Hula Hoops and Pokemon
After being in the air-conditioned gym for over an hour I’d conveniently forgotten how hot it was outside but when I opened the door to my little Fiat it felt like nothing less than climbing inside a pre-heated oven. The air hung heavy as maple syrup. It was a chore to breathe. I was thinking of nothing but a cool bath and an iced drink as I turned into the roundabout that encircles the fountain in front of the library, and that was when I saw them. A cluster of people standing in the blazing sun, looking down. My eyes scanned the scene, expecting to find someone who’d fainted in the heat, but nothing was there. Then it dawned on me. Oh. This is the Pokemon thing. Sure enough, these people were all looking down at their phones, absolutely captivated. Further on, in front of city hall, there were more. Groups of adults, here and there, all totally engrossed in the business of finding little cartoon monsters on their phones.
There’s nothing quite like personally witnessing the current zeitgeist on the hottest day in July to make one think and I am sorry to admit that my first reaction was incredulity. Really? On a day like this? Could there not be a more enjoyable activity to engage these folks? But like I said, I started to think and was once again reminded that there is nothing new under the sun. Literally. No, all through modern history, when times are particularly difficult, we humans seem to find a collective diversion to afford ourselves occasional escape. This is not, I suppose, a bad thing. In fact, it is probably quite healthy. And Lord knows, this summer has seen some of the most difficult times in recent memory. Bad news seems as unstoppable as a polluted river. Is it any wonder that we dive into an activity with the power to make us forget, just a little.
In 1958, the Arkansas legislature voted 94 to 1 to close their schools if forced to integrate. In Texas, a desegregated school was bombed in the early morning, leveling it to the ground. The country was roiling with the holy change being wrought by civil rights. Into this turbulent atmosphere came the Hula Hoop. Millions of people threw these plastic rings round their waists and wiggled, wiggled, wiggled.
There was a laughable epidemic of streaking the year President Nixon resigned. People lost their trust in government that year as, day after day, in the hearings broadcast on television, they listened to the crimes committed. So all over the country, young people responded by taking off their clothes and running across campuses, through baseball games, and even across the stage of the Academy Awards. That last one prompted one of the wittiest comebacks in that show’s history courtesy of David Niven.
We threw Frisbees during the Vietnam War and focused our gaze on the Rubik’s Cube the year Thatcher’s Britain was torn apart by the miner’s strikes, the year John Lennon was murdered on a street in New York. Distractions? Diversions? Yes. Totally silly wastes of time? I’m not so sure.
When the news is quite simply too bleak for a compassionate, reasonable mind to bear, it can only be healthy to take a break, and while I don’t think I’ll be looking for Pokemon monsters in the near future, I do have my own ways of unplugging as I’m sure you have yours. I buy new lipsticks. (Charlotte Tilbury, anyone?) I read British Country Life and ponder buying pet pigs. Unashamedly, I get a thrill of excitement every time new photos of Prince George are released. (Is there a cuter kid anywhere?) I watch old movies. (Again, I Know Where I’m Going is always pulled out in tough times.) I reread favorite books. I redecorate. (As I write, the colour going up on the walls of the snug is a completely delicious Sussex Green.) I go for long drives with the windows down and the music up. Or, perhaps best of all, I sit on the floor between a dozing Edward and Apple, my arms around both, and just close my eyes.
And come to think of it… I do know a store that still sells Hula Hoops.
Is it just me?