Monday, 14 April 2014

The Tiger Who Came to Tea: Part 1 (Scene 24)

It is dawn, early Spring.  Weak Sunderland sunlight is gently illuminating a dusty bedroom: clothes, books,  cats, teacups and lurchers are languidly piled on every surface.  Seagulls, tinged with golden sun, perch crying on red chimney pots.  Rochester is lying in bed,  staring at the ceiling, ruminatively stroking his beard as if he were soothing a startled stoat.   Miss Underscore, next to him, is watching him composedly.

Rochester:  Well, this is unexpected, flower.  I am deeply serious. I did not envisage . . . THIS.

Miss U:  Me neither.  You know,  sleeping with you is like sleeping with a tiger.

Rochester: (proudly) Exactly!  Of course it is, (grabbing Miss Underscore and pulling her to him with the fervour of a window salesman at a Tie Rack fire sale) and what woman would NOT want that:  would not want tiger sex? You're not telling me anything I haven't heard before, petal!

Miss U:  (resting her head on his chest) I was talking about sleeping, not sex; you purr, growl, snore and snort all through the night, like a tiger.  An elderly tiger though.  A tiger in bifocals. A benevolent, be-cardiganed tiger, residing in a tiger retirement home. 

Rochester: (nodding sagely)  Aye.  Like as I said,  what bird would not want that?

Miss U:  A tiger in a Parker Knoll high-backed chair.  A tiger with battenburg crumbs in his whiskers.

Rochester:  Still a tiger though, eh? Still a cunting tiger.  Fucking hell, Miss Underscore. Here we are again, eh?   

Miss U: I wasn't expecting this either, you know.  I mean, look at the state of the house: no hoovering, no tidying, crumbs in the bed from yesterday morning's bacon and egg sandwich. 

Rochester:  (squirming) Aye these crumbs are a nightmare, like.   I always remembered you for your exquisitely laundered 1950s bedlinen. What's going on? (sitting up and looking around). Your approach to interior design has gone decidedly more Bleasedale than Marple.    Getting up to go to the bathroom was like playing Russian roulette: non of your lights work, there's stuff everywhere,   animals lurking everywhere.  It's a bit of a tip, flower.   It didn't used to be like this.

Miss U:  Don't go there, Rochester.  I can't bear it.  I know, the house is a ruin.  I am a domestic slattern.  You know that song, The Circle of Life?  Well, Elton John was not referring to interconnectedness of all living creatures united in a perpetual cycle of spiritual renewal.  It's about the unrelenting drudgery of keeping a two-bedroom, pre-war semi dust-free and fully stocked in functioning lightbulbs.  It is soul destroying.  I hate this house.  I want to move.  And yes, if I had thought for one minute I'd be . . .  entertaining, I possibly would have had a run around with the Dyson and lint-rolled my knickers.  Jesus,  I had given MUCH more thought to my knickers.  Christ knows what you were thinking last night. . . I imagine your granny wore similar smalls during her time at the munitions factory. 

Rochester:  Knickers?  Really?  I am disappointed - but only cos I can't say I noticed them at all, and now I feel like I've missed out on a treat. Sexually speaking, I think your underwear is the least of your worries. I don't think you know how challenging it is for a man to perform when being scrutinised by a sour-faced lurcher.  Hetty was stood, glowering, by the bed all fucking night. Did you not notice?  I even felt a cold nose on my arse at one point.   Although, thinking about it now, she might have been retrieving a shard of impaled bacon from your breakfast sandwich.  

Miss U:  Ah, stop grumping.  Hetty just doesn't like men of the male gender.  She particularly doesn't like you.  See, there are some females on this earth who do not go giddy as a kipper over an brutish, Hai-Karated vulgarian in a tank top. 

Rochester:  Clearly.  Put her in a headscarf and pinny and it would be like having your Aunty Margaret  in the bedroom with us. 

