Sunday, 28 June 2015


How does this work again?  It has been SO long and I am very, very rusty.  I've been meaning to write for months, but words just wouldn't come.

I suppose I should go back and read the last entry.  I recall it detailed my jaunt to Harrogate with the swarthy UPVC baron.  A trip that did not end at all well. There was a declaration of love (from me) followed by an oppressive silence (from him). That fraught encounter on a Hotel du Vin chaise turned out to be the last contact with the tank-topped lothario for months.

I've had a difficult time of late.  I've struggled, to be honest.  I started 2015 vowing to make some positive changes.  In March I called in builders to put the house right.  I had remortgaged to raise funds for the work 6 months earlier - but kept procrastinating when it came to actually getting the work done. In the end, fate intervened when a kitchen ceiling and wall fell down following a flood. So, I made the call and work began.  The builders were with me for two months, working in every single room: knocking down walls, decorating, refitting bathrooms, tackling damp and subsidence.  They even put in a couple of UPVC windows - rousing a furious jealously in the rogue never before expressed.

Miss U:  Rochester, I'm going on a date on Friday night.

Rochester:  Are you pet?

Miss U:  Rochester, I've got some oafs fitting UPVC windows in the bedrooms on Friday night.


Anyway, the ramshackle state of the house had saddened me for several years.  It's a lovely, characterful 1930s house, with stained glass, cast iron fireplaces and lots of art deco features.  It's in a lovely quiet, tree-lined suburb.  The place was a ruin when I moved in and the energy and money required to update it was overwhelming to me - especially as I live alone and everything fell on my shoulders.

I can say now that 90% of the jobs are done - I still need some carpets replacing and some exterior woodwork painting.  I have even employed a gardener (a sprightly, malt-loaf eating sort, straight from Dad's Army) to get the outside space put straight. That is no easy task.  The garden resembles those bleak Sunday supplement pictures of Chernobyl, 30 years on. I hadn't touched it for years.   The chap is here today, bless him, hacking his way through the brambles and roof-high elder saplings.  It was stupid of me to buy a house with a large garden.  I conflated a love of sitting in a garden reading with a love of gardening.  I learnt that they are very, very different things.  Still - now I have Godfrey to keep me right.  I have no intention battling with my ridiculous privet again.  Ever.

The house renovations did result in one of the more traumatic events of the year. Four weeks into the project, I got a call at work to say the builders had lost one of my dogs.  Poor Hetty: never a fan of men at the best of times, loathed the workmen. One morning decided she'd had enough of their Black & Decker buffoonery.  She sneaked out the front door, firmly nipping a builder's arse for good measure as she passed, and then galloped at full greyhound pelt down the street.  Within 5 minutes she had reached our favourite park (looking for me, no doubt), and was seen by many regular dog walkers, who recognised her immediately and tried unsuccessfully to catch her.  Within 30 minutes she was running down the busy A19, heading South out of town.  Numerous people reported her to the police as she dodged cars on the dual carriageway . All in all, she was on the run for 8 desperate days, moving around East Durham mining villages, not letting anyone get near her.

I have to say, Hetty's escape demonstrated the hugely positive side of social media.  I was advised to set up a Facebook page to advertise her plight, which I did.  It was viewed and commented on hundreds of times.  Casual dog-walking acquaintances and even complete strangers spent hours searching for the poor girl.  Sightings were posted online and I eventually was able to track her down to a village just 2 miles away.  Amazingly, against all the odds, I got Hetty back and she was completely unscathed.  It was a joyous moment.  The old gal is now something of a local celebrity; getting cuddles and comments wherever she goes.  She loves every minute of it.

The first night of Hetty's disappearance, Rochester and I spoke on the phone until dawn.  It was possibly the most brutally honest conversation we ever had. The moment on the chaise was discussed at length.   I shan't write too much more about that, as it will probably be the subject of my next post.  But yes, Hetty's great escape also brought Rochester back into my life, albeit in a the usual blurry and unresolved way.  We've spoke this week of meeting up again this summer - another Harrogate.  I can't decide if it is a good idea.  Well, I know it isn't, but I do long to see him, all the same.

Other news?  I am off sick at the moment, and have been for the last 6 weeks.  Work has been hard.  That is all I shall say on that subject.  After months and months of unexplained dizziness, extreme fatigue, aching limbs, breathlessness, headaches, shakes and a lack of energy that meant I could only walk the dogs 200 metres at a time, I went to see my GP.  He diagnosed severe stress and depression (predominantly work related) and signed me off.  I was doubtful that all those physical symptoms could be caused by a mental illness.  However, after 4 weeks off work (and with the help of anti-depressants) every one of those symptoms has indeed vanished.   I feel much, much better now. I start counselling next week too, which I am positive about.

