Thursday 10 July 2014

Have a Triffid day?

I has tuned into Newstalk FM on the wireless a couple of days ago and they were interviewing Caitlin Moran - because she has just written a fictionalised sequel to How to be a Woman called How to Build a Girl.  That's almost exactly a month since her last airing, when she talked cogently about the downside to a grossly unequal society. She is always good copy, talks a streak and can think on her feet.  Makes a change from the inarticulate drones whom we like to elect when we have an attack of democracy; these lads often stumble on their prepared script and ah er can't get a hm sentence out without ahem a buzzing hm-er confusion of gah verbal tics.  The bold Caitlin was talking about being poor: not can't afford another latte poor but behind on the rent and no food in the house poor.  And all your friends-and-relations are in a similar state so you can't borrow a quid till Tuesday.  I've never been that poor and neither have the politicians who decide how taxes should lubricate our society.

A few years ago, I was dragging myself through another existential crisis and found myself sitting on the end of a wooden pier dangling my feet in the cooling waters of Lough Derg plunk in the middle of Ireland.  I'd gone for a walk along the lake-shore with a friend and I'd been moaning on about me and what my future entailed. When our feet were good and cold and I'd cooled down a bit he asked "Well, what would you do if I gave you a million dollars?" he'd worked in HR for a merchant bank before cashing it all in for the Good Life in rural Ireland and this was the sort of question HR chaps use to cut through the anxieties and constraints that normal people shackle themselves with. "I'd give it straight back" I answered before I could think of anything clever to say. As a knee-jerk response it was close to being true because, although I've not made much progress in de-cluttering my life, I am fully aware that more stuff is not any sort of solution and I can't think of what else to do with $million$.  Stuff-free uses like going to see Macchu Picchu have no attraction for an Agassist like me.

When I was young, about the time I was reading Heinlein, or a bit before, I ate my way through the works of John Wyndham, a very English author of social science-fiction as opposed to space-cruiser and hyper-drive science fiction.  John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris was born on 10th July 1903 and you can see why he might have dumped 2/3rds of his name for his nom de plume - not enough room on the spine of his books for the whole clan. Writing in the 1950s, when Armageddon seemed to be scheduled for next Tuesday, a lot of his fiction took a look at various post-apocalyptic worlds. The best of them for a 12 year old born in the middle of that decade was The Day of the Triffids. Here's the plot:
  • triffids are three-legged walking plants, probably genetically-engineered by the Russkies, which are cultivated as a source of oil; they have a lethal sting, so need to be kept on ranches
  • bloke gets a splat of triffid venom in his eye and needs to be hospitalised
  • the night after his sight-saving operation a star-wars scenario goes wrong and everyone who has looked up at the night sky wakes up blind
  • bloke wakes up un-blind, hooks up with a bunch of other (good) sighted people and avoids other groups of (bad) sighted people
  • most of the white-hats avoid getting killed by triffids, almost everyone else dies as society collapses and escaped triffids stalk (!) the land
It works as a gracious manual for beans-and-ammo self-sufficiency homesteaders. For a 12 y.o. the best part is when they find a three-ton truck, drive up to the loading dock of a big department store and have to decide what to take.  None of them has a million dollars but the HR question is relevant - what do you actually need and what are the useless fripperies that we've been spending money on up until yesterday.  I think we could ask ourselves this question more often and more self-critically.  Wyndham is smart enough to imagine three futures: 1) Survive now by cherry-picking from the boundless stuff that we have available (if we aren't bone-poor CaitlinMoranists) in the Western world. 2) Seize or reinvent the means of production and repair, so that we don't throw away that three-tonner when the gas-tank runs dry. 3) Settle down in a simpler world where we don't need three-tonners any more.  In none of these futures is there any use for an electric tin-opener.

Having spent the last nearly 40 years in training, I'm almost ready for Future 3.  Bring it on.

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