Tuesday, March 10, 2020

As The World Is Being Run By Twits, What Comfort Can Be Found In The Official Advice To Self Isolate (And Other Symptoms Of Viral Paranoia)?

Some idiots are on the news. They think it’s all over. Perhaps it is. This morning, Radio Four’s Today programme ended with a debate about the value of life. I did not catch the name of the participants because of the noise of the helicopters overhead, and the knocking at the door, and the telephone ringing endlessly in the sideboard, and the clatter as the wireless bounced against the glass of the conservatory. But it doesn’t matter. The news, these days, is a parade of fools, oblivious to their own shortcomings, and certain of their views in the binary of contemporary politics, with its wonky arithmetic in which being too right is hardly different from being completely wrong. The debate on today’s End of the World Show was about old age, and whether the lives of the elderly matter less than those of the young. Like many philosophical enquiries, this is a stupid question of the type that my mother, Mrs Elder (or Ma’am) used to answer with another question: “Why is a sparrow?” The theology of sparrows can get you out of a lot of tight spots, but it should be employed sparingly, and with due deference to the 11th Commandment: Never Argue With An Idiot.

But let’s consider where we are. The world is being run - or, more accurately, broken - by a cast of twits. We need not name them. It is quicker, these days, to “Google” the identities of the world’s leaders, for it is hard to remember a time when such a crop of venal inadequates bestrode the planet, spreading harm both by accident and design, and offering cynicism where previously they might have felt obliged to transmit a message of endurance, or at least hope. I am no conspiracist, though I am aware of the unexplained lights in the night sky over Harthill services, and I remain convinced that Paladin, the magic lamp on Mr Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade, was a malign spirit. And yet, one has to ask: how did things get this bad?

Do not mistake me for an optimist. As the almost bald leader of the Scottish mineworkers, Mr Michael McGahey, once told his Leith barber when asked about his holiday plans, I am done wi’ ’aw that. I have seen too many funerals, sung too many hymns. I know what happens when the crematorium conveyor belt cranks into action in a black mockery of The Generation Game, and my religious embrace of joylessness has advanced to such a degree that I now anticipate paradise only in the sense that an eternity in a thrumming void without a cuddly toy for comfort would be a pleasant alternative to another minute staring furiously at the self-service tills in Scotmid while trying find the price for heckly biscuits under “Bakery: other goods”.

Should I cheer up? Certainly, life seems to be easier for the deluded. They can blame everyone else for their failings and find comfort in their righteous wrongness. But what faint parody of reality is it when the young can wish ill of the old because they have lived their lives, and must now shuffle off without complaint to the elephants’ graveyard? Being old is no joke. It is a kind of suspended animation, in which the simple things are elevated to the status of an event. No one who has ever attended a lunch club could mistake it for pleasure, it is just a thin soup, a huddling together, a rest stop on the road to nowhere in which the food is boiled to oblivion.

When Hoovering the hall this morning I did at least discover one crumb of comfort on the temporal runner. The advice of government takes two forms. The first employs the financial morality of the mayor in Mr Steven Spielberg’s prophetic 1975 shark thriller, Jaws: keep the beaches open. The second part passes responsibility for the crisis back to the people, by urging them to “self isolate”. It is a cunning move, but as a lifelong self-isolator I have news: avoiding human contact is a serious pursuit. It is not for everyone. For the unprepared, there will be times when submitting to Bargain Hunt will seem like second best when compared to becoming a crumb in an urn behind the clock on the infernal sideboard.

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