Mission accomplished (edited post)

Official picture for RSC Henry V with Alex Hassell as King Henry.

I love this picture for RSC Henry V’s production, on stage now in London’s Barbican until next January. I’ve liked it since the very first moment I saw it in RSC Twitter account announcing the play. The actor playing Henry V, Alex Hassell, poses in modern clothes, perched in the throne with an easy attitude, powerful but relaxed, something that would’ve been rather difficult to achieve with his stage half armour and sword.

HV RSC Keith Pattison
A pic of the production by Keith Pattison

Many are my sensations when watching this picture: Henry is already king, but nevertheless the crown is an alien object to him.  It is the gold circlet that sits in the throne, not himself; he was not born to rule, and even when his father “came by the crown” he stubbornly refused to accept the notion, preferring Falstaff and the Boar’s Head Inn to the king’s privy council and Westminster.

Although apparently relaxed, his body and muscles are tensed, the hand grasps the throne as it is a bow, ready to jump and disappear from the frame, as Henry will: his reign will be a short one, the lands so hardly won will be lost in a few years.

Alex Hassell appeared very briefly in “Anonymous”*.

Congratulations to the photographer (I am sorry I have not been able to identify the author, should someone know and tell me I’ll edit the post immediately) and the art director: this picture is beautiful, meaningful and makes me want to see the production. Mission accomplished.

*Alex Hassell’s performance in Anonymous was not reduced to a voiceless face beside a proud Shakespeare. He played the leading man in Shakespeare’s company, therefore I have seen him already as Romeo, Hamlet, and, more important, Henry V. Thanks to Linnet for her comment that has finally allowed me to place that face and the voice I saw in RSC promotional videos

Lucas-John and London beauty

lastI was to write another word after “London”, but google would bring quite a few people devoted to some recreational activities that have very little to do with this blog.

I bought the DVD’s of Spooks season 9… Last year. In December 2014, more precisely. The DVDs lingered for months without even opening the plastic wrap; I preferred to watch other things, hear radio dramas and audiobooks, watch the last Hobbit film twice, read a little… Every time I found a good excuse not to see it. I’ve needed about a month to watch it, but finally I did it.

I am glad that Richard Armitage’s career made an incredible quality jump after this, with the exception of something dealing with water, that I have seen… a complete waste of time, never of money (I never consider it when I purchase original dvds, even in that case). As talking of the faults of Spooks season 9 is something quite easy (can we talk about the bullet that kills Maya? The most improbable trajectory in the history of tv and cinema), let’s focus on the positive ones: Richard Armitage’s interpretation (a typical example of what being above the script means) and London, the guest star of the series.

vlcsnap-2015-07-25-20h30m43s227 vlcsnap-2015-07-25-20h31m51s119

Main course


Hopefully in May 3rd 2015 at 2 p.m. I will be in the National Theatre watching the above gentleman, Mr. Ralph Fiennes, as G.B.Shaw’s Jack Tanner, protagonist of Man and Superman.

The leading lady is my very much appreciated Indira Varma (Lucius Vorenus’ wife in Rome) and the co-protagonists are Tim McMullan (Parade’s End – The Hollow Crown) and Elliot Barnes-Worrell.

That will be the main course of my theatre devoted weekend in London. The first one will be most probably Globe Theater’s The Merchant of Venice, as hubby knows the story.

Like Scarlett in front of a tray of sweets

3721657_stdHubby has told me that, even if he will understand one word out of ten (an optimistic guess), he would like to see a theatre play in London and that next year we could spend a weekend there on that purpose.

I feel like Scarlett O’hara in her honeymoon, when she’s trying to hush the hunger she has suffered during the years of the civil war eating everything the waiter brings.

Preparations begin, I’m following now more than twelve different twitter accounts of London theatres. Therefore, next spring I will go back to London to watch a play and to see the the remains of the Roman amphitheatre (in May I arrived there ten minutes after the closure) and other Londinium sites.

