I suspect that, far below the level of consciousness, I feel I’m essentially rubbish. I’m not wicked; I’m no Satanic Majesty, I just have a slightly substandard essence or spirit. I assume I mildly degrade other people’s experience of life, by putting pressure on the resources we all share and being unable to offer anything valuable in return. By filling up conversations with my tedious waffle I wasn’t giving others a chance to make more interesting and edifying contributions. I’m slightly sooty. I leave dirty finger-marks on everything I touch, smearing it, if not actually befouling it. My motivations are base and embarrassing; my will is weak.
Of course, I’m overstating this for literary and dramatic effect. I’m not a troubled soul; like most (or all) people, I have slightly defective mental circuitry. But there’s no point in writing this blog if I don’t try to make it engaging, and making sense of things means distilling and concentrating ideas and feelings that are, at first, perceived as minor parts of a complex chemistry. Consciousness is not made up of pure, elemental blocks of separate cognition, but is a swirling mixture of sensory data, emotions and thought, so I’m not writhing in self-hating misery all the time. In fact, I’m relatively happy, I think. These assumptions don’t direct my immediate reactions to events. They don’t even mean I lack confidence. It’s just that they underlie my approach to the world. They are fundamental to my sense of self.
I felt I couldn’t justify all I consumed – the food I ate; the space I occupied, even the carbon dioxide I exhaled. As I became more and more concerned with impending climate apocalypse, I became super-aware of the scale and plurality of the human population of this planet. Abundantly supplied supermarket shelves made me imagine the millions of tons of produce that the poor, exhausted earth was having to supply us with each day. (was this because I’d worked in the developing world where a single jar of mayonnaise, imported at great expense, was a source of great joy?) I saw thousands and thousands of wet mouths, biting and chewing and slobbering on and on, the tons and tons of food waste abandoned to rot, fruitlessly, in landfill. How could the land endlessly supply us with all this? And all I did was contribute to that strain.
As the Brexit debate hotted up, encouraging hostility towards foreigners, I used to joke that, if Britain was really becoming overcrowded, we should bring in a Social Utility test. Anyone who failed it, of any background, could be deported. I wondered if this was what the Brexiteers feared: that they knew they were useless bastards and worried they’d be supplanted by more useful, harder working foreigners.
I’d be on the first flight out, of course.
All this came to a head in the terrible drought. You will remember me telling you about this: how we’d just laid a beautiful, luxuriant lawn over the root-snarled, impoverished soil of our new garden; how we were told that we’d need to water it, just until the first time it rained “properly”, how it never rained, for weeks and weeks and months and months. Nothing. The sky remained resolutely dry. Twice a day I paced pathetically backwards and forwards over the yellowing lawn with a leaky watering can of perished plastic, and a small, dainty, pink one chosen by my daughter, trying to introduce just a little moisture to the grass as it dried and died, shrivelling back to expose the chequerboard of turf squares beneath. Trees started to sacrifice their top branches, which would go suddenly yellow in contrast to the dirty olive-khaki that remained in the lower canopy.
Coming from the Republic of Ireland, such dryness, in a country as familiar as Britain, was beyond my experience. You’ll remember how, waiting, tensely, day after day, I began to lose my emotional and logical bearings, how I became hysterical. This drought seemed unprecedented, so had we passed some fundamental climate threshold? Perhaps it would never rain again. I imagined long lines of refugees, like the exodus from Paris in 1940; people dying of thirst on the roadside; people eating each other; desperately trying to moisten my children’s lips with a little thickening blood drawn from my own veins.
The rustle of night breezes began to resemble to me the patter of raindrops on the eaves. I’d spring out of bed and peer out to see if the light from the street was flecked and distressed with drizzle, but no – it was still smooth and hard; the hopeful shine on the tarmac wasn’t wetness, just reflected neon.
We were all so small and insignificant in the face of this huge, blank, pitiless negation. No one can make it rain. I needed to protect my babies but there was nothing I could do. I lacked Jo’s resilience and resourcefulness. Perhaps, then, the best thing would be if Jo tried to protect the children while I lessened the strain I placed on the world and at the same time give up this suffocating anxiety. I used to imagine creeping out in the cool of the night, lying on the lawn and opening my veins to let my 9 pints of blood nourish the grasses. I feared the pain, but I longed for the relief.
It was only a thought, just a thought. Not an intention. I had these thoughts in spasms, not constantly and not all at once. I was fine, really, just being a little histrionic. I was making a mountain out of a molehill.
But I’ve told you all this before.