Christmas 2008. I'd been feeling rather under-the-weather. Dizzy, nauseous and very weak. When I left Rochester that morning he was headed off for a traditional Christmas dinner with his odd-bod family. I was headed back to bed. My Christmas dinner was to be a toasted bagel and a mug of Yorkshire tea.
During our seaside stroll Rochester kept muttering about how pitiful it seemed that I was spending Christmas alone. Now, I've always viewed Christmas as something of a chore. Something that requires grit and fortitude, like living through the blitz, rush-hour traffic, a tooth extraction or a James Blunt concert.
But, despite my loathing of Christmas I had, for the first time in years, bought a Christmas tree, strung mistletoe and holly across the mantlepiece, festooned everything (even the dogs and cats) in tinsel and fairy lights. I was actually feeling all those things I imagine 'normal' and 'happy' people feel at Christmas, childlike anticipation, fluttery excitement, warmth and affection. And this was all because I was seeing the swarthy rogue again.
On our first date, 6 weeks earlier, I had been disappointed that Rochester had not kissed me. I'd told him the story of my date with the forensic psychologist, and how the misguided misanthrope had chased me round my car at the end of the date, in an attempt to grapple with me. On our first date Rochester simply walked me to my car and wrapped his arms around me. Later, he had confessed in an email:
'I did come very close to chasing you round your car though.'
'I think I'd have let you catch me.' I replied.
So, it was such a relief our Christmas morning date had ended with a long, languorous and tender kiss. I drove home feeling giddily happy and full of hope. I spent the day in bed, dozing, allowing myself to wonder what would happen next. Later Rochester called. He sounded rather drunk, we arranged to meet at my local for a drink.
'I'll be there in 45 minutes petal. I'll text you when I'm there, just come up and meet me.' he said.
I got changed, switched on some inane Christmas telly, poured myself a large gin and tonic and waited. . . and waited. An hour passed. I texted him.
'I'm on my way petal.'
Two hours passed. My shaking had started, and I began to think I should just give up and go to bed. Then a text:
'Get your arse up here now.'
Now, part of me, my deeply repressed Tallulah Bankhead side, desperately wanted to tell the recalcitrant cove to go fuck himself. How dare he keep me waiting??? But, to be honest, I have much more in common with doe-eyed and docile Olivia de Havilland than feisty Tallulah. So, I rather drunkenly (you can drink a lot of gin in 2 hours) made my way out into the starry and frosty Christmas night and tottered to the pub.
My local pub is a bit of a flea-pit. It is slightly tawdry and old-fashioned and attracts a rather eclectic crowd: hoody wearing twockers, bearded, domino playing octogenarians, tweedy-fuckwit academics. The pub's Christmas decorations could be best summed up as Poundland meets 1980's Czechoslovakian embassy. The swarthy rogue was no where to be seen.
Finally, I tracked the ne're-do'well down in the back room. He was playing pool with some local rogues and villains. He staggered towards me, arms outstretched'
'what do you think of me jumper petal? We all got one. Different colours like. Present from me mum. I'll just finish this game. I'm winning.'
He was wearing a rather tasteful, dark red merino jumper. I gave silent thanks to God that his mum was not the sort to buy novelty Giles Brandreth sweaters, festooned with snowmen or reindeer. I sat on a stool and took a surreptitious photo on my phone, to send to Madam Noir.
'Two fucking hours late, and now he's playing pool with the cast of Jeremy Kyle.'
I still have that photo, on my phone: the red jumper, the Czech embassy decorations, the pool table. I can't bring myself to delete it.
To be fair to the rogue, I did say he should continue his games. He appeared to be on something of a winning streak, all those 50ps he was pocketing were probably the only income the unemployed business consultant had acquired that month. Eventually though, the laconic cad's luck ran out and he was defeated by a rather butch woman. He took it quite well, I thought. He sidled over and put his arms around me.
'You have a very distinctive smell, petal. You smell of wood.'
Dear God. A small fortune spent on Philosophy, Pure Grace perfume yet he thought I smelled of MFI furniture. I briskly changed the subject and asked him why he was so late.
'Ah, petal, I got a lift off me mum. I invited her in for a drink. Told her I was meeting you like. And that you used to go out with Senor Boldon.'
Heavens to Betsy, I thought. What on earth must the God-fearing, straight-talking Scot think of me, working my way through her sons, like some sort of Alabama, Jerry Springer, trailer-trash.
'She just laughed, shook he head and said 'Och Rochester you are terrible!'
It then occurred to me that Rochester's mum would have had to accept many of his tangled and idiosyncratic relationships over the years. She raised 3 sons single-handedly. I suppose she was unshockable.
The thing about Rochester is he had a certain disheveled, ramshackle charm. And he was very, very funny, articulate and tactile. I always found him terribly easy to be around. He also had a way of looking straight at me when we talked, it was very intense and endearingly disarming. I found him incredibly attractive. We spent an hour or so teasing, chatting and canoodling in the pub, and then set back out into the night. I had promised him tea, and errr . . .Christmas cake.
I shall end the story there. That day has been on my mind as Madam Noir has a romantic anniversary coming up. It will shortly be one year since she embraced her 'Venetian' tendencies and had her first lezza kiss. I asked her how she was planning on celebrating, but it seemed neither she nor her girlfriend had any plans.
I suggested they simply recreate that first date. Personally, I love all those little traditions and rituals in relationships. Madam Noir was concerned that, frankly, their first date was more Barbara Windsor than Barbara Cartland. They had walked along the bleak and industrial seafront at Seaton Carew and indulged in a battered sausage from a fish 'n' chip van. Their first kiss had been prefaced with Rachelle uttering the alluring and seductive words
'Right. Let's get this over with.'
Actually, I think it would be very poignant and moving. To go back every year, to remember how it all began, to relive the shivery, breathless excitement of falling in love. The conversation with Madam Noir got me thinking of my first kiss with Rochester, how fitting it seemed that 'our' place was a dark, swirling and wintry North Sea and how very,very sad it is that we'll never enjoy our own Christmas day anniversary.