As a writer, the question I get asked more than any other is:
‘What do you find most difficult when it comes to writing?’
I know that I have banged on (to a boring degree) about procrastination. I have prattled on about searching for any ‘legitimate’ excuse to avoid that moment of switching on the computer. I’ve shared with you the panic of the blank screen, staring at it for hours. Sometimes days. On end.
I’ve droned on about those exasperating meetings that come with writing, be it with a producer, an editor, a TV executive.
I have moaned about actors who transpose a line that I may have sweated over for hours, rendering it totally unfunny. A sin made worse because, wearing my actor’s hat, I have been guilty of the same thing. I have scored many a bull’s eye as I have shot an arrow into a writer’s heart with the poor delivery of a line he or she has slaved over.
‘What do you find most difficult when it comes to writing?’
It may surprise you that the answer is none of the above.
These are merely occupational hazards strategically placed along this writer’s road that he must learn to steer around as, at a snail’s pace, he struggles up Script Delivery Hill.
No, those irritations fade in comparison. I can reveal, without a moment’s hesitation, when it comes to writing the hardest thing for me is:
Having to write during Wimbledon fortnight!! Or any Grand Slam.
But especially during those 14 days of tennis temptation being seductively transmitted from SW19. It is nigh on impossible.
How can you concentrate, let alone be creative, when you know that Nadal is playing Federer – or Rafa & Roger as they are fondly known in Laytonia. Or when Djokovic is playing Thiem? (Djokovic & Thiem in our house)
Curious how it’s always Roger & Rafa and surnames for the rest. Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Zverev, Wawrinka – no, I’m wrong, he’s affectionately Stan.
And of course with the ladies today, it’s Barty, Osaka, Halep. But definitely Serena, & Venus. And it was always Martina.
In days gone by it was Borg, McEnroe, Becker, Agassi, Nastase, who made writing for me so much harder than usual. The lady sirens who lured me from my looming deadlines included the afore-mentioned Martina, Chrissie, Steffi, Seles, etc.
And in the years before them, other tennis legends of both sexes: Laver, Rosewall, Newcombe, Billie Jean King, Evonne Goolagong Cawley et al. And in 1977 Virgina Wade.
I digress but you get the point.
Trying to write during Wimbledon, during that 2-week festival of what for me is the most beautiful game in the world (apologies football fans) is pure purgatory.
I must have been the most selfish person in the country because, without conscience, I would pray for rain. No play meant an afternoon of getting my head down knowing that I wasn’t missing a classic match.
Watching Sir Cliff (God bless him) Bachelor Boy-ing and Congratulating his way through his complete repertoire in a valiant effort to entertain a Centre Court crowd, gloomily gazing down on a gloomy rain-drenched covered Centre Court, didn’t hold quite the same temptation and I remember that particular afternoon being a highly productive one for me!
I am talking pre-2009 of course. Once the roof had been erected over Centre Court and 10 years later over No. 1 Court, no amount of rain could help an undisciplined writer – especially this one.
The presentation speeches that immediately follow the finals always make me emotional. I fill up. On the Monday morning following the Wimbledon Championships – or on the Monday following any Grand Slam tournament – without fail, I wake up feeling depressed and tearful.
I feel a terrible sense of loss. There is a void. I am almost grieving for something suddenly missing from my life. It is not unlike bereavement. But of course it is momentary. It passes and life goes on.
All that I have written above is what I feel in a normal year.
Watching the Australian Open for the past couple of weeks in anything but a normal year brought some normality back into our lives. Moya and mine that is.
I know that there are some out there for whom tennis does nothing. Horses for courses. I say. Talking of which I’m the same when it comes to horse racing, I couldn’t be less interested. Even if my once a year sticking a pin in the list of Grand National runners brings me a flukey winner, it leaves me cold.
The Australian Men’s final last Sunday was something of an anti-climactic affair due to Djokovic’s sheer brilliance. The highlight for me was listening to Daniil Medvedev concede victory in the gracious manner that tennis players bring to the game, rapidly accelerating my customary end of tournament sniffling.
Predictably, having had two weeks of scintillating (and distracting) early morning tennis to look forward to every morning, I woke up last Monday with that awful sense of loss.
‘Oh dear, no tennis to watch.’ I muttered to Moya.
I soon got over it. As I said, life goes on…
And for me, living with this awful pandemic is very much the same. I regularly wake up with that sense of loss. The loss of normality; the grandchildren coming here for a sleepover, an impromptu Sunday lunch with all the family, a spontaneous trip to a movie…
Because life has to go on, I suppress this sense of grieving and it passes. Only to manifest itself at unexpected moments. Talking to friends on the ‘phone brings on a tearful feeling. The downside of a family Facetime or Zoom chat can leave one feeling bereft.
Cut off from. Wanting. In need of. Lacking. Without.
Yes, that just about sums up my feelings.
Living with this pandemic is a form of bereavement. Yearning for something we have lost.
Except that bereavement implies a permanent loss.
No. This is temporary. The pandemic will pass and life will go on. Not just go on. It will go on as normal…
POSTSCRIPT (for anyone interested)
As an actor, the question I get asked more than any other is:
‘When you’re in ‘Holby City’, ‘EastEnders’, ‘Casualty’ – or whatever TV show my face might have popped up on in any particular week’ – how much do you get paid?’