Saturday, 6 September 2014

Briefs Encounter The Harrogate Chronicles (Part 1 of 3)

The Hotel du Vain, Harrogate.  August.

Miss Underscore and Rochester enter a modestly opulent hotel room. Late summer sunlight floods the room through vast Georgian sash windows (wood NOT UPVC).  Suspended in the burnished shafts of light, tiny particles of golden dust float and whirl. Outside, chestnut trees murmur in the soft breeze.  Miss Underscore sits on a chaise and looks out of the window.

Miss Underscore:  This IS heavenly, this view of the park. All those quivering green leaves. I love Harrogate. It's so different to Sunderland. Oh - and look at the bed.  It's bigger than my whole bedroom. No crumbs.  No dog hair. Crisp sheets.  

Rochester:  (at the minibar)  Drink?  I've had all the gin, I think. And possibly the all the vodka.  I've been dossing all afternoon, waiting for you to arrive. I'm knackered pet. Let's just loaf for a while, eh?   I think it is going to have to be this poncey pink champagne.  Is that OK? 

Rochester pours two glasses, placing one on the bedside table and sprawls on the bed. 

Miss Underscore:  Champagne?  Get you, fanny rat! You're South Shields' very own David Niven!  Go on then. I'm going to take my sandals off and join you. 

Rochester: Aye, come over here petal.  

Miss Underscore joins Rochester on the bed. There is a gap between them.  They sip their champagne. 

Miss Underscore:  Thanks for meeting me at the station.  It was like being in a working-class version of Brief Encounter.  Especially when you dabbed the railway grit from my eye with that Greggs' napkin. 

Rochester:  Aye. 

Miss Underscore:  Of course, I can't help thinking that Trevor Howard would have removed the sausage roll first.

Rochester:  Only cos he was a puff. You know, at the stationI didn't recognise you at first.   

Miss Underscore:  Well, it has been 6 months.

Rochester:  You almost walked right past me. I never even saw you.  I almost lost you completely.

Miss Underscore:  Ooooh, blundering metaphor klaxon!  

Rochester:  It's the dress.  I've never seen you in a dress, pet. Never.  Fact.  You look a bit Brief Encounter.  Without the years of rationing, obviously. 

Miss Underscore:  I did tell you I'd be wearing a dress.  I've only packed dresses.  Dresses and cardigans.  We've only ever met in winter, you know.  Did you realise that?  I wonder why that is.  

Rochester:  I'm not really a sunny person.  I prefer winter.

Miss Underscore:  I have a theory. 

Rochester:  (sighing)  I knew you would.

Miss Underscore:  I think we only meet in winter because, to you, I am the feminine equivalent of comfort food: cauliflower cheese, shepherd's pie, that kind of thing. You only want me when the weather is cold and the sky is leaden.  To you, I AM steak and kidney suet pudding.  I AM syrup sponge and custard. 

Rochester: I feel like however I respond to that statement, it will almost certainly be wrong.  So I'm saying fuck all. Although, there's never a wrong time for steak and kidney suet pudding. Or syrup sponge and custard.

Miss Underscore:  Yes, but they're not things you want every day. That's the point. Anyway, I've been wearing 1950s sundresses all summer.  I wore one to your favourite South Shields fish and chip restaurant on Sunday.  To be fair, it was probably a bit much. And it's no fun getting curry sauce out of dry clean only, honeysuckle print crimplene, I can tell you.

Rochester:  Ahhhhh Colman's?  Haven't been there for years. You're a lass.  Lasses should be wearing dresses.  I like this new development. I approve.  Although, I was slightly disappointed there wasn't a straw hat.  And can we talk about your hair. . . it's very . . .very

Miss Underscore:  . . VERY very.  I know.  You know what, I am 10 years younger than you, so you may not appreciate this but. . .

Rochester:  TEN years?  Hold it right there pet, hold on a cunting minute, you are NOT ten years younger than me!

Miss Underscore: (bristling)  Mathematically speaking, I am.  Your age, 46, rounds to 50.  My age (she clamps her hand over Rochester's mouth) SHUT UP CUNT AND DON'T SAY IT OUT LOUD, rounds to 40.  Consequently, you are ten years older than me.  

Rochester:  I'm not surprised your school failed its OFSTED flower. By your own calculations then, next year, we'll be exactly the same age. Which means in 2015, you will age 10 years in one year. 

