What the world needs now

Image of Susie Boyt

Sometimes we are people of rigour and virtue. We try to be our best selves, not necessarily in the Oprah-Martha mould, which would mean taking our lives to the next level via a stairway of Aha! moments we’ve hand-stencilled with maple leaves – no – but we make efforts to resist gossip and our own prejudices, to fight our inner demons, to try not to be petty and instead attempt to see the world as it is, not as we are.

At these times we may reach for the short stories of Chekhov, and not blindly leaf through a “How-my-terrible-post-natal-depression-made-me-drop-three-dress-sizes!” magazine. We have the same kind of ennobling light around us that you see in Rembrandt portraits. Maybe.

At such junctures we stride through parks crisp with autumn leaves, nostrils a gogo, rather than watching Melting Cheeses of the World on catch-up. Our pleasures are not guiltily snatched, for they contain oatmeal and cello suites and the works of first-rate minds. We’re so impressive nobody can stand it. Our favourite line of Browning is more “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” and less “What become of Waring/ Since he gave us all the slip?”

In this mood we forget the feuds, the plights and gripes that bind us. We are forgiveness and understanding personified. We even shower goodwill on that friend whose every mention of the author Melville is followed up helpfully with: “You know, the whale guy.”

We are vim and vigour. We crackle with moral energy. We have all the best traits of our parents and none of the bad ones. Occasionally, we lapse into Henry James’s sentence structure, just because. We are so high-minded we bash our heads on the architrave.

At other times we are not so fancy. Oh no. We snort and grovel, we let ourselves down. Clichés and fast food are all that present allure. An episode of The Simpsons strikes us as marvellously visceral, and we might define an intellectual as someone who can sit in the same room as a teacosy for half an hour without trying it on. We punctuate only with commas. We dress in balding stretch velour in jaded cherry-berry shades. We leak emotion and grow teary at the thought of the beautiful way the second syllable of the word “biscuit” is spelt. We may stop with the relentless personal hygiene rigmarole and the whole tidy-up-it-gets-messy-tidy-up-again fiasco. We overuse phrases requiring seven hyphens.

At these points it feels as though the epiphany of our whole life’s journey and our sincerest heart’s desire can be summed up by a single sentiment expressed by a group of 80 or so international singing teenagers gathered in the mid-1970s, singing atop a hill outside Rome in slinky white polo-necks: “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke”.

Well, today is one of those days. It is time.

There is something about the idea of handing out a can of this famous, gaily-coloured giant fizzy-pop brand to every single inhabitant of the planet, threading a red and white net of care round the world’s populace, that makes me thrill this morning. I watch the advertisement on YouTube and feel that it’s my favourite work of art. It’s not that I’m a closet or even overt fizzy-drink corporate-hippy evangelical. I don’t even own any slinky white polo-necks that are near-hysterical with static. And have you any idea what Coke does to your teeth? It’s just the notion of reaching out to everyone with this small gift, spreading togetherness and concord – that’s how I’d like to spend today, if no one objects.

And spending does come into it. If the population of the world is about 6.97bn, and the best cash-and-carry rate in the London borough of Camden is 19p a can, and then you lop off a bit more for a high-volume discount, you are still looking at a billion pounds plus. And that doesn’t include shipping and distribution.

Admittedly, I’ve had a very frugal summer. The beautiful shoes and dresses I haven’t bought are legion. That enchanting 1920s bow-shaped brooch in the Burlington arcade! Yet even I couldn’t run to that. But wait! What about corporate sponsors? What about employing a blue-chip negotiating team or Nato or Unesco or, I don’t know, the cast of Alvin and the Chipmunks: the Squeekquel?

You haven’t heard the last of this.

More columns at www.ft.com/boyt

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