I set off to buy tranquillisers in order to try to get on a plane to Boston. Sometimes there's no other way

I get back home late at night to find a message - we may have won the Prix Italia for my BBC2 trilogy Shooting the Past. Do I want to go? A weekend in Florence is naturally very tempting, but the only problem is: I will do almost anything to avoid getting on to a plane. And my new play Remember This is about to have its first run-through at the National Theatre. A run-through that I have been agitating for. I decide to try to get to Florence by train. Unfortunately, there is apparently only one couchette available on the whole of the Paris-Milan train, and that requires me to share with five other people.

It is eerily reminiscent of my early TV play, Caught on a Train, in which Peggy Ashcroft terrorised an anxious Englishman who'd also decided not to fly. The night train from Paris to Milan is absolutely packed with a large Taiwanese contingent and lots of young French couples looking anxious. We are squashed into tiny couchettes, it is fantastically hot, and an elderly Taiwanese couple talk loudly most of the night, as if there is nobody else in the compartment, and the whole carriage is shaking with maniacal laughter coming from somewhere down the corridor.

When I arrive in Florence, the festival has shut down for the afternoon and everybody is having a siesta. So, a chance to wander alone around the city. The Prix Italia ceremony is extraordinary, mainly because the compere, a star of Italian TV, refuses to come out and start because he feels he is not prepared enough. The whole show is held up for an hour, the audience catcalling and screaming abuse. The head of RAI, Italian state television, has to stand up and confront the audience to try to pacify them.

By the time we prizewinners bow to the 2,000-strong multitude, everybody is completely soaked in sweat, having eventually experienced a bizarre mixture of the Des O'Connor show and the BFI film awards. Nevertheless, there is no mistaking the importance attached to the award by all the European journalists and broadcasters.

After the chaos, a magnificent banquet is served in the floodlit cloisters of Santa Croce, at least eight courses, a balmy Italian evening and finally the night spent sandwiched between five other people seems worth it.

Until, that is, I am told of an imminent rail strike. I rush to the station and find the place absolutely awash with tourists trying to get out. Miraculously, the Paris train is allowed to depart. I return in much greater luxury, a first-class compartment to myself, a fine, old-fashioned, wood-lined carriage, and a night without incident except for the sounds of vigorous love-making from the compartment next door, which puzzled me deeply as it was occupied by a solitary, pale-faced Englishman.

I attend the first preview of Remember This at the Lyttelton Theatre. There is nothing more exciting and terrifying for a writer in theatre than the very first moment the play encounters an audience. The adrenalin and nerves make me view the audience trooping in through a hallucinatory gaze: they all appear to be over six foot tall. I meet somebody I was at school with 30 years ago, who towers over me brandishing his programme. Nevertheless, it goes well, the video images all work, and you can feel the audience becoming more and more wrapped up in the story. The acting is terrific.

Later in the week, I share a dressing-room with Elinor Goodman, the no-nonsense political editor of Channel 4 News, and Adam Boulton, her counterpart at Sky News. We are at Millbank and I'm about to be interviewed about the play and my film Food of Love, which also opens this week. The air is thick with political speculation. I argue vigorously that surely air-traffic control will not be privatised after the Paddington rail crash. But I am firmly told that it will definitely go ahead. I leave with my flying phobia growing worse.

On the first night of Remember This, there are passionate and favourable reactions afterwards from the audience. The play does indeed look startling on the Lyttelton stage. But I know from experience that nearly all new plays, whoever they are by, get mixed reviews and I'm fully expecting this to be no different.

Indeed, the first reviews are not as wild about the central image of the play - the discovery that the video record of our lives and our recent history is fading into oblivion - as I'd hoped. The main criticism seems to be: "Why hasn't anybody else spotted this phenomenon? And surely all the big collections can cope anyway."

This is particularly galling for me, because the full impact of the disappearance of video is only just being realised worldwide. Archives in many different countries are realising that it will take literally millions of man-hours to transfer their collections to a digital format and therefore save our recent history for posterity. Nobody at the moment can afford to do this in anything like a comprehensive way. So there are pieces of our history going into oblivion right at this moment.

On Friday, I set off to buy some tranquillisers in order to try to get on to a plane to fly to Boston for a screening of Shooting the Past. Sometimes, there's no other way.

This article first appeared in the 25 October 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - Why the old left is wrong on equality