Well, then you shouldn’t have prepared supper, should you? Because I said, darling, I distinctly recall saying that I would be late…Yes, yes, I probably shall go to the pub afterwards—I shall no doubt need to go to the pub afterwards if only to mercifully wash away some silly woman’s attempts to get into the mind of Henry James or Thomas Hardy or whoever the hell it is we’re supposed to study on this course…Christ, why did I take this on? …Yes, darling, yes, I suppose I did take it on to pay for the drink… Determined to go to the pub? When did I need determination to get me into a pub…?
See, the properly educated, they know it’s only words, don’t they? It’s only the masses who don’t understand. But that’s because they’re ignorant; it’s not their fault, I know that, but sometimes they drive me mental. I do it to shock them sometimes; y’ know if I’m in the hairdresser’s—that’s where I work—I’ll say somethin’ like ‘I’m as fucked as a fanny on a Friday night!’ and some of the customers, they’ll have a right gob on them just ’cos I come out with something like that. […] But it doesn’t cause any kind of fuss with educated people though, does it? Because they know it’s only words and they don’t worry. But these stuck-up ones I meet, they think they’re royalty just because they don’t swear. An’ anyway, I wouldn’t mind but it’s the aristocracy who swear more than anyone, isn’t it, they’re effing and blinding all day long; with them it’s all, ‘I say, the grouse is particularly fucking lovely today although I’m afraid the spuds are a bit bollocks don’t you think?’ (She sighs.) But y’ can’t tell them that round our way. It’s not their fault; they can’t help it. But sometimes I hate them. (Beat.) God…what’s it like to be free?
They expect too much. They walk into the hairdresser’s and expect to walk out an hour later as a different person. I tell them, I’m just a hairdresser, not a plastic surgeon. See, most of them, that’s why they come the hairdresser’s—because they want to be changed. But if you wanna change y’ have to do it from the inside, don’t y’? Know like I’m doin’…tryin’ to do. Do you think I will? Think I’ll be able to do it.
I’ve been realisin’ for ages that I was…slightly out of step. I’m twenty-six. I should have had a baby by now; everyone expects it—I’m sure my husband thinks I’m infertile. He’s always goin’ on about havin’ babies. We’ve been tryin’ for two years now; but I’m still on the pill! See, I don’t want a baby yet. I wanna find myself first, discover myself. Do you understand that?
Yeh. They wouldn’t round our way. I’ve tried to explain to my husband but between you an’ me I think he’s just thick! No, not thick; blind, that’s what he is. He can’t see because he doesn’t want to see. If I try an’ do anything different he gets a gob on him; even if I’m just reading or watchin’ somethin’ different on the telly he gets really narked.
I’ll make a bargain with you, yes? I’ll teach you everything I know…but if I do that then you must promise never to come back here…because there’s nothing here for you! You see I never…I didn’t want to teach this course in the first place; allowed myself to be talked into it. But I knew it was wrong and seeing you only confirms my suspicion. My dear, it’s not your fault, just the luck of the draw that you got assigned to me; but get me you did. And the thing is, between you, me and the walls, I’m really rather an appalling teacher. Most of the time that doesn’t really matter—appalling teaching is quite in order when most of my students are themselves fairly appalling. And the others manage to get by despite me. But you, young woman, you are quite, quite different, you are seeking a very great deal indeed; and I’m afraid I cannot provide it. Everything I know—and you must listen to this—is that I know absolutely nothing.
Rita: See, if I’d started takin’ school seriously then I would have had to become different from my mates; an’ that’s not allowed.
Frank: Not allowed by whom?
