I have been at a loss to know what to write on the blog recently, this rather barren period has been caused by my increasing unease about how much to share about the 'Rochester question'. I've known for some weeks that the swarthy rogue was coming North at Christmas. I have known we would meet. I have known that the meeting would not simply be a platonic catch-up over chips and curry sauce. The problem is Rochester is married. There is a Mrs Rochester. And she is not imprisoned in an attic. I feel a huge amount of guilt about this, truly, I do. I've been reluctant to talk about it. Although this is not exactly 'the love that dare not speak its name' it could certainly be categorised as 'the love that whispers its name in a rather meek and shamefaced manner'.
Rochester, as you know, has recently made his fortune selling pegs door-to-door. So, rather than simply staying with his mum, in a box room surrounded by the faded posters of his youth and his beloved back issues of Razzle, he checked in to a rather plush boutique hotel on the Newcastle quayside.
'What time are you getting here petal?' He texted.
I dragged myself away from the sofa and Miss Marple and looked out of the window at the darkening afternoon. The snow had turned to a deep, rancid, inky slush. A trip to Newcastle, for me, would entail a walk to the nearest bus stop, a bus trip, a train journey and short taxi ride. All in wellies. My first meeting with Rochester for almost 2 years, an assignation in a chic and elegant hotel and I was being compelled to wear polka-dotted ASDA wellies. Hardly a good start.
'There is something not right about this. Surely you should be the one battling through the elements to get to me?' I enquired.
'Ah. I am not well though. I am dying. I can barely even make it to the toilet.' Was his less than inspiring retort.
'Shall we reschedule?'' I asked (in truth, by this point I was utterly wrung-out with nerves, and was almost praying for a reason to cancel.)
'Don't think so. You're not getting out of meeting me that easily petal.'
So, the meeting was on. I did require much bolstering textual encouragement from Madam Noir. I even sent her pictures of make-up, garment choices and the like. Here I am, looking rather serene and unruffled, ready to set off into the dreitch and icy midwinter's night. Ready to face TWATTING TYNE AND WEAR PUBLIC TRANSPORT. I hope he appreciates this, I thought. Truly, greater love has no woman.
Rochester was waiting for me outside the hotel when I arrived. He looked rather gaunt and haunted. He was much thinner. He was harboring a dark and troubling secret, you see (more of that later). I slipped my arm through his and we walked to a local pub (I had wisely brought a change of shoes, reader, I was no longer in wellies). We sat in front of an open fire and looked at each other silently and intently for a while. Christ, it was intense. Finally he spoke.
'Aye, I'd better warn you pet. I think I've got nits, from the little-one. Just so you know. You must get them all the time anyway, being a teacher.'
To be totally honest, dear reader(s), it wasn't the ardent and impassioned opening line of my dreams. I'm not sure Anthony ever said such a thing to Cleopatra. I'm not sure Mr Darcy murmured it to Elizabeth Bennett. Fuck it, I'm not sure even Bert has ever said it to Ernie. I was rather flummoxed (and for the record, can I just say, that I have NEVER had nits).
But, you know what, despite the risk of imminent infestation, I just loved seeing Rochester again. He is an endearing mix of dark, dry and sardonic with utterly charming, tender and well-mannered. And I just love looking at his face and enjoyed watch him carefully roll his cigarettes.
We discussed his new skinniness. He attributed this to the pressures of his executive peg-sales role.
'Brace yourself. I have another confession to make pet.'
He took a deep, deep breath and a fortifying gulp of his G&T. I held my breath. What on earth was he about to say next? Over the previous weeks he had already unburdened himself about his tricky marital situation. I had already been warned about his head lice.
'You see, the thing is, I don't sell actually pegs.'
'I knew it!' I screamed. 'Is it drugs?'
'No. It's worse than that petal. I sell double glazing. I sell windows and doors.'
'But, when you told me you worked in sales my first guess was conservatories. You denied it!!!'
'Aye, well. I don't sell conservatories. I haven't had been on the conservatory training course yet. I must say, you're taking this better than I thought.'
