I fill my cup with as large a measure of amusement as the world can provide, fond as I am of a good chuckle. Every now and then, the WordPress search engine will provide just the right dose.
There is a lady out there, so desirous of meeting the elusive Batch, that she decided to take things into her own hands and seek him out at all Englishmen’s favourite watering hole: the pub. I can’t help but admire her tenacity and feel a little guilty in her supposed disappointment when Google thought it would be a lark to send her to my blog instead. Try typing “Which pub does Benedict Cumberbatch drink in” into the search engine and you’ll see what I mean.
Benedict may very well have patronised Soho’s “the Lab” in the past. I wouldn’t know. Perhaps our lady will be lucky to synchronise her visit with Hollywood’s darling. After all, stranger things have happened.
Having had my laugh for the day, I am rather in the mood for a good deed. So what do you say, dear readers. Shall we help this vixen find her crush?
If you are reading this, then you have not yet given up on discovering Benedict’s favourite pub. I’m afraid I can’t help you with specifics, although if you happen to be in London, you could always give pub crawling in Hampstead a try. I hear they have some delightful ales and a predilection for auburn-haired clientele 😉 . I would recommend half-measures if you plan on doing the job thoroughly or else I will be accused of encouraging irresponsible drinking.
Best of luck with the hunt!
It is not often that anyone gives you the opportunity to decide where you’d like to be held captive. But if it could be any place at all, the National Theatre would be my prison of choice.
Think only of what fellow inmates would keep me company!
Designed by Sir Denys Lasdun, the National Theatre building stands next to Waterloo Bridge on the South Bank of the Thames.
During the day the building’s facade is rather severe, as is the case with much of ’60s architecture. But at night… well, you can see for yourself.
“I wish you were dead.”
“Well at least then I’d be rid of you!”
The first thing that struck Peter on his return to London was the weather. It was much better than he remembered it to be. Perhaps the weather was always this good and I was too busy or too depressed to notice. The cool air was invigorating and the sunny autumn afternoons calmed his overstretched nerves and poured a new thirst for life in his veins.
Consequently he spent his first weekend back in London breathing in the sanguine mood of the city, visiting art galleries and museums, walking through parks, lunching in beer gardens and engaging in his favourite pastime: people watching.
His second favourite activity was making lists.
Monday: Early breakfast at hotel.
Get morning paper. Half an hour to return phone calls, answer e-mails and finalise schedule for the rest of the week.
Tuesday: Attend induction meeting for lecturing post at UCL.
Wednesday: Give paper at political theory conference hosted by the college.
Friday: Master-class on Marx. Last details still to be ironed out.
All in all it was going to be a very busy week.
He arranged to meet a former colleague for a coffee at eleven o’clock; and because it was such a beautiful day and the air so refreshing he decided to avoid the confines of public transport and walk to the cafe instead.
The company was pleasant, the conversation engaging and the coffee very poor. Accordingly, the meeting was deemed a success. Coffee became lunch.
After lunch however Peter had the rest of the day to himself. He checked his list. There was nothing particular planned for the afternoon. He decided to take another walk.
This time he directed his step to the underground and navigated his way to Hampstead Heath.
He made his way around the park at brisk pace, digging his heels into the softened earth, as if the weight of his feet against the muddy paths could somehow ground him. Every now and then he stopped to admire the views and breathe in the earthy scent of freshly mowed grass and decaying leaves.
At times an unexplained feeling of exhilaration would grip his breast until he wished for nothing more than to jump up and down like a madman and scream at the top of his lungs. What has come over me? There is something afoot. It must be the air or the sun. Perhaps I am getting too much of both.
Peter did feel as if he had overdosed on liquid sunshine or that a bout of viral happiness had got him unexpectedly. He felt a little lightheaded too. Checked his watch and realised that he had roamed for three full hours. Was at a loss to explain where the time went.
A sudden thirst came over him and he headed towards the gates of the park and then to a nearby old pub. This would be just the thing to end the day on: a cool pint of Guinness under the shade of leafy trees in the garden of one of the oldest pubs in London.
Cynthia woke up very early on Monday morning sweating profusely. She felt disconcerted, shaken even: a nightmare. It was a recurring one.
She was adrift at sea on a small boat. The waters were a dark blue and had the consistency of gelatinised ink. The air was denser still and this made it very difficult to breathe. The light was very poor. This liquid universe appeared to have succumbed to a continuous dusk. There was no land in view and days disintegrated into nights without any change of scenery. After an eternity of nautical travel the boat reached a wall of a very strange constitution. It had no sharp edges and it felt soft and sticky to the touch. Somehow Cynthia knew instantly upon inspecting it that it was not a wall, but rather it was flesh, the innards of a giant fish.
