30 January, 2007

the mother of all crushes

Now, I know you will think I am merely crying wolf. After all, you've had to hear about Matthew Macfadyen, and Matt and Bamber. But these are merely, dare I say it, callow obsessions, when set against the massive devotion I feel for... Edward Petherbridge. And I met him last night!

How, you ask? I'm still in total shock over the whole experience. I have to creep carefully here in my rapture over the evening, because I have spent many lovely, even memorable evenings with many of you, including my very own husband. He was, HOWEVER, completely all right with my saying, when I returned home last night, that it was the best evening ever. Calm, calm, as John would say to Avery when she gets rambunctious at bedtime. I'll tell all.

Background: I recently joined the Dorothy L. Sayers Society, a lovely group of people dedicated to discovering things about, preserving the memory (and childhood home of) and praising the accomplishments of, well, yes, Dorothy L. Sayers, creator of among other literary gems the most urbane and sophisticated fictional detective of all time, Lord Peter Wimsey. Such is my devotion that, as you know, I named a cat after him. An odd gesture, you may say, especially when the cat in question is an enormously fat, not especially intelligent one who chews all the fur off the middle of his tail, but it was a gesture nonetheless.

Well, do you know where Sherlock Holmes lived? 220 B Baker Street. So Dorothy decided to domicile Lord Peter at... 110 A Picadilly, which happens to be... the Park Lane Hotel. And as they were celebrating their 80th anniversary yesterday, the Society decided to put together a program to admire the role that Lord Peter's (dare I say it) fictional life had at that location. I know I have lost fully 90 percent of you by now, but those who care, bear with me.

When the newsletter arrived telling me of the celebration, it was but the work of a moment to telephone and reserve a spot. Because guess who would be there? My goodness. And reputed to speak, no less: the chance to hear his magnificent voice was too much to miss. And it turned out that, as well, two greats of detection, H.R.F. Keating and Sheila Mitchell were honored guests and participants as well. And Dame P.D. James! Who would believe, all in one room. I remembered back to an evening in 1990-ish here in London when I went to a book signing by, severally, Lady Antonia Fraser, someone I forget, and then just-plain P.D. James, before she was Baroness of Holland Park. I said to a lady sitting next to me, as the reading began, "I wonder what P.D. James is like, because she's so brilliant on the page, but one never knows..." and then P.D. James was announced, and up stands... the lady sitting next to me. Ooops.

But I digress. I sat outside the room at the Park Lane waiting for the reception to begin, listening to some fool play "Time in a Bottle" on a harp, and then amazingly, there was Edward, right before my eyes. White-haired, elegant, long-fingered just as Lord Peter, tweed waistcoat, I think even a velvet jacket, oh my. I was steady. But I also had my copy of "Gaudy Night" and Avery's best fountain pen, purloined for the purpose, so I bravely approached him, just standing about, and said, "I'm a massive fan, can I possibly be a terrible bore and ask for your autograph?" And, dear readers, he simply reached for the pen, and wrote, most elegantly, "Edward Petherbridge, Park Lane, London, Piccadilly, January 2007." And then I said like a blithering fool, "Even my 10-year-old daughter has had hours of pleasure listening to the books on tape and watching the films, so I thank you," and he asked in his ACTUAL VOICE, "And what is her name?" so I told him, and he added "To Avery" to his inscription, and "All Good Wishes." The floor could have opened up then and there and swallowed me. So I thanked him like an idiot and skulked away to find a seat in the audience where I could not help myself, I know they were cool and collected English people, but I burst out to the lady next to me, "He signed his autograph, I could die." And they were all manifestly kind and sharing in my enthusiasm. I am perhaps some years younger than anyone else there, and the only American, so I think it was like getting to pet an animal in a zoo. Or they are just plain gracious, much more likely. Everyone turned out to be officers of one kind or another of the Society, and were glad to hear of a new member. They pointed out all the luminaries in the audience for me, including two Chelsea Pensioners, and then the manager of the Park Lane spoke about the Lord Peter Wimsey Suite, and how happy he was to have our reception, and then...

Harriet Walter appeared. Fresh from, and about to return to, the stage on "Antony and Cleopatra," she took out two hours to come and speak her parts as "Harriet Vane" to Edward's Wimsey. How many times have I read the books, listened to them on tape (I cannot cook without a book on tape in the background), watched the films. It was magical! What would it be to live a life where you gave that much pleasure and enjoyment and stimulation to lots and lots of people you never laid eyes on. Heaven. They, and Edward's lovely wife Emily Richard, read and acted out excerpts from the first Lord Peter novel, "Whose Body?", poetry, limericks, so wonderful. I have often dreamed of seeing him in a play, and just missed "Donkey's Years" last spring. But why dwell on the past? Hundreds of people, him a mile away on stage, just part of the time? No, I got to be within three yards of him and listen to him speak to just 40 people, that mellifluous voice wafting over us. The wisdom and sensuality of his voice... I can't convey his charisma in words. You should be so lucky, dear readers. Such fun. I imagine all of us in the audience could well quote the lines he spoke, we've read those books so many times. Just a delight. I have heard a rumour that he will be leading a London Walk through the theatre district in the spring, and rest assured I will be there and ready to provide a report for your vicarious splendid enjoyment. Plus, his new book is available, called "Pillar Talk."

And then, as well, the Society sponsor each year an acting scholar and a music scholar, who were at the event and participating in the celebration. The acting scholar did a lovely job with her readings, but the violinist was a huge treat, because she was asked to play the theme song from Schindler's List," in keeping with the sort of wartime focus of the readings, and it was heartbreakingly beautiful. I have done lots of intricate and complex (for me!) technological detective work, and if you click on this link, you will be able to download the song and play it as am MP3 file, whatever that is, right on your computer. Not recorded from last night, but from a cool site for music-sharing that, in my quest to waste as much time as possible on my blog, I have now joined. Just for you! Cue cliche: isn't the internet amazing.

So the evening ended, and I drifted home up Park Lane, gabbing to poor John all the way on the phone (he puts up with so much), and cooked, very mundanely, a quick dinner of herb-rubbed chicken breasts, mashed potatoes and sauteed red peppers, the ultimate half-hour standby, for Avery and Anna, whose mum was home sick and therefore was happy to loan us her child for the evening. But my head was in the clouds. We drove Anna home in Emmy, top down, to Simon and Garfunkel's "feelin groovy", and all was right with the world...


Belanna said...

Happened across you blog through this entry and I am so jealous!!!!! I was smitten with Edward when I saw him play Lord Peter on tv many moons ago and now proudly possess the DVD version, including a spiffing interview with him. You lucky thing!!!!!

Anonymous said...

EP's wife has been a guide for London Walks for ages. Her walks in Hamsptead are not to be missed, especially if you stick close and chitchat with her. She's full of great stories.

An Indiana boy.