Where I'll be in 2028, when asteroid XF11 hits our planet

There are so many ways to prepare to meet our doom, but one scares me more than all the others ...
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The Independent Online
"WELL," I thought to myself yesterday afternoon, "I know what I was planning to do on Thursday, 26 October, 2028. Very roughly. I was thinking of spending the day at home in Il Campanibile - our rose-washed farm-house near Siena - proof-reading the pages of my magnum opus, A Time Of Giants: Marr and Boycott at Canary Wharf and resting. In the late autumnal afternoon (say, roundabout 5.30), I would have just awoken from my nap, taken my age retardants and been preparing for a bout of enhanced lovemaking with my hormonally-replaced partner, before doing my statutory 30 lengths of the pool."

"But now," my thought continued, "I probably won't be able to do any of those things, because - at precisely that time - some bloody great lump of space rock is due to punch a hole in the atmosphere and crash into the earth, extinguishing much life and putting a substantial dent in the Marr-Boycott market."

This uncomfortable cogitation had, of course, been set off by authoritative reports from a body called the International Astronomical Union, that a large asteroid (fireball XF11) was definitely on course to pass within a few thousand miles of the earth. In space terms that is very close (actually in Earth terms it's pretty close too; Aberdeen often seems further away than that).

Now, it was something similar - except four times larger - that landed on the Yucatan peninsula sometime in the Cretaceous period, and left us with only crocodiles, rhinos and the Countryside Alliance to remind us of the time when dinosaurs ruled the earth. XF11, if it were to hit us, would kill between a quarter and a half of the world's population, we were told, and leave large parts of the earth uninhabitable.

As I digested the need to alter my Italian plans in the light of this new information, other thoughts began to crowd into my already cluttered head. The first thing I realised was that - contrary to my earlier belief - the powers that be would not be able to suppress all knowledge of impending doom while they prepared special bunkers for themselves on Mars. Some bloody attention-seeking astronomist would be sure to blab.

Then I began to wonder what the effect of this certain knowledge was going to be on my fellow citizens. In the first seconds after hearing the story of XF11 nearly everyone I knew calculated exactly how old they'd be at the moment of impact. Those who would still be under 60 felt very gloomy indeed, almost cheated in fact. It was hard to escape a sense of being envied for already having made it to forty.

Then there was the difficulty in dealing with everyday issues and transactions that were likely to be transformed. Pensions and mortgages, with their finite payment periods now likely to be curtailed, were the most obvious. But what was going to happen to house prices generally? Would it be easier or harder to sell up and move?

And anyway, didn't much of this depend on exactly where the asteroid struck us? If New Zealand or the Pacific looked like being the landing site for XF11, then we Britishers might well survive, albeit in the perpetual gloom of a dust cloud (remember, loads of Californians get by in LA). If, however, it looked like Birmingham was going to be the epicentre of an impending collision, then one would have to decide whether to stay or to go. The odious Monday Club would hopefully be faced with busloads of Anglo-Caribbeans, suddenly anxious to take them up on their kind offer of funded repatriation.

Many vexed policy discussions would simply cease. There wouldn't seem to be much point in holding another Earth summit: no-one would worry much about global warming. Tobacco advertising would become redundant because everybody would smoke. The birth rate would fall dramatically and fifteen years later - as a result - so would the incidence of crime.

On the plus side many more young women might be willing to sleep with older men who will be using the (now) more convincing "tomorrow we die" pretext. If fin-de-siecle prompts interestingly debauched behaviour, just think what delights fin-du-monde might not lead to!

But alas, every impacting asteroid has its downside. Many of our less intellectually robust fellow humans will join the growing ranks of vindicated Millennarians, seeking salvation through the drinking of urine, the eating of scorpions and the worshipping of little pony-tailed deities from Budleigh Salterton. They will want to convert all of us and it will make arguing with a whole sect of Trotskyists seem like a summer holiday.

This last prospect alone - I thought - should be enough to prompt an international effort aimed at diverting XF11 from its present course. Surely a probe - funded by the lottery, containing an American smart bomb, piloted by a member of the RAF, guided by Microsoft, designed by Alexander McQueen and organised by Peter Mandelson - could be launched at some point in the next thirty years, and three decades of tedious evangelism averted?

And then Nasa announced that, actually, XF11 was coming nowhere near us. We had been spared.

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