Usually, I love the autumn, but this year it seems blighted to me. And it's not just the horse chestnut trees. Have you noticed they're dying? They've got a disease called bleeding canker which is fast threatening their entire population. The Northamptonshire World Conker Championships have complained of conker shortages.
But, like I said, it's not just the trees. As I flick through this week's papers it seems harder to summon the will to live. Oh, I know papers are always full of doom and gloom and the word "news" essentially means "things that are not good". But doesn't it seem particularly bad at the moment?
First up – the environment. Headline: catastrophic global warming "in our lifetimes" says the Met Office. A report out this week warns that a 4C temperature rise could happen by 2060; it would threaten the water supply of half the world's population, wipe out up to half the animal and plant species and swamp low coastlines.
This report updates previous reports which said the world would probably warm up this much by 2100. Those reports, apparently, assumed political will would have reduced CO2 emissions by now. But, guess what? It hasn't happened. In fact, CO2 emissions have accelerated. Which makes doomsday 40 years closer and in our own or our children's lifetimes.
Even more alarming, as of yesterday, the Earth's population is estimated by the United States Census Bureau to be 6.788 billion. The world's population took approximately 72,000 years to grow to one billion (in the 1800s). Since then it has taken just a tiny sliver of human history – 200 years – to do that six times over. And it's estimated that another two billion will join the party in the next 30 years.
It just seems impossible that the Earth could sustain so many people without an even faster and more furious destruction of the environment. Manufacturing less, emitting less, consuming less, building less, destroying less... none of this is compatible with population expansion.
Everything else being equal, I would probably cheer myself up with the thought that something is bound to be invented to save us. But everything else isn't equal because we're living in a gloomy post-crash world, floating in a sea of debt that will probably swamp the country long before anything threatened by global warming.
Yes, property prices are rising again – and it's possible we may come out of recession. But there's no denying that everything has changed. I'm full of nostalgia for the past 20 years of economic growth (despite what it did to the environment). At least there was a loud clear note of positivity echoing through the land – investment in public services, booming business, jobs a-plenty, a sense of abundance. Britain seemed all shiny and new again. I look back and no wonder it seems golden. But was it a kind of Edwardian summer? And if it was, what ghastly winter of discontent is to come?
And then there's the fact that a fearful electorate moves politically to the right. A posse of rather bumptious, ruddy-cheeked, ex-Etonians who've known nothing but privilege all their lives – and certainly know nothing of government – are likely to be leading us into the abyss. Ahead are dark days of conservatism and public penny pinching. And worse, a think tank called Compass has just come out with a report entitled The Last Labour Government. If MP numbers are cut by 10 per cent by a Tory government, if Scottish independence strips Labour of 41 Westminster seats, if Tory reforms to party funding break the link between Labour and the unions – it might prove difficult, they say, for Labour ever to be elected again.
So to the final whammy: the people who have caused all this debt and fear aren't even going to be made to change. Brown's legislation may mean some bankers' bonuses are going to be deferred a little but – essentially – the news is that the system of rewarding bankers is going to go on just the same.
And this has put us back into the kind of financial and social inequality not seen since the days of feudal Britain. The gap between rich and poor is so extreme it's as if the fat cat aristocrat is riding out again. His stately home is vast and peopled with servants; he rides out on his white charger (Aston Martin) and goes down to the village where people live in hovels and scrabble about in the dirt.
My only comfort in all this? Well, I suppose people have always thought the world was about to end. And autumn is the melancholy season – let's hope I'm just seasonally affected.
Madonna, marriage and some welcome honesty
The book of Bridget Jones's Diary is 10 years old this year, so I guess female sexual stereotypes are due for a bit of revamp. Bridget was all about the thirtysomething single woman (somehow best said as all one word, I feel). The new contender is also a decade older and was first spotted on the other side of the Atlantic. She's called a "cougar".
Cougars are fortysomething single women who are so fit and Botoxed they're like 20-year-olds but with harder edges – a kind of human version of higher definition. Cougars aren't simpering and klutzy like Bridget Jones – they're sleek sexual predators and they go out with younger men. (Madonna, of course, is leader of the pack yet again.)
Like all these distorted stereotypes, the cougar may be a fantasy at heart, but she derives from something real. Just as Bridget Jones arose from the reality of women putting off marriage, so the cougar reflects the fact that 40-year-old women – even the un-Botoxed ones – are retaining their youthfulness way beyond previous expectations.
That's all good. It's a shame, though, that the cougar has to be depicted as so predatory. Men like the idea, I suppose, that this powerful new creature is so hot for sex. Being married to someone 10 years younger myself, I suspect the cougar likes younger men not for their pecs but because they're likely to be reconstructed, less testosterone driven and more in touch with their inner feminine.
Cougar or no, Madonna has just made it abundantly clear that she doesn't want to get married again. She appeared on David Letterman's show in New York on Wednesday, and when she was asked if she might marry her current squeeze – Brazilian model, Jesus Luz, who is 23 – she said: "Remarry? I'd rather get run over by a train."
She went on to point out that her eight-year marriage to Guy Ritchie was coincident with the Bush era – bleak years for the United States. Clearly, the analogy is not accidental: Madonna's marriage, it seems, was a bleak time for her too.
There's something invigorating about seeing Madonna being honest like this – breaking the silence around marriage. We all know what the divorce statistics say about marriage, and yet, there seems to be a secret pact amongst those who are married to never fess up to just how hard it is.
Welcome to the old age that never ends
Doctors writing in The Lancet medical journal have announced that babies born in the past few years in the UK will live to be 100 – if they're good and eat their greens.
The trouble with living to such a ripe old age (apart from the fact that after 2060 you're going to be perched on top of a hill somewhere with nine billion others fighting it out for water – see above) is that you spend such a large proportion of your life in the grey-haired years.
If "old" is 60 – imagine turning 60 and still having another 50 years to go! I've just read Anne Chisholm's biography of Frances Partridge – the Bloomsbury-ite who lived the whole of the 20th century. Frances found her first grey hairs at 30 and was already "old" in the 1960s – her husband dead, her son grown. And yet that was just the beginning of her old age. She soldiered on like that for another lifetime (pretty much my lifetime, in fact) eventually dying at 103.Reuse content