At the End of the Day

It’s been something of a stressful day.

Andy Murray is the quintessential British sporting hero, in that he is incapable of doing anything the easy way. Not until every nail has been bitten down to the cuticle can Andy play the winning point. He’s sort of the Man United of tennis: only when there are ninety seconds to go and Bayern are leading 1-0 do the Reds decide to score two in ninety seconds and win the Champions League. And send me screaming like a banshee running round the garden, so terrifying the dogs that they leg it over the fence and don’t come back until morning. Three years later.

Watching Murray play is like gaping at the carnage after a road accident: you know it’s going to be horrible, but you just have to. And in the end, he came through again…but only after A&E departments up and down the land had been inundated with stroke and heart attack emergencies. It was the first complete game I’ve watched this year (so gripping, I didn’t even notice that Rupert Murdoch may well have condemned himself to death) and if nothing else it served to remind me of just how ghastly Wimbledon tennis crowds are.

It’s not just the screaming emotional incontinence that has been steadily permeating our culture for a good thirty years now. Mainly, it’s the almost sociopathically unsporting way Centre Court fans behave when a British player is involved. Every time poor Fernando Verdasco did something wrong, they went wild. Verdasco slips and skies a return, the crowd gyrates like groupies at a rock concert. Guy rushes on and chainsaws Fernando’s left leg off, women throw their knickers at the perpetrator: anything to get our Andy through.

Anyway, if all that wasn’t bad enough, I then tried to top up my O2 android (or haemorrhoid as I call it) and it was a bit of a trial. Most of my collisions with technology end this way. If ever I tried to set the record facility on old Videos, what I thought was the Cup Final would turn out to be a knitting seminar in Finnish. My problem these days is topping up on those freefone numbers when they ask you to type something on your Android keyboard designed for tiny Japanese fingers where the pressure applied mustn’t exceed 0.001487 psi otherwise the number will register four times at least, and mustn’t stray more than a billionth of a millimetre to the left or south otherwise 3 will come out as 6.

O2 have clearly not, as yet, worked out that this can be a problem, because the Stepford Wife at the other end gets the 27 credit card digits you’ve corrected nine times, and says – in turn – “I’m afraid I didn’t quite get that”, “Oh dear, that didn’t work either” and finally, “I’m sorry you’re having trouble topping up, please try again later, goodbye”. I had seven goes at this using three different cards, during which time I learned so much about O2’s new train times app, I almost felt it might be time for us to exchange bodily fluids. 21062 gets you to the train app, by the way. It’s a British train app, and I’m living in the land of SNCF so I don’t need it. Be my guest. Feel free.

Next came the composition of a post that will be appearing here at The Slog tomorrow (Thursday). The anxiety here is twofold: either the information I’ve been given is cobblers, in which case I could look a bit silly; or it’s true, in which case I might have to watch my back for a bit.  The extrapolation in the piece makes sense to me: all the usual clues, as they say, are there. Time will tell: if I wind up dead in a ditch soon, I think you can rest assured that the story was correct.

The remaining stress (as much stress as I’ve felt in ages, to be honest) was associated with a Skype conversation I was due to have in the evening. It involved having to ask some difficult questions in order to understand something more fully. This happens a lot in my line of ‘work’, but this case was different, tricky and involved – from my point of view – great risk. It’s funny how sometimes, however, mutual honesty quickly makes you realise the person on the other end is even more frightened than you are. I remember years ago winning a piece of business, and saying to the client (once I knew him better) how nervous I always was in presentations. He confided in me that he was equally nervous – because if the agency performed badly, the CEO would think him a plonker for having asked the agency to pitch in the first place.

A great deal of life is about trauma, responsibility, and fear. By definition, the trauma comes from the past. It leaves scars, and they in turn make us fear repetition of it in the future. But every life grows responsibilities, and they have to be coped with today. By the time you’re thirty-five or so, all these get mangled up in the day-to-day bustle of contemporary life, until one’s ability to even work it out (let alone deal with it) is negligible.

It’s at that point we begin to wonder if there will ever be certainty or trust ever again. By that, I don’t mean “an absence of suspicion”: rather, I mean whether there’s somebody out there who can share and alleviate the responsibility – and understand one’s fear without judging it. As if all this isn’t enough to be going on with, you then have to unravel the Men from Mars/Women from Venus thing.

Often, when I was younger, I wanted to be the archetypal charmer-bastard, because the “up against the wall and f**k ’em hard” merchants seem to ‘get away with it’ time after time…and lots of women (cue 300 rude emails) get off on that. I have girl friends who go for these blokes over and over, and never seem to learn. But I’m not a bastard – and I’m not a saint.

I can see perfectly well how the phrase “casual sex” developed. It’s often said that sex is an ego thing for men, but actually most of the male friends I have admit (like me) that there’s a lot of terror involved when the sex isn’t casual. The ‘dalliance’ or brief, casual sex can be nice for a while – and healthy – because it is so lacking in importance: there’s nothing at stake. The fear comes when you genuinely feel something.

All of us fear feelings, failure, success, involvement, complication and an overload of responsibility – I know I do. But you can’t force the development of collaborative love: life’s practical difficulties won’t go away, and after a certain age there are always hurdles. There’s no point in trying to persuade or impress or curry favour and sympathy as a means of achieving the ‘right’ result: that’s just manipulative immaturity. Either two people want to face the hurdles, or they don’t. It can be painful, but you just have to let life take its course.

Yes, today was a stressful day. But I understand more than I did yesterday, and for me that will always be the main point. I wouldn’t say I’m going to bed completely at ease with the world, but I’ve had four hours of enjoyable intimacy. It’s more than most days bring.