I plan on returning to work in September. I miss the children terribly.  However, I recognise that 'the toad' work had overtaken my life.  95% of my energy and time was devoted to it.  I am resolved to go back with a new attitude and a more balanced perspective.  There needs to be more to my life than teaching.  (I need to find out what that is.) In the last few weeks I have started reading again. (I couldn't concentrate on a book for months before).  I need to start blogging properly again.  I'd like to have a proper relationship with someone.  I am beginning to think maybe I could be happy.  Or happier.  Or maybe just not unhappy. I'd settle for that, I think. That would be a good start. It's a tiny hope, but it is an optimism I haven't felt in years.

So, I have 9 weeks ahead of me before I return to work.  I am spending my time quietly.  I get up.  I get dressed.  I put make-up on.  I brush my hair (sometimes).  I walk the dogs for miles.  I cook proper food.  I set myself one useful task per day (tidying up drawers, painting nails, little things).   I read.  I watch TV.  I go to the pictures.  I see people.  I look at pictures of sighthounds and Chanel lipsticks on the internet.  I bimble.  I potter.  I nap.  I recover.

And now, I'm committing  to starting blogging again. Properly.  Like, trying to be funny and shit. Well, I'll do my best.  Forthcoming posts for the next 3 weeks will include:

  • A rogue update
  • A tour around my renovated, elegant(ish) abode
  • A review of the Philip Larkin's Letters to Monica (the book that got me back into reading)
  • An introduction to new Chez Underscore resident, Fig, the bi-polar cat.
  • THE ITEM:  Rochester, for the first time in 6 years, acknowledges my birthday with a gift, a mystery item.  What could it be?

Thursday, 30 October 2014

The Aftermath (Part 2)

Half term.  Do you know, it is six years to the very day since I first met Rochester.  Our date was by the steely and icy sea during blackberry week.  Blackberry week: week of sea-frets, falling leaves and unyielding grey Northern skies.   Rochester, unlike every other inter-web blind date I'd encountered (and there were many back then, back when I was a little younger and an awful lot braver), was exactly as I imagined he would be: darkly witty, curmudgeonly yet urbane.  He sported a look rarely seen outside of a 1960s Soviet Bloc undertaker convention.  Oh.  And he rescued a dog on our first date.  My little dog, Boo.  Damn the cunt for being all swashbucklingly heroic and that: an animal-loving, Geordie Errol Flynn in a funereal overcoat.  It all seemed pretty darn perfect (if you ignored the farcical mischance that was Señor Boldon).

I finished my last blog post with an email.  I'd written down everything that I wanted to tell him, but could never seem to verbalise in his presence.  What would his response be?  Would he bother replying at all?  He didn't, really.  Not with any great conviction or candour.  In the end, I ended up texting furiously one night at 2am.

'Yes, but do you love me?'

It was degrading.  Even as I sent it, I was aware of how deeply unattractive the message's fatal undercurrent of desperation must seem.

He replied, with forced patience, that he did love me.  But the declaration was accompanied by several pages of analysis of what 'love' meant to him.  It was bamboozling.  It was like unravelling the small print of a double glazing contract.  Bastard.  Usually I curse the oaf for not saying enough. However, his first (and only) declaration of love was undoubtedly ruined by the inclusion of a set of comprehensive emotional 'terms and conditions'.  Sometimes, less truly IS more.  How I'd longed for the solemn purity of a simple, 'I love you'.

And nothing since, really.  These last few weeks though, I began to feel like something had changed within me.  I don't know how or why that happened.  I wasn't floundering, drowning in sadness or loneliness.  I kept going.  I rarely thought of him. And when I did,  the brutal, unflattering reality of our situation was sharply illuminated.  Like a bleak and stony landscape suddenly revealed by cruel yet brilliant sunlight, I could see everything:  I'd spent years waiting forlornly for a man who picked me up and put me down like a a pair of rather dull, but undisputedly reliable and comfortable shoes.  Work was awful, awful but absorbing and exhausting.  I was fighting for my job.  Python in a Pencil Skirt had made it her mission to get rid of me (and several other members of the school leadership team).  I had little time to moon about swarthy cads.

