Richard Armitage crash: Thursday, August 28th, part 1

Continued from here. Warning: This is really “in my head”-y. If you’re reading this for information about the play, stage door, or Richard Armitage, you should skip down to the cephalopod part — don’t read the first parts — and then wait for the next part, which is almost done and will come tomorrow. This was also the day that the anniversary trauma hit, a day early. I’m having a hard time revising what I wrote, so I apologize for errors and infelicities of speech. From here on out, it will get more emotional and more stream of consciousness, because at some point, my thoughts were really out of control.]


I go to bed on Wednesday night stewing in a weird combination of exhilaration, bemused wonder at the things that have occupied me recently that now seem so trivial, and grief — because I realize I can only see this four more times.

Only. I’m already sad about the last time I’ll see it?

cap020Sleepless in Southwark

[Maybe I should have tried sleeping on the floor. Source:]

But I’m so overwhelmed by the theater that my mind will not stop no matter what I do. This doesn’t happen to me much anymore, but when it does, it’s disturbing because normally I can sleep at the drop of a hat and thus reboot the brain. I feel like my mind is a browser that’s overloaded its allotted memory and so the little cursor icon just keeps spinning and spinning and spinning. The software can’t complete its task because the allotted memory is occupied, and the computer core is so occupied that the system can’t crash the software. The wheel just keeps spinning and spinning; I keep watching certain scenes of the play in my mind, over and over again. The main thing that won’t leave me alone is the end of Act Three — the segment from Proctor’s self-accusation: “My wife is innocent — except she knew a whore when she saw one!” and “Elizabeth — I have confessed it!” and “God damns our kind especially!” Proctor screaming to try to justify himself before the court. I try showering (I’m afraid of water, so this is a potential big system shock); I try masturbating. No dice; I can’t generate enough concentration to sustain arousal. In the very early morning when it’s still dark, I dress and go down to reception and buy some wine from the somewhat surprised hotel clerk. Doesn’t help either. So I lie in bed with my eyes closed. If you can’t sleep, relax the body and drift. Eventually the sun comes up.

2571901054_de2b236831[How they cool the people who use the Tube. To be fair, tourist guides warn novices not to get on it on very hot days. Source: London Underground Blog]

I have to run an errand, so eventually I get up, drink some coffee. My appetite is basically gone, too — this is a combination of the usual 2-3 days of non-appetite that come with a transatlantic flight, plus the lack of sleep which means I can’t talk myself into eating easily, plus the fact that for three afternoons in a row, my stomach has been so nervous in the afternoon that anything I eat just runs through me. I get myself out of the hotel via the argument that the fresh air will be good, but it’s cloyingly humid, and of course the un-climatized underground doesn’t help. Once or twice I walk past a huge fan that lifts my hair of my neck, but the resulting dishevelment is also disorienting. I exit mass transportation at the Piccadilly tube stop.

I summit the stairs and and it hits me, bang. I’m in Piccadilly.

The lack of sleep and the not feeding myself enough and the overwhelmedness slam me immediately, like a kick to the stomach, into a flashback of the last time I was here. With mom and dad. April 2007.

retina_20140228_PiccadillyCircus_0020Flashback in Piccadilly

[Left: Where I exited the tube. Stolen photo. This part got really long. If you’re more interested in that night’s performance of The Crucible, just skip down to the next heading.]

It’s the signs about pickpockets that I glimpse, exiting, that set me off.

Pickpockets, I hear mom say in my head, as in my memories we walk down the street toward Piccadilly Circus, looking for a restaurant, and I tell her to be on the watch. I thought you said if we stayed away from Italy or Spain we didn’t have to worry about them. I see her clutch anxiously at her purse.

Calm down, I said to her, just be alert. It’s not as safe as Berlin, but we’re not in any severe danger. It’s just easy to get distracted by all this spectacle and be taken advantage of, that’s all.

Slam: alienation, nausea. All these people. ALL THESE PEOPLE. Shock. THIS NOISE, THIS NOISE, THIS NOISE.

All these people, she says in my memory, what are they doing here?

It’s an hour before dinner, I say, just like us, everyone is looking for a meal, or theater tickets, or both, before the evening shows in the West End start.


