Monday, July 2, 2012

Apocalypse Now

On Thursday evening in Wallsend, as a brown river poured through the ground floor of her home, destroying carpets, armchairs and kitchen appliances, 8-year-old Ellie Wood asked, “Dad, is this the end of the world?”

I’m sure it felt like that to a lot of people. On a summer’s afternoon, without warning, the sky turned black and a tower of water dumped itself onto the city. Streets were gridlocked, cars floated around, thousand of people were stranded, all in just a couple of hours.

While the Newcastle Apocalypse was doing its thing, I was standing on a sunny terrace at a reception in London, sipping a cooling Pimms before heading to the station to catch the 7 o’clock home.

When I answered my mobile, I sensed real fear in Jo’s voice. “Don’t even try to come home”, she warned. “Newcastle station’s shut”. She’d been trying to leave the city for over two hours to collect Izzy from her child-minder, but hadn’t progressed more than a few hundred yards through the deluge; the torrent had reached the doors of the Volvo and cars were stranded all round her.

Even normally unflappable Mum rang to warn me. She’d come out of a matinee at the Theatre Royal and, like Doctor Foster, stepped in a puddle right up to her middle. Apparently you could white-water-raft down Grey Street. After a three-hour bus journey home, Mum’s driver had refused to set her down at the bus stop on the main road, but insisted on driving into the village and depositing the drenched 91-year-old outside her own front door. Armageddon certainly brings out the best in people.

I guess you could be forgiven for thinking the world is in its death throes. After the hottest March, we’ve had the wettest, most unpleasant three months – Spring got lost altogether. The vegetable garden is a soggy, cold reflection of how it’s supposed to be: courgette plants rotting, runner beans too fed up to bother climbing. Izzy’s trampoline sits unloved and mildew-covered – even the dogs prefer their basket to the wet outdoors. I can claim a bumper crop of slugs, though. And what the forecasters laughingly call this “unseasonal weather” isn’t just over here: severe storms have pounded America’s east coast, leaving millions without power in record 104° temperatures.

I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised. After all, we’ve been warned for 1300 years that the world will end on December 21st 2012 – I guess this is just its dress rehearsal. According to some, we only have another 172 days left of unpleasantness before the ancient Mayan calendar ends, the world gets hit by Planet Nibiru and we get wiped out like the dinosaurs. The Arab Spring is nothing compared to what’s round the corner.

I said this to Jo when she suggested, in desperation, that we use up our remaining air miles and book a holiday somewhere warmer. “There’s no point booking for January,” I said, “though we could actually afford somewhere quite nice because we won’t have to pay for any Christmas presents”.

We spent the next hour musing on what the end of the world will mean. It means this is definitely Andy Murray’s last chance at Wimbledon; Barclays bankers have had their final bonus round so we may as well let them carry on cheating; it means The Voice will never return, Angela Merkel will never be replaced as German chancellor, and I definitely shouldn’t have bothered planting those January King cabbages. Mind you, the slugs have pretty much done for them, anyway.

Then, on Friday, some archaeologists in Guatemala burst my bubble by announcing that they’d found another ancient Mayan text. The good news is the doom-mongers were right: the end date of the Mayan calendar really is December 21st 2012. The bad news is that the calendar starts all over again on December 22nd 2012: apparently it’s just their New Year’s Day.

Yes, there’s really no end to it all: so I guess, as the world keeps spinning into an uncertain 2013, we’re just going to have to grin and bear it.

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