This week it is so hot that, for the very first time, I water a tree out of pity. The turf in my mother’s garden has turned bronze with thirst, crunching underfoot like breadcrumbs. I read somewhere that the extreme heat is turning falling rain into steam before it reaches the ground. When, after two sun-starched days, it finally does rain, the grass seems to reach upwards to meet the water, in a movement of relief. No one in England is joking about climate change anymore. This feels like the summer where much of the country finally pays attention to climate change, rather than dismissing the weather as just another heatwave; at last they seem to be accepting that something might be terribly, even irreversibly, wrong. Perhaps because the tarmac on some roads and runways is melting, perhaps because fields throughout London are bursting into flames, the fury at the protesters appears more muted than usual.

I am back in London from Berlin because I’m about to be inducted as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. I take my mother to the ceremony as my guest, and despite the sweltering conditions she wears traditional Ugandan dress, her outfit one of thick, colourful material that catches both the eye and the sun. Fearing instant dehydration, I am not as brave as her, and decide not to wear a suit or tie; instead, I go for a reasonably presentable blue shirt and some bootcut jeans. But I worry I’m not as smart as I should be, and immediately feel guilty when the first person I see on arrival is Kayo Chingonyi, probably the best-dressed man in this part of the city. Later, I stand in the hall with all the other new Fellows, several of whom I know but haven’t seen in quite a few years, and find myself actually starstruck by some. Bernardine Evaristo addresses us with a speech of rare clarity and power; it is stirring to hear someone not only argue strongly for the importance of institutions, but also articulate a vision for how they can evolve. I leave the ceremony hopeful; I also know I have never seen my mother quite so proud.

No change
The Conservative Party is getting ready to change its leader again, in a process that seems more and more like a reality TV show in which it is the viewer who suffers. I sit with my family in the dark cool of our living room, one of the few parts of our house where the humidity doesn’t hunt us down, and a commentator says: Boris Johnson is the perfect prime minister for the UK, because not enough people here take politics seriously enough. I don’t agree entirely, but I see their point. We live at a time where British citizens are so disillusioned by the lack of possibility for positive change that many won’t bother turning up at the ballot box. For them, each general election merely punctuates a new era of loss. At the same time, I find myself chatting to many workers who care fiercely about politics, and the ravages of social and financial inequality. There is the taxi driver in Slough who laments the bewilderingly swift increase in the price of diesel, and the toilet attendant at Heathrow who grimly recounts how her airport’s bosses are slashing her pay. There is the waitress at King’s Cross who nods in solidarity towards those protesting for better wages for Britain’s railways. All these people care, yet are being failed by politicians who are indifferent to their suffering, through a mix of personal wealth and self-obsession.

Parallel worlds
A few days before I return to Germany, I see on the news that UK energy bills are due to soar this autumn, sending tens of millions of people into fuel poverty. Each time I visit my country of birth I fear for it, because I see we’re increasingly in a land of parallel worlds: of the affluent and wealthy suburbs, where financial worry is largely a mirage, and of the cities, where attacks from capitalism are at their most feral, tearing chunks from workers’ monthly pay cheques before the recipient has a chance to enjoy it. I have never known so many strikes in such a short time, and due to the delays and cancellations of my travel I find myself forced to pay nearly a thousand pounds in extra fees for fares and accommodation. With each extra pound I feel rage – not towards those who are compelled to take action, but on behalf of them. Don’t apologise to us for the inconvenience, I think, when the train companies put up billboards to apologise for the industrial action. Just give your employees what they deserve. It occurs to me more and more that if we are going to make our way through this mess, whether battling climate collapse or financial meltdown, then we will only succeed if we remain concerned and vocal about the mistreatment of others. That, instead of retreating fearfully within our own four walls, is how we should persevere.

Musa Okwonga writes fiction, non-fiction and poetry for both adults and children; he is also the co-host of the Stadio football podcast (visit https://stadio.fottball) He lives in Berlin

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