Saturday, 6 September 2014

Briefs Encounter The Harrogate Chronicles (Part 1 of 3)

The Hotel du Vain, Harrogate.  August.

Miss Underscore and Rochester enter a modestly opulent hotel room. Late summer sunlight floods the room through vast Georgian sash windows (wood NOT UPVC).  Suspended in the burnished shafts of light, tiny particles of golden dust float and whirl. Outside, chestnut trees murmur in the soft breeze.  Miss Underscore sits on a chaise and looks out of the window.

Miss Underscore:  This IS heavenly, this view of the park. All those quivering green leaves. I love Harrogate. It's so different to Sunderland. Oh - and look at the bed.  It's bigger than my whole bedroom. No crumbs.  No dog hair. Crisp sheets.  

Rochester:  (at the minibar)  Drink?  I've had all the gin, I think. And possibly the all the vodka.  I've been dossing all afternoon, waiting for you to arrive. I'm knackered pet. Let's just loaf for a while, eh?   I think it is going to have to be this poncey pink champagne.  Is that OK? 

Rochester pours two glasses, placing one on the bedside table and sprawls on the bed. 

Miss Underscore:  Champagne?  Get you, fanny rat! You're South Shields' very own David Niven!  Go on then. I'm going to take my sandals off and join you. 

Rochester: Aye, come over here petal.  

Miss Underscore joins Rochester on the bed. There is a gap between them.  They sip their champagne. 

Miss Underscore:  Thanks for meeting me at the station.  It was like being in a working-class version of Brief Encounter.  Especially when you dabbed the railway grit from my eye with that Greggs' napkin. 

Rochester:  Aye. 

Miss Underscore:  Of course, I can't help thinking that Trevor Howard would have removed the sausage roll first.

Rochester:  Only cos he was a puff. You know, at the stationI didn't recognise you at first.   

Miss Underscore:  Well, it has been 6 months.

Rochester:  You almost walked right past me. I never even saw you.  I almost lost you completely.

Miss Underscore:  Ooooh, blundering metaphor klaxon!  

Rochester:  It's the dress.  I've never seen you in a dress, pet. Never.  Fact.  You look a bit Brief Encounter.  Without the years of rationing, obviously. 

Miss Underscore:  I did tell you I'd be wearing a dress.  I've only packed dresses.  Dresses and cardigans.  We've only ever met in winter, you know.  Did you realise that?  I wonder why that is.  

Rochester:  I'm not really a sunny person.  I prefer winter.

Miss Underscore:  I have a theory. 

Rochester:  (sighing)  I knew you would.

Miss Underscore:  I think we only meet in winter because, to you, I am the feminine equivalent of comfort food: cauliflower cheese, shepherd's pie, that kind of thing. You only want me when the weather is cold and the sky is leaden.  To you, I AM steak and kidney suet pudding.  I AM syrup sponge and custard. 

Rochester: I feel like however I respond to that statement, it will almost certainly be wrong.  So I'm saying fuck all. Although, there's never a wrong time for steak and kidney suet pudding. Or syrup sponge and custard.

Miss Underscore:  Yes, but they're not things you want every day. That's the point. Anyway, I've been wearing 1950s sundresses all summer.  I wore one to your favourite South Shields fish and chip restaurant on Sunday.  To be fair, it was probably a bit much. And it's no fun getting curry sauce out of dry clean only, honeysuckle print crimplene, I can tell you.

Rochester:  Ahhhhh Colman's?  Haven't been there for years. You're a lass.  Lasses should be wearing dresses.  I like this new development. I approve.  Although, I was slightly disappointed there wasn't a straw hat.  And can we talk about your hair. . . it's very . . .very

Miss Underscore:  . . VERY very.  I know.  You know what, I am 10 years younger than you, so you may not appreciate this but. . .

Rochester:  TEN years?  Hold it right there pet, hold on a cunting minute, you are NOT ten years younger than me!

Miss Underscore: (bristling)  Mathematically speaking, I am.  Your age, 46, rounds to 50.  My age (she clamps her hand over Rochester's mouth) SHUT UP CUNT AND DON'T SAY IT OUT LOUD, rounds to 40.  Consequently, you are ten years older than me.  

Rochester:  I'm not surprised your school failed its OFSTED flower. By your own calculations then, next year, we'll be exactly the same age. Which means in 2015, you will age 10 years in one year. 

Miss Underscore:  (crestfallen) Oh.  I hadn't thought of that.  Anyway, as a 40 year old, I have a limited window to experiment with faintly ridiculous hair colours.  I was in Boots thinking I should tone down my previous copper look. I was browsing the meek and mousy shades:  Alan Bennett Tan, Mavis Riley Fawn, Betty Boothroyd Taupe  and then my eye was drawn to this shade, this INCREDIBLE shade.

Rochester:  Has it a name?

Miss Underscore:  Cathouse Crimson.  It is VERY red, isn't it?  Like bright cherry red.

Rochester:  It certainly is. I like it, you know.  I think you should keep it. 

Miss Underscore:  I will for a while. When I get to your age (50) I'll go back to something timid and shrewish.  And then, when I hit 70, I'll go totally Barbara Cartland and embrace the dusty lavender or pistachio bouffant, stuffed with the odd cobweb, or fondant fancy or yapping pomeranian   I'm quite looking forward to that stage of my life.  I wonder if we'll still be meeting up intermittently then.  I have an awful feeling we will.  

Rochester: Come here and lie down. Put your arms round me flower.  

Miss Underscore moves closer and strokes Rochester's beard.

Miss Underscore: (sighing) This is nice. 

Rochester:  I didn't actually think you'd agree to this jaunt, you know.  You were up for it straight away. I was astonished.  It was refreshing not to have to go through that ridiculous charade of me having to wear you down first. Although, to be frank,  I am not sure whether the attraction was me or Harrogate.

Miss Underscore:  Or Betty's.  