Screen shot 2014-09-15 at 1.20.13 AMPiccadilly Circus, 2007. Source: wikipedia


I’d asked mom whether she wanted to see a show in London when we planned the trip, but she hadn’t wanted to shut dad out.

It was their first “retirement” vacation (although mom hadn’t retired) and as their European historian daughter it was my pleasure to serve them as tour guide. Kind of. They wanted to see as much as possible while they were there, because they were not planning to come back — too many other things in the world to see. I was a postdoc in Berlin and had an apartment that could serve as a pied-à-terre for greater adventures (as opposed to my customary single room lodging). Only Americans travel this way: Berlin-Wittenberg-Berlin-Parisx2-Normandy-Versailles-skipMontStMichelbecausethereisnotime-Cologne-Berlin-Munich-Andechs-Dachau-Garmisch-Partenkirchen-Zugspitze-onegoldplatednightinSchloßElmau-Berlin-townofancestraloriginstotheEastofSczeczinx2-(thankheavensthefamilyleftin1850)-Berlinx2-Wolfsburg/AutoStadt-BremenwheretheServetusescamefrom-Berlinx2-Londonx2-Stonehenge-Salisbury-Londonx2-Berlin-Eisenach-Berlin. TXL and home.

Four languages were required for this journey and I only speak three of them and they, only one. We were all tired by the time we got to London, and while they’d had lots of wonderful experiences they were getting frustrated by not being able to speak for themselves. Poland in particular was rough for us all communicatively. We were tired of being together non-stop. When we got onto the Underground the first time, Mom said, “You have no idea what a relief it is to be able to understand what people are saying.” I thought, Me, too. Now I don’t have to translate every restaurant menu and museum explanation and you can go off by yourselves and leave me at the British Library.

Green_Park,_London,_England[Right: Green Park, London. Source: wikipedia]

Mom had asked where to book the London hotel, and I’d suggested offhandedly that she book the most central hotel they could afford. They’d had credit card miles and time-share weeks to use, and she made a reservation two miles more central than I’d ever have chosen. Right across the street from Green Park, in fact. We could have walked across for tea with our neighbor The Queen, though I never checked to see if she was in residence. London geography meant nothing to mom, and I didn’t twig until we got out of the Underground at Green Park, the first time. Shit, I thought, I bet the rack rate for this hotel is $800 a night. I looked at down at my jeans and t-shirt, and thought, Heads up, troops, stand up straight and walk in like we belong.

The problem wasn’t only the hotel — although my parents were even shellshocked by the posh furnishings and the clipped tones and condescending attitudes of the hotel staff than they had been by the Polish signs and the disrepair in the main Stettin railway station days earlier. As dad kept pointing out to me, the hotel was “free.” It was also that we couldn’t leave the hotel and do anything casual. Everything in the immediate vicinity screamed elegance, and everything a few blocks down screamed tourist trap and neon and lights and too much money and noise and too, too, too much everything, in a way that they hadn’t experienced in Berlin (because it doesn’t exist there) or Paris (because we didn’t go to those parts of town).

It didn’t help that we were experiencing the all-time nadir of dollar-pound exchange, with a U.S. dollar scarcely buying 53p. Their general Europe-generated sticker shock was moving off the charts, and they wouldn’t let me ask the hotel concierge for recommendations for a more affordable restaurant, as they didn’t want us to look poor. They also refused to eat at an American chain, so Pizza Hut and McDonalds in Piccadilly, which would at least have had the virtue of familiarity, were out. So we wandered Piccadilly for something like two hours, getting gradually hungrier and snappier. I offered to pay for our entire meal (we were going Dutch), just so I could eat. My father refused that categorically. If he doesn’t want to pay for their meals, no one else would, either.

“We’ll just wait for breakfast,” mom says, in my memory, and dad nods. “It’s only one meal we’re missing.”

I’m starving, and I think, We’ll go back to the hotel and I will send them up the room and *I* will have a conversation with the concierge about affordable takeaway and I will go find us some, when we run across a Pret à Manger — something I remember from previous trips to England as affordable and fresh.

“Let’s just check this out,” I suggest, and we go in — and miracle of miracles! — they agree this will be acceptable. Whew.

