John-Paul Flintoff

Believe Me, I've Been There...

I know what it’s like to worry about the state of the world. I’ve been there. It’s horrible. It happened to me just over a decade ago. I was doing some research for my job – feature writer on the UK’s best-selling upmarket newspaper (ooh, look at me!) and I found a story that nobody had covered.

I was ecstatic: this would definitely go on the magazine’s front cover. But as I described the sheer scale of the horrors to my editor, on the phone, it stopped being just a story. Because the things I was describing were going to directly affect me, and my wife, and our tiny daughter…

(She was so tiny! I didn’t want anything horrible to happen to her)

… and the words turned to dust in my mouth.

In an instant, it stopped being just a story. It became my mission. Frustratingly, my editor could only the funny side of what I told her. Later, I’ll tell you what that was, but for a while, I played along. I pretended it was merely funny. I thought, hell, if I can get the story in front of one million buyers of this newspaper, and the many others they share their copies with, I will have done my job – even if I have to seem light-hearted about something that’s causing me to lose sleep.

But that didn’t last. I couldn’t joke. This was too serious. I became convinced that we were headed for some kind of dark ages. Very soon, I was convinced, humankind would be living in caves again – those of us who were living at all. (The vast majority would be wiped out.)

My wife didn’t enjoy me talking like that. But she hadn’t been reading what I had. So she didn’t know any better, poor thing. I tried to explain. But she didn’t like that either. So I became a bit of a survivalist – as much as that’s possible while still leading a relatively normal life in north London.

I continued to work as a journalist, but as much as I could I did without the fragile modern systems that I knew to be unreliable: instead of using electricity, I wrote on an old-fashioned manual typewriter, and delivered my stories by hand, on paper. I must surely be the last journalist who ever did that.

I started growing my own food, and collecting hand-tools, so that when the power eventually goes down, we’d be OK.

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John-Paul Flintoff headshot, with Yours Truly written across it John-Paul Flintoff is author of six books, in 16 languages, including How To Change The World and A Modest Book About How To Make An Adequate Speech. He worked for 15 years as writer and associate editor on the Financial Times, the Sunday Times and other papers and magazines.

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