Ignore the relentlessly cheery and take comfort in something from the dark side | Vanessa Thorpe

The times demand indulging in a spot of Pinter or Strauss, not listening to ministers insisting that all is well

Positivity is catching, so goes the theory. And among the wide range of contagions out there, it has always looked fairly appealing. Whingeing, our betters tell us, is bad for the health. It brings on general decline, as well as a headache. And, of course, we are all looking forward to “bouncing back” for Britain, whether we manage it to order this weekend, or at some later date. The message is clear: anyone dragging their feet should feel ashamed.

Positive energy is our new social and political currency. In any cross-examination on the radio or television, all interviewees seem to feel honour-bound to first reply, “That is a very good question”, even if they are a government minister who has just been asked why their decisions have made so many people fatally ill. And are they pleased with the outlook? “One hundred per cent” comes the inevitable bouncy response. No equivocation is countenanced.

It would be nice to believe that the nation has been generally infected with a positive, can-do attitude, but it is sadly often easy to glimpse a lurking desperation behind all the new glass-half-foolery in modern parlance.

So, perversely, how about reading a really despairing novel this weekend, or perhaps a bleak play script, in lieu of live theatre? Perhaps Pinter’s No Man’s Land? Conrad’s Heart of Darkness? Or some hours spent listening to Strauss’s Four Last Songs or Bowie’s ghostly last album, Blackstar? It could be that the right prescription for eventually moving forward in hope is to first spend some time honestly contemplating the darker side of life. Just me?

•Vanessa Thorpe is the Observer’s arts and media correspondent


Vanessa Thorpe

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