“Prawn and rocket,” she says, when we’re looking in the refrigerator case. “What’s rocket, Serv?”

 Rauke, I think. “Om,” I say, “I’ve never eaten it in the U.S.” Oh yeah. “The American name is arugula.”

“I think I’ve read about that in magazines. Isn’t that a yuppy food?”

I’m near explosion now. “Not sure,” I say.

“Well, I’ve never tried that,” she says. “We’ll have that.”

Dad will hate arugula, I think, but she picks up the same sandwich for them both. Part of the marital agreement is that she feeds him. I get something that doesn’t have prawns.

We buy drinks and they unwrap the sandwiches.

“Rocket tastes like ass,” dad observes, after taking two bites, and puts the sandwich down.

The growl I’ve been suppressing for at least twenty minutes escapes at last.

“Honey,” mom remonstrates with me. “It’s very interesting, dear,” she says to dad. “And there are shrimp in it. You like them.”

I’m silent. I’m too hungry to care what they think of arugula or anything else.

We go back to the hotel.


Screen shot 2014-09-14 at 11.23.55 PMBack in 2014, I shake my head and look around. Noise, people, cheap tickets, Miss Saigon, Aberdeen Steak House, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Rainforest Café, it didn’t bother me then, but it’s too much for me now.

Deep breaths, Serv, I think, Get off the main drag here and run your errand.

I walk into the maze of streets separated from the center of the area, and I feel my breath calming a bit. It goes off without a hitch, and I think, Well, heck, you could probably eat here somewhere. Lots of interesting restaurants. You don’t care that much about price. There’s that place you read about in the Guardian, Brasserie Zedel, it’s right here somewhere, too …

And then I think — your favorite touristy thing to do in London is right here — cream tea at Fortnum and Mason! Darjeeling FTGFOP! And that green Darjeeling!

I’ve never had any significant shame about doing touristy things — so I switch direction slightly.


1fj06i3v_Fortnum[Store front of Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly]

As I walk through the gallery through the store, though, I’m catapulted back to 2007.

It’s a day later, I’ve read four books in the British Library, they were on their own for the morning, and we meet here in the late afternoon for tea. I’m really excited about it — but mom is tense.

“These prices, Serv,” she says, looking around herself uneasily. Dad, too, is silent, sitting stiffly in his chair and looking around uncomfortably. But really, there are lots of tourists here, we are not dressed inappropriately.

“I’ll pay,” mom, I say. “Isn’t this kind of neat. Purveyor to the royal family and all? Like the Queen has this marmalade on her table, or something.”

“No, of course not, honey,” she says. “We’ll pay our part.”

The waitress comes to take our order, and she has to ask us a number of questions, and neither mom nor dad understand what she’s saying. The tension level increases another few levels.

“What did you see today?” I ask, but they don’t seem to feel like talking.

The tea and food come — and I’m hungry again and excited. I love this tea. Mom is tentative, and stops eating quickly, and dad merely looks on, not even touching his food.

The silence is ominous. This was a huge mistake.

What is with you, mom, I think. In Paris you were the one who insisted we try the Moroccan restaurant. Is the price that big of a deal? Is it that dad’s here? Is the atmosphere too stuffy? What is going on?

I never find out. I manage to intercept the check and pay it myself, throwing a longing look at their food emporium as we leave.

“Let’s go back to Pret’s,” dad says. “Least we can get a decent sandwich there.”


640px-Piccadilly[The iconic statue of Piccadilly Circus. I just learned it’s not Eros! Source: wikipedia]

Most of the England leg of the trip was very successful. Mom and dad loved the British Museum, the V&A, the London Eye, the Tower tour, Stonehenge, Salisbury, Hampton Court. They even developed a sort of fascination with figuring out how the Tube works, which they could do without me. But the urban-culinary-price aspect of London remained a sore point all the way through the trip. Every meal was a struggle. Dad didn’t even want to try any of the English beers or ales.

Maybe two years later, mom told me that whenever she saw the statue of Eros on television, she remembered the trip and how interesting it was and especially how full of life Piccadilly Circus was, and how wonderful it was to stay in that fancy hotel.

I said I was glad, and thought, You have really papered that one over beautifully. I wish I could forget how it really was.