Miss U:  She does have a wonderfully snooty and pained fizzog, (gesturing to a nest of threadbare cashmere cardigans, where Hetty now lounges, eyes narrowing furiously at Rochester).  Look at her, she's seething with latent disapproval; she's like Margot Leadbetter at a GUM clinic.

Rochester:  (stroking Miss Underscore's hair gently) Aye well. Despite all that.  It was all very lovely.

Miss U: Hmmm.  I agree. (sitting up enthusiastically).   And, what's more, today, is QUITE the best day I can remember in the annals of Underscore history.  I've waited so very long for this.   I can't believe it's finally going to happen.

Rochester:  Yup.  I hear that.  (amorously) Howay flower.  Come here. You might want to look away, Hetty.

Miss U: I didn't mean than, rogue. Deflate your beard please.  I mean today is the day John Lewis are coming to fit my new dishwasher!  Seriously,  this is like, epic!  I'm going to make some tea and breakfast for us, and then you'll have to go.  

Rochester:  Cunting hell (squinting at alarm clock)  It's only half past six!

Miss U:  This is John Lewis, Rochester.  JOHN LEWIS. They said they could be here at 7.  I can not have workmen from John Lewis thinking I reside in some sort of pebble-dashed flop house.  I can't have a bearded, chain-smoking, fanny rat, ambling round the house like a satyr in underpants.  What will they think?  What if they tell the ladies at the Bobbi Brown or Hobbs counters? They might revoke my loyalty card.  Nope.  IT CAN NOT AND WILL NOT HAPPEN. 

Rochester:  I don't think they'll give a fuck, you know.  I could be legit.  I could be Mr Underscore!  

Miss U:  (scoffing as she gets dressed into clothes found beneath various snoozing animals)  Look at you: marinated up to your oxters in Hai Karate,  tank top dangling from the light-fitting, beard like a louche South American freedom fighter, eyebrows like randy ferrets.  You're quite obviously not Mr Underscore.  He would be a genteel sort - a corduroyed academic perhaps.  A DIY loving Quaker, that would be ideal actually, I must do a mismatch search for DIY loving Quakers.   Now, where the fuck is my lint-roller?  Anyway, I am a MISS Underscore.  Sir John Lewis, well, he knows me as a Miss, not a Mrs.

Rochester:  Thought a Virago paperback reading, pseudo lesbian like you would be a MS.  

Miss U:  (applying lipstick)  Nope.  Miss and PROUD.  Like Miss Jean Brodie . . . Miss Dior . . . Miss Marple. . . Miss Pettigrew. . . 

Rochester:  (retrieving his tank top from the light-fitting and dusting the trailing ribbons of cobwebs from it) Miss Havisham, that's who you are,  Miss Cunting Havisham. 


It is two days earlier, a Sunday afternoon in a pub overlooking the River Tyne.  Miss Undersore and Rochester are, slightly awkwardly, chatting over drinks. 

Rochester:  I think it's five years, flower.  It must be five years since I've seen you.  Remember, we stayed in that posh hotel.  I gave you steak and chips and swine flu.

Miss U:  Oh, I remember. It can't be that long though.  How old is Reggie?  Last time we met was the day before you found out you were going to be a father for the twenty seventh time.  

Rochester:  Reggie?  Errr . . .  Reggie must be four.  No five.  Three and a half maybe. (frowning) Not sure, to be honest.  I tell you what, he's going to be a handful, that one.    Here, have a look at him, he's a right little rip.  (Rochester passes his phone)

Miss U:  Do you not know how old he is?  

Rochester:  Errr.  I do.(defensively)  I'm momentarily befuddled by your ocelot coat, that's all. I worry about those bairns being brought up in the South, you know. Señor Boldon (your ex) has already claimed Tommy is gay cause he didn't want to go to a Sunderland match.  Plus, I was putting my shoes on the other day and he said, 'Daddy, are they tap shoes.  Can I have some?'  He doesn't know the fucking difference between segs and tap shoes!  Fucking hell!  Do I look like twitting Fred Astair?