Miss Underscore:  (crestfallen) Oh.  I hadn't thought of that.  Anyway, as a 40 year old, I have a limited window to experiment with faintly ridiculous hair colours.  I was in Boots thinking I should tone down my previous copper look. I was browsing the meek and mousy shades:  Alan Bennett Tan, Mavis Riley Fawn, Betty Boothroyd Taupe  and then my eye was drawn to this shade, this INCREDIBLE shade.

Rochester:  Has it a name?

Miss Underscore:  Cathouse Crimson.  It is VERY red, isn't it?  Like bright cherry red.

Rochester:  It certainly is. I like it, you know.  I think you should keep it. 

Miss Underscore:  I will for a while. When I get to your age (50) I'll go back to something timid and shrewish.  And then, when I hit 70, I'll go totally Barbara Cartland and embrace the dusty lavender or pistachio bouffant, stuffed with the odd cobweb, or fondant fancy or yapping pomeranian   I'm quite looking forward to that stage of my life.  I wonder if we'll still be meeting up intermittently then.  I have an awful feeling we will.  

Rochester: Come here and lie down. Put your arms round me flower.  

Miss Underscore moves closer and strokes Rochester's beard.

Miss Underscore: (sighing) This is nice. 

Rochester:  I didn't actually think you'd agree to this jaunt, you know.  You were up for it straight away. I was astonished.  It was refreshing not to have to go through that ridiculous charade of me having to wear you down first. Although, to be frank,  I am not sure whether the attraction was me or Harrogate.

Miss Underscore:  Or Betty's.  

Rochester:  Aye, Betty's. Oh fuck.  You are going to make me do Betty's aren't you?   

Miss Underscore:  Of course!  We can't come to Harrogate and NOT do Betty's.  You'll thank me for it when you experience your first Yorkshire curd tart. A new experience in tarts, rogue.  I bet you thought that was an impossibility.

Rochester:  You think you're funny. Keep stroking, pet. It's nice.  I like stroking my beard; I find myself doing it all the time. It's become part of the UPVC performance art - like when I'm pretending to contemplate a discount. (he demonstrates) It works, pet. Like a cunting charm.  But having someone else stroking it is even better.  Keep going, flower.  Howay.  More.

Miss Underscore:   It could be bigger, Rochester.  You are still playing it safe with the beard.

Rochester:  Are you serious? You want it bigger?  Now that is quite interesting.  How big?

Miss Underscore:  On the internationally recognised Serpico beard scale?  I think you need to be aiming for the early flirtation with hippiedom in the first part of the film.  Don't go too Druid. Robert de Niro in The Deerhunter was a good beard.

Rochester:  Really?  That was a pretty big beard. My favourite film, that. 

Miss Underscore: Hmmmm.  Try it. Commit to the beard.  I love it, you know. Especially the flecks of white.  It's bristly though.  It's like petting a rakish border terrier. 

Rochester:  I am glad you're here.  

Miss Underscore:  I am too.  I've missed you.

Miss U puts her arms around Rochester, puts her head on his chest.

Rochester:  Your hand goes there. (Rochester moves her hand to his chest).

Miss Underscore:  (laughing)  Oh God.  Here we go.

Rochester:  What?

Miss Underscore:  You don't even realise you do it.  You have a spot on your chest here, over your heart actually, and whenever we're together like this in bed, you move my hand there.  To that EXACT spot. You are totally OCD about it.  Even in your sleep, if my hand is an inch out, you mumble to yourself furiously and move it back to position.

Rochester:  I've also been known to move your hand to . . .

Miss Underscore:  Ok Rochester, easy.

Rochester:  I know. Just feels right there, right there on my chest.  You know it does.  .  . 

The room is silent for a while.   Suddenly it is filled with the thundering and drumming of heavy summer rain in the park outside.  

Miss Underscore:  Oh no, listen to that.

Rochester:  We can stay in tonight.  Eat here.  Steak? Chips? 

Miss Underscore: Hmmm. Perfect.

Rochester:  And what are we doing tomorrow.  What are your plans for us?

Miss Underscore:  A lie in. A proper breakfast. An ice cream in Valley Gardens by the bandstand.  Betty's.  Estate agents windows, looking at ridiculously priced Victorian villas.  

Rochester: The Turkish Baths?  I'm quite tempted by them.

Miss Underscore: (nervously)  I haven't brought a swimming costume, Rochester.  

