So on Thursday I toddled off to The Stamp Centre in the Strand for a signing which Tom was attending.
Apparently it was his final one as his legs are giving him gip. But he has said that before.
I was stood in the queue for roughly an hour and as I like to do in these scenarios started talking to the chaps in front.
They seemed good sorts, perhaps slightly different views on Who than me but there you go. Takes all sorts.
The queue began to wind around the corner of the street and we scoffed at the poor souls who would have hours to wait and then not even be certain of meeting the man.
As we stood a horribly unsettling sight dawned.
On the opposite side of the road we all spotted Tom, staggering along with walking stick in hand.
He was perfectly fine and running on his own steam, but the sight of him almost shuffling along like my grandad, briefly grimacing with a flash of discomfort was solemn food for thought.
He crossed the startlingly busy road, helped by a considerate if rather enormous fan to a round of applause that made him grin the grin that makes life worth living.
And so time passed and the queue began to shuffle forward.
I was excited through out, obviously, and was using my now standard response to nerves which is to behave cooly and nonchalantly whilst my heart goes like the clappers.
I pulled out a book from my coat pocket to pass the time.
Finally we were within spitting distance of the shop.
Much to my relief they were doing what I had read they would be doing which was showing us in to the store in little groups of three or four.
As we stood outside waiting to go in (myself telling a foreign personage as they passed what it was all about) the three of us, myself and the two guys I’d been chatting to, decided how to share cameras to get photos and such with plans to email the snaps after and so forth.
Into the shop!
Another queue. This time you were touched for money to get one of the qualifying items you had to buy for him to sign which allowed you to have something of your own to get signed. £15 for the lovely photos, and £10 for anything extra.
Not that bad really (I suppose)
I wasn’t actually attending for any true personal reasons as I’d met him twice before, under slightly more rushed and unsatisfying circumstances yes, but I had enough Tom scribbles to suit me down to the ground.
I was actually there to get a photo signed for a friend of my mum whose birthday is coming up which I had also made a little Tom brooch to go with it.
The queue moved slowly at this point and fleeting glances of his silver mane were tantalising.
Finally we were but one person away from Baker.
This is when the nerves began to kick in. Slightly.
(FYI, “[Matt Smith] He’s a nice young man” according to Tom, from what I overheard anyway. He also doesn’t fancy a Knighthood. “Now, an Earldom-“)
Then before I knew it I was standing before him, passing forward the photo to get signed.
The first thing he said was remarking on my hair, which he has done in the past. I replied how several year previous he had said I looked like the poet/artist Strindberg, which he reaffirmed adding that he was “as mad as a hatter”
We chatted a little more, casual stuff, no fanboy Who questions which I never like to ask, because frankly I don’t care about that sort of thing. He then leant forward and courteously asked “I don’t mean to pry, but what’s you’re name?” Which I had somehow forgotten to mention.
In my defence the autograph wasn’t for me, so telling him my name would have been a bit pointless. A needless act of social nicety.
Anyway I explained the situ and gave him the name of the intended recipient of the signed snap.
More importantly however I MADE HIM LAUGH on several occasions, seeing his wonderful face line with pleasure and his eyes sparkling with life.
Gosh. Quite a feeling. Intoxicating isn’t the word my friend. It isn’t the word.
My two new friends, who only I’d just met that morning
(A line which got Tom *really* laughing) were snapping away with their cameras and becoming rather shambolic.
I was offered a jelly baby and stepped back to let my colleagues have a crack with their merchandise.
I became camera man and took several rather lovely pictures of them. (If I say so myself)
It all became a comedy routine from herein, the smaller chap dropped his jelly baby in a way that uncannily seemed like he was throwing it at Tom, which Baker found hilarious, saying “Great comedy” in between barking laughs.
He then told us a brief little anecdote about how several years previous he was stopped by some policemen who asked him if he would like a jelly baby, we all laughed, and I (rather cleverly I thought) quipped “They knew who you were then?” which he grinned toothily to.
"Oh yes, they were in the loop alright" he chortled signing a photograph.
And then we made our goodbyes, Tom saying “Thank you chaps” with a thankful laughing grin and left.
That is, we *almost* did.
As I stood at the front of the shop musing about the bizarre experience of meeting a God I had just undertaken whilst the smaller chap lingered at the back taking a few more pics, I felt a bulge in my coat pocket.
A VERY IMPORTANT BULGE.
I suddenly felt a shiver of terror as I pulled out the little blue cardboard box I’d intended to give Tom.
"BUGGER" I said loudly and began to tentatively make my way back up the queue.
I had made this thing specifically for the man, came all this way to hand it over. I was hardly going to sigh “Oh well” and shuffle off home.
But what was the procedure for this kind of mental slip of forgetfulness?
Did I have to buy another photo? Join the back of the queue? What?
By now Tom was talking with a terribly abrupt and tactless man who was getting several things signed, including a big Day of the Doctor poster quipping that “John Hurt was rubbish” seemingly trying to get on Tom’s good side.
He also said he’d be seeing Tom on the weekend at a convention in…erm…somewhere which Tom had no recollection of, saying that it was possible as he’s very busy at these days.
As this guy asked what it was like being in The Day of the Doctor, as many others seemed to have asked (Tom giving his rather standard response of how interesting it was and how boring the BBC are), I politely asked the next chap if I could slip in quickly and hand over my gift.
He was very gracious and let me do so.
I zipped back in as the abrupt man reversed out and handed the box over.
It was strange, it didn’t feel like I was unwelcome or stepping on anyone’s toes, it was like rejoining a conversation after a nip to the bathroom.
It felt like he was pleased to see me…but then most people are (They’re generally not)
Anyway, I drifted briefly into how I’d studied animation for four years and now dabble in sculpting, which he seemed somewhat curious about.
I opened the box (which he seemed to think was the gift itself) and showed him a basic little white sculpted brooch of his visage, the same I’ll be sending to my mum’s friend, only her’s is painted (and not quite as nice. Don’t tell)
He was genuinely impressed with it, saying how it reminded him of Jonathan Miller who he used to be mistaken for, and vice versa and then tried to hand it back.
Almost as if I was some special case who came up to say “Look at what I made”
I stared at his hand for a fraction of a second and cheerfully said “No no, its for you!” and he was tremendously affected by it.
"For me?!" he said "Oh thats terriff!" beaming proudly.
I then added how once I said I was going to this thing my mother insisted I make one for him, which he found very funny and a little touching.
Anyway after we shook hands one more time I got out of his and the next person’s hair, he seemingly saying “Thanks James” as I left. I beamed “Thanks Tom”in response through grinning teeth.
My colleagues and I slipped off to a pub round the corner for a celebratory drink, I gave them both my card so they could get in contact with me after with the pictures, but I stupidly didn’t take their emails in return.
So who knows, they may well forget about me.
I doubt it, but they might.
And honestly? I don’t really care. The photos are immaterial. The contact with those two chaps and Tom himself was priceless and all I wanted.
There was so much more that I find difficult to put into words that happened in the few minutes I had with him, the nuances, the smiles and the glittering eyes, but it was pure Heaven.
There are no nerves when meeting Tom, at least for me. He was someone I felt extraordinarily at peace talking to.
And the feeling of making him laugh genuinely and profoundly buzzed me.
An absolute joy. Pure and simple.
I thought I would be content for this to be the last time I met him but all I want now is to meet him again and talk about stuff and make him laugh some more.
One small consolation is that I also slipped one of my cards into the box I presented the brooch in.
Who knows eh?
We shall see, we shall see.