Rochester:  Aye, Betty's. Oh fuck.  You are going to make me do Betty's aren't you?   

Miss Underscore:  Of course!  We can't come to Harrogate and NOT do Betty's.  You'll thank me for it when you experience your first Yorkshire curd tart. A new experience in tarts, rogue.  I bet you thought that was an impossibility.

Rochester:  You think you're funny. Keep stroking, pet. It's nice.  I like stroking my beard; I find myself doing it all the time. It's become part of the UPVC performance art - like when I'm pretending to contemplate a discount. (he demonstrates) It works, pet. Like a cunting charm.  But having someone else stroking it is even better.  Keep going, flower.  Howay.  More.

Miss Underscore:   It could be bigger, Rochester.  You are still playing it safe with the beard.

Rochester:  Are you serious? You want it bigger?  Now that is quite interesting.  How big?

Miss Underscore:  On the internationally recognised Serpico beard scale?  I think you need to be aiming for the early flirtation with hippiedom in the first part of the film.  Don't go too Druid. Robert de Niro in The Deerhunter was a good beard.

Rochester:  Really?  That was a pretty big beard. My favourite film, that. 

Miss Underscore: Hmmmm.  Try it. Commit to the beard.  I love it, you know. Especially the flecks of white.  It's bristly though.  It's like petting a rakish border terrier. 

Rochester:  I am glad you're here.  

Miss Underscore:  I am too.  I've missed you.

Miss U puts her arms around Rochester, puts her head on his chest.

Rochester:  Your hand goes there. (Rochester moves her hand to his chest).

Miss Underscore:  (laughing)  Oh God.  Here we go.

Rochester:  What?

Miss Underscore:  You don't even realise you do it.  You have a spot on your chest here, over your heart actually, and whenever we're together like this in bed, you move my hand there.  To that EXACT spot. You are totally OCD about it.  Even in your sleep, if my hand is an inch out, you mumble to yourself furiously and move it back to position.

Rochester:  I've also been known to move your hand to . . .

Miss Underscore:  Ok Rochester, easy.

Rochester:  I know. Just feels right there, right there on my chest.  You know it does.  .  . 

The room is silent for a while.   Suddenly it is filled with the thundering and drumming of heavy summer rain in the park outside.  

Miss Underscore:  Oh no, listen to that.

Rochester:  We can stay in tonight.  Eat here.  Steak? Chips? 

Miss Underscore: Hmmm. Perfect.

Rochester:  And what are we doing tomorrow.  What are your plans for us?

Miss Underscore:  A lie in. A proper breakfast. An ice cream in Valley Gardens by the bandstand.  Betty's.  Estate agents windows, looking at ridiculously priced Victorian villas.  

Rochester: The Turkish Baths?  I'm quite tempted by them.

Miss Underscore: (nervously)  I haven't brought a swimming costume, Rochester.  

Rochester:  Don't be daft.  You don't need one.

Miss Underscore:  WHAT?  We'd be starkers?  Dear God!  

Rochester:  Why - not completely starkers, OBVIOUSLY.  Christ, flower, you can be dead embarrassing sometimes. I know you're from a two-up, two down in Easington, but you could try to be a little more sophisticated. I'm a man from South Shields.  It goes without saying that my socks would remain on at all times.  You'd be in your birthday suit though.  I think it's the law.

Miss Underscore: (aghast)  Let's give the Turkish Baths a miss, eh?  It seems like the experience could be fraught with all kinds of agonies and mortifications.  Have you come from Manchester this morning?

Rochester:  Yup.  I've been putting up shelves and doing Dad stuff in the big bairn's first flat.

Miss Underscore:  Did you take my advice on the house-warming gift?

Rochester:  Aye.  Although, I still believe a tool kit would have been the practical option.  Or something Black and Decker.

Miss Underscore:  I am almost grateful you never remember my birthday Rochester.  

Rochester:  I would never get YOU a fucking toolkit, Underscore. I've seen your place, remember.  It's gone way, WAY beyond the toolkit stage. Anyway, she said her place needed a lot of work.  And that she would like to learn how to do stuff. 

Miss Underscore:  God, you can be obtuse.  What she really meant was, 'Dad, will you put up my shelves.' 

Rochester:  Aye.  I get that. I do get that now.  And I have.  £40 quid for a candle though, Underscore.  Who the fuck pays £40 for a candle?  

Miss Underscore: You got the right one?  The tomato leaf one?

Rochester:  Listen, I went into Selfridges as directed, wandered around like a befuddled fool for a while till I found the right counter and was immediately pounced on by some lacquered fembot who quite obviously took pity on me. I read her your text and she sorted me out.  She was nice actually.  I have no cunting clue what I eventually bought. Are you telling me I've just spent £40 on a candle that smells of fucking tomato leaves?  Jesus Christ, Underscore! That could have been a T27A heavy duty cordless drill with 150 piece accessory kit. 

Miss Underscore:  I'm glad you got that one. Her flat will smell like a country house greenhouse in summer, Rochester.  She can imagine she's one of the Mitford girls, devouring romantic novels and violet creams amongst the plant pots.

Rochester:  She lives above an Indian restaurant in Manchester.

Miss Underscore:  All the more reason.  All the more reason, oaf.

Rochester:  Actually, she was thrilled.  I don't get it, but she WAS thrilled.  She said I'm totally getting the present thing these days.  

Miss Underscore:  See! Oh, I am pleased. 

Rochester:  I think that was also a reference to that gold bee necklace you told me to get her last year. She didn't light the candle mind.  Not whilst I was there.

Miss Underscore:  Howay.  Of course she didn't.  She'll be saving it for a special moment.  I doubt she'd waste in on a night in with her dad and a Chinese takeaway. 

Rochester:  Ahhhh.  OK. Fucking hell. I don't really want to think about that.  Do you burn a £40 candle during my visits, pet?