Rochester:  Don't be daft.  You don't need one.

Miss Underscore:  WHAT?  We'd be starkers?  Dear God!  

Rochester:  Why - not completely starkers, OBVIOUSLY.  Christ, flower, you can be dead embarrassing sometimes. I know you're from a two-up, two down in Easington, but you could try to be a little more sophisticated. I'm a man from South Shields.  It goes without saying that my socks would remain on at all times.  You'd be in your birthday suit though.  I think it's the law.

Miss Underscore: (aghast)  Let's give the Turkish Baths a miss, eh?  It seems like the experience could be fraught with all kinds of agonies and mortifications.  Have you come from Manchester this morning?

Rochester:  Yup.  I've been putting up shelves and doing Dad stuff in the big bairn's first flat.

Miss Underscore:  Did you take my advice on the house-warming gift?

Rochester:  Aye.  Although, I still believe a tool kit would have been the practical option.  Or something Black and Decker.

Miss Underscore:  I am almost grateful you never remember my birthday Rochester.  

Rochester:  I would never get YOU a fucking toolkit, Underscore. I've seen your place, remember.  It's gone way, WAY beyond the toolkit stage. Anyway, she said her place needed a lot of work.  And that she would like to learn how to do stuff. 

Miss Underscore:  God, you can be obtuse.  What she really meant was, 'Dad, will you put up my shelves.' 

Rochester:  Aye.  I get that. I do get that now.  And I have.  £40 quid for a candle though, Underscore.  Who the fuck pays £40 for a candle?  

Miss Underscore: You got the right one?  The tomato leaf one?

Rochester:  Listen, I went into Selfridges as directed, wandered around like a befuddled fool for a while till I found the right counter and was immediately pounced on by some lacquered fembot who quite obviously took pity on me. I read her your text and she sorted me out.  She was nice actually.  I have no cunting clue what I eventually bought. Are you telling me I've just spent £40 on a candle that smells of fucking tomato leaves?  Jesus Christ, Underscore! That could have been a T27A heavy duty cordless drill with 150 piece accessory kit. 

Miss Underscore:  I'm glad you got that one. Her flat will smell like a country house greenhouse in summer, Rochester.  She can imagine she's one of the Mitford girls, devouring romantic novels and violet creams amongst the plant pots.

Rochester:  She lives above an Indian restaurant in Manchester.

Miss Underscore:  All the more reason.  All the more reason, oaf.

Rochester:  Actually, she was thrilled.  I don't get it, but she WAS thrilled.  She said I'm totally getting the present thing these days.  

Miss Underscore:  See! Oh, I am pleased. 

Rochester:  I think that was also a reference to that gold bee necklace you told me to get her last year. She didn't light the candle mind.  Not whilst I was there.

Miss Underscore:  Howay.  Of course she didn't.  She'll be saving it for a special moment.  I doubt she'd waste in on a night in with her dad and a Chinese takeaway. 

Rochester:  Ahhhh.  OK. Fucking hell. I don't really want to think about that.  Do you burn a £40 candle during my visits, pet?

Miss Underscore:  Of course. A french one that smells of figs. Candlelight can be very forgiving. It masks dust, mildew and cellulite. And as we only average 2 nights together per year, my £40 candle will probably last me till my pomeranian years.

Rochester:  Lasses are weird. Anyway, I left Manchester this morning.  Filled her fridge up with nice food while she was at work before I came here. 

Miss Underscore:  That's nice.  Dads are great. I'd give everything I own for another day with mine. I'd cook him a meal and we'd go to Durham for the day, walk by the river, sit in the Cathedral. Mind you, I'd also get him to do the garden.  And put up some bookshelves. (artfully)  Did you see anyone else in Manchester?

Rochester:  I didn't and haven't seen Gladys, Underscore.  If that is what you are asking. Which it is, of course.  Beard.  Howay.  Get stroking.  I could put up your bookshelves, you know.  Where do you want them?

Miss Underscore:  Nah.  I'll get a man in.  I don't like to be beholden to rogues and fanny rats.  I'm getting RSI from all this beard stroking, Rochester.  I think I'll stop now.  Listen to that!

The relentless summer rain has become a monsoon-like torrent outside.  The room swims in its darkening, glassy green light.  Miss Underscore and Rochester kiss. 

Rochester:  I think we'd better stay where we are.  It might be time for this Brief Encounter dress to come off though.