The Day The Earth Caught Fire…Is Now

Great Britain

Phew, what a scorcher! The second hottest day in history may become the hottest tonight as the temperature is still rising at currently just over 38C – no, I have no idea what that is in Fahrenheit, a system still clung to by papers like the Mail and Express. I’m not there, mercifully, as it’s usually accompanied by high humidity, and although we’re hotter here in Barcelona it’s a dry heat and they’re adapted to it – the walls of my flat are about two feet thick and the shutters keep it cool even in midsummer.

Only 3% of British homes have air conditioning, compared to 90% of the USA – we don’t particularly like it and think it’s wasteful, and besides we wouldn’t use it for 80% of the year.

Luckily London has always had parks and lidos, although now the city population is up to almost 9 million, they’re becoming overcrowded in summer. That’s the Oasis pool in Holborn in both shots above, still going strong after all these years – I seem to remember it appears in the film version of Joe Orton’s ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’. The pool has cropped up in a number of postwar photographs lately, and the most noticeable thing is that there are no overweight sunbathers – the wartime diet apparently having levelled out the nation’s fatties and skinnies to a single healthy norm.

I was chatting to Christopher Priest about the global emergency and how everyone is powerless to do much  about it without global consensus on emissions. He’s been researching the subject and it’s not good news. But we’re over-familiar with worst-case scenarios and have learned to ignore them.It seems utterly incomprehensible that our leaders have walked away from practical solutions.

Meanwhile, the perfect film for this kind of weather is the remastered widescreen BFI version of ‘The Day The Earth Caught Fire’, which shows us a lost world of newsprint and deadlines as Fleet Street’s Daily Express, not so eye-swivellingly rabid back in 1961, tries to keep up with cataclysmic climate events occurring around the planet. Rather like John Wyndham’s ‘The Kraken Wakes’, we see the apocalypse unfold at ground level, as distant events are reported by hacks, barmaids and switchboard operators.

There’s a nice use of London locations too, from the old Battersea funfair to Fleet Streets offices, printing presses and wine bars, although the overhead shots, especially a special-effects fog rolling up the Thames, now look cheap. Still, it’s a thoughtful SF film that boasts an award-winning screenplay, gritty characters and a vision of end-of-days London that really burns. It’s also extraordinarily prescient, foreseeing the approaching disaster, along with floods, food riots and societal breakdown.

It’s also hard not to notice alcoholic reporter Edward Judd’s condescending attitude to stunning Janet Munro, whom he calls ‘dear’, ‘sweetie’ and ‘darling’ before pestering her into bed. Luckily Wolf Mankowitz’s screenplay allows her to get him back; she slaps him until his ears ring and he shapes up.

I saw the film on a cold winter’s day when I was a child, but the end image is the lasting one that haunts me to this day. The two pre-prepared newspaper headlines, WORLD SAVED and WORLD DOOMED – and the searing shot of Edward Judd (a true gentleman I once met at a party and probably bored to death with my fanboy gushing) walking down an orange-tinged Fleet Street, its tarmac melting in the sun, is a true Ballardian moment.

As we shall all see soon enough.

29 comments on “The Day The Earth Caught Fire…Is Now”

  1. Brian Evans says:

    A friend of mine used to know Judd’s 1st wife. I think her name was Gene Anderson. The wife not my friend. I won’t go into details, but let’s say he was just as horrid in real life. Fortunately his attitude rather put paid to a long term career in films.

  2. Brian Evans says:

    Firstly, who spotted my deliberate mistake? I should have said “his” wife and not “the” wife. I’m not sexist-honest.

    Secondly, yes, I will go into details. His favourite trick was to come home drunk, open the wardrobe doors, and piss all over her clothes.

  3. Helen Martin says:

    It is so easy to ignore weather horrors if you’re not in them. Here on the left coast of North America we read about tornadoes and heat domes and tut about how terrible it is but our temp was only 26 C, maybe 27, with a bit of a breeze and our house has wide eaves so it was a lovely summer day. Make sure you keep drinking water in all that dry heat and watch out for heat stroke. I almost collapsed with that in Montreal once. Lots of water, shade, and rest.

  4. Liz Thompson says:

    Heat over 31 degrees in Leeds. Humidity unbearable. Kids whimpering, too hot. Adults getting irritable, too hot. No one in Government doing a fucking thing about the climate emergency. Brexit more important?!!!

  5. Brian Evans says:

    Have you also noticed, Liz, that the further to the right people move politically, the more they are likely to be climate change deniers. It’s as if it goes with the job. I bet most of the people who want Brexit are in that category. Not to mention at least 3 of the Ulster Unionist Party, to whom the Maybot creature bribed with our money to keep her in her job. What chance does the planet have when we have morons like this in charge?

