One day last week, I hauled myself out of my bed, threw on whatever clothes were closest to hand – fortunately my wife had put hers away – and shambled up the road to get a coffee from the coffee cart. There was already a family there, two parents and a boy of about 15 – and they were all getting some sort of decaf skinny soya latte nonsense. I made the mistake of engaging them in conversation, and discovered that they were just returning from an 8k run over the hills. They had stopped to buy their coffees from the cart because they wanted to support a local small business. I reflected, as I gazed down at my tracksuit bottoms and sandals, that I was there simply because I couldn’t be bothered to actually make a coffee.
There are a lot of things to be irritated by with regards to the lockdown – I won’t list them, because I think the internet may not actually be big enough – but extremely high on my list is people using this time to improve themselves; to get fit, or to harness their intelligence and creativity. Up and down the country, people are learning languages, teaching themselves to knit or cross-stitch, painting, sculpting, or reading all the books they never had time to read.
Social media is absolutely bursting at the seams with people proudly showing off their home-made damson jam or their oil-on-canvas depiction of their effing cat. Lots of people have been suggesting switching off the news for one’s mental health (something I wholeheartedly endorse) but if anything is likely to tip me screaming into the abyss it is the boundless creative achievements of my friends, so I have adopted a blanket ban on looking at Facebook.
But perhaps the most sinister bit of creativity that is going on out there right now is not yet readily apparent. Up and down the country, squirreled away at dining tables and desks, an army of stockbrokers and plumbers, hairdressers and estate agents are hammering out an endless array of screenplays and books, convinced they’re churning out the next Doctor Zhivago or The Godfather.
The famous saying “Everyone has a book in them” should come with the addendum “and in most cases, that’s where it should stay.” The same applies to screenplays. I know exactly what I’m talking about, having written not un-horrendous examples of both a book and a screenplay. The book I wrote about 20 years ago. It was a comedy thriller set at the Athens Olympics. It was about two sprinters and a plot to fix the Olympic final, and the denouement involved two protagonists having a fight, dressed as Olympic mascots, in the middle of the stadium. Yep. It was pretty much as bad as it sounds.
Even worse, I had just read Love in the Time of Cholera, and decided it would be a great idea to sprinkle quotes from it through the script. Honestly, as I write this, I think I may have broken a toe they are curling so hard.
That said, it was a Pulitzer-worthy work of literary genius compared to my screenplay. Oh god, the screenplay. Some nights I lie awake in a cold sweat, thinking about the screenplay. This one I wrote 15 years ago. They say write about what you know, so obviously the 30-year-old me decided to write about living in an old people’s home. Some of the oldies broke out of the home and decided to go on a road trip in search of their past. It was patronising beyond belief – the old people were sparky and spirited, and everyone kept hugging each other and bursting into tears. Even worse, I had just read Love in the Time of Cholera, and decided it would be a great idea to sprinkle quotes from it through the script. Honestly, as I write this, I think I may have broken a toe they are curling so hard.
Of course, not everyone writing a script will be as much of a pretentious twat as me. But lots will be. And, almost inevitably, most will be average writers at best. And they will all send their insufferable doggerel to literary agents, publishers and producers up-and-down the country. They will be drowning in infinite seas of paper effluent. And they will have to sift through all of it.
So when all of this is over, and life has returned to normal for most of us, we must all take a moment and think of these poor everyday heroes battling against the ceaseless tide. Moving forward, let’s spend Thursday evenings leaving our houses, standing in the street and clapping for agents everywhere.