Background: My birthday is in May. Rochester forgets. He always forgets. Every year. Every single cunting year. It irks me.
Rochester's birthday is in June. I don't forget. And this year, as he was now living alone in a pebble-dashed love shack, I got to send him a thoughtful and loving birthday gift. (I have never been to Rochester's den of debauchery. However, I imagine it has shag pile in the bathroom, a fridge crammed with Hai Karate and beer and a lingering aroma of tank tops singeing in front of a one-bar electric fire. By his own admission, it is bit of a dispiriting place.)
I thought Rochester would be cock-a-hoop to receive my birthday present. What red-blooded and passionate man of the male gender would NOT want to receive a tender gift from a be-cardiganed primary school teacher? The scoundrel's response was not quite what I expected.
Rochester: Ok Underscore. You are a cunt. You are a CUNT. I have the present in front of me. Where the fuck did you buy this wrapping paper? Philip Larkin wrapping paper? Jesus. Is that Ted Hughes on there too?
Miss Underscore: I MADE the wrapping paper, Rochester. Well, me and Bobbi-Jolene Golightly from my class made it together. She's got a broken ankle. Fell off her trampoline so she stays in at break time at the moment. I printed lots of pictures. Bobbi-Jolene stuck them on A4, creating an abstract collage: a homage to misanthropy, tweed and dysfunctional middle-aged relationships. Then we photocopied it onto big A3 sheets - when Magda and the school secretary weren't looking, obviously. It's great isn't it? I should go into the customised wrapping-paper business.
Rochester: OK. It IS impressive really. Right. I am going in. What the fuck have you sent me here?
Miss Underscore: Think yourself lucky, Rochester. Bobby-Jolene and I had already undertaken several successful papier mache projects prior to the wrapping paper. Dizzy with the success of her War Horse artwork, she was all for making a Larkin head with pipe cleaner glasses and a few hairs from her Patterdale for his comb-over.
Rochester: Christ! . . . Ok. I am in. There are several smaller presents, also wrapped in Larkin.
Miss Underscore: They are all age appropriate presents, Rochester. Worthy of great and sober men of ideas and literature: Tony Benn . . . Philip Larkin . . . Arthur Miller . . . Len from Stricktly Come Dancing. . . Gravitas. . Dignity and . . .
Rochester: (shouting) . . . Werther's Original! Gravitas, dignity and Werther's Original! You got me fucking Werther's Original. Is this how you see me: one moccasin in the grave? You ARE a cunt, Underscore.
Miss Underscore: (calmly) Look closely at the packet Rochester. These are Werther's Original Butter Mints. They are not just any old Werther's. These are actually quite hard to get hold of. They are collectors items. I saw them in Fenwick's Food Hall and thought of you. Try one. You will be seduced by their buttery lusciousness.
Rochester: Hmmm. Actually. They are quite nice, flower. Ok. Next parcel. This is a book, isn't it? Fucking big book. It's not more Pym, is it, cos I have to admit, she's still lying in the back of the fanny wagon. . .
Miss Underscore: Poor Barbara. Her paisley C&A pussy-bow blouse will be getting quite rumpled. Are you in yet? It was between that and A Batchelor's Guide to Knitwear, which I thought would be perfect for you until I discovered that amazingly, no one has written it. Yet.
Rochester: Ahhh. OK, OK. This looks canny. Explain, Underscore.
Miss Underscore: Well, I got it second hand. It was £2.50. It's an ex library book, which seemed appropriate. Now, I know you'll never read it: it's the size of a tombstone and the font is tiny so your mole-ish, middle-aged eyes won't cope, but dip into it. His relationships with women seem fascinating. It is supposed to be great.
Rochester: Aye, I'm flicking through the pictures now, I think he was on to something with his fetish for bookish, bespectacled beauties on bicycles. Thanks for that pet. I will look at it. Ok, next present. This is good. I am quite enjoying this. . . I am going for the flat one. What the fuck! Lamb, beef AND chicken.
Miss Underscore: Ahhh. You have found the gravy mixes.
Rochester: I don't really know what to say about these, flower.
Miss Underscore: Listen: you are a man of simple tastes from South Shields.
Miss Underscore: You live in the South. You are probably marinated, daily, up to your oxters in reductions and jus and foam. This unsettles you. This torments you. This keeps you up at night. What you are missing is proper gravy. And a lot of it. Am I right?
