Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Scene 18: Of Lice and Men (Part 1)

We move forward to the dreary, no man's land between Christmas and New Year.  It is 2010. Britain is in the grips of a mini-ice age.  Miss Underscore is curled on the sofa, sipping ginger wine, nibbling Frazzles and watching Miss Marple. (Joan Hickson OF COURSE). The lurchers are stretched, snoring and snorting, in front of a glowing coal fire.  Their legs twitch as they chase rabbits in their dreams. The telephone rings.  It is Rochester.

Rochester:   I've arrived pet.  I'm at the Newcastle hotel.  Just dropped the kids at me mother's. Get over here.

Miss Underscore (in flannel pyjama bottoms, a threadbare cashmere jumper and bed socks) shuffles to the sitting room window and peers into the darkening afternoon.  The street is blanketed in thick snow.  Lacy snowflakes are falling silently through an inky sky.

Miss U:  Have you seen the weather Rochester?  It's like Narnia out there.  Shouldn't you be the one battling through the elements to get to me?

Rochester: Aye, I know flower.  I'm ill though.  I feel like shit actually.  I've barely got the energy to make it to the bathroom.

Miss U: That is hardly a good sign for our first meeting in 2 years.  (rather relieved) Let's postpone eh?

Rochester: Nope.  Nope.  Nice try. Definitely not.  You're not getting let off the hook that easily.   I'll have a little nap.  I'll raise my game.  How long will it take you to get here?

Miss U: Oh God.  I don't know how long this will take.  I'm going to have to trudge to the bus stop, get the bus to the Metro station, get the Metro through to Newcastle and then get a taxi to the hotel.  Fucking hell.  Tyne and Wear transport at Christmas-time.  During the worst winter in 100 years.  Honestly Rochester, I hope you appreciate this.  Great love has no woman.

Rochester: Aye well,  no need to whine on about it petal.  No one likes a martyr. Just get to it.

Miss U: Where are we going?  What will we be doing?  (looking down at mismatched bed socks) What should I wear?

Rochester: Fuck, I don't know.  We'll be drinking gin and eating steak probably. You know, we'll be doing . . . stuff.

Miss U: (pause, with one eye on Miss Marple)  Would a fox fur be too much?

Rochester: (disinterested) Aye, sounds perfect.  Don't go out in ballet pumps mind.  You'll break your neck.

Several hours later.  Our star-crossed protagonists have retreated to a cosy, riverside pub. Rochester returns from the bar with two large G&Ts.  He shrugs out of his dark woolen overcoat and scowls at Miss Underscore.  They look at each other intently.  The air crackles and sparks with unspoken sexual tension.

Rochester: (leaning in close)  Listen pet,   there's something I need to say straight off.  This is difficult.  (looking her straight in the eye and taking a deep breath).  Ok.  Right. . . . . . . there is a small possibility .  .  .  . just a small possibility mind . .oh fuck. . .

Miss U:  (nervously) What Rochester. . . . just say it . . .

Rochester: OK. There is a small possibility that I've got nits.  (sitting back) I'm not sure.  The bairn has them mind.  Just so you know.

Miss U: Oh.

Rochester:  You'll get them all the time, I'm sure, being a teacher.

Miss U: (huffily) What, actually I've NEVER  . . .

Rochester: Alright, alright, no need to get uppity pet.  Keep your cardigan on.  .  .  .(grinning)  It's nice to see you flower. Does this seem odd?  Is this OK?

Miss U:  It feels. . . . it feels strangely fluid and natural.  Like I just saw you last week.  You look thin mind. Oh my God, have you a terminal disease? Is that why you've been angling for a meeting after all this time.  

Rochester: Aye well, there IS a story there.  I have another confession, of sorts, about why I'm so skinny.

Miss U: Oh God.  What?

Rochester: My job.  I don't sell pegs pet.

Miss U: I knew it!  Pegs wouldn't pay for a BMW.  Pegs wouldn't pay for Hotel du fucking Vin.  What is it?  What do you sell?  Is it drugs?

Rochester: No, it's not drugs.  Aw fuck.  I don't know how to tell you this.  

Miss U: Are you a Geordie gigalo?  OH MY GOD.  You did say you worked at night.  Are you providing some sort of down-market, rough-trade sexual service for uptight Bristol ladies?  Chips and curry sauce, inept sex up with an unshaven, vest-wearing Geordie against a vomit stained wheelie bin. All watched by a world-weary whippet? 

Rochester: What do you mean inept sex?  Fuck off.  No.  It's not sex.

Miss U: Ok.  Go on then.

Rochester: I hope this doesn't change things between us.   (pause) I think it might. (pause)  It's double glazing.  I sell fucking double glazing. I am a cunting DOUBLE GLAZING SALESMAN.  

Miss U: WHAT!  I GUESSED double glazing right at the beginning.  Double glazing and conservatories.  That was my first guess and you denied it!

Rochester:  Aye well.  I don't sell conservatories.  I haven't had the conservatory training yet.  (unsurely) How do you feel about this pet? 

Miss U: I don't know. You earn thousands every week Rochester.  Can you truly earn that much money from windows?

Rochester:  You can. You're taking this very well.  

Miss U: Hmmmm.  But, what has this got to do with you being so scrawny?

Rochester:  Scrawny?  Nice. Why, it's the pressure like.  I'm out on the road all hours. UPVC can be a cruel and unyielding mistress.

Miss U: Fuck. (sniggering)  Rochester the dour, sardonic, poetry-writing malcontent as a be-cufflinked double glazing salesman. It's a shock.  Is this why you've invented 'Don'?  You've developed an alter-ego to distance yourself from your abjectly ridiculous career choice.

Rochester: Don is difficult company at times.  His bullshit sickens me.  He's a fucking great salesman mind. He could sell cock to a lesbian.  Fuck, he HAS sold cock to a lesbian.   The thing is, he's a bit of a twat. The cufflinks, the flash suits. . .

Miss U: . . the BMW fanny wagon?

Rochester:  Aye, that too . . all Don's doing (sighing)  It's no life.

Miss U: (shaking her head)  The world has gone mad.  There's you, an oaf, practically a UPVC millionaire and me, slaving at the coal face of sink-estate education, having to sell all my jewellery on EBAY just to pay the mortgage.

Rochester: I don't disagree petal.  Teachers do the most important job in the country. (pause)  Well, secondary school teachers do.  You just hand out poster paint and lego.  

Miss U: Fuck off.

Rochester:  (rolling a cigarette) No, I know you're amazing at what you do.  You are in the right job petal.  Your kids are lucky to have you.  The only way I get through the day is pretending my suit, the fanny wagon, the awful sales patter,  I just have to tell myself it's a form of performance art. Tell myself it's Don.  I'm going out for a smoke.  I'll get you another gin on the way back.


Rochester: Petal, why are you squirming.  You don't look well.

Miss U: It's nerves.  I've been TERRIFIED about seeing you.  I've got a really bad stomach cramp.  It's agony.  I've not been able to eat anything but Frazzles since Christmas day. 

Rochester:  Fucking hell.  I thought you said being here felt OK?

Miss U:  It does.  I've just worked myself into a frenzy of anxiety over the last few days.  Dear God.   (almost doubled over, hands on stomach)

Rochester:  Could be IBS flower.  (stage whisper)  Do you need the toilet?

Miss U: Oh Lord,  it's torture. Our reconciliation blighted by head lice, IBS and double glazing.  This wasn't exactly what I had in mind.

Rochester: (standing up and holding out his hand) Howay petal, we'll have a walk back to the hotel.  You probably just need something to eat.  

Later Miss Underscore and Rochester are sitting in a sumptuous, candlelit restaurant overlooking the River Tyne.  There is steak.  There are chips. And bearnaise sauce.

Miss U:  Oh this is so pretty.  I can't even remember how long it's been since I've been anywhere this lovely.  Thank you.

Rochester: Thank Don.  We are harnessing the power of his American Express. 

Miss U:  (raising her glass)  To Don!   May God bless him and all who buy cheap plastic windows from him.

Rochester:  I wish you'd stop selling your stuff on EBAY pet.  It depresses me to think of it.  I almost bought that black pearl necklace.  Thought it would have helped you out a bit.

Miss U:  Oh, I hated having to sell that necklace.  I loved it.  I'm not after your money Rochester.  I know you've offered before but I will never, ever accept it.  I'll accept steak and gin though.

Rochester: Last time I saw you, when you came down to Bristol, I was really at the bottom.  No job, no money, a pig sty full of garden furniture.  I was the lowest I'd probably ever been.  One thing that sticks with me is that, well, you thought I was OK despite all that, even at my worst.

Miss U: (quietly) I thought you were more than OK.   

Rochester: Aye. I knowAre you happy, Miss Underscore?

Miss U: Oh God.  No.  Well, I don't think about it.  I just try to get through each day.  Life is so hard.  It's exhausting.  I don't think about the future.  Don't bother with dreams or goals.  I have no expectations.  Of anything.  I just try to muddle through from one day to the next.  There are moments of happiness.  I think that is all anyone can expect.  'Keep passing the open windows'.  That's my goal. 

Rochester: What's that from?

Miss U: John Irving.  The Hotel New Hampshire.  I should be happier.  I wish I was happier.  I wish my dad hadn't died at a time when I was desperately unhappy.  He worried about that I know.  That I wasn't settled. 

Rochester: Settled?

