Will Self: PsychoGeography

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The Independent Online

Consider Doggerland, the landmass that before the end of the last Ice Age connected the British Isles with The Netherlands, Denmark and Germany.

My brother wised me up on Doggerland, sitting in the humid garden of his house in upstate New York: "When we think of Britain and the continent being connected, we obviously imagine an isthmus or land bridge," he averred, "whereas the reality was an enormous plain. Archaeologists have discovered human artefacts and evidence of habitations from the Mesolithic in this area. Think of it! A tundra where the North Sea is now, teeming with game – lion, mammoth, hippo – criss-crossed by the hunting trails of sophisticated huntsmen."

I thought on it flying home to London, besmirching the sky with more than my fair share of cosmic lamp blacking. Back in town, the rains came down like stair rods – except that no one under 40 was in a position to employ this simile, because they've never seen a stair rod in their lives.

A puddle formed in the back garden five feet across – this was unprecedented. The small boys' school was closed due to flooding; I went to pick them up on the bicycle, then, three-up, we toured the local wet spots. The low points of Silverthorne and Queenstown Roads were flooded: scuzzy meres with kerbstone banks and littorals defined by police incident tape.

The small boys were excited by this inversion of the normal state of things. You don't spend two years of your young lives with your dad upstairs typing a futuristic, dystopic novel about flooded Britain for nothing. We discussed the possibilities of London being seriously inundated, and foolishly I gave it to them straight: Yes, I thought it was definitely rather than maybe, to adapt an album title from the aptly named beat combo, Oasis. Predictably, the small boys grew anxious, and began discussing among themselves what toys could be saved.

Returning home, I thought of my friends in the Vale of Pershore – we were due to go up for the weekend; usually, we all indulge in a little wild water swimming in the Avon, but this water was going to be way too wild for that. It wasn't long before the sewers of rolling TV began to back-up with the breaking flood news. My friends' news was stark: "We're cut off," Charles said. "But the most bizarre thing is that Gabriel has been watching the Test at Lords all afternoon, where there's bright sunshine."

Yes, after all, the paradigm for the deluge remains Genesis, chapters 6-10. It's a short tale – with a powerful resonance. The main facts are well known: God, an irascible super-being, prone to creating marvellous things, but afflicted with severe Attention-Deficit Disorder, gives life to humanity, but then gets quickly bored with it: "And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart."

The solution was obvious: lay on 40 days and 40 nights of stair rods (although the simile is questionable, since although "there were giants in the earth in those days" [Gen 6:4], they had yet to invent the stair carpet, or even the runner), then instruct a morally recondite sexcentenarian to build a fuck-off big boat in order to preserve breeding pairs of all genotypes (except insects, which were invented by Beelzebub in 1923).

The important thing here is that the standard account of the antediluvian – which every morally recondite son of the manse, such as our own Prime Minister well knows – is that the ignorant, the venal and the lazy get it in the neck (the water, that is), while the Good are saved, so that when the dove pitches up they're in pole position to build enormous towers on the floodplains, and invest in the booming language-school business that soon comes into being. It's obvious that the Prime Minister subscribes to this view. Touring Gloucester shortly after it went "glub-glub", he referred time and again to the exceptional nature of the rainfall. If he didn't have an overwhelmingly secular electorate, the words "Act of God" would've shot through his lips.

But from where I'm sitting it's Britain's Sodoms and Gomorrahs that remained high and dry, while the likes of my friend Charles had his livelihood all but trashed. His crops were washed away, his barns soaked, and the Poles who come every summer to do the picking (most of whom are professors of theology), ended up paddling. Still, what the tide brings in the tide takes out again. I expect there were seasonal workers in Doggerland (in the Mesolithic they favoured transhumance), and when it became impossible, due to rising sea levels, to walk home to Poland, they, too, took it personally.

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