But then half term arrived, with its comforting gurgle of central heating pipes,  cold night skies scented with gunpowder and lurchers giddy with squirrel fever.  The solitariness of my days has undone me again.  I am now missing him terribly.  But maybe I am just sorrowful for the emptiness of the world he has left behind.   Because, if I don't have Rochester, what do I have?

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Aftermath (Part 1)

Is there anything more heartbreaking than an unreturned 'I love you'?   I don't think so.

The rest of our stay passed, on the surface, contentedly.  The moment on the chaise was not mentioned.  I did not ask my allocated question, although I knew what it should be.

"Why did you ask me if I loved you?"

It seemed a dangerous thing for him to have asked.  Whatever my response had been,  no good could have ever come from it.

The next morning was heady with languid, drowsy loving and breakfast.  I ventured to Betty's where I cleared the shelves buying gifts for everyone I could think of.  We took some daft pictures together before we left.  Something we'd never done.  I'd suggested this, already thinking this would be the last time we'd see each other.

On the short drive to the station, I desperately tried to think of something to say.  Some enchanted combination of words, that would, like a witch's spell, give me an answer.  How to frame a question that could cut through the tension that simmered and shimmered between us like a heat haze on a dusty road?  But no. The question went unasked. The words were unsaid.  The moment lost.

I started to speak on the platform.  But couldn't.  I looked away up the snaking track, tangled with ripening blackberries and fading buddleia.  My eyes felt like hard grey stones under water. That day we left Harrogate was the only sunny day of our stay.

"You're so fucking dramatic,"  he sighed.  Then he paused.  "Let's get a cup of tea.  You've got half an hour till the train. Howay pet."

"No.  You get going.  You've got a long drive, Rochester."

Of course, I hoped he'd insist.  But he didn't.

"Ok, flower."

Later, at home, reunited with the hounds (who had stayed with lurcher cousins in a vast Victorian town house and were looking as fat as pigs), I emailed him.  I poured myself a big glass of whisky and wrote everything I was feeling and asked him for a response.

I spoke of how much I had enjoyed not seeing the sites of Harrogate with him, but how frustrating it was to be picked up biannually (like a flu jab in ballet pumps) and then dropped.

I spoke of how I felt about his relationship with Gladys, with whom he'd discussed a future and who had met his family - when we only ever discuss lesbianism and beards.

I spoke of how it was hard for me not to feel like some dirty, shameful secret when no one in his life knew anything about me.

I reminded him, there were dozens of times I'd needed him, and texted or emailed him after a fraught day or a fragile, lonely moment, only to be completely ignored.

Finally I asked my question.  My allocated question from the Chaise of Truth.

"Why did you ask me if I loved you?"

I pressed SEND.  Sat back and waited. . .

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Two Volume Novel (Part Three of the Harrogate Chronicles)

Oh dear.  Everything's going tits up at the moment.  You remember how I defeated Python in a Pencil Skirt last week?  How she flounced off after being confronted with my V&A notebook of union regulations?  Well, brace yourselves:  SHE HAS RETURNED.  She is back, and she wants revenge.  I have heard from a spy at the last governors' meeting that she is gunning for me and for the Deputy Head.  She wants us out. 'It's time they moved on!' is how she phrased it.  Python wants to unleash another tyrannical reign at School for Scandal - the DH & I are committed to stopping that from happening. She sees that as being disloyal and deliberately contrary.  We see it as protecting staff and children from another bullying regime. I am seriously worried.  I am a single woman, with a mortgage, several animals, credit card debts, no family and an addiction to cashmere cardigans and Chanel lipsticks.  I cannot afford to lose my job.  This is all exhausting and is causing me many sleepless nights.

Fortunately, I am not in school for the next few days.  I am having training in how to be a proper union rep (as opposed to a tin-pot Trotskyite in a Boden tea-dress).  Glancing at the course agenda, it is not what I was expecting.  I was hoping for guidance as to how a rather bosomy woman could pull off a donkey jacket.  I was expecting H&S guidelines around braziers.  And maybe lessons in how to play Keep the Red Flag Flying on the recorder (a primary school teacher's instrument of choice). But no, it seems a bit more tepid: all equal opportunities, employment law and budgets. Plenty of tea breaks though.  That's a positive.

Also this week, I  had to take my 20 year old cat, Hester, to be put to sleep And I failed to get tickets for Nick Cave at the Sage, Gateshead and I SO wanted to see him perform there.  So, all things considered, this week has been shitty, shitty and more shitty.

Shall we move on to the business at hand?  You don't want to read about dead cats and vampiric, middle-aged lounge singers, do you?  You are waiting to hear what happened on the Chaise of Truth. Allow me to set the scene.  It is late, very late at night (possibly even past nine thirty).  Miss Underscore and Rochester stumble tipsily into their hotel room in the Hotel du Vain.  It is their last night together: the last night of their stay.  Sadly, though, it is also to be their last night together ever.

Miss Underscore: Oh gosh.  TOO.  MUCH.  PASTA. TOO MUCH GIN.  You don't mind if I give the chaise a miss, do you.  I'll answer the questions in bed.  In my nightie.  I need to lie down and unfasten my liberty bodice. Everything's spinning.

Rochester:  Nope.  No way, Underscore.  Get your tortoiseshell Annie Hall specs on, kick your sandals off and get on the chaise.  A promise is a promise.

Miss Underscore:  (groaning).  OK.  You need to plan your questions, rogue.  I'll just rest my eyes for a moment while you do it.

Rochester prowls the room and gets paper and a pen from the desk.  He sits on the bed, rests the paper on a paperback and starts to write.

Rochester:  I've read this book, you know.

Miss Underscore: (sleepily) Hmmmm?

Rochester:  Your paperback. Bonjour Tristesse.  Sagan. I've read it.  Do you know what it means, Bonjour Tristesse?

Miss Underscore:  I don't actually.  I am loving the book though. Although there is a love interest called Cyril.  I am finding that somewhat difficult to come to terms with.

Rochester:  It means 'hello sadness'.  I read all her books when I was at Durham Uni doing my social policy MA.

Miss Underscore: Was this on the feminist module?

Rochester:  Aye.

Miss Underscore:  I still can't believe you did a feminist module.

Rochester:  They had to take a vote, the lasses, to decide whether they would allow me on. It was unanimous, I think.  Of course they fucking wanted me.  They all did.  After a few weeks they tried to get me chucked off, like.  I was too much for them.

Miss Underscore: (smiling) I can imagine.  Poor ladies.

Rochester:  Anyway, back to Sagan, The Unmade Bed - that's a good one.  I've got all her stuff.  A Certain Smile.  I'll find them and send them to you.

Miss Underscore:  You are quite unexpected sometimes, Rochester.  Especially tonight, picking a fight in the hotel bar.

Rochester: You approved of that, Underscore.  I fucking KNOW you did.  That arsehole was bullying the waitress.  She was only about 19.  He was a cunting posh, condescending, arrogant nob-jockey. He needed someone to take him down a peg or two.

Miss Underscore:  I DID approve. You withered him with a glare and a few choice words snarled in your thickest South Shields accent.  I was proud.

Rochester:  He was a braying Tory puff in loafers. Aye. He deserved it.  Now.  Are you comfy there pet?  Get your glasses on.  The questions are done.

Miss Underscore:  They are reading glasses.  They make everything fuzzy when I'm not reading.  You're a blur.

Rochester:  Stop yapping pet.  Get your specs on.  That's more like it.  Right.  Question 1. . .

Miss Underscore:  Don't fuck up these questions, Rochester.  Have you REALLY thought about them?  I mean REALLY thought. Don't be asking me my bra size or anything. . .

Rochester:  These are EPIC questions, pet.  I know what I'm doing.  Anyway, I already know your bra size. Right. Here we go.  Question 1 . . .


Rochester:  (crossly putting pen and paper down) You know, I would like just ONE bastard meeting with you when your cunting birthday is not mentioned.  Now shut up and prepare yourself for question 1.

Miss Underscore: I am ready.  Go for it.  Let the probing commence.

Rochester:  Question one:  what do you think about when you masturbate?

Miss Underscore: (aghast)  WHAT?

Rochester:  Howay!

Miss Underscore:  You cunt, Rochester!

Rochester: (innocently) What?

Miss Underscore:  You get five questions and THAT is what you come up with?  SMUT?  FILTH?  LICENTIOUSNESSNESS!

Rochester:  It's a great question.  Don't go all prudish on me.  Are you going to answer it?

Miss Underscore:  No.  Dear God.

Rochester:  (sternly)  Are you saying you are refusing to answer?

Miss Underscore:  (primly)  Yes.

Rochester: (raising his monobrow, sighing and scribbling a note on his paper) OK.  Not a good start. I am disappointed, to say the least.

Miss Underscore:  And let me tell you something, you, you CAD, if ALL your questions are like that, you had better have a rethink.  Look at your face!  They ARE all like that, aren't they?

Rochester:  (defensively)  No!

Miss Underscore:  Really.  Shall I come and have a look?