Miss Underscore:  Of course. A french one that smells of figs. Candlelight can be very forgiving. It masks dust, mildew and cellulite. And as we only average 2 nights together per year, my £40 candle will probably last me till my pomeranian years.

Rochester:  Lasses are weird. Anyway, I left Manchester this morning.  Filled her fridge up with nice food while she was at work before I came here. 

Miss Underscore:  That's nice.  Dads are great. I'd give everything I own for another day with mine. I'd cook him a meal and we'd go to Durham for the day, walk by the river, sit in the Cathedral. Mind you, I'd also get him to do the garden.  And put up some bookshelves. (artfully)  Did you see anyone else in Manchester?

Rochester:  I didn't and haven't seen Gladys, Underscore.  If that is what you are asking. Which it is, of course.  Beard.  Howay.  Get stroking.  I could put up your bookshelves, you know.  Where do you want them?

Miss Underscore:  Nah.  I'll get a man in.  I don't like to be beholden to rogues and fanny rats.  I'm getting RSI from all this beard stroking, Rochester.  I think I'll stop now.  Listen to that!

The relentless summer rain has become a monsoon-like torrent outside.  The room swims in its darkening, glassy green light.  Miss Underscore and Rochester kiss. 

Rochester:  I think we'd better stay where we are.  It might be time for this Brief Encounter dress to come off though. 

Sunday, 31 August 2014

A Touch of the Poppins (a petite blog-ette)

Some textual intercourse.

Rochester:  Very good pet, very good.  I like it. x

Miss Underscore:  You know what would have improved it?  A picture of you IN the tweed tie at the end.  Do you not agree?  

Rochester: That is NEVER going to happen, Elizabeth.  Never.

Miss Underscore:  *yawns* I knew you'd say that.

Rochester:  And I KNEW you'd say that.

Miss Underscore:  Supercalifragilisticexpialidotious.  I BET YOU DIDN'T FUCKING KNOW I WAS GOING TO SAY THAT!

Rochester: That was somewhat unexpected, yes.  But I have always thought there was a touch of the Poppins about you.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

The Birthday Present.

June.  A telephone conversation. 

Background:  My birthday is in May.  Rochester forgets.  He always forgets. Every year.  Every single cunting year.  It irks me. 

Rochester's birthday is in June.  I don't forget.  And this year, as he was now living alone in a pebble-dashed love shack, I got to send him a thoughtful and loving birthday gift. (I have never been to Rochester's den of debauchery. However, I imagine it has shag pile in the bathroom, a fridge crammed with Hai Karate and beer and a lingering aroma of tank tops singeing in front of a one-bar electric fire. By his own admission, it is bit of a dispiriting place.)  

I thought Rochester would be cock-a-hoop to receive my birthday present. What red-blooded and passionate man of the male gender would NOT want to receive a tender gift from a be-cardiganed primary school teacher? The scoundrel's response was not quite what I expected.    

Rochester:  Ok Underscore. You are a cunt.  You are a CUNT.  I have the present in front of me.  Where the fuck did you buy this wrapping paper?  Philip Larkin wrapping paper?  Jesus.  Is that Ted Hughes on there too?

Miss Underscore:  I MADE the wrapping paper, Rochester.  Well, me and Bobbi-Jolene Golightly from my class made it together. She's got a broken ankle.  Fell off her trampoline so she stays in at break time at the moment.  I printed lots of pictures.  Bobbi-Jolene stuck them on A4, creating an abstract collage: a homage to misanthropy, tweed and dysfunctional middle-aged relationships. Then we photocopied it onto big A3 sheets - when Magda and the school secretary weren't looking, obviously. It's great isn't it?  I should go into the customised wrapping-paper business. 

 Rochester:  OK.  It IS impressive really.  Right.  I am going in.  What the fuck have you sent me here?

Miss Underscore:  Think yourself lucky, Rochester.  Bobby-Jolene and I had already undertaken several successful papier mache projects prior to the wrapping paper.  Dizzy with the success of her War Horse artwork, she was all for making a Larkin head with pipe cleaner glasses and a few hairs from her Patterdale for his comb-over.  

Rochester:  Christ! . . .  Ok.  I am in.  There are several smaller presents, also wrapped in Larkin.  

Miss Underscore:  They are all age appropriate presents, Rochester.  Worthy of great and sober men of ideas and literature: Tony Benn . . . Philip Larkin . . . Arthur Miller . . .  Len from Stricktly Come Dancing. . . Gravitas.  . Dignity and . . .

Rochester: (shouting)  . . . Werther's Original!  Gravitas, dignity and Werther's Original!  You got me fucking Werther's Original.  Is this how you see me: one moccasin in the grave?  You ARE a cunt, Underscore.

Miss Underscore: (calmly)  Look closely at the packet Rochester.  These are Werther's Original Butter Mints.  They are not just any old Werther's. These are actually quite hard to get hold of.  They are collectors items. I saw them in Fenwick's Food Hall and thought of you.  Try one. You will be seduced by their buttery lusciousness.

Rochester:  Hmmm.  Actually.  They are quite nice, flower.  Ok.  Next parcel.  This is a book, isn't it?  Fucking big book.  It's not more Pym, is it, cos I have to admit, she's still lying in the back of the fanny wagon. . .  

Miss Underscore:  Poor Barbara.  Her paisley C&A pussy-bow blouse will be getting quite rumpled.  Are you in yet?  It was between that and A Batchelor's Guide to Knitwear, which I thought would be perfect for you until I discovered  that amazingly, no one has written it.  Yet.

Rochester: Ahhh.  OK, OK. This looks canny.  Explain, Underscore.

Miss Underscore:  Well, I got it second hand.  It was £2.50.  It's an ex library book, which seemed appropriate.  Now, I know you'll never read it: it's the size of a tombstone and the font is tiny so your mole-ish, middle-aged eyes won't cope, but dip into it.  His relationships with women seem fascinating.  It is supposed to be great. 

