There was a moment when I thought I might get interested in football. Well, to be honest, there was a moment when I thought I might get interested in Fabio Capello. He was so masterful, so disciplined, so fascinatingly un-Italian. He barely spoke a word of English, but promised hardened hacks that in a month he'd be fluent. Such ambition! Such steel! He was anti-frivolity, anti-fun, anti the whole damned soccer circus. What he wasn't anti, alas, was football.
Beyond a little pang of sadness for a young man who shares the same surname as a Nobel prize-winning poet (don't worry, Theo, I was never picked for rounders either!) I can't muster a molecule of interest. I can see that it would be nice for us to win something, though I'm not sure how we get to claim the credit. But a nation is united. It has purchased its strips, its beer and its flags. From 11 June until 11 July, there will be 63 matches. That's (without extra time or commentary) 94 and a half hours. And some people are planning to watch it all.
For those, like me, who aren't, there are plenty of options. You could read War and Peace and read it several times again. You could read Proust. You could practically write Proust. Or you could aim a little lower. You could use the time to read some of the books you've been saving for when you have a moment and, now that you're in solitary non-soccer confinement, you'll certainly have a moment.
You could, for example, read Christopher Hitchens's Hitch-22. I started it last week. Clearly thrown together at breakneck speed, and in gratifyingly bad prose (you too could be a world-famous polemicist!), it's still a gripping glimpse into the pompous psyche of a man who thinks that God isn't great, but he is. If you want an account of a life in which human relationships are actually quite important, you could read Jackie Kay's Red Dust Road, out this week. I read a proof copy a few weeks ago, and couldn't put it down. It's a tremendously moving account of the conflicts and costs of tracing birth-parents, by a poet, novelist and short-story writer known (unlike "the Hitch") for her humanity and warmth. Other books on my fantasy non-football list, already out, are Helen Dunmore's The Betrayal, the follow-up to her wonderful novel The Siege, Lyndall Gordon's biography of Emily Dickinson and her crazy family, Lives Like Loaded Guns, John Lanchester's tour of the global economic crisis, Whoops! and David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, because he's the literary Lionel Messi and unmissable.
Like most bookworms, I'm mostly soldered to a sofa, but sometimes, as Messi would surely tell us, it's good to get the metatarsals moving. You can do this without going near a gym or, thank God, a pitch. You can do this, in fact, by going to a gallery. You won't find me anywhere near British Art Now, the latest product of the patronage of the Emperor of Emptiness, which opens at the Saatchi Gallery, here in London, the day after the World Cup starts. But I will try to get along to the Gagosian to see the work of a true genius – Picasso – in his "Mediterranean Years" and I might even get on a train to Liverpool to ponder Picasso and his politics at the Tate. I'll probably pop down to Tate Modern to see Francis Alÿs's massive sand dune, which opens on the 15th (though I often find the building more exciting than its contents) and I'll certainly go to Tate Britain (after 9 June) to see Rude Britannia: British Comic Art. If the Brits aren't always champions on the football field, we can at least do funny.
For off-field drama, there's a wealth of choices in the capital. I'm desperate to see All My Sons, Arthur Miller's heart-wrenching tale of love, greed and guilt, now on at the Apollo. I'd love to see Simon Gray's tale of secrets and obsession, The Late Middle Classes, at the Donmar, and both Sam Mendes's Bridge Project Shakespeares – The Tempest and As You Like It – from next week at the Old Vic. I'm still cursing myself for missing Mark Rylance's Jerusalem, but am determined to see him, with Gurkha goddess Joanna Lumley and Niles Crane, I mean David Hyde Pierce, in Matthew Warchus's production of La Bête, which opens at the Comedy Theatre on 7 July. And if I suddenly decide that I want my drama al fresco (but as a shivering-even-in-summer southern wuss I probably won't) I'll nip along to The Globe for Macbeth or Henry IV.
I won't, I'm afraid, go anywhere near a pop festival. I like my music in nice buildings, with proper loos, and a nice glass of wine in the interval. I might possibly venture into the courtyard of Somerset House to hear Noah and the Whale (on 10 July) because I love their melancholy musings, and there's an indoor café for escape. I might also venture to Kenwood to hear Rufus Wainwright (on 3 July) because it's beautiful, and he's great. But I'll be much happier inside: at the Wales Millennium Centre, in Cardiff, hearing voice-of-God Bryn Terfel as Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (it opens on 19 June, but you can also catch him at the Albert Hall on 17 July) or at the Royal Opera House (from 22 June) hearing the sublime Anna Netrebko as Manon. Posh? Yes, but not nearly as pricey as the Premier League.
For relaxing entertainment, where you don't have to worry about people forgetting their lines, or their lyrics, or missing a penalty, or being caught off side, you can't beat a film. A nice dark, cosy room, a comfy seat, a vat of popcorn, or a Chunky Monkey ice-cream, and you're sorted. Of the films out this month, I'd want to see Women Without Men on the basis of its title alone, but it's also about Iran, which I visited last year and adored. I'm keen to see Greenberg, the latest offering from doyen of dysfunctional family sagas, Noah Baumbach (what is it with all these Noahs?) and the new Woody Allen, Whatever Works, because you always hope that it will.
And I'd recommend to everyone a film I saw last night. It's called Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema. It's about a Sowetan car-jacker turned entrepreneur, a devastating glimpse of the new South Africa, its poverty, violence and crime. It will probably make you glad you didn't go there. It will probably make you sad for those who can't leave. And it will certainly remind you that there are bigger dreams to break, and higher hopes to crush, than those attached to a cup.
Keeley Hawes (Ashes to Ashes) and Aidan Gillen (The Wire) star in a new drama about all forms of identity crime – and the fictional (alas) specialist police squad that investigates it from the sort of shiny, hi-tech office that only fictional crimebusters inhabit. Gillen plays a cop who has spent 15 years undercover, as the bag man for Turkish heroin traffickers (is that likely?), and is rather too attached to his old life. Created and enterprisingly pursued by genre veteran Ed Whitmore, the format has been sold to ABC in the States.
When? Early July on ITV1
'The South Bank Show' may be no more, but there is still (for now, at least) 'Imagine...', with BBC Creative Director Alan Yentob, perhaps the most enviable man working in television today, returning with his roving arts flagship. This season will feature films on violinist Nigel Kennedy and his love affair with Polish folk music, childhood in art, the renowned literary editor Diana Athill and the soon-to-be septuagenarian (and proudly grey) Tom Jones.
When? Tuesdays from 15 June on BBC1
A corporate lawyer (Jonny Lee Miller) has a vision of George Michael singing "Faith" in his living room and in the lobby of his law firm. Discovering that his hallucinations are being caused by an inoperable brain aneurysm, he suddenly develops a conscience – much to the horror of his friends, family and colleagues. Not the best American import of recent years, or indeed of recent months, but an amiable-enough alterative to Slovakia and Paraguay going to penalties, especially with the promise of further guest stars including Sigourney Weaver and Katie Holmes.
When? Wednesdays from 16 June on Fiver
Last year, Sky Arts harked back to the early days of TV when it broadcast a series of live dramas in which novelists and poets made their debuts as playwrights. It's good to see that the culturally ambitious channel is repeating the experiment, but this time with genuine cutting-edge theatre writers – the likes of 'Shopping and Fucking''s Mark Ravenhill, 'The Vagina Monologues'' Eve Ensler, and Rebecca Lenkiewicz, who was the first woman to have a play performed on the main stage at the National Theatre. Frank McGuinness and Alia Bano complete the line-up.
When? Wednesdays from 9 June on Sky Arts 2
"The new 'Wire'" is the tag that has somehow adhered to this first-rate new procedural, which takes a raw and authentic look at the work of Los Angeles police. "The new 'NYPD Blue'" would be more accurate, though, as the series creator, Ann Biderman, was a writer on Steven Bochco's cherished New York cop show. In time-honoured fashion, 'Southland' teams a wide-eyed rookie ('The OC''s Benjamin McKenzie in a career-reorientating role) with a grizzled veteran (Michael Cudlitz from 'Lost' and 'Band of Brothers') as they patrol LA's gang-infested streets.
When? Thursdays from 1 July on More4
It's back, and if you're restraining a groan, it's possibly because you know this is the last ever series of Endemol's world-beating reality show. Me? I love it: every year loftily dismissing the latest influx of freaks and exhibitionists, before becoming absorbed in their bickering and back-stabbing lives – not to mention relishing each Friday's thrill at seeing what "fashion" monstrosity her stylist has inflicted on Davina McCall. Anyway, this year there will be more housemates than there is space – and you know what that does to battery chickens.
When? From 9 June on Channel 4
Gareth Goes to Glyndebourne
The nation's favourite singing teacher, Gareth Malone ('The Choir'; 'Boys Don't Sing') joins the production team at Glyndebourne as they comb local schools and community groups for raw talent to join the chorus in composer Julian Philips's new opera, 'Knight Crew', which retells the legend of King Arthur in a modern gangland setting. The format may be familiar but it's a winning one, especially with the endlessly enthusiastic Malone at the helm. This paper's critic, Michael Church, thought that the resulting production was "an extraordinarily accomplished piece of work", singling out Malone's work with the chorus.
When? Late June on BBC2
Accidentally on Purpose
The Scottish actress Ashley Jensen has done well for herself, seizing the opportunity afforded by playing Ricky Gervais's side-kick, Maggie, in 'Extras' to build herself a sitcom career in the States – most recently appearing as Christina in 'Ugly Betty'. Now, Jensen gets the 'best friend' role in 'Accidentally on Purpose', playing a party animal offering unsuitable advice to the show's heroine, thirtysomething San Francisco film critic Billie (Jenna Elfman, of 'Dharma & Greg' fame) after Billie becomes pregnant from a one-night stand with a much younger – and poorer – man.
When? Thursdays from 17 June on E4
He looks too gnarled for a Beatles-era John Lennon, but Christopher Eccleston has the acerbic wit and nasal scouse accent down to a tee in yet another biopic of the endlessly fascinating Mop Top. Robert Jones's well-judged drama is part of BBC4's 'Fatherhood' season, so while the period covered, 1967-71, includes the dissolution of the Beatles and of his marriage to Cynthia, and the start of his relationship with Yoko Ono, the emphasis is on Lennon's relationship with his son, Julian, and his own father, Alfred, a merchant seaman who abandoned the family when Lennon was six.
When? 24 June on BBC4
Elmore Leonard's authorial voice has proved elusive in the countless screen adaptations of his books (Barry Sonnenfeld's 'Get Shorty' apart) but this recent US import has a real ear for Leonard's hard-boiled humour. Perhaps it helps that the great man is its executive producer. We're already five episodes in, but each storyline is self-contained and, well, so darned satisfying. All you really need to know is that US Marshall Raylan Givens ('Deadwood''s uber-cool Timothy Olyphant – imagine José Mourinho in a stetson) has been reluctantly posted back to his native Kentucky backwater.
When? Wednesdays on Five USA
While we await the American TV remake and 'Skins: the Movie' (no kidding), here is the fourth season of the Bristolian sixth-former saga, as shown earlier this year on E4. Older adults apparently form a large-ish part of the 'Skins' audience, and the show certainly pushes all the right parental-nightmare buttons, starting this series with the suicide of a girl while she was high on MDMA.
When? Thursdays from 10 June on Channel 4
The stereotype of Britain as 'a polite country of restraint and decorum' is exploded (if the World Cup doesn't do it first) in a challenging and provocative series exploring our traditions of satire and bawdy and lewd humour. Starting in the Georgian era of Hogarth, Gillray and Rowlandson and ending in the near-present of 'Viz', 'Spitting Image' and 'Little Britain', this three-part series also takes in music hall and the postcard art of Donald McGill.
When? Wednesdays from 14 June on BBC4
BBC2's re-commitment to innovative drama kicks off with the Bafta-winner Dominic Savage's striking two-part tale of a young life in the 21st century. Aisling Loftus, an actress of rare naturalism (who played a murdered prostitute in BBC1's 'Five Daughters'), is Lindsey, a teenaged diver aiming for the 2012 Olympics. A liaison with bad boy Robert (Jack O'Connell from 'Skins') threatens that ambition.
When? Early July on BBC2
The IT Crowd
Blessed slacker relief from the testosterone-fuelled air-punching in South Africa, Moss, Roy and Jen (Richard Ayoade, Chris O'Dowd and Katherine Parkinson) return for a fourth series of Graham Linehan's basement-dweller sitcom. Linehan has a real gift for inspired silliness, and the new episodes feature Moss getting competitive over 'Countdown' and extolling the joys of role-playing games, and Roy's adventures on Twitter – or Chitter, as he calls it.
When? Fridays from 25 June on Channel 4
A Century of Fatherhood
The centrepiece of the BBC's Fatherhood Season is a three-parter charting the changing nature of the father's role over 100 years. In Edwardian times, patriarchs were either distant and forbidding or drunk and abusive. Or were they? The first film in the series aims to trash a stereotype that can be dated back to the emergence of the temperance movement. It seems most Edwardian and interwar fathers were as sober and loving as today's "new dads".
When? Late June on BBC4Reuse content