Rochester:  (frantically scribbling)  Stay where you are!  I am, for your information, just recording your refusal to answer.

Miss Underscore:  Oh really?  Don't worry, oaf.  I am 55% pumpkin ravioli, 45% lemon tart.  I don't actually think I could move from this chaise if I tried.

Rochester:  Ok.  Question two. . .are you ready?

Miss Underscore: (haughtily, waving an imperious paw in his direction)  Yes.  You may proceed with question 2.

Rochester:  It is your Aunty Margaret's funeral. . .

Miss Underscore:  WHAT?  What now?  What fresh hell is this?

Rochester:  Calm down, Underscore, and listen. It is your Aunty Margaret's funeral.  What do you say?

Miss Underscore:  What a bizarre question?  Do you mean like, in a speech from the pulpit?

Rochester:  Aye.

Miss Underscore:  Well, that's easy . . . nothing.  I say nothing.

Rochester:  Nothing?

Miss Underscore:  You've been watching too many Richard Curtis films, Rochester.  I am too shy to stand up in a church and make a speech.  I'd say nothing.  I quietly toast her with Tio Peppe and fondant fancies in the privacy of my own sitting room.  That was a terrible question.  Terrible.

Rochester:  I know.  I think I panicked when you vetoed question one.  I'm all at sixes and sevens with my questions now, to be honest.  Fuck.

Miss Underscore:  This is going well.

Rochester:  OK.  Question 3.  If you met yourself, would you like yourself?

Miss Underscore:  Your questions are so bizarre.

Rochester:  Well?

Miss Underscore:  Yes.

Rochester:  Why?

Miss Underscore:  Is that question 4?

Rochester:  Jesus,  no!  Come on - expand on your answer please.

Miss Underscore:  Ok, I would think I was funny and nice.  Honest and loyal.  I'd think I had great taste in books and cardigans and would be fun to be around.  I'd probably wish I was a bit more outgoing and more  . . . courageous.  Yes courageous.  And I'd think that I should get out more.  I should definitely be more outgoing and not be as terrified of everything as I am.  Next question.

Rochester:  Question 4.

Miss Underscore:  Yes, question 4.

The room is silent for several moments.  On the chaise by the open window,  Miss Underscore removes her glasses, closes her eyes and sighs.  Rochester stares intently at his notes.  Woozy, whooping voices float up from the street below.  The curtains stir silently in the breeze.  Traffic purrs softly.

Rochester:  Wake up pet.  Question 4.

Miss Underscore: (drowsily) Question 4.  I'm ready.

Rochester:  Question 4,  OK, question 4, Miss Underscore, question 4. . . do you love me?

Miss Underscore:  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.


Rochester:  Question 5.  Why?  Why do you love me?

Miss Underscore:  Well. I don't know, Rochester.  Part of it is inexplicable,  in the way that a connection between two people is abstract and undefinable and magical.  We get on.  It's joyful and fluid.  You're a good man - you haven integrity, especially about your family.  You just feel right.  It just feels right when we're together.  You're a bit odd.  I'm a bit odd.  I don't know what else to say, or how to explain it.  Love is mysterious.  But I do love you.

Rochester:  Ok  (long pause) Thank you.  For what you said, you know.  Integrity.  That stuff.

The room is smothered in an uncomfortable quiet.

Miss Underscore:  That's OK.  So, that's it then, your last question?

Rochester: (getting up)  Aye.  I'm gonna smoke a fag out the window.  Give us the chaise, petal.

Miss Underscore:  I'm going to bed then.

Rochester sits on the chaise and rolls a cigarette.  Miss Underscore starts unzip her dress.

Rochester:  I'm gonna watch you get undressed, flower.

Miss Underscore:  Don't.

Rochester:  OK.  Hey.  We forgot your question, pet.  Did you have a question for me?

Miss Underscore: (quietly) No.  No.  There's nothing to ask now.

(The title of this post is a poem by Dorothy Parker.)

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Breakfast at Betty's (Part Two of the Harrogate Chronicles)

What a dramatic few weeks!  I am giddy with it all.  The most drama I usually encounter is:
  • a Sunday afternoon double-bill of Morse on ITV3
  • the gift of a dead shrew left for me in a Clarks loafer  
  • a gin-soaked, bi-annual tussle with a bearded double-glazing salesman
As you know,  collective Stepfords at my school ousted Godzilla in Evans (head teacher, Magda) last term. We stood together (supported by our unions, who were fantastic) and she was gone within days.  Well, our temporary replacement is, astonishingly, just as power-crazed and nasty.  And, in my new role as Union Rep (picture Arthur Scargill in ballet pumps and tortoiseshell specs), it is MY responsibility to keep the nut-job in check.  Whereas Magda was obviously unhinged, and thought nothing of bursting into your classroom (full of children) and screaming about how crap you were and how thick your class was, Magda II (Python in a Pencil Skirt) is more measured and icy.  Or she was.  Until Friday.

