Monday, 14 April 2014

The Tiger Who Came to Tea: Part 1 (Scene 24)

It is dawn, early Spring.  Weak Sunderland sunlight is gently illuminating a dusty bedroom: clothes, books,  cats, teacups and lurchers are languidly piled on every surface.  Seagulls, tinged with golden sun, perch crying on red chimney pots.  Rochester is lying in bed,  staring at the ceiling, ruminatively stroking his beard as if he were soothing a startled stoat.   Miss Underscore, next to him, is watching him composedly.

Rochester:  Well, this is unexpected, flower.  I am deeply serious. I did not envisage . . . THIS.

Miss U:  Me neither.  You know,  sleeping with you is like sleeping with a tiger.

Rochester: (proudly) Exactly!  Of course it is, (grabbing Miss Underscore and pulling her to him with the fervour of a window salesman at a Tie Rack fire sale) and what woman would NOT want that:  would not want tiger sex? You're not telling me anything I haven't heard before, petal!

Miss U:  (resting her head on his chest) I was talking about sleeping, not sex; you purr, growl, snore and snort all through the night, like a tiger.  An elderly tiger though.  A tiger in bifocals. A benevolent, be-cardiganed tiger, residing in a tiger retirement home. 

Rochester: (nodding sagely)  Aye.  Like as I said,  what bird would not want that?

Miss U:  A tiger in a Parker Knoll high-backed chair.  A tiger with battenburg crumbs in his whiskers.

Rochester:  Still a tiger though, eh? Still a cunting tiger.  Fucking hell, Miss Underscore. Here we are again, eh?   

Miss U: I wasn't expecting this either, you know.  I mean, look at the state of the house: no hoovering, no tidying, crumbs in the bed from yesterday morning's bacon and egg sandwich. 

Rochester:  (squirming) Aye these crumbs are a nightmare, like.   I always remembered you for your exquisitely laundered 1950s bedlinen. What's going on? (sitting up and looking around). Your approach to interior design has gone decidedly more Bleasedale than Marple.    Getting up to go to the bathroom was like playing Russian roulette: non of your lights work, there's stuff everywhere,   animals lurking everywhere.  It's a bit of a tip, flower.   It didn't used to be like this.

Miss U:  Don't go there, Rochester.  I can't bear it.  I know, the house is a ruin.  I am a domestic slattern.  You know that song, The Circle of Life?  Well, Elton John was not referring to interconnectedness of all living creatures united in a perpetual cycle of spiritual renewal.  It's about the unrelenting drudgery of keeping a two-bedroom, pre-war semi dust-free and fully stocked in functioning lightbulbs.  It is soul destroying.  I hate this house.  I want to move.  And yes, if I had thought for one minute I'd be . . .  entertaining, I possibly would have had a run around with the Dyson and lint-rolled my knickers.  Jesus,  I had given MUCH more thought to my knickers.  Christ knows what you were thinking last night. . . I imagine your granny wore similar smalls during her time at the munitions factory. 

Rochester:  Knickers?  Really?  I am disappointed - but only cos I can't say I noticed them at all, and now I feel like I've missed out on a treat. Sexually speaking, I think your underwear is the least of your worries. I don't think you know how challenging it is for a man to perform when being scrutinised by a sour-faced lurcher.  Hetty was stood, glowering, by the bed all fucking night. Did you not notice?  I even felt a cold nose on my arse at one point.   Although, thinking about it now, she might have been retrieving a shard of impaled bacon from your breakfast sandwich.  

Miss U:  Ah, stop grumping.  Hetty just doesn't like men of the male gender.  She particularly doesn't like you.  See, there are some females on this earth who do not go giddy as a kipper over an brutish, Hai-Karated vulgarian in a tank top. 

Rochester:  Clearly.  Put her in a headscarf and pinny and it would be like having your Aunty Margaret  in the bedroom with us. 

Miss U:  She does have a wonderfully snooty and pained fizzog, (gesturing to a nest of threadbare cashmere cardigans, where Hetty now lounges, eyes narrowing furiously at Rochester).  Look at her, she's seething with latent disapproval; she's like Margot Leadbetter at a GUM clinic.

Rochester:  (stroking Miss Underscore's hair gently) Aye well. Despite all that.  It was all very lovely.

Miss U: Hmmm.  I agree. (sitting up enthusiastically).   And, what's more, today, is QUITE the best day I can remember in the annals of Underscore history.  I've waited so very long for this.   I can't believe it's finally going to happen.

Rochester:  Yup.  I hear that.  (amorously) Howay flower.  Come here. You might want to look away, Hetty.

Miss U: I didn't mean than, rogue. Deflate your beard please.  I mean today is the day John Lewis are coming to fit my new dishwasher!  Seriously,  this is like, epic!  I'm going to make some tea and breakfast for us, and then you'll have to go.  

Rochester:  Cunting hell (squinting at alarm clock)  It's only half past six!

Miss U:  This is John Lewis, Rochester.  JOHN LEWIS. They said they could be here at 7.  I can not have workmen from John Lewis thinking I reside in some sort of pebble-dashed flop house.  I can't have a bearded, chain-smoking, fanny rat, ambling round the house like a satyr in underpants.  What will they think?  What if they tell the ladies at the Bobbi Brown or Hobbs counters? They might revoke my loyalty card.  Nope.  IT CAN NOT AND WILL NOT HAPPEN. 

Rochester:  I don't think they'll give a fuck, you know.  I could be legit.  I could be Mr Underscore!  

Miss U:  (scoffing as she gets dressed into clothes found beneath various snoozing animals)  Look at you: marinated up to your oxters in Hai Karate,  tank top dangling from the light-fitting, beard like a louche South American freedom fighter, eyebrows like randy ferrets.  You're quite obviously not Mr Underscore.  He would be a genteel sort - a corduroyed academic perhaps.  A DIY loving Quaker, that would be ideal actually, I must do a mismatch search for DIY loving Quakers.   Now, where the fuck is my lint-roller?  Anyway, I am a MISS Underscore.  Sir John Lewis, well, he knows me as a Miss, not a Mrs.

Rochester:  Thought a Virago paperback reading, pseudo lesbian like you would be a MS.  

Miss U:  (applying lipstick)  Nope.  Miss and PROUD.  Like Miss Jean Brodie . . . Miss Dior . . . Miss Marple. . . Miss Pettigrew. . . 

Rochester:  (retrieving his tank top from the light-fitting and dusting the trailing ribbons of cobwebs from it) Miss Havisham, that's who you are,  Miss Cunting Havisham. 


It is two days earlier, a Sunday afternoon in a pub overlooking the River Tyne.  Miss Undersore and Rochester are, slightly awkwardly, chatting over drinks. 

Rochester:  I think it's five years, flower.  It must be five years since I've seen you.  Remember, we stayed in that posh hotel.  I gave you steak and chips and swine flu.

Miss U:  Oh, I remember. It can't be that long though.  How old is Reggie?  Last time we met was the day before you found out you were going to be a father for the twenty seventh time.  

Rochester:  Reggie?  Errr . . .  Reggie must be four.  No five.  Three and a half maybe. (frowning) Not sure, to be honest.  I tell you what, he's going to be a handful, that one.    Here, have a look at him, he's a right little rip.  (Rochester passes his phone)

Miss U:  Do you not know how old he is?  

Rochester:  Errr.  I do.(defensively)  I'm momentarily befuddled by your ocelot coat, that's all. I worry about those bairns being brought up in the South, you know. SeƱor Boldon (your ex) has already claimed Tommy is gay cause he didn't want to go to a Sunderland match.  Plus, I was putting my shoes on the other day and he said, 'Daddy, are they tap shoes.  Can I have some?'  He doesn't know the fucking difference between segs and tap shoes!  Fucking hell!  Do I look like twitting Fred Astair?

Miss U:  Statistically speaking, Rochester, you have SO MANY children, at least one of them will turn out to be gay.  That's just maths, isn't it? Goodness.  This is uncanny;  Reggie is the image of you. I've never seen eyebrows like that on a toddler before.  As a seasoned primary school teacher, I agree:  this one is going to run you ragged.  You're knocking on a bit now, Rochester, what are you, 45, 46?  If you make it to 50 you'll be a desiccated husk of a man, a mere skeleton in a chunky knit . . . you are looking thin now, actually. Really thin.   

Rochester:  I'm living on Greggs cheese and onion pasties, sausage rolls and coffee.  It's life on the road.  Kerouac was the same, I believe. Howay though, what do you think about the beard? It's fucking exclusive, isn't it?  Although, I'm not sure why it's quite so . . . ginger. 

