served me well for decades. I went to Sainsbury's, stole some cider, and then, irriated by the theft's easiness, I went back for some wine.

They were up the the challenge. Outside the shop, a man sitting insouciantly on a bench pointed to the bulge under my jacket, and took me back to the shop. I already had another bottle in my bag, so while the store detectives were calling the police, I tried to surreptitiously put that bottle onto a trolley behind me. I missed, and it smashed onto the floor, an archipelago of shards in a red mere.

The police asked me if I was known to them. I told them about my unimpressive criminal record -- a minor drug offence. The manager arrived. One of the policemen muttered a script. "Well, if you're ok with a banning order..." and I felt a sense of relief at getting away with only an adminstrative order, whilst my blood thumped through noisily through my head.

They went away again and came back with a letter, headed "pPrivate [sic] and confidential", addressed to "A Name, Address Line 1, Address Line 2, Address Line 3, Date" saying that I am now banned from Sainsbury's.

Wendy and I met in The Macrame Belt and started with what a degraded Lancaster pub used to call a Southampton -- a large port. Wendy tilted our glasses sceptically, looked port measures up, and went back to the diluted-Asian barmaid, who had sold us singles.

"She's gorgeous," said Wendy. As she came round to collect the glasses, I saw Wendy do a scan I recognise: hair, shoulders, back, then longer on her arse, then her legs.

We took her dog up to the hilltop park. It was a bright December day, and the sky and the low sun were in cahoots with me. We wanged the ball for the dog, sending her scuttling and returning with the best asymmetry of effort.

"It is really lovely to see you," I said, and kissed her on her cheek, something that she would never do to me; and in a moment the mounting togetherness of the morning was smothered; her familar, small stiffening. "It's lovely to see you too," she said, and I cursed myself for pressing her into a formality neither of us wanted.

We bobbed down the long hill to the Fur Coat and No Knickers Arms and had three-quarters of a bottle of Prosecco, the dog's ebullient tail knocking over the rest. Anyway, it's a re-start.


For maximum regret, shun good women

  Thu 13th December 2018

Fitbit extends an olive branch, with kisses suffixed, suggesting with a lack of sensibility that is almost admirable, a meet up in the week before Christmas, when I'm off.

"No I'm sorry love. We're no longer as much friends as we ever were, but no more being stood up without an explanation and waiting for hours on end in the pub without any news from you. It'll be OK though -- I'm not at all sure we'll bump into each other xx."

What a pleasure there is to be had from being calmly and reasonably assertive.

Life at the new house continues as a daily tip-toe on cat-ice. The second morning I was there, I came down and offered to make everyone coffee, in what I now realise was an over-familiar gesture of housely comradeship.

The landlady -- a woman carrying an obvious early childhood trauma which I expect I will hear about in a prolix sermon that could be visited upon me at any moment -- spoke without preamble. "I'm a bit spiky in the morning. It's nothing personal."

Recognising a draining mental when I see one, I tried to fend off the louring mood. "Oh well," I said, turning to her boyfriend, "we'll just have to talk amongst ourselves."

My attempt at cheer was not appreciated. "Oh.. I can't stand this," she said, perhaps frustrated that the attention was no longer on her, and flounced out. With that English determination not to acknowledge anything awkward, I manufactured a bit of conversation with the boyfriend before fleeing delicately upstairs, only to find her on the stairs with her head in her hands. I had to ask her to shift her traumabulk out of the way so that I could pass.

Then, the other day, it's 11.15am, and I put a podcast from a DJ I like on -- low, I hasten to add; I'm not antisocial with my music.

There's a crashing and banging and slamming of a door. My hope that she's moving some furniture about is ousted by a guess that she's pissed off again. From outside my room, she calls "I was trying to have a birthday lie-in. Never mind, I'm awake now, carry on." Superadded to the financial costs, every house share has those of emotional management.

I'm up in six hours' time, at 5am, for a weekend in Lancaster. Me and Wendy are going to take her dog out, then we're going for our dinner down The Fur Coat and No Knickers Arms, which will be full of chesty men pivoting on their heels as they shout exhibitionist sentences. But we'll shun them in our enclave. I'll be tired, but it's dosing day tomorrow, so I'm looking forward to being with a girl I love -- and whose qualified affection I am slowly coming round to appreciate without self-pity and complaints that it doesn't involve sex.