How she could know this was another mystery entirely, but this realisation came with an immediate sense of purpose. She had to cut the fish open in order to escape. As soon as she thought this, a hefty knife materialised in her hands. She dug its jagged edge into the fleshy tissue, digging deeper and deeper, panting and sweating, determined to make her way out of this grotesque organism. At long last, after a super-human effort she broke free. The wounded fish dived deep into the murky waters at some distance from her boat. She watched for a while the patch of sea into which the monster had disappeared and then set sail once again.
At times she thought she could distinguish the contours of an island against the gloomy line of the horizon. These visions kept her hope alive. She thought it was only a matter of time before she would reach civilisation, but then the story repeated itself. Once again she would be cutting flesh. Once again she would break free; once again she would find herself confined to the bowels of a giant fish.
What could all this mean? She got out of bed, threw on an old baggy robe and headed for the kitchen. She lived in a small ground floor flat in North London. It wasn’t much, but it had a beautiful fireplace in the living-room and a perfectly formed (if miniature) garden where she liked to take her morning coffee and did so in all weathers.
She had furnished the rooms lovingly with old, comfortable pieces of furniture. Soft rugs, bought on impulse on holidays abroad, or discovered on some stall in Camden market, showcased the original floors. A few original paintings by little known local artists adorned the walls that had escaped the colonising inroads of her books. Of these she had a considerable and very eclectic collection.
The water boiled. The coffee made. The mug in her firm grip and the packet of cigarettes secure in the pocket of her shaggy robe, Cynthia opened the French doors and stepped out into the garden.
After an unpromising start, the day turned out rather well. By noon, Cynthia finished the final version of her article critiquing the coalition governments’ new education policy, had a meeting with the editor to discuss the next assignment over lunch, spent most of the afternoon researching and drafting the article for the following issue and set up an interview with a top government official for the following morning.
By the end of the day she was exhausted, but had completely forgotten everything about the bizarre dream that had unsettled her sleep during the previous night. She decided to reward herself for the successful completion of a demanding working day by taking a detour on the way home to dine at the Spaniards Inn.
A smile etched in the corner of his mouth as Peter entered the pub. It wasn’t as busy as he had expected, but then it was only a Monday afternoon. He ordered a pint of Guinness and asked for a menu. The long walk had taken its toll and he was famished.
A few minutes later, cold pint in hand, he exited through the back door into the beer garden. It had been years since he had last had a drink here, but the place felt somehow frozen in time.
He navigated his way around a few tables towards his favourite spot. As he got nearer he noticed that it was already occupied. A young woman, not yet in her forties was enjoying the evening air and a glass of Chardonnay.
He stopped in his tracks, standing unnaturally still for a moment, struck. With some determination he continued his way towards the table. As he approached, the young woman looked up from her book and in that instant their eyes met.
At first she looked baffled. It took her another split of a second to come to the same realisation to which the man advancing unwaveringly towards her had come to moments before. She observed him as he drew nearer and at last he stood erect, in his full height, which was considerable, before her.
“Hello, Cynthia,” said Peter now smiling broadly, “Fancy meeting you here! May I join you?”
“For a moment there I thought I was hallucinating,” Cynthia indicated the seat across from her.
“Flesh and bones, grey hair and all,” Peter catalogued the subtle changes that familiar face underwent in the ten years since he had seen it last. She was thinner now, slight shadows framed her almost-oriental eyes. Her hair was tamer than he remembered it, but otherwise she was the same Cynthia. No doubt about that. He would have known that stubborn chin anywhere.
Cynthia was similarly occupied. He had aged well. One could not have guessed him to be in his forties. Faded jeans, retro t-shirt and trendy Converse trainers contributed to this youthful image. His eyes still had that playful hazel glint, and besides a wrinkle or two, his appearance was unaltered.
He blinked. She tried to smile.
“When did you get back?’ she asked.
“I would have called, but…”
She didn’t say anything.
“I do not have a UK number yet. I was going to sort that out at some point this week,” Peter added weakly.
She continued in silence.
“I’m back for good,” he said, paused, then added, “certainly for a while.” When Cynthia did not engage once again, he felt compelled to continue: “I’ve accepted a post at UCL, so…” he shrugged. “How about you? Still a writer of fiction?”
“That was a stupid dream. One of many I cherished back then.” Her tone was bitter. She couldn’t help it. She tried to make light of it: “Full-time journalist now. Still writing fiction: British politics.”
Their food arrived and for a few minutes they ate in silence. It was vaguely surreal and concurrently natural that they would be sitting here, in an old pub in Hampstead Heath, sharing a lot of dinner and a little conversation after a decade apart.
Peter wished they could pick up where they left their friendship ten years before.
Cynthia knew it to be impossible.
I was standing next to her motionless body, my hands soaked in her blood.
The apartment, succumbed into darkness, was in complete disarray. I sat there for a long time, my legs criss-crossed under my body in the Hindu fashion, just looking into her open eyes, all semblance of light long gone from their regard.
