Archbishop on the Tube: It mitre been him

For some time now, I have been complaining that I haven’t bumped into any famous people. When Dick Whittington came to London, it was with the promise that the streets were paved with gold; I was under the impression that they were paved with celebrities. I don’t know why I clung to this idea so. I’m hardly a fawning fan-girl, waiting to scream her head off at any Z-lister that appears; indeed, I’m a chromosome’s leg short of a uterus. I think I just find it odd that people who have previously only been represented to me in pixels and on paper can actually take a full, three-dimensional, human form, presumably with a consciousness and/or a soul.

Well, I have finally broken my duck, in an especially topical way. This morning, I read that Rowan Williams’ successor as Archbishop of Canterbury has been all but confirmed as Bishop of Durham Justin Welby. This evening, I was next to him on the tube. I even gave up the opportunity of a seat for him. (How very Christian of me.)

Or at least… I think it was him. Here is the problem with my ambition to meet famous people: I suck at faces. (Not literally.) I know a lot of people think they are bad at faces but, at the risk of appearing solipsistic or wannabe-non-conformist, I suck worse. I can’t remember them; I can’t describe them; I have trouble recognising even those that I know best. If people change their hair, clothes or weight, I’m completely screwed. I have a terrible fear that I will be the only witness to a horrible crime, relied upon to describe the suspect, and the best I will manage will be: “Black/white, tall/short, dressed/naked.”

Bishop Justin Welby

Bishop Justin Welby

How I remember Bishop Welby

How I remember the features of Bishop Justin Welby

Therefore, I will be completely penitent if Bishop Welby turns out to be one of my many readers and can inform me that in fact he was nowhere near Tottenham Court Road station this evening. However, it’s almost as if the good bishop was going out of his way to ensure that I recognised him.

I first spotted him standing at the end of the carriage, reading a slim, small paperback. I stood near him and my attention was drawn due to his use of a highlighter. One very rarely sees a person who is not a student highlighting a book and, forgive me for saying so, dear bishop, but you did not strike me as a student. I glanced at the book and saw a chapter heading: “The Nature of God.” Perhaps a clergyman, my sharp mind thought, preparing a sermon, or whatever it is that religious people do. Wouldn’t it be interesting if this was that new archbishop guy whose name and face I can’t remember. But that is unlikely, as we are in London, and he was the bishop of a place which is not London.

When my new mate Justin and I reached Warren Street, a number of people left the carriage and I made a move towards a seat, but stopped and gestured that the God man should take it instead. He thanked me and sat down. He packed away his tiny religion book, pulled out the Evening Standard and, as if aware that the penny hadn’t quite dropped in my brain about who he was, started intently reading an editorial about the opinions and history of a certain Bishop Justin Welby. Which he then proceeded to tear out of the paper, fold and place in his bag.

Now I know there is a (slim) possibility that all this behaviour was not specifically aimed at me. I mean, some could even argue that one might expect strangers not to be putting you under surveillance when you read the paper. Pah! Nevertheless, it was around this time that I started thinking that my flippant prior thought might have had some legs. I looked more closely at him, trying to compare his face to the photo I had barely looked at on the BBC News website earlier in the day. I listed the things I possibly maybe remembered a bit. Fifties-ish? Yes. Balding? Yes. Glasses? Yes. A bit jowelly (sorry, Bishop)? Yes.

Unfortunately, I got to my stop and had to get off, which really is a bit of a hindrance to any stalker. I have some practising to do. But once I got in I googled the guy and matched his picture to my rapidly fading memory of his face. I was left relatively convinced. Also my source at the Guardian (i.e. the Guardian website) confirmed that the bishop was in central London, removing most of the remaining doubt from my mind.

I will watch the news intently on Friday, when it is expected that Justin Welby will be announced as the new Archbishop of Canterbury, marvelling at the way that the lump of matter and soul that I encountered on the Northern Line is transmuted back into pixels and words, hoping that this will open the floodgates and I’ll finally get my Dick Whittington pavement. It was nice to meet you, Bishop Welby.

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