Will Self: PsychoGeography

The temperature's rising
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"Extreme heat locates the individual within the natal cleft of existence," says Dr Thurm Angstrøm, whom I went to interview this week, in his claustrophobic office at Reading University's Department of Comparative Environmental Science. Dr Angstrøm's weighty tome Sweaty Hearth: Transliterating Domestic Space in the Age of Climate Change has been the surprise, beach-book hit of this summer. Apparently it's being lapped up all the way from Ibiza to Mykonos and back again, although the reflective, gold-foiled cover has a tendency to slide from between well-lubricated fingers.

Dr Angstrøm isn't altogether surprised by his populist success, although a recent appearance on the Richard and Judy Book Club left him reeling: "I couldn't understand why they insisted on larding me with make-up and then sitting me under intense studio lighting. It would've been so much more fitting to have interviewed me in the open air." Indeed, for open air is what Dr Angstrøm's thesis is all about: "In the future we will make love and defecate in the garden, while reserving our social life for airily appointed salons ..." is the arresting opening to his book.

"I'm not an apostle for this wholesale change in our use of domestic space, I am only describing the inevitable," Dr Angstrøm told me, although on meeting him in person I found this difficult to believe; for the "Hot Doc" - as he is known in academic circles - was entirely nude save for an Amerindian penis sheath, while a flocculent mass of beard squatted on his muscular chest, suggesting that he was continually nuzzling a small, brown bear. "We will find ourselves in the next half century," he continued, while sponging down his equally flocculent armpits, "quite casually abandoning our overheated interiors in pursuit of an al fresco home life that will transform our social relations. The garden, the allotment, the patio, these will be our new living spaces; while in our houses we will engage in the sacred rituals of computer banking and online shopping."

"But what about people who live in flats?" I objected "Surely this brave new world will not be for them."

"Aha!" The Hot Doc leapt up and began rooting in his filing cabinet. "That's just where you're wrong." He thrust an artist's impression into my sweaty hands. It depicted Heath Robinson contraptions, cantilevered decks that extended from the facades of multi-storey blocks. On them, men, women, even children cavorted, all of them wearing penis sheaths remarkably like Angstrøm's own. "Why are the women wearing penis sheaths?" I objected, but he waved me away: "A mere detail!"

"And what about the children?" I pressed him "Surely they will plummet off these decks?"

"But that's just it!" He began trying to pace up and down, although given the restricted floor area all he could manage was a side-to-side rocking motion, reminiscent of a caged animal. "In the future, up, down, sideways - these will be but contingent facts, the only absolute will be space itself. Our children will be like the Navajo who have no fear of heights whatsoever; freed from the tyranny of interiority they will scamper about the city like the great apes they so manifestly are!"

"Look," he continued, offering me a half-full bottle of warm Evian, "already the summer months are seeing you once uptight Britishers bare as never before! You hang out in your Day-Glo cycling shorts, barbecuing fatty sausages and giving it - how you say - large. You oil yourselves then cavort in paddling pools - can't you see that you're on the verge of a new age of primitivism and abandonment? Soon they will be selling time-shares in Swindon, I tell you ..."

I can't deny that I was impressed by Dr Angstrøm's passion; yet before I boarded my waiting rickshaw and set off for Reading Station, I felt it incumbent on me to speak with one of his colleagues, Dr Maria Vargas Llama, and discover what this equally eminent environmental scientist thought about the author of Sweaty Hearth. "The man is completely off his chump," said Dr Llama, extracting a Cohiba Robusto from his gleaming, silver humidor, and lighting it with a spar of rare hardwood. "This has nothing to do with global warming - and everything to do with Angstrøm's office.

"When we moved to this new building," Dr Llama continued, sitting down behind his huge desk, squarely in the jet of icy air from his massive aircon unit, "Thurm got the short straw in the office lottery. Up until then he'd specialised in Inuit ice-building techniques. His doctoral thesis was entitled Frigid Duvet. You gullible journalists," he airily waved his ectomorphic stogie, "should dig a little deeper before you splash contentious environmental theories across the newspapers. Most of them aren't about the warming world at all - only this or that stuffy, academic department."