Miss U: You know, wasn't so alone.  Wasn't married with half a dozen children.

Rochester: Is that what you would have wanted?

Miss U: (sighing) Oh, once yes, more than anything.  Let's change the subject.  Please.

Rochester: OK.  

Miss U: The kids are at your mum's?

Rochester:  Aye.

Miss U:  Why are you here then?  Why a hotel rather than your mum's box room, flicking through your teenage copies of Razzle?

Rochester: I just needed a bit of space I suppose.  Some peace. Desperately in need of it. 

Miss U: You were going to tell me about your marriage Rochester.

Rochester: Aye, I know.  You know I'm back home, with the missus.

Miss U: How is that going?

Rochester: I'm back with the kids. That's just . . . well it's fucking wonderful.  They are the most beautiful children.

Miss U: So, why are you here?  What are we doing?

Rochester: I've missed this.  You.  Our nonsense.  I have been looking forward to seeing you.  I've missed being with someone that I feel just gets me, and accepts me for who I am.  That's all.  I'm staying with my wife.  I want that to be clear.  I don't want to mislead you.  I don't want to hurt you.  This next part is going to make me sound like a complete cunt.  I expect that I'll have affairs, discreet affairs, every now and then.  She knows that.  We've discussed it. But I'll stay.  That's the situation, staying means I get to see my kids and take them to school, be part of their lives.  I'm not risking losing that.

Miss U: You've had that discussion?  Christ.  .  .  .  . (silence)

Rochester: Say something.

Miss U: I don't know what to say.  It's all terribly sad really.  For everyone.

Rochester: I know.  .   .   .   .   (silence)

Miss U: Why do you need affairs?  Why can't you just commit to your wife, without the fanny ratting.

Rochester: Because something's missing.  I'm not a fanny rat.  .  .  .  (silence)

Miss U: Rochester, maybe you should marinate yourself in Don's overbearing aftershave and just find yourself a one-night stand.  It would be less messy than this.

Rochester: Aye, maybe. But that's not what I want either.  You should run a mile really.

Miss U:  Is that what you want?

Rochester: No. . . .  .Well, you know what?  You have to take some responsibility for this situation flower. This whole thing is your fault really.  You started it.  In that field.  In your knickers.

Miss U:  What on earth are you talking about?

Rochester: You, prancing around that meadow in the summer,  in white cotton knickers and a snug fitting t-shirt.  Do you not remember it?  

Miss U: Errr. . . .

Rochester: Ah, well, no, you wouldn't remember it.  It was a dream I had.  It was a fucking FANTASTIC dream.  The most lucid dream I've ever had.

Miss U: And I was prancing?

Rochester:  Aye, through a meadow of flowers.  It was all very blurry, soft-focus 1970s. I was there too.  You were in white cotton knickers. It was the knickers that did it really.  I've not been able to think of much else since.

Miss U: Did anything happen between us, in the dream?  Or did I just prance off into the horizon.

Rochester: Whoa bonny lass, stuff happened.  PLENTY of stuff happened. I may tell you later.  (whispering and nodding to the party of 4 sat at the next table) It was fucking filthy.

Miss U:  I see. . . 

Rochester:  You could be on to something with the white cotton thing.  Here's a thought, a way for  a bookish primary school teacher to boost her income without selling her niknaks on EBAY, how's about a lap-dancing club where the birds wear white cotton pants, big ones.  Ideally they'd have reading glasses on too.   They'd perform to a sedate, arthouse movie soundtrack, possibly Michael Nyman.  It could work.  I think it has legs.

Miss U: You know, there'd be PLENTY of room down a pair of M&S midi briefs for weary window salesmen to slip their £100 notes.  I tell you what, some of my more granny-esque pants would be perfect.  I could fit millions of pounds worth of tips in them.  Those girls in thongs are missing a trick. Do you think a seductive strip-tease could start with the removal of a cashmere cardigan?

Rochester: Aye, whilst you recite poetry of Dorothy Parker.  

Miss U: YES!  There could be exorbitantly marked-up pots of Yorkshire tea for sale too.  And crumpets.

Rochester:  What would you call the place though?

Miss U: Hmmm.  How about The Bungalow of the Rising Sun?  

Rochester: Perfect.  Sounds very wholesome. And British.  .  .  .So petal, tell me, have you got your white cotton knickers on tonight? (there is a clattering noise from the next table, where a party of 4 have just downed cutlery in eager anticipation of a response).

Miss U:  Shhhhh. 

Rochester: Are you coming up to bed?  Are you staying?

Miss U:  Who's asking?  You?  Or Don?

Rochester:  Maybe both.  Although no, scrap that, I really don't like the idea of going twos-up with Don.

Miss U:  I don't even want to think about what going 'twos-up' entails. (shuddering) And I imagine Don would have a whole toolkit of eye-watering UPVC sex toys.  Christ, just think of it, a double-glazed dildo. Let's leave him out of it.