I smiled. It felt good to be free of her at last.
She had been my poison of choice for the last two years, and it was all over in a matter of minutes. How had it come to this?
Where did things go so wrong that only death could resolve it? Death… the times that we had discussed it over coffee and cigarettes were countless. Death, she had told me, unshackles you from all things mortal. It is the ultimate adventure. Death is freedom.
Well. She was free at last then, and so was I.
I took her hand in mine and caressed it gently.
“I will miss you, Celia,” I whispered, kissing her lifeless fingers.
She called herself Parvati this last year or so, the unknowable but enlivening feminine force in Hindu mythology. I refused to acknowledge her under that name. Unknowable – yes – one never really knew Celia. I joked that Naylor’s Indrani was a better fit for her: the goddess of wrath, as beautiful as she was wicked. She did not take kindly to my assertion.
There was a time when I believed her to embody all that was pure and good in the world, but she proved me wrong. She was the most powerful woman I’d ever met, possessed of an animalistic sexuality and evil genius. She infused my world with her magic…
She was my full moon.
I gave her so much of myself, that I got to a point where I could not imagine myself apart from her. I loved her so much, so desperately and deeply that it almost hurt to think it. She crushed my heart, she swept her feet on my soul and left me crumbled: a shadow of the girl that I once was. She destroyed all my relationships one by one, until she was the only thing in the world I had left, and yet… I loved her, been devoted to her. She betrayed me again and again, until I could no longer find excuses for her behaviour, until I ran out of reasons to believe her lies.
I took her petite body in my arms and carried it into the bathroom. I set her smoothly in the tub and got the water running. I took her clothes off one by one and washed her wound carefully, until only an open scar remained, but no stain of blood. She looked so innocent, laying there inert and peaceful. Her hazel eyes were still open, an empty stare fixed upon my face.
“There is no point in berating me, Celia, I will make this journey all alone” I scolded her gently, passing my fingers over her pupils and closing her eyes: “You have a journey of your own to take… Satan has long been awaiting his bride…” I sniggered.
I took all her jewels off, her medallion, bracelets and rings and put them in the little wooden box: a present she gave me in parting. She had made this so easy.
She made her goodbyes in the last few weeks, and insisted that she would not be contacting anyone whilst in India. India was her Mecca, the root and ending of her hypocrisy.
Celia was not a religion; Celia was a way of life
A life of sin and depravity masquerading as virtue and wholeness.
She was other-worldly, she insisted. This world was too lowly, too human for her. Money, things, property of any kind was a burden she did not want to bare. She was concerned with higher spheres. I laughed at my naiveté. I wanted so desperately to believe that someone like her could exist, that I bought into all that bullshit. If only I knew then what I now discerned, so much of this could have been avoided.
I was a child and she abused my trust and my friendship. As my world crushed around me, reduced to rubble, she announced that she would finally leave for India. It was a journey she had to undertake alone, to find her calling, to cleanse her soul. As if the waters of the Ganges could ever purify her putrid mind and body! The sacred river had been spared. The Thames would have to do.
I washed my hands slowly under the jet of water, one and then the other, watching my reflection. I had aged a lot in the past few months. Not outwardly perhaps, but certainly I felt much older than my years. I hardly recognised the face looking back at me in the mirror.
I took the scissors from the draw under the sink and slowly cut my hair. I loved it – my long blonde curls, but if I was to get out of the country safely I needed to alter my appearance. I watched the locks drop on the floor around me one by one, until it just about touched my shoulders. I did not realise how heavy hair really was. It felt as if a stone had lifted off my shoulders.
I turned towards Celia with a smile: “Believable, do you think?” I asked and then shook my head slowly: “Something is missing… The colour, don’t you think?” Her body stood still, irresponsive, small drops of water tricking down her thighs. “You are right, Celia, the colour is all wrong. Lucky: I have your provision. How do you think I will look like as a brunette? Dashing! I’m sure you agree.” A manic laughter escaped me.
I still needed her approval even now.
I put on the gloves with minutiae attention to every motion under execution. I put the paste onto my scull, combing it in carefully, all the while regarding my reflection. The full moon watched accusing from beyond the window.
You have been seen. You will be caught.
Twenty minutes later it was done. It looked well. No one would have been able to tell the difference between Celia’s and my hair now. The next hurdles were my eyes and complexion. We were roughly the same height, and our features were not dissimilar. I could pull it off easily enough.
There was a lot to do before I would leave the following day: a body to drown, an apartment to sterilise, a bag to pack, and a new identity to take over. I will leave this city and its darkness behind me forever. She wanted to abandon me and my world, but now it was I who will leave both behind. I will have her forever. I will not be with her, but become her.
“Celia is dead. Long live Celia.”
I was the full moon.