Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Demob Happy Planet

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, at the moment I'm telling anyone who will listen (and plenty who won't) that I intend to take early retirement next year, with the intention of making it too humiliating for me not to retire.  It may work.  However, I have become fairly immune to embarrassment over the years; it's the price you pay for being an idiot.

An unforeseen consequence of this is that I have already become a bit "demob happy".  That is to say, things that it had seemed important to keep on top of and ahead of at work have started to look, well, unimportant.  In less than a year they will be someone else's concern.

I like the folk wisdom encapsulated in a phrase like "demob happy".  It's far more expressive than a technical term like "dissociation".  People misunderstand it, though.  It doesn't simply mean "happy because something burdensome is coming to an end".  "Happy", in British military slang, tends to means mad or disorientated (as in "bomb happy").  In the army, soldiers approaching demobilization were a lethal menace, as their handling of weapons and machinery was likely to become sloppy.

Life on Earth

I, along with 7 million other half-awake listeners to Radio 4's Today programme,  had a sobering experience this morning.  Among the other headlines -- Egypt, Edward Snowden, child abuse, the usual temporary litany -- the newsreader intoned that scientists have predicted that, using models of the Sun's increasing heat and brightness, life on Earth will become impossible for all life-forms but "extremophile" bacteria in a billion years.

Right. Compared to the ending of a career, that's a biggie.  It may not be Bowie's Five Years ("my brain hurts a lot") but it's a definite horizon and terminus of expectations.  Beyond which, nothing.  Even not running the tap when brushing our teeth won't get us past that.

Of course, a billion years is a long time.  But long times have a habit of passing.  Just the other day I walked past my old flat and wondered whether there might be any mail for me there.  Would it be worth asking?  Then I realised I hadn't lived there for 25 years.  I bought that flat in 1984 aged 30.  If someone had come to the door asking after mail delivered to that address since 1959, when I was 5 years old, I would probably have shut the door rather quickly.

Will humanity become demob happy?  I think it's a serious question.  In times past, a belief in having a stake in an afterlife took the edge off the expected Apocalypse and, indeed, led some to anticipate it with pleasure.  Day of Judgement?  Bring it on!  Nowadays, very few people believe in an afterlife, but thankfully very many don't yet realise they don't.  They aren't continually brooding on their personal extinction, or conducting their lives in the expectation of no greater sanction than what the local magistrate might hand down, if caught. Luckily. "What's the point?" is the question that all civilisation seeks to overcome.

I suppose no-one said that knowledge would bring happiness.  There is a world of difference, psychologically, between the hope of a judgement scenario -- "No, sorry, all you spam and malware merchants go in the Red Channel queue, please" -- and the certainty of a grim, indifferent, baking, irradiated, lifeless plain, littered with melting golf balls and unopened blister-packs.

Did I mention I'm thinking of retiring next year?


Kent Wiley said...

Don't think about it. Do it.

Mike C. said...

Thanks, but tell me that in 6 months, not now, Kent!

I have an expensive photo-book habit to wean myself off first.... One day at a time.


Zouk Delors said...

Careful where you point that periodical! You don't want to end up getting a dishonourable discharge for reckless handling of printed matter - they'll cut your pips off. And your pension most likely

You could spend your retirement cataloging your photo-book collection, innit?

Kent Wiley said...

Will do. Putting it on my calender.