On that fated morning, I had to draw the Python's attention to a union guideline that she was intent on infringing.  I shan't bore you with the details. Although, I shall point out that I keep my union notes in a tiny but darling leather-bound notebook, covered with birds and blackberries.  I find it adds a certain femininity and refinement to the tawdry business of trade union discord.  (If Cath Kidston stores existed in 1984,  the miners' strike may have had a very different outcome.)  Anyway, the genteel and civilising touch of pretty stationary was wasted on the Python. I referred to my chintzy notebook, quoted regulation 127b/c with my most wan smile, tucked the notebook back into my bra and BOOM!  An apocalypse of fury was unleashed. The python was in meltdown.  She started clearing her desk, wildly slamming possessions into her Radley handbag. Then she RAN (no mean feat in a pencil skirt and patent stilettos) rampaging through the school, screaming that no one could work with us and that she had had ENOUGH.  'God help the person who gets the permanent head teacher's job here!' she roared, as she left, passing, in a TERRIBLE fluke of fate, the candidates for the permanent post, who were assembled for their interviews that very day.

Dear me.  It was farcical. So, as I type this, I know not whether the python will return tomorrow.   I hope she doesn't come back.  But then, who WILL take us on?  We all suffered two years of bullying, berating and insults from Magda, yet not one of us ever walked out, lost our composure or even called in sick. We got on with our jobs and put the children first.  Python in a Pencil skirt didn't even last four weeks.  Yet again, it all makes me long for the halcyon days of Pompous Pilate and The School of Hard Knocks.  Which may have been located on one of Sunderland's most infamous sink estates, but now seems a veritable haven of calm and common sense by comparison.

But, it is not just the inevitable school issues that have occupied my mind recently. Things have ended with Rochester.  I think.  It's hard to tell. The flaky fanny rat proclaimed he was no longer happy to be blogged about, which seemed slightly perplexing after 5 years of posts.  So this may well be the penultimate instalment.  I will finish the Harrogate Chronicles, but I doubt the rogue and I will tussle again.  I will probably return to posting about lurchers, corned beef recipes and cardigans.  I apologise in advance.

Anyway, the setting of today's tender scene is Betty's Tearooms in Harrogate; it is mid-morning.  The room is a muted symphony of teaspoons chiming on bone china, hushed voices and stifled gasps as bills, discretely tucked in heavy, embossed cream envelopes, are opened.  I love Betty's.  You must go.  You MUST.   Holly Golightly may have declared that nothing bad could ever happen in Tiffany's (naive, I think; surely armed robbery is a very distinct possibility) but that is only because she had't been to Betty's.

Our lovelorn are couple seated in the window, overlooking a lush, late summer park.

Rochester:  So, here we are  In Betty's.  How does it feel?  I noticed in your tweets that you didn't think it was exactly my scene.

Miss Underscore: It feels good.  You don't look too discordant. Mind you, I think it is apt that we're here for breakfast.  I can't see you negotiating a cream tea with that beard.

Rochester: Read us the menu, pet.  Fonts are so fucking small these days. Especially pseudo Edwardian ones.

Miss Underscore:   Can we go glasses shopping for you later?

Rochester:  Aye. We probably should.  I'm no good at that stuff.

Miss Underscore:  (picking up the menu)  I like reading menus to you.  I feel like Jane Fontaine in the early scenes of Rebecca: an elderly person's genteel and demure paid companion. Now.  Breakfast.

Rochester: Hang on. You haven't got YOUR reading glasses on.  How come you can read that but I can't?

Miss Underscore:  They're just stunt glasses really.  I can manage without them.  Although not on a night, when I'm tired.  Plus, I like to occasionally glare at my class over the top of them.  It terrifies the living daylights out of them. Right.  Item one:  full English breakfast, item two . . .

Rochester:  Stop!  Go no further. I'll have that.

Miss Underscore:  Well, that was easy.

Rochester:  I'm not sure about your new glasses, like.  They're a bit big.  I tried them on myself last night.

Miss Underscore:  They're rather 70s.  I feel like an uptight Upper East Side academic in one of Woody Allen's early films.  You know, big glasses, Laura Ashley smock, centre parting.  I'd be discussing Cezanne and Salinger with a dishevelled professor in corduroys, at a party in the Guggenheim obviously. I'd seethe with feminist fury when Woody ambles in with a 17 year old date and pinches the last vol-au-vent.  I'd glare at him murderously through my big specs.

Rochester:  So, your glasses are part of your teacher performance art?  Just like my Quality Street ties.

Miss Underscore: (whispering) Rochester, look at that chap.  Discreetly, oaf.  Look.  Codger to your left.

Miss Underscore nods to where a blithering and blahhhing, pink-cheeked octoganarian in crushed pumpkin cords stares angrily at his kedgeree through a steamed up monocle.

Miss Underscore:  You wouldn't find him in Sunderland.  Or Shields.

Rochester:  He's straight out of P G Woodhouse.  As is that fruitcake over there (he points over Miss Underscore's shoulder): unbrushed red hair, 1940s dress, cashmere cardigan, crimson lipstick.

Miss Underscore:  Oooh, where?  She sounds pleasingly bonkers.

Rochester:  (Squinting)  Ah sorry.  It's you, pet!  Lots of bloody mirrors in this place. It's disorientating. I should have recognised you from the fucking great looking bloke you're sat with.  I'm going out for a fag.  You order for us, eh, flower?  What are you having?

Miss Underscore: Eggs benedict, strong breakfast tea, orange juice.  Don't go out yet, Rochester.  We've just got here.

Rochester:  Ok.

Miss Underscore:  I was thinking of you on Monday when I went to see Aunty Margaret.  She asked which brother I was jaunting to Harrogate with, by the way,  'Brother number one, or brother number two.'

Rochester:  Bollocking hell!  There's only one right answer to that.

Miss Underscore:  Anyway, her next-door neighbour popped in while I was there.  Jean, she's called.   Much younger than Aunty Margaret.  Only about 70. I hadn't seen her for years.  She told me her husband had just got out of hospital and was very ill in bed.  You know, this conversation brought home to me how tough colliery women are. (Harrumphingly, as Jean)  'He's got chronic COPD,  jaundice, massive heart failure, lung cancer that has now spread into his bones, and I told him, I told him Elizabeth, IT'S YOUR OWN FAULT, STAN and DON'T YOU DARE COMPLAIN TO ME!'

Rochester:  Fucking hell.

Miss Underscore:  'You were told 25 years ago to quit smoking and you didn't.  You were told to quit pigeons, and you didn't!'

Rochester:  Pigeons?

Miss Underscore:  "And now you're lying there all swollen like a yellow Moby Dick in pyjamas with only weeks to live!'

Rochester:  Poor bastard!

Miss Underscore: (continuing as Jean)  'I told him, Elizabeth, he gets NO sympathy from me.  None.  That's nice lipstick by the way.  I told him he had weeks, well that was to spare his feelings, but I really expect it might be days.' At which point, Aunty Margaret chirped in 'Might be HOURS, get him told, Jean.  You can't shilly shally around these things' Jean continued, 'I've got a lovely anaglypta chasen to redecorate the bedroom when he goes. You see, Elizabeth - ooh, what a lovely colour your hair is!  Is that Cathouse Crimson? Joan from the butchers uses that shade. She says it complements the black pudding nicely.  Anyway, I gave up smoking years ago, but HIM, oh no,  HE wouldn't hear of it. So, he can't moan now, can he. . .  even if he could talk. Which he can't.  And isn't THAT a blessing in disguise!' Seriously, Rochester.  That was the conversation.

Rochester:  What the actual fuck!

Miss Underscore:  I know.  It was astonishing. I just sat there, nodding at them both.  But, see.  smoking, Rochester, smoking.  You are smoking LOTS.

Rochester:  Aye.  I know.  But I don't have pigeons. I wish I hadn't started smoking again.  .  . She really said all that, this Jean?

Miss Underscore:  Yes.  Truly. Hard as nails, those colliery ladies. Hewn from granite, beef dripping and Max Factor Creme Puff.  I think she loves him really.  Steely though.

Rochester:  That's your heritage.  That's what you will become. What's wrong with the pigeons?

Miss Underscore: Feathers and dust.  They trigger the COPD, apparently.

A waitress, starched and aproned, glides over and takes their order.

Rochester:  You were SO pissed last night.  So very pissed.  You have very good deportment.  I've often thought that. Often thought you looked like you spent your early years being forced to walk up and down with a stack of books on your head.

