I am an atheist. I am childless. When I die, I will leave only footprints – hopefully not big carbon ones. But what if I could leave something else behind? What would it be?
Well, words of course.
One day (in my fantasy), in some quiet, cobwebby corner of the cyberverse an e-archaeologist will be digging down through accumulated layers of defunct blogs when his or her trowel will scrape against something called The Kinky Boot Collective. Exhumed and translated, what could I give to the future’s idea of our social history? Can I tell them how it is being a woman at the beginning of the 21st Century? Not really. I can no more speak for other women than I can for men. My background, my choice of career has led me to occupy a nowhere land between the sexes. I can only say, with some authority, that as a modern, European female I enjoy a sense of self-determination. A hundred years ago women were throwing themselves under racehorses to protest against their lack of freedom.
In this country, in my lifetime, women became equal to men in the eyes of the law. It puzzles me that this wasn’t always so. Even as a child I couldn’t conceive of a man being superior to me simply by virtue of his gender. Is this true for all British women, though? I think not, so venting my opinions on this would not add anything to a balanced view of the current present.
Let me record, then, what I can see around me in the pedestrianised centre of the small seaside town where I am sitting.
Semi-circular benches face the focal point of the war memorial where an elderly man is watching a small boy clamber up the steps of the monument. He seems to be encouraging the boy, is he explaining about the big, stone cross? Is he telling him what the inscriptions say? Or is he simply allowing the child to play so that his laughter echoes through the ether to the ghostly ears of those who died in conflict? I hope it’s the latter – the boy is too small to understand war and killing – and, after all, no matter what the conflict, surely those servicemen and women went to their graves believing in their hearts that they were fighting for a future where children can scamper over memorials and laugh in the sunshine.
The tragedy is that while the boy laughs and plays, people all over the world are dying in wars. Yes, Future Reader, we are still killing, maiming and traumatising each other, even at this late stage of human development. Every week, in my country, young soldiers in flag-draped coffins come home from Iraq and Afghanistan and it is becoming ever more common to see young men with some, or all, of their limbs missing thanks to roadside bombs; improvised devices that just go to prove that we didn’t already have enough ways to kill in this world.
For Afghans and Iraqis, the death toll is also high. In Syria, innocents are being massacred. Have you evolved past this brutality, Future World? I’m not hopeful of that.
Enough now, of bloodshed, let me draw away from the memorial to the fallen. Let me re-focus on the benches where lunchtime crowds are enjoying a late spring day in the West Country.
Typically, being British, with our aversion to sitting next to strangers unless we absolutely have to, people gather on the benches in groups with long, empty stretches between them. Admittedly some of this is down to avoiding the long streaks of gull shit that our less popular seaside residents have smeared across the wooden seats but not all of it. I confess that I wandered around the benches looking for somewhere that was far enough away from other people for me to feel comfortable. Avoiding seagull poo came second to that when choosing my seat.
It’s hot for those of us not under the shade of the trees (and under the threat of pigeons in the branches above imitating the gulls) and I can see a heat haze shimmering over the traffic droning past at the other end of the green. Young women in shorts stroll past the war memorial passing elderly couples who have swapped their winter coats for pastel coloured anoraks that make me feel uncomfortably warm just by looking at them. Dogs lie panting at their owners feet trying to avoid the advances of pre-school children that totter over to make friends, and off to my right an elderly woman is berating her husband for wandering off and not telling her where he was going.
None of this is very dramatic. It’s all very ordinary and probably quite dull but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? I’m saying to posterity, ‘Hey, guess what, people of tomorrow? I live in a world where millions are starving, where children are hurt and abused, where terrorism, pollution and Global Warming have knocked nuclear war into fourth place in the all-time top ten of nightmares but right here, right now, the most important thing in this garden is finding a nice spot to eat our sandwiches and not get bird shit on our clothes. Are you so very different to us?’