Rochester:  Aye, I'm flicking through the pictures now,  I think he was on to something with his fetish for bookish, bespectacled beauties on bicycles.  Thanks for that pet.  I will look at it.  Ok, next present.  This is good.  I am quite enjoying this.  .  . I am going for the flat one.  What the fuck!  Lamb, beef AND chicken.  

Miss Underscore:  Ahhh.  You have found the gravy mixes. 

Rochester:  I don't really know what to say about these, flower.  

Miss Underscore: Listen: you are a man of simple tastes from South Shields.  

Rochester:  Yup.

Miss Underscore:  You live in the South.  You are probably marinated, daily, up to your oxters in reductions and jus and foam.  This unsettles you. This torments you. This keeps you up at night.  What you are missing is proper gravy.  And a lot of it. Am I right?

Rochester:  Goes without saying. 

Miss Underscore:  So, these are just what you need? Plus, they are really good. Essential for panackelty, mince and dumplings, all that good stuff your granny would cook for you when she got back from her shift at the abattoir.  Trust me.  My cupboard is full of them. I may start a Twitter campaign for real gravy, you know. Hashtag thepersecutionofthejus. 

Rochester:  Ok.  Ok.  Good call, flower. Although I haven't actually cooked a meal for myself in at least a year.   I can see where you're going with these gifts mind.  Is there a lurcher in here too?

Miss Underscore:  Move on.  Next parcel. 

Rochester:  Ok.  Two DVDs.  Ahhh.  The first breasts I ever saw were in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. That fanny rat art teacher was seducing one of the lassies.   Never seen The Apartment.  So, what are you trying to tell me about yourself with these choices?  

Miss Underscore:  Nothing really.  I remember that art teacher cove.  Never trust a man in a cheesecloth blouson and fisherman's cap, that's always been my motto. Imagine, 'Just stand over there in the light.  Perfect!  Beautiful!  Now.  How about one more button, luv.  That's better, what beautiful skin you have.  And another button pet, just one more. . . '  Such a good film though.  I love Jean Brodie.  I know she was a demented and manipulative fascist, but no one's perfect.  I feel a bit conned though.  Teaching isn't really about lying beneath oak trees reading poetry, wearing silk scarves and coyly flirting with academics in corduroys.  How I wish it was. How I wish I could drift into a classroom on a cloud of Mitsouko, and dirty martini and rhapsodise about books and art all day, only stopping to touch up my lipstick and rearrange the dahlias on my desk.

Rochester:  Is that not what you DO do?  You don't seem to follow any regular curriculum. 

Miss Underscore: Sadly not. They make me teach Science and PE and other such horrors too.  I'm even on the sack race for this year's Sports Day.  I don't really want to talk about that though.  

Rochester: (roaring with laughter) I would pay good fucking money to see you do the sack race, flower.  I tell you what, I should clear £800 quid commission on my next job.  It will be yours if you send me footage of yourself bouncing around in a sack on a hot afternoon. 

Miss Underscore:  (primly) Moving on.  The Apartment, well. . . you loved The Odd Couple, so I thought you might like this.  It doesn't have Walter Matthau in it, sadly.  But it IS good. 

Rochester: I get it.  You model yourself on Shirley Mclaine, don't you.  You fucking do!

Miss Underscore:  Hardly, if I WAS Shirley Maclaine, I would have been able to read your aura of fanny rat from our first meeting, recognised you as the reincarnation of the devil himself and avoided you like the plague.  Plus, I would own more chunky amber jewellery. 

Rochester: Aura of Fanny Rat.  That's Chanel, isn't it?

Miss Underscore: Last present.  There should be one more gift.  And this one, this is the real present.  The one that cost more than £2. 

Rochester:  Yup.  Got it.  It's soft.  Is it a pair of your knickers?  Maybe not, don't think it's a big enough package. 

Miss Underscore: This is something you desperately need.

Rochester:  A tweed tie.  A Harris tweed tie.

Miss Underscore:  You really need to banish your shiny, Quality Street wrapper ties, you know.  They're too Nick Clegg.  They're too Swiss Toni!  

Rochester:  It's a bit drab. What would I wear with it? It's fifty shades of brown.

Miss Underscore:  Look, it's sombre and earthy and has flecks of heather and moss and bark in it.  It IS a thing of beauty. Quiet beauty.  Plus, it has actually come from the Isle of Harris. Just don't wear it with a pink shirt.  Please.

Rochester:  I like it actually pet. You know, I actually DO like it.  

Miss Underscore:  Well, those are your presents, Rochester.  

Rochester:  I'm on my fourth Werther's already.  They won't last long. Listen, thanks for these, flower.  It was dead nice of you.  I'm deeply serious.  Thanks. I'll read the Larkin. I will.

Miss Underscore: Oh, don't spoil the moment with a lie, Rochester.  You will NOT read the Larkin. We both know it.

Rochester:  No, but I'll look at the photos, read the captions and then look up the word sex in the index.  Isn't that what everyone does with biographies?

Miss Underscore:  Yeah, and if you do manage to snare yourself a bespectacled, bookish beauty on a bicycle and get her back to Chez Miscreant, you can dazzle her with your Pym and Larkin collection.

Rochester:  Then cook her mince and dumplings!

Miss Underscore:  It would work for me. Happy birthday, rogue.   

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The Tiger Who Came to Tea (Part 3)

Apologies, dear reader, for the delay in writing Part 3 of The Tiger Who Came to Tea.  I have been otherwise engaged, leading a genteel revolution against bullying, psychopathic head teacher, Magda: The Night of the Long HB Pencils.  But more of the Birkenstock rebellion later.  That's a whole other post.

So long has passed since I started this trilogy, that I had completely forgotten what I'd already written.  I've had to re-read parts one and two today.  I never read my blog. I can't bear too. Gosh.  It is embarrassing tosh, really.  You may need to get your bearings by reading the previous two posts too (if you can bear it).  Pour yourself a gin, crack open a packet of cheesy puffs and put your feet up - the trying experience will be over in two shakes of a lamb's tail. For those of you who are planning on jumping straight in: this part of the Underscore/Rochester narrative dates back to February.  