  6. Roger says:

    Brian Evans: why didn’t Judd’s wife swap the wardrobes his and her clothes were in? A friend of mine did that (it seems to be something drunks find screamingly funny – Jack Hock in “Can You Ever Forgive Me” does the same thing) to her boyfriend, who was something of a dandy, which made it more effective.

  7. Bronwen Rowlands says:

    Dear Christopher, I cast a jaundiced eye upon your claim that 90% of American homes are air-conditioned. That may well be true of new buildings. However, it does not apply to our “older housing stock” which is inhabited by many fine people, including me. I have lived in America’s midwest, upper midwest, southeast, middle south and west, and have never had my air conditioned.

  8. admin says:

    Hi Bronwen,
    I lifted the figure from a national statistics database but it sounds kind of high to me. We’ve always had a problem in London trying to air-condition tubes, theatres, restaurants etc because of the damage it does to old structures.

  9. Ian Luck says:

    Chris – always remember what someone once said, viz.:
    “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.”
    I also recall Vic Reeves saying:
    “38% of all statistics are made up on the spot.”

  10. Peter Dixon says:

    Good point about the lack of obesity among the sunbathers – you can look at general street photography right through the 70’s without seeing an overweight person.

    Where I live people seem to put on pounds so they have more skin area for tattoos. I live in a small town and there are more tattooists than barbers and more nail bars than greengrocers.

  11. snowy says:

    Climate Change is a problem, but not the problem.

    In the time since a certain US president, [with rather flexible views about adultery], first decided to send humans into space the planet’s population has doubled.

    Everyone of those people adds to the demand for water, food, power and general ‘stuff’. It is only currently possible to meet all these demands by consuming more and more fossil fuels. Fiddling about with efficiency improvements/de-carbonising/renewables, while worthwhile in themselves will only postpone the inevitable.

    Killing half the world’s population would reduce Climate Change dramatically. But such a drastic step is not to be rushed into, we should obviously begin with a small scale trial.

    The test group selected would have to be those most ineffective, most damaging or having no other discernably useful function. Given those constraints and surveying the current landscape, a cull of heads of government seems the most obvious place to begin.

  12. Brooke says:

    Philadelphia weather last week, a steady 40 C; with humidity and no breeze (developers steadily ridding city of trees) ranged from 43-45 C.
    Yes, I know people, ususally Southerners, who won’t use air conditioner. Many were in ER this summer, suffering from heat stroke, thus burdening our already stressed healthcare system.

    Climate emergency: LIsten to Forrest 404, BBC Radio 4.

  13. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    Snowy – didn’t they try something similar on Golgafrincham? I seem to remember that Arks were involved.

  14. snowy says:

    If I recall correctly even that went a bit awry, perhaps we should just kill only those heads of government with ‘mad’ hair first and see how it goes?

  15. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    Well, one of them has promised to put an American flag on Mars – perhaps he should do it personally.

  16. Mike says:

    Is that Arthur in the swimming pool pic?
    Demoted to Traffic Warden?
    That’s something of a sweeping accusation about Brexit supporters Brian

  17. Brian Evans says:

    Hi Roger,

    What a brilliant idea. Unfortunately, my friend died some years ago. Where she still alive, I’d be on the phone to her as soon as I had finished the typing on here to pose the same question. Knowing dear old Jean, she’d wet herself laughing and regret not thinking of asking Gene the same question, who died many years before Jean did.

    With a bit of help from P.G.Wodehouse, Jean could be described as lesbian who was built like a Sherman tank, spat rivets and wore barbed wire next to the skin. No-one said no to Jean and I miss her dreadfully.

  18. Debra Matheney says:

    Trump and Johnson simply do not care about the damage they inflict on the environment or anything else. They simply want power.
    It will be 40.55.C where I live in California today. While we had swamp coolers when I was young, air conditioning is a necessity now with higher humidity. I am affluent enough to have solar and its production outpaces my use of electricity, thank goodness. Not an option of most of Britain (cloudy days) or most Americans as solar is still too expensive. We escape to the beach to cool down, using fossil fuels to get there. My father was in the oil business. While I am grateful for the advantages I had growing up, we HAVE to move away from fossil fuels. At least California and 4 automakers have agreed to buck Trump’s edicts on miles per gallon requirements for cars.
    In my opinion, greed in its many forms has wrecked havoc on our values and morality.
    Try and stay cool everyone.

  19. Peter Dixon says:

    Snowy, if you send people into space it leaves less people on Earth.
    I think Trump and Johnson should be in the vanguard of putting a flag on Mars. Just don’t tell them they can’t get back.

  20. Eliz Amber says:

    I’ve been quite surprised by the summer temperatures and all the winter snow mentioned in contemporary novels. In the early 80s, I think we might have had one or two days at 30 C, and only had one snow that stayed on the ground for more than a day. Since you’re in a dry place, do some of the wash and hang it to dry indoors. Cools things down nicely.

