The most predictable thing in the world is that the world will do something unpredictable. An underwater volcano, a careless sneeze in Wuhan – all stuff that we didn’t really see coming.
Except that we kind of did. Sh*t happens, right?
I learned this back in the 1990s, when I was a magazine editor. The phrase that dominated production was: “If a disaster can happen, it WILL happen.” Contributors getting sick, photo files corrupting, issues going to print with Latin filler text or house prices printed in dollars. Facts or phone numbers being changed overnight. I remember once my mistyping of ‘off-street parking’ manifested itself in print as ‘off-street arachnid’ – and that’s some scary kind of spider!
One issue, I had been approached by a freelance news journalist fallen on hard times, and, feeling benevolent, commissioned him to write a piece for me. The false deadline I’d given approached, and I had heard nothing from him. He was one of those expensively educated types who talked a good game, but whom you suspected couldn’t actually find a fart in a farmyard. So when the actual deadline passed without any sign of this writer’s piece, I reached for my shoe-sized dumbphone and put in the call.
“Hello?” he shouted, the line crackly, peppered with odd whooshing and crackling sounds. Occasionally he sounded like a posh Metal Mickey. “Bidét, bidét, bidét.”
“You owe me a piece..?” I prompted, hoping he was going to tell me it was already in the ether.
“Ah yes, about thaaaat,” he drawled, my heart sinking. “Thing is, something started kicking off over here and so I got deployed to cover it.”
Deployed? “Where exactly is HERE?” I asked, already not liking where this was going.
“Kind of Montenegro-ish.”
Kind of…. WHAT!?? Montenegro? But that was pretty much a war zone wasn’t it??
A fresh whoosh and several loud cracks made me hold the phone a little further from my ear. “That’s not, erm, gunfire is it?” I winced.
“Yes, sorry about that!” he shouted, not unlike Dom Joly on Trigger Happy TV. “Rocket propelled grenade. Going to have to go old man. Apparently, we’re drawing fire. I’ll get the piece to you soon as poss. Toodlepip!” And the line went dead.
Something turned up from him a few days later, but it was awful. More pressing matters on his mind I guess. I paid him anyway, and rewrote the piece under his bi-line – just in case it turned out to be his obituary. I never heard from him again. I suspect he either died in a bizarre pencil sharpening tragedy or that he left journalism and currently breeds artisan cheeses for show.
One of the most chilling sentences a property magazine editor can ever hear is: “The Sales & Marketing guy has just bought a new camera.” Cue the arrival of some of the worst photography that you will ever see: finger blurs caught on the edge of the shot, flash glare in the shiny kitchen surfaces, the photographer caught in the reflection of the groovy floor to ceiling windows, blurring that suggests the camera was balanced on top of a Rhianna in mid twerk.
There was, however, a genius Public Relations guy who worked for – let’s call them ‘Déjà Vu Developments’. This was not my favourite developer. They had a tendency to build the same Kleenex box design absolutely everywhere and were still stubbornly wedded to the cream cheese ceiling. But, as an editor, I would use their photography every time, because it was always so good. The key to their consistency was simply this: they employed a photographer on retainer who was encouraged to go out to take photographs of a Déjà Vu site every time the sun was shining. Consequently, every photograph was taken in brilliant light under bright blue skies. In those kind of conditions, even a Kleenex box can suddenly look like a deeply desirable pied-a-terre.
Mega brain and badger advocate Queen guitarist, Brian May is a keen proponent of building in a redundancy. Usually, on stage behind him, you will see a wall of his favoured AC30 guitar amplifiers. Three of these might have been ‘miked up’, but the others are there, not just because it looks cool, but because if the others blow a fuse, then it takes seconds for the guitar tech to bring the spares online, and the widdly widdly can continue uninterrupted.
It became terrifyingly obvious during the first weeks of COVID that successive governments had NOT been following this very sensible strategy. Where was the redundancy in terms of ventilators, PPE… and, you know, STAFF? The arrival of a major viral pandemic had been predicted for years (Check out ‘Hot Zone’ by Richard Preston if you never want to sleep again). How could we keep the widdly widdly of life going without this very important equipment? We really like the widdly, widdly! We all go a bit bonkers if we don’t get our widdly, widdly.
Ultimately, you’re either a go out and buy some pills because you’ve got an unexpected headache kind of person. Or you’re a buy headache pills because one day you know you’re going to get a headache sort of person.
I am distinctly the latter. And the government is too… But only when it suits it.
And so, we build HS2 for a possible future business demand. But we don’t stockpile the items useful for combating any kind of inevitable transmissible virus. We build two massive and essential aircraft carriers to enable us to project power across the world.. And then sell one. Because it’s not that essential after all. But we don’t build smart, sustainable, affordable retirement communities for the massively aging population that is DEFINITELY going to get even older.
We’re not thinking ahead. We’re not building in a redundancy. Which is odd in a still quite patriarchal world. After all, men massively over-supply sperm, and rather too often. You’d think that would manifest in public planning wouldn’t you? But no.
So, in the future, we’re going to find ourselves with a predictable headache and with no pills in the house. And we’d better hope that, like with COVID, not everybody else gets a headache at exactly the same time.
*These are the words of Mark and not Carers in Bedfordshire