Rita: By y’ mates, y’ family, by everyone. So y’ never admit that school could be anythin’ other than useless an’ irrelevant. An’ what you’ve really got to be into are things like music an’ clothes and getting’ pissed an’ coppin’ off an’ all that kind of stuff. Not that I didn’t go along with it because I did. But at the same time, there was always somethin’ tappin’ away in my head, tryin’ to tell me I might have got it all wrong. But I’d just put the music back on or buy another dress an’ stop worryin’. ’Cos there’s always something that can make y’ forget. An’ so y’ keep on goin’, tellin’ y’self that life is great—there’s always another club to go to, a new feller to be chasin’, a laugh an’ a joke with the girls. Till one day, you just stop an’ own up to yourself. Y’ say, ‘Is this it? Is this the absolute maximum that I can expect from this livin’ lark?’ An’ that’s the really big moment that is. Because that is when you’ve got to decide whether it’s gonna be another change of dress or a change in yourself.
Look, there’s a way of answering examination questions that is…expected. It’s a sort of accepted ritual. It’s a game, with rules. And you have to observe those rules. Poets can ignore those rules; poets can break every rule in the book; poets are not trying to pass examinations. But Rita, you are. And therefore you must observe the rules.
There is no contentment. Because there’s no meanin’ left. (Beat.) Sometimes, when y’ hear the old ones tellin’ stories about the past, y’ know, about the war or when they were all strugglin’, fightin’ for food and clothes and houses, their eyes light up while they’re tellin y’ because there was some meanin’ then. But what’s…what’s stupid is that now…now that most of them have got some kind of a house an’ there is food an’ money around, they’re better off but, honest, they know they’ve got nothin’ as well—because the meanin’s all gone; so there’s nothin’ to believe in. It’s like there’s this sort of disease but no one mentions it; everyone behaves as though it’s normal, y’ know, inevitable, that there’s vandalism an’ violence an’ houses burnt out and wrecked by the people they were built for. But this disease, it just keeps on bein’ hidden; because everyone’s caught up in the ‘Got-to-Have’ game, all runnin’ round like headless chickens chasin’ the latest got-to-have tellies an’ got-to-have cars, got-to-have garbage that leaves y’ wonderin’ why you’ve still got nothin’—even when you’ve got it. (Beat.) I suppose it’s just like me, isn’t it, y’ know when I was buyin’ dresses, keepin’ the disease covered up all the time.
I’m all right with you, here in this room; but when I saw those people you were with I couldn’t come in. I would have seized up. Because I’m a freak. I can’t talk to the people I live with any more. An’ I can’t talk to the likes of them on Saturday, or them out there, because I can’t learn the language. I’m an alien. I went back to the pub where Denny was, an’ me mother, an’ our Sandra, an’ her mates. I’d decided I wasn’t comin’ here again. I went into the pub an’ they were singin’, all of them singin’ some song they’d learnt from the jukebox. An’ I stood in that pub an’ thought, just what in the name of Christ am I trying to do? Why don’t I just pack it in, stay with them, an’ join in with the singin’?
Well, I did join in with the singin’, I didn’t ask any questions, I just went along with it. But when I looked round, my mother had stopped singin’, an’ she was cryin’. Everyone just said she was pissed an’ we should get her home. So we did, an’ on the way I asked her why. I said, ‘Why are y’ cryin’, Mother?’ She said, ‘Because—because we could sing better songs than those.’ Ten minutes later, Denny had her laughing and singing again, pretending she hadn’t said it. But she had. And that’s why I came back. And that’s why I’m staying.
Rita (angrily): What d’ y’ mean be careful? I can look after myself. Just ’cos I’m learnin’, just ’cos I can do it now an’ read what I wanna read an’ understand without havin’ to come runnin’ to you every five minutes y’ start tellin’ me to be careful. (She paces about.)
Frank: Because—because I care for you—I want you to care for yourself.
Rita: Tch. (She goes right up to Frank. After a pause.) I—I care for you, Frank…But you’ve got to—to leave me alone a bit. I’m not an idiot now, Frank—I don’t need you to hold me hand as much…I can—I can do things on me own more now…And I’m careful. I know what I’m doin’. Just don’t—don’t keep treatin’ me as though I’m the same as when I first walked in here.