The letter

She opened hastily the letterbox, grabbed the letters and hurried up to her flat. It was a hot summer afternoon in Madrid, so she longed for a long cold shower. She left the letters and the keys on the kitchen table, put her purse on a chair and was about to drink a glass of water when something caught her eye. She felt her knees tremble so she sat. Under the credit card envelope there was another one, yellow; she put aside the other letters and took that one in her hands. Her address was written in that neat, masculine calligraphy she knew so well; one of the numbers of her postal code was blurred, someone corrected it with a pen, but the number was wrong, therefore the letter arrived to one of the four corners of the country, before reaching the correct destination. She examined with dismay the stamp and the postmark, somewhere in North Africa, six months ago. She opened with trembling fingers the envelope, she was so nervous that she tore apart an angle of the sheet of paper. The letter was short:

“My dear Penelope, I’m leaving Phaecia and king Alcinous. I have had enough of travelling, I’m coming home. Call me when you read this, I want… I need to see you again.”

She read under the signature a London address, a phone number and an e-mail. She looked for her purse, took her phone and dialled the number; after a few clicks a cold computer voice informed that the number did not exist. She pressed the keys again, same answer. She opened the e-mail application and wrote a few lines to the e-mail address and left the phone on the table, watching it, praying for the incoming mail beep to sound. She breathed deeply and tried to calm herself. She had waited so long for that letter, and particularly for what was written in it, that she thought that somewhere a cruel spirit was laughing at her. For a whole year all his letters had arrived in a reasonable period of time, except that one.

She smirked watching the credit card bill lying beside the yellow envelope, and remembered how she met him.

Daunt Books Library
Daunt Books Library. Marylebone High Street – London

She was in London, visiting a friend; as her friend had work to do she went alone to make some shopping. There was a library in Marylebone High Street she wanted to see, a beautiful Edwardian style shop. After an hour examining the scaffolds and walking up and down the aisles, she finally chose two books, an economic paperback and a beautiful hardback edition of “Sense and Sensibility”. But, when she handed her credit card to the clerk, it was not accepted. She cursed herself for her blind faith in technology, she always carried with her very little pocket money and it was not the first time she found herself in such embarrassing situation.

– “I can pay it for you, if you don’t mind. You will give me the money later” – said a voice behind her. She turned around, the voice belonged to a tall man, smiling at her.

– “No, no, I cannot accept it, you are so kind, but I really can’t” – she replied, blushing deeply. She gave the clerk the money for the paperback and left the shop mumbling “thanks again”. She went out of the shop and turned left, walking briskly. The afternoon was rather cold, she lifted the collar of her coat and, when she was about to cross Paddington Street, she realised that the man of the library was beside her. He smiled again and handled her something he had under his arm, it was the book.

– “Please, accept it, I insist” – he said.

– “I am sorry, I just can’t. I don’t live in London, I will never have the chance to pay it back to you, I cannot accept it”.

– “Can I offer you at least a cup of tea? Unless you have an appointment, or…”

– “No, I don’t have to go anywhere in particular” – replied, regretting her sincerity. Good-looking as that man was, he was a complete stranger. As if he was reading her mind, he held out his hand.

– “My name is John. John Thornton”. She could not avoid a small laugh and a glance of incredulity towards him. – “Yes, that’s the effect my name does to many people. At least to people frequenting libraries. I solemnly swear that it is my real name and that I have no cotton mills in the North.”

She smiled and they shook hands.

 – “Penélope Reverte” – This time it was her turn to explain herself after his puzzled smile. – “I am Spanish. I’m visiting a dear friend, here in London. She is my very best friend since we were fourteen, we went to school together”. She felt quite stupid for feeling the need to make clear that the friend in question was a female, but the moment could not be more awkward than it was already, no matter how many other clumsy things she could say. It started to rain, he pointed to Coco Momo Café, just in front of them. She nodded and they crossed the street.

Coco Momo Cafe - Paddington Street - London
Coco Momo Cafe – Paddington Street – London

They spent an hour in the Café, taking tea and talking. She felt immediately at her ease with John, although she had never felt comfortable talking with attractive men. The few times she did, she always had the sensation of having to pass a test while being studied and judged by the women around. Instead, everything was smooth and easy with him; they had many interests in common and continued talking about books, movies and TV series when they went for a walk to Regent’s Park after the rain had stopped. She lost completely the notion of time until she received a phone call from her friend, saying that she was already at home and that dinner would be ready in an hour. They agreed to take the underground together, as he had also to take the Piccadilly line to go back home.