Miss U:  Statistically speaking, Rochester, you have SO MANY children, at least one of them will turn out to be gay.  That's just maths, isn't it? Goodness.  This is uncanny;  Reggie is the image of you. I've never seen eyebrows like that on a toddler before.  As a seasoned primary school teacher, I agree:  this one is going to run you ragged.  You're knocking on a bit now, Rochester, what are you, 45, 46?  If you make it to 50 you'll be a desiccated husk of a man, a mere skeleton in a chunky knit . . . you are looking thin now, actually. Really thin.   

Rochester:  I'm living on Greggs cheese and onion pasties, sausage rolls and coffee.  It's life on the road.  Kerouac was the same, I believe. Howay though, what do you think about the beard? It's fucking exclusive, isn't it?  Although, I'm not sure why it's quite so . . . ginger. 

Miss U:  Hmmm.  It is, isn't it, compared to the rest of you.  It is flecked with grey though.  That's quite a refined look.  I do like it, actually.  

Rochester: (stretching out his arms proudly) And the tank top - you must approve of this pet?  Duck egg blue!  It's not my best one, that one is pea-green.  I've mislaid it, unfortunately.

Miss U:  I think it's possibly a blessing in disguise that you've lost it, Rochester.  What with your orange beard, a pea-green tank top, well . . . you'd look like a packet of Tic Tacs. It's probably under the bed of a Barratt home, discarded whilst you razzle-dazzled some neglige-wearing housewife with your tilt and turn UPVC erection.

Rochester:  You know, this has been on my mind.  I know you love to portray me as some sort of rampant lothario and all those lezzas and puffs who read your blog think I'm a right fanny-ratting cad - but actually, in the last 10 years, I've only slept with 5 lasses.  Five.  That's it. So, what have you got to say about that, Underscore?

Miss U:  Really?  Wow.  I'm speechless.  Including all the wives?  Let me think about my own score. . . err. . . in the last 10 years?

Rochester:  Aye.  Howay.  There's only been once wife, by the way, as you well know.

Miss U:   Three.

Rochester:  Three?  Three men in five years?  (nodding) See - we're not actually too dissimilar.  At the very least, I'd say we're in the same league.

Miss U:  Yes, but two of mine were brothers, so I am not sure you can count them singularly.  I think that actually equates to 2.5.  One every 4 years.  That puts me in the same league as a Sunday school teacher, librarian or IT consultant.

Rochester:  (shaking his head and rolling a cigarette)  You cunt. You had to mention the brother thing, didn't you.  Well, this is very relaxed, isn't it?  You in your faux ocelot, me in my tank top.  Enjoying the best view in the North.  We should've done this sooner, flower.

Miss U:  Hmmm.  You've been busy though.  Babies, double glazing, lasses from Manchester . . .

Rochester:  Aye, I wondered when you'd bring that up.  Howay, take my arm, we'll have a stroll along the river and find another pub.  You can tell me more about all this spinster literature you keep twittering on about.

Miss Underscore and Rochester are strolling down a riverside path.

Rochester:  Hey, I think I owned a few Virago paperbacks, back in the 80s and 90s.  Back in the day when I was doing my masters on lesbianism.  Should I read Pym, do you think?

Miss U:  No.  I don't think she would speak to you.  I think you might need drama more from a narrative than a laddered support stocking, a fallen Victoria sponge and skullduggery at the church fete marrow competition. Anyway, you get enough fraught and tousled spinster action from my correspondence.  Maybe try Elizabeth Jenkins though, The Tortoise and the Hare; written in the mid 50s.  I discovered that recently.  It is the most beautifully written book I have ever read.  Very languid and achingly melancholy. Speaking of Pym though, Philip Larkin was a massive fan of hers. See, I knew that would perk you up.  They corresponded for years.  He championed her when her work was deeply unfashionable.  He said he would rather re-read an old Pym than read a new Jane Austen.  I quite agree.

