Posted by: Jon | 28/10/2009

The daily ‘lurch’

Autumn in SurreyThe other day I took some time out from saving the environment to go for a walk in it with a friend. We strolled through wonderful autumnal woods, their sugar rich colours stunning against a bright blue sky. But it did little to lift my spirits because I find I’m suffering now from the daily ‘lurch’.

My friend, who does not normally talk about such things, had commented how climate change has come to permeate everything over recent months. Not before time, I reflected.

But his observation came as we were just setting out from town and noticing all the adverts in the busy high street. You know the sort of thing…. “Plan A. Because there is no Plan B.”  “Get your free Bag for Life here!” “Recycling 1 glass bottle will power a TV for 20 minutes”.  The mission statement we spotted on a white-goods delivery truck – “We’re Working Harder to Protect the Environment for You”. The bumper sticker on an SUV – “One Life, Love It, Live It!”  I thought about how quickly we have looked on the bright side of apocalypse. Market interests have obscured the harsh reality by manipulating catastrophe to commercial advantage. And I had another anxious stomach ‘lurch’ between the comforting messages I would like to believe in and what rational logic tells me about the true parlous state of the world.  

Here’s another example. I don’t have a pension plan and I try not to worry much about it because who knows what’s going to happen next and at my age it’s a bit late to start. But Prudential plc is reminding me that I am right to be anxious for my future:

Prudential advertisement

The ad goes on to say that not long ago retirement was something ‘to look forward to’. Something we deserved because we’ve worked hard and sensibly prepared with a traditional pension. But now, the Pru warns us, we can no longer rely on all that careful planning and saving. With the predicted next decade of cuts in public spending threatening old age care, property no longer a reliable nest egg, collapsed pension funds, tax measures that will be more severe with every budget and a public debt that, even if it were possible to return to indefinite economic growth, is set to last at least a generation, who can we turn to now for advice on securing our futures? Well, apparently, the Pru has the answers….

My friend is right. Consciousness of impending catastrophe has now infiltrated every aspect of daily life – not least my own. I look at the disjointed media reports, the advertising hoardings, the easy gestures at recycling, with eyes wide open. My stomach starts to flutter the moment I get out of bed and glance at the latest headlines – 4 degrees of warming, the looming threat to Australian coastal living, Obama only bringing token gifts to the Copenhagen table and Christopher Booker still doesn’t believe a word of it. And I can feel the bile rising as I read this week’s spread in my local rag about how our town has been turned green – because a handful of us are sensibly planting fruit and nut trees and learning how to replace buttons on our shirts instead of buying new ones. I can no longer even go out for a country walk without my stomach turning somersaults at how we daily fool ourselves that ‘doing our bit’ for the environment will avert disaster.

But it’s okay. There is one remedy that’s certain to settle my churning stomach acids. No, I don’t mean going to the doctor, as so many of us do, for some magic anti-anxiety pills. I just can’t convince myself that numbing the symptoms is a cure for the malady and anyway I want to keep a clear head. My own prescription is for a heavy dose of facing the facts and communal solidarity.

 In ‘Silent Memoir’, I write of how much better it would be if we ‘were all in it together’.

    “That’s what I hoped for when the banks collapsed. I thought it would be better then because we would all start again with all of us in it together. Of course, it didn’t turn out that way. But back then I used to think about how hard it was to be the only house repossessed. Wouldn’t it have been so much better if everybody lost their home; every house on the street? You wouldn’t have been so alone then; you could have shared out all the misery between you. But if it was just you it was like someone in the family had died. Nobody knowing what to say except they were very sorry and life goes on and they hoped that you’d get over it soon. Of course they did. It made it so much less embarrassing if you got over it soon. Then everybody could forget there ever was a problem and life could go on….

     “If we’d none of us had had any money back then things might have been different. We might have done something while we still had time. But money acted like a buffer. It kept you cushioned; it let you keep on pretending that everything was fine even when you could see it falling apart all around you.  Some people I knew back then said they were worried about the future but their money kept them insulated from it and they never seemed to be as anxious as me. They said that they could see the writing on the wall but they were viewing it through rose-tinted lenses from a comfortable distance – not right up close like me. And if they were perturbed for a moment, their discretionary incomes easily allowed them to slip back into their default states of mind where they could keep things in perspective and take time to consider the options and turn their passing troubled gaze back to the finer things in life.”

I’m sorry if my new anxiety complaint has made me a little acerbic today. I guess that eventually we will all come to realise we are in this together – and maybe sooner than we think.  But meanwhile it’s hard to relax if the axe has actually got to fall before we’re willing collectively to act to avert it. With our heads so evidently on the block now, it does rather tend to concentrate the mind. If only for the sake of my turbulent gastric juices, couldn’t we all just start facing up to it? Please…?


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