Monday 3 December 2007

Looking on the bright side

I was able to react to yesterday’s shock news about the End of the World in 2012 with exemplary calmness. Partly because it was clearly what we Cambridge-educated intellectuals call, as we are passing the port and taking the mickey out of State School oiks, “A Load of Old Cock”.

And partly because, for over two years, I have had Saturday, 4 February 2012 clearly marked in my diary as the date of my own demise. The idea that everyone else might be joining me is actually a bit of a bonus. It means that I won’t need to worry about what I might be missing in The Archers or Coronation Street (and I certainly wouldn’t want to go just before the episode of the latter where someone finally snaps and bludgeons David Platt to death).

I learned my deathday from a website called, which cheerily calculates how long you have got left. (It even features a handy counter of your remaining seconds.) Shortly after I had done so, I remember visiting my friend The Lord (not the Big Man in the Sky, but a Life Baron in the peerage of the United Kingdom) in his office. He gave it a go and it told him that he was going to live to be 95 or thereabouts, which seemed a bit implausible to me given my knowledge of his lifestyle (and if he happens to read this, I’m alluding to his enthusiasm for helicopter travel rather than his waistline). He was naturally well chuffed with this result and called in a series of colleagues to have a go. Most of them were apparently destined to be centenarians. His PA was practically in tears because it reckoned she was only going to make it to 79.

F***ing hell,” says the Lord, who uses more asterisks than the average peer. “You must have f***ing done it wrong. No way can that 2012 be the right f***ing answer. Come on, do it again.” So I resubmitted all my data and – ping! – back came the answer. I didn’t bother to make a note of it but I know it was sometime in 2009. So, funnily enough, I thought I’d rather stick with the original verdict.

This morning I tried it again, just out of interest, and it came up with a completely different answer: 14 March 2028. I can work out why. It now only asks for your Body Mass Index and whether you smoke. A couple of years ago, it also used to ask whether your attitude to life was positive, neutral or negative, and whether you were optimistic or pessimistic.

Now, I’m a negative pessimist and clearly got marked down heavily for that, though I believe that it actually makes one happier, on balance. I always assume that the worst possible thing is going to happen in every eventuality. So if I get on a plane, I’m convinced it’s going to crash. When it doesn’t, I get off at the other end in much higher spirits than those people for whom it’s just been another humdrum flight. (Humdrum, at any rate, up to the point where that fat bloke began shouting, “We’ve survived! We’ve survived!” and started trying to hug and kiss all the other passengers.)

And in all matters relating to love and sex, the assumption that the worst is going to happen invariably turns out to be 100% correct. So if I’d started out with any other working assumption, I’d have spent my entire life to date in a pit of the most acute disappointment. As opposed to the trough of mild misery that I feel whenever another lovely lady slams the door on our precious friendship, usually trapping something quite precious to me between the door and the frame as she does so.

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