7 September 2013, Bastide St Mathieu, France
Question ... Oh, that's loud ... If I were to ask each of you to come up with a word that sums up your life, your hopes, your expectations you might pick one of the following: happiness, friendship, laughter, but there is a life-long journey, a quest, a search for two little words. Two simple little words, the success or failure of which will sum up much of your life, your story, and those two words are true love. True love.
For girls, the journey starts early. From the first moment when you put a poster up on your bedroom wall of your favourite boy band. I love you, One Direction. Until later in life, when you get together with a bunch of girlfriends, a romantic comedy in the DVD player, and a bottle of wine and you say "Wow, that's true love. I wish my life were like that."
For boys, the journey starts just that little bit later. The first 12 years, you don't notice girls at all, but then you hit 13 and a half. Suddenly, your body is a tsunami of hormones, and you notice that there are these girl things everywhere. And all this happens just at the moment when you lose control of your voice.
When these two words enter your mind, true and love, you are going to own them, you are going to possess them. How do you know? Because the chemicals in your body are telling you so. But, I thought, there I was, 13 and a half, starting this journey, looking for these two words, true and love, and I thought, well let's be smart. Let's get ahead of the game.
Shakespeare! I mean, the greatest writer in any language. For years, people with no imagination had been telling me that anything remotely romantic was just like Romeo and Juliet. Oh, look at them, Ben, they're just like Romeo and Juliet. Bless. Well, no they're not. These people had clearly never read the play. I did read Romeo and Juliet at 13 and a half, and the first thing you discover is that Romeo and Juliet are themselves 13 and a half. And you think, that can't be right. Juliet will be there on her balcony in Verona, the warm Italian air caressing her soft flesh. "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?" And he would be in the shadows below, going, "Leave me alone. Your family just don't like me."
But, I carried on reading anyway, and it gets worse. Romeo goes out with his best friend, Mercutio. They run into Tybalt. Tybalt kills Mercutio. Romeo kills Tybalt. Romeo runs away. To make the situation better, Juliet takes drugs to make her appear dead. Romeo comes back, thinks Juliet's dead, takes poison. Juliet wakes up, sees Romeo dead, stabs herself in the chest. Dead, dead, dead, everybody dead. Mummy, mummy, are relationships always this complicated?
Okay, so maybe literature had let me down, but why don't we try history? Better still, let's try French history? Because, I've never met a Frenchman who doesn't think he's the world's most sensitive lover.
Abelard and Heloise. The worlds of the early 12th century fill my mind with romance and passion and longing and, like, wow. This is good stuff. Okay, it's the early 12th century, which probably meant that they smelled really bad, had no teeth, and were covered in warts. But, even if they're ugly, surely love would work. And it's true. I mean, they were deeply in love, but Heloise's family did not approve of the match. So they trap Abelard one night and they castrate him. I'm like, mummy. Mummy, I'm not sure I want to do this relationship thing at all, mummy.
And so, there I was, totally unprepared, 13 and a half. Looking for these words, true and love. And I started playing the game that we all play, the dating game. Yes, let's play. Dating game is simple. It goes something like this, two people go out for dinner and they spend the evening lying to one another. For boys, the rules are simple. You sit there pretending to be interested and engaged. Oh, that's fascinating. But, all you're really thinking is "Oh my God, how long does all the talking have to go on for before the sex starts?"
For girls, you walk in, and the first question you ask is a question that no straight man has ever asked himself: "What star sign are you?" Inside you go, "What?" But, you say, "Well, I'm Aquarius." And she'll say, "That means you're intelligent, sensitive, you follow your own path and you're deeply intellectual. Deep down, you're kind of romantic." And you say, "Wow, that's amazing, it's like you've shone a torch deep into my soul." But, what you're really thinking is, "Does this mean we're having sex, or not?"
Then we get to the main course, and she'll turn to you and say, "I'm a bit of a romantic, you know." Warning, this doesn't mean she has any concept of romance at all. What this really means is it doesn't matter how mad she is, how emotionally unstable, she could have smashed up your flat, stolen your car and set fire to your underwear, and you're still meant to go, "I love you, darling. Why don't you take these flowers and pick up that nice pair of shoes you saw the other day?"
It is playing the dating game. You realise, Oscar Wilde was right when he said "Experience is the name we give our mistakes." So, there I am, sitting in my smashed up flat, a small pile of underwear smouldering on the carpet. And I'm just wondering, where's my car? And a friend will come in and lay the biggest cliché on you of all. "Is that underwear? Don't worry, Ben. You'll find love, when you're least looking for it." And you're like, "Thanks."
Fast forward to 2011. My father returns me and said "Hey, Ben, let's go on holiday." First time in 32 years. I said, "Yeah, dad, why not." He said, "Let's go on a cruise." I'm like, "Cruise, that's just a way of moving fat people about." He said, "I'm paying." I said, "Dad, I'm there."
So, there it was, 7th of November, 2011. I'm striding manfully aboard the seaborne sojourning ship moored at the very tip of South America, with not a thought of romance in my mind. I walk around the deck, noting to my personal satisfaction just how fat many of the passengers, indeed, are. I walk into the on ship boutique, and my world comes slamming to a halt and my life changes forever. There, standing before me, is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my life. I turn inward. Brain, brain, I need clever things. Clever things, brain, that are going to make me appear sensitive, intelligent, and really well educated. But, at that moment, my inner voice had decided to become 13 and a half again. "Hello, you're pretty. We're on a ship."
