8th of December 2011
On that fateful Wednesday morning I was a few days into the renewal of an old pet project: considering the pointlessness of life. Little did I know that an answer to my question would materialise by the end of the day. And what I suspected even less was how little I would like that answer.
Embracing the inevitable tide of cultural pessimism, I made my way through the busy Bloomsbury streets towards the library. It was a drizzly December morning and I had a deadline to meet, which might have been in part to blame for that rather dark train of thought.
People may assume that such thoughts can only be brought about by unhappy circumstances. This was not the case with me. I was generally thought to be a happy person, and would have easily agreed with that assessment. And why wouldn’t I? I had a beautiful home, where I often entertained my fabulous friends together with my beloved and loving husband. Too many adjectives perhaps, but that was my life: great at every turn. And I loved my job – most days – which was no little feat in itself. Altogether it was a cosy existence and I saw no reason to complain, nor was I particularly inclined to do so. What else can a human being possibly wish for?
Now I come to think of it… Perhaps middle-class ennui was to blame for what happened.
As a child I dreamt of a contented life, but once I had it, doubts loomed in from all sides. I began to question whether contentment could ever be sufficient in itself. I knew the answer once, but could not find my way back to it through this stringy extension of time. What gives life true purpose? Memory failed me.
The wind sharpened, so I wrestled with my umbrella and stepped into my favourite café for a little warmth and the first coffee of the day, all philosophical questions forgotten.
Work went well that day so naturally the evening approached at a galloping pace. Time was no longer my friend. We fell out a few years back, when I would have liked to stop it in its tracks and failed.
I checked my wristwatch. It was getting late. After the IHR seminar was over I joined my co-convenors, colleagues and friends for a couple of drinks at the university bar. But something made me restless. After speeding ahead at a lightning pace for the length of the day, time suddenly stumbled, retracted and slowed down to a crawl. “If I hurry,” I thought, “I might still make the next train home.” I said my goodbyes and exited the bar, quickening my step.
On the underground however, the first unexpected turn of events took place. Suddenly, instead of taking the tube to King’s Cross, I found myself traipsing in the opposite direction. My legs seemed to have a mind of their own that evening. Dissatisfied with reaching Covent Garden, they shuffled down the cobbled streets and wound their way towards the river. Retracing my steps I suppose.
The air had mellowed. It was not exactly cold, but it was warmer than it had been all day and I craved a cigarette. I conjured up circles of smoke and enjoyed what moments of solitude one can steal in a crowd.
“Life may have no purpose, but sitting on the banks of the Thames, under the evening stars – however little visible – does have its charm.”
Afterwards, once I could trust my feet to do my bidding, and thought it safe to get up from my table, I walked through the BFI building to the info desk to get a programme for future screenings. Around the corner from the information desk, I was met by a crowd. Curiosity peaked; I asked what it was for…
The English are misunderstood as a people. The stiff upper lip is little more than the social circumspection of the overly sober. A pint or two is all that stands between an Englishman and recklessness. And there are the queues of course. It is a truth universally acknowledged that English people love a good queue. So there is no shortage of these on the island, and London has more than its fair share of them. Any queue, for whatever reason formed, is filled with like-minded people. So, if you have an interest of any kind and want to expand your social circle, you can’t fail if you join one.
This particular queue was filled with Sherlock aficionados. The cast was there, I was informed, and everyone waited for autographs and a glimpse of their favourite star. Yes. In true surreal fashion, I had stumbled upon a Benedict Cumberbatch adoration gathering.
Suffice to say that the temptation to stay was too great to resist. I thought that at most I would get a closer glimpse of my favourite, but since I had the programme with me, I ended up with Steven Moffat, Mark Gattis, Andrew Scott and Lara Pulver signing it.
Then… the waiting game was afoot.
We waited around for quite a while. I was near the end of the queue, and across from a glass door through which the actors went one after another after the signings.
Next, disaster struck. I saw Benedict on the other side of the door, readying himself to go through to the private bar area, whereto all his co-stars had retreated before him. Discontentment brewed amongst those at my end of the queue; all feared he would not be signing anything that evening. After waiting for so long, one was not amused!
I was exactly opposite the door, about two meters from where he was standing, ready to go through. I watched his hand clasp the handle, looked up and…. He was watching me. I held his gaze.
Time elongated, stretched itself through the glass, obliterating all around me. Everything blurred. His eyes were the only point of clarity in the room. My brain counted the fractions of time. One – I am here for you Ben – Two – This is why I stare – Three – What is your excuse? He blinked. Looked away. Pulled at the door. Disappeared through it.
My flowing silk skirt was doing its best to earn the ten quid I spent at the vintage market in Spitalfields, it appeared.
I felt slightly faint. Never having mastered the art of whiskey drinking, nonetheless I would have killed for a measure of single malt to settle my nerves. He was gone. I went outside to have a cigarette. A second glass door was added to the first, expanding the space between me and the Batch. By the end of the second cigarette – excessive I know, but it seemed to be an evening of excesses for me – I saw him return.
He started the signings at the other end of the queue. I observed his approach through the crowd. Twice our eyes met again. I began to doubt my vision at that point. Surely I was imagining it. Even as I am writing this, it seems somehow unreal… And then, when he was within a meter or so of me, he looked up again. Perhaps I was not imagining it after all.
Ego boost or what?
But reason stalled the luxury of basking in the glory of an almost-conquest, and decided wisely that I must remind him of someone he knew. That was the only reasonable explanation for a second extended eye-lockup in a hallway crowded by his admirers.
I am his madeleine. He tastes the flow of memories long past in my gaze.
Moments later he was in front of me, taking my pen and preparing to sign.
“Thank you so much. We hope to see you on stage again soon.”
Benedict’s hand froze on the page. He looked up, a naughty twinkle in his eye as his gaze affixed itself onto mine. The corner of his mouth curled up into a mischievous smile. His head tilted slightly to one side, knowing and not knowing what I mean. Was he meant to read between the lines?
Damn you Freud, and your slips! In that moment I realised the subtext translation: I have seen you naked. And yes, asking for more. I added a little flustered:
“When you have the time…”
He smiled again. Nodded. Moved on. I remained glued to the spot. The crowd swarmed past me, moving in around him. Everyone wanting a little more of him. He looked tired, a little haggard even. Suddenly I felt discomfited by it all; all these strangers advancing on one man.
Time expanded. Space contracted. I was one of them. I was one of the beleaguers. I noticed his minder getting more uneasy as the circle tightened around Ben. He spied me watching and called me forward, indicating that if I wanted a photo I should go around to the other side.
As if in a trance I moved to the place he pointed out. Someone offered to take a pic with my mobile. I handed it over. Benedict stepped forward, asked where to look.
He was at my side, the star, the man, and yet in that moment… I felt sorry for him. I wished I were anywhere but there. I was about to step away, but there were so many people around us, there was no visible escape. I felt his hand trace the small of my back.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, elongating the ‘o’ in ‘so’ so that he would know that I mean it.
He looked at me. Smiled: “That’s quite alright.”
A flash and it was over. I got the last picture of the lot.
On my way home, I felt the need to expunge the guilt and put my case to the public. After all, what do we live for, but to make sport for our neighbours, and make fun of them in return? So I put the picture up on my Facebook wall with the following caption:
“There is a first for everything… Very embarrassed about it, but couldn’t resist. Black on black with matching hair: “We hope to see you on stage again soon.” Got a mischievous smile in reply. The penny drops. Gosh! I’ve just told Benedict Cumberbatch that I have seen him naked!”
Him (smiling): Stalker.
Me (guilty blush): I am merely an admirer of his craft. I appreciate beauty and art – that is all.
Me: That is slander, dearest.
Him (raised eyebrow): You finally did it! You have taken your obsession to a new level. You do realise your boyfriend has the name of an evil rabbit, right?
Me (incensed): Not so!
Him: He clearly does. Benedict Cumberbatch sounds like the name of Peter Rabbit’s nemesis. In which case he would always be trouserless… to your eternal delight.
Me (laughing): Heaven!
He shakes his head, half-bemused, half-disgruntled.
Me (struggling to keep a straight face): Seriously though: No to rabbits, particularly trouserless ones!
Him (leaning in for a kiss): There’s an axiom to live by if there ever was one…
The red velvet lowers. Before you leave: What is the meaning of life?
Well… what followed was a rather un-philosophical resolution to that problem.
We make our own meaning. The body and its senses, as well as the creative thrust of our imagination: both have their place in our making sense of life, the universe, and everything.
And as for Cumberbatch… I will continue to maintain that it is a magic word. Works. Every. Time.
Time chimes from me to you and back again. Submitting to your will, subtract from mine. And your return awaiting; I bow out.
PS: New to vicbriggs’s blog and want some more Benedict Cumberbatch fixes? Take a look at the links below.
In the order of appearance:
1. I don’t fancy Benedict Cumberbatch. Daily Prompt: Pants on Fire or the confession that started it all.
2. Sex with you-know-who will steam up your windows. Beware!
3. COMING SOON… a snippet of Cumberthings yet to come.
4. The Batch on Sunday Interviews vicbriggs on working with #BenedictCumberbatch and life after Sex with you-know-who.
5. Midnight Snog – the sequel to Sex with you-know-who is finally out.
Enjoy! and thank you for stopping by 🙂
And a big thank you to WordPress.com for inspiring Daily Prompts: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/09/27/daily-prompt-waiting/