Miss U:  Hmmm.  It is, isn't it, compared to the rest of you.  It is flecked with grey though.  That's quite a refined look.  I do like it, actually.  

Rochester: (stretching out his arms proudly) And the tank top - you must approve of this pet?  Duck egg blue!  It's not my best one, that one is pea-green.  I've mislaid it, unfortunately.

Miss U:  I think it's possibly a blessing in disguise that you've lost it, Rochester.  What with your orange beard, a pea-green tank top, well . . . you'd look like a packet of Tic Tacs. It's probably under the bed of a Barratt home, discarded whilst you razzle-dazzled some neglige-wearing housewife with your tilt and turn UPVC erection.

Rochester:  You know, this has been on my mind.  I know you love to portray me as some sort of rampant lothario and all those lezzas and puffs who read your blog think I'm a right fanny-ratting cad - but actually, in the last 10 years, I've only slept with 5 lasses.  Five.  That's it. So, what have you got to say about that, Underscore?

Miss U:  Really?  Wow.  I'm speechless.  Including all the wives?  Let me think about my own score. . . err. . . in the last 10 years?

Rochester:  Aye.  Howay.  There's only been once wife, by the way, as you well know.

Miss U:   Three.

Rochester:  Three?  Three men in five years?  (nodding) See - we're not actually too dissimilar.  At the very least, I'd say we're in the same league.

Miss U:  Yes, but two of mine were brothers, so I am not sure you can count them singularly.  I think that actually equates to 2.5.  One every 4 years.  That puts me in the same league as a Sunday school teacher, librarian or IT consultant.

Rochester:  (shaking his head and rolling a cigarette)  You cunt. You had to mention the brother thing, didn't you.  Well, this is very relaxed, isn't it?  You in your faux ocelot, me in my tank top.  Enjoying the best view in the North.  We should've done this sooner, flower.

Miss U:  Hmmm.  You've been busy though.  Babies, double glazing, lasses from Manchester . . .

Rochester:  Aye, I wondered when you'd bring that up.  Howay, take my arm, we'll have a stroll along the river and find another pub.  You can tell me more about all this spinster literature you keep twittering on about.

Miss Underscore and Rochester are strolling down a riverside path.

Rochester:  Hey, I think I owned a few Virago paperbacks, back in the 80s and 90s.  Back in the day when I was doing my masters on lesbianism.  Should I read Pym, do you think?

Miss U:  No.  I don't think she would speak to you.  I think you might need drama more from a narrative than a laddered support stocking, a fallen Victoria sponge and skullduggery at the church fete marrow competition. Anyway, you get enough fraught and tousled spinster action from my correspondence.  Maybe try Elizabeth Jenkins though, The Tortoise and the Hare; written in the mid 50s.  I discovered that recently.  It is the most beautifully written book I have ever read.  Very languid and achingly melancholy. Speaking of Pym though, Philip Larkin was a massive fan of hers. See, I knew that would perk you up.  They corresponded for years.  He championed her when her work was deeply unfashionable.  He said he would rather re-read an old Pym than read a new Jane Austen.  I quite agree.

Rochester:  Philip Larkin?  Really?  You see NOW, . . . NOW you're being quite interesting.  I trust his judgement.  I bet you were an Elizabeth Smart fan, back in the 80s.  Didn't you quote her in your profile?  You did didn't you?

Miss U:  By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept?  Jesus.  How did you know that?  I LOVED that book as a student.  It has formed the tragic blueprint for every relationship I've ever had.  I did not quote it though on mismatch though.   Have I mentioned it before?

Rochester:  Nope.  I just knew that about you.  I pick up on the signals, flower. You're the type.  

Miss U:  For a crashing, clumsy brute, you can be most unexpected, Rochester.

Rochester:  Aye.  Hidden depths.  I am misunderstood. I've been giving you new mismatch profile some thought.  Are you ready?  Here's my recommendation, pet:  'Beautiful, stubborn and sensitive mackem crank, whose delights include panackelty, ocelot fur, 1950s fancy dress, lugubrious lurchers, Dorothy Parker and Bette Davies, seeks interesting bloke with decent shoes for steak dinners and endless torment.  Feathery strokers need not apply.'   How's that?

Miss U:  Better than mine, to be fair.  I shall consider it.  I am not sure I can be arsed with interweb dating again though.   (They stand looking out over an oily and green River Tyne).  I can hear the goats from the Ouseburn farm. . . listen. And the clank of shopping trolleys on the river bed.  It's quite melancholic. 

Rochester:   Yup.  Howay, let's go and get another drink.  I could quite fancy a Sunday lunch, you know.

Later that afternoon.  Miss Underscore leaves the riverside pub alone.  She is speaking on her phone.

Miss U:  Mission accomplished.  .  . Nope.  Had a few drinks, that's all.  (pause)  Nope, just a hug.  Perfectly platonic.  No risk of unrobing, nothing indecent.  Although, I did catch him sniffing my ocelot while he thought I wasn't looking. . . See, nowt to worry about, Noir.   He's even offering to do you a quote on a new front door, if you're up for it.  I told him you needed one . . . Seriously, he was quite excited at the thought of selling to a woman of Venetian persuasion.   He says he can pop round tomorrow with his catalogue and he'll event put his cufflinks on for you and everything.   OK.  I'm off home now.  I AM alone, I swear.   I'll email a full match-report later.   But, I have won this bet Noir - I have proved it is entirely possible to meet Rochester, have a civilised and convivial conversation and to remain both vertical and fully-clothed!

To be continued. . .

Monday, 21 October 2013

Fanny Rat Rises

After months in fanny-rat purgatory, the phone call from the rogue was most unexpected.  I had all but given up on the monobrowed lothario.  It was a drizzly Thursday night and I was loafing with the lurchers when the call came through.  I muted Cagney and Lacey and draped myself seductively on the sofa in the manner of Elizabeth Taylor receiving a call from Richard Burton (i.e. I poured myself a gallon of gin, put down the plate of buttered crumpets and popped open a button on my winceyette nightie).

Rochester:  All right flower?

Miss U:  Dear God Rochester, this is the first time you've called me all year.

Rochester:  Aw, howay pet.  Don't yack on about it.   It IS only October, after all.

It was a call of not exactly unexpected revelations: there was an update on his shady business venture, Kremlin Enterprises, which he ebulliently proclaimed ' A great cunting success! Only 12 referrals to Trading Standards last month! FACT!'

He talked me through his latest tank top purchases,  'Aye, a new green one since I was last in touch, flower.'

And, after an hour of conversation that had the fluidity and effervescence of a cocktail glass of week-old blancmange, came his awkward admission that he'd been 'seeing someone'.  Of course he had.  After years of marital dithering, anguished longing and 1000 lovelorn blog posts,  Rochester finally left the missus, and went off to be with . . .  . SOMEONE ELSE!

Says it all really, doesn't it?   Christine Cagney wouldn't have put up with such shit.  Nor would Elizabeth Taylor, come to think of it.  Poor Dick Burton would have been garroted by his distressed oatmeal polo neck if he had so much as looked at another woman.   Liz would've known the PERFECT retort to any boozy philandering in the valleys.  And it probably would have been this.

Mind you, how satisfying it must be to give the finger to a swarthy, poetry-reciting Welsh drunkard in a mink coat, when said finger is adorned with an emerald cocktail ring the size of The Ritz.  I doubt my Elizabeth Duke cubic zirconia would have the same penis-withering impact on the Don Juan of double glazing.  I imagine Rochester's response to such a feisty gesture would be, 'Aye petal,  that's right.  Just the one bag of pork scratchings, ta.'

Initially, I was rather proud of myself, having predicted this exact eventually to Noir on our last afternoon tea jaunt.  'He's seeing a bird from Manchester.  I just KNOW IT!'  I'd proclaimed over my tea-cup, nodding sagely like a end-of pier psychic as I dusted the scone crumbs from my cleavage.

Miss U:  She was from Manchester, wasn't she?

Rochester:  Yes. (perplexed) How the fuck did you know that?

Miss U:  Oh, you kept texting me how fantastic Manchester was. You sounded smitten.  I assumed there was more to it than a love of eccles cakes and misty canals.  Nowt gets past me.  What happened?

Rochester:  It is finished now. She was lovely but it just wasn't right.  She wanted kids.  Well I think she did (we never discussed it).  I've done all that.  Many times. Christ, it would have killed me. What's left of me.   There was the distance too.   We saw each other for 3 or 4 months.

Miss U: That means 6 or 7 months, doesn't it?  Maybe even a year.

And then, dearest reader,  he started twittering on about it all, and I just couldn't bear to hear it.  I COULD NOT BEAR IT.   I ended the call, as swiftly as I could. He was free to make a choice.  Finally, he was free to make a choice.   And he chose someone else.  FACT.

