I visted Rochester once in his Somerset pig-sty. ( I am not being disparaging about his housekeeping, he actually lived in a converted pig-sty). I remember being fluttery with excitement all week at school. I felt like I was about to go on a magical holiday, as opposed to a wintery weekend in a drafty West Country farm-building. Rochester seemed equally thrilled that I was visiting.
I can't say that I was overwhelmed with the cosiness of his porcine palace. It had garden furniture in the lounge, very little hot water and overflowing packing boxes everywhere (despite the fact he'd lived there for a year). It was also bitterly, bitterly cold.
If his country estate was disappointing, his Noddy car was even more depressing. It was filled with junk. It looked like a family of feral raccoons had made a nest in the back seat. There was rotten fruit and a mousetrap (I kid you not) in the footwell. It was a rustly, slightly camp, turquoise hatchback. It was the kind of car I can imagine a be-sandaled, non-practicing homosexual curate called Malcolm would own. The passenger side door creaked and groaned painfully when opened. Rochester once jokingly declared his New Year's resolution would be to embrace new hobbies and experiences, like dogging. And, in truth, his tawdry vehicle would not look out of place rocking in some moonlit, litter-strewn layby. It was dire.
Initially I was touched by 2 things. Firstly, he was on time to meet me from the airport. That was totally unexpected. Secondly, he had lit some candles in the living room ready for when I arrived. (Although I later discovered it was a friend who had lit the candles.)
There were a couple of touching and homely touches to the pig-pad too. All his plates and mugs were beautifully, intricately hand-painted by his granny. There was also an abundance of granny-produced crochet blankets. I love a bit of shabby-chic crochet. I thought it sweet that such things were important to him, I love hand-me-downs and family treasures. Although, I guess there was another explanation. He could have just been cheap.
I did enjoy my time with Rochester. We didn't do anything much. I saw the Royal Crescent in Bath. What a disappointment. I'd seen it many times in Jane Austen BBC costume dramas. Its grubbiness must have been obscured by all those ribboned bonnets and heaving bosoms. In reality it could do with some Cillit Bang. A hanging basket or two wouldn't hurt either. It looked quite stark, bleak and grimy.
Rochester and I spent Saturday drinking in various Bath pubs. They were all filled with loud, bearded men in garishly home-knitted jumpers. I was struck by the cultural difference between the North and the South. It is massive. I am not sure I could live there. I'd miss the Northern dour humor and grit.
Bless him, Rochester did have several ideas for a romantic Saturday night. But I was freezing cold and quite tired and achey and just wanted to stay in. Truthfully, I wasn't really bothered about restaurants, plays or concerts. I was very content just spending time with the rogue. We ended up eating chips and curry sauce and playing Connect 4 in front of a luke-warm wood burner.
Ironically, Madam Noir was also away for a romantic assignation with her girlfriend that weekend. They were staying in a 5 star hotel in Northumberland. She texted me to find out how things were with the swarthy one. I felt slightly deflated when she reported her girlfriend had scattered rose petals on the bed and ordered champagne. The only thing scattered around me was Connect 4 counters. I pointed this out to Rochester and asked if he felt he had been out-romanced. He looked rather perplexed.
'Aw, come on petal?' he protested 'I've done finger bowls and everything!'
In truth he was right. And I like slightly unorthodox romance. I don't think I would have swapped places with Madam Noir. He did joke he found me very low-maintenance. I suppose I am. When I think back to time with Rochester it is not overblown romantic gestures I remember (possibly because there weren't any). It's those darn curry chips, the way he carried my poorly dog up 200 steps and a time he seemed to spend an eternity looking a framed photo of my mum. I began to wonder what he was going to say about it.
'she looks lovely.' he finally said. 'she looks fucking lovely.'
However, I did well and truly put my foot in it during my time in the pig sty. It happened whilst we were in bed.
'I've never been in bed with a woman from Sunderland before you.' he said.
'Well, I've never been in bed with a man from South Shields before.' I unthinkingly replied.
There was a Pinter-esque pause.
'You might want to re-think that statement petal.' He muttered.
And so the spectre of Senor Boldon appeared.