After 9 weeks of Lockdown, not for the first time, I woke up with the miseries. So I cycled up the hill to Alexandra Palace hoping to get a lift from Mr & Mrs Endorphin. But they were self-isolating and wouldn’t open the door. I was almost arrested for being doleful in a built-up area. Police gave me the choice of being locked up inside for a long time or going home…
At the summit, in front of the People’s Palace, London lay before me, not like a patient etherised upon a table. But like a deluded escapee from an institution, convinced they are well and normal again, only to suddenly notice they are naked in the lion house at the zoo. People are on the streets again in great numbers. Not realising our government is using them and their children as canaries in the coal-mine. Guinea pigs in a social experiment. They have been off the wheel of working to consume, consume, consume too long for their liking. Time to sacrifice a few for the greater good.
The feeling is of a nameless dread that sits in your stomach like a lead weight and even though me and mine are all healthy and have nothing much to complain about, feeling like this is an excuse for me to beat myself up about everything.
With me, it’s always achievement. Or lack of it. I started writing, directing and acting when I was 16. I am now 58. So the first things I beat myself up about are all focused on why I have failed to make a significant stain of achievement in any one of these disciplines. I think back over every opportunity not capitalised, every time I lost the plot professionally and was humiliatingly inept. Every time I acted like an arrogant prick, every time I failed to notice that I had turned away from a potentially golden avenue, the roads not taken, the efforts not made. Every time I wasn’t productive enough, did not work hard enough. Every time I wasn’t persistent, consistent or inspired enough to move on. I do not think about any of what I regard as the tiniest of positive achievements. I can only pick over the fact that although I have had plenty of work optioned in development over the years and have written episodes for existing series, I have written countless TV pilots of original dramas, not one of which made it to the screen. I have had one foray into producing an original feature film and failed, having to pay back the resulting debts over a decade. It feels as if I have wasted so much time. How many of us feel like that?
Then Lockdown and my first London Marathon postponed. Months of training down the drain and I stopped running altogether. It felt exactly like everything else. A failure. A wasted effort. I have to start training again for October. But not today. Definitely not today.
This is not to ignore whatever achievements I have as a father or a husband. But being a good parent or a partner is not an exact science. You don’t always get it right and, me being me, I focus on the worst moments and struggle to see the occasions when I did something good or at least halfway competent.
The last time I left like this and was bitching morosely like an over-privileged fop about it to a friend, he said I needed to get some perspective. He said I may feel like a failure, but he dined out on anecdotes about my achievements. I said he needed to get out more. Because, you know, me and my brain. He was right of course and I know it. But when the dread comes on me, I can’t see Alexandra Palace shining on the hill. I am stuck in Crouch End behind a lorry going uphill and the legs are so tired I seem to be going backwards.
But because I know this is how my brain works in these circumstances, my only trick is to sweat and write my way out of it. So labouring up the hill to Ally Pally and venting this sentiment here right now on this blog, I must shake it off and make myself believe that the TV pilot and novel I am working on are going to find an audience. Even if the chances are slim, I must perform that mental sleight of mind that gets me over this hump and up the long incline to perspective. I am ready for another day of writing my way there. Now where are my crampons?