Monday, 26 August 2013

A dilemma. . . .advice would be much appreciated

Oh Dear. Week Six of the school holidays.  As usual, I have achieved little.  I may have one chapter of my novel written, but I haven't cleared out the under stair cupboard (that particular job has been on 'to do' list since 2005).  Nor have I cleaned the skirting boards (ever).  The fridge has not been defrosted since the royal wedding (William and Kate).  The garden, with its tangle of brambles and gone to seed willowherb, is a disgrace.  Aunty Margaret would be appalled at my slatternly ways.  But, I have walked for miles every day with the hounds, read lots and tried to have a gently recuperative break.

As yet, I have done no school work.  This is unusual for me.  I normally like to devote one day per week in the summer to lesson planning, making resources and organising my classroom.  Ordinarily, I'd be quite looking forward to the Autumn term:  a fresh start, shiny new pencils and exercise books, new topics to plan, great books and poems to select for literacy lessons.  This coming term I am supposed to be doing a Victorian topic.  That should be wonderful, I was considering  a week of running my class as if it was a Victorian schoolroom (blackboards/ slates/ hymn practices/traditional playground games).  Then we'd move on to Victorian inventions and have some sort of Dragons Den project.  Of course, my classes are famed for their morbid and gory topics, so we'd investigate Victorian crime and punishment and local archives by studying the life of Durham serial killer Mary Ann Cotton (and reenact her trial and botched hanging).  We'd finish off, of course, with a lovely Victorian Christmas and class production of A Christmas Carol.  What is not to love about a job with that much creativity?

Something has changed though. To be honest, my stomach is in knots just thinking about returning to work.  Every night, for weeks now, I have the same two dreams.

1.  The plane crash dream.  Self explanatory:  I am on a plane, it is coming in to land, but something has gone terribly wrong.
2.  The School of Hard Knocks dream:  I am back at my old school, happy and at home, when it suddenly occurs to me that I cannot stay.  My visit is only temporary and I have to leave to go to my new job. That breaks my heart every time.

My new school is vile. It has become a living nightmare.  I left the SOHK feeling confident, competent and that I could tackle anything (the SOHK certainly wasn't the easiest school to work in, as you know but I knew I'd been an excellent teacher and leader there).  After one term at my new school I was anxious, run-down and full of self-doubt.  By the end of my second term (July) I really thought I was heading for a breakdown.   I'd hold back tears just walking to the front door.  I am not sure how things have gone quite so wrong.

To be fair, I don't like change.  I panic at the thought of new social situations (I am terribly shy, really).  I always knew a change of job would be tough and that I'd take a while to settle in.  It became obvious though, from a very early stage, that the culture of my school was one of bullying and distrust.  Sitting in early management meetings (I am a senior leader in the school) I could not believe how members of staff were talked about, how the head would joke about making people cry or her policy of getting rid of weak teachers by 'bullying them out'.  In whole-staff meetings there was a tangible atmosphere of distrust and disharmony.  People kept themselves to themselves. Staff turnover was (unsurprisingly) high.  By Easter things were so bad I had begun to keep a diary of incidents and observations.

In a meeting with Head and leadership team.  Head turned to me and said, 'Your class's maths results are absolute crap. What are you going to do about them?'  I was amazed.  My class's maths progress was excellent (1.8 points progress in 8 weeks: target is 1.3 in 12 weeks).  I quoted these figures to her (got feeling she wasn't expecting me to know them).  She just shrugged and said 'not as good as your English though, are they? Since then she repeatedly makes pointed comments that although my class can read, they can't add up. 

A (a teacher) has been receiving threats and insulting notes/letters from a pupil in school.  Some have been left at her home address, which is obviously worrying her.  Head (who doesn't like A) just laughs about this.  Claims A is making them up.  'I wouldn't trust her as far as I could throw her.  And that's not very far, fat cow!'  'Has she been crying about it in the toilets again?  Pathetic!' 

A (the teacher) has referred herself to occupational support for counselling.  Counsellor emailed a confidential report through to the Head, who read out sections to management team and laughed about it again.  She went on to say we had better 'tread carefully' though, in case A complains of bullying in the workplace.

Big disagreement with head about literacy (again).  She has spent nearly £10,000 on i-pads and film making equipment (bought in April, none of it used yet). This was pupil premium money, which should be spent on raising standards and accelerating progress.  I had put forward case for promoting reading and writing, with costings, but she refused to spend any money on it.  "God. Boring!  I hated reading as a child.  I am not spending the budget on books!'

Two members of staff have resigned.  Unfortunately, they are fantastic teachers and have only let us know at last minute.  Head said she would have deliberately given them bad references but they have both found jobs with headteachers who already knew them, so that wouldn't work. I have no doubt she meant every word of it.  

Local Authority team in to inspect school.  I reminded head that she has not (nor have any of management team) held any pupil progress meetings this year (meetings to check each class is making expected progress and to hold teachers to account for their results).  I have repeatedly tried to get these meetings in the diary.  Without them, it looks like we are not managing progress. She said she would just lie to authority team about it. 

Last week of summer term.  Head posted quite aggressively worded message on school intranet, complaining that not all managers had conducted their performance management meetings and that these need to be done, or people will not receive pay rises.  This is now my 7th month at school.  Head has not done my performance management meeting.  I have not had one since starting.  Not sure if I am getting pay rise or not.  She does not practice what she preaches!

In training about new pay arrangements with other members of staff and head.  Head kept asking thinly veiled questions about me to trainer, 'so if we have a new member of the management team and we are not sure of whether she has met her targets, what should we do?'  'this member of the management team started in January.  Would her pay rise be in January or September?' Embarassing, to say the least.

Head laughing about making supply teacher cry for the second time this week.  'God, she was all snot and tears!'

It is awful.  My only coping mechanism is to hide away in my classroom and try to distance myself from the ghastliness of it all.  If I focus on my class, then I can just about get through a day. However, that does mean I get criticised for not fulfilling a 'visible' management role.  I can't really win.  I feel totally inept.

My main problem is this:  my job IS my life.  I have been teaching for six years now.  I have always loved it.  Teachers love to complain about their lot, but I really do think teaching is the best job in the world. I never regretted changing career. Rochester may act like a twat, my house may be falling down around my ears, I may be broke and existing on diet of ASDA Smartprice beans and broken biscuits, but at least I had a job that was creative, absorbing and rewarding.  My job was my life-raft.  It always kept me going when everything else was shit.  Now my job is shit and my life-raft is gone.  I can't afford to walk away from it, of course.  I am single; with a mortgage and bills/debts to pay and no husband or family to help.   I really don't know what to do.

I know the answer, of course, I need to find a new school and a new job. But that's not easy when you feel as much of a failure as I do at the moment.  Later this week, I should be meeting up with a couple of colleagues from SOHK (including my lovely ex-teaching assistant Eeeee Hun, who has appeared on this blog before).  I am looking forward to seeing them. But I am also embarrassed.  My wonderful promotion has been an unmitigated disaster.   I have failed.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Flatlining Narratives

The 'Book'

"Your blog is canny flower.  You CAN write.  But there's no narrative arc."

That was Rochester's analysis of my writing talent.  The obtuse oaf misses the point; I can not deny that my blog lacks a narrative arc.  Truthfully, I don't care two hoots about that.  It is the lack of narrative arc in my life that is distressing.  I am going through a period of narrative flatlining.  As Aunty Margaret would put it, my life is 'as flat as a duck's instep'.

However, this holiday I have started a book.  A novel.  This is an ambitious project for a woman who thinks she has made a success of her day if she managed to get out of pyjamas for at least two hours.   I have a chapter written. A whole chapter!  I cannot deny, my tome will be largely autobiographical.  The reader (singular) can expect a bittersweet tale of a dreamy, motherless child growing up amongst the bleak colliery terraces, juxtaposed with scenes of the present day.  There will be aunties hewn of coal and Max Factor Creme Puff, a musky platoon of philandering fanny rats and the odd noble lurcher or two.  Essentially, It's To Kill a Mockingbird, with added corned beef and Arthur Scargill.

What troubles me about the book is its lack of narrative arc.  I expect (given that I do lack imagination) that little will happen in it.  Now, sometimes I think that is OK.  Some of my favourite authors: Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Jenkins, Elizabeth Taylor etc write very quiet, episodic domestic stories but do so with huge amounts of charm and wit and whimsy.  They weave in a wisp of melancholy and darkness and write utterly satisfying and beautiful tales. They do lack 'plot' though. Let's face it, the climax of a Pym story could a torrid scene set at a church fete, as Pym's gauche and spinsterish heroine (probably named Dulcie or Mildred) drops a buttered scone into the lap of her beloved  (a bespectacled, bumbling curate named Digby), leaving a perpetual stain on both his corduroys and her character.