They entered in silence the lift for the platform, they were alone. Sometimes even in big chaotic cities as London appears every now and then strange islands of loneliness, materialising suddenly from nowhere. The lift moved, and they were silent, for the first moment since they met in the street. He was leaning on the metallic walls of the lift, with his arms crossed, holding his coat, observing her with a queer smile. His eyes, which were blue under the sun light, were now deep grey as the steel around them. He came close to her, saying in a low, deep voice. “So. Here we are…” Suddenly the lift stopped. A bell rung and the doors opened; a noisy group of Spanish students entered the elevator as they left and she could not help but laughing when she heard the appreciative commentary that one of the girls made about John’s ass. They did not talk either when they were waiting for the train. She felt, for the first time, uncomfortable; she was feeling that something was happening between them, she was no longer a young girl, she was even good looking according to what most people said and, that was the moment which, according to all the manuals of courtship spoken or written since Man left the caves, he had to make something, launch a signal, make an approach as a few moments ago in the lift. But he did nothing, or said nothing. He was just standing there, watching her.

When the train arrived they sat together. He took the Jane Austen’s book out of one of his coat’s pocket and put it on her lap.

– “You can’t say no anymore. Please.” – He said watching her, with a plea in his eyes. She put one hand on the book, touching his fingers for a moment, and stared back at him.

– “OK” – she replied – “but… do you want something from me?” – She continued, coquettishly.

– “Oh, yes…” – he whispered in her ear leaning towards her while he was taking something from the inside pocket of his jacket. He showed her a fountain pen, a black Parker riveted in gold; he took from a pocket of his black jeans a small white card, of a restaurant in Soho. – “Write your address”

– “My e-mail address?” – She replied, more radiantly than she wanted to.

– “No, your home address. I want to write you letters”.

She took the pen with a perplexed and a little bit disappointed expression in her face.

– “I’m an old-fashioned guy” – he said winking an eye. – “Hurry up, next stop is ours” – he said. She returned him the card and the pen when the train was braking and they joined the river of people that crowded Piccadilly Circus junction. They walked the corridors and the stairs to the blue line, commenting every now and then the posters of the West End plays. When they took the second train she felt her heart heavy. He would get down four stops afterwards, in Russell Square. They stood together, he was behind her, gripping himself to one horizontal bar while she held a vertical one besides her. He was so tall that had to low his head a little; she could feel the soft touch of his beard caressing her temple. Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Holborn… she watched the names of the stations without reading them, and she closed her eyes. The train moved brusquely and he put a hand on her side.

– “It’s been a pleasure… Penélope” – he said kissing softly her temple before leaving. She opened her eyes and recognised his short and dark chestnut hair in the crowd, moving along the platform. She followed him with her eyes as long as she could, and when she could not see him any longer she realised that she had never felt so lonely in all her life.

Russell Square
Russell Square station

When she sat in the train she took out the book from her purse, skimmeing it through. She found a small piece of paper, one of the Coco Momo Café napkins; something was written in it, with elegant, capital letters: “ONE DAY…” The paper was placed in page 337, chapter 49, when Edward Farriss finally confesses his love to Elinor. “His heart was now open to Elinor, all its weaknesses, all its…” – was the line that Penélope read over the white napkin with John’s writing in it.

The sound of the mail alert of her mobile phone woke her up from her reveries. She pressed the button nervously and when she saw one of the many spam messages she received daily she almost threw away the phone in anger. She touched the recall button but the mechanical voice said, as before, “the number you have dialed does not exist”. She moved her legs nervously, she could not live with that uncertainty, dying every time her phone made a beep. It was Friday evening, she turned on her computer and half an hour later she was printing her plane tickets. She paid a fortune for them, it was mid-August, high season for Spaniards but it didn’t matter. She didn’t even book a hotel; if everything would go as she wished she would have not needed it, if not, she had a business seat with British Airways booked for the last flight of the evening.

