Among my essentials yesterday was the weekend edition of The Irish Times. A quick perusal thereof (I will not actually be finished with the whole paper until about Thursday, leaving me with one day off before I buy the next edition) confirms my darkest fears: there is a dangerous, insidious disease spreading rapidly, the causes of which are, at best, less than clear and for which there seems to be no known cure. It passes from person to person with something approaching the speed of a rumour, which, incidentally, scientists have recently declared to be – and I quote – ‘a whiskereen’ faster than the speed of light. (Still no response from CERN, by the way, to my query as to how they were getting on coming up with an estimate for the speed of darkness, but I realise that these advancements in science take time, especially in what is – for CERN, not for me – a relatively new field of research; the wait for an answer feels like light years, though.)
Having just stuck up that interwobble link there for your delectation, I will now have to digress from the matter at hand [which is? – Ed.] to comment on two of the headlines on the site that should not go commentless. A sort of ‘What it says in the papers’ with a panel of one. The first is a straightforward question seeking a yes or no answer, and the answer is yes and no. Here is the headline: Is it a good idea to move in with my partner now, or am I mad? Granted this is from the Dear Abbey section of the newspaper on relationship advice, not the only other section of the newspaper today which is taken up with Kerfuffle advice, but still, no, not a good time, and yes, you are mad. The second headline is more controversial, and will have historians scrabbling about in their archives for a while: Ireland suffers highest daily death toll. Famine, anyone? Oh, on that subject, and in case you haven’t heard this one yet, I will record it here for posterity, or for whatever replaces posterity PC because, according to everyone else, things will never be the same again. But they never were. The joke? How many potatoes does it take to kill an Irishman? None.
So back to yon highly contagious disease. Not Covid-19, ya eejit, sure everyone writes about that! No, the one I mentioned up there is maybe even more annoying than boreohnovirus, and, while equally contagious, thankfully and mercifully affects only journalists. It concerns their relatively recent [that’s the second time you’ve done that Einstein joke – Ed.] penchant for a particular phrase, and their apparent compulsion to then apply it to all known areas of life, from nearly bankrupt soccer clubs to precarious governments in rogue states, the UK, for example. The phrase in question is (cover any children’s eyes at this point) ‘existential crisis’. Now to me, a child of the sixties who studied A Level French in the early eighties of the previous century, an existential crisis means only one thing and conjures up only images of earnest, French groupies of Jean-Paul Sartre, drooping around Parisien boulevards and fretting over whether or not their berries are set at a revolutionary enough angle, or if their acrylic polo neck jumpers are, in fact, a dark enough shade of black. So, any time any of the afflicted journalists crowbars the phrase into whatever article of theirs I am editing (I do not really ‘read’ as such anymore; because of one of my hobbies that people have started paying me money for, my inner stickler is always on full alert as the words are moving from right to left before my eyes) and that’s it, the game’s up for that article, the mental red pen comes out and I draw a diagonal line through the whole thing and move on to the next one. Where, no doubt, some buckwit in the increasingly small Sports Section (decreasingly small?) will try to inform me about Accrington Stanley’s financial woes and the consequent ‘existential crisis’ facing the club. I severely doubt whether the directors of said club would know an existential crisis if one came up and slapped them in the face with a wet fish. Equally, their ability to even spell mauvaise-foi never mind break out of it in a moment of choice and go on to establish their own moral and ethical rules in a meaningless universe is less than certain. They would probably go bankrupt in the attempt.
Now I am aware that the word ‘existential’ has a more general meaning pertaining to the basic fact of existence, but not for me it doesn’t. Having survived my own existential crisis brought on by the, frankly, unwise decision of the Christian Brothers to permit the study of Camus and Sartre in the upper echelons of their school [too obscure a reference to be funny, even with the addition of a capital F – Ed.], existential refers to one thing and to one thing only for me, and that is to the self-contradictory cul-de-sac that is the philosophy of existentialism beloved of teenagers everywhere and pretentious French people in France [is there any other kind? – Ed]. Essential, on the other hand, continues to amass meanings, and the contents of the part-time wife’s bag after the daily forage for food are a constant source of surprise and bewilderment to me. I have not crunched the actual numbers yet – the weekly family financial report is published on a Monday evening when the teenagers are liable to be out of their caves and gathered in a sulk round the boardroom table – but I have a strong suspicion that, now that we are buying essentials only and not whatever else it is that we used to buy PC, we are actually spending more of my money. Riddle me that, Chancellor of the Exchequer, unless Boris the Brave passed on the virus to you as well in his new laudable policy that government ministers should actually feel the people’s pain. The part-time wife, by the way, strictly keeps her money in her purse, and in various pockets of the various coats she has, so none of that is ever spent. I would suspect that she is building up some sort of an emergency fund for when she leaves me, if I had that kind of suspicious mind.
In an act of rebellion, therefore, against prevalent, bourgeois social mores, I am off to the shop on my daily non-essential journey, but unaccompanied this time, and I shall purchase, exclusively and uniquely, existential products. So, cigarettes and red wine then. Obviously I shall be wearing black, as black is the only viable response to the absurdity of man’s position in a meaningless universe, apparently. And all my other clothes are in the wash.