Gently into that good night

My uncle Arthur shot himself in 1945 with a German service rifle he’d, somewhat improbably, smuggled back from the war and stashed under his bed in Ealing.

He was 31. My dad, Arthur’s younger brother, never got over it. His parents and two elder brothers probably didn’t either. But they were older and closer to each other. They didn’t seem quite as lost and dazed for the rest of their lives as my father did.

Half a century later, a second-cousin of my father killed himself when he was about 65. I only found out about it a year or two later. It seemed to catch his family off guard. He’d run his own business successfully enough and was (materially, at least) set up for a comfortable retirement.

As it happens, rarely does a day go by when I don’t visualise myself committing suicide in one way or another. I don’t fear death and don’t particularly enjoy life. It’s just part of my make up.

The chances of me acting on these detailed imaginings are fairly remote. Even so, I wouldn’t permit myself ready access to a spur-of-the-moment device like a handgun, even if that were legal where I live.

Me next?

Nevertheless, a few years ago I decided that I’ll top myself when I’m in my mid-to-late sixties: which was 10-12 years away at the time. I reckon I’ll have earned it by then.

It was a surprisingly easy decision to make, and I immediately felt better about life. You should understand that, apart from ongoing low-level depression, I’m fairly fit for my age. I cycle a lot (the one thing I really enjoy), work for myself and am financially secure in the medium term: no debts, comfortable lifestyle.

However, I’m having to review my ‘suicide goal’ decision. That’s why I’ve chosen the topic for this entry.

Even though I’m more than happy to go gentle into that good night, I still have to wake up every morning between now and when I step off the wheel of life. And, having risen, I have to work and relate to people and so on.


Of course there’s a paradox here. If the main thing that makes living bearable is the knowledge that I’ve set a self-imposed limit on its duration, where’s the reason for striving in the meantime?

Well, the children, obviously. They’re in their early teens. Other family and friends. Valid reasons for carrying on, although surely the reason for living is to enjoy life, not because to do otherwise might upset other people.

I’m relaxed about the idea that I’m fundamentally just a set of selfish genes – in which case, with four offspring I’ve more than achieved my purpose in life. But being human is so much more complicated than that.

Setting an approximate future date for my departure is limiting my capacity to function in the present. It’s like feeling the paralysis of mind and will that I used to get when extra-depressed, but without the accompanying anxiety.

Anxiety-depression is utterly miserable. It makes people commit suicide to escape it even though they otherwise want to live long and fulfilling lives. It’s wonderful not to have been through it for 10 years. If ‘looking forward’ to offing myself helps, then it’s worth it to a great extent.


But there is still the mental paralysis. Planning and organisation are difficult because there’s no inner energy to work with. The worst of it is the almost total inability to write anything. That’s serious because it’s how I earn a living. My clients can’t afford to put up with non-service for very long.

So, to play around with Dylan Thomas a bit, let’s imagine that he was talking about creativity as life and vice versa. That creativity is the force that through the green fuse drives the flower and creativity’s dying is what we should rage, rage against.

To give up on life is to give up on creativity. To extinguish the fuse and let wither the flower. Is that right? It seems that I cannot have it both ways.

Plan A (ending my life at a time and place, and in a manner, of my own choosing) stifles the torment of anxiety-depression but risks the creative light dying well ahead of departure,  leaving to a decade of amiable drifting for me and, doubtless, great frustration for those around me.

Plan B (allowing the good night to recede over the horizon) means disconnecting the lightning rod that earths the pain of living. It reopens the door to the spectre of anxiety-depression, and with it the possibility that I’ll still end up taking my own life – but in desperation rather than relative serenity.

It looks as though I’m going to have to choose Plan B.

Oh bugger.

So come on, life, where is thy sting?

I’ll never see a white elephant fly

There’s much to ponder in last week’s recommendation by UK MPs that their government should back further expansion of Heathrow.

As anyone with even a smidgen of energy literacy knows, there is a huge question mark hanging over the future of mass aviation.

