For Europeans, the last World Cup was a little weird from the time-zone
point of view. We’re used to watching games from the Americas in our
evening, but it felt peculiar to be watching games from Korea and Japan
before, during, or instead of breakfast. Also, for the more demanding
nail-biters, you could end up utterly drained and knackered for the
rest of the day—and for most of us, it feels odd to have had your most
intense experience of the 24 hours over by nine in the morning. By
contrast I thought this World Cup, with games at 3, 5 and 8pm, was
going to be perfect. Especially the 8pm game. What’s not to like?
But there is a worm in the bud, and it’s to do with supper. The issue
is when to eat. If you have small children it’s hard to eat before
they’re in bed; if you leave it till after the game, which means
sitting down at about ten, you’re bug-eyed with hypoglycemia. The
grown-up thing is probably to rustle up and exquisite little snack at
half-time, along the lines advocated by Delia Smith in her World-Cup
specific Guardian recipe column. But I find that an impossible addition
to the already packed half-time schedule of going for a wee, fixing
another drink, taking more valium, wiping sweat off brow, checking my
e-mail, watching the highlights, putting the children to bed for the
second time, etc.
So last night I tried eating before the game. That worked OK (thanks to
the microwave). Except as I dragged myself to bed at about 11.30 I
suddenly realised that, because I’d had dinner an hour and a half
before I usually do, I had a bad case of the munches. Fridge
inspection. Yoghurt? No. Pizza? Don’t be stupid. Keen’s cheddar?
Perfect. Then I went upstairs and read Emmanuel Carrère's biography of
Philip K. Dick, already mentioned in this blog, for half an hour or so.
Then I tried to sleep.
There are quite a large number of books about how to get a good night’s
sleep, and good ‘sleep hygiene’ in general, and not a single one of
them recommends a combination of late-night cheese-eating and reading
about Philip K Dick. I was awake about half the night, at first trying
hard to make myself fall asleep (which always works so well), then
resigning myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to sleep, and then
finally falling into a half-dream, half-reverie about what Phil Dick
would have made of the World Cup.
Carrère's book is emphatic about Dick’s belief, which throughout his
life was intermittent but overpowering, that the world as we see it is
an illusion. He thought that he was the only person who understood that
reality is not real. He had visions of ultimate evil lurking just
behind the surface of things, and most of his books play with the idea
of being trapped in an illusion or simulation; an idea whose emotional
texture is, in Dick’s work, more or less horrific.
So anyway, as I was lying there sweating out cheese and half-awake, I
suddenly thought: Dick would have said that the England team have been
replaced by robots. That’s why they’e playing so badly. They’re not in
fact the England team at all, but physically identical cyborg replicas,
who’ve been programmed to adopt a style of play based on the long-ball
game prevalent in the English leagues about ten years ago. That’s why
great players like Lampard and Gerrard suddenly look like they’ve been
drafted in from Howard Wilkinson’s Sheffield Wednesday. And the
accompanying thought: where are the real England team? Who’s keeping
them hostage? Will they escape? Will they turn up in time?
I know this sounds like a joke, but the tone of the Dick biography is
so dark that this sort-of-dream arising from it was actually rather
troubling. That’s definitely the last time I eat cheese at bedtime.
I hope the real, non-cyborg England show up tonight. Please feel free
to insert here your own gag about how if Eriksson was replaced by a
robot, nobody could tell.