Again in 2014, I pause at the entry to Fortnum & Mason — I know already that I’m not going to be able to have cream tea there.

You could just get a package or two of tea, I say to myself. The tea is still good. Don’t let the memory ruin the tea. It’s been years. That green Darjeeling. Best thing you’ve ever tasted.

I think about Zedel and the possibility of a very tref grande choucroute, but my memory has doused the brief appetite flare and I walk toward the Tube entrance.

On the subway, I think, Man, I hate this, I don’t want to remember her this way, she wasn’t like that most of the time, and she loved the trip, and she remembered it in the best light, at least, and what the hell is wrong with me anyway, why can I never forget anything? Why am I doomed to replay these unhappy moments all the time? And why, when a good memory and bad memory collide, does the bad memory always win? Why didn’t I have the memory about the first time I was here and drank that tea?

I fish through my brain for that memory, from a conference trip I made in 1999, and it’s still there. But it doesn’t seem to have as many colors in it anymore, and when I replay the memory, I can’t taste the tea any more.

I guess it would have been pointless to buy it, I think.


Tofu-Wakame-Miso-SoupWhen I exit, then onto a much calmer street. I find a sushi place in Southwark and think — miso soup, simple, salty, nutritious, comforting — and sparkling water. I never ever ate Japanese food with mom. No associations. I have got to eat something, and I can probably get that down, and it won’t go straight through me, because it’s mostly water anyway. Breakfast of champions, the Japanese military conquered the Pacific while eating miso soup for breakfast, right?

I sit down and order. But my body and emotions are so out of synch that my hands are now shaking near uncontrollably. The waitress brings me a bottle of water; I spill half of it on the table when I try to pour it in the glass. She tuts and comes to wipe it up. She brings me the soup. I start to eat it but somehow, after three shaky spoonfuls, I manage to jerk the bowl into my lap. She comes again, wiping the table again and this time offering me napkins.

“May I have some more water?” I ask.

She looks at me suspiciously, but brings it. I open the bottle, and knock the glass onto the floor of the restaurant, where it breaks on the rough cement floor. She looks over at me, brings a broom, and with it the check.

“Time for you to go now, love,” she says, with a gentle touch of ostentatious aggression. “Luve” is more like what she says.

I can’t blame her for the irony in that epithet. She probably thinks I’m entering the first phase of drug withdrawal. I wouldn’t want me as a customer today, either. I leave her a thirty percent tip, exit the restaurant looking like I’ve wet my jeans, and head via alleyways for the hotel.

Anniversary blues? I wonder. Will it always be this way? One suffocatingly unpleasant memory per year? Why can’t I have a good memory?

I get back to the room, strip out of yet another damp outfit, log on and post to maintain the pretense that nothing’s out of the ordinary with Servetus. I’m supposed to be meeting LondonFriend the next day and let her know that my mood is kind of rocky. Understatement of the year, I think. She still wants to meet up.

I lie down and doze a little, get up and dress for the theater again. Before the performance, I pass Pret a Manger on The Cut and buy a sandwich (not prawn and rocket), but still unable to eat, I put it and a bottle of Coke in my bag, hoping I won’t have to toss it later as I did the previous night.

photo-13-300x300me + the cephalopod

I settle in again for the nightly liturgy. My front views of the play are over and now I switch to the side: C8 stalls, stage left, 90 degrees orientation shift from where I sat before, in the front. I will have this seat the next evening, as well. I will now be inches from Proctor’s and Abigail’s final close-quarters confrontation in Act One and literally right across the table from Proctor’s stew-seasoning moment. And that means I should be able to stretch my legs out — or rather, under the table — for all of Act Two.

One seat over from me, a slender woman with beautifully loose hair, who’s wearing elegant costume jewelry, a short, snappy dress, and a big grin on her face, is looking over the stage. I wonder, and then ask: “Here for Richard Armitage?”

“Well, for the play. And for Richard Armitage,” she says. Clearly an American.

We get to talking about how long it took to get here and bad weather flight delays and volcano anxiety and I’m feeling a little more trust for unknown fellow fans after last night’s experiences, so I let go a few details about myself, and she says a few things about herself, and then she says, “And my luggage got lost! In fact, it just came about an hour before I left to come here!”

I laugh. “Oh, yeah,” I say, “I saw that in the Twitter stream! Glad you got it.”

“Do I know you?” she asks.

“You might follow me,” I say cautiously. I don’t remember exactly who tweeted that, just that it was someone I follow. We chat a bit more about the play — turns out we’re both not tremendously in love with the work, but agree it’s classic theater — and she asks me about the seat, and I say I don’t want to spoil any surprises for her but that these are really good seats for seeing a few interesting episodes including the kiss, and that otherwise, she should have no trouble seeing what she wants. I mention that we won’t have a direct glimpse at the topless scene but she should still see plenty. She mentions the frequent use of the term “shallow” in the fandom and we laugh about it and agree we are not ashamed.

As the conversation goes on we query our involvements and whether they are “too much,” but she tells me about how many wonderful friends she’s made, including in England, and it emerges after I slightly insult Robin Hood that Guy of Gisborne was her gateway Armitage — she’s a legacy fan. She admits that she’s an admin on the Armitage Army proboard.

So, I think, also a superfan. No way she doesn’t know Servetus. Wonder what she thinks. It would be really awkward to sit for four hours next to someone who despises Servetus.

She says her name –LadySquid — and I say, “Oh yeah, I definitely recognize that handle. You’re a big name fan.”

“Come on,” she says. “Who are you?”

“I’m notorious,” I laugh, and decide to give it up. “If I tell you, you can’t tell anyone, though. Servetus.”

“Wow!” she says, “You’re famous! This is neat! So great to meet you!”

“Ditto!” I say — and feel embarrassed, but looking at her smile, I smile back and feel a little more of my resentment from the spring falling away. “Shh,” I go on. “Almost no one knows I am here.”

“I read your stuff a lot. Someone will link to your blog from time to time,” she says.

“And you comment,” I say.

The conversation proceeds famously, then. We discuss with frustration the expense of the trip. She’s got another ticket for the next night in a different seat and friends are coming with her. I admit that I will be here again three more times, but ask her not to tell her friends who I am. She asks me for tips on the stage door and I give her my detailed rundown on how best to obtain the desired photo. Eventually someone sits between us but we talk over that person for a while.

A single man sits down on my left.

Then the play starts. I’m more relaxed than I’ve been all day. For making a rough day start to end a whole lot better, many thanks, LadySquid.

Who is, in case you’re curious, much less squidlike than she is ladylike.


to August 28th, part 2.

~ by Servetus on September 15, 2014.

28 Responses to “Richard Armitage crash: Thursday, August 28th, part 1”

  1. “And why, when a good memory and bad memory collide, does the bad memory always win?”

    Oh man, if only we could figure that one out, how much more beautiful would life be!


    • So true. Thanks for sharing.
      Relationships with parents are tricky sometimes – especially as they grow older. Their various…quirks…become more pronounced…as ours do, I guess.
      But why do we so want to be accepted, to please…still?
      I wonder if the change in your mother’s mood/demeanor was a result of something that happened when your parents were alone – and you had no part in it?
      But unfortunately the subsequent disconnection stays with you.
      Please hold on to what your mother said afterwards; that she enjoyed her vacation.


      • Thanks — I know she did because she insisted I mention the trip in her obituary when we wrote it down. Just: a bad day. I wanted to be in control of my emotions and I wasn’t … well, for most of the trip, frankly.


  2. “And why, when a good memory and bad memory collide, does the bad memory always win?” I struggle with this question all of the time. Is it the same for everyone or do some of us have a tendency to go the negative more often than others?

    I’m so sorry you had a rough day Serv. I often find something I’m dreading ends up being worse in anticipation than it does in reality. The first year is tough and spending it in a place you had been together must have made it harder.


    • This is coming in the “backstory” part of these posts, but we’d talked as a family and discussed what to do about this anniversary and agreed that we didn’t want to spend it together or mark it in any way — and I needed to be gone. I don’t know why I’d forgotten I’d been to London the last time with them — suppression, I suppose, or inattention. Thanks for the perspective.


      • I didn’t mean to imply I thought it was intentional. I remember it being a motivator to not be home. I was often surprised by what hit me. Things I expected didn’t always end up as bad as a surprise association. I remember with my dad he always wanted the expressways joined (believe it or not back then they weren’t.) The first time I drove on the connector I burst out sobbing.