That night, awaken in her bed, she remembered his letters. The first one arrived ten days after she returned to Spain. “Dear Penélope, I have just arrived to the land of the Lotus’ Eaters”. John started all his letters referring to the countries he was as one of the many lands that Ulysses visited on his long voyage back to Ithaca. The stamps in the letters changed every now and then: Tunis, Greece, Turkey, Iran, India… She replied to a P.O.Box in London and he received them two or three letters later than she received his. They went along for twelve months with this kind of strange de-synchronized conversation. He told her about the countries he visited, or the objects he bought there. He referred to the hours they spent together in London with tenderness or continued one of the many arguments they left open. He confessed he observed her movements in Daunt Books since she entered the shop and that he queued behind her to talk to her as soon as he could.

But, suddenly, the letters did not arrive anymore. The last one was dated February 20th, exactly a year after they met. After that, silence. She had already made the usual google researches when their correspondence was still on, curious to learn more things about him. But the results were always the same, references to the literary character he shared name with, the actor who played the role in BBC’s adaptation, and, many pages later, men who were definitely too old or too young to be him.

Some hours later, she was in a London black cab, too nervous to distinguish what was she seeing. The city was a blurred colourful movement, until she finally recognised the neo-classical architecture of the British Museum; a few minutes later, the cab stopped in Bedford Square. She paid the fare, cash, she did not go outdoors anymore if not with a good quantity of bank notes in her wallet, not as when she met John.

She stood in front of his door for a few minutes, gathering what remained of her courage and her faith. Observing the old Georgian house, with the main entrance gallantly framed by an arc of brown and white stones, and the downstairs one for the service, she realised how different their worlds were. She was the daughter of a bus driver, her mother worked all her life as a secretary in a small company; she calculated that with the money necessary to clean the windows and polish the brass of that house, her parents would have paid the monthly rent for the small flat in Chamartín where she grew up.

She climbed the stairs, read the name in the plate, “John Thornton”, and rung. She heard the sound of steps approaching, the door opened and she saw his eyes again.

Bedford Square - London

Bedford Square – London

Her smile froze in her face. Indeed the eyes she had in front of her were John’s, as she remembered them. Of a very peculiar shade of blue, like the ice of a mountain lake melting under the rays of the spring sun, but she had in front of her an elderly lady, elegant, rather tall, with her beautiful and white hair combed in a chignon.

“You must be Penélope” – said the woman with a warm, velvet voice. – “Please come in. I’m Helen, John’s mother”.

She opened the door and let her in. She indicated a drawing room in the left side, illuminated by one of the big window glasses which faced the gardens.

–  “Please take a seat. I will prepare you some tea. Earl Grey without sugar nor cream, right?” – She looked back at Helen and muttered – “Yes, thank you.”

The drawing room was not excessively large, but it was very comfortable and elegantly furnished. There were two armchairs near the window with a small table between them; a book was open, with a pair of glasses on it. Probably Helen was sitting there reading when she arrived. There was a big chimney piece in one side of the room, with two silver framed pictures on it. In one of them John, smiling, was kissing his mother. He looked exactly like he was when they met. In the other one a slender John, paler and with longer hair fixed his eyes to the camera, with a serious grave pose, as in a Lorenzo Lotto’s portrait. There were other objects in the chimney piece, she smiled, recognising them; the small bronze dolphin statue John bought in Greece, a tiny Turkish teapot that cost him almost nothing after a five minutes bargaining in a bazaar on the shore of the Black Sea. In the opposite wall, an African tribal mask, a Japanese engraving… As her eyes examined the objects a strange feeling grew within her. Everything was so neatly disposed, so perfectly displayed. The books in the library were perfectly rowed and dusted. She compared that symmetry with the chaotic mess of her own library in Madrid. She moved a little to see the entrance of the house from where she was, she saw a single female mac hanging from the coat stand, surely Helen’s. There was no warmth in that house, everything looked like… a mausoleum.