Our previous scene ended on the cliffs by the thundering North Sea with a kiss, an indecent proposal and a very startled primary school teacher.   We move on, several hours later.  Miss Underscore and the swarthy rogue are loafing in Sunderland fleapit, The Woebegone Whippet.  The decor is an opulent mix of threadbare Axminster and flock wallpaper; the ambiance heady with the aroma of incontinent jack russell, damp shell suit and putrefying dart injuries.

Rochester:  I've always like this boozer, you know. It's like stepping back into the 70s.  The barmaid already has me marked as a complete Southern tosser, like.

Miss Underscore:  Heavens to Betsy, you've only been here 30 seconds.  What have you done to offend her?

Rochester:  Asked if I could pay by credit card.  Oh, and enquired what kind of gins they sell.

Miss Underscore:  What kind of gins do they sell.

Rochester:  Believe me petal, it didn't even warrant an answer. Hey,  look at that old chap over there.  He's surrounded with fanny.

Rochester gestures with his glass to where a weary octogenarian in a flat cap sombrely nurses a pint, his eyes clouded with memories. Around him, a gaggle of bawdy, bosom-nudging ladies straight from Beryl Cook pout, cackle and giggle like post-menopausal sirens.  A terrier of some description, head on his paws, snores under the table.

Miss Underscore:  Widower.

Rochester:  Aye. Popular though.  Do you think he'll go home with any of them?

Miss Underscore:  Those ladies? Of course not. I think he's going to go home with his dog.  Make some cocoa, sit in a high back chair and talk to the missus.

Rochester: Aye. Good call.  I think you're probably right.

Miss Underscore:  I bet he can't stand to be in the house by himself of a night.

Rochester:   Where do you think he lives?

Miss Underscore:  One of those little terraced cottages round here. I  see him in the park sometimes with the dog.  He's like you.  You don't like being in by yourself.  You're always propping up a bar after work, glowering into the middle-distance, like Byron in a tank top.

Rochester: Yup.  True. I could do with a pub like this in Bristol.  Scene of one of our first dates, this place. (nodding smugly) See, Underscore, see, I remember! You always portray me as some sort of unreconstructed, obtuse oaf - but it is simply not the case. 

Miss Underscore:  Christmas night.  I am astonished you remember. You played pool all night with the local radgies.

Rochester:  I won!

Miss Underscore:  You were beaten in the end.  By a woman of the female gender.

Rochester:  (scoffing) Lesbian. I bought you a bag of Quavers, didn't I?

Miss Underscore:  No.  You bought yourself a bag and let me have one. Yes, I suppose that was our milk and honey period.  You pulled out all the stops too woo me in those days.

Rochester:  Yup.  It wouldn't be physically, emotionally or financially possible to maintain that level of romancing though. So no Quavers tonight.  I'm glad you came though.  You ran off nimbly mind, after our kiss.  I did wonder if it was the beard.  If it was a bit too much for you.

Miss Underscore:  It wasn't the beard, Rochester.  The beard is lovely. I approve wholeheartedly of the beard.  But let me make something clear: your offer was for a drink and for us to spend the night together.  I came for the drink.  You have not made a sale on anything else.  Don't be counting any conservatories.

Rochester: (smirking)  Ok.  Ok.  Do you want another gin?

Miss Underscore:  No thank you. Stop looking so smug. We can't do this, you know. CAN NOT.  We've been here so many times before.  Five or six years, we've been doing this: when you were single, when you were married, when you were married but out on licence.   If, IF  (pauses) you'd . . . we'd wanted a relationship, it would have happened by now. Our timing was always awful, but it's got to be more than timing.  There's a reason we are not together.

Rochester:  OK. Now you're being quite interesting, petal. What do you think that reason is?

Miss Underscore:  Oh,  I don't know. . . .   well, I do know, but let's change the subject.

Rochester:   No.  I'm fascinated. Howay.

Miss Underscore:  (exasperated) Ask yourself that question, Rochester.  Look at the evidence, even when you left the long-suffering Mrs Rochester, you hooked up with someone else: that lass from Manchester.  I wasn't even on your mind.  I wasn't a second thought. Seriously.  Let's change the subject.  (firmly)  OK?

There is a pause, while our star-crossed protagonists sip their toxic cocktails and soak up the atmosphere of desolation and out of date bar-snacks.

Rochester:  OK.  OK. New subject, eh?

Miss Underscore:  (giddy with relief)  Lovely.  Thank you.  What's the subject?  How about facial hair?  Your beard could be longer, you know.  I think Aunty Margaret has more facial hair than you still.

Rochester:  Not facial hair.  Nope, the subject is . . . drum roll . . .  HAPPINESS.  No, don't roll your eyes at me Underscore - it's very passive-aggressive of you. That's the subject, deal with it.  Are you happy, flower?

Miss Underscore:  Oh, dear God, Rochester!  Can we not talk about something a bit frothier?  Lesbians, crab linguine . . . the holocaust?  Anything?

Rochester:  Howay.  Happiness.  That is our topic.  Are you happy, pet?


Rochester:  Howay flower.  Are you happy?

Miss Underscore:  (eyes suddenly flooding with tears) No.

Rochester:  (reaching over to take her hand)  Oh fuck. Why not?

Miss Underscore: I think I gave up any expectation  of happiness years ago.

Rochester: Cunting hell.

Miss Underscore:  I have, that's exactly it, I have given up. . . Can we go back to lesbians with facial hair as our topic?

Rochester:  Howay, petal, don't cry.  Here, give us a cuddle.

Miss Underscore:  No.  Don't.  Seriously, don't touch me Rochester, I couldn't bear it right now.


