Lucy Man­gan

The nu­clear apoc­a­lypse won’t be so bad…

The Daily Telegraph - - News Review & Features -

When the world is go­ing to hell in a hand­cart, we have nowhere to go but up

At last! Pes­simists across the globe are cel­e­brat­ing – or would be if it were in our na­ture – for lo, our finest hour is at hand.

The world has been re­or­gan­is­ing it­self in the men­tal im­age we have had of it for some time now, but the mis­sile-test­ing among our non-friends to the south-and-round-the-back-abit is re­ally start­ing to put the fin­ish­ing touches to the pic­ture.

The idea of nu­clear war used to have me con­vuls­ing with fear as a child. From the age of about six to nine, I would lie sleep­less in bed at night wor­ry­ing about what would hap­pen. Could I run fast enough to get home from school if the four-minute warn­ing went off be­fore 3.30pm on a week­day?

If I hid enough jumpers un­der the bed for ev­ery­one, could we sur­vive a nu­clear win­ter? Would the plas­tic tops of Panda Pops, im­pen­e­tra­ble to their ac­com­pa­ny­ing straws and to child­ish hands, also keep ra­di­a­tion out and en­able us to re­hy­drate af­ter the mush­room cloud had done its work?

Nearly 40 years on, when the first rum­blings from the Koreas, Ja­pan and China were heard af­ter the or­ange in­au­gu­ra­tion, I re­alised that early anx­i­ety had im­mu­nised me against any in­ca­pac­i­tat­ing re­ac­tion to this par­tic­u­lar threat be­ing made man­i­fest. In­stead of del­i­quesc­ing in ter­ror as a night­mare be­came real, I felt only the re­lief that comes from be­ing able to con­sol­i­date all the quo­tid­ian wor­ries one ac­crues as an adult into one big one.

No more fret­ting about school re­ports, the state of the house, not hav­ing enough sex (I haven’t got time – have you seen the state of the house?), dodgy moles and so on – we could be ir­ra­di­ated ashes by the week­end. For the anx­ious pes­simist, this is like be­ing de­clut­tered by a psy­chi­cal Marie Kondo.

As the test mis­siles have con­tin­ued to fly, how­ever, I have moved even fur­ther on. Some­how I have pushed aside even that one, large, seem­ingly im­mov­able block of fear of mass an­ni­hi­la­tion and strolled into green, sunny up­lands of the soul.

I am san­guine. More than that – I am al­most con­tent. I feel both shriven and lib­er­ated. Pes­simists are peo­ple who, au fond, pre­pare for the end of the world every day, in ev­ery­thing we do. The worst case sce­nar­ios we end­lessly en­vis­age are minia­ture re­hearsals for the day the might­i­est shoe of all (in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal, bal­lis­tic) drops. Now that it’s nearly here, I very much feel that my life’s work is over. It’s time to have some fun. I have started wear­ing all the clothes – some of which still have their la­bels on three years af­ter they were first brought home – and sta­tionery I keep for “best”. I’m us­ing all the hand­bags, mois­turis­ers and make-up I have never touched be­cause they’re too ex­pen­sive and beau­ti­ful to use. I shall deny them their des­tiny no longer, now that mine is known.

“What’s the worst that could hap­pen?” pes­simists have heard from op­ti­mists all their two-drinks-be­low-par lives. “Life’s too short! Go for it!” We, quite rightly, dis­missed these as the plat­i­tudes of im­be­ciles. The worst that could hap­pen was that a bus could mount the pave­ment and plough through the plate glass win­dow of the café I had briefly con­sid­ered sit­ting down in and not quite en­joy­ing an over­priced mac­a­roon. Life, with­out re­cent medical di­ag­no­sis to the con­trary, was never too short not to spend £200 on a pair of shoes. (The worst that can hap­pen there, by the way, is that your child is kid­napped and you find your­self £200 short of the ran­som de­mand af­ter you have ex­hausted every source, and the shop turns out to have a cred­it­note only re­fund pol­icy. I have lit­er­ally made this ar­gu­ment in the door­way of LK Ben­nett, to a friend who nearly hit me.)

It makes sense. When life is good and the world is sta­ble, pes­simists seek out the down­side. When life is bleak and the world is go­ing to hell in a hand­cart that has al­ready been doused in petrol and set on fire, we have nowhere to go but up. Op­ti­mists, mean­while, must deal not only with the shock of – well, you know, im­mi­nent nu­clear war – but of hav­ing their world­view up­ended and must try to toughen their ten­der, in­no­cent mind­sets, be­fore it is too late.

Which it al­ready is, by the way. But it doesn’t do to dwell at this stage.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that we want to die (though as pes­simists are of­ten in­tro­verts too, we wouldn’t mind ev­ery­one else per­ish­ing if we got to live on in set­tle­ments too far apart from each other to al­low for ca­sual drop-ins). It’s just that we can cope if we have to. In the end we will be the ones keep­ing calm, gath­er­ing the fam­ily to­gether as the sirens wail, play­ing snap with the kids and stroking alarmed pets sooth­ingly un­til the first strike takes us all out. It will, I’m telling you, be our finest hour. If, of course, we get that long.

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