In Extremis

Posted by on July 8, 2019 in Blog, Humour, Living today | 2 comments

Stephanie Beacham in Tenko/BBC Television

It’s not clear how it started – though perhaps my concern with how I would cope in extreme circumstances is just an extension of my obsession with Being Prepared (q.v.). Perhaps it was watching Tenko at an impressionable age (well, 25) and wondering whether I would have had the resilience to come through it. Or perhaps it was following the ordeals of Terry Waite and John McCarthy, and marvelling at the mental strength that allowed them to emerge from their captivity as anything but broken men.

As someone who always has to have something to read, or at least a crossword on the go, I find the prospect of years in solitary confinement without any diversion terrifying. How would I cope? Well, clearly I would have to build into my daily routine several sessions of singing all the songs I remember. But when I start to list them, they are pitifully few: half a dozen carols, snippets of golden oldies and musical numbers, fragments of folk songs, and about a dozen nursery rhymes.

What’s far from clear is whether the mental stimulation of going through this repertoire every day would compensate for the blows I would receive from my captors, enraged by my incessant warbling.

How about poetry, then? Sadly, the vast chunks of Shakespeare I learnt in case I needed to regurgitate any of it during exams have dwindled to three of four lines here and there, and otherwise all that remains is the first line of Paradise Lost. But wait! Here’s a poem I remember in its entirety; it’s by Michael Rosen:

Down behind the dustbin

I met a dog called Sid

He said he didn’t know me

But I’m pretty sure he did

Then there’s the question of exercise. I would not want to emerge from my cell with atrophied muscles, so going through the sequence of floor exercises I do at the gym would certainly pass the time, but how to balance the expenditure of energy against the meagre – and disgusting – calories I will be getting (or maybe not getting after a particularly revolting rendition of ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’).

Inevitably, one of the closing questions on Desert Island Discs prompts more soul-searching. How would I manage on a desert island? I like to think I would be able to cobble together some sort of shelter, and I would be prepared to sample tiny portions of foliage and berries to see if any could sustain me. I also have a hazy notion that in the absence of fresh water you can dig a hole and lay a thin sheet of plastic over it, in which condensation can gather overnight. (Note to self: always carry a plastic bag.) And that is the extent of my Bear Grylls-ness.

Why do I waste my time on such idle speculation? I’m hardly likely to be tested in any of these ways. But, but … as we head towards 1 November, the catastrophist in me fears civil war. Are Brexiteers and Remainers the new Cavaliers and Roundheads? What scope does my cupboard under the stairs offer for sheltering an ardent Remainer (Dame B, perhaps) while Mr Verity and I put on a show of being neutral? Very little, I’m afraid. Yes, there is a torch, but all Dame B could really do is iron dusters while drinking herself to oblivion, finishing up with the WD40 when she hears Boris’s hellhounds breaking down the door.


  1. Thanks for another very funny and original article…

    • Glad you liked it!

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