I am now officially 46. Closer to 50 than to 40, as some birthday philosophers would put it, though since we have yet to master time travel it seems rather redundant to put that into words; it really isn’t that clever an observation. Nor does it matter. In the unlikely and quite cruel scenario that I should ever reach 90 I can say that today marks the end of the first half of my life and therefore the start of the second. That doesn’t mean it’s all downhill from here, though neither do I have any grand ambitions: given I never bothered to run a marathon before I turned 46 it is even less likely that I could muster the reserves to do so now. Quite what age I’ll get to is anyone’s guess. With the wonders of modern science I might do alright, though my body will never thank me for all the wonderful things I’ve put it through. I can easily see me weeping with self pity on my death bed, bemoaning my poor lifestyle choices and begging for a few more years, though the way the world seems to be going there is just as much chance I’ll be glad to have had my time in the sun and to leave everyone else to enjoy their extreme weather experiences.
The news reports made our heatwave sound like it had come out of nowhere, but we’d already been told it was coming. For decades. You can call it extreme and unprecedented all you want but it is also real: this is our new reality, just as Covid is and Brexit is and Love Island is and Claire Balding is. They are there, all the time, and so is the weather we’ve made for ourselves. As we have recently seen, I am capable of acts which scale improbable heights of stupidity, but at least I’m not the only one. Only a very foolish fool would be so foolish to deny we’re on a hiding to nothing with the weather, and only an even bigger fool would refuse to accept we only have ourselves to blame. We’ve just been so bloody pleased with ourselves for so long that our supposed brilliance has distracted us. We’ve paused in front of the mirror to admire the view for a little longer than is healthy.
To look around and take in the details doesn’t hurt. The little signs that the game is up. It isn’t all just in the big things: the pollution, the climate, the disease, the suffering, the sheer scale of our consumption. They’re all very worrying, but so is the low level thickness. Pause for a few seconds almost anywhere and you can see thick as mince all over the place. I upgraded my smartphone this morning, because I’ve only been asked if I want to upgrade my smartphone, by my smartphone, about four times a day since what feels like 1987. I noted that one of the upgrades I would be entitled to was a change in the way I could review my phone’s performance. Prior to the upgrade I could easily see this as a % figure – 100% being tip top and so on. But now, because someone thick has just assumed that I am also incredibly thick and incapable of understanding percentages, this figure has been replaced with an emoji, so if I’m ever worried about how well my phone is doing I can be reassured with a comical smiley face. Excuse my language, but whoever thought that was a step forward is an unbearable cocksucker. They have, through one small act, pushed back humanity several notches. And this is happening everywhere and all the time, and this is why it will be no shame at all when we’re all gone.
So, using this as an example of the very worrying thickening which the human race is undergoing one has to wonder exactly what I might be in store for in my second batch of 45 years. I mean, it’s quite scary. I was trying to scurry around a very busy Tesco the other day and there was such an awful tension in the air. The heat had sunk into every pore in that shop and was stoking up a quite unnecessary sense of barely bridled aggression. Not being the biggest of chaps I managed to swerve and shimmy my was around without too much trouble but I was caught out by an unforgivably fat man who was staring with an unhinged kind of hatred at an elderly Asian lady who was clearly, and very likely didn’t realise, in his way. As she shuffled away, completely oblivious that this man was mere seconds from eating her, he raised his flabby arms as a final gesture of anger and all I could think was how awful it was that this was happening while the end of ‘Lovely Day’ by Bill Withers was blasting out from the store speakers. This was clearly not a lovely day for him, or me, and ‘Lovely Day’ is not as good a song as you think it is, so to hear Withers lazily repeat himself while the song is beaten into submission as a backdrop to such a grim vision in a hot Tesco seemed to sum up just how dire and futile a spot we’ve put ourselves in.
‘Lovely Day’ was released in 1977, which clearly isn’t anywhere near as great a year as 1976. Bill Withers was a very nice man (he also features in this rather good joke: How do you turn a duck into a soul singer? Put it in the microwave until it’s Bill Withers) but ‘Lovely Day’ is a dangerously insipid song, though that’s exactly what makes it oddly fitting as a soundtrack for the decline and fall of modern civilisation. And as each year grinds down on us harder and harder with the heat and the floods, the vented spleen and the pointless updates and the relentless dumbing down of pretty much all existence that song should be played by default, lame as it may be. As bombs start to land and riots break out and the streets fill with blood and society finally caves in and performs one last, inevitable act of brutality upon itself it should be accompanied by Mr Withers sustaining that long ‘lovely daaaaaaaayyyyyyyyy’ time and time again, drowning out the cries of orphaned babies, the splintering of teeth and the ripping of sinew. And if I am still alive at that point I shall be very glad to have got a few more happy years under my belt. And I shall remember that for me the 20th July will always be a happy day as long as I am alive, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop that. Not even Bill Withers.
G B Hewitt. 20.07.2022