Between the ages of three and seven, I had a recurring nightmare. It recurred every Sunday night. Sometimes, I’d get the bonus of a mid-week repeat too. But that was rare. The nightmare was one filled with horror, fear, apprehension, intimidation, and,er, well, muppets.
The basic scenario was that, in my dream, I’d wake up to discover Miss Piggy and Gonzo the Great climbing through my bedroom window to kidnap me. I’d jump out of my dream-bed, try to run away from the, er, cuddly puppets, only to be tripped by Fozzy Bear and Rowlf the Dog. Not Animal, though. He was probably gigging in a jazz club. He was just too cool for nightmares. They would then drag me to the window, while Miss Piggy and Gonzo laughed and I screamed. That’s as far as the dream ever went. I always woke up just as the, er, cute fluffy animals got me to the window.
When I got to seven, I discovered a new nightmare. Hand-me-down clothes, empty stomachs, poverty, charity and food parcels were the norm in north-east England, never mind the north-east of Africa. The mines closed. Industry was decimated.Margaret Thatcher was my new nightmare.
Of course, as a seven-year-old, I’m not sure I was aware that it was Thatcherism at work. I was busy playing football, climbing trees, and pretending to be one of the A-team. But I was aware of being hungry, of not having a lot at Christmas, of living on one penny cans of baked beans and the like.
About the age of twelve or thirteen, I discovered girls. It was then that my nightmares went from macro to micro. From devastation of my ruined country to devastation of a spot on my nose or hair that just won’t respond to the wet-look gel that was all the rage. Girls became women, wet-look gel became moulding clay, but the nightmare didn’t change massively.
In the intervening decades I’ve had brief flirtations with other nightmares about terrorism, global warming, a variety of potentially apocalyptic diseases, and George Osborne as Chancellor. The latter may develop further.
Now, in the summer of 2010, I’m over 30, finding more grey hairs every month, and have a new nightmare. When I should be enjoying the World Cup, sitting in beer gardens, and mocking the Coalition Government, I find myself thinking about something else entirely. This new nightmare goes something like this…
I’m looking down from space on planet Earth. It’s rotating at a thousand miles an hour as usual, and happily travelling on its orbit at the normal sixty-seven thousand miles an hour. The land is bright fresh greens, dry sandy browns, and shades of grey. The sea is mostly a nourishing blue. I slowly zoom in. Down on the surface, I see dozens of tiny metal structures. I keep zooming in. The deep azure of the ocean becomes murkier. I focus on one burnt-out wrecked metal structure as it fills my vision. The ruined sign hanging on the side of it says Deepwater Horizon BP. I break the oil-covered surface, diving down through the Gulf waters to reach the seabed.
On that seabed, there is a valve. Not just a small run-of-the-mill valve I have under my kitchen sink. This valve is 450 tonnes of steel. This valve is supposed to close if anything happens to the platform above it. This valve didn’t work. It’s called a blowout preventer. But it didn’t prevent anything. So
now there are 1.5 million gallons of crude oil pumping into the ocean every day.
You have to understand why this is my nightmare. This isn’t an oil ‘spill’. There’s no fractured supertanker with a finite amount of oil to come out. This is a fracture in the planet, with oil shooting out under immense pressure from inside the Earth. And this isn’t just the end of the pipe that’s broken. The pipes beneath the seafloor have eroded and are leaking directly into the sea bed. So even if they cap the pipe with the blowout preventer, the oil will just find another way out. Just like your garden hose pipe, a few little holes don’t spill a lot really. Unless you cover the end of that hose. Then it positively floods out. And the nightmare is that the erosion under the seafloor can’t be stopped. Ever.
When all is well, the blowout preventer sits on top of the pipe perfectly straight and level. The valves close the pipe and the flow is controlled. That’s the ideal. But that oil is pouring out underneath the seabed, eating away at the silt that is holding up the blowout preventer and cap. Once the seabed collapses, as it eventually will, the blowout preventer collapses too. All 450 tonnes of it. Tearing what’s left of the pipeline and valves with it. Leaving nothing but a gaping hole spewing millions of gallons of oil into the ocean under massive pressure. When you see footage of the blowout preventer on tv, it’s at an angle already. That’s not meant to happen. It’s starting to collapse. And it could flood the ocean with oil, decimating life that relies on the sea. That’s my nightmare.