Fore future perfect

news: Fore future perfect

NORTHERN Europe is flooded, blizzards are paralysing Canada and the United States. I recently watched The Day After Tomorrow and we are having one of the finest winters in Portugal in living memory. I can’t think of a single January day without sunshine and blue skies.

Rather than enjoying the sun, everyone seems more concerned about the possibility of drought and water rationing. Down south, the delay in the construction of the Odelouca Dam is apparently to blame for the plight which the Alentejo and Algarve find themselves in – environmentalists objected and succeeded in having millions of euros frozen until bureaucracy has ground out a solution. How did the regions survive before this mega-reservoir became a ‘must have’ commodity? I am as much for protecting the environment as the next man, but what do the ‘save the world’ people say to crops not being planted, farmers facing ruin and drought-afflicted beasts dying all over the Alentejo? No feeling of guilt, folks? I just hope you have your private wells that operate in an entirely eco-friendly manner!

My solution is a simple one – ration the 40 plus golf courses in the Algarve. I’m sure their watering requirements would more than suffice to keep us all clean and in the swim for months to come. Exorbitant green fees have sent most golfers in different directions this season anyway!

Enough doom and gloom. An old saying, more often than not true, promises that we will pay this month for the meteorological blessing received in the last. And don’t forget, “Abril, Abril, águas mil”!

So, what else does the future hold? Under the auctioneer’s hammer in Edinburgh recently came a small hardback book by a certain Jack McCullough, entitled Golf In The Year 2000 or What Are We Coming To, published in 1892. Anyone reading it at the time would have regarded it as pure science fiction, laughing themselves to sleep. In fact, 113 years later, McCullough’s predictions give less cause for hilarity or ridicule. His astonishing accuracy in seeing the future, surely causing ‘uber prophet’ Michel de Nostradame (Nostradamus to his friends) to turn in his grave. Whereas the 16th century physician of doom wrote in cryptic verse, since interpreted to warn of disasters ranging from the Great Fire of London in 1666 to the destruction of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986 and 9/11, Golf In The Year 2000 deals with more practical aspects of the future as it was perceived in the late 19th century.

Alexander J Gibson, a golfer who fell asleep for an incredible 108 years, is the hero of McCullough’s flight of fancy. Awaking on March 25 2000, the intrepid and involuntary time traveller finds that the world contains “strange, hand-held things that shave the beards of men”. People watch “a large glass screen that plays images from an elaborate set of mirrors”. Come on, the first golf telecast by the BBC was not aired until 1938! The visionary continues by describing golfers “who race through the Atlantic in less than three hours in bullet trains wearing digital watches” to take part in a USA v Great Britain golf competition. The Ryder Cup was only to begin 35 years later, Japan invented the first bullet train in 1964 and electronic timepieces did not become available until the 70s. References to lightbulbs, the telephone, gramophones and the London Underground followed. Far-fetched at the time, commonplace soon after.

Most alarming to the 21st century visitor is future woman. The fairer sex is no longer confined to bearing children and tending hearth and home, but is “running businesses, wearing trouser suits and standing for public office” – preposterous! Incredibly, the author goes on to write, “while few ladies get into the Cabinet, and we have never yet had a female leader, there is a great talk that the next Prime Minister will be a woman”. Would Margaret Thatcher and her colleagues please stand up?

McCullough’s anticipation of female emancipation had, of course, its plus side. Men are free to concentrate on life’s essentials, perfecting their game of golf while whizzing around the course in “mechanised golf carts, caps having replaced impractical tall hats”, while “complex watering machines keep the greens green”. The prophecy only fails to mention the Algarve by name. Neither was he short of ideas in describing changes in equipment. “As for the clubs, a queerer collection I never say. They are all made in one piece and are of steel. The faces all protrude about half an inch beyond the place where the shaft and head meet, giving the clubs the appearance of hammers and some look as if you could reverse them and play left-handed”.

If this book is not a hoax, and there is no reason to believe that it is, McCullough’s soothsaying abilities are hard to match for accuracy and detail. Other great, and now famous, men have gazed into the crystal ball and have come up with more global fantasies over the centuries, some seemingly completely outrageous at the time of being made. H G Wells, known as “The Man Who Invented Tomorrow” during the 1900s, foresaw superhighways, overcrowded cities, computers and the bombing of urban centres during wars. Aldous Huxley, most famous for his novel Brave New World, warned us about genetic engineering, cloning and Center Parcs holidays. Jules Verne was ridiculed in 1868 when he predicted space travel over a century before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. Skyscrapers and a global communication network were also part of his future scenario. Sci-fi icon, Isaac Asimov, paved the way for robotics and the exploration of other worlds, while the less prominent, Hugo Gernsback, wrote about solar power, holograms, fax machines, aluminium foil and radar at the beginning of the 20th century. We now have all these dreamt-up innovations and more. Where are those who will enlighten us and whet our appetites for the years to come?

I personally see a world without cars, famine or illness. Don’t misunderstand me – I am not indulging in a spot of wishful thinking but facing socio-economic realities, which will necessitate dramatic changes in the way we live within a predictable period of time. There are more of us every single day and less and less of what we regard as essential resources with each passing moment. Oil will run out, rendering personal transportation obsolete – if concerns over the effect of pollution do not anticipate this development. Solar power will become the prime source of energy probably operating a comprehensive network of shuttles running on monorails. Medicine will advance in leaps and bounds, vaccination cocktails administered de rigueur on a global basis giving the human race almost 100 per cent immunity against all known diseases. Food will be manufactured artificially, compressed and vacuum packed, containing our dietary requirements as farm animals are preserved in zoos. We will live longer and in more controlled environments, sheltered from climatic changes. Criminals will be cast out beyond the huge plexi-glass domes that will become our world, to become hunter-gatherers in the wilderness or perish. The family unit will be disenfranchised. Trial co-habitation lasting several years will become mandatory prior to marriage and reproduction. Later, monogamous relationships will disappear completely, children being raised and educated by the collective. A truly altruistic, global society will have arrived.

In the meantime, please don’t water your lawn and have a romantic St. Valentine’s Day!