Sunday, 5 October 2014

Two Volume Novel (Part Three of the Harrogate Chronicles)

Oh dear.  Everything's going tits up at the moment.  You remember how I defeated Python in a Pencil Skirt last week?  How she flounced off after being confronted with my V&A notebook of union regulations?  Well, brace yourselves:  SHE HAS RETURNED.  She is back, and she wants revenge.  I have heard from a spy at the last governors' meeting that she is gunning for me and for the Deputy Head.  She wants us out. 'It's time they moved on!' is how she phrased it.  Python wants to unleash another tyrannical reign at School for Scandal - the DH & I are committed to stopping that from happening. She sees that as being disloyal and deliberately contrary.  We see it as protecting staff and children from another bullying regime. I am seriously worried.  I am a single woman, with a mortgage, several animals, credit card debts, no family and an addiction to cashmere cardigans and Chanel lipsticks.  I cannot afford to lose my job.  This is all exhausting and is causing me many sleepless nights.

Fortunately, I am not in school for the next few days.  I am having training in how to be a proper union rep (as opposed to a tin-pot Trotskyite in a Boden tea-dress).  Glancing at the course agenda, it is not what I was expecting.  I was hoping for guidance as to how a rather bosomy woman could pull off a donkey jacket.  I was expecting H&S guidelines around braziers.  And maybe lessons in how to play Keep the Red Flag Flying on the recorder (a primary school teacher's instrument of choice). But no, it seems a bit more tepid: all equal opportunities, employment law and budgets. Plenty of tea breaks though.  That's a positive.

Also this week, I  had to take my 20 year old cat, Hester, to be put to sleep And I failed to get tickets for Nick Cave at the Sage, Gateshead and I SO wanted to see him perform there.  So, all things considered, this week has been shitty, shitty and more shitty.

Shall we move on to the business at hand?  You don't want to read about dead cats and vampiric, middle-aged lounge singers, do you?  You are waiting to hear what happened on the Chaise of Truth. Allow me to set the scene.  It is late, very late at night (possibly even past nine thirty).  Miss Underscore and Rochester stumble tipsily into their hotel room in the Hotel du Vain.  It is their last night together: the last night of their stay.  Sadly, though, it is also to be their last night together ever.

Miss Underscore: Oh gosh.  TOO.  MUCH.  PASTA. TOO MUCH GIN.  You don't mind if I give the chaise a miss, do you.  I'll answer the questions in bed.  In my nightie.  I need to lie down and unfasten my liberty bodice. Everything's spinning.

Rochester:  Nope.  No way, Underscore.  Get your tortoiseshell Annie Hall specs on, kick your sandals off and get on the chaise.  A promise is a promise.

Miss Underscore:  (groaning).  OK.  You need to plan your questions, rogue.  I'll just rest my eyes for a moment while you do it.

Rochester prowls the room and gets paper and a pen from the desk.  He sits on the bed, rests the paper on a paperback and starts to write.

Rochester:  I've read this book, you know.

Miss Underscore: (sleepily) Hmmmm?

Rochester:  Your paperback. Bonjour Tristesse.  Sagan. I've read it.  Do you know what it means, Bonjour Tristesse?

Miss Underscore:  I don't actually.  I am loving the book though. Although there is a love interest called Cyril.  I am finding that somewhat difficult to come to terms with.

Rochester:  It means 'hello sadness'.  I read all her books when I was at Durham Uni doing my social policy MA.

Miss Underscore: Was this on the feminist module?

Rochester:  Aye.

Miss Underscore:  I still can't believe you did a feminist module.

Rochester:  They had to take a vote, the lasses, to decide whether they would allow me on. It was unanimous, I think.  Of course they fucking wanted me.  They all did.  After a few weeks they tried to get me chucked off, like.  I was too much for them.

Miss Underscore: (smiling) I can imagine.  Poor ladies.

Rochester:  Anyway, back to Sagan, The Unmade Bed - that's a good one.  I've got all her stuff.  A Certain Smile.  I'll find them and send them to you.

Miss Underscore:  You are quite unexpected sometimes, Rochester.  Especially tonight, picking a fight in the hotel bar.

Rochester: You approved of that, Underscore.  I fucking KNOW you did.  That arsehole was bullying the waitress.  She was only about 19.  He was a cunting posh, condescending, arrogant nob-jockey. He needed someone to take him down a peg or two.

Miss Underscore:  I DID approve. You withered him with a glare and a few choice words snarled in your thickest South Shields accent.  I was proud.

Rochester:  He was a braying Tory puff in loafers. Aye. He deserved it.  Now.  Are you comfy there pet?  Get your glasses on.  The questions are done.

Miss Underscore:  They are reading glasses.  They make everything fuzzy when I'm not reading.  You're a blur.

Rochester:  Stop yapping pet.  Get your specs on.  That's more like it.  Right.  Question 1. . .

Miss Underscore:  Don't fuck up these questions, Rochester.  Have you REALLY thought about them?  I mean REALLY thought. Don't be asking me my bra size or anything. . .

Rochester:  These are EPIC questions, pet.  I know what I'm doing.  Anyway, I already know your bra size. Right. Here we go.  Question 1 . . .


Rochester:  (crossly putting pen and paper down) You know, I would like just ONE bastard meeting with you when your cunting birthday is not mentioned.  Now shut up and prepare yourself for question 1.

Miss Underscore: I am ready.  Go for it.  Let the probing commence.

Rochester:  Question one:  what do you think about when you masturbate?

