Iain Murray: Look on the bright side, we’re all doomed anyway

In a world threated by, among other things, asteroids, giant squids, plagues of rats and even Frenchmen sans beret, it pays to be optimistic, says Iain Murray

The world of marketing is shot through with spangled optimism – how else could it lay before the jaded admass yet another brand of rinse ‘n’ go dog shampoo? Or bring itself to face yet another half-witted focus group?

But if there’s any justice in the workings of evolution, the optimists shall inherit the Earth. They ought to: they’ll be the only ones left. The rest of us will have been proved genetically incapable of survival. We shall, quite literally, have been scared to death. Some may have gone already.

Take the news of the past few days alone.

First came the asteroid, the lump of rock that Fate with her giant slingshot has sent pinging through the infinite nothingness of space straight at the cosmic dot we call home. Estimated time of arrival – shortly after elevenses on February 1 2019 (later revised to 2060, but who’s counting?). The scientists – who want to make our flesh creep – wring their bony hands and cackle. Should the missile strike, they say, it will wipe out an entire continent, plunge the world into nuclear winter, and take humanity to the brink of extinction. Which would be quite enough to be getting on with were it not for nosebleeds, giant squids, and smoking cats.

According to the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Viagra can make your nose bleed. Dr Lucy Hicklin of St George’s Hospital, London, has treated two cases. A man in his late-50s had a nosebleed that lasted for six hours, and a man in his 70s had one lasting five hours. Dr Hicklin suspects other cases have gone unreported because the victims were too embarrassed to tell their doctors. Which is odd when you think about it. They weren’t too embarrassed to ask their doctor for Viagra in the first place, but when, instead of the hoped-for five-hour orgasm, they got a nosebleed of similar duration, they were overcome by bashfulness. At least their condition wasn’t fatal. Had it been, the mason would be chipping a lapidary valediction:

He took a pill for a thrilling bonk

But then took ill of a spilling conk.

Thanks to global warming giant squids are taking over the Earth. According to marine experts, they are growing so fast they now take up more space on the planet than humans. Dr George Jackson, of the Institute of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Studies, says squid eat anything that comes their way, breed whenever possible and keep growing, which makes them eerily similar to modern Britons.

And if that doesn’t scare you, did you know that passive smoking could kill your cat? Dr Antony Moore, a vet at Tufts University in Massachusetts, studied 180 sick cats and, adjusting for age and other factors, found that exposure to second-hand smoke more than doubled the risk of fatal feline lymphoma. So smokers, already reviled as social outcasts and less welcome at dinner parties than giant squid, have yet another charge laid at their door – felicide. Coming to a US court soon – the first million-dollar suit brought by a stricken marmalade tom.

It’s just as well that marketers are cheerful souls because, in common with smokers, they stand accused of poisoning on a massive scale. According to the Consumers’ Association, a cocktail of 300 man-made chemicals is polluting the human body. Seemingly harmless items – all cheerfully advertised and marketed – such as air fresheners, perfumes, cosmetics, nail polishes, paint, glues, shaving foams, and shower gel are stuffed with artificial musks, organotins, phthalates, bisphenol and alkylphenols, which cause allergies, asthma, and cancer.

And as if fatal shaving foam were not distressing enough, as we cling to the wreckage of the old certainties yet another fragment slips from our grasp. The French have stopped wearing berets! The Earth rocks beneath our feet, the stars fall from the firmament, the crack you hear is that of doom. The Aussies may stop wearing flip-flops (or thongs, as they used to call them before those items took on a new meaning), the Germans may cast aside their lederhosen, the Italians might stop goosing lady tourists, but the French discard their berets? Unthinkable. But it’s true: the number of beret factories in Oloron-Sainte Marie, France’s beret capital, has shrunk from 15 some 40 years ago to just one today. Urbanisation is to blame. Sophisticated town dwellers associate the beret with the rural peasantry and won’t wear it. Next they’ll be throwing away their strings of onions and striped shirts and starting to be nice to the English.

To lament change, is of course, bootless. Times change. Customs too. For instance, we English have recently acquired the social practice of feeding in the street and tossing half-eaten hamburgers and kebabs over our shoulder. As a consequence a grateful rat population has shot up to 60 million, equalling our own number.

Some find this distressing. Others of liberal, humanitarian persuasion who have formed an attachment to the fox may take a different view. Then again, rat catchers, unlike fox hunters, do not suffer the opprobrium of being drawn from an upper class that, in times gone by, watered the workers’ beer. So perhaps the rat poisoner may be allowed to continue, free of Islingtonian censure.

At times the prospect of an arctic winter seems quite beguiling.

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