Rochester:   Well.  This is going well. (he downs his gin in one) Don't fucking say you've given up on happiness though pet, don't you dare fucking say that.  .  .You do seem rather . . . isolated.

Miss Underscore:  Maybe.  Maybe.  And just overwhelmed.  Overwhelmed by life.  God.  Getting through a day is just exhausting.  I'd like to move.  I'd like a new job.  I'd like a relationship with someone who isn't a fuckwit.   I settle for just getting through an average day.  I've given up on everything, everything really.  I just can't cope. Can't cope with even tiny things. I HAVE given up.  Let's change the subject. (barely holding it together) Again.

Rochester:  Underscore, you can not fucking give up.  What would your dad say about that?

Miss Underscore:  Oh God.  Don't. That's not fair.  Don't mention my Dad right now.

Rochester:  I know you miss him, pet.  Listen . . .

Miss Underscore:   I keep dreaming about my dad.  Every night I dream about my dad.

Rochester:  What happens in the dreams?

Miss Underscore:  He has messages for me. He's normally telling me to move - move house I mean.   Oh, and dust more. Moving and dusting seem to be coming through quite strongly as themes. I'm just depressed, I suppose.  It will pass.

Rochester:  Aye.

Miss Underscore:  I am just finding the whole business of living rather exhausting.  Maybe it's because I'm on my own and I have to handle everything on my own.  But then,  I'm a cranky old dame with too many pets,  rising damp and a penchant for big cotton knickers. . . so of course I am on my own.

Rochester:  Your ex, Senor Boldon, once told me something about you.

Miss Underscore: (aghast)  Oh God what?  About my big knickers? I think my knickers were smaller back then.  I think everything was possibly smaller back then! I thought you said you never discussed me!

Rochester:  Honestly, we didn't.  Not much anyway.  And it wasn't about your pants.

Miss Underscore:  What did he say?

Rochester:  That, on one of your dates . . .

Miss Underscore:  There weren't many dates, you know.  Only 3 or 4.  Señor Boldon and I never reached the giddy heights of DOUBLE DIGIT DATES - not like us old-timers.  We must be on at least 11 or 12.   Howay, what did he tell you?

Rochester:  . . .  on one of your dates, you told him you'd, in the past like, taken overdoses and stuff. Tried to, you know . . .

Miss Underscore:  Ahhh.  . . He told you that.   What did you think?  What did you say?

Rochester: I just told him that I hoped you were OK.  I didn't really comment.

Miss Underscore:  You must have wondered why I told him about those days and not you?

Rochester:  Your choice, pet.

Miss Underscore:  You know, Señor Boldon was the first fella I'd been involved with after Son of Satan.  I had NO IDEA how to act. I went a bit crazy and shared EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING. Why the fuck did I even broach that as a subject?  The night came to an abrupt ending, I can tell you.  He couldn't get his blouson pleather jacket on quick enough.  He went through the doors of The Gregarious Greyhound like Wyatt Earp in BHS slacks. I vowed after that not to mention it to anyone.  It was years ago, you know.  I did it many times, when I was a teenager and much later in my 20s.  But not for years now.  The thoughts and moods are still there though.  I think they always will be.  That's what I said to your brother.  That's what freaked him out.

Rochester:  My theory about you petal is that I think, when your mum died when you were little. . . well. . .I don't think you ever recovered.  When you told me that you grew up thinking she'd been murdered, because no one ever explained what happened to her.  I mean fucking hell, man.  That's harsh, brutal.

Miss Underscore: You know what, I agree. Ripples in a pond.   I was 16 when a friend's mum inadvertently mentioned to me that my mum died of breast cancer, and I thought, 'Really?  Was that it?  Why didn't anyone tell me that before?'   She thought I knew.

Rochester:  Gin?

Miss Underscore:  No.  The gin here is bloody awful, isn't it?  No juniper.  Sunderland gin.  Made from the sweat of 100 racing pigeons and botanical essence of allotment marrow, brewed in a tin bath in a lock up behind Gala Bingo.

Rochester:  I've never experienced gin like it. It would be difficult for us to be properly together, wouldn't it?  Can you imagine me introducing you to the family?  Señor Boldon, sat there furrowing his brows at us,  Granny showing you pictures  of me and me brothers from the family album, the Masturbating Monkey* sniggering at it all.  Fucking hell, petal.  It couldn't happen.  Call me old-fashioned, but I don't like the fact you slept with my brother.  It's awkward.

Miss Underscore:  Of course, I see exactly how awkward that would be.  Yet, amazingly,  the  situation is not awkward enough to put you off spending the night with me tonight.  How peculiar.

Rochester:  OK, OK pet, I take your point.  It would be nice though, to spend the night together.

Miss Underscore:  Your arrogance is astounding, Rochester.  Look, the chap with the dog is leaving.  One of the ladies has given him a parcel wrapped in baking paper. What do you think's in it?

Rochester:  Madeira cake laced with viagra.

Miss Underscore:  Yes, and some ham and pease pudding sandwiches. And a paper napkin spritzed with Yardley English Fern.  You don't see many old gentlemen in flat caps and tweed jackets these days, Rochester.  They break my heart.  They remind me of my dad.

The old gentleman courteously waves to his fruity harem of ladies and, with a quiet dignity,  leaves The Woebegone Whippet.  His melancholic mutt follows.

Miss Underscore:  The worst thing, about the overdoses, was that years later, five years later, I went through a screening process to adopt  - a child, not a lurcher. On my own.   I got all the way through, passed every part of it.  Then that came up.  Over.  Immediate refusal.

Rochester:  I never knew that.  I never knew you even wanted that . . .

Miss Underscore:  More ripples in a pond.  That was the one thing I did really want.

Rochester:  You can understand that mind, flower.  You can understand their decision.  You've got your classes now, your teaching.   Is that enough?

Miss Underscore:  It's got to be enough, hasn't it . . . . . .

Rochester:  (looking out of the window) It is pouring down out there. Sheets of rain.  Shall we go?