Then, I'm going round to Kirsty's and staying the night. Kirsty surprised me the other day when she rang me up and suggested we -- me her and our girls -- could all go to the same lovingly remembered holiday venue in France we had for a fortnight every decade, next July. Sometimes I look at Kirsty, in her secondhand clothes and little skirts and listen to her with her pisstaking which never veers over into unkindness, and sit on the settee next to her-- and think to myself, "you fucking idiot."


Renting is a bit shit

  Sun 2nd December 2018

Friday evening I was at the Town Hall, "showing" as one says in the drinks trade, some beers at a local wine company's Christmas tasting. It's a great gig. I get paid expenses which more than cover my hotel, and I get to sample a dozen uncommon beers. It's a dressy night, popular with women around my age.

Several weeks ago, Fitbit expressed an interest in coming, and surprised me by asking if she could stay in my hotel room afterwards, adding quickly the expected stipulation. "Don't worry Fitbit, it'll be like sleeping with your little sister."

I rang the organiser. It had long since sold out, and there was a waiting list, but he agreed to let her in if we pretended that she was helping me with the stall. He couldn't issue her a ticket as he'd sold the quota that would keep him within the fire regulations.

Five days ago, she texted (not even rang) to tell me that she'd "forgotten" that her ex-sister-in-law had invited her to a "pamper night" in a hotel near Skipton. "I'm gutted that I won't see you tonight," she texted. No, you're not love, you've chosen not to see me.

I told her that I was a bit pissed off with her, given the efforts I'd made to get her in, but she suggested meeting up the following day at 2.00 in The Shipbuilder's Armpit. At 2.40, she texted "be right there love!" And that's the last I've heard from her, my calls and texts going unanswered.

It was dosing day, and I could feel something lovely waiting to be welcomed in, which wasn't going to happen in the Shipbuilder's Armpit, with the objectionable ex-copper who thinks he still rules his bailiwick, now shrunken to a banquette in a cheap pub. He always tells me that a vacant place anywhere near him is taken. "No you can't sit there, they're coming back." "Sit there looby," overuled his friend.

At 4.00, I gave up, went to The Fur Coat and No Knickers Arms and read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and the Preludes. But first, I wanted to state my case to Fitbit.

"Fitbit. This is the second time in two days that you've let me down. I put a great deal of effort into coming to see you, but I'm starting to feel like a sucker. Little reliable looby. If we bump into each other when I'm in Lancaster I would happily go out for a drink with you, but I am not making any more arrangements to see you."

I texted Wendy and Kitty: "Oh Wendy/Kitty, you must try this. It makes everything gentle and lovely. So wish you were here! xxx "

It was raining and I had the urge for the raw vegetables for which LSD serves as a gateway drug. I bought a cauliflower, a red pepper, some cherry tomatoes and a few dried apricots for an al fresco tea. I bumped into one of my oldest friends in Lancaster, as I was walking along, chomping on cauliflower florets like sweets.

Then the something lovely thing happened: Wendy rang. Her and Kitty had half an hour to spare and wondered if I was in town. We met in the arthouse cinema's bar, where I had soda water: not for show, just because I didn't fancy a drink.

Kitty looked worn out with having to carry a very overloaded plate for a long time now -- a mourning and needy dad, a recalcitrant teenage daughter and a poorly-paid job in "education" that is much nearer social work of a sometimes distressing kind. Wendy was witty, pisstaking and gorgeous. Wendy had to go and I had another ten minutes or so with Kitty. I told Kitty, honestly, that I love and care for her.

That night I was staying in an airbnb in Carnforth -- a town utterly miserable and without culture. I so wanted her to invite me back for an hour or so, and later found out that they did indeed spend the evening together with a few bottles of wine, careful in the cinema bar to avoid telling me of such plans; but it's too early in my probation to expect anything else. It puts a hurtful twist into my stomach, felt all the more keenly because of their evading telling me until I was safely away in my room in Carnforth.

I paid my rent the other day: £450 (for a room, not a flat, let alone a house). On Monday my landlady texted me, asking me to buy some toilet rolls, "as we're out."

"I can certainly buy some toilet rolls, but I'm in Lancaster until the weekend, and aren't toilet rolls included in the rent?"

"No they're not. We'll get some." Can't you feel the petulance?


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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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