I’ve been thinking, over the past few days, about failure. Sometimes, something happens to throw your life into stark relief. This morning I was interviewed over Zoom by a journalist about my new book. She wanted me to hold up my iPad so she could see my home. Oh dear.
Now, the last time this journalist interviewed me it was 2008, and I was living on a 50-acre farm on the edge of Exmoor, with my own stable yard, an outdoor manège. Vegetable garden. Orchard. A renovated barn with reclaimed oak floor. A marble bathroom. BMW convertible. A Conran Shop chandelier. Matthew Hilton furniture.
These days, I have a small patio (albeit with an incredible view of the ruins of an abbey), a Toyota RAV4 that has been eaten by my dog Gracie, no floor, no kitchen table. My sofa is inherited from my mum: its springs have gone and the back disintegrated. It isn’t comfy. My fridge is tiny and ill-fitting, and its presence reminds me daily of all the huge American steel fridges I generously left behind each time I sold a house.
There are no doors in my rented cottage, as the builder, who hasn’t been back since December, took them off. Floorboards are up. I have no cold water tap in the bathroom and no shower. So, of course, the writer, seeing these things, however shakily on my hand-held camera, will undoubtedly file a piece saying I’ve failed, given I no longer own a bed (the one I’m sleeping on came with the cottage*). Before the lockdown, I could have met her in a fancy hotel, put on some make-up and pretence. Now, though? We all, I suppose, have nowhere to hide. ‘What is the coolest thing anyone has ever written about you?’ she asked me, or at least I thought that’s what she said. ‘No one has ever written I’m cool.’
‘No, cruellest…’ Ah. That seems much more likely. I reel off a list of female journalists who hate me, the things they’ve said. She reminds me of the headline on her piece the last time she interviewed me: ‘Writers betray people. It’s tricky.’
‘But don’t you betray people when you write interviews?’ I asked her.
‘No, I don’t. If I write something personal, I get their permission first.’
God, can you imagine how dull the last 20 years would have been? ‘Nirpal, are you OK with me writing about your affairs with Daphne and the intern in Mumbai?’ And, ‘David, are you fine with me saying you are lazy and old and toothless?’ We’d have blank pages. Anyway, I read that more and more of us are texting our exes as, of course, there is no possibility of finding someone new. And so I texted David. ‘Where will be the first place you go once lockdown is over, and who will you meet again?’
‘Scotland, to see my mum.’
You see, Andrew Lincoln would never have written this to Keira Knightley in Love Actually.
Women are so much better in lockdown. Compare and contrast what my girlfriend in Belfast has just sent me: ‘I’m making limoncello!’ to this, from David, ‘Guess what? I’ve just found the subtitles button on Netflix!’
I wonder if you can transfer your hour of outdoor exercise to someone else. If so, can I have his? Anyway, sod texting your exes: that way, madness lies. I’ve decided that if we want to be happy, we have to put ourselves on the line. Be brave. So I type this:
‘Hello! How are you doing in lockdown? Are your children at home with you or have they flown the nest? [I’ve not seen him for ten years. I’ve lost track of their ages.] Are you still able to get TV work? My casting director friend tells me all filming has stopped. My florist friend has no weddings until next year, so I imagine this has hit you hard, too. Did you know that since we last met, I have got engaged, twice! (To the same man, unfortunately.) But we called it off; nothing to do with a virus. I do hope once this is all over we could meet up. You must know I love you. I’m sure it showed. Liz. x’
After a great deal of re-reading and agonising, I press Send. What have I got to lose, except my dignity?
* I was forced to give my Vispring away to avoid storage costs