I have had the inexplicable good fortune to be born in the most prosperous and stable circumstances in any time or place (thanks, William Beveridge, and hands off, Spreadsheet Phil), and yet I cannot relax. I seem to spend a lot of time mentally planning what I would do in the event of a whole series of ‘what if?’ catastrophe scenarios.
It has been a habit since childhood, when the principal catastrophic scenario I had to deal with was finding cabbage on my plate. The sheer disgustingness of this stuff drove to plan and execute various strategies for avoiding – or at least mitigating – it. Some were more successful than others: I got away with storing it in my hankie and flushing it down the loo for a while, but when mid-meal trips to the loo were banned for their unhygienic-ness (health and safety gone mad!) in desperation I resorted to just throwing it under the table – but, hey, at least I didn’t have to eat it when it was discovered some hours later. I can report that an experiment in taking a compacted mouthful of cabbage with a first mouth of pudding was never repeated: Bird’s strawberry blancmange does nothing to obliterate the dankness of cabbage.
As I got older, read more books, watched the news, I often wondered what I would do if I suddenly had to leave my home at a moment’s notice, never to return. What would it be most practical to take, but also what small items – photos, mementos, would I want to salvage to fortify me during the uncertain times ahead? As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site, I’d take my dressing gown: light, warm, with pockets and a detachable belt, it could be pressed into service for all manner of things.
At the time Terry Waite was in the news for his long imprisonment in solitary confinement, I asked myself how I would cope in those circumstances. Would I have the mental and physical resources to survive such deprivation? Clearly, to occupy the endless hours of tedium I would have to sing all the songs and recite all the poetry I could remember. But would a daily diet of nursery rhymes, very fragmentary fragments of the ‘A’ level English syllabus, every single song from Oliver!, about two-thirds of 20 Beatles songs, and not forgetting snatches from masterpieces such as Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch’s Bend It and Leapy Lea’s Little Arrows just enrage my guards – or indeed put their sanity (and mine) at risk?
And what about exercise? You’d have to strike a fine balance between conserving your energies, in view of the meagre rations you would be getting, and making sure your muscles did not become too atrophied. Burpees and star jumps would be out, but perhaps a finely calibrated set of sit-ups, lunges and press-ups would do it.
When I was a child, adults were always accusing me of having an over-active imagination, and I’m finally beginning to think they were right. If I had applied to the real world even half the mental effort I have invested in planning for highly improbable contingencies, I could have been CEO of an SME – doubtless one built on flogging fuel, torches and water to weirdo survivalists in their mountain redoubts.