 I think about my favourite book, A Prayer for Owen Meany, with its 600 pages of intricate plotting and a vast, Dicksensian cast of wonderfully rich characters.  It is a perfectly plotted novel.  It ends brilliantly.  All strands of this epic story are woven together beautifully. I love a book that has a satisfying ending.  So many don't.  Without a narrative arc, a good ending is tricky.  The story just can't build up enough momentum.

So, I am wrestling with issues of plot.  As an avid reader of thrillers and crime novels (and watcher of Hetty Wainthrop, Cagney and Lacey and Columbo), I could build in a murder or two. Imagine: 

Scene One
An errant double-glazing salesman is packing sample UPVC frames into the back of a BMW.  It a sultry summer night.  His last job of the day is over. He loosens his Quality Street wrapper tie, slumps in the driver's seat and winds down the car window. He reaches into the glove compartment.  He pulls out a bottle of Hi Karate aftershave.  His phone rings.

"Aye flower.  I'm on my way. I've told the missus I'll be home by 10 though." 

He hangs up.  He smirks lasciviously at himself in the rear view mirror, smugly smooths down his eyebrows and begins to spray Hi Karate.   JUST AT THAT VERY MOMENT there is the gentle tread of ballet pumps on concrete and the flash of emerald green cashmere passes the car window.  The rogue turns to look.  A flash of confused recognition darkens his face .  Suddenly BOOM!  The BMW and the fanny rat are obliterated in a savage explosion.  SOMEHOW, a stray lit match had found its way into the BMW, igniting the Hi Karate, which in turn set alight the polyester tie and turned the car into a toxic funeral pyre of molten metal, UPVC and overbearing aftershave.

The book will be called Rat Trap.  A Boomtown Rats soundtrack (for the inevitable ITV, Monday night adaptation) and Kristen Scott Thomas as the avenging angel/  serial killer. . .

Maybe not.   I think I'll stick with my more benign and prosaic narrative.   There will be violence and intrigue though.  After all, there was that time when class warrior Uncle George was dreadfully wounded (and scarred for life) during the 1984 miners strike.  It was truly horrific.  Aunty Mary found out he'd been carrying on with the woman from the pie shop (when he was supposed to be on the picket line).  In front of a cheering audience at the colliery soup kitchen, she poured five gallons of boiling hot broth over his head.  She was unrepentant.

"Aye, I felt bad about the broth, mind. I did that!  What a waste of good food when the bairns were starving."

Friday, 23 August 2013

Excursions in Ennui and Introducing the Panty Pimp

Frances Na
The highlight of my summer holidays (which are now even more frugal thanks to a certain dastardly council and their pay cock-up) is my weekly trip to the Tyneside Cinema.  Recently, I sashayed along to see Frances Ha, which has been billed as a homage to early Woody Allen.  Now, I adore Woody.  I won’t have a word said against the be-corduroyed, angst-ridden, jazz playing imp  Did you see the BBC documentary about him?  It was fantastic!  Rochester even emailed me afterwards.

“Woody reminds me of me, you know.  Although I would draw the line at sleeping with a stepdaughter.”

I find it hard to believe that Rochester 'draws the line' anywhere, sexually speaking, especially given the morally ambiguous turn his work-life is taking  (but more of that debauchery later). 

“You didn’t draw the line at sleeping with a brother’s ex though, did you?” I retorted.  The oaf chose to ignore that.  He ignores me a lot lately. 

Anyway, back to Woody, I watched Manhattan the other night. What a joy!  I know the script off by heart, but one forgotten line did make me smile.  A lovelorn Woody, in the back of a cab, whispering sweet nothings to Diane Keaton.

“You look so beautiful! I can barely keep my eyes on the meter.”

I was doubtful that Frances Ha could come anywhere close to the charm of those early Woody Allen/Diana Keaton movies.   I went to an afternoon showing.   I love matinees.  I frequently get the whole cinema to myself. I find increasingly that I don't like to be out late (later than say, 7.30pm).  I attribute this to my father, who, even when he was wooing my mum at the Easington Colliery Hippodrome, ALWAYS had to be home and in bed by 9.00pm.  Poor mum.  She missed the endings of most films.  As far as she was concerned, in Gone With the Wind, Scarlet said 'Fiddle-de-de' a few times, Atlanta burned and that was it.  The end. My dad also, famously, slept through every air raid in the war. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  I am my father's daughter.  I am half woman, half sloth.

It was probably just as well that I had the Tyneside to myself for Frances Ha,  as I spent most of the film muttering furiously at the bedraggled protagonist. She spent a preposterous amount of time prancing 'charmingly'  along the New York streets to a David Bowie soundtrack. She lived in black and white. She wore leggings.  Lots of leggings. And Converse sneakers.  She dreamt of being a professional dancer.  This seemed a highly unlikely ambition as she seemed very gangly and angular.  The clumsy sort who can't go through a supermarket without upending an entire display of perfectly arranged Fray Bentos pies.   Her dance moves lacked grace and fluidity.  She resembled a dispraxic, three legged foal trying to fight its way out of a leotard.  Frances couldn't hold down a job.  Or a relationship.  She lived in a series of shabby, curtainless hipster dens, filled with books, cheese plants and gawky lads in skinny jeans. Yes, she got my dander up.  She unleashed my inner Aunty Margaret. 

"Get a job, slacker!"  
"For the love of God, BRUSH YOUR HAIR!"   
"Don't sleep with him.  Look at the state of his Converse!  He's bound to have fungal nail infection!"
"When is the last time that coffee table saw a duster?"

I have no patience with jobless, self-obsessed beatnicks.  Maybe I am too old to appreciate Frances Ha.  

 My next Tynside jaunt will be to see the new Kristen Scott Thomas film.  It's French.  It's a comedy of manners.  Now THAT will be a class act.  There is a brittle fragility to KST that I love. And trust me, if there are leggings and unbrushed hair, she will carry them off with a  genteel insouciance and radiance.   Kirsten will not smell of mildewed Converse, marijuana and three day old falafal.  No.  She will smell of cashmere cardigans, lavender fields and warm brioche.  Looking for Hortense is much more my cup of tea.  And what a great name for a lurcher!  Hortense.  I picture a very aloof and equine hound.  A graceful saluki type.  A canine Patricia Hodge.

There was one section of Frances Ha that resonated with me.  Frances, disillusioned with her shambolic lifestyle and inability to hold down a relationship or a job, jetted off for an impulsive trip to Paris.  Once there, she spent the entire time brooding on a park bench, alone and wretched.  That is just the kind of thing I would do. Although, whilst there, I would also take the opportunity to eat my body weight in macarons and steak frites.  Frances didn't even have a Petit Filous!  This part of the film confirmed a deep-seated belief of mine:  you can't hide from yourself;  you can't outrun  depression. It is tethered to you like a backpack filled with lead.  If you're going to be depressed, best be depressed somewhere shabby and mediocre.  Don't go somewhere astonishingly beautiful, like Paris or Provence or the Grand Canyon.  It will just make you feel even more futile and insignificant.  Trust me: if you are heartbroken, go to Hull.  If you are sorrowful, go to Sunderland. Be melancholy in Middlesbrough. Don't go to Peterlee mind.  Trust me.  NO ONE IS THAT DEPRESSED.

Actually, this gives me an idea for a new business venture: Ennui Excursions: holidays for the dejected and misanthropic. How about a bus tour of Northern sink estates?  A camping experience in the grounds of a obsolete nuclear power station?   I think I am on to something here. I think has idea has legs.  

Introducing the Panty Pimp
Speaking of new business ventures, Rochester has been in touch to tell me about his new enterprise.  He sounded as brash and irrepressible as ever.  Kremlin Enterprises (his home improvement company) has taken off massively, now bored and rich, the rogue is branching out into the sex trade.  Rochester is a pimp (of sorts).  His proposed new company is called Panty Parlour.  I am not sure I even want to explain WHAT exactly Panty Parlour's product is.  It is terribly grubby.  Actually, that is the product: grubby knickers. I am hoping that the whole thing is a wind-up.  However, the fact that he attached a draft website design for Panty Parlour makes me fear it is not.  He even offered me employment, 'Although I think I am going to target Polish lasses as knicker providers.'   Maybe he doesn't think there is much of a demand for size 14 primary school teacher control pants. Could be a profitable niche market.  