Miss Underscore: (aghast)  WHAT?

Rochester:  Howay!

Miss Underscore:  You cunt, Rochester!

Rochester: (innocently) What?

Miss Underscore:  You get five questions and THAT is what you come up with?  SMUT?  FILTH?  LICENTIOUSNESSNESS!

Rochester:  It's a great question.  Don't go all prudish on me.  Are you going to answer it?

Miss Underscore:  No.  Dear God.

Rochester:  (sternly)  Are you saying you are refusing to answer?

Miss Underscore:  (primly)  Yes.

Rochester: (raising his monobrow, sighing and scribbling a note on his paper) OK.  Not a good start. I am disappointed, to say the least.

Miss Underscore:  And let me tell you something, you, you CAD, if ALL your questions are like that, you had better have a rethink.  Look at your face!  They ARE all like that, aren't they?

Rochester:  (defensively)  No!

Miss Underscore:  Really.  Shall I come and have a look?

Rochester:  (frantically scribbling)  Stay where you are!  I am, for your information, just recording your refusal to answer.

Miss Underscore:  Oh really?  Don't worry, oaf.  I am 55% pumpkin ravioli, 45% lemon tart.  I don't actually think I could move from this chaise if I tried.

Rochester:  Ok.  Question two. . .are you ready?

Miss Underscore: (haughtily, waving an imperious paw in his direction)  Yes.  You may proceed with question 2.

Rochester:  It is your Aunty Margaret's funeral. . .

Miss Underscore:  WHAT?  What now?  What fresh hell is this?

Rochester:  Calm down, Underscore, and listen. It is your Aunty Margaret's funeral.  What do you say?

Miss Underscore:  What a bizarre question?  Do you mean like, in a speech from the pulpit?

Rochester:  Aye.

Miss Underscore:  Well, that's easy . . . nothing.  I say nothing.

Rochester:  Nothing?

Miss Underscore:  You've been watching too many Richard Curtis films, Rochester.  I am too shy to stand up in a church and make a speech.  I'd say nothing.  I quietly toast her with Tio Peppe and fondant fancies in the privacy of my own sitting room.  That was a terrible question.  Terrible.

Rochester:  I know.  I think I panicked when you vetoed question one.  I'm all at sixes and sevens with my questions now, to be honest.  Fuck.

Miss Underscore:  This is going well.

Rochester:  OK.  Question 3.  If you met yourself, would you like yourself?

Miss Underscore:  Your questions are so bizarre.

Rochester:  Well?

Miss Underscore:  Yes.

Rochester:  Why?

Miss Underscore:  Is that question 4?

Rochester:  Jesus,  no!  Come on - expand on your answer please.

Miss Underscore:  Ok, I would think I was funny and nice.  Honest and loyal.  I'd think I had great taste in books and cardigans and would be fun to be around.  I'd probably wish I was a bit more outgoing and more  . . . courageous.  Yes courageous.  And I'd think that I should get out more.  I should definitely be more outgoing and not be as terrified of everything as I am.  Next question.

Rochester:  Question 4.

Miss Underscore:  Yes, question 4.

The room is silent for several moments.  On the chaise by the open window,  Miss Underscore removes her glasses, closes her eyes and sighs.  Rochester stares intently at his notes.  Woozy, whooping voices float up from the street below.  The curtains stir silently in the breeze.  Traffic purrs softly.

Rochester:  Wake up pet.  Question 4.

Miss Underscore: (drowsily) Question 4.  I'm ready.

Rochester:  Question 4,  OK, question 4, Miss Underscore, question 4. . . do you love me?

Miss Underscore:  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.


Rochester:  Question 5.  Why?  Why do you love me?

Miss Underscore:  Well. I don't know, Rochester.  Part of it is inexplicable,  in the way that a connection between two people is abstract and undefinable and magical.  We get on.  It's joyful and fluid.  You're a good man - you haven integrity, especially about your family.  You just feel right.  It just feels right when we're together.  You're a bit odd.  I'm a bit odd.  I don't know what else to say, or how to explain it.  Love is mysterious.  But I do love you.

Rochester:  Ok  (long pause) Thank you.  For what you said, you know.  Integrity.  That stuff.

The room is smothered in an uncomfortable quiet.

Miss Underscore:  That's OK.  So, that's it then, your last question?

Rochester: (getting up)  Aye.  I'm gonna smoke a fag out the window.  Give us the chaise, petal.

Miss Underscore:  I'm going to bed then.

Rochester sits on the chaise and rolls a cigarette.  Miss Underscore starts unzip her dress.

Rochester:  I'm gonna watch you get undressed, flower.

Miss Underscore:  Don't.

Rochester:  OK.  Hey.  We forgot your question, pet.  Did you have a question for me?

Miss Underscore: (quietly) No.  No.  There's nothing to ask now.

(The title of this post is a poem by Dorothy Parker.)


  1. Oh crikey Miss U. Beautifully written though, if that's any consolation.

  2. I cant remember -- do you get to ask him some back once the fine Italian stuffing has passed?

    Best of luck with the Python. I trust your union rep training included a section on how to deal with vindictive vipers.

  3. Oh Miss Underscore, you are already very courageous. And wonderful.

  4. Oh, Miss Underscore, oh, oh, oh. You're brave.

    Henry James said (I'm paraphrasing) When all else fails, remember the life of art. It's almost a consolation.

  5. Oh my're breaking my heart :( The poem is a killer, I'm welling up!