Tuesday 18 October 2011

The Hann Perspective: The Coming Apocalypse

I have a friend who has not yet been certified insane, owing to a series of regrettable oversights by the overworked medical profession, yet still purports to believe that the world will be coming to an end on 21 December next year.

The timing could be worse, I suppose. Royalists like me will have enjoyed the uplift of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, while those who care for that sort of thing will have been able to watch their money cascading down the world class gurgler of the London Olympics. And we will all be spared yet another excruciating Christmas lunch with the in-laws as well as those always daunting winter fuel bills.

The important question is whether it is really going to happen. Because, if it is, we might as well all stop worrying about our shrinking pension funds and start ticking off achievements from the list of 50 things to do before we die. Or in my case, five things, four of which will almost certainly be ruled out by my inability to secure the willing participation of a lingerie model suitably qualified by her ownership of a main line steam locomotive.

In her case, I'd have settled for a narrow gauge locomotive

Common sense, of course, decrees that the end of the world is not about to take place. But then I am pretty sure that common sense dismissed the Black Death, the huge death toll of the First World War and the horror unleashed on 9/11 as alarmist fantasies until they actually occurred. And if they had been slightly more intelligent, the dinosaurs would no doubt have enjoyed a good chuckle about the huge odds against their far from cosy world being blown apart by a massive asteroid impact.

Famous last words:"What the f... was that?"

Wikipedia is packed with laughable stories of those who made a wrong call on the timing of the Apocalypse, and I don’t have a lot of faith in my friend’s burbling explanations about the Mayan calendar. But I know from my own years as an investment analyst that once in a blue moon even a total idiot can turn out to be almost right, albeit for completely the wrong reasons.

The basis of my niggling concern is the way that the whole world economic system increasingly resembles one of those gigantic boulders precariously balanced on the top of a crumbling pinnacle of rock: the pinnacle in this case being the Everest of global debt. It will only take the failure of one or two meaningful sovereign states to bring the entire thing crashing down, taking with it the banks, what is left of our savings, and our ability to make payments with cash, credit cards or cheques.

Even if the trumpets have failed to sound and the four horsemen have not made their scheduled appearance the previous day, this financial scenario could make 22 December 2012 the occasion of some smugness among those who have invested in a bit of land suitable for vegetable cultivation, a large stock of tinned food, some chickens, a gun and maybe a few gold bars for conducting transactions with their neighbours.

Being one of the world’s foremost pessimists, I was certainly thinking along these lines when I bought my current home in Northumberland. Though I have never actually grown anything more ambitious than mint and chives, and the modest tinned food stockpile is covered in rust and swelling disturbingly at the seams; while the hens remain a pipe dream and I have yet to feel even remotely tempted to give the constabulary a laugh at my expense by applying for a firearms licence.

My little patch of land (though sadly not my sheep)

As for those gold bars, the only thing glistering in my house, now that I have had the crown on my back tooth replaced in porcelain, is the fake guinea dangling modestly at the end of my great-grandfather’s watch chain.

It is rather a shame that I haven’t had the courage of my negative convictions, or made any like-minded friends to reinforce them. We could have held a splendid Christmas lunch of tinned all-day breakfast in 2012, and smirked over the irony that one of the few growth sectors on the high street in the years before the crash was those shops devoted to parting the gullible from their precious metals and converting them into now worthless folding money.

However, I imagine that the smiles would probably be wiped off our faces quite quickly when rampaging mobs of the hungry urban underclass arrived on our blessed plots and started helping themselves to anything that took their fancy, in the popular Tottenham style.

I suppose if I really believed in the imminent economic Apocalypse, I would currently be looking for a small offshore island with fertile soil and scope for fortification. Though for a lazy man like me, it seems easier simply to take the advice so often shouted at me in the streets: “Cheer up, it may never happen!”

Keith Hann is a PR consultant who likes to prepare for the worst 

Originally published in nebusiness magazine, The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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