She sat, defeated, in the opposite armchair, telling herself that it could not be true. But surely it was… that’s why the letters stopped arriving.

Helen entered the room at that moment, carrying a tray with a teapot, a couple of cups and a small dish with some tea cookies in it.

Penélope opened her mouth, unable to speak until she heard her own, hoarse voice saying: “Is he…?”

–  “Dead” – finished Helen putting the tray on the table. – “Yes, he is.”

–  “When?” – replied Penélope, two big tears rolling down her cheeks.

Helen took her time to reply, she poured the tea and lean back in her chair. She started talking, watching outside the window.

“It was the end of March. He had returned to London just two days before. I came here to say hello; he was there, unpacking those objects from several cardboxes, he was very nervous. He had already talked me about you in his letters when he was away, so I understood what he meant when he said:

–   ‘Mom, she has not called, I have no news about her, I hoped to receive a phone call after I sent her the letter telling her  I was coming back home, but she didn’t, no e-mails, nothing. Something has happened’

–  ‘You and your extravagances, John. Why didn’t you give her your phone number from the beginning?

– ‘I didn’t want to pressure her. I was absolutely sure she was the woman for me the first moment I saw her but I knew I would be away for long, I didn’t want her to feel obliged to me. You know I was going to some very dangerous places, I didn’t want her to be my widow before even kissing her’

–  ‘John, she will call, I’m sure. Where did you send your last letter from?’

–  ‘Tripoli’

–  ‘Oh my God, John, it will be a miracle if she would ever receive it!’

–  ‘Indeed. You’re right!’

He left what he had in his hand on the floor and left the room. I heard him going upstairs, moving hurriedly in his room. After less than five minutes he was back again, with a small backpack, his black leather jacket on and a helmet in his hand.

–  ‘Where are you going?’

–  ‘Heathrow. There will be some plane leaving today for Madrid, I guess.’

–  ‘John, are you sure of what you are doing?’

–  ‘I’d cross an ocean for her, mum. Kiss me luck. I will call you when I arrive.’

We kissed and he left. I heard him turning on his motorbike then he went. He was like that, he made everything by instinct and everything usually turned well. I used to call him ‘my lucky charm’. My phone rang two hours later, it was the police. He lost control of the bike when he entered the highway to the airport, it slipped but at the same moment he fell a big truck arrived. He died instantly. The police told me that he didn’t even have time to realise what had happened.”

Helen stopped talking as she took the cup of tea between her hands. Penélope looked at her, unable to utter a word. A thousand ideas crossed her mind but one single notion bumped into her head; her tea remained in the table, untouched.

– “You knew about me, about us… Why didn’t you try to contact me?” – She asked, with a quivering voice.

“I guess it was some kind of revenge, dear Penélope. He was constantly in danger, for so many years. He worked for the Government, but, as you can see” – Helen said moving her hand as indicating the house – “he didn’t need tax-payers money to live, but he was like that. He wasn’t completely honest with you; he had indeed cotton mills, but not in Europe, in India. Among other things, companies, corporations. He left his…- she hesitated here for a moment – late  father’s assistant to take care of everything. He joined the army when he finished  college, then the last five years he worked for MI5. The day you met him he was about to leave, for another year of service abroad, the last one. Then it would be over. I had spent fifteen years dreading a phone call and when it arrived it was due to a stupid motorbike accident. Because of you.”

Helen’s voice broke while she spoke, staring at Penélope. But, contrary to what she would have expected hearing her discourse, there was no hatred in her look, but a kind of resignation. Indeed after a few moments she continued to talk, with the same caressing tone she was using before Penélope asked her why.

“Therefore, the only thing I was able to do those first two months was to try to hate you. I gave instructions to the mobile phone company to cancel John’s number, I did the same with the P.O.Box in case you should write again, and I moved here. I have a small apartment in the basement, and have devoted my days to prepare the house for this moment. Because I knew that you would come, someday. I realised, alone, in this house, where we all were happy once, that maybe there was a reason for all the pain I was suffering. Maybe God, if He exists, designed everything before hand for a reason we don’t know yet. But, I am sure of one thing, my dear. Should John be still with us, you would have been very happy together. You can go upstairs if you want to see John’s room.”