It's all very dispiriting. Why couldn't Rochester have a more dignified mid-life crisis? Paul Newman (in between working bare-chested on a sun dappled ranch and making waffles for Joanne Woodward) set up a charitable foundation making salad dressing.  Richard Madeley established the Menopausal Musers book club and designed a range of tan orthopedic loafers for Clarks.  Nick Cave grew a moustache and relocated to the seaside to play crazy golf with the Bad Seeds and run a bucket and spade shop.

"This is a joke, Rochester?  Isn't it?  Please tell me this is a joke!  If it isn't, doesn't this make you a predatory, amoral, middle-aged creep?" 

He ignored that one too.  

Books Read this summer (so far)

I enjoyed this, but it's certainly the slightest of Barbara Pym's books.

This is probably my favourite of Taylor's novels.  Beautiful, languid English summer setting with a satisfyingly dark and menacing undercurrent. 

Just started this, pleasant and charming but NOT I Capture the Castle.  Sadly.

Oh my lord, READ IT.  Brilliant. 

I was so disappointed in this.  I loved the beginning and the development of the characters, but it just didn't seem to go anywhere. 

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Bits and Pieces

I am still alive.  Just.

Everything is a bit muddled at the moment.  2013 is proving to be an utter cunt of a year.  Would you mind if I whinge a bit?  Howay,  Liz Jones gets paid thousands per column to whine about recalcitrant imaginary rock star boyfriends and bearded collies with dermatitis, you're getting this stuff for free. Indulge me.  Please.

1.  I HATE my job.  Loathe it.  I have to accept that leaving School of Hard Knocks was possibly the worst decision I have made in recent years.  Yes, even worse than my short-lived dalliance with Margot Leadbetter palazzo pants in 2012. For the first time since moving into teaching, I dread getting up in the morning.  The atmosphere in the school is toxic.  The Head is a bully and utterly untrustworthy. My confidence in my own ability has been totally eroded. I must find a new job next term, but generally feel so inept and depressed that I doubt I'd manage to persuade any school to take me on.

2.  The Local Authority  I worked for at SOHK have realised they have overpaid me for quite some time, and apparently I owe them several thousand pounds.  Sigh.  This has come as quite a shock.  I could do without this sort of  problem.  For heaven's sake, I am in my early 40s.  Why do I still have money worries?  Shouldn't I be buying a holiday home in the South of France by now, rather than struggling with a mortgage on a crumbling Sunderland semi? (My house and garden are now so poorly maintained that they resemble those pictures of Chernobyl 25 year on).  I have offered to pay back the amount owed monthly, leaving me approximately £2.50 per month in disposable income.

3.  I have felt, for most of 2013, permanently under-the-weather.  I am plagued with viruses, colds, sore throats, aches, dizziness and upset stomachs.  I suppose it's all stress-related and work related.  Despite this, I have never missed a day of school.  I wouldn't dare.

4.  Rochester is not speaking to me.  He has sulked since I posted the videos of him on my blog in May. Did you see them?  They were only available for a few hours. I was mad at the time.  My dander was up when the oaf forgot my birthday for the third year in a row.  I didn't think he'd even have noticed the films, as my blog has never interested him in the slightest.   I was wrong.  He saw them.

"You crossed a line.  You know you did. I am pissed off with you.'

He gruffly retorted, 6 weeks later.  And that is pretty much all I have heard from him in the last 4 months.

I sent him a birthday present in June.  He was turning 45.  I felt he was at a crossroads in his life. He could amble casually into a dignified and distinguished  middle-age (Tony Benn, Cary Grant, John Le Mesurier) or strut like an arthritic peacock into an mid-life orgy of cocaine,  twenty year old flibbertigibbet girlfriends and pouffy leather blouson jackets.  Rochester's gifts were designed to nudge him gently in the right direction.  They included:

A Harris tweed tie: (from here)  Rochester, since entering the tawdry world of double glazing sales, has sported an irrepressibly brash range of silken, pastel-hued monstrosities. He's become some sort of South Shields Donald Trump.  I felt the need to stage a tie intervention.

A pipe and tobacco: For moments of sober, fireside contemplation.  Pipe-smoking is a dying art. That saddens me.

Chocolate Gingers: Is it just me, or are chocolate gingers the ONLY choice for men of a certain age?  I cannot remember my dad, uncles, male headteachers ever been given any other sort of confectionery.  Let us face it: any other chocolate choice is too frivolous and fey for a real Northern man.  What red-blooded man of the male gender would welcome a box of Dairy Milk? It would be an insult.  It would be castration by confectionary.

Nick Cave:  The Assassination of Jesse James soundtrack: Those of you unfortunate enough to see the Rochester films will have noticed that the rogue (who I painted as a dour and surly misanthrope) has taken to listening (and dancing) to soft jazz.  This can not be allowed to continue.  IT. CAN. NOT.

The whole gift was lovingly wrapped in  home-made Tony Benn wrapping paper.  Gentlemen, wouldn't you LOVE to receive such a gift?

Rochester did indeed send me a new film on his birthday.  Sadly, it was not of him smoking the pipe (he claims never to have received the gift I sent).  It was a film taken of him zip-wiring over a quarry in Wales. Dear God. Interestingly, the film appeared to be narrated by an unknown female voice.  I expect that is why it was sent.  Still, my dear reader, if Rochester chooses to spend his time with a giddy lass who buys him zip-wiring birthday experiences, rather than worldly woman who sends him chocolate gingers and Harris tweed ties, that is his choice and his business.

I shall sign off here.  I am re-reading my favourite book, in an attempt to raise my spirits.   It is a joy.  An absolute joy.

Later I'll do a bit of pottering, maybe fold some laundry, walk the dogs, flick a duster over a coffee table.  I am setting myself small daily goals for the holiday:  get up, do something productive, go to bed.  Oh, and tonight I shall chortle my way through Luther on BBC1.

Swarthy Irish Nemesis:  You think you're the whirlwind. . . I'm the whirlwind!

Luther:  You're not the whirlwind. I. AM. THE. WHIRLWIND!

I do enjoy Luther.  Have you seen it? The dialogue (not spoken, but growled) is sodden with sweaty, swarthy testosterone and peppered  with cliches as clunking and inelegant as a smack in the face with a granite filled rugby sock.  The script IS ghastly. However,  the program still manages to scare the shit out of me every week.

Attempts have been made to soften Luther's tortured grizzly edges: he has a penchant for the sort of tweed jacket rarely seen outside of the Waterloo Road Geography department and he pootles round the mean, litter strewn streets of London in a Volvo that is possibly the vehicular reincarnation of Michael Foot.  He keeps a picture of a dead lover (or wife maybe) in his flat, seemingly with the sole purpose of looking mournfully at it whenever the empathy klaxon goes off (which is approximately every 18 minutes). The pain, loss and bewilderment in the angst-ridden detective's eyes at these moments have rarely been captured so movingly.  Well, not since Greyfriars Bobby lay down with his head on his paws on his master's grave.  Luther is a man who would appreciate a chocolate ginger.  I just know it.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

The Tank Top of Victory

"I have bought 'The Tweed'.  IT WORKS pet.  This chubby lass draped herself round me last night, like a musky fox fur."

Rochester has upgraded his Old Spice for some of JFK's favourite aftershave: Green Irish Tweed (on my recommendation).  It had been a golden week for Kremlin Enterprises.  He could, therefore, afford such wanton decadence.

"I am ON FIRE.  My tank top must be made of Kryptonite, or sommat.  £65 thousand pounds of sales this week, flower."

The dapper, Brylcreemed salesman appears to be back in the saddle after a barren few months.

"Check out the testimonials on our website, petal.  We are going places!"

The Kremlin Enterprises' website: We WILL improve your home:  FACT, always makes me laugh. It is ghastly.

"GOSH.  I can now sleep safeter in my bed, all tanks to Kremlin Enterprises"  Mr and Mrs Smith, Bristol.

"Kremlin Enterprises' salesman was profffesional and polite.  Great tank top too!"  Mr Singh, Bath.

"Thank you, Thank you, Thank you Kremlin Enterprises!  I will not hesitate to reccommend your fabulos company to everyone I know."  Mrs Brown, Bristol.

"You made these up, Rochester!" 

"Nope.  They are 100% genuine customer comments."

"Well, you might want to check the spelling.  Your customers are illiterate."

"Aye. That's the beauty of it.  How do you think we get them to sign the contract, like?  I've bought a new shirt too, as well as 'The Tweed'.  I'm going to look fucking EXCLUSIVE. Hang on.  I'll send you a pic."

Reader. To be truthful, Rochester (at times) has a truly atrocious dress sense.  This is a man who recently wore a lurid pink paisley shirt to a funeral.  His ties are so gaudy and shiny they could be made from Quality Street wrappers. I was not optimistic I would approve of this shirt.  I was right to be concerned.