Rochester:   Is that a yes then petal?  You're staying?


  1. Oh, Miss Underscore, I'm a lurker who's finally been driven out into the open by the combination of this poignant interlude, my own cheap red wine habit, and the general breakdown of British society. This one made me cry. Seriously.

  2. D'you know - I was just watching Brenda Blethyn doing her Geordie turn on the telly as DCI Vera and the thought occurred that I'd not seen a Parma Violet Tea update for a while, then I clicked on my Google Reader and - woah, there you were! Spooooooookkkky.

    PS. You write the most utterly fabulous dialogue, you know.

  3. Oh, Cazzab, I am glad you have exposed yourself tonight. Thank you for commenting. I am always really thrilled when people take time to comment. It, quite literally, makes my day. xxx

    Mrs Jones - I love DCI Vera and thank you. xxx

  4. Am enjoying the movie, but don't understand how anyone would leave the comfort of a cosy fireside with lurchers and Miss Marple to chase after a two-timing DG salesman with a rather sad schoolteacher fantasy...... surely there is someone who could show their appreciation of Miss U's unique sensibilities and charm by making more effort....... how I hope he gets his comeuppance in some future scene..... Does Ms U really buy the line that he has got the nod from his missus for "discreet affairs" and all that guff about loving his kids so much he puts up with the unhappy marriage *violins playing* ....

  5. At the end of the previous episode my laptop battery expired at precisely the moment I reached the last word. This time it's shown a greater resilience. As I hope your knickers, of whatever material, did.

    Didn't get as far as actual tears but tis a very sad side of Mr R that's coming out.

  6. Oh anonymous, I know, I know. If this was a tale told by a female friend I would be saying EXACTLY the same things. It appears I must suffer an equally sad louche, double-glazing salesman fantasy.

    Looby: Damn you! I'll put in a three-legged, orphaned kitten in the next installment. YOU WILL CRY!!! YOU WILL!!!

  7. God damn I know Rochester. Maybe a southern version, but the same fucking man. I fell for him. I hate it when I think of it now. I hate reading about Rochester like this. So charming but such a cad all at the same time. I wish you had stayed with the lurchers. But i probably would have gone too.

  8. *It appears I must suffer an equally sad louche, double-glazing salesman fantasy* Well I guess that is how they sell their poxy wares..... I remember trying to get the man from Everest to come out and quote me for some windows but he refused to come unless my wife could attend the appointment too!! How I want Ms U to burn down Rochester's Thornfield Hall ... or even just key his wretched fanny wagon.

  9. Indeed Ms Underscore, you do write the most hilariously poignant dialogue. I check back here often, hoping for another installment.

    Everyone else can keep their glossy 'lifestyle' blogs, with their "amaaazing local cafes with ethically sourced cowshit walls" or this little black dress which is an "investment" at just $2560.

    What you write about is Life to many more people. Having to scrimp, being creative about what you do have and trying (but not always succeeding, because you are not a robot) to keep going. Wanting love and excitement, even from flawed sources like Rochester. That is what many people experience. So please do keep going.

  10. Oh Sara, what a lovely comment, thank you. You've made my day! xxx

  11. Wonderful post. I completely agree with Sara, and am always delighted when I see you've posted. xx

  12. You're very welcome. It's all true. P.S Auntie Margaret is my favourite.

  13. Thanks Iona. Heartwarming to get comments like that after an awful week. ESP glad to hear that Aunty M is a favourite Sara. SOME PEOPLE feel that THEY are the most fascinating character in this blog (and that the script loses momentum whenever scenes do not feature their overflowing charisma) . That same person also snarkily commented that my blog 'lacks structure and has no narrative arc'. GRRRRRRRRRRR. Bloody double glazing salesmen. . . .

  14. OK, let's examine the facts as we know them. Rochester is a cunt. Simple as that. He has a huge problem with lesbians (probably because he was married to one, I don't know) and has become a parody of himself. Miss Underscore has more creativity in her little finger than he. His paltry blog has not received over 55,000 pageviews. Ah, but I forgot....he can sell a UPVC window to a naive OAP. That's alright then, isn't it? Isn't it??? Hmmm.

  15. I have never posted a comment on a blog before. However, I felt compelled to do so. I think this Rochester fella sounds bloody great. I would jump him any day of the week. My last boyfee picked his toes all the time and read the mirror. I have been fooled by a couple of tossers over the years, but I reckon R is ok. He sounds like he is genuinely fond of Miss Underscore. Madam Noir comes across as being a bitter and confused lesbian. Can't wait for more Miss U. Bravo! X

  16. Oh, I don't know Anonymous, some have said Rochester is coming across as a bit of a woofter.