Penélope got up from the armchair and approached Helen, kissing her gently in the cheek. She went upstairs. When she entered the big bedroom she felt strangely in peace. There was a big mahogany closet; she opened two doors and caressed the sleeves of the jackets and the shirts. She recognised the coat he was wearing when they met; she took it down and wore it. She closed her eyes, remembering that afternoon, tucking herself in the big and warm fabric. She sat on the bed and saw in the bedside table her letters, meticulously piled, with his fountain pen in top of them. She took the pen and grasped it; when she was hanging his coat back in the closet she heard voices and the noise of steps in the stairs. As she closed the doors she saw something reflected in the mirror inside the shutter that made her scream. John. Not the one she knew but the other slender and more fragile copy of him portrayed in a silver framed picture on the chimney piece.

–  “Thomas!” – She could hear Helen coming up the stairs – “What are you doing? Do you want the poor girl to have a heart attack?”

Penélope stared at the man, he was indeed the exact copy of John, although different. Whereas John had the body and the look of an athlete, he had the aspect of an accountant; his hair was longer but perfectly cut, he was shaved, thinner, as tall as John but less bulky. He wore eye glasses, those lenses that changed colour under the sunlight. They were fading now, revealing the eyes, of a very peculiar shade of blue, like ice melting in a mountain lake.

– “I’m Thomas, Thomas Thornton” – he said, holding out his hand.

Helen entered the room that very moment.

– “I’m so sorry, Penélope. I was about to explain you that John left everything in the hands of his brother, his twin brother. But I didn’t know that Thomas was coming today, and I had not the courage to tell you.” – said the woman, with an apologetic glance in her eyes.

Penélope realised that she had not said more than a few words since she entered that house.

“I guess the best thing we can do now is going downstairs and finish our tea. Maybe, if Thomas could join us…” – he smiled at her. She felt a sudden pang of pain, somewhere inside her. When Thomas smiled, all the differences she noticed when comparing him to her memories of John disappeared.

They talked for several hours in the drawing room. Helen told stories of the times when “her boys” were little kids and Penélope talked about Spain and her childhood; they had lunch together and Thomas offered himself to drive Penélope back to the airport. When she said goodbye to Helen they embraced.

– “I am sorry, Penélope. Please, forgive me. I’ve made everything worst. I sincerely hope to see you again, my dear”.

Twenty minutes later, Thomas was driving, in silence; he had not said a word since they left Bedford Square.

– “What time is the boarding of your flight?”

– “Oh, quite late, ten p.m.”

– “It’s still five, there’s a beautiful weather, the sun shines. Let’s go for a walk to the riverside, what do you think? I bet you did not see a sun like this the last time you were in London” – he suddenly changed expression and knocked the steering wheel with his right hand – “Tom, you’re a bigmouth!” – he told himself in a loud voice – “I’m sorry, I had not realised that the last time you were here…”

– “Don’t worry, it’s fine” – replied Penélope – “Indeed the weather was terrible, I just saw the sun when I was with your brother in Regent’s Park”.

Both remained silent for a while. In the meantime they had arrived to Victoria Embankment and he parked his Smart. When he turned the engine off Penélope said.

– “Is it true what they say about twin brothers?” – he looked back at her. She could not read his eyes hidden behind a dark pair of sunglasses that gave him a hawkish aspect. – “You have cared about my feelings but it was me who should had asked you how you feel”.

He took his sunglasses off and smiled shyly. This time he held his tongue in time, when he was about to say that he was starting to understand what John saw in her.

He said instead “we will have time to talk about that, but now, let’s get out of this sardines’ can!”- They got out of the car, and walked Waterloo Bridge to the other side of the river, strolling slowly under the shadows of the trees near the National Theatre. They stopped, and faced the Thames, leaning their arms on the rail.

– “I feel like there’s something missing in me since he’s gone” – he said suddenly. – “I spend sometimes the whole day in the office, as the Company is the place which reminds me less of John. I guess my secretary hates me cordially” – he ended, smiling.

