“We’re all doomed!” my friend Paul said on the phone, feigning a Scottish accent to imitate Private Frazer in Dad’s Army. “I’m telling you, mate, we’re finished.” And he began rattling off items on his bucket list, things to do before Trump and Putin blow us all to kingdom come, which he thinks will be Britain’s reward for being the US president’s only friend in the world.
“I want to skydive from 20,000 feet,” Paul said, “preferably landing smack in the middle of an Ashes test at Headingley just seconds after England have bowled out Australia for less than 100 to win the match.”
Erm, okay… So it had turned into one of our periodic silly conversations.
Thinking about it, though, maybe the laughable figure cut by Trump, which has ushered in a new golden age of political satire, is currently assuaging our anxiety about him.
Across the Atlantic, the US media has begun a forensic examination of his mental state. Just last week, under the headline “The Finger on the Nuclear Button” the New York Times said: “The world is closer to nuclear catastrophe than it has been since 1953.” It went on to point out that any decision to launch an attack would have to be made quickly but, for Trump, sound decision-making had been shown to be a challenge “given his disruptive, impulsive style” and that he might well “brandish nuclear weapons as a cudgel”.
Also scary was a piece in the Washington Post, which revealed that the drug used by Trump to combat hair loss is suspected of influencing brain functions and can cause profound psychological change. It is a deeply disturbing thought that the world’s fate might ultimately hang on the US president’s fear of going bald.
It is especially worrying that Trump has taken office at an unstable time, with the Middle East in turmoil and Russia and China flexing muscles. Which is why a group of scientists who monitor the risk of nuclear war recently moved the hands of the symbolic Doomsday Clock to 2½ minutes before midnight.
There have been two previous points like this in my lifetime. One is a faint memory as a small boy. I dreamt that a gigantic green drum suddenly whizzed over a hill where I grew up and landed in our back garden. The picture is as vivid now as it was back then, and was probably a response to my mum and
dad discussing the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
The second point was around 1982-83 when Ronald Reagan moved Cruise missiles tipped with nuclear warheads to silos at Greenham Common in Berkshire. It got so bad that wealthy people started building nuclear bunkers, and several big ones were constructed around the country to house regional governments in the event of a nuclear wipeout above ground.
Normally sane friends started checking suitable caves in the Yorkshire Dales. I heard of someone who had converted his large cellar and bought up every tin of baked beans at his local supermarket. This time round, I hope I don’t share a nuclear shelter with someone like that. If it comes to a choice of being locked underground with people eating nothing but baked beans I think I’d rather take my chances with nuclear fall-out.
Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe