A woman came to my door yesterday with a clipboard. She was about sixty, and carried a walking stick. I was wearing pyjamas. ‘Hullo’, I said dully, having expected the postman. I had ordered some fake Ray Bans from China on a whim and had been waiting impatiently for them for several days. ‘Hullo’, she said. ‘We’re talking to people this morning about…’ She paused, and consulted her clipboard. She had to squint a little in the morning sun, and hoiked her stick up under one arm to free a hand to hold down the corner of her crib-sheet, fluttering in the Camberwell breeze. With no little relief, she ended: ‘Whether man will destroy the Earth beyond repair.’
I paused for a moment, contemplating the magnitude of the question. It was a heavy subject for a Thursday before elevenses. Maybe we have damaged the world beyond repair. The meat industry is a surprisingly large contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. I eat a lot of pork. Maybe I should engage this woman in conversation. We might be able to hammer out a solution.
I wanted to say ‘Gosh, what a question. I hadn’t thought about that recently. Can I have a minute to consider that? You’d better come in.’ But I didn’t; experience prevailed. After all, she was probably a Jehovah’s Witness, come to explain that Easter is for Pagans and Christ is totally against basic life-saving medical procedures. I said ‘Probably’, and I shut the door in her expectant face.
Later I came to realise that this lady clearly hadn’t finished the reading list. She had a decent message. It was Simple (no ambiguity about man destroying the planet). It was Unexpected (I was waiting for the postman). It was Emotional (I love living on this planet, I would be sad should we spoil it). She ticked most of the sticky boxes. But I still wasn’t interested. She should have read Positioning. If my doorstep were a marketplace, it would certainly be overcrowded. Perhaps she should have tried to be the first one there. And if she’d managed to get through Your Memory, maybe she wouldn’t have forgotten her lines.