So we’re starting to open up again. Back to normal? Pandemic over, or biding its time? Have we learned anything from our past mistakes? I doubt it.
Ahead of the rest of society I stopped going out to clap for the NHS and our other essential workers at 8pm every Thursday Night a few weeks back. Its not that I do not have every respect and admiration for all that they do, and my wife and I will continue to support them in any practical way that we can. Done once in a while this public demonstration sends a powerful, moral boosting, message to those we rely on most but, in my view, as a weekly routine it does little more than confirm us as a nation gripped by hysteria like a stampeding herd of cattle. I might feel differently were we living opposite a hospital, or had any number of these much undervalued workers in the vicinity. I would then probably continue with robust enthusiasm, but where we live they cannot possibly hear us and the whole ritual has become no more than a way of signaling to our neighbours what unthinking, compliant, citizens we have become. These things I ain’t!!!
So then restrictions are slowly relaxing. Put in place to supposedly protect us from this most gentle of reminders, visited upon us by the notional Earth God, Gaia, that we should mend our ways before she gives us a more painful slap. The time when we could comfortably have managed our greed and fecundity is, however, now long passed. That of unmitigated suffering will soon be with us as, one way or the other, Mother Earth will shortly take matters into her own hands and remove around two thirds of us from this mortal coil. This cull may take the form of disease, starvation, genetic failings or something totally beyond our control, such as a meteor strike, solar flare or super volcano. It may even mean the end of the line for our sadly failed species, what is for sure is that this will not be the end of life on Earth.
Our ultimate demise has been assured by our brief techno addiction. Like any other addiction we have become reliant upon it to the exclusion of anything else, including reality. Unable to coexist with the other life forms with which we share this planet we now find nature toxic and can, unlike any other species, no longer survive naked in its presence. We have become aliens in our own world and, unlike any species before us, have worked tirelessly to engineer our own richly deserved extinction. It is just unfortunate that we will in all probability take many of our better adjusted contemporary life forms with us before the end.
Having quit our natural habitat in Africa to forage further afield for richer pickings, faster than evolution could encompass, our restless ambition necessitated the invention of clothing and ever more sophisticated shelter, to cope with environments to which we are wholly unsuited. This we call ‘Civilization’. We embarked on this course toward suicide by luxury around ten thousand years ago with the discovery and development of agriculture. This seemed like a good idea at the time, it enabled us to literally ‘put down roots’ and ultimately facilitated the development of our great cities and present culture. With ever more ‘oh so smart’ brains gathered together in close proximity, and the free time to use them, we came up with ever more advanced technology to further improve our quality of life, but not until we harnessed power beyond that of our own muscle, and a few stronger beasts, could we be more than an annoying irritant to the planet.
We had long known fire, wind and water as sources of power but now, coupled with the invention of steam powered devices, we could become a real nuisance. The arrival of the internal combustion engine, electricity and nuclear fission sealed our fate. We were hooked, our inherent greed liberated on a boundless orgy of destruction. In barely two hundred years we have wrecked our own planet. Where to now?
The current piffling has all too clearly revealed our vulnerability. With supermarket shelves denuded by no more than panic buying we were immediatly in trouble. Imagine a solar flare, meteor strike or similar natural catastrophy, never mind our capacity to destroy our own environment. Our whole food supply is based today on the ‘just in time’ system, which relies on restocking our food sources on a sophisticated three day cycle, keeping nothing in reserve. Break that cycle and, inside a week, we all begin to starve. How many modern folk are capable of hunting or fishing, let alone foraging safely among our native plants? Even were we all expert at living off the land, given our massive overpopulation, everything would be completely denuded within days.
We are doomed, our demise guaranteed by that of which we are most proud, our own precious intelligence. Nobody likes a smart arse, especially God, and thus we are set to trigger the sixth great extinction, of which we are aware, since life began. Left solely to our own devices this may take another thousand years or so, brief enough in geological terms, but should a natural disaster hit us in the meantime, which it could at any given moment, the majority of us will be gone inside a few months. At least then, however, there may be another iridium strip, or similar, as evidence for the next dominant species to discover, should they care or be unfortunate enough to have enquiring minds and want to find out why the last lot left.
It is perhaps a sobering thought, that while Ava Kronenbourg and her warmists concern themselves solely with issues of global warming three of the previous five great extinction events appear to have resulted from cooling from whatever cause. Time for a change perhaps? Never mind, cheer yourselves up with a look at the night sky, if you can see it for the neighbour’s patio lights. We can’t ruin anything up there and on that scale our whole solar system, even the entire galaxy, is a complete irrelevance.
