Each day I walk to the local shop to get the paper. I like this walk. I pick up the obvious paper, as it is my paper, and I spend a while gazing at the other papers, which are helpfully arranged so that I can see their covers. It’s always an enlightening way of taking the temperature of this great nation of ours, with the Mail frothing about something that signifies that rationing has sadly ended, the Express literally talking about the weather, the Sun and the Mirror and the Star shouting about a minor indiscretion among the celebrity class, the Independent doggedly restating its independence by highlighting an uncool issue, and so on. Not these past two weeks: every cover story has been the same.
It’s odd to see the whole gamut of daily newspapers covering literally the same basic story, every day. Big pictures of smiling or grimacing athletes abound, assorted puns on keywords like “gold”, “medal”, “Hoy” etc. Is this really the united nation it gives every appearance of being? If so, what’s going to happen after Sunday? Who will we cheer? What will we do with our cape-sized Union flags? What will we watch on the telly? What will the newspapers write about? What will the commentators commentate on? How will we maintain this unification of optimism in the face of cold, hard reality? It could be quite a comedown.
As you can see, I won an Olympic gold medal today. It was a chocolate one, but I sort of won it, as I didn’t pay for it. I found it in the “welcome pack” at my new office. It isn’t strictly my office, it’s the new office of Radio Times, where I go to work once a week, as I have done for many years. (Just as, when I was a kid, Thursday was the day my Nan came round, Wednesday is the day I go round to Radio Times.) This used to mean going to a building owned by the BBC, when the BBC owned BBC Magazines, but the BBC had to sell BBC Magazines, along with some of its buildings, when the Murdoch government negotiated the Licence Fee to stay the same until 2016. Radio Times is now published by Immediate Media, who had to move us from the BBC building to a new one, which is in Hammersmith.
Although I quite rightly fear change, it’s not a bad space. They don’t seem to have finished the ceiling – unless it’s a tribute to the film Brazil – but there’s a cafeteria that seems competitively priced and there was also a £10 voucher in my “welcome pack”, of which I spent £4 on posh coffee and the kind of muffin I would never ordinarily buy to celebrate the move. It was free, like my gold medal, which I ate at my desk before even setting up my email account. Priorities.
I was delighted to be commissioned by Radio Times editor Ben to write an account of my life as an Olympics widower: looking after the shop while the rest of the country is glued to the Games. I am happy to be that steward. (And always happy to write something for what we in the Film Unit call “the rest of the magazine.” You can read it next week. They’ll probably put in online, too.) Wow, I ate that muffin next to no time. It’s almost as if it is mainly made of air.
Note to self: don’t buy muffins.
Another evening in the adjoining room while the Olympics played out in earshot. I sense that for Team GB, the Games are sort of over. They’ve certainly peaked. I’m no expert, but I think “we” failed to win any sort of medal today. No golds, at any rate. This is the downside to achieving so much more than anyone realistically expected. You have to readjust to real life afterwards, where there is no podium for you to “podium” on, no medals to “medal”, no similar nouns to “noun” into a verb.
Anyway, I watched another Michael Haneke film on DVD from my big box of foreign-language DVDs: The Piano Teacher. (You don’t know this, as I wasn’t writing a diary last week, but I plucked Haneke’s Code Unknown from the box and thoroughly enjoyed that, hence the yen for some more.) It’s a brilliant but disturbing experience. Isabelle Huppert is, as every awards committe on the planet seemed to spot at the time, superb in it. Brave and subtle and, hey, she can even play the piano really well. It was, I’m guessing, a very different experience to the one on offer in the living room, which seemed to be all about BMX bikes, then hurdling. (I had planned to break off from Haneke to watch Usain Bolt in a final of something at 20.55, but I had misread the RT supplement – it’s on tomorrow at 20.55. This is just as well; you can’t break off from Haneke.)
Oh, and I announced on Twitter, pointlessly, that I was about to watch The Piano Teacher and one joker responded, “dirty old man.” Yes, because what better film to watch if you are a dirty old man? I’m not sure I can think of a less arousing film. Unless you are turned on by Schubert and razor blades.