…We have no time to stand and stare?
You know the scenario: there’s an unidentified rattle in the car. It’s not much of a rattle, but it’s enough to distract you. It wasn’t there before and you don’t know where it’s coming from. You ask your passenger if they can see what’s rattling and they say, ‘What rattle? I can’t hear a rattle,’ at which point the rattle takes on a new determination and you say, ‘There! Just then! You must have heard it.’ But your passenger just sucks her teeth and says, ‘No’ and you know that the sound is going to drive you crazy before you reach your destination. So, you ask your passenger to check in their door pocket, to check in the glove compartment, to check under the seat, all to no avail. The rattle persists, as does their deafness to it and your distraction by it, until at last, driven to the point of despair, you arrive at journey’s end only to discover that the noise is coming from an actual child’s rattle in the passenger’s handbag. You know how it goes, right?
The tiniest deviation from the norm, that impinges upon the collective consciousness not one jot, but which drives you and you alone up the bleedin’ wall, becomes the catalyst for major change: the pointless argument; the tossing out of one’s toys; the changing of one’s car… And before you ask me, no, I haven’t – although I do have a rattle in my car that nobody else seems able to hear and I am actually just beginning to wonder if it really is all inside my head – whether the nuts really are working loose…
Since the dawn of lockdown we have held a family Zoom get-together and quiz each weekend. Of late, to mix things up, we have also played games and tackled Escape Rooms. I have discovered that, whilst I can solve the individual puzzles that guide us through to escape, I have no idea whatsoever of where we are, where we have been, nor where we are going. Is that normal, do you think?
I have no trouble in answering the kind of questions asked by consultant geriatricians. I can name every Prime Minister since, you know, big man, wide shoulders, funny laugh, used to sail yachts or something I think… I always know what year it is (although not, I admit, necessarily the day). My memory has always been eccentric – razor-sharp on music and sit-coms, absent on bin days – so that’s not a worry. Although I have read somewhere – I think, I can never be sure – that the absence of worry is, in itself, a worry.
I have a great capacity for the standing and staring thing – usually into space, usually because I’ve lost my keys. Or in a supermarket because I’ve misplaced the cereal aisle. None of that has ever changed, so that’s a good thing isn’t it?
The tendency for little things, insignificant things, to disturb my equilibrium is, however, a different kettle of fish. (Who’d put fish in a kettle anyway*? It must play merry hell with the PG Tips.) My ability to be knocked off stride by very little is unrivalled in the western world. A changed dental appointment can bother me for weeks. An unidentified caller on my phone sets me spinning in a neurotic spiral of paranoia, seldom seen since the days of The Prisoner on TV. I have GCHQ on speed dial.
I have just read a report on the BBC website (Knowing how the universe will end is freeing) that states that, at some indeterminate future time, the universe will end in either ‘heat death’, ‘big rip’ or ‘vacuum decay’, none of which sound like the kind of thing you would want to be around for. My first problem is with ‘indeterminate’ which could, presumably, be today. My second problem is with this infinite universe of ours. If it is no longer there, where is it? I don’t see how infinite nothing can be a thing. Maybe that’s the point. Could infinite nothing be sucked into a black hole (in which case the black hole would still exist) or would the black hole be sucked into nothing (in which case nothing would still exist). My understanding is that the universe started off as nothing, so presumably, if it became nothing again, it would still be there and therefore – do try and keep up at the back – not nothing. In any case, surely an infinite nothing would have to end somewhere and somewhere can’t be nowhere, can it? And if you’d sooner not think about it, well so would I, but if I stop worrying about the death of the universe, I start to think about this bloody rattling again – and you know where that gets us…
*Below is a fish kettle – just in case you think I am more stupid than I look.