Focussing my thoughts is proving impossible, this weekend. Like trying to corral cats. They dart across the room, bounce off the walls, whizz past me before I can catch them, hover before my eyes, teasing, then spiral upwards at vertiginous speed. They nose-dive buzzing into my ear as I am trying to sleep. As I open the fridge door, trying to work out what to eat, they snatch any concrete cooking plan I come up with, and slalom out of the kitchen, out of my reach, at supersonic speed. I slam the fridge door shut, all motivation to prepare food gone.
I consider going to the last service of the Legal Year at the Temple Church, this morning. The perfection of the choral singing always quiets my brain chatter. Today, though, I know my thoughts will be swinging off the organ loft, knocking the choristers’ music scores off the pews, and pulling faces at all the barristers.
I remember I have arranged to have coffee with my friend B. at the usual café near St Paul’s. It’s been B.’s role in our fourteen year-old friendship gently to lure the spooked cat my brain often turns into, down from the tree it runs up, with a saucer full of perspective. I grab my writing notepad, the large tome of The Alexandria Quartet, which I am reading at the moment, shove everything into a rucksack, and run out of the house. My attempt to save time by avoiding the – let’s call it leisurely paced – District Line backfires. I end up taking three different Tube lines. I lose patience with commuters who promenade down the long, Underground corridors. Do people have to walk hand in hand all the time, and block the way?
B. wants to try queuing for returns at the Globe, for Macbeth. I pounce on the prospect of some distraction. “Oh, can I come with you?” I say. That is exactly what I need. Some open-air Shakespeare. I can watch the show, while my thoughts go and play with the Weird Sisters and Greymalkin.
I first tried reading Macbeth on a stormy night, when I was about twelve. I had to check every few words in the dictionary. I think I must have managed the first couple of pages before finally going to sleep – but the sense of mystery, magic and thrill of those powerful words has remained with me to this day.
With only half an hour to go before the show starts, chances of returns are small. Still, the sun is shining, so we rush over Millennium Bridge, and join the queue. We strike lucky. Ten minutes before the show starts, two Groundling tickets. That means standing – something I promised myself, several years ago, I would never do again. However, the theatre atmosphere has just sprinkled a sense of fun and adventure on my head, and I’m game to stand for three hours.
I am in no way nationalistic, but I find something very special, mellifluous and bewitching in the voice of a British stage actor. It is limpid and brilliant, like finely cut crystal. The show starts with a blood-stirring beating of drums and a complaint of bagpipes. Scottish music always tugs at something deep inside me. Words, beautiful words fly across the playhouse. Words rich in meaning and sound. Words that caress the ear and are a feast for the mind. Shakespeare. Did he really write all those extraordinary plays? Or was it the School of Night? My speculations are interrupted. There is a little boy standing in front of us. Suddenly, he faints. B. catches him and, supporting his fall, gently lowers him to the ground, as the First Aiders appear out of nowhere. Within a few minutes, the little boy is smiling, his eyes squinting in the sunlight. I remember fainting a couple of times, when I was eighteen.
During the interval, we go and sit on the steps outside the Globe. I start munching my sandwich, when cold drops of water start falling on my neck and shoulders. They quickly grow harder and more frequent. Then, the skies rip open. “Do you want to go back in?” asks B., casually, but I am already sprinting up the steps, ahead of him, to find shelter, swearing at the BBC weather forecast for not mentioning the possibility of rain. The timing, though, is choreographed to perfection. The rain stops exactly at the end of the show interval, and we go back in. I am feeling a little drowsy. Perhaps I have eaten my sandwich too quickly. I suddenly feel tired. The sun pounds at my eyes, and I wonder where I have put my sunglasses, then realise B. has them in his breast pocket. I am not in the habit of getting my friends to carry my things, but I must have got distracted, and he must have picked them up to keep them safe. Lady Macbeth comes in for her madness scene. Suddenly, her voice grows distant, and her face dark and blurred. In fact, the entire stage is suddenly drowning in dark splodges. The sudden realisation that I am about to slide down to the ground brings me just enough presence of mind to make a conscious effort to keep myself upright. No. I am not going to faint. I don’t want to faint. I whisper to B. that I am popping out, somehow float out of the theatre gates, and manage to sit myself on the bench just outside. For a moment, I am afraid I am about to slide off the seat. No. I don’t want to faint. I am not going to faint. After about ten minutes, I am once again feeling solid enough to go back in, and watch the final battle between Macbeth and Macduff. By the time I pick up my thoughts from the Weird Sisters, they are all tired out, and follow after me willy-nilly, dragging their feet, yawning. On the way home, I resort to the undergraduate dinner solution – a take away. No cooking, no washing up. Yippee. As I eat, my eyelids feel increasingly heavy. My thoughts have dozed off, sprawled on the floor, curled up on my table, and lying across my laptop keyboard. I pick them up gently, one by one, and arrange them so they are more comfortable but taking care not to rouse them again. They do not look so intimidating now. With any luck, they will behave, tomorrow. In the meantime, I see the moon rising behind the oak tree outside my window. Time to sleep, she says.