The nuclear apocalypse won’t be so bad…
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.