I stumbled across an episode of ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’ this morning. It must have been an early one because it featured the original cast looking remarkably sprightly; that is to say the cast I remember from my childhood when I would watch it on a Sunday evening, pretending I had done all my homework. Even as a child I wasn’t fooled; ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’ was pretty slim on laughs, actually beyond anorexic. Apart from the odd moment where Compo might be sent hurtling down a particularly steep hill into a hedge or got hit with a broom by Nora Batty there wasn’t really a lot to smile about, and so when boiled down it was just half an hour a week of three old cunts talking a huge lot of shit about nothing and gawping at some blue rinse bint with saggy tights. For not one second of the eight seconds that it was on did I feel tempted to see what might happen next, and it occurred to me how awful it would be if the planet was plunged into an apocalyptic event and the only show that survived was ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’: the end of days for the end of days, and if by chance you’d survived whatever had killed everyone else then having to watch that all day would struggle to lift your shattered spirit.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the end of the world lately; I doubt I’m the only one. What has heightened the internal drama that keeps me awake at night is a couple of films that I’ve seen which seem to be very insensitively timed given the world is already turning in a most alarming manner. First, and best, is ‘Greenland’, which isn’t really about Greenland but more about a family trying to stay alive during a enormous meteor strike which really will wipe out as much life on earth as it can. It stars Gerard Butler and he is good. At first the meteor strike is greeted as a spectacle, with people gathered round their TV sets with friends to watch it all pass by, but then things take a nasty turn and all of a sudden everyone is shitting themselves with fear and clogging up the highways to get out. To get on. To get anywhere. What follows is Gerard’s efforts to get his family to safety and while I can’t blame him for trying I suspect I’d most likely just stay put, open some wine, then open some more, and then just wait. ‘Greenland’ is good, it’s definitely better than I’ve made it sound, just don’t watch it if you’re already feeling gloomy.
Then I watched a George Clooney film called ‘The Midnight Sky’. You could tell immediately that it was a George Clooney film because it was very serious, like grey but in colour, and it had a message. Clooney starred in it as well, and he brought along a big old beard to keep his face company. This time the planet in 2049 has been wiped out by some ‘event’ (which we assume is of the nuclear variety) and everyone seems to be dead except George, because he lives right at the end of the village. Of course it has to be worse than just that and so George has a terminal illness to contend with as well, but before he croaks he makes contact with a returning spacecraft to strongly advise it doesn’t come back to earth because there really isn’t a lot worth seeing anymore. It is a good film too but I preferred ‘Greenland’, because somehow that film seemed ever so slightly less preposterous. If ‘The Midnight Sky’ wins any award it is for having the worst end scene of any film I’ve seen for a good while: I won’t spoil it for you but it looks like two characters have just finish reading the regional news in space and then don’t really know what to do next and so just fiddle with stuff and take long pauses and hope someone will take care of it in the edit room (it also reminded me of the end scenes of ‘Police Squad’ with Leslie Nielsen where the frame is meant to be frozen but everyone is just standing as still as possible for as long as possible – hilarity very much intended). That last scene was so bad it made me laugh, but the film in general was a deep bath of sci-fi melancholy and if we go that way I want to be gone first.
However, perhaps we have reasons to be cheerful after all. Last night a twinkly room full of deluded boffins were celebrating the landing of a new Mars rover which will spend the next two years whizzing about looking for signs of life on a planet no one will ever get to. You can dazzle me with as much scientific optimism as you like but in reality we should be thoroughly ashamed about the vast, vast, endless gulps of money we have ‘invested’ in space exploration at the expense of sorting out our problems closer to home. We’ll have spent trillions just to establish that Mars was once home to a long extinct and exquisitely pointless micro-bacterial worm called Eugene and if, maybe, far from now we eventually land someone there to investigate further they will die quickly and horribly and so will every other chump that goes chasing after them. I find it embarrassing watching people cheer when their little robot projects manage to not get burned up on entry and give them all a chance to have a go on the remote control before the battery runs out – who on earth, or indeed Mars, do they think they’re fooling?
I almost forgot that last month I watched Brad Pitt taking on the void in ‘Ad Astra’, a slightly dreary, kind of ‘Apocalypse Now’ in space, and that did a very good job of making our future on other planets seem less than charming; and less than charming is far better than it’s ever going to get. We can all have dreams, but life on other spheres is the dream of the desperate and that certainly won’t be getting us out of any holes in a hurry. Perhaps we should be grateful for decrepit relics of entertainment like ‘The Last Of The Summer Wine’ because all they do is shows us what happens if we get old, and that getting old (and keeping your marbles) is truly the best we can hope for. I feel like I’ve aged more than a year in the last twelve months and maybe I turned it off because I’m jealous: of how much simpler life used to be and that wouldn’t it be nice to grow old in a world that offered comfort, not some growling threat of annihilation. Watching the depressing adventures of Gerard, George and Brad hasn’t helped my outlook on life but I’ve only got myself to blame; and at least I know one thing for sure – I’d rather swallow a meteor and a nuclear bomb than find myself being kept alive, a hundred years from now, and watching ‘Last Of The Summer Wine’ on Mars. That’s no life worth living.
G B Hewitt. 19.02.2021