Miss Underscore:  Go where? To my place?  You're very confident that you're invited, rogue.

Rochester:  Am I?  Am I invited?

Miss Underscore:  (sighing)  Yes. Yes. Of course.

They leave.

* The third brother Grimm.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

The Tiger Who Came to Tea :Part 2 of 3 (Scene 25)

In the melancholy gloom of a darkening February afternoon, Miss Underscore and Rochester are sitting at a table overlooking the thundering, pewter sea.  They are in The Grotto. Rochester looks dejected and shrunken: a little boy swamped in his father's funeral overcoat.  He sighs deeply and sips his gin, his sad eyes, brimming with the nobility and pathos of an overworked pit pony, stare vaguely towards the grey horizon. 

Miss U:  (reassuringly) I am quite sure it is nothing to be embarrassed about.  It must happen to men of the male gender all the time, tank top or no tank top.

Rochester:  Aye, but it doesn't happen to me.  Not usually.  Not EVER.

Miss U:  It was the unusual situation. I mean, you were put off your stroke.  Neither of us were expecting to be in this position. I didn't mind, really. 

Rochester:  I blame you for this actually.  I blame you.   I am not sure it is fair to expect me to perform under such fraught conditions.  I fancy having another crack at it, like.  What do you think?  Can we go back, let the dog see the rabbit?

 Miss U:  No.  Let it go. Maybe you should just relax, Rochester.  You are on your holidays, after all.  Have another gin and we'll talk about something else.

Rochester:  (head in hands)  I can't get it out of my mind though.  Maybe I was nervous.  I'd skipped lunch; my blood sugar was low. I've just had a packet of pork scratchings all day. 

Miss U:  Maybe you should have worn the cufflinks.

Rochester: (furiously, banging the table)  You were the one who told me cufflinks were not necessary, that they might be a hindrance!

Miss U:  (briskly) Don't get your dander up, Rochester. . . You know, if anything  I would have thought the feint lesbian ambiance would have had you firing on all cylinders.  Did it put you off, me there watching?

Rochester: Nope. (brightening)  I quite liked that!  Or I thought I did.  (shaking his head) Fucking hell! FUCKING HELL!

Miss U: Oh dear.  I don't quite know what to say.  Performance issues probably trouble us all in our riper years.  These days, I can't make it through an episode of Midsumer Murders without nodding off. I even have to take several restorative 'sit downs' when whipping cream for brandy snaps.

Rochester: Fuck: has it come to this?  It makes me think of death. This is the beginning of the end, Underscore. Sat here, North Sea in front of us. Dusk falling. The desolation of it is overwhelming.  Failure.  Impotence.  Indignity.  Death. 

Miss U: (sniggering) For the love of God, PERSPECTVE Rochester!  There is no need to rhapsodise so mournfully, like some gone-to-seed Byronic brute. You failed to sell a plastic door to a lesbian.  That is all.  Noir turned you down. And, I can't say I am surprised, really. Your sales patter was very . . .  lacklustre.  I was expecting more. . . unctuousness. You sprawled on her sofa, rolled a fag, thrust a tatty catalogue at the lass and quoted £1500 without even getting your tape measure out.  Oh -  and then, when you sensed it had all gone tits up, you asked her to describe her first lesbian experience.  Has that approach really won you  South West Salesman of the Year three years running?

Rochester:  To be fair, she didn't get the full treatment flower. I didn't unleash 'Don'.   Not with you there too. That would have been a bit seedy.  I can't pretend I'm not gutted though.  I quite liked Noir mind. It was good to finally meet her.  I think she found me quite charismatic, like.  She was warming to me, I could tell. She is 100% lezza though. 100 cunting percent. (frowning as he rolls a cigarette)  I don't say this lightly, but I doubt even I could cure her.  

Miss U:  I thought you said lesbians didn't exist.  They were mythical creatures:  like unicorns and elves.

Rochester:  (sighing and putting down his gin) It's very technical and scientific. There is a continuum.  At one end there's the likes of you (he waves an imperious paw in Miss Underscore's direction) : brogues from the Virginia Woolf collection at Clarks, tortoiseshell reading glasses, National Trust membership card. . .

Miss U:  But I am not a lesbian. . . and they're Helena Bonham Carter collection brogues actually.

Rochester: . . .at the other end is Noir: a fully committed lezza who is immune to my swarthy, bearded charms. (obscurely) I could bore you with the science of it all: chromosomes, pheromones, genes, nature vs nurture, etc etc etc . . . but I'm not in the mood.  Not after this afternoon's humiliation. For once, I think we should talk about something other than lesbianism.

Miss U:  Well, maybe it's just as well you kept Don in his box.  There is nothing more alarming than a virile window vendor on the loose.  I may have never looked at you the same way again. Here, this will cheer you up,  I have got you a present.  

Miss Underscore rummages through her handbag and passes Rochester a paperback. 

Rochester: Barbara Pym, Some Tame Gazelle. OK.  This is the bird who Larkin liked, yeah?

Miss U: I have two copies of all of her books. I know you haven't read a book since The Road, five years ago.  This will be a very different experience, I'll warn you now.  Not so much post-apocalyptic nightmare, more post-menopausal nightwear.  

Rochester:  Hey, I am off to the pubs round the Tyne Dock next.  Meeting some blokes for pool and beer.  Maybe I should take Babs in there and do a reading.

Miss U:  Heavens no!  Don't you dare take Miss Pym to the Tyne Dock! She needs a genteel parlour with blowsy geraniums in the windows, fine linen and porcelain tea cups.

Rochester:  (squinting, reads the blurb from the back of the book). "Together yet alone, the Misses Bede occupy the central crossroads of parish life.  Harriet, plump, elegant and jolly likes nothing better than to make a fuss of new curates, secure in the knowledge that Count Ricardo Bianco will propose to her again this year.  Belinda, meanwhile, has harboured sober feelings of devotion towards Archdeacon Hochleave for 30 years."  Sober feelings of devotion, eh? Wow. Heady stuff.  I WILL read this, Underscore.  Don't look at me like that, you doubt me?  I will.  It will give me an insight into your psyche, if nothing else.  Anyway - I am doing it for Larkin. Give me a week.  No, two weeks.  I will report back.  

