Yes, and last night I dreamed of Manderley again. What a question for the early morning.
If you’ve just joined us – sorry about that.
It’s half five. I’ve lit the fire. I’m sitting at the table thinking about sitting on the sofa. Because I set the alarms for six, I woke up at five. In my life, this always happens.
I have a cup of coffee in front of me, and by the end of this sentence, I will have drunk some of it, so I will be awake enough to start making sense. There.
I’ve never dreamed of Manderley, but I have just looked it up and found the question “What does Manderley represent in Rebecca?” on Google. Manderley, clearly, only represents one thing in Rebecca, and Google will tell us what it is. So much easier than having to think.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier; it’s a “1938 gothic novel,” says my source. And a film, several times over. Manderley turns up in the opening sentence of the book, and it’s a good opening sentence. Pick the book up in a bookshop or look at the 10% sample on Kindle, say, to find out who did dream of Manderley.
But don’t look it up online. Spoiler alert.
Daphne du Maurier also wrote Rule Britannia, and here’s what Wikipedia has to say about that. “The novel is set in a fictional near future in which the UK's recent withdrawal from the EEC has brought the country to the verge of bankruptcy.”
Wow! Rule Britannia was Daphne du Maurier’s last novel, published in 1972. The UK is near-bankrupt and the main event of Rule Britannia’s plot is that the US invades the UK.
Here in what we might as well call the real world, the die-hard Brexit fanatics of my acquaintance are posting dire warnings that the UK will become the 51st state of the Union now that we’ve left the EU.
Spooky, right? All foretold in 1972 by the daughter of the actor Gerald du Maurier.
Except that in Rule Britannia, the UK is, ah, rebranded as USUK. I doubt that Daphne du Maurier intended this, but if you read that aloud in a certain way, it’s an insult. The book ends with a US withdrawal.
Excuse me. I think this may be a two-coffee blog post.
Brexit’s gone out of the headlines, so I guess we’ve got it done. Facebook seems more interested in beach-cleaning this morning, so that’s healthy, and there wasn’t anything in the news about the Australian bush-fires, so maybe they’ve all gone out.
Immediacy, distance. They’re not on my screen any more.
Trump’s been acquitted – those die-hards are predicting a second Trump victory and muttering about the character (and presidential hopeful) Greg Stillson in Stephen King’s The Dead Zone (1979); wow, they so badly want to be proved right about how wrong the world is – and – oh – Kirk Douglas has died.
Back to my original question. I was going to write a lengthy, earnest and rather dull piece about the way everything arrives by screen these days. Whether it’s fact or fiction, it comes to us the same way (and has the same weight: discuss). And we can switch it off in the same way.
Everything’s on the small screen; everything’s contained within a small rectangle. What impact, if any, does that have on our capacity to react?
But I was side-tracked by Manderley. Narrow escape.
And now I’ve remembered that quote again. In 1920, H L Mencken said, “As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
Could happen, I guess.
And that reminds me of The Right Honourable Chimpanzee, by David Phillips and Georgi Markov (they shared the pseudonym “David St George”), which was published in 1978. The entertaining story – yes, it is a satire – of what happens to the UK after a chimpanzee becomes prime minister.
I remember David saying to me, “The problem isn’t that the prime minister is a chimpanzee; the problem is that the chimpanzee is prime minister.”
Mind you, I also – suddenly and clearly – remember David turning to me once and saying, “Will you stop banging on about coffee!”
The pictures are impressive. Trucks pumping vapour onto the pavements of Chinese cities. Great halls full of hospital beds; swarms of diggers building new hospitals.
People wearing facemasks. Those hand-held things taking temperatures. That quarantined cruise ship.
I ask because I’ve just heard a radio interview with a professor of diseases – I think that was it – at a UK university. The interview could be paraphrased like this.
“It’s really serious, isn’t it? Is it a pandemic? How serious is it? Surely it’s a pandemic? Tell me it’s a pandemic!”
“It’s not serious yet, but its spread suggests that it could become serious.”
Which is the answer to my question. Not seriously – yet.
Take it seriously in anticipation of it getting serious? Perhaps.
People have died and a lot more people are sick, so yes – seriously.
But the news imperative seems always to talk it up. It’s a story. That interview would have gone the same way even if – oh, I don’t know.
I wish the news would include a “no news” option, or a “nothing much happened today” setting. We don’t need to be “sold” the news, do we?
I suppose we do.
But how seriously should we take this coronavirus thing?