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Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Absolutely Nothing At All

I have nothing to say today. Rather than saying nothing myself, I am here (in a bid to win the Johann Hari Award) re-producing nothing that Stephen Fry wrote in the late 1980s in The Listener (still on sale now in his book Paperweight):
This week I am not going to write an article, for the sad and lonely reason that my brain seems not to be working today. I hate to short-change you, but that's it. Nothing to say. For those of you reading who've never had to sit down on a weekly basis and provide 850 gleaming words of discursive prose for an imperious martinet of an editor who is expert with single-stick, fencing foil, field gun and combat sarcasm I may tell you that it isn't a breeze. A breeze is one of those things which it most specifically never is. It may be that you couldn't care a busman's burp what it is or isn't. 'It can be a breeze,' you reason, 'or it can be a hurricane. Of what possible interest can it be to us? We pay good money for these words and we don't give a monkey's god-daughter what pain the production of them may cost.' I suppose you're right, damn you; you're hard but you do have a very good point. After all, I should be most surprised if, as I was tucking into a packet of Abbey Crunch biscuits, Mr McVitie were suddenly to appear on my door-step and give me a solid quarter of an hour on how hard they were to bake, what agonies of composition the devising of the recipe gave him and how unappreciated he and his army of skilled pastrycooks were. Yet I am morally, if not contractually, obliged to give you your eight hundred and fifty whether you want them or not: and if I am going to have the impertinence to harangue you in the first place I might as well harangue you on the painful topic of how hard it is to think up subjects for haranguement.
My 'copy', as we scribblers call it, is generally required to be handed in for marking by Thursday morning. I speak to you now on a Wednesday evening, my brain emptier than a camel's bladder. My usual course is to trawl the newspapers for matter which enrages me. How many times has Kenneth Baker used the word (sic) 'standards' and 'values' this week and how many times has he used them in a sense comprehensible to speakers of the English language? Has Paul Johnson blinded the world with the shining love of his vision, depth, insight and humanity once more? Has the government been Up To Something? It sounds a tadge pompous, as if I'm a sentry on patrol guarding the gates of decency, but I have to start somewhere. Today I've drawn a blank. Nothing seems to have angered me at all either in print or on the television screen. The only remarkable occurrence was that of the writer to Points of View who ended her letter to Anne Robinson with the phrase 'Ta muchly' which caused a strange shudder in my bowels and small green and red lights to dance in front of my eyes, but that soon passed. Perhaps something in my own life can be turned artfully into a sustaining 850-word parable that will amuse, enlighten and entertain? A van driver reversed into the front of my car crushing it like an eggshell this morning. I barked my shin on a table leg at 3.24 p.m. and I dropped a potato behind the sink at 7.50 where it is likely to remain for all time. John Donne could knock that little list of cataclysms into a pretty decent sonnet that would overturn the government and beckon in the thousand-year reign of Christ, I expect, but it's beyond my powers.
When the newspapers fail to yield fitting subject matter, it is surely time to pace the room like a caged tiger convolving great thoughts or to amble down the road on a letter-posting mission in order to clear the head. This latter course often works, which is surprising as it is the clearness of the head which is the problem in the first place. But today nothing: nix, zilch, sweet zip dang-doodley zerosville Idaho. Tennis players have elbows, house-maids have knees, writers just have blocks. I have to believe that I am not alone, otherwise life would be insupportable. Presumably the day dawns which sees Roger Woddis bereft of an idea - I have yet to see any evidence of that day, I am glad to say, but it must dawn. Does Bernard Levin have seven bottom drawers that he providently filled in the fat months so that the Times readership is fed during the lean ones? Who can say?
Well, my long day's task is done and I am for the night, as Cleopatra almost said. Eight hundred and fifty words of empty logorrhoea. I just hope you don't feel cheated. I can console myself with the knowledge that until Douglas Hurd has steered his abominable Criminal Justice Bill through Parliament I have the right to remain silent without your drawing any inference from that silence. 
I have nothing to say and I've said it. 

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