Miss U:  No, what you will do is Wikipedia it and bluff your way through, like you do with all my recommendations.  What did you do last night, after we split up?

Rochester:  Well, the entire family gathered at me ma's house for a curry.  Your ex was there with his new lass, roaring drunk and making a total fuckwit of himself. He kept scrolling through his phone's ringtones, really loud and for some reason he made us all listen to Rolf Harris's Greatest Hits.  He thought he was fucking hilarious. He'd brought his dog, this massive Rottweiler that kept knocking everyone over and helping itself to the naan breads. He was a right oaf.  I think we both know, that of the two of us, I was always the better option for you.  In so many ways, (stroking his beard) not just that I'm so much better looking.  You know it's true.

Miss U:  Did you tell your brother you'd spent the afternoon with me?

Rochester:  Errr.  No. He has no idea, after our initial fling, that we ever saw each other again, or kept in touch. It's tricky. I don't plan on mentioning it, to be honest.  I don't think it would go down well.

Miss U:  And how is your granny?

Rochester: Bedridden.  97.  Christ.  I hope I don't live that long.  You can only communicate with her via a huge writing pad, cos she's deaf.  But she's also almost blind, so you've got to put one word on a page and use a Magic Marker. 

Miss U:  Sounds like that Bob Dylan video.

Rochester:  I asked her if she was OK, she'd had a fall the previous week trying to get out of bed,(miming writing the words)  ARE YOU OK?  She just smiled vacantly and nodded.  I asked her again.  ARE YOU REALLY OK?  She just smiled and nodded again.  ARE YOU SURE, GRANNY? I held her hand and suddenly, her eyes just flooded with tears, flooded with tears. Cunting hell, Underscore.  Cunting hell. I didn't know what to do.   

Miss U: Oh dear.  

Rochester: I haven't mentioned it yet, but I'm going home tomorrow.  

Miss U: I thought you were here for a whole week of high jinks and villainy.  Why are you going so soon?  You've just got here!

Rochester:  Family stuff.  I have to get back.  .  . I've seen more of you than anyone else this visit, you know.  I'm glad you finally agreed to meet up with me.  It was daft of you to keep saying no.  I mean, I know why you did.  But still . . .

They look at each other. 

Miss U: (babbling nervously) I'm cooking scallops for tea. With chorizo possibly, if I've got it.  Maybe corned beef, if I haven't.  Can I substitute corned beef for chorizo, do you think?  I got the scallops from M&S. They were diver caught, but I think, given the price, they were actually caught by mermaids.  I'd better get going, Rochester. (puts on jacket and scarf and stands up) Then I've got to tidy the kitchen.  My new dishwasher is coming tomorrow.  I got a Neff one.  I've never heard of them before, but surely John Lewis doesn't sell crap. . . 

Rochester: (wryly) Alright pet, come on then. Let's go. 

Rochester heads out, hands burrowed deep in overcoat pockets.  Miss Underscore follows, shaking her head at her own unbridled lunacy.

They travel in an agonising silence in the lift from the seafront bar to the headland.    They walk, still in silence to their cars, parked on the cliffs above the North Sea.  The wind rages.  Rochester opens his boot and casually throws in Some Tame Gazelle in the back.  

Rochester:  Thanks for that, anyway.

Miss U:  Don't chuck Miss Pym in the boot of your car, you lout!  Have some respect!  

Rochester:  She won't be in there long.  I'm taking her to the pub next, remember.  

Miss U:  No, you won't.  I know you.  She's going to languish next to your spare-tyre for months, years, gently decomposing.  You travelling salesmen, you are renowned for the body parts you keep in the boots of your cars.  Serial killers, the lot of you. Haven't you see Prime Suspect, Crimewatch?  It's always a travelling salesman or man in a white van. Poor Barbara.  She deserves better.

Rochester: (taking something from the boot of his car) Hey look at these pet; I've got reading glasses!  You like a man in glasses, don't you?  You've told me that before.  I got them from a bloke in a pub. (he puts them on) What do you think?

Miss U:  Dear God!  Who was the bloke, Truman Capote?  They are rather camp, Rochester.  I imagine if George Michael appeared on Newsnight to talk about the decline in the blouson leather jacket industry, he would sport glasses like those. 

Rochester:  You're a cunt, Underscore.  They were free.  They give me a certain gravitas when filling out my credit agreements. It's a look.

Miss U:  Its a look alright.  It's the look of a 1950s gay, Hillman Imp driving district nurse called Jeremy. 

Rochester:  You really are a total fucking cunt!  Aye.  I'm going to have to get some proper ones, aren't I? Get an eye test and everything. I need them for the small-print on the window contracts. Middle-age, eh?  

Miss U:  Middle-ege doesn't bother me, Rochester.  There's something quite cosy about it, I think. Being young, there's too much pressure to be happy. Anyway, the thing about middle age is, eventually,  we'll all grow out of it. 

Rochester: That's fucking profound. 

Miss U:  Not really.  Doris Day said it originally. (shivering) It's cold. 

Rochester:  Howay pet, give us a hug.

Rochester and Miss Underscore hug gingerly.  The hug, with the inevitability of night following day, soon melts into a longer, more languid and sultry kiss.  Miss Underscore pulls away, bewildered.

Rochester:  Listen, shall I come over later, we  can have a drink and spend the night together? What do you think, Miss Underscore?

Miss U:  (with a hint of feigned outrage) What?  No.  No, Rochester. No! We can't. 

Flustered, Miss Underscore turns brusquely on her Helena Bonham Carter heels, and scuttles to her car.   

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. Señor 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. . .