John-Paul Flintoff

How to change the world

You know how it feels…

You can see exactly where everybody is going wrong.

You find yourself delivering lectures to people who didn’t ask for them – and don’t want to listen.

So you retreat online, looking for something that might help, only to find things that make you feel WORSE: depressed, irritable – and no fun to be around.

The things you find, in the dark corners of the internet, confirm all your worst fears. Everything looks SO bleak.

Believe me, I’ve been there…

Really, I have. I know how horrible it is.

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 REALLY 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.

You’ll never guess what else I did.

I might tell you. Not sure yet.