– “You should smile more, Tom. We all should”. – replied Penélope, holding his hand.

She landed at Barajas very late that night, or rather, early in the morning. She switched her mobile phone on, and after a couple of minutes, it started to beep and buzz. She thought that after almost twenty-four hours without data coverage she should have at least a dozen spams in her inbox. When she finally checked her mail she was in the taxi and the radio started to play her favourite song of Chambao, the new 2013 re-mix of “Ahí estás tú”. There were just three spams and seven e-mails from Tom. She had given him her card when he left her in the airport. Six of them consisted just in a smiling emoticon, the seventh one said: “I hope you had a safe flight back. Excuse me for spamming your inbox, but someone told me today that I had to smile more 😉 ”. She smiled when closing her phone and started to sing the song of the radio.

De esa pregunta que te haces sin responder / Dentro de tí está la respuesta para saber / Tú eres el que decide el camino a escoger / Hay muchas cosas buenas y malas, elige bien / Que tu futuro se forma a base de decisiones / Y queremos alegrarte con nuestras canciones

Ahí estás tú

(Inside you there is the answer to your unanswered question / You are the one to choose your path / There are many things around you, good and bad, choose well / Because your future is made on decisions / And we want to cheer you up with our songs

There you are)

The End… or the Beginning?

Many thanks to my friend Sissi for editing the text, to Veronica for being the beta-tester and Alana for her warm comments. Pictures from my trip to London. Short story inspired by the city of London and by a beautiful man with a beautiful calligraphy, who still reads paper letters.

Dedicated to the one who supports (and bears) me.

All I need in winter is a hot mug of tea and a John Standring

My favourite mug
My favourite mug

As I was realising that I was risking a Lucas North overdose I decided this week to change subject of study in my PhD on RA and mix Lucas with one of the “Johns”. I don’t think that I will be very original with my post, as I assume that this character have been talked, debated and analised so much that what you will read in these lines can’t be considered a novelty (exception made of the autobiographical note at the end of the post on the story of my favourite mug).

Which would be the result of mixing a Lucas North with a John Standring? Maybe a Richard Armitage? I don’t know but, what I am sure is that John S. is another candidate for the podium of preferred chaRActers. I guess that this podium, when I finish my studies in the object of our admiRAtion, will be quite crowded if I go on like this. But… is it possible to resist to John Stranding? No way.

RA TV works watching list
RA TV works watching list

John is completely different to any of Richard’s tv characters that I have seen so far (check the enclosed list); he is the common hero, the good everyday man, the quiet man. He can be considered an ordinary chap, the meek gutless guy, but he is the rough diamond of the story and the bravest of them all. In the triangle formed with Carol and Andrew, he is the only one that doesn’t move elsewhere, but stays, solid like the hills, patient as the landscape. His first heroic gesture is not to leave Carol’s father alone, although he has been fired and has a work elsewhere. The way Richard performs this role is absolutely outstanding; I have used an expression to define his countenance in the scene in which Carol refuses his Christmas’ present: “majestically unmajestical”.

the "majestically unmajestical pose"
the “majestically unmajestical pose”

John can be shy or clumsy, but the main trait of his character is his dignity. Richard transmits this, even when his head is almost buried in his shoulders, when he is not capable even to raise his eyes to talk with Carol, when he blushes and stammers. Richard has been able to summarise John Standring’s character with a single gesture, that awkward and clumsy way of holding Carol’s hands. I wonder if that gripping came in a natural way during shooting or if it was deliberately studied before; I will add it to the list “million-things-to-ask-RA-if-I-had-him-for-myself-a-whole-afternoon”.


The character of John, during the three chapters, experiences a transformation that goes beyond a simple haircut; nevertheless, we see during the very first apparition of John an advance of how the “new John” will be. When he is bandaging Carol’s burned hand he has for a moment the same fierce expression he will have almost at the end of the series, when Andrew’s father calls asking where his son is. His sixth sense alerts him that Andrew Lawton is a menace for Carol and the sight of her blistered hand awakes his instinct to protect her.

