It was a startling opening line. Even for the rogue. Aghast, I dropped my crumpet.
Rochester had been terribly withdrawn for some time. I'd attributed his silence to a new girlfriend. He had been spending a lot of time with silken-haired, black-eyed siren called Betty. He lavishes her with gifts (usually pork products). The loved-up duo prop up the bar at his local for hours on end. He texts me pictures of her, looking all wily, windswept and winsome on the moors. They spend weekends together. Right under his wife's nose. He doesn't care. He is smitten.
"I've been missing a trick all these years flower. I am ON FIRE at the moment. Wherever I go, lasses chuck themselves at me. It's all down to Betty."
I hate her. I hate Betty. She is a right bitch. A Labrador bitch, to be precise. Rochester has acquired a dog on a timeshare. He is cock-a-hoop with her fanny-attracting powers. Sullenly, I pointed out that, back in the day, he needed no canine side-kick to woo the ladies. No sir. He simply swaggered into his funereal overcoat, set his eyebrows to Heathcliff and his dour, South Shields raillery to Bobby Thompson via Philip Larkin.
Rochester denies there is a girlfriend though. However, he did claim to have received a Valentine's card this year. And, seemed gratingly thrilled about it.
"Aye, it was quite a tasteful one pet. It had 'You had me at hello' on the front, and she'd added the word 'petal' to the end. No cunting clue who it is from, like."
Reader. I was seething. But tried to appear blase.
"It will be one of your housewives. You'll have beguiled her with your ghastly ties and UPVC erections. I imagine her as a Pat Pheonix sort, all C&A neglige, corned-beef thighs and out-of-date Black Magic."
Had I sent Rochester a Valentine's card? No. Of course not. However, I was not going to be out-romanced by some simpering harlot in frosted salmon lipstick and marabou slippers. I texted the rogue a picture.
"This is my Valentine's to you, Rochester. My current bookmark."
"It hasn't come out very clearly flower. I think I know what it is."
It was, of course, my Metro ticket from our last 'date': 27th December 2010.
In other news, Rochester has set up his own business. He is now head honcho of the improbably named Kremlin Enterprises*. A home improvement company.
Kremlin Home Improvements: We WILL improve your home. FACT.
The black dove sings from both branches: Customer requires front and back double glazing.
The borscht is laced with diamonds : Customer considering a conservatory as well as double glazing.
The fanny rat rises in the east : Customer is a bosomy woman in frosted salmon lipstick and marabou slippers.
Rochester proudly ran through his telesales script with me. It was like listening to an episode of Some Mothers Do 'Ave Em scripted by Quentin Tarantino.
"Christ Rochester. It's appalling! And why does your script assume a woman answering the phone is a 'MRS'?"
"Aww fuck. Cunting political correctness. Anyway, we're not targeting the lesbian market. Lesbians do not appreciate plastic conservatories. FACT."
"I am not a lesbian. Nor am I a 'Mrs'. I am a Miss. And proud of it."
"And that bit about getting people to pass on contact details of friends and family in exchange for M&S vouchers."
"Naming names. It's like the Salem Witch trials all over again. Only with UPVC instead of corn dollies "
"You'd shop your Aunty Margaret for £10 worth of M&S cherry bakewell trifles petal, and don't you deny it. I knew you'd like the script, flower. I KNEW you'd approve."
I think Rochester in unravelling. He randomly speaks of buying a narrow boat. Rochester on a narrow boat! Can you picture it? The fanny rat king sporting an embroidered waistcoat, growing geraniums in rusty Barleycup tins, wearing a neckerchief at a jaunty angle and playing Streets of London on a banjo.? It's all so utterly befuddling.
And then, suddenly, in the midst of Labrador love affairs, Johnny Foreigner window companies, David Essex demi-waves; a random text about fisting. . . . what was going on?
Turns out, Rochester has been in hospital. A cancer scare. It was a medical exam he was referring to. He is OK though. I think.
"I'm on medication flower. In bed at 9.30 every night. No booze. No cocaine. No women. Just slippers, tea, bed and a movie. I even watched that film** you sent me last night. Wasn't looking forward to it, to be honest. Real men don't watch Bette Davis. Hey, it was fucking great. That lass who played Eve. She'd get it, like. Oh aye, she'd get it."
I think there may be some life in the old rat yet.
* Please do not Google Kremlin Enterprises. That is a nom de plume. Although the real company name is no more appealing and does indeed conjure up seductive images of Soviet breeze block architecture, cabbage stew and shadowy, mono-browed secret agents.
** All About Eve