A white collar on a striped shirt? It reminded me of something a boorish Tory MP or braying city type would wear.  Tony Benn  (a veritable icon of sober and modest masculine style) would never wear such a flash and spivvy garment.

'Alan B'Stard rang, Rochester.  He wants his shirt back.'

Later, Rochester treated me to one of his films. (The rogue occasionally records moments of his day to send me). How I wish I could post the footage here, but I would never be forgiven.  THIS was a classic. It showed the fanny rat king speeding down the M4 in his Vauxhall of venality, his Brylcreem reaching Exxon Valdize levels of lubriciousness,  sunglasses glinting in the watery Spring sunlight.  The natty oaf was dancing, nay, PRANCING to a jaunty jazz soundtrack.  He was jutting violently about in his seat, like a camel with Parkinson's disease.  Every now and then an arm would unexpectedly flail out, as if the tat salesman was being tasered by the tank-top police.  The rogue freestyled several moves of note:  stern Miss Jean Brodie finger-wagging at the rear-view mirror, imaginary horn honking and rheumatic shoulder shimmying.  Picture Ed Balls, three sheets to the wind on Tio Peppe, at the Labour Party Christmas shindig, and you'll get the picture.  (I told Rochester he looked a bit like Ed Balls this week.  It didn't go down too well, actually.)

It is my birthday next Saturday,  I am hoping for another film.  I have requested a Through the Keyhole style documentary about the cad's new bachelor pad.   I won't get it.  I get the same thing every year.  It is the ONLY predicable thing about the rogue:  his birthday text at 2.50pm saying, 'Sorry.  I forgot.'

School of Hard Knocks vs Mean Girl Academy

Even after 5 months, I still miss SOHK terribly. Pompous Pilate, its lumpen, beetrooty patriarch has been stalking my dreams this week, begging me to return.  He WOULD take me back, you know.  He has yet to fill my old job.  The advert is still there on the Sunderland Council Website.  There is also an advert for Deputy Head at the SOHK.  Great salary.  Awful job.  I did consider it, but I'd be stuck in an office all day doing paperwork.  I'd never get to encounter a child, let alone teach.

My new school, Mean Girl Academy is an awful, backstabbing and sinister place.  We face the start of the next academic year with a shortfall of 3 teachers and 2 teaching assistants due to an incredibly high turnover of staff.  (By comparison, at the SOHK, I was the first teacher to leave in 5 years).  Two more of our teachers are on long-term sick.  A few weeks ago, the Head showed groups of  fresh-faced and shiny, newly-qualified teachers round the school, in a bit to attract some new talent.  Over 100 turned up.  At 5pm, she ushered a group into my classroom.

"This is Year 5.  This is my Assistant Head, Miss Underscore.  She's got the biggest class in the school. 34 children.  All mixed ability.  I don't give her a teaching assistant either, do I?"

I smile warmly at the students.  Some one should, I think, show a bit of kindness to them.

"You'll see she's turned her classroom into coal mine.  I expect that creativity from you mind.  I expect A POUND OF FLESH, don't I, Miss Underscore?"  

She stares witheringly at the students and slowly, menacingly points a pudgy finger in their direction.

"I have only been here two terms myself.  But in that time, 6 members of staff have resigned or retired.  That happens when I take over a school.  YOU MAY READ INTO THAT WHAT YOU WILL!  Now, any questions?"

There were none, of course.

The stunned and silent students were briskly ushered out of my room, their fresh and enthusiastic faces now etched with horror.

I try to keep out of the politics of the place, to be honest. I will, I think, have to put up with it for another year. It is tolerable, as I love teaching, and that makes up 90% of my time.  This was a bad move though.  A dreadful move. Ironically, I heard this week that Pompous is about to make an ex-colleague Assistant Head at SOHK.  Had I stayed, that would have been my job, for sure.  As with so many things in life, my timing has been lousy.

Still, my class and I are enjoying a topic on East Durham coalmining at the moment.  And I am reading them Born to Run.   Here are some examples of my class's pitman painters artwork.  We are making a life-sized colliery banner next week. That will be a challenge.  I can't sew. Neither can they.  We'll then have our own Durham Big Meeting, complete with brass band music, speeches about socialism, marching, banner-waving and ham and pease pudding sandwiches. Michael Gove bleated on a few months ago about the 'defeatism' in East Durham schools (like mine).  I feel I should invite him along.  He would no doubt be aghast, and usher in his curriculum reforms even sooner.  By 2014, such local history projects will be a thing of the past. We'll all be back to teaching the Kings and Queens of England by rote. Pease pudding outlawed.  Whippets euthanised. Flat caps binned.

This miner has forged a very close relationship with his hound. No wonder he looks a little flushed.

This was my favourite. 

Sunday, 28 April 2013


"I have just bought a tank-top."

Keeping up with developments in the swarthy rogue's life can be a dizzying experience.  One week it's inter-racial anal tomfoolery; the next shenanigans in the knitwear department.

"From M&S.  Grey. Lambswool.  It shows my cuff-links off to full effect. Plus, when I am going door-to-door for Kremlin Enterprises, I can get a bit chilly, like.  I got some vests too.  They show nicely through my shirt.  What with my Brylcreem, my vests and my tank top, I think you'd approve, flower."

Reader:  I do approve.  I do love all things retro.  And cosy. It sounds to me like Rochester is adopting a most appropriate approach to ageing. Let me be brutally honest, I always had him pegged as a swaggering knob-jockey who would spend his mid 40s strutting round dimly-lit wine-bars beneath a musky mushroom cloud of overbearing aftershave (probably derived from the anal glands of a rutting ferret).   I pictured him draping himself round giggling, lithesome twenty year-olds like a gruff Geordie, mono-browed anaconda, grumbling come-hither lines about UPVC millions and sodomy.  Tank-tops signify a much more dignified descent into middle age.  Who knows, maybe he'll even give up the roll-ups and cocaine and start smoking a pipe.  Or cigars.  Dare I even dream of an allotment? Tweed?  Tortoiseshell specs? A BEARD??

"Anyway flower, I checked out that Green Irish Tweed stuff that you recommended.  Decided it wasn't for me.  I know you said it was what JFK wore but decided to go for something a bit more South Shields.  A bit more Arthur Scargill.  I got Old Spice instead.  Saved meeself a couple of hundred quid there."

"I don't think JFK would have seduced Marilyn Monroe with Old Spice, Rochester.  Never mind. You are doing well.  Your BMW jars with the new image though.  PLEASE ditch the fanny-wagon and get a nice 1970s mustard-yellow Volvo.  Or a battered old moss-green SAAB."

"One step ahead of you there, flower.  Sold the fanny-wagon already."

(Delighted) "Really?"

"Aye.  Polish fella bought it.  He took it over on the ferry last week.  I hope the sniffer dogs at the border don't pay it too much attention mind."

"What have you got now then?"


 (Bewildered) "A CORSA?"

Now, even for me, and my love of things quiet, modest and genteel, a CORSA is a shuffling, moccasined step too far towards effete and flaccid curate-dom . Only 56 year old men called Malcolm drive CORSAs.  You know the sort: middle managers at the bank who still live with their imperious, gimlet-eyed mothers.  Men who are far too familiar with the many varieties of Mr Kipling cakes and the merits of M&S vs Pretty Polly support tights.  Not men who are ever likely to take you roughly against your clattering 1930s walnut drinks cabinet to a throbbing Grinderman soundtrack.

"Aye, a CORSA. What of it?  Just renting it mind."  

"DEAR GOD. Anyway Rochester, I have sent you another film.  When you get in tonight, get your slippers on and watch it.  The Odd Couple. I am TELLING you, watching Walter Matthau in this film, it will be like looking in the mirror.  His crumpled, hangdog face; all jowly and world-weary like a basset-hound who's just been shoved off his favourite fireside armchair.  You'll love it.  He's got your eyebrows, your sardonic grouchiness, your shambolic lifestyle.  Fuck, he's even got your vests and Brycreem.  The resemblance is uncanny."

"Aye, I'll watch it flower.  I'm not sure I see the Matthau thing mind."

(pause) "Rochester."


"What address have I sent this to?  This address of yours; it's a flat.  I didn't think you lived in a flat.  Is it Kremlin HQ?"

"Err.  No."

"So where is it then?"


"It's my flat, petal."

"Your flat?"

"Aye.  MY flat.  .  .  .I've moved out.  I've left."

(Confused) "Oh.  You never mentioned it. When did this happen?"

"A few months ago.  Christmas maybe.  A bit before. 6 months . . . .possibly."