Rochester:  Philip Larkin?  Really?  You see NOW, . . . NOW you're being quite interesting.  I trust his judgement.  I bet you were an Elizabeth Smart fan, back in the 80s.  Didn't you quote her in your profile?  You did didn't you?

Miss U:  By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept?  Jesus.  How did you know that?  I LOVED that book as a student.  It has formed the tragic blueprint for every relationship I've ever had.  I did not quote it though on mismatch though.   Have I mentioned it before?

Rochester:  Nope.  I just knew that about you.  I pick up on the signals, flower. You're the type.  

Miss U:  For a crashing, clumsy brute, you can be most unexpected, Rochester.

Rochester:  Aye.  Hidden depths.  I am misunderstood. I've been giving you new mismatch profile some thought.  Are you ready?  Here's my recommendation, pet:  'Beautiful, stubborn and sensitive mackem crank, whose delights include panackelty, ocelot fur, 1950s fancy dress, lugubrious lurchers, Dorothy Parker and Bette Davies, seeks interesting bloke with decent shoes for steak dinners and endless torment.  Feathery strokers need not apply.'   How's that?

Miss U:  Better than mine, to be fair.  I shall consider it.  I am not sure I can be arsed with interweb dating again though.   (They stand looking out over an oily and green River Tyne).  I can hear the goats from the Ouseburn farm. . . listen. And the clank of shopping trolleys on the river bed.  It's quite melancholic. 

Rochester:   Yup.  Howay, let's go and get another drink.  I could quite fancy a Sunday lunch, you know.

Later that afternoon.  Miss Underscore leaves the riverside pub alone.  She is speaking on her phone.

Miss U:  Mission accomplished.  .  . Nope.  Had a few drinks, that's all.  (pause)  Nope, just a hug.  Perfectly platonic.  No risk of unrobing, nothing indecent.  Although, I did catch him sniffing my ocelot while he thought I wasn't looking. . . See, nowt to worry about, Noir.   He's even offering to do you a quote on a new front door, if you're up for it.  I told him you needed one . . . Seriously, he was quite excited at the thought of selling to a woman of Venetian persuasion.   He says he can pop round tomorrow with his catalogue and he'll event put his cufflinks on for you and everything.   OK.  I'm off home now.  I AM alone, I swear.   I'll email a full match-report later.   But, I have won this bet Noir - I have proved it is entirely possible to meet Rochester, have a civilised and convivial conversation and to remain both vertical and fully-clothed!

To be continued. . .


  1. He sounds borderline likeable here. Although your new dishwasher has more to offer in the way of reliable domestic life-enhancement.

    Missed you.

  2. I've got a bad feeling about this

  3. Ofcourse you have Bollo. Maybe try and throw out some positivity. You never know, your feelings may start to feel more 'Pigletesque' and less Eeaw. Just a thought mind.

  4. Thanks for the mention, and marvellous as ever. I am intrigued, and enjoying the local references. I have thought things through and decided not to go on about what a cunt Rochester is, knowing that I have a similarly/differently imperfect man at home in Jerry.

  5. Talk about leaving us in suspense.

    Is the washing machine working OK?!

  6. A dishwasher is a very useful thing. Unlike Rochester.

  7. Ah pet, it was well worth waiting for.
    You create a superb mind-Image of the fanny-rat himself, resplendent in tank-top and (pressed) jeans?.

    Did he sook on his pint and make a vulgar sound?
    Did he at last remember the winceyette undergarments?
    Did Aunt Margaret come back to haunt your dreams, with Eccles cakes and a Gypsy Cream on her saucer?
    Does you new dishwasher have an extra drying /rinse cycle?

    The suspense (as looby says) is.. suspenseful.

    Keep going bonnie lass, and nice to see you again

  8. Well I can't say this was unexpected..........have you booked Hetty in to the Vet's for some canine medication?..she may need it........