It was through Nevil Shute borrowing the name for his 1950s post-apocalyptic novel On The Beach (which was almost immediately filmed with Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire) from a passage in the poem The Hollow Men that I first discovered T.S. Eliot when I was 15:
In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river
Few people know that part of the poem. More will remember the ending:
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
That’s a famous and often misquoted closing line (although I might be wrong there – Eliot did use to borrow a lot from others, so perhaps the phrase ‘with a whimper not a bang’ or some such, came from some other origin).
On The Beach, which is a rarely seen film these days (I have only seen the remake with Bryan Brown, which is god-awful), is mostly remembered in Melbourne these days for it’s leading lady Ava Gardner being quoted (possibly inaccurately or out of context) as saying that Melbourne is the perfect place to make a movie about the end of the world.
And apparently the end of the film was an extremely sobering warning during the Cold War, with the usually full streets of central Melbourne totally deserted (everyone having killed themselves to avoid dying slowly of radiation poisoning).
This week, given that I am required to be at work, I have wandered the empty streets of Melbourne at lunchtimes and pondered that movie (and of course, the novel, which I have read several times). Hardly anyone is out. On the way home tonight, I stopped at Highpoint around 4pm to check in at the supermarket (toilet paper was available, so I bought another pack just in case). and the shops were mostly closed or empty. Highpoint is usually bursting with people til about 9pm on a Friday night, so seeing what it usually looks like at 8am on a Sunday is quite disturbing.
This is a very strange time in history. Probably the first time since 1945 that the First World has had to face a serious challenge head on. I have made it clear in past postings that I am skeptical of apocalyptic thinking. Coronavirus is, as commentators like to say, novel, and that is what is the source of all the fear and apprehension. But is it worse than flu or measles, diseases which are themselves potentially quite lethal but which we do mostly shrug off as routine?
Hopefully the measures which are being taken to slow down the pandemic work, and things can start getting back to some semblance of normality soon. However, I think that the road to economic recovery is going to be a rather slow one.