To be fair, I don't give a flying fuck what Rochester sells. Although the insanity of his 6 figure salary compared to my meager teacher's wage does rankle somewhat. It appears that Rochester is a born salesman. Rochester could sell ice to Eskimos. Rochester could sell dildos to nuns. Rochester could sell skateboards to pensioners. Rochester could sell cock to lesbians (and indeed has).
We chatted happily for a while, but the stress and anxiety of the previous couple of days were beginning to manifest themselves physically. I was suffering with the most chronic, twisting and torturous stomach ache. I just couldn't get comfortable.
'It could be IBS pet. I don't mean to sound like your carer or anything, but maybe you just need to go to the toilet?'
Yes indeed, Barbara Cartland could have learnt a thing or two about romantic love from Rochester. I was being seduced by talk of head lice, double glazing and constipation.
I assured the bounder my discomfort was simply caused by nerves. We agreed some food might help and retreated back to the hotel for steak, chips and Bearnaise sauce (if I am ever on death row then that indeed would be my choice of last meal). We discussed happiness. Rochester asked me if I was happy. I thought he meant with the steak, but it was meant in a broader, more metaphysical context.
'No. I don't expect to be happy. I have random moments of happiness, I think that is all anyone can expect. I am happy with my job though. That is the one thing I wouldn't change. The only thing, probably'
The truth and sadness of that unguarded statement haunts me. We talked about the gap between where we imagined and hoped our lives would be and the reality of where we are. We talked about our expectations of 'us' and what was happening between us.
'I really don't want to hurt you. I really, really don't.'
He has said this many times. He knows I am more than a little fragile. I am sure he is entirely sincere in what he says. But, he is married with many children. He lives 300 miles away. I used to date his brother, Dr. Stir Fry. These are not the ingredients for a harmonious and joyful relationship. BUT, and this is the thing, I do just love being with Rochester. I do just feel an ocean of tenderness for him. I do feel totally at ease (as much as the IBS will allow). It is rather seductive when you find someone who just seems to get you.
'So, what about the Scottish fireman?' he asked.
'Oh - moody and vain. Plus he refused to rescue cats up trees.'
'What about the shoe designer?
'Nice fella, but dull. In the end I never met up with either of them.'
'Aye. You do a lot of internet dating without any actual dating.'
'No one ever feels 'right'. I think you just know these things.'
The restaurant was very lovely, hushed and softly golden with twinkling candles. I tried to remember the last time I had been anywhere so nice for a meal. I couldn't.
'So, do you want to go to bed with me petal? What colour knickers are you wearing?'
There was a sudden clattering of cutlery as the party of 4 at the next table put down their knives and forks to await my response. (In terms of seduction, what Rochester lacks in genteel finesse he more than makes up for in directness.)
Later, in his hotel suite, (the last time I slept with the rogue it was in a pig-sty, you may recall. How things have changed) Rochester remarked:
'Fucking hell! In bed with Miss Underscore!'
Sadly, I had to leave him in the early hours to get back home to the dogs. I really didn't want to go. It was terribly cosy, luxuriating in a vast bed, overlooking the river and the wintry Newcastle cityscape beyond. The thing is about Rochester, is that despite his cynical, sardonic and louche persona, he is divinely tactile, tender and warm. Getting up and leaving was agony. He kindly booked a taxi for me. Knowing the precarious state of my finances he also set out some notes for my fare on the bedside table. (I HATED to accept it, but the taxi fare did indeed constitute a month's worth of dog-chow. I sold a much loved Alex Monroe ring for that same amount last week, such is my dire financial need).
I texted the rogue the next morning.
'Rochester. You were very nonchalant and at ease setting out those notes on the hotel table, apres-shag. Something you've done many times before? I have the PERFECT title for my next blog, by the way: Of Lice and Men! What do you think?'
'You seem to find yourself remarkably funny, Miss Underscore.'
So. There we are, dear readers, you are now fully updated.