As someone whose intended blissful slumber is plagued by an inordinate amount of nightmares, it’s no surprise that most of them are so bloody awful that they’re always an immense relief to wake-up from. I recently had one in which I was out walking on a public park with a friend; as we were casually ascending a fairly steep hill, we heard an almighty bang and ran to the top of the hill to be confronted by the iconic atomic mushroom cloud on the landscape. Right there and then, I knew the game of life was up. But the fact my subconscious selected such an arcane image to represent death perhaps gives my age away. Having lived for half-a-century, I belong to the last post-war generation whose Doomsday narrative was scripted by the Bomb, the toxic shadow that fell over everyone born in the first 25-30 years after Hiroshima. For us, the Bomb took on the role played by the Four Horsemen for centuries before. It defined the end of the world in one instantly unmistakable image.
The last time the Bomb loomed large as the embodiment of the apocalypse was in the 1980s. From Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Two Tribes’ to the BBC’s terrifying ‘Threads’ and from US TV’s ‘The Day After’ to Raymond Briggs’ ‘When the Wind Blows’, the Bomb was so prevalent in the culture that there was a general feeling it would probably drop sooner rather than later. The curtailment of the Cold War appeared to put paid to this long-running paranoia, but all that happened was that plenty new forms of paranoia queued-up to take their turns and fill the void in the public consciousness.
Along with Radical Islamic terrorism, Global Warming swiftly seized the spotlight from the Bomb, and despite perennial competition from the former, it is the latter that has comprehensively claimed this century’s Doomsday narrative. I certainly didn’t spend the majority of my 80s days worrying about imminent annihilation courtesy of the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal, and I don’t blame the personal ‘mental health issues’ that began to ferment during that period on it either. It was always an abstract threat that people knew they were powerless to prevent; the first you’d hear of it would be three or four minutes before it happened, by which time it would be far too late to alter your fate. So, why worry? But perhaps the fact the Bomb should resurface in a nightmare almost 40 years later demonstrates how deep that horrific sight remains buried in my psyche, a hereditary sleeper cell bedded before I was born.
One wonders what apocalyptic imagery will feature in the nightmares of today’s kids and teens 30 or 40 years from now. I’m posing this question on their behalf because most of them don’t believe they’ll be around 30 or 40 years from now. That’s what they’ve been told by those they turn to for responsible reassurance. There have been reports recently that the excessive coverage of the Climate Change debate within the media and the promotion of it by parents and teachers as indisputable fact is leading to serious sleep deprivation and depression in their children. The relentless exposure given to the scaremongering of the movement’s most vocal figureheads and constant ‘if we don’t act now, we’ll all be dead in a decade’ threats is understandably having a worrying impact on those too young to realise their parental role models don’t actually have all the answers.
The religious cult that parts of the Climate Change movement has developed into over the past couple of years at times reminds me of various extremes on the fringes of the Christian Church, those Armageddon-worshipping lunatics actively praying for the onset of The Rapture. One is dismissed as the deluded death-wish of pliable minds susceptible to warped interpretations of the Holy Book, whereas the other is sold as a scientific certainty that cannot be questioned. To do so is heresy and punishable in the eternal damnation of a global funeral pyre that will consume us all unless Sainsbury’s stop selling their fruit and veg in plastic food bags. And while the world’s attention is overly focused on something only corporations and conglomerates really have the power to do anything about, more old-fashioned and reliable threats are constantly playing their part in curing the problem of overpopulation.
I read one report that the source of the so-called Wuhan coronavirus – y’know, the one that’s gone…erm…’viral’ – had something to do with the Far East’s bafflingly enduring belief in the healing powers of rhino horns and the like. If this is payback for the loathsome trafficking of endangered species for dubious medicinal purposes that are rooted in superstition, it’s easy to think that it serves them bloody well right. But, of course, we shouldn’t perceive an entire nation or race of people as a single entity; remember we’re talking about over a thousand individuals who have died. Actually, despite so much attention being given over to the contemporary Doomsday narrative, the epidemic that began in Wuhan demonstrates that new strains of traditional viruses which periodically wipe out vast numbers of people on the planet have been getting on with it.
In the early 2000s, the SARS virus outbreak – which is believed to have originated from wild animals sold as food at markets in China – killed an estimated 774 worldwide; the Ebola virus – which was first identified as far back as 1976 – was responsible for over 11,000 deaths in West Africa between 2013 and 2016; swine flu killed more than 2,000 in India in 2015. And ancient plagues the western world has largely eradicated continue to regularly reappear elsewhere, thriving in places prone to poor sanitary due to poverty, natural disasters or wars. Cholera, for example, has had several outbreaks in Africa, the Indian Subcontinent and the Middle East this century; over a thousand died of it in Yemen as recent as 2016-17; more than 4,000 in Zimbabwe in 2008-9. However, even those figures pale next to the staggering 9,000-plus killed by the disease in Haiti since 2010. Ever get the feeling the Doomsday narrative is being recited from the wrong manual?
Well, at least the response to the current coronavirus has been pretty prompt. Parts of China have been effectively quarantined in efforts to contain the virus, though with international travel to and from mainland China now so commonplace – especially during Chinese New Year – the rapid spread of it was inevitable before an epidemic was acknowledged. Over 40,000 cases have been confirmed in China alone, whereas the likes of Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan have also been hit. Surprisingly, the highest number of confirmed cases outside of the Far East so far has been in Germany.
Brighton businessman Steve Walsh, unfortunately labelled the UK’s ‘super spreader’, is said to have unknowingly infected 11 other people with the virus following a sales conference in Singapore and then a skiing holiday in the French Alps. Sealed-off in an isolation unit at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, Mr Walsh is now more or less recovered by all accounts. To date, the only recorded deaths from the coronavirus outside of mainland China have been one each in Hong Kong and the Philippines respectively, so that suggests the worldwide prevention operation is currently working to plan. Genuine nightmares are the mind’s unrestrained demons running amok when we have no control over them; the waking world, on the other hand, has a degree of control over events – the kind we cannot command during sleep. It just sometimes requires a little redirecting to discern where the real nightmares reside.
© The Editor