Miss Underscore:  I did!  I did!  Aunty Daisy made me do it with her collection of romantic poets.  I owe much to my Aunty Daisy: my good posture and my penchant for swarthy Byronic cads.

Rochester: (laughing) Going back to the room, you were walking as perfectly erect as ever, but you were zig zagging from one side of the corridor to the other.  You were actually bouncing off the walls.

Miss Underscore:  Well, I only really drink when I meet you. I am not quite used to it.  There was champagne, wine, gin. . .it was such a nice night though.

Rochester: (reaching out and taking her hand)  This is all very lovely, don't you think?  Feels OK?

Miss Underscore:  Yes.  It's all lovely.

Rochester:  So, you'd do it again. Meet up like this?  (silence),  Miss Underscore?

Miss Underscore: (pause)  I don't know.

Rochester: (surprised) Are you serious?  Why wouldn't you?

Miss Underscore:  I. . . I just don't think we want the same things.  I don't think we're on the same page.

Rochester: (frowning) What the fuck do you mean, flower?

Miss Underscore:  This seems fine for you.  Intermittent texting and calls.  Meeting every 4 - 6 months.  Then nothing.  Nothing for months on end. I can't cope with it.  I just don't cope with that at all. That's the part you don't see.

Rochester:  But, you'd be fucking crazy not to do this again.  Howay, pet.

Miss Underscore:  It's not very flattering, you know.  To be the woman you can only be arsed to spend time with twice a year.

Rochester:   That's bullshit.  (silence) That IS bullshit.  You mean, you want more?  We could do that.  We could meet more often.  You could come south.  I could come north more often.  I don't think we are on different pages, pet. We're not, you know.

Miss Underscore:  But you haven't come north more often.  We both know that if you wanted to see more of me, you would have done it. I always hope we'll meet up and finally get things on the table.  Finally sort things out.  We never do.  We're forever skirting around the issue.  . . Would it bother you if I met someone else?

Rochester:  That's an interesting question . . . yes. . .yes. . .  it would.  It would bother me, quite a cunting bit, I expect.

Miss Underscore: (looking out of the window)  Look.  Here's the rain again.  I don't think we're going to get to Valley Gardens for brass bands and ice creams.

Rochester:  So, what shall we do after this?

Miss Underscore:  Find a pub.  Drink gin?

Rochester:  Yup.  Good call.

Miss Underscore:  And tonight, tonight I fancy a proper, old-school Italian restaurant: checked tablecloths, candles stuck in wine bottles, chicken liver pate, carbonara, e-coli, that kind of thing.  Cancel that swanky place you booked.  We both know that neither one of us is a 'textures of beetroot' kind of person.

Rochester:  Ok.  That sounds good. I'll ask around and find a good place.  You're quite a cheap date, you know.

Miss Underscore:  Ooooh.  Here's breakfast. How lovely does this look?

Rochester:  (digging in to breakfast) So, after the Italian, here's what I think we should do tonight.  It involves the chaise in the hotel room.  And you in your reading glasses.

Miss Underscore: The same as last night then?

Rochester:  Nope.  You are going to lie on the chaise.  In your Annie Hall specs.  I am going to ask you probing questions.  I am going to analyse you.

Miss Underscore:  Ok.  Ok.

Rochester: You agree?  Really?

Miss Underscore: (smiling) Yes.  With conditions.

Rochester:  Which are?

Miss Underscore:  (pouring tea) Let me think. Ok.  One - you only get five questions.

Rochester: Five?  That's pretty generous.  That's more than I thought.

Miss Underscore:  Only five.  No supplementary questions.  You must choose your questions wisely.

Rochester:   Five.  Agreed.

Miss Underscore:  Two:  I have the right not to answer.

Rochester:  Of course.  Agreed.

Miss Underscore:  Three:  don't ask anything you can't handle the answer to.

Rochester:  Fascinating. Like what?

Miss Underscore:  I don't know, like. . . .  Oh, I don't know. Just be mindful.  What with the whole brother narrative, this already has shades of Greek mythology. I don't want this to be like Pandora's box.  

Rochester:  And, you get one question yourself.  OK?  This breakfast is fucking good. I approve of Betty's.  Are you going to be honest tonight, flower? Totally honest?

Miss Underscore:  Of course. Of course I am.  I think the intriguing thing is going to be, not my answers, but what you choose to ask.  Heavens.  I am going to be penetrated on the chaise of truth!  How thrilling!

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.