End of ways

Last updated 05:00 01/07/2012

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All she wanted was a plate of savoury mince. All I wanted was a cheese toastie, a cream doughnut and a spearmint milkshake.

OPINION: Noon, Saturday. We were queuing at the coffee bar at the local mall. Around us people squirted wasabi on their sushi and sopped up orange butter chicken with their naan. They asked for extra hummus on their lamb kebab and placed flimsy wontons on their towering stacks of noodles and black bean beef.

She was elderly, unkempt and musty, a woman beyond living alone, she had pushed in front of me, and I let it pass. It wasn't much to ask, surely. A plate of savoury mince. But the cashier's English didn't extend to ground grey beef, mixed with frozen corn, peas and diced carrot, and he could make no sense of her increasingly furious request. Spittle collected in the corners of her mouth and her eyes grew wild.

I tried to help. To translate and to mediate. Not serve here, he said, finally, holding up empty hands.

What do you have to do to get a decent meal around here, she spat. At me, at him, at modern society. And she shuffled off, muttering that the world was coming to an end.

Everyone has their apocalypse. Their version of how life, as they know it, will go to hell in a handcart.

Aids ruined my childhood. That and the threat of nuclear warfare.

Actually the bombs came first. For a time in the early 80s, my father, an artist, painted mushroom clouds prolifically. They coloured my dreams and punctuated my nightmares. At eight, I read Raymond Briggs' graphic novel, When the Wind Blows, and planned a bunker in the dirt under the house. At intermediate I read the science-fiction novel Z for Zachariah and wrote strange stories of strange men and "safe-suits".

Humans, especially children, always imagine the world to be a scary place. Perhaps it cushions the blows reality will more likely deal us. By entertaining thoughts of the end, then we have already processed the worst. The truth, we rationalise, we hope, can neither be so cruel nor so damned.

In form three I was runner-up in the annual school speech competition with my address on acquired immune deficiency syndrome. I pleaded earnestly the case for condoms, the need to protect. My generation, I worried, would be the last. I would never have sex. It was so unfair.

Travelling through Europe, Asia and North America on a whirlwind world tour of a honeymoon at the height of Sars, we fell ill and the thermometer got more of a workout than my suitcase of sexy underwear. I despaired. I would never have children. It was so unfair.

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I had supposed that the youth of today most feared a planet which, no longer able to stand the abuse, turned on them and upended them with sudden storms and drastic droughts. Or perhaps a third world war, a culling of their ranks. But, perhaps, thanks to The Hunger Games, their apocalypse is a reality show fight to the death.

Working in print media, it is easy to imagine the end is nigh. Newspapers are in their death throes, crow rival media. Democracy is at risk, squeal the print media. And when Gina Rinehart, the world's richest woman and a climate-change sceptic mining magnate, who filled the women's magazines in the early 90s scrapping over her father's estate with his much younger Filipino maid wife, is attempting to assert control, a sense of panic does indeed coat your throat.

You would be a liar or a bonehead to deny change is afoot. My first job in journalism was at an online magazine. We were dotcom-ers. We played foosball in our lunch break and kicked back in beanbags. The site folded. Losers. Turns out we were just ahead of our time.

I have never been a defender of progress for progress' sake. Just because something is new does not make it better. But neither is tradition alone enough of a reason to continue as you always have done. The shocking thing is not that newspapers are having to adapt, but the speed at which they're having to. New generations will access their news differently. That's the truth.

Next week, I leave newsprint for the glossy pages of Sunday magazine. My new home, I like to think, is a little more sushi than savoury mince.


- Sunday Star Times

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