Revelations, see? Tank-tops.  Vests.  Eau de Scargill aftershave. Curate's cars.  And six months.  Six long months. Six CUNTING months, and the rogue never even mentioned it once.

(By the way, for those who have asked, job is OK, but not great. But, I shall write about that later.)

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Kremlin Enterprises

"I have just been fisted by a black man."

It was a startling opening line.  Even for the rogue.  Aghast, I dropped my crumpet.

Rochester had been terribly withdrawn for some time.  I'd attributed his silence to a new girlfriend. He had been spending  a lot of time with silken-haired, black-eyed siren called Betty.  He lavishes her with gifts (usually pork products). The loved-up duo prop up the bar at his local for hours on end.  He texts me pictures of her, looking all wily, windswept and winsome on the moors.  They spend weekends together. Right under his wife's nose. He doesn't care.  He is smitten.

"I've been missing a trick all these years flower.  I am ON FIRE at the moment.  Wherever I go, lasses chuck themselves at me.  It's all down to Betty."

I hate her.  I hate Betty. She is a right bitch.  A Labrador bitch, to be precise. Rochester has acquired a dog on a timeshare.  He is cock-a-hoop with her fanny-attracting powers.  Sullenly, I pointed out that, back in the day, he needed no canine side-kick to woo the ladies.  No sir. He simply swaggered into his funereal overcoat, set his eyebrows to Heathcliff and his dour, South Shields raillery to Bobby Thompson via Philip Larkin.

Rochester denies there is a girlfriend though.  However, he did claim to have received a Valentine's card this year.  And, seemed gratingly thrilled about it.

"Aye, it was quite a tasteful one pet. It had 'You had me at hello' on the front, and she'd added the word 'petal' to the end. No cunting clue who it is from, like."

Reader. I was seething.  But tried to appear blase.

"It will be one of your housewives.  You'll have beguiled her with your ghastly ties and  UPVC erections.   I imagine her as a Pat Pheonix sort, all C&A neglige, corned-beef thighs and out-of-date Black Magic."

Had I sent Rochester a Valentine's card?  No.  Of course not.  However, I was not going to be out-romanced by some simpering harlot in frosted salmon lipstick and marabou slippers.  I texted the rogue a picture.

"This is my Valentine's to you, Rochester.  My current bookmark." 

"It hasn't come out very clearly flower.  I think I know what it is."

It was, of course, my Metro ticket from our last 'date':  27th December 2010.

In other news, Rochester has set up his own business.  He is now head honcho of the improbably named Kremlin Enterprises*.  A home improvement company.

Kremlin Home Improvements:  We WILL improve your home.  FACT.

Don't ask me why he's named it Kremlin Enterprises.  It sounds utterly menacing. I imagine the sales team are silent, scowling, ruddy faced men in Cossack hats who mutter to each other in impenetrable code.

The black dove sings from both branches:  Customer requires  front and back double glazing.
The borscht is laced with diamonds : Customer considering a conservatory as well as double glazing.
The fanny rat rises in the east : Customer is a bosomy woman in frosted salmon lipstick and marabou slippers.

Rochester proudly ran through his telesales script with me.  It was like listening to an episode of Some Mothers Do 'Ave Em scripted by Quentin Tarantino.

"Christ Rochester.  It's appalling! And why does your script assume a woman answering the phone is a 'MRS'?"

"Aww fuck.  Cunting political correctness.  Anyway, we're not targeting the lesbian market.  Lesbians do not appreciate plastic conservatories.  FACT."

"I am not a lesbian.  Nor am I a 'Mrs'. I am a Miss. And proud of it."


"And that bit about getting people to pass on contact details of friends and family in exchange for M&S vouchers."

"Aye.  Genius."

"Naming names.  It's like the Salem Witch trials all over again.  Only with UPVC instead of corn dollies  "

"You'd shop your Aunty Margaret for £10 worth of M&S cherry bakewell trifles petal, and don't you deny it. I knew you'd like the script, flower. I KNEW you'd approve."

I think Rochester in unravelling.  He randomly speaks of buying a narrow boat.  Rochester on a narrow boat!  Can you picture it?  The fanny rat king sporting an embroidered waistcoat, growing geraniums in rusty Barleycup tins, wearing a neckerchief at a jaunty angle and playing Streets of London on a banjo.? It's all so utterly befuddling.

And then, suddenly,  in the midst of Labrador love affairs, Johnny Foreigner window companies, David Essex demi-waves; a random text about fisting.  .  . . what was going on?

Turns out, Rochester has been in hospital.  A cancer scare.  It was a medical exam he was referring to. He is OK though.  I think.

"I'm on medication flower.  In bed at 9.30 every night.  No booze.  No cocaine.  No women.  Just slippers,  tea,  bed and a movie.   I even watched that film** you sent me last night.  Wasn't looking forward to it, to be honest.  Real men don't watch Bette Davis.  Hey, it was fucking great.  That lass who played Eve.  She'd get it, like.  Oh aye, she'd get it."

I think there may be some life in the old rat yet.

* Please do not Google Kremlin Enterprises.  That is a nom de plume.  Although the real company name is no more appealing and does indeed conjure up seductive images of Soviet breeze block architecture,  cabbage stew and shadowy, mono-browed secret agents.

** All About Eve

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Fanny Broke me in the End

I am not happy at the moment.  Not happy at all.  There are two main reasons for this maddening malaise:

1. I hate my new job.  

I thought it was just a 'settling in' problem. Everyone told me it was. And that sounded logical:  I don't like change and find meeting new people a little overwhelming.  But, after 4 weeks I still hate it. HATE IT. It is an awful place. It has:
  • a ghastly Head and Deputy who love to bully and demean teachers, reduce them to tears and then cackle hysterically about it in leadership meetings.  
  • kids who have prosciuttio and fig focaccia for lunch, but who, in many ways, are less endearing than the SOHK Ritalin and Monster Munch addled skip-rats I used to teach.   
  • results WORSE than School of Hard Knocks, despite being in much 'nicer' area. Hundreds and thousands of pounds spent on i-pads and other fripperies, but no books.
  • a toxic smog of fear and distrust amongst everyone.  A school should be a really happy community.  I have never worked anywhere quite like this. 
I miss the School of Hard Knocks.  I miss it badly.  I even miss beetrooty buffoon, Pompous Pilate. I spent 5 years sweating and toiling underneath that oafish Yorkshireman for disappointing pay and zero benefits (excluding the constant promise of lice and threadworm), but I'd go back in a flash, if I could.  I really would. That is not an option though.

I am trying desperately to think of a graceful exit from the new place, but no matter how you look at it, to leave a job after such a short time looks terrible.  Plus, it's going to be such a bumpy ride with the Head and Deputy,  will I even get a decent reference?  I don't know what to do, dear readers.  I am fucked.

Of course, the money is better where I am now.  So, to try to raise my spirits I have set up a Pinterest account, to plan how I should spend it.  That is, after I have paid of 5 years worth of debt, of course.

2. Rochester has taken to wearing pink paisley shirts with ridiculous collars. 

Me:  It's all very 1970s.  It's all very The Good Life.

Him:  Who in the Good Life?  Tom or Jerry?

Me:  I was thinking more along the lines of Margo, actually

There is nothing happening with Rochester and me. Occasional textual intercourse.  Infrequent phone calls plagued with bad reception (interference from the shirts, I assume).  I began to suspect he was having an affair.  He denied it quite eloquently by text.  The Fanny Rat King appears to be just 'slowing down'.  He is settling in to the Parker Knoll easy chair of middle age.

"I am still the best I have ever been, flower.  I have all kinds of fanny coming my way.  CONSTANTLY. I just cannot be arsed. Been there.  I am serious.  I am tired.  It's all too complex. Fanny broke me in the end. FACT."

Sunday, 23 December 2012

A Blog of Two Halves: A Colliery Funeral and a Quinoa-Crazy Whippet

I made it just in the nick of time.  Sneaking, like a thief, into the colliery church, right behind the coffin.  I could imagine the disapproving harrumphing coming from inside the box as Aunty Joan was hoicked to the alter by Brycremed Rochesters in overcoats heavy with solemnity and moth.  (I could quite go for a pall-bearer, I mused.  They are very much my type.)

"Couldn't even make it on time for my funeral, Elizabeth?  Dalmation print pumps, what in the name of Celia Johnson were you thinking of?  At least I warranted a dress I see.  .  .well, a dress 'of sorts'.  What on earth is that on your tights?  It looks like half an Irish Wolfhound.  Do you not possess such as thing as a lint roller?"