So the question isn’t really whether Heathrow or ‘Boris island’ is the better way to ‘secure Britain’s future as a major air transport hub’. It’s why anyone should still want to keep flogging what looks like a very dead horse.

That’s where things start to get interesting. But first let’s recap why the outlook for civil aviation is increasingly uncertain.


Mass aviation is a creature of liquid fossil fuels. Raw oil is now about four times as expensive as it was 15 years ago. Although the airlines have weathered that move – just about – they can’t go where oil is going next.

That’s to perhaps $150 a barrel, which will happen when the balance of oil demand shifts from the OECD countries to the ‘developing’ countries sometime in the next two years. Head over to Gregor Macdonald’sTerrajoule.US site to read how and why this repricing will take place.

Bear in mind that $100 oil has already caused a significant transfer of oil consumption away from the West, where the per capita rate of oil ‘waste’ (think SUVs and millions of holiday flights) is much higher than in the rest of the world.

The UK is in the initial phase of ‘the long rebalancing’ of its economy. We’re sliding toward lower levels of liquid fossil fuel consumption because that is what we can afford. We can expect commercial flying to decline in line with affordability. In short, the growth projections for air travel in Britain and Europe are mostly pie in the sky.

So where does this leave the national debate about expanding London’s airport capacity? Well there are three ways to look at the glaring disconnect between the expansionist rhetoric and the energy/capital reality on the ground.

  1. The protagonists are all energy-illiterate worshippers of the god of progress, who don’t realise the world has changed.
  2. They’re not bothered about the long-term outlook for UK civil aviation: they’re really angling to cash in on the infrastructure investment bonanza that would be unleashed by airport expansion.
  3. They’ve weighed everything up in private and decided that, between now and the inevitable contraction of airline traffic, the UK/London economies risk losing more if runway capacity isn’t expanded than if we decided to get out of the doomed game gracefully, and sooner rather than later.

There’s a lot of (1) around, and undoubtedly a lot of (2) involved too. But (3) is intriguingly credible. After all, it’s characteristic of bubbles that the majority of players want to stay in the game even when it’s obvious that things are heading for a crunch.

One prize the UK establishment might have its eye on is to own the last major international air hub standing in Europe when flying turns into an elites-only game. The airport that claims that prize will doubtless be – for a while – a real honeypot: a key staging post for those involved in the transfer out of Europe of whatever chunks of knowledge, property and power that still have value to developing economies.

But why they imagine that such a hub would be at Heathrow – poorly connected and on the far side of Europe from the new customers for Europe’s wherewithal – is anyone’s guess. National pride, maybe? How very 18th century.

There’s something cargo cultish about politicians’ touching faith that building runways will keep the planes coming. Are those shining spears of tarmac really all we have left with which to fend off the loss of the rest of Britain’s greatness? Letting go of expansion would be like allowing the ravens to fly away from the Tower of London .… presumably to Frankfurt or Schiphol.

That kind of hubris could conceivably keep the Heathrow expansion panjandrum rolling drunkenly onward for another five or 10 years.

All the same, I hope the UK motoring industry is paying close attention to this issue. Because although Birmingham airport today staked its claim for the hub expansion lolly, this isn’t a fight over runways. It’s a fight over who gets to burn the shrinking oil supply.

Behind its brave, business-as-usual face, the auto business is feeling the heat from too-costly fuel. Only corporates and a relatively small number of private buyers are willing to pay the price of the increasingly frugal new models it produces. Fewer young people see car ownership as a priority. Used car buyers, who outnumber new buyers by 10 to one, struggle with motoring costs.

At some point, the auto industry is going to have to fight back against the airports’ special pleading. If I were the SMMT or the RAC, I’d be making noises to the Government about the very different quid pro quos that operate in motoring and aviation.

Although, motoring still gets plenty of public cash support in the form of road maintenance and improvements, it pays stiff taxes on fuel and vehicles in return. The air cavalry are lobbying for massive public funding for necessary infrastructure (e.g. tunnelling the M25 to allow Heathrow to expand westwards) in return for a paltry airport tax bill and no tax on fuel at all.

I don’t expect the car lobby to let that sleeping dog lie for very much longer.