Today I tweeted that I’d watched the new action-disaster movie Greenland, which involves Gerard Butler rushing to get his family to a government bunker in the face of some extinction-level event. Within minutes my phone was pinging with messages from friends, all of them wishing to make it very clear that if – no, I see most of them actually said “when” – we are faced with such a thing ourselves, they will be rushing precisely nowhere. “All that EFFORT!” wrote one. “And for what?! To scratch an existence amidst the smoking ruins. Feck off.” Others detailed plans involving long-husbanded bottles of expensive whisky or “finally lighting that £50 scented candle”. I couldn’t agree more. When our time comes, I will sit back and let the comets fall, content in the knowledge that I lived surrounded by my soulmates.
It is the cat video to end all cat videos and the internet has rightly gone mad for it. A 30-second clip of an online Texas court hearing shows one of the lawyers appearing on screen as – well, you may be ahead of me here – a cat. The judge points out that the lawyer, one Rod Ponton, seems to have a cat filter on. Ponton gives the kind of small strangulated cry that suggests he is, all at once, aware of everything. The deep, deep knowledge of the intransigence of computers, the endless vicissitudes of life and the malevolence of fate are all contained within that tiny groan. His assistant is trying to remove it, he says. Straight faces are maintained, as befits a situation that is essentially that of a man dying a thousand deaths while looking like a lachrymose, semi-cartoon kitten. Ponton professes himself willing to go on in his enforced felinity. “I am live,” he assures the assembled judiciary, with a kind of desperate nobility. “I am not a cat.”
Amid all the hilarity and rightful celebration of a half-minute that seems to contain most of humanity’s absurdity and grandeur, a question does quietly assert itself: isn’t that exactly what a cat would say?
I am 46 years old and I have just bought my first cookbook. That is how much, my friends, I loathe cooking. I hate reading about meals, I hate thinking of meals. I hate shopping for meals, preparing meals and applying heat in various form for various times to make my shambolic assemblages palatable to the ever-gaping maws of my family. No, I don’t find my own spiritual nourishment in nourishing them. I find it a criminally boring waste of time and resent every moment it parts me from the 1,001 better things I have to be getting on with.
People say that food is a way of expressing yourself and they’re quite right. Putting edible meals – the four I have in my repertoire, in a rotation interspersed with takeaways, Charlie Bigham’s pies, and fish fingers and oven chips – on the table is for me a thrice-daily reminder of how utterly lacking in soul, sensuality and generosity of spirit I am. What does it tell you about yourself when you look at a husband or a child diving delightedly into a repast you have created, and are not suffused with a warm and loving sense of maternal and marital satisfaction but filled with bitterness at the time it takes for the bastard thing to be demolished versus the time it took to make? Nothing good, I assure you.
So. A cookbook. It’s meant to break me out of the cycle of loathing. I’m sending myself on a forced march through new recipes, searching for something to tip the balance of time invested versus time taken for consumption in my favour, and make me into some semblance of A Good Person. This may be the first time a book has ever failed me.
Ah, the outrage – both genuine and stoked by various outposts of the media who think the best way to help in a pandemic is to make everything worse – at the suggestion that holiday options might be curtailed this year. What larks.
Does nobody realise – or recall – that nobody in Britain went on holiday at all before 1974, and that was just a family from Cheshire who got lost on the way to see an auntie in Keswick and had to stay at an unexpectedly nice pub for the night. It’s only in the last nanosecond of human history that it’s come to be considered a human right.
Once this is all over, the smallest foray anywhere is going to feel like an epic adventure. Two weeks in Madagascar after spending a year watching Madagascar on repeat with a five-year-old would make you insensible. We’re all going to be like vampires cringing away from the sun. We are going to have to build up tolerances we’ve lost without ever knowing we had them. Ordinary lives are going to be all the excitement we can cope with. And it’s still going to be wonderful.
“My word,” said Mike Parker Pearson, a professor of British later prehistory at University College London, “it’s tempting to believe it.” And when you hear a professor of British later prehistory lose his shit like that, you better KNOW something big has gone down. In this case, almost literally, as archaeologists appear to have found a circle of indentations in Wales that precisely match the Stonehenge monoliths. It provides potential proof of the historical foundation of the account in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Arthurian tales of Merlin capturing such a monument in Wales to have it relocated in England. The Matter of Britain just got real(er), people!
Exciting enough in itself, of course, but it also gives a further boost to my own particular faith: that the Loch Ness monster is real, and will be discovered in my lifetime. I long for this above all else. Come on, Matter of Scotland! You can do it, I know you can.