Rochester: Goes without saying.
Miss Underscore: So, these are just what you need? Plus, they are really good. Essential for panackelty, mince and dumplings, all that good stuff your granny would cook for you when she got back from her shift at the abattoir. Trust me. My cupboard is full of them. I may start a Twitter campaign for real gravy, you know. Hashtag thepersecutionofthejus.
Rochester: Ok. Ok. Good call, flower. Although I haven't actually cooked a meal for myself in at least a year. I can see where you're going with these gifts mind. Is there a lurcher in here too?
Miss Underscore: Move on. Next parcel.
Rochester: Ok. Two DVDs. Ahhh. The first breasts I ever saw were in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. That fanny rat art teacher was seducing one of the lassies. Never seen The Apartment. So, what are you trying to tell me about yourself with these choices?
Miss Underscore: Nothing really. I remember that art teacher cove. Never trust a man in a cheesecloth blouson and fisherman's cap, that's always been my motto. Imagine, 'Just stand over there in the light. Perfect! Beautiful! Now. How about one more button, luv. That's better, what beautiful skin you have. And another button pet, just one more. . . ' Such a good film though. I love Jean Brodie. I know she was a demented and manipulative fascist, but no one's perfect. I feel a bit conned though. Teaching isn't really about lying beneath oak trees reading poetry, wearing silk scarves and coyly flirting with academics in corduroys. How I wish it was. How I wish I could drift into a classroom on a cloud of Mitsouko, and dirty martini and rhapsodise about books and art all day, only stopping to touch up my lipstick and rearrange the dahlias on my desk.
Rochester: Is that not what you DO do? You don't seem to follow any regular curriculum.
Miss Underscore: Sadly not. They make me teach Science and PE and other such horrors too. I'm even on the sack race for this year's Sports Day. I don't really want to talk about that though.
Rochester: (roaring with laughter) I would pay good fucking money to see you do the sack race, flower. I tell you what, I should clear £800 quid commission on my next job. It will be yours if you send me footage of yourself bouncing around in a sack on a hot afternoon.
Miss Underscore: (primly) Moving on. The Apartment, well. . . you loved The Odd Couple, so I thought you might like this. It doesn't have Walter Matthau in it, sadly. But it IS good.
Rochester: I get it. You model yourself on Shirley Mclaine, don't you. You fucking do!
Miss Underscore: Hardly, if I WAS Shirley Maclaine, I would have been able to read your aura of fanny rat from our first meeting, recognised you as the reincarnation of the devil himself and avoided you like the plague. Plus, I would own more chunky amber jewellery.
Rochester: Aura of Fanny Rat. That's Chanel, isn't it?
Miss Underscore: Last present. There should be one more gift. And this one, this is the real present. The one that cost more than £2.
Rochester: Yup. Got it. It's soft. Is it a pair of your knickers? Maybe not, don't think it's a big enough package.
Miss Underscore: This is something you desperately need.
Rochester: A tweed tie. A Harris tweed tie.
Miss Underscore: You really need to banish your shiny, Quality Street wrapper ties, you know. They're too Nick Clegg. They're too Swiss Toni!
Rochester: It's a bit drab. What would I wear with it? It's fifty shades of brown.
Miss Underscore: Look, it's sombre and earthy and has flecks of heather and moss and bark in it. It IS a thing of beauty. Quiet beauty. Plus, it has actually come from the Isle of Harris. Just don't wear it with a pink shirt. Please.
Rochester: I like it actually pet. You know, I actually DO like it.
Miss Underscore: Well, those are your presents, Rochester.
Rochester: I'm on my fourth Werther's already. They won't last long. Listen, thanks for these, flower. It was dead nice of you. I'm deeply serious. Thanks. I'll read the Larkin. I will.
Miss Underscore: Oh, don't spoil the moment with a lie, Rochester. You will NOT read the Larkin. We both know it.
Rochester: No, but I'll look at the photos, read the captions and then look up the word sex in the index. Isn't that what everyone does with biographies?
Miss Underscore: Yeah, and if you do manage to snare yourself a bespectacled, bookish beauty on a bicycle and get her back to Chez Miscreant, you can dazzle her with your Pym and Larkin collection.
Rochester: Then cook her mince and dumplings!
Miss Underscore: It would work for me. Happy birthday, rogue.