Thursday, February 07, 2008

Hartlepool Romance

"Lady Hortensia," said the man in the chip shop, "always a pleasure to see you here. I was terribly sorry to hear about your husband. To be sucked into the workings of a street-cleaning machine and torn to ribbons alongside an assortment of damp crisp packets and fallen leaves is probably the worst way a man can die."

"Indeed," said Lady Hortensia. "My husband, of course, was shot dead by a bank robber during a bungled heist, and didn't die in the way you describe at all."

"Yes, I was trying to comfort you with the knowledge that it could have been very much worse," said the man. "Three white pudding suppers as usual?"

"I hardly think it would be appropriate," said Lady Hortensia, icily. "What with my husband dying and that escaped zebra not yet having been recaptured."

"Oh, hadn't you heard? They caught the zebra yesterday. It's back in the box now," said the man in the chip shop's civil partner from the back room.

"Oh," said Lady Hortensia. "I hadn't heard. My husband was always the one who kept track of the status of escaped animals. Dear me, I never considered how inconvenient it would be to be a widow. Will you marry me?"

"No," said the man in the chip shop. "Here are your pudden suppers, perhaps if you take them to Hartlepool and eat them, a passing man will feel sorry for you and propose marriage."

"It's worth a try, I suppose," said Lady Hortensia. She took the newspaper-wrapped revolting suet-based concotions and greasy chips and jumped on board a passing stagecoach bound for Hartlepool.

"Get the bleeding heck off my bleeding stagecoach!" the driver screamed, letting go of the reins and allowing the wildebeest to veer off into a cornfield. "There's no food and drink allowed on my bleeding stagecoach! The vermin! The vermin will overwhelm me, lusting for the fallen morsels you drop in your greedy consumption of your bleeding food! Didn't they teach you about bleeding vermin in school? Get off my bleeding stagecoach this minute!"

"Oh, I do apologise," said Lady Hortensia as the stagecoach careered out of control across the fields, mangling corn, scarecrows and hedges alike under its copper wheels, the wildebeest, free from the tyrannical reins that daily compelled them to follow tedious cobbled streets and asphalted motorways, chasing with gay abandon every blackbird, vulture and pine marten they saw, heedless of any obstacles in their path as they dragged the coach ever further away from its destination and ever closer to Scunthorpe. "I only wanted to visit Hartlepool in an attempt to find a husband. I don't suppose you would like to marry me?" she added as an afterthought.

"Okay then," said the driver, picking up the reins and attempting to return to the Hartlepool road. "I'm free next Saturday. Big church wedding, St Paul's Cathedral, eleven o'clock? Cost you a fiver, but buy a ticket to Hartlepool and you get to marry the driver for half price. Special offer."

"Splendid," said Lady Hortensia. "White pudding?"

"Don't mind if I do," said the driver. And thus they departed along the damp and narrow streets. Lo, Hartlepool! Slumbering city of romance and dreams, do you know, as you awaken this damp and gloomy morning that another stagecoach of love wends its way ever nearer to your towering and broken-glass-studded walls? That the magic of love inspired by your founder, Alan Hartlepool, so many years ago still permeates every mention of the fair city's name? Or have you, in your dank streets and crumbling overcrowded tenements, become so accustomed to the happy endings of your every inhabitant and visitor that you no longer register each miraculous romance as a thing of note, but merely an everyday happenstance? Lo, wildebeest, snorting in the stagecoach reins, your momentary freedom forgotten amid the excitement and smells of this familiar town! Lo, Dennis Boggis, sitting unmentioned in the chip shop throughout the duration of this story! Perhaps you yourself will one day visit Hartlepool and realise that your true destiny lies in street-sweeping rather than chartered accountancy when you get your first glance of the filth-ridden streets of the city of love!


Sam said...

Why haven't you finished the book yet?

Ian said...

Yep, I'm with Sam. Great story - but what about the book?!