Lawton's alarm on
John Standring’s face when the Lawton’s alarm is on

Therefore, the thing to do if I want to warm my heart in cold winter nights is to switch my laptop on, fill my favourite mug with hot tea (Earl Grey, without sugar nor cream), put my flowerly blanket on my knees and sigh watching John Standring.

Ingredients necessary to warm your heart in a cold winter afternoon
Ingredients necessary to warm your heart in a cold winter afternoon


The mug

The other protagonist of this post is my favourite mug. I bought it in London, in a tiny gift shop inside Covent Garden. It was 1998, the year Richard was graduating from LAMDA. I took this picture that afternoon, it was on Saturday and, as you may see, those were the days before low-cost flights. When I returned there last May there was such a crowd in Covent Garden that, seen from St. Paul’s Church portico, it seemed an ant hill.

Covent Garden - London - 1998
Covent Garden – London – 1998

Sixteen years have passed since I took these pictures and, as usually happens when reflecting about my life (I forgot to add the tag “me, myself & I” to this post, I will do it right now), I often wonder if I have lived it well. Few things have changed in it since I was with my very best friend taking a drink in the Embankment; I work in the same place, I have married the man I started to date precisely two days before that trip, I’ve lost a father, I’ve moved twice. Definitively a more ordinary life than that of the young man that graduated from Arts School that year and who maybe was drinking a beer a glass of wine in Covent Garden while I was buying a mug.

Me in 1998. Note: I was 28 and this pic is photoshopped, any similarities with my actual me are merely accidental,
Me in 1998. Note: I was 28 and this pic is photoshopped, any similarities with my actual me are merely accidental,

But what says your husband?


I don’t know how many of you have heard this sentence when someone passes by your computer and comment your wallpaper. I’ve heard it, several times, and this morning about the above. And, everytime I hear it, it gets on my nerves.

I am an admirer of beauty and arts. In my pc at work, before Mr. Armitage, I have had for about six months a picture of the Roman Forum, before that a painting of Caravaggio, and a Bernini sculpture, just to talk of the last ones. But for certain people those images do not sow a kind of doubt about my capacity of marital fidelity. And I wonder… what’s the difference? Which is the Pavlovian reflex that provokes my “living man wallpaper” in them? Chances of ever touching Richard Armitage are unfortunately even more remote than those of touching this sculpture of Antinous.

Antinous as God Bacchus - Vatican Museum
Antinous as God Bacchus – Vatican Museum

I would be able to steal a caress to the marble when the watchman in the Museum is distracted, but my absolute and complete shiness will ever prevent me to be consciously near Richard Armitage. You will never find me in a red carpet or waiting for him outside the stage door (without considering the fact that there is a considerable distance between my door and his nearest stage one).

Distance between doors
Distance between doors

But, nevertheless nor Antinous, Botticelli or Caravaggio have ever inspired conversations like this:

She.- Oh! But who is this gorgeous bearded man?
Me.- An actor, Richard Armitage.
She.- Oh, you always find this kind of beautiful men. He is really handsome indeed! I guess you just have the chance to watch this beauty here at work, you probably won’t have this picture in your computer at home, where your husband might see it.
Me.- Well, I have the same wallpaper in my laptop at home.
She.- And your husband has never said anything about it?
Me.- Should he?

I guess that the heart of the matter lies in the fact that I admire the beauty (but what I like the most in Richard Armitage are his brains = acting skills/intelligence/etc/etc/etc) of a living man, made of flesh and bones, and that this admiration implies looking down the one I share my life with. A reasoning that I find five times more absurd than the distance between the door of my office and that of the Old Vic Theatre.

Old Vic Theatre
Old Vic Theatre. Picture taken during my trip to London last May.

If you are curious to know what my husband says about my new wallpaper the answer is: nothing. Every now and then he makes sarcastic comments about the haircut of a certain actor (he has not found yet a-terrible-physical-defect in Richard to criticise) or refer to a certain character with the sentence “yes, it was played by one of those actors you like” but he has never reproached me over it. Also because it is not something quite advisable to do when he is not the one who scans and cleans the computer we share: should he say something, my gun is full of bullets.