Love is notoriously unreliable. She who swears her gentleman friend is as likely to sprout flippers and swim beneath the waves to rule Atlantis as so much as glance at another woman is either a fool or a sorcerous. As a single Cynic of a single-parent family I considered myself more conscious than most of the dangers of taking love for granted. But it seems I overestimated the protective power of my natural wariness, for this week I got burnt by one who I have long held in unthinking high affection; one on whom I have bestowed hours of undivided attention, one whom I have rushed home for, been made late for, and woken up early for. Their company has made me laugh, made me wiser, has infuriated me and comforted me. And it never occurred to me that this constant, most intimate partner of all my adult years, when the time came that I might ask for one small favour in return for my devotion, would let me down in my hour of need. But the radio is a fickle lover.
This week my ‘new thing’ was supposed to be getting on radio. Be it as participant in a quiz, caller on a request show or simply a name mentioned briefly in passing. All I wanted was a ‘hello’, perhaps a song, perhaps a ‘shout out’ for my impending Ben Nevis challenge. It did not seem an unreasonable ambition. Some things that get read out on the radio are so mundane that surely they are only aired because nobody else has written in. But allowing the tedious their time is also part of the beauty of radio: it is the people’s forum, which anybody, anywhere can participate in.
Which is why, when I finally summoned the nerve to ask for my own thirty seconds to tire the public, I assumed the chances of my wish being granted were rather good. Yet it turns out it’s harder to get on the radio than I had thought.
I emailed Chris Evans. I emailed Brian Matthews. I emailed Paul O’Grady. I texted Graham Norton. I joked, I talked straight, I begged. All ignored me. I redialled the number for Simon Mayo’s drive-time requests show for 45 minutes before the engaged tone finally relented to a ring, only to hang on for another 15 minutes before a researcher picked up, only to listen to the remaining 45 minutes of the show as inarticulate children with tastes for grating music and adults tackling mountains far punier than Ben Nevis were picked to indulge their life stories instead of me.
As this account testifies, I have these past few days lost a little effort and a lot of time all to no end. Week 25, one week before hitting the half-way mark of my 2013 challenge, was almost the week fate stumped me.
But, my fickle lover shall not have the last laugh. For this Cynic did foresee that her particular brand of charm may not sway the starry-named panoply of Chris, Brian, Paul, Graham and Simon. This Cynic did wonder whether there was room for her to be squeezed on air between all the people calling in to say what road they were driving on and how much they loved hearing [insert show host here] while driving. In short, I did fear failure and so lined up an alternative “new thing”: a good old game of squash.
“Game” may be a rather generous description of my first ever hour on a squash court. At the beginning of the hour I struggled to hit the ball, even when serving. By the end I could as often as not hit balls flying at a convenient trajectory and gentle speed, and my squash buddy therefore judged me to have “come a long way”. Which was generous coming from a man who along that way had been hit in the head by my ball and who had ducked at least twice because he thought I was on the verge of striking him with my racquet (by inaccuracy rather than in rage).
We never actually got as far as keeping score. Despite the logic of the rules not being entirely obvious, it is easy enough to remember, once explained, which lines one may hit above, below or between. To abide by the rules would however have been to sacrifice the “game”, as the only way of maintaining the short rallies we finally built up to was to allow me to hit the ball wherever I could. Including into my squash buddy’s head.
The only rule we did meticulously adhere to throughout the whole hour was that which says a player must have at least one foot in the service box when serving. It was a rule I thought so important that I rarely allowed myself to stray far from my box even when the ball was in play. A ball should come to me, I will not run to it. This is not idleness. A quick internet search for “rules of squash” will inform the novice that the superior player makes their opponent do all the running, and the first step towards that, I argue, is to discipline oneself into not running – regardless of whether one will thereby miss a shot.
Besides being the first step towards a winning strategy for squash, my decision not to run meant I was gratified on my return to the changing rooms to see I had not broken into a sweat during a full hour of this supposed high-intensity sport. I must though have been moving far more than I realised in the moment, for when I woke up the next morning I was transformed into the unoiled Tin Man of Oz. From my stiffened arms and legs to my shoulders and my derrière, I ached awfully all over.
So to sum up, because of the neglect of one who I have loved for many years I end this week mentally and physically drained. Perhaps not the ideal preparation for my next and biggest challenge of the year: the ascent of Ben Nevis.