Have we given up on all that, or is there an app for it now? I know it’s possible to be meditative by sharing dinky little pictures of candles burning, on Facebook, overlaid with pat little quotations from, oh I don’t know, brainyquote.com. Not that I’ve even heard of brainyquote.com, you understand. If I want a quote, I light one of the lanterns, descend the spiralling stone steps to the library, scoot along the racks with my library ladder (which is on wheels that don’t squeak, thank you very much) and bring out the ancient leather volume most likely to contain something pithy about whatever dull paragraph I want to enliven.
And then I go back up the steps to get my notebook and reading glasses, cursing inventively as I go, and descend again to the library. Once I’m there, I work out what I’m doing there from the volume on the table - old oak table with the faces of dragons carved at the corners - and the shape in the dust where the ladder is usually parked - yes, I’m old enough to walk into rooms and wonder why I’m there - and I’ll spend a happy afternoon filling my notebook with enough quotations to enliven - in fact, no. I’ll keep going until I hit a quotation that inspires (sic) a whole new piece of writing, and then I’ll rush upstairs to write that.
Leaving my non-writing glasses on the table, of course. The rest of the week will be spent looking for them. When I was a lot smaller than I am now, I remember reading/being read stories about Professor Branestawm, which I now discover were written by Norman Hunter. No, I consulted Wikipedia on that one. I have my principles, but I can swap them out quite easily - to misquote Groucho Marx. Anyway, it was the height of good humour, back in the young days, that when the professor couldn’t find his other glasses, they were generally pushed up on his head. Thank you, Norman Hunter, for the happy memory and those long-ago happy moments.
Where was I? Oh yes - my glasses. Spectacles if you prefer. They’re here - I’ve got them. But we’re no nearer deciding what I’m going to write about this time. Although it does occur to me…
What if we’d gone that way, rather than this? What if, somewhat less than fifty years ago, the proponents of meditation, mindfulness, mystical finding yourself and reading self-help books about bettering yourself from the inside out, regardless of whether you could afford the ticket out to the ashram and the time to sit cross-legged in front of a guru - what if those people had been just a tiny bit more persuasive, and what if the proponents of gadgetry had been just a tiny bit less persuasive?
We’d be waking up in the morning and aligning our chakras rather than checking our Facebook pages. We’d be doing the night before’s washing up while visualising (going to) our happy places, rather than grumbling about a certain person’s failure to honour the unspoken contract whereby you cook and she washes up after. We’d hug trees, and even - perhaps we’d buy clothes by trying them on. Flicking through my week-old copy of The Korea Times the other day, and yes, I know I'm changing the subject rather abruptly, I came across an article in the business section headlined AR fitting room enhances customer experience.
The picture shows a woman in a white dress facing an image of herself in a blue outfit. So far as I can tell, the image is as exact as a reflection - she has an arm raised, so does the self in the blue - but instead of a straightforward mirror, she’s looking at the company FXGear’s F X Mirror, which might be describable as a six-foot-tall screen that looks like a smartphone giving her back a selfie dressed in something else. Or it might not, but I can’t think of a better way to describe it.
I’d love to have one here, actually. Fine piece of kit, and no doubt the journalist/sub-editor who put the word “experience” in the headline was thinking about the experience of looking at yourself. I see how this works. It is a selfie, effectively, but with the clothing substituted. Think of the storytelling potential. Or the FaceTime. The model’s standing in a big, empty room - if you want a big, empty changing room, and/or your cat needs swinging, go to South Korea - while her pictured self seems to be standing in a slightly different empty room. But - well, I’d use it to see how I looked wearing this outfit while striding through the action in [insert name of film here]. Or I’d get together a picture of myself partying at - I don’t know where - and post that on Facebook while I meditated. You could have a mirror on the wall that showed a different room.
Not only that, that and that, but if I happened to wonder, say, how would I like the experience of surfing off the North Coast with a gale blowing and the waves crashing around me? In the first of the three parallel universes that have collided in today’s post, I could project that experience onto a giant selfie and look at it. In the second, I could sit cross-legged on my yoga mat and visualise the experience until I felt myself getting cold (my imaginary wetsuit is only Summer-proof). In the third of today’s parallel universes, which is the one so outlandish that I’m not even going to consider it - I could go surfing.
And wouldn’t that be a mistake?
Create a new material that uses old plastic as an ingredient. Make clothes out of it. Fund some crazed scientist with a plan for turning plastic into food. I don’t know. But okay, you’ve got the message across. We hear you and we’re all in a quite satisfying state of deep gloom. Feel as self-righteous as you like. Now, can we do something? Collect up all the plastic waste and built a pyramid? A tourist attraction? Apply it in some clever way to sorting out global warming? Can we do that?
No, I don’t suppose we can. I’m not sure whether this is the age of “My contribution won’t make a difference, so I needn’t bother,” or of “This problem isn’t making a direct difference to my life, so I needn’t bother,” but either way - no, we can’t. We’re all doomed and we might as well stay doomed. People don’t heed warnings from the centre, and my guess is, we’ve all worked out that politicians agreeing to limit climate change doesn’t work. Sorry, “world leaders” agreeing, I should say. Leaders - ha!
Although… In my part of the world, people head to the beach with bin bags, and fill them. Early in the morning, on Gyllyngvase Beach, most mornings, there’s a group of year-round early swimmers picking up litter, and there are even small organisations now, rallying local people to clear up the waste left by, well, local people as well as tourists, I imagine, and while I realise blame is counter-productive, let’s bring in containers fallen off container ships and broken open, odd bits of yacht debris, and a base layer of completely inexplicable oddments that have tangled themselves up with the seaweed.
There was that year when a whole consignment of perfectly good planks washed up on Cornish beaches and, um, evaporated in the strong sea air. But there are also too many hooks and nets and sharp objects generally, killing the wildlife and endangering children, and it’s no surprise that the people around here take action. Plastic is in their lives.
But does that mean we have to wait for plastic to matter directly and immediately to everybody before we get our act together? Or is there an opportunity here to think satisfyingly pretentious thoughts about how we govern ourselves? Grenfell Tower - the locals came together and helped while central government blithered about in the background. Plastic - there are people in Cornwall picking up waste even as we speak. [A new “fashionable activity” flashed by on Facebook yesterday. It has a name, which I’ve forgotten, sorry, but it’s simply: when you go out for a walk or a swim or whatever, take a bag for rubbish. I hope it catches on.]
Yes, there are journalists in London writing articles about how futile it is to pick up waste, but, y’know. As long as they’re out of the way and kept busy.
Instead of bugging everybody to deal with their plastic now, maybe we should just give up on central government and embrace local - actually, I hate seeing perfectly good words with ‘ism’ tacked on the end. Maybe we should go back to running things on a human scale. Before everything collapses and we can’t do otherwise. Because the point at which plastic in what we eat - not to mention global warming - becomes a direct issue for everybody is also the point at which it’s too late.