The Year Without Summer – that’s what they called 1816. Pre-Industrial Europe was in the middle of recovering from the long, lingering impact of the Napoleonic Wars and was then hit by an agricultural disaster, one that was mirrored across parts of North America and China. In Ireland, failed crops sparked famine; in Germany, they sparked riots. Switzerland slid into a deep-freeze whilst India was plunged into an outbreak of cholera as the period known retrospectively as ‘The Little Ice Age’ climaxed in catastrophic fashion. Most of the blame was laid at the door of Mount Tambora in the Dutch East Indies, a dormant volcano that had suddenly sprung into life after a thousand years with the largest observed eruption in recorded history. Lava continued to sport forth for more than eighteen months, dispersing ash into the atmosphere that caused severe climate change, reducing global temperatures and resulting in upwards of an estimated 10,000 deaths worldwide.
The distorted colours of the sulphuric skies that Tambora’s eruption caused are believed to have inspired the distinctive smudgy shades of JMW Turner’s paintings as well as creating the apocalyptic ambience that provoked 18-year-old Mary Shelley into penning ‘Frankenstein’ when holidaying with Percy Bysshe and Lord Byron on the gloomy fringes of Lake Geneva that non-summer. Whilst such a baleful location may have suited Gothic sensibilities, no doubt there were many who perceived the dramatic alteration in the climate as a sign of God’s displeasure with mankind. Mind you, God generally lets mankind get away with a hell of a lot before he can be arsed intervening.
200 years on from that remarkable climatic event, humble little me wrote a post called ‘Something in the Air’; take a look – it’s still there. In it, I commented on a pessimistic malaise that seemed to have settled upon the world, something that was manifested via a variety of dismal news stories, the impact of which was possibly exacerbated by the instant ping of social media. Coupled with very personal crises friends of mine were simultaneously undergoing at the time of writing, it felt as though the external and internal were bleeding into one overwhelming weight on the shoulders of numerous generations inhabiting the here and now. A year or so on from that particular post, it would be nice to come to the conclusion that this was a piece of reportage chronicling a moment of madness, a missive from the dark that preceded a dawn we happily reside in as 2017 careers towards its climax. Oops!
In a couple of days, this blog will have been in existence for two years. As a writer, I couldn’t have wished for more eventful times to have been documenting on a near-daily basis. Since the inaugural post on 6 December 2015, I’ve been able to comment upon the rise of Donald Trump and the Alt-Right as well as his loud opponents on the left and those in North Korea. When I began, we were barely six months into a Conservative Government released from the constricting shackles of Coalition, yet six months into the blog David Cameron had lost an ill-advised gamble (and his job) by leading the country into a chaotic state of uncertainty it has yet to recover from. One more indecisive General Election and one more ineffective Prime Minister later, Brexit remains the ultimate barometer of division as neither Remainer/Remoaner nor Brexiteer are happy with what Government is doing in their name. And this Whitehall farce seems set to run and run well into 2018.
Of course, it is the raison d’être of online news outlets to focus on the horrible with sensationalistic relish, just as it remains so for the traditional print and cathode-ray mediums that predate them, regardless of the ‘and finally’ solace at the end of the carnage. The public wants what the public gets, as Paul Weller said almost 40 years ago (I know; it’s scary); a YT video I produced in 2014 took that line as its title whilst a catalogue of contemporary images accompanied the theme tune from the distant childhood adventures of Teddy Edward.
One of these images was of a couple kissing, under which a caption announced ‘This is Rape’. Far be it from me to adopt the guise of a twenty-first century Nostradamus, but this particular statement is suddenly relevant courtesy of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, whose latest Tweet is as good a reason as any why law-enforcers should steer clear of social media and concentrate on solving genuine bloody crimes. According to a now-deleted Tweet that has nevertheless been posthumously seized upon by the Daily Telegraph, kissing a lady under the mistletoe (something that apparently still occurs) is classified as ‘rape’ unless consent is first acquired. Say no more, twenty-seven-f**king-teen.
I don’t know what’s going on any more than you do. It’s insane, and I don’t know how we got here, let alone how we get out of it. I poke fun at it with a sardonic eye, but I’m well aware I’m just pissing in the wind, satirically fiddling as our rotten Rome burns. Over a year on from ‘Something in the Air’, the fog hasn’t cleared and people who matter to me – good people who don’t deserve the shit they’re having to deal with – are even worse off now than they were then. I try to be a tower of strength to them, but I often feel a bit of a hypocrite ‘cause I know deep down I’m as f**ked-up as they are. I could be bold and declare I start most days struggling to come up with a reason to keep buggering on and end most days unconvinced that I found one; but my ego likes to think I make a difference, so I stick around.
Simon le Bon was once ripped to shreds for carelessly describing Duran Duran as the band to dance to when the bomb drops, but part of me knows what he meant. We may be almost four decades on from a throwaway comment made in the heat of early 80s Cold War paranoia; but if this is the blog that people read before they take a leap into the unknown from Beachy Head, so be it. As long as I’m here, I’ll KBO and I’ll love a select few as I do so because they make life worth living. And I’ll still be here when you switch on tomorrow, for good or ill.
© The Editor