        • OMG, I can so totally empathize with that kind of thing. The details that kill you.


        • There’s also this Latin proverb that I should have remembered — literally “you don’t change your soul by running across the sea — only the sky over your head” which is usually translated these days as “wherever you go, there you are.” Should have been paying attention …

          Liked by 1 person

  3. […] from all the gnashing of teeth here. This piece is way less emotional, and is divided into two sections: first, description of […]


  4. […] to August 28th, part one […]


  5. Wie grossartig, dass du LadySquid getroffen hast. Dieser Tag musste ja noch dringend eine Freude für dich bereithalten. Nein, ich glaube nicht an Zufälle. Und wenn wir dann demnächst hoffentlich alle “deRAnged” -angesteckt unterwegs sind ( nein, das ist KEINE Krankheit!), können wir uns sowieso nicht mehr aus dem Weg gehen 🙂


    • Unfortunately, as things stand now, I’ll never really be able to do that. Maybe in a few years.


      • Able to do what? Ansteckertragend auf andere Fans treffend?


        • Meine Fan-Identität, wenn ich irgendwo körperlich anwesend bin, ohne weiteres preisgeben.


          • Das hatte ich mir nach meinem Schnellschusskommentar dann auch schon zusammengereimt. Klar, verständlich. Aber du könntest ja auch unter einem alias-Namen auftreten. Solange keine Bilder von dir kursieren, ist die Anonymität doch weitgehend gewahrt. Und wenn du dich mir in fliessendem deutsch als Rosamunde Constanze Altmeier vorstellst ( nur so zum Beispiel), wie sollte ich dich da mit Servetus in Verbindung bringen? 😉


            • Im Gegensatz zu Richard Armitage, bin ich kein Schauspieler 🙂 Wie mit LadySquid wird es im Gespräch irgendwann merkbar, daß ich tief und lange eingeweiht bin. Mal sehen. Vielleicht wird es langsam besser. Ich war nach dieser Reise optimistischer als früher.


  6. Uff, what a prat that women in the shop! Why do people behave like that honestly? She’s there to help not to judge! yuk! and sorry you were having a rough time. Picadilly is a nightmare on the best of days, too much of everything and no wonder it brings back memories of all sorts. I hope you will be back in London in the future i really do and i’ve a few spots in mind that you may like in the area. As to F&M i think it’s equally liked by locals and tourist, i go there every year for the sale after Xmas to get some goodies 😉 But it’s incredibly expensive, by any standards. But i do hope you come back and there is an opportunity for afternoon tea, still one of the best things about London.
    Anyways quite angry you bumped into that women in the restaurant 😦 instead of being kind and polite and offer to help, why didn’t she offer to pour the water? Sorry that while having so many thoughts to deal with you had to put up with her too 😦

    i’d have loved to have you as an anonymous neighbour in the play! It’s so much nicer and so easier to relax into it if you can exchange a few words when you sit next to each other rather than awkward silence which makes you uncomfortable physically about sitting next to each other and not intruding etc.


    • Dunno, it seemed comprehensible to me. London is not a small town, nor even a place like Berlin with its sort of “neighborhood”/Kiez atmosphere. I’m sure she thought there was something wrong with me and didn’t want to have the problem on her hands.


  7. trying to catch up with all the Crucible related stuff from the last months and again really late but nevertheless I want to say THANK YOU for sharing this with us, even it is sometimes hard or sad!!!


  8. […] in the same place as last night, C8 stalls; LadySquid is seated in the lower circle and I catch her eye and she waves to me. The people seated […]


  9. […] it was a lot of fun and a typical regional moment), two who prefer to remain nameless, Guylty, LadySquid, and Kathy […]


  10. […] There was last summer, which was a struggle (with a lot of unpublished stuff because of the need to chew through the Crucible problem silently and independently of the blog), and the need to try to continue to try to find a way to let go of her. [Promise of a placeholder publication some day.] This post is to some extent provoked by the coincidence of Father’s Day, once again, with dad’s fishing weekend. And then there’s the anniversary, coming up, which I ran away from home for, last year. […]


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