The whole debacle though did serve to make me examine the way that, as a society, we are constantly worrying about something and social media and advancements in technology have surely only made it worse. Spreading fear like wildfire on a global level. I remember as a schoolgirl in the 70s the big fear was that we were all going to be blown to smithereens by the Russians. I’d never met a Russian but all I knew was that they had the power to kill us all with the push of a button. I can vividly recall a teacher whipping the entire class into a frenzy with talk of how we should just pray to be wiped out in the initial nuclear blast as life post apocalypse would be infinitely worse than death. Running home traumatised I asked my mum if it was true and, in her inimitable fashion she said, “Well if it is, there’s nothing we can do about it, so it’s best not to think about it.” I’m sure I wasn’t the only child to be laid awake at night waiting for the nuclear blast, in much the same way the boy I talked to is worrying about terrorism. By the time the 80s rolled around, however, the crisis was over, we were all embracing a bit of Soviet chic and if we were to be blown to smithereens at least we would go out in a blaze of vodka.
When I look back on it, my mother’s seemingly nonchalant attitude was just a front. Being obliterated by the Russians might not have been high on her list of priorities but she clearly had her own worries. Why else would she hoard ridiculous food stuffs like powdered milk which no one would ever use and enough candles to keep the entire neighbourhood alight in the event of a power cut? Likewise, my grandma, much to the chagrin of everyone else in the family, was fervently anti-union. Her fear of unemployment and poverty was such that she believed it was better to put up and shut up rather than lose your job. I suppose for both my mum and her mother before her, their fears reflected the times in which they lived, and so it goes with every generation.
The problem for this generation is that they are being bombarded by fear from every direction. The boy’s fear of terrorism is a very real one and has been since 9/11 when it became such a stark reality for all of us. Travelling is now a nightmare due to heightened security measures and most major cities have had some sort of high alert incident so that seeing armed police at airports and train stations is now no longer viewed as unusual. Fear mongering by the media is nothing new, after all this is how they tout their wares, but the kinds of images that are accessible to people on the Internet removes the distance between us and the barbarism so that it becomes impossible to carry on with day-to-day life. It turned out, the boy who I spoke to, along with his friends had been watching videos online showing atrocities being committed and threats of even more being issued. How, once that genie is out of the bottle, do you go back to getting on with life?
And it’s not just fear of terrorism that is stopping us from enjoying life; everybody I speak to these days seems to be obsessed with health. On the one hand, we are told that we are sleepwalking our way to early deaths through poor diet but, then we’re all expected to work until we’re older than Methuselah because we are living too long and the pension pot won’t stretch. So which is it? Weight has never been such an issue with phrases like “obesity epidemic” being bandied about but where are all these morbidly obese people? I work in a school where, yes there are some chubby kids, but there have always been chubby kids. I’m not denying that excess weight can have an impact on our health but I’m just not sure the information we are being given is helpful. My friend recently went for a health MOT and was told by the nurse that she was obese. Now all right, like the rest of us, she could properly stand to lose a few pounds but there is no way on earth that she is obese. If these medical charts are categorising people who are no more than a stone overweight as obese, then no wonder we are supposedly in the grip of an epidemic.
Everywhere we look at the moment we are being warned about the dangers of sugar. As a sugar addict, I feel as if I’m playing Russian roulette with type II diabetes every time I shove a chocolate hobnob into my mouth. Where is all this hysteria coming from though? Not so long ago fat was our number one enemy. A fad that had such an impact on my mother that she would regard anything that contained fat as if it were laced with arsenic and, where’s it got her - yearly infusions at the hospital to treat her brittle bones. These so-called experts are trying to tell us that our diets have never been so bad but where were they in the 1970s? Only the other day, my brother and I were reminiscing about our own childhood diets and how we would spend all of our dinner money on potato puffs and chocolate Dundee biscuits rather than anything that even resembled a food group. It was the age of chemicals when Mash Get Smash and Dairylea cheese were the future. I’m surprised we’re not all aglow with radioactivity. Then there’s the fact that everything was made with lard and I don’t think skimmed milk had even been invented yet.
You may say I’m burying my head in the sand but I refuse to be ruled by fear any more. The fear of type II diabetes is not going to stop me from eating biscuits, any more than images of black shrivelled up lungs will part anyone who loves smoking from their cigarettes. The fact is none of us know what is around the corner so we may as well just get on with the business of living. If I’m going to be struck by a meteorite, wiped out by a deadly virus or indeed explode like the greedy fat boy in Willy Wonka, so be it.