‘Why is it that the three most famous men in the world are all black?’ Twelve year old boys choose the most unexpected moments to wax philosophical, like on their scooters at 08 30 on a Saturday, late once again for
Thrilled, if amazed, to have produced such a paragon, I ponder who he means. I presume he’s heard of Tiger Woods. Obama of course. And Robert Mugabe is certainly famous… But what on earth, apart from their colour and gender, do they have in common? It turns out he means Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Gandhi. All that primary school finally pays off.
But to the question. Why indeed? What they seem to share is they went on believing in hopeless causes when almost everybody else could clearly see they were hopeless, and sensibly cut their losses in favour of a cup of tea and a quiet life. Because they just never gave up. And that was so extraordinary that it changed the world.
This is called leading by example, but it has a few drawbacks for the Normal/Fixit axis. It’s all very well if your example is facing a firing squad, or going on hunger strike in prison, or leading a protest march against the massed forces of the nation’s security service. As previously discussed, and with apologies to those who think family should take a back seat, those options aren’t open to us.
As for the options that are: however flamboyantly we foreswear air-freighted mange touts and winter tomatoes, I doubt it’s going to make the let alone the encyclopaedia of world events. Just in case they hadn’t noticed, I’ve also tried subtly drawing the neighbours’ attention to our selfless eschewing of air travel and birthday parties. I wouldn’t recommend that route either.
This is a terrible time of year for temptations to give up and generally decide if nobody else is doing the right thing, why should we? For a start, it’s so damned expensive. Can it be coincidence that, at the very moment the tax person calls on the self-employed, the news is full of salaried policemen earning , and out of hours GPs getting £600 a day? Meanwhile those of us who are, ahem, ‘in the creative industries’, are not sure whether to feel humiliated that once again we haven’t qualified to pay any tax at all, or relieved not to face yet another demand on the finances. We’re just hoping to reach the top of the before our money runs out completely.
With this prospect looming, I nerved myself to ask Hilary, who runs the list, whether we’d be allowed livestock, as the small paved yard behind our house was not designed with enough foresight to accommodate a B and Q , or even an Eggloo. She responded that we could, ‘in the right location’ keep bees, which I have to agree with Magnus are not much of a substitute for a pet you can turn into pork chops. There’s no meat on a bee, not to mention all that furry stuff to negotiate before you get there. Even the Italians don’t , and they eat anything with wings.
So, for now, it’s back to buying it. The other day I needed chicken at 21 30 on a Thursday night, when the farmers’ market was unaccountably not operating. So I popped in to Sainsbury’s. Well, I was passing. I just thought I’d check it was still a den of vice and It is, of course, but my lord, you can get a lot there for not much money, can’t you? I came out with all sorts of things that just looked too good to pass up, and a bill that wouldn’t have bought a cauliflower at the organic shop. Suddenly I see why the unenlightened masses are so hard to purge of their supermarket habits.
And as if the Christmas bills and the tax bills weren’t enough, we get a triple-distilled winter and monster fuel bills, on top of yet more jokes about Global Warming, ha ha. Even wrapped in more layers than a you still need a bit of heat, and a bit of electricity to detach the variegated mosaic of grime from a teenager’s sports kit. Green electricity and green gas are more expensive, and our gas is even more more expensive, because it comes from the wonderful people at who charge the same to everybody. So little old ladies and people on meters are subsidised by the rest of us.
So, do we dump the little old ladies? If we were – just for the moment – to divert our custom to a dirt cheap environmental felon, say from The Simpsons, we could probably afford a holiday. Somewhere hot. I can’t even remember hot. The other day I came across something dated ‘July 29th’ and I literally couldn’t imagine what July was like.
But here’s the perfect opportunity to remind ourselves – after all, what other possible excuse is there for the February half term? We could see blue sky, and go out of doors without our entire bodies immediately clamping up into a defensive rictus. Of course, there’s no time or money to take the train. But who cares! That’s why people jump on Easyjet. I want to be with them, on my way to right now.
But instead I resort to more and more ridiculous, nugatory actions to stave off the end of everything. Fishing plastic spoons out of the bin bag at the end of a school tea, re-sorting other people’s recycling at Pret, and trying to make a relative energy audit of running up the stairs against taking the escalator, like some mad mediaeval theologian using on Zeno’s Paradox.
It can’t be coincidence that the climax of all this is Lent. What happened in Lent? One long series of temptations to give up and join the fun party. Let’s remind ourselves. Number one, swapping stones for bread. If ever a loaf resembled an ancient Palestinian boulder, it’s that hand-raised, nine-grain wholemeal for which I bankrupt us every week. If somebody magically transformed that into a , you wouldn’t hear me complain.
Then there’s the matter of ruling over all the kingdoms of the earth. Isn’t that what we zealots want, for everybody to see the light before it’s too late? Surely it’s worth the odd along the way, to see President Hu sign up to the Copenhagen Accord?
And as for the temptation to draw attention to the urgency of the situation by jumping off the tallest building around – just don’t even flag that one up, if you don’t want my lifeless corpse on your conscience.
The trouble is, environmentalism is not a religion. Its effectiveness, sadly, doesn’t depend on faith. When John Bunyan sent Christian and Pliable into the , they knew that if they kept doing the right thing, they’d get out the other side. Religion works, because nobody can prove it doesn’t. So long as your actions are good, their results are immaterial, and you still get .
Sadly, environmentalism doesn’t pan out that way. If I continue to chivvy my family down this gloomy, joyless road, and most of the rest of humanity carries on just as before, as it seems to be bent on doing, and it all goes horribly wrong, all I’ll get is pushed out by my resentful offspring into the rising flood waters of Camden Town, with no paddle and no credit on my phone. Mary Whitehouse set a nasty precedent here, and her son hasn’t forgiven her to this day.
I’m really trying to see the upside. Cosy evenings darning socks with the lovely people from the Cycling everywhere to warm up, and earn extra calories redeemable in Foregoing winter sun – I’m sure there’s an upside to that too. Can anybody remind me what it might be?