Tuesday 10 February 2009

Grab a lifeline while you still can

As the decks begin to tilt, it behoves us all to throw lifelines to those already struggling in the water.

So I am naturally delighted, as a taxpayer, to be able to contribute to this year’s bonuses for those towards the top of the Royal Bank of Scotland. God forbid that Tristram and Jemima should have to forego yet another new kitchen, or their fourth exotic holiday of 2009.

But I have not stopped there. Angered beyond reason by the BBC’s refusal to broadcast an appeal for the nation’s endangered estate agents, I have commissioned one to try to sell my house.

Luckily I do not need to pervert this column into an advertisement as I have already paid for one in Saturday’s homemaker (page 46, if it is still lying around).

I had my first viewing on Thursday. A pleasant young man turned up and asked why I wanted to leave such an evident earthly paradise, with its stunning views in all directions, and I explained that my pregnant fiancée did not fancy trying to bring up a baby quite so far from a supplier of fashionable shoes. Shortly afterwards he was joined by his wife, holding a six-week-old infant in a carrycot. More work is needed on my sales pitch, I think. Heaven knows how I ever managed to earn a crust in PR.

Meanwhile I have great news for the talent scouts from Northumberland’s funny farms, who have been keeping an eye on me for some time: my house has started talking to me. I first noticed it as I was drifting off to sleep the other night, and assumed that I had left a radio playing softly somewhere downstairs. I tried to ignore it, but the noise woke me in the early hours and I went all round the house to investigate where it was coming from. I finally tracked it down to the bedroom chimney, which has continued its nightly murmuring ever since.

Meanwhile various things that have worked perfectly for 20 years have suddenly developed mysterious malfunctions, culminating on Saturday in my treasured grandfather clock ceasing to work with an alarming crash of weights and splintering of wood. An old Val Doonican song about his deceased grandfather sprang ineluctably to mind.

I am not mad enough yet to be able to detect what the house is saying, but I think I can guess after reading an extract from the new book by arch-doomster earth scientist James Lovelock. Forget about cutting back on air travel and building wind turbines; the real problem is that there are simply far too many people and animals for the planet to support. That is why it is about to save itself by self-regulating most of us out of existence by becoming unbearably hot. The bush fires in Australia are but a foretaste of what awaits most of humanity.

The good news is that, in addition to the currently frozen wastes of Canada and Siberia, the places most likely to remain habitable are “lifeboat islands” like New Zealand and Great Britain. It will be a materially poor life, to be sure, and we will have to contend with countless millions of refugees from Europe, Asia and Africa seeking to climb aboard.

But Lovelock’s message is clear: just about the best place you can be is living on a hilltop in Northumberland with enough land to grow your own food, while childlessness is the only responsible way forward. If only I had remembered I was doing everything right before I fell for the siren voice of the woman of my dreams.

Oh well, I am going under now. There is no escape. But I can offer a way out for one lucky and farsighted punter. Buy my house. Because, you see, it’s not just a lifestyle choice; it’s a veritable lifeline.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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