  21. Jan says:

    Let’s not run away with ourselves here.
    Last year’s wonderful summer was preceded by the bloody beast from the east. So cold here my Windows iced over and there was real frosted glass for a few days.

    This June was wet, windy, cold and rainy. Heatwaves like this are scary but how long have we accurately recorded temperature fluctuations to know they are absolutely unprecedented?

    I am not really denying climate change its just that I ain’t that sure. I’m off to water my containers. Mind you it’ll probably rain later.

  22. snowy says:

    Weather and Climate are not the same thing, even though the words are frequenty misused. Weather is just the ‘ripples’ on a slowly rising Climate tide.

    [Even if you are uncertain, I’m sure you feel that poisoning the air, water and ground that keeps us alive is a very silly thing to do.]

    Speaking of thing weather-related it’s gone weird this year! Today I wild picked; 1lb Blackberries, 1 doz. Raspberries, A Damson and ½ doz. Mushrooms! [Early, very early, very early and almost none about; and lastly MUSHROOMS? JULY! *confused face* ]

  23. Helen Martin says:

    Surely mushrooms shouldn’t be about until fall when the rain following on from a dry spell brings them up.
    Have you tried searching for truffles? Now that would be truly profitable. Where does one find a truffle hound? or pig?

  24. Jan says:

    Snowy again do we really have enough accurate information regarding long term fluctuations in climate (as opposed to weather !!) to make accurate predictions?

    You are right about early blackberries and raspberries though. A mate of mine who lives in the Chilterns says there’s loads of ripe blackberries and raspberries about. There have been mushrooms about even though it’s been dry. Yes I agree Helen this is weird.

    No agreed poisoning the earth can’t be sensible or a viable option. Again though when I was a girl the Manchester ship Canal caught fire (yes I know if sounds crazy but it did being so polluted and full of oils the cargo ships discharged into it) There was a poor young bloke from the little town I come from who was badly disfigured when one of the free ferries that crossed the Mcr. Ship got caught in one of these fires.

    But now cos of de-industrialization. (if that’s a proper word) the canal not only smells much better but really IS relatively clean. They do day trips to Liverpool on it during the summer can you believe!

    They catch fish in the Thames now well into the centre of London. It’s a mixed picture there are horror stories and improvements.

  25. snowy says:

    There is about a centuries worth of good quality data from the industralised countries of the world. Data sets of lesser quality extend back to the mid 18th century. Dendrochronology takes that back several more centuries.

    The concensus among those that study Climatology ie. proper scientists, is that the planet is getting warmer. This is accepted by most people, [with the exception of a few fringe voices.]

    [The simplest doomsday scenario is that the desert belt expands, reducing habitable/fertile land.]

    Which is the wisest course? Try to stop it? Or ignore it and hope for the best?

    As I said at the top, the climate is not the problem.


    [PS. I also had a tiny harvest mouse stumble across my path, I didn’t eat it.]

  26. Brian Evans says:

    Snowy. We have a lot of little mice and shrews around our place, but unfortunately our cat Jasper does eat them.

  27. Helen Martin says:

    We had a mouse die in a bucket on our front porch – I’m leaving it to see what finally develops. So far a spider has spun a web across the top of the bucket and has caught a few insects.
    Raspberries don’t grow wild here but most gardens have them and they’re supposed to be ripe now. The blackberries definitely are. I’m going out to pick some in my yard (they’ve set up shop in my lilac bush) and then make some ink. Likewise with the lavender before it’s finished.

  28. Ian Luck says:

    There are some beautiful Blackberries growing by where I go home each morning. I’ve been eating the very end fruit on each bramble – they are always the sweetest ones, and berries next to them might be rather tart. Oddly, though, the Elderberries, which usually fruit before the Blackberries, are still green this year. I have been, in the past, eating Elderberries, and then, a few yards on, washing them down with a handful of Blackberries. We had Strawberries in our garden this year – but the Bluetits discovered them before we could pick them; however, I was very pleased to see a nice crop of Hazelnuts on the little tree that appeared, as if by magic, a few years ago. I look forwards to eating some of the nuts in September/October time. The cheeky little birds will be gone by the time the nuts are ripe. (I hope).

  29. Helen Martin says:

    I asked the man in control about a little blue light I’d noticed when I was up in the night. It seems we have an electronic rodent scarer now. It is on the same line as the devices that broadcast sound that only teenagers can hear (I kid you not) and broadcasts a sound which only little mouse ears can hear. Apparently an unpleasant (I hope not painful) sound to them and they run away. So what about all these “unheard” sounds in the air? What unknown damage are they doing to ears of all sorts? I am glad not have holes chewed in my flour sack and my lentil bag, though.

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