Monday is Mr Z’s birthday, and before I had even spread happy wishes upon it, I was catastrophising about the sterling crisis. He said to look on the bright side: at least our livelihoods didn’t rely on the import of hops, and I pointed out that all our favourite businesses’ did. I said, “Now we’ll never go to the US while the kids are still kids,” and he said, “Maybe as refugees?”
His birthday always falls in the middle of the Labour conference, so usually the worst thing that happens during it is some disappointing internal shenanigan. Years and years of thinking you’ve hit political rock bottom, because Tony Blair has ignored the compositing meeting on railway renationalisation or Ed Miliband tried to coin a phrase and it didn’t fly, then wham: you’re pushing 50, it’s 7am and you’re watching a graph of the pound falling against the Turkish lira in real time. “Not to worry,” says your optimistic, 20th-century soul. “Realistically, when would we next have gone to Turkey anyway?”
But the parameters of “the worst that could happen” have expanded significantly. It’s as if you’ve spent 30 years watching EastEnders, you think you’ve made a full scope of possible negative events and suddenly it’s turned into Breaking Bad. Getting into a fight with a cousin over a love child and a modest bequest is no longer the hard limit of disaster. Now someone might decapitate you and graft your head on to a tortoise.
We spend a lot of time explaining to the younger members of our household that this is not normal: there isn’t normally a pandemic; schools don’t normally close; the prime minister would, generally speaking, tell the truth; public office is ordinarily taken very seriously; the nation has predominantly been run in the interests of its people, or at least the state would typically have a primary interest in preventing hardship; and while we’re here, nobody had better use the phrase “new normal” – there is no such thing. There is only normal and abnormal.
Generation Z don’t listen to us: they think the world is like the internet or a smartphone, a thing moving much faster than old people realise. And still we keep talking, because we’re not really talking to them, we’re trying to self-soothe, so it doesn’t really matter whether they’re listening or not.
Funnily enough, it’s so far playing out more or less exactly as Mr Z predicted in the middle of the Tory leadership contest. He forecast that Liz Truss would do something too wild to determine whether it was founded in idiocy or something darker, there would be a run on the pound, a general election by the spring and finally, the end of the Conservative party as we know it.
It’s not dissimilar to what Rishi Sunak said, when he was clinging on to the notion that he was still in the game and his colleagues were calling him a “doomer”; he ended on an even more pessimistic note, that things would get so bad the government would have to go to the IMF. It’s quite sobering, the buried confidence there, that we could become a de-developing nation, all before any conceivable greybeard could force an election. Kwasi Kwarteng is apparently nonchalant about the crisis unleashed by his mini-budget. Truss is magical-thinking full-time. They all seem to have an unshakable belief in perpetual Tory rule, as if they have seen a prophecy the rest of us know nothing about. But to cut them a break, after a horror show of politics, especially post-Brexit, it’s only human that they think they have ballot box superpowers, that none of their disasters will ever stick to them.
Mid-morning, we realised that we had got Mr Z’s age wrong: he wasn’t pushing 50 as previously thought, he had just turned 48, the pre-penultimate approach to the half-century, and it was as if he had been given the gift of an extra year of life via a simple mistake. Time, in the end, is more valuable than any currency and more stable, having always been at parity with European and US time. Goddamn 20th-century souls, always looking on the bright side.
Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist