The next post will be on or before Sunday October 15th. The posts for the next few months are likely to be a bit shorter than usual, as I have embarked on a new novel provisionally called ‘Uncle Wilfred’s Book Of Love’


One night in October 2009 my blood was boiling not just with anger but with an all round and uncomfortable loathing. My wife Annie and I were staying in Cockermouth, Cumbria in an upmarket B and B which was part of a lush and smart public house, all full of velvet seats and muted lights and with a kind of old fashioned and moderately oppressive provincial sophistication. We were in the small market town famous for its association with William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and hence perennially strewn in every spare inch of ground with waggling daffodils, as I was doing a book launch, meaning giving a reading from The Legend of Liz and Joe (Flambard 2009) in one of the town centre cafes. We were scheduled to meet one of Annie’s friends Mandy for a drink in the bar so were sat there sipping red wine and chatting about the reading, neither of us remotely aware that Annie would be no more in this world as of 6 weeks time. She had had secondary breast cancer for 18 months now, but aside from occasional tumour flare ups looked outwardly fine and was as sharp as ever.

Suddenly and while Annie was at the Ladies I became aware of the conversation going on to my left and immediately in front of me. I took note of about 8 men sat together in the otherwise empty bar, ranging from late 30s to mid 60s, meaning the latter were old enough to be the fathers of their younger companions. But it was not a family group and I worked out from the conversation they were up here from Lancashire on some work-related weekend, and had been booked by their prosperous firm into this posh little Cumbrian B and B. They were decidedly conventional men, and you might have seen their like in any smart pub in anywhere in the UK, dressed like factory tradesmen or factory engineers on holiday, and wearing their best clothes, which was to say there were a lot of  leather and zip jackets that lacked any sensitive tailored style, denims that in one or two cases were a bit more refined, perhaps even expensive, but a give-away surplus of trainers, and about half of them when they removed their jackets wore sweaters in garish colours or with lumpy diamond patterning that looked as if chosen by their great grandmothers.

Right enough they were no Brad Pitts, nor Di Caprios nor Damons nor Dillons, but they had had a good bit to drink as evident from all their empty bottles, were there in a protective group or perhaps more rightly an unwitting pack, and were consequently uninhibited and now it became apparent were brave and bold enough to be bullish and lewdly expansive at the same time. The object of their timely and communal wit was a good looking fair-haired bar waitress of about 25 called Donna, which is to say she could have been the daughter of the older men or a younger sister of the rest. As she walked past them one of the older men gave a wink to the rest and shouted:

“This town, Donna. It has a bit of a queer name eh? Cock-er-mouth. Don’t like the sound of that. Do you, love?”

Donna flinched, then stiffened, as his companions collapsed into rehearsed uproarious sniggers and at once ad libbed their own punning variations which though they came thick and fast were not outstandingly acute. Meanwhile I could hardly believe my ears at the implication of what this leery sexagenarian male in his diamond patterned sweater had uttered. A thin and slight and obviously sensitive young woman called Donna, who he’d never met before tonight, was being required to respond to his queasy double entendre about fellatio, or to put it in Anglo Saxon (and as he would surely have spoken had he been in the back of  a taxi or in a pub urinal with his mates)… cocksucking . Just like that and without any prior notice or mysterious masonic signal, this diamond patterned impresario or stand in for the anarchist racist sexist comic Bernard Manning (1930-2007) had decided it was perfectly OK to talk a to a young and decent woman he did not know from Adam about… about what? About the sucking of manly cocks of course.

So much for daffodils and Wordsworth. Go for a short and restorative B and B stay to Cockermouth (which the local dissident youths refer to  doughtily as Nobingob and where the annual pop festival dubs itself without any sense of irony as Cock Rock), go there clutching your copy of The Prelude or The Effusion  on the Death of James Hogg or The Highland Girl (a very flow’r of beauty is thy earthly dow’r) and instead of a sumptuous cream tea  with linen and cubed demerara sugar, or a posy of Wum’s daffies lying in your lap, you will get Les the chargehand here from Oswaldtwistle or Bacup or Ramsbottom (good scope for uproarious gags there is there not, and especially if you see the first  bit as a verb and not a noun?) talking grade A vacuous  obscenity to a harmless young woman called Donna who happens to be less than half his age.

I shuffled in my seat and felt the heat of pure anger, even rage, rising up my neck, and I was obliged to hurriedly consider all the options. The soundest and safest would be for me to complain to the saccharine and charmless manager out there at reception, but I knew for a fact if these men were taking up half the rooms and were guzzling huge T bone steaks every night, that he would sooner that £5 an hour Donna blushed and had a queasy stomach all the time till they departed, than they the spendthrift boyos-who-will-be-boyos be discommoded. What I really wanted to do was shoot up right away with my blazing face and regale them with all that burning venom and deride and humiliate and piss all over them and their diamond sweaters and their obsolete and infantile club humour. I would ask them in my gravest, most frightening  oratorical voice, that just supposing they’d had daughters or sisters Donna’s age, and if so, were to observe a pack of boozing hectoring slobs, some in their mature 60s, talking unrestrained filth, not let it be stressed in front of her, but at her, how would they feel about it? Murder by slow torture and defenestration would be the least of it eh?

Or on the simplest human level, did they not feel any possible inkling of shame that regardless of their ready dirtiness and her young years, that there was only one of Donna but there were 8 of them?

I even contemplated stomping round immediately to Cockermouth police station, which was only a few yards away. I was confident that the act of talking obscene smut in public to a hired employee going about their lawful business, constituted some sort of criminal harassment or aggravated lewdness or ABH or GBH or worse.  I would leer and snap at these cowboys that that was my intention, and would fabricate a whopping lie and tell them that I worked for Radio Cumbria and would be doing an hour-long feature about their disgusting and of course wholly unCumbrian behaviour next week, no in fact, tomorrow evening…

Three things happened then. Annie returned from the Ladies and her friend Mandy all springy curly hair and an enormous crazy grin shot through the bar door and flung herself upon my wife as if just possibly she sensed there might be only a few weeks of Annie left. At the same time a group of tough and stony Cockermouth women in their late sixties with voices like opera baritones who had just left the bingo, cascaded in, and at once I saw the puerile terror and guilt upon the erstwhile fearless Lancastrians. They picked up their jackets and coats and fucked off as fast as they could go, and though I was greatly pleased I was also left hanging in the air in terms of public excoriation and cathartic j’accuse! and for 8 years now I have thought about it all in every detail, and really wished I had gone to the police and frightened those Bacup or Ramsbottom buggers out of their denuded wits.


  1. As wonderful a read as ever John, though I particularly enjoyed this one, due in large part to your response to the sexual harassment of Donna. That you felt anger and outrage and wanted to do something about it, is a quality I wish many more possessed. Men letting other men know that their behaviour is not cool would go a long way to solving the problem.


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