I hadn’t thought about that evening in years. But there it was, his name in old-fashioned script on the television screen. It all came back in a rush.
The summer of ’95 I lived in
That summer was the hottest summer on record in 200 years, and our bedsit was a condensed little nugget of heat in an otherwise already sweltering city. We had only one window and one door. We would prop open the door and the window as wide as they would go and swoon on the two twin beds in the skimpiest versions of ‘decent undress’ we could come up with – the decency level was important not just because we were both Southern girls, but also because our sleazy landlord Jean-Pierre had a habit of dropping by unannounced in an attempt to catch us in the indecent state.
In retrospect it seems like our two major pastimes that summer were sweating, and trying unsuccessfully to find a truly super-strength British deodorant stick. Boots the Chemist – while in all other respects one of my favorite chain stores – rather let us down on that score. We imported American deodorant and felt a little better. If only we could have imported it for all the people who sweated next to us on the Tube. The number of strange armpits I have been tucked into at nose-level as we all crammed into the trains and reached up to hold the straps or bars… shudder. Uncounted and unremembered is better.
Cat and I had made a vow that our months in
One of our biggest successes was theatre tickets. With our student IDs and mid-week days off we could score ridiculously cheap tickets to fabulous shows. One night we went to see ‘Coriolanus’ by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican. Neither of us had ever read the play, and all we knew about it was that it was supposed to be Shakespeare’s bloodiest play.
I don’t actually remember the play at all. I remember there being literally buckets of fake blood sloshed all over the stage. I remember battle scenes and impassioned monologues accompanied by sprays and sprinkles of red fake-blood droplets. But mainly what I remember is the actor playing Coriolanus. Unusually for us, Cat and I did not speak during the play. We sat quietly and watched as Toby Stephens, young star of the RSC, stormed and raged all over the stage, at one point so liberally doused with buckets of blood that his once-white shirt had been turned into some sort of clingy tissue. The play ends badly, of course. And messily.
It was late when the show was out. Cat and I had to get back home – the next day was a work day. We caught the Circle Line and rode for 40 minutes before getting back to West Ken.
It was so late we had the train to ourselves. We still hadn’t spoken to each other. About 10 minutes into the trip Cat took a deep breath, almost like she’d been underwater all this time and was only just coming up for air, and said, “Let’s have a moment of silence for the Divine Toby Stephens.” And we did.
We had Moments of Silence for the Divine Toby Stephens all that summer, and on occasion for years after. It’s one of those phrases that has instant time-travel-power. It can send me right back to the summer of ’95, my first year out of college, like a magic spell.
I hadn’t thought about it in years until two weeks ago when I settled in to watch the BBC two-part ‘Jane Eyre’ on PBS. Toby Stephens played Mr. Rochester. He’s aged a little. And Mr. Rochester is not my favorite character. But he still has it. At least for someone smitten more than 12 years ago he does.
Let’s all have a moment of silence, please, for the divine Toby Stephens.