This is bad. This is very, very bad. Somehow, I've got to age 34 years in 30 seconds. A feat of emotional development that no man has achieved in 100,000 years of human history. But, in [inaudible 00:08:22], let's find out what this vision of beauty is saying. I move with [inaudible 00:08:28]. The beautiful lips open, and all these strange noises came tumbling out. I'm like, "What the hell is a choose." Nightmare. I leave. Francoise hadn't noticed me at all. This was 'cause she was shopping. And when Francoise shops, you could set fire to her legs and it would go something like this, "Is that Prada, 2014 collection? Have you got it in blue? Can someone smell burning?"
Halfway through the cruise, I'm invited to a formal dinner. I don't really want to go, but you know, nothing else to do. We turn up early. The place card to my left says I'll be sitting next to a Mrs. Francoise Meyer. I imagine she's going to be a very pleasant, if somewhat overweight, American lady who's going to spend the evening telling me just how much she loves my accent.
Francoise comes to the table and sits next to me. And straightaway, it is clear that we are having the conversation. Each of you, at some point in your life, will have had the conversation. Or, a friend of yours will have had the conversation. And, when you've had the conversation, or a friend of yours has had the conversation, they will call you up the next day. And it will going something like this, "Oh my God, Ben, I went out on a date last night. We sat up until 5:00 in the morning, we talked about everything, oh my God." The conversation is when two souls interlock, intertwine, intermingle. If Francoise had been in a romantic comedy, her face would have filled the screen and everything else would have dissolved into a soft focus blur.
We got to the end of the dinner, and she got up, vanish at warp speed. I thought, "Wow, how can anyone move so quickly on pointy shoes?" I couldn't stop thinking about her, but I didn't want to chase her out. I didn't want to do the sad, bald, middle aged man chasing much younger, beautiful woman thing. "Hi, I have no hair, but I have a very very fast car." Because, it's just not cool. I didn't realise that she was thinking about me a lot also, because she came running up to me in Montevideo and said "Look, Ben, I really want to see you. Here are my details. Blah, blah..." On the outside, I played it rather cool, "Yeah honey, that'd be great." On the inside, I was like, "I am a man god and she wants my babies."
It is a good thing for you ladies that you don't really see what's going on in men's minds. We go out for a first date in Buenos Aires. Perfect first date town, and a curious thing happened. These two words, true and love, which, throughout the dating game, have been growing further and further apart, until they were in separate time zones, had decided to come and wait, and lie in wait for me in the gutter of a Buenos Aires boulevard.
We were walking from Lavalle. I had three or four mojitos happily circling in my blood system. And we were arguing about the best way to find more mojitos, and I turned and I looked at her with the stillness of absolute certainty. And I knew she was the woman I was going to marry. It's like when you listen to music, a great symphony or concerto, you don't hear it with the ear, but it resonates in your chest. It is like you're hearing a tune that you'd always known.
Other people pick up on this vibe straight away. We went to another bar for some more mojitos. And there was a very beautiful young couple sitting behind Francoise, and the good guy kept on looking up at me smiling. I got up and some point, and I thought, "I need to make room for some more mojitos." So, I go to the lavatory and I'm standing there in the urinal, zip. And this guy follows me in and stands right next to me, zip. And he looks at me, I look at him. He smiles at me, I smile at him. And he turns to me, but I'm just thinking, "Hey, what is the etiquette in Argentina for talking to a man who has his penis out?" And he turns to me and says, "You are with a very beautiful woman. You both look very happy."
We live in a cynical world. We all have days where you wake up, you read the paper, you switch on the news or read history, and it's endless stories of just how shit we are to one another. And you think, "I love people, but I hate mankind." Jean Paul Sartre famously said, "Hell is other people." But, with these two words, true and love, you realise heaven can be another person.
You realise, this feeling, this thought, you don't rationalise it, you don't invent it, you don't create it. It is the birthright of a thousand generations before you, which passes from generation to generations. It drops into your world, explodes with golden light, and it is your job to keep it going for generations to come. It is the best of us. It is what makes life worthwhile.
It took science until 1905, with Einstein's theory of general relativity, to work out that time itself is not a constant, it shifts and alters. Lovers, of course, have known this for centuries. Because, when you're lying in bed next to the woman you love, every moment vanishes, and yet every moment exists in eternity. Space itself loses meaning, because when you're lying in bed next to the woman you love, the universe is bounded by the four walls of that room and nothing beyond exists. You realise that the ancient Greeks were right. They thought that the soul and the breath were one. The word inspiration, to seek higher things, comes from to inspire, to breath in. So, when you're lying in bed next to the woman you love, and your breath is dancing and mingling, and the warm air above you, it is your souls themselves that are dancing and blending into one. It's also the reason, when you really love someone, they never smell bad.
The final thing you realise is this. This lifelong journey, this search, hasn't been for two words at all, but one. Because love, without truth, has no meaning. Love, without truth, simply cannot exist at all. So, if you were to ask me to come up with a word to sum up my life, my story, I would pick a single word. A simple, little word. And that word is, of course, love.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you would notice these small bottles sitting before you. I finally recommend that you open them now. Well, you've already played the game, thank you very much. And I want you to toast to the word that saves us, to love itself. So, ladies and gentlemen, not just of Francoise, the most amazing woman in the world, but to love itself. Let us toast to love. Thank you for playing.