Short term, I have seldom seen our countryside looking more lush and beautiful as our wildlife seizes the opportunity handed to it by our enforced absence. Only the other day our friends from a few doors down phoned to see if we were OK and Emma mentioned that she and her husband had just had a cock chafer in the bedroom. Somewhat taken aback by her frank and rather unnecessary revelation I sympathetically replied that while I’ve had my share of carpet burns in the living room I’ve never actually suffered that particular discomfort, but not to worry its just a function of the passing years and, with several very adequate non prescription solutions available from any decent chemist’s, everything should be revving like a Ferrari again in no time.
“May-bug?” she ventured with a slightly quizzical intonation. Of course! I knew that! Cockchafer, all one word, Melolontha melolontha, one of the Scarabaeidae. It was to avoid just this kind of confusion that the Swede, Carl Linne, invented the modern system of binomial nomenclature in 1735 with the publication of his great work ‘Systema Naturae’, initially just fourteen pages long but by the twelfth edition it had grown to three volumes and 2,300 pages. He even changed his name to the Latin version Carolus Linnaeus by which he is known today.
This is a beetle that, like so much else, used to be seen everywhere, another casualty of modern farming methods and pesticides they were a familiar herald of summer throughout my youth as they insistently battered against window panes in a vain bid to regain their lost freedom.
Living at the time in South London stag beetles were a more localised speciality as this area was, and I believe remains, perhaps unexpectedly, their main sphere of operation. I used to jog around the excellent Carshalton Park in the evenings in those days and on one occasion nearly had a heart attack when a three inch long male specimen landed with a plop on my bare neck and clung on with its set of twelve claws. These too are far scarcer these days as aside of pesticides they suffer from our tidy minds and, of course, the all pervasive ‘Elf and Safety’ which insists on clearing away any fallen or standing dead wood, on which they rely for their life cycle.
Its quite alarming, even out here, just how dramatically insects in general have reduced in only a very few years. Rabbits too are notably absent of late. They always appeared to be a rarity in any mammal survey as they were so common that no one bothered to record them. Now, however, they are apparently suffering from some new disease as well as myxy’ and numbers have truly crashed. There are winners too in all this, a red kite passed through on 14th and our friends down the lane tell me they had one in the back garden recently. Milvus milvus that is, hopefully.
Buzzards were unseen here until the new millennium but now seem more common than sparrows, with the record being ten at one time soaring high over my garden. If the rabbit population reduces for a protracted period, however, both buzzards and red kite will be sure to follow, although short term, being predominately scavengers, they may have been boosted by the availability of fresh corpses.
Now, I outlined my trials and tribulations with poetry and the written word last month. What few who know me can possibly realise is that, at one time, before comprehensively failing as a scientist, I did genuinely see a future for myself in the arts and, unlikely as it may seem, I attended Wimbledon Art College for a period in the latter half of the sixties.
Sadly this too was to end in misery. The entrance lobby, in those days bore a huge copy of Pablo Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, which inspired myself and two of my contemporaries to suggest we produce a modern, peacetime, sequel on a similar scale, to provide balance on the opposite wall and reflect the modern era of peace at the end of ‘The Summer Of Love’. This we titled ‘The Birth Of Creation’ and, with the blessing of those in authority, duly embarked on our noble project.
We worked mainly on Saturday mornings with massive enthusiasm, and at a pace which mirrored the energy of the time, to produce an enormous collage of embedded genitalia and emergent foetuses, all resplendent in the most brilliant colours available to us. Surely a masterpiece that would endure for centuries.
Now it may be that the worthies in charge misinterpreted our intention but I prefer to believe we were simply ahead of our time and the world was not yet prepared for the magnitude of our collective genius. After all Picasso had his Blue Period too, or was it us that misinterpreted that?
It was not to be. Recognition must surely come eventually, perhaps many years after my death, but the world can never be adequately compensated for the agony of losing this great work.
We saw ourselves as founding a new epoch, like The Pre-Raphaelites, The Impressionists or, as Picasso himself, The Cubist Movement. Instead ‘The Birth Of Creation’ was destroyed and we were effectively asked to leave that erstwhile institution. Demoralised at being unable to form our own dynasty, we drifted off to the pub where we were quick to bond with all the other artists.
My artistic bent soon took another turn and myself and my associates threw ourselves into the music industry with renewed enthusiasm. As the sixties faded into a new decade we must have formed at least half a dozen potential super groups. Who now, for instance, can forget the legendary ‘Target’. OK then, that’ll be everyone.
Likeminded friends succeeded and I could do a fair bit of name dropping at this point, however despite such connections, in a cruel world, we failed again impeded by the minor fact that we had no instruments, couldn’t play any anyway, and none of us could sing. Again, our incredible innovation was ahead its time. Ten years later we could have been huge, in the punk era. Our ability to nut people and gob over an audience was never in question. The strange thing is that throughout life, from then on, I have occasionally been recognised and asked for my autograph, the last time by a nun in the middle of a nature reserve, no, really. I have absolutely no idea why! Does this happen to anyone else? Assuming you’re not Paul McCartney.