On Saturday September 11th I flitted and flicked between the Royal Albert Hall in London and the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York. Ms Raducanu would drop a point whenever I watched, so I would leave Flushing Meadows and cross to South Kensington and the Last Night of the Proms. It is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of the tennis court. If you observe the play, you influence it. I would listen to the Fantasia on British Sea-Songs, and then succumb to my compulsion to return to Flushing Meadows, to find Ms R was a set up. Then Ms Fernandez would mount a comeback, and I would escape once more to Kensington Gore and Rule, Britannia! The Australian tenor Stuart Skelton sang it dressed in Aussie cricket whites and wielding a cricket bat. If all that Pomp & Circumstance has become a bit of an embarrassment (though I see little evidence of red faces) then maybe the lampoon is proving a useful method of avoiding offence. Back to New York. Yes! Ms R keeping her nose in front. But Ms F certainly not for giving up. Back to the Old World. Jerusalem! And then back again to the New, on my Chariot of Fire. Tennis seems to be all about momentum and, for the moment, the momentum was with Canada. Then came the added drama of Ms Raducanu’s fall, a gashed leg, and medical time out. Ms Fernandez did not appear happy, but what else to do other than pause while a dressing was applied? From there, we hurtled to a third match point, an ace, and the de rigueur winner’s collapse on to the court. The victor then took time to work her way through the crowd to her team’s box, a tradition started, as I recall, by Pat Cash at Wimbledon. Back across the Pond, they were singing the National Anthem and then Auld Lang Syne. Then back to NY, NY, for the plaudits of the huge crowd, and the awards ceremony. Both teenagers were gracious, poised, and eloquent, and Ms Fernandez, a Canadian who had been the crowd’s favourite during the match, was much admired for her expression of sympathy towards New York on this September 11th.
Now I find that I can’t get out of this habit of channel-hopping. It is the curse of our age, this fretfulness, this inability to concentrate on any one thing for longer than fifteen seconds. If Mr Eliot aka J. Alfred Prufrock measured out his life with a coffee spoon, I’m doing something similar with the TV remote. I flick away from the Ashe and surf the net for another story.
By some strange irony, there is a shortage of carbon dioxide. This has various knock-on effects. For example, animals cannot be humanely slaughtered (is that an oxymoron?) so Christmas will be devoid of pigs-in-the-blanket. Carbon, carbon everywhere, nor any drop to stun.
Then the French have recalled their ambassadors to Australia and the United States. Apparently they didn’t bother to recall their London man (actually, a woman) because the UK is just a bit player clinging on, as usual, to Uncle Sam’s coat tails. The Australians have allegedly reneged on a contract to buy French (non-nuclear-powered) submarines, in favour of buying American (nuclear-powered) submarines. The Chinese are pretty angry too. Mr Xi might not come to Glasgow. But Aukus deny sabre-rattling in the Pacific. This story has all sorts of resonances. In On the Beach, Nevil Shute surveyed the wasteland of the post-apocalyptic end of the world from the perspective of an Australian submarine. Here, the nation is gripped by Vigil, a murky thriller of the silent deep largely confined within the claustrophobic atmosphere of a nuclear sub. I haven’t watched it. To tell you the truth I got put off by the trailer. Drama-wise, everything these days is gritty, no matter the subject. Tudor was gritty. Heads got chopped off. The trailers might have used the same voiceover to say “Tudor”, as “Vigil”, in a gritty fashion.
But to return to the Ashe, Ms Raducanu’s achievement was all the more astonishing in that she had to play in the qualifying rounds. To win the tournament from this starting point was a feat never previously achieved. Ten matches won in a row without dropping a single set. As Tim Henman said, “It’s a joke!” She became a sensation overnight. We learned all about her. She was born in Toronto, and moved to England with her Romanian father and Chinese mother when she was two. She has just sat her A-levels (A in economics, A* in mathematics – clearly academically no slouch) and she is multilingual. She is elegant and articulate, and the mass media have already picked up on her potential. There’s a clip of her addressing the kids in China in fluent Mandarin. So, her range is gargantuan. And she has a billion dollar smile.
Where’s the flipper? The Scottish Government are going to introduce vaccine passports for clubbers. Apparently Michael Gove went clubbing in Aberdeen. They say he tried to dodge the £5 entry fee and blag his way in by saying “I am the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster!” There’s a chat-up line for you. It is alleged he had a few shandies too many. Well, good luck to him I say.
Ms R appeared on US Breakfast TV. She charmed her interviewers. They asked her about her parents. She said they were her fiercest critics, very hard to please. Then she added, “I got them this time.”
Of course, the style gurus are already circling, like sharks. They sense an opportunity. Kerching kerching. Somebody suggested she could be the greatest style icon since David Beckham. I don’t care for all that. Emma qua commodity.
I finally got back down to earth when I read But you did not come back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens (Et tu n’es pas revenue, Éditions Grasset & Fasquelle 2015). It is a terrible account of a survivor’s experience in Auschwitz-Birkenau. The reality it portrays is so awful that it hardly seems right to mention it in the same context as a game of tennis. But I think it has finally taken me out of the fretful mind-set of the disconsolate channel-hopper. Mme Loridan-Ivens seems to me the quintessential French woman in her total lack of mawkish sentimentality. She comes down on the side of life and love, but only just. Thank you, Madame, for bringing me back to reality. I’m no longer living the vicarious life on the settee in front of the telly. I’ve chucked away the remote.