I could see 'the family' in the front pew. What should I do?  It seemed inappropriate to push in front of Aunty Joan, who was sombrely making her way (lips and girdle, no doubt, pursed as tight as a cat's bottom) up the aisle.  Joan hated fuss.  A be-ballet pumped flibbertigibbet galloping  for the place at the front would not do.  No. It would not do at all.  I guiltily sidled into the back row and tried discreetly wipe the dog hair from my opaque tights.  An elderly lady, white hair styled in an unforgiving cauliflower perm, doughy, rosy cheeks dusted with so much powder that they looked like they were formed from coconut ice,  handed me a hymn book.   I glanced around.  Old colliery ladies; the church was overflowing with them. Mildreds. My childhood was full Mildreds.  Memories flooded back to me.  After my mother's death,  I was raised by colliery aunties: complexions like corned beef, starched clean hankies every day; as flinty and straightforward as the guillotine.

The colliery church is impressive in a very modest, unassuming way.  It is situated on top of a hill, surrounded by meandering rows of red-brick  'two up, two downs'. Those terraces, once so neat: yards scrubbed, lace curtains bleached, sheets billowing in the nipping North wind  are now strewn with litter, many houses boarded up.  You can see the sea from most parts of the colliery; a perpetual churning, rolling sheet of grey.  There was a time, in the 1980s, when this place was forever on the telly (much to Aunty Joan's disgust).  There was the miners' strike, of course, followed by relentless gloomy documentaries and party political broadcasts about unemployment, crime and decaying communities.   Then there was Billy Elliot, of course.

"Is there any need for all that swearing, Elizabeth?  I don't swear.  Your father never swore in his life. None of our family swear.  That film makes us all look like uneducated heathens. Pass the Basildon Bond.  I'm going to dash off a letter to The Express about it."

I could not wait to leave this place when I was eighteen.  I thought it was suffocating.  Embarrassing.  Petty and unpolished. Funny how, sitting there, amongst the hymns and headscarves, looking through the arched windows above the alter at the amber autumnal leaves rasping in the scurrying wind, that I felt oddly at home.

It was a new vicar, I noticed. I bet the Mildreds love him, I thought.  What with his floppy hair, rimless glasses and cassock billowing and puffing in the draughty church, he looked like a rather kindly but startled owl. The last vicar, who buried my dad, was an Oxbridge-educated twat.  I despised him. " I came here because of my calling.  It IS hard, serving a community like this.  I wasn't quite prepared for how hard it would be,"  he snivelled to me once, after visiting my beautiful, gentle father, who lay dying in the front parlour.  The vicar, slurping tea and devouring Jaffa Cakes at a very unchristian rate, appeared to think that working in an East Durham village was akin to self-flagellation.  The colliery was his personal hair-shirt.

The new owlish vicar spoke eloquently of Joan: her beloved Hillman Imp, her membership of the Nelson Eddy fan club, her career as a secretary at the Northern Coal Board,  how she remembered typing up the letter giving the approval for the filming of Get Carter on Blackhall Rocks beach, her love of cats, Tio Peppe and Sudoko.

" Some might say it was a small life. Joan never married.  But she was famous for her straight-talking and her lively mind. This was a lady who look night classes in Norwegian and GCSE Woodwork when she was in her 70s; whose poems about colliery life were enjoyed by many."

Oh God.  A small life. What makes a life small?  Or big, for that matter? I don't even do the Norwegian lessons. A gentle sobbing trickled from the front pew: Joan's elder sisters. Both in their nineties now, frail, tottering  little marionettes, swamped in too big winter-coats. (Even in their prime, none of the sisters ever hit five foot).

I noticed something else.  Fuckwit Brother was also in the front pew.  Fuckwit Brother!  I'd not spoken to him since my dad's funeral, eight years earlier.  I shan't bore you with the back-story, just to say, the man is a cunt.  King Cunt.  From the Kingdom of Cuntopia. This was going to be awkward, I thought to myself, as the shy, owlish vicar launched into a speech about the lyrical beauty of the psalms.  "Joan, with her love of poetry, would have approved!" he proclaimed.

"I doubt it," the sprightly Mildred next to me whispered, handbag quivering with impish delight, "Not unless it was by Pam Ayres."

After the burial, we retreated to the Miners' Welfare Hall for the 'do'.  A colliery funeral feast is a sight to behold:  corned beef pie, mince and onion pie, steak pie, chicken pie, quiche, sausage rolls, vol-au-vents.  Pastry: as far as the eye could see.  A field of pastry, cheap meat and trans fats.  It looked delicious.  I was torn though.  I desperately wanted to avoid Fuckwit Brother.  That would be impossible if I stayed.  Yet leaving would:

a.  be rude.
b. mean I'd have to return to the School of Hard Knocks and teach PE (gymnastics, for fuck's sake).
c.  result in me missing lunch.  That was unthinkable as there were brandy snaps too.  Brandy snaps oozing with whipped cream. Brandy snaps that had been sat next to the radiator for several hours and would now be at optimum ripeness, just ready to collapse, stickily, into the mouth.

I decided to stay.  The brandy snaps did it.

I almost pitied Fuckwit brother, in his £2000 suit, forlornly picking the corned beef garnish off a chocolate eclair and looking suspiciously at the cloudy pint of brown liquid in front of him.

Fuckwit Brother severed all ties with this place twenty five years ago.  He is now Director of a 'production company for multi-disciplinary performance art'. Indeed.  A twat.  In 2008, his company won a prestigious Golden W.T.F.  (Wearisome Turgid Fuckwittery) Award in the much coveted 'No one in the real world gives a shit' category.  I seem to remember that feted 'installation' involved 2000 screens showing the BBC 1970s Test Card whilst a troupe of leotard-wearing dancers smeared each other in Angel Delight to a  throbbing Laurie Anderson soundtrack.  There is always a Laurie Anderson soundtrack in Fuckwit Brother's projects.  Always.

"There's cheese and onion quiche, you know,"  I said. Trying to be helpful.

"It's got PEK in it apparently.  I don't even know what PEK is," he sulked.

"Of course you do, we had PEK sandwiches every week for school.  Are you still a vegetarian then?  You've kept that going a long time, considering you hate animals."

" I don't hate animals.  We've got a dog now. Maya chose him."

Now, this was a revelation indeed.  As much as I dislike my brother, I dislike his grasping and Machiavellian partner even more.  She'd have a pug, no doubt. "What kind of dog?" I asked.  His answer took me quite by surprise.

"A whippet. . . . here have a look. . . he's called Basil."

A whippet!  My FAVOURITE (apart from Deerhounds and Wolfhounds) breed of dog.   I squinted at the picture on F.B.'s phone.  There indeed was a forlorn looking, caramel coloured creature sat in a bleakly minimalist sitting room.

"Here's another one.  In this one he is in one of his bespoke fair isle jumpers.  Whippets get cold you know. £150 each mind. "

I look again.  Basil is indeed sporting a puce-hued sweater and is seated imperiously on a mustard coloured Eames chair by a vast sash window.  He is bathed in weak, winter light and his melancholy eyes bore beseechingly into the camera.  The composition has the macabre feel of hostage shot about it.  He really should have been posed grasping that morning's  paper betwixt his perfectly manicured paws (The Guardian, of course).  Proof of Life, they call it.  'Help me!" he seemed to call.  

"That's a rather dramatic shot.  Have you thought of exhibiting this?  Possibly with a Laurie Anderson soundtrack? Anyway,  you both travel all the time for work.  How do you manage to look after Basil?"

"He goes to a creche every day.  It's really good for his emotional and social development.  He gets to meet other dogs.  You should consider it for your two."

My heard was bleeding for poor Basil. I had hoped F.B. and I could bond over a shared love of sighthounds, but this was not going well.  By now, the buffet was winding down and the Mildreds and Berts were making their shuffling way home.

" Look at all the food that's left!  I'm going to take some for Hetty and Cyril. Gosh, there's enough steak pie to keep us all going for days,"  I said, grabbing a box and loading it with pies and pasties.  "I am sure Basil would love some of this. Are you going to take him something?"

Fuckwit Brother looked at me disdainfully.  'No, Basil has a sensitive stomach.  He has Fenwicks' Food Hall poached chicken, the occasional slice of prosciutto.  Mostly though, he's vegetarian.  He's quinoa crazy! "

"What, not even a sausage roll?  Not even ONE sausage roll? I've never met a dog that doesn't love a sausage roll!"  

"No.  Certainly not. He can't handle processed meat.  Plus we've just had the floorboards Farrow and Balled with Plague Pallor White.  I can't take the chance. Anyway, I've got to go.  Flying to New York tonight for a meeting with Laurie Anderson.  Basil's going to his country club.  I've got to pack his weekend bag. See you later."

And with that, Fuckwit Brother was off.  I don't think I'll be keeping in touch.