That’s the last update for now.
IN this digital age I still read printed books from the library. Yes, my town is still blessed with a library. And, yes, I’ve been known to read eBooks; they need no shelf space, are searchable, highlightable (should there be such a word) and quotes can easily be copied for the obligatory social media sharing. Physical books, on the other hand, don’t need batteries, aren’t prone to startling you with notification sounds and don’t emit harmful light when you read them in bed. And with the added technology of a bookmark, I get real-time updates of how far through I am, at a glance.
None of which is particularly relevant to the point, except that the point was made to me by reading a physical book.
The work in question is End Game by Matthew Glass, which GoodReads describes as “a powerful geo-political thriller set in 2018 that describes the build up to a confrontation between the navies of the world’s superpowers, U.S. and China, off the Horn of Africa.” Couldn’t have put it better myself.
The build-up to said confrontation begins with shenanigans on the US stock market. The book was written in 2011, just three years after the 2008 financial crisis, and envisages how the influence of investment funds belonging to foreign governments could conceivably wreak havoc and bring about another crisis. It was quite an eye-opener to realise how much influence other nations can potentially exert on a country’s economy via their investments. Our economies are deeply intertwined and we’d better get used to it.
Add to the mix a UN-sanctioned military intervention that unwittingly upsets the Chinese, stir well and wait for a few weeks until you somehow end up with a standoff between navies that could lead to a major war. The fictional US President can’t quite believe how this has escalated and despairs that such financial and military crises should converge just as the country goes to the polls for the midterm elections. Not only that, but none of the options his advisers give him are appealing, all leading to disaster one way or another, sooner or later. They pretty much boil down to a classic Hobson’s Choice between Act Tough or Back Down, both of which will have dire consequences as things stand.
Until, that is, the US ambassador to the UN challenges the President to think again. She manages to get him to consider the work of a professor friend of hers who’s been predicting exactly this kind of issue as globalisation marches on in its various guises – not least, on the world’s stock markets.
While the academic isn’t accustomed to applying his theories to the real world, let alone coming up with pragmatic solutions, conversations between him, the ambassador and the President eventually lead them to the Third Option.
The Third Option emerges from considering two questions:
“What might be driving them to behave like this?”
“What do they want?”
These questions might sound trivial, but up to that point, it’s clear nobody has really asked them. Naturally, the resulting diplomatic and military strategy, although risky, has the desired effect. The military forces stand down, there are internal political maneuverings in China, concessions are offered by the US and things get back on track. Lessons have been learned and the tale reaches a very satisfactory conclusion.
“Nice book review,” you might be thinking (I wish), “but what’s this about it making you think again?” Well, I see a general moral from the tale that when you seem to have no good options, there’s always a better way if you look hard enough. And, with God on our side I genuinely believe that’s true; the Bible promises that He’ll give wisdom to anyone who knows they lack it and who asks Him. (Caveat: Sometimes an option that looks bad to me may actually be the right one; I just don’t want to follow it!)
But it just so happens that the story made me think again about two specific issues in my personal life where I felt I was either banging my head against a brick wall or repeating mistakes of the past. In both instances I could predict with reasonable certainty what my options would lead to, none of it particularly helpful. So I asked for that wisdom and believe that in both cases I was pointed to a Third Option. For one issue it came from reading articles on a web site; for the other it was literally a case of telling myself that my normal reaction had been unhelpful for long enough so I needed to change it.
Just like in the novel, my Third Options don’t sound particularly insightful or sophisticated, but they’re what I needed to at least start off down a hopefully more fruitful path.
By the way, I’m aware you may be curious about what my issues actually were. Because I had no intention of saying what they were, I hesitated to write this post but decided I would, if only for my own future reference! So – sorry, not telling. Not because they’re terrible or scandalous, but because they’re private (remember that word?!).
The more important question is: Do you need a Third Option today? Get looking, get asking. If you seem to be heading for disaster now or disaster later, pray for the better way. Pray for the right conversation, the right idea – whatever it takes.
AFTER the disappointment of the Nissan Cherry Europe, our next car was a rather more conventional choice. The Sierra 1.8L in glorious Rosso Red was acquired in May 1989. More space, five doors, power steering – and we even got £1,000 in part exchange for the wretched Nissan.
Unfortunately this photo doesn’t show a glorious Rosso Red specimen owing to my failure to find the picture I wanted in our pre-digital collection. (There is one, somewhere, showing C634TFP on a caravan site in Newquay, but you’ll just have to take my word for it.)
Dubbed “the flying jelly mould” by some (whether affectionately or disparagingly I’m not sure), the Sierra was Ford’s bold replacement for the near-legendary Cortina, and would itself be replaced by the Mondeo. It was a great family car for us, although I craved a sunroof (there also not being any air conditioning).
Being somewhat larger than the Nissan, it was a tight squeeze in our garage. So much so that we took to parking as close as possible to the right-hand wall, squeezing across the central console and getting out the passenger door.
The Jelly Mould carried first one newborn baby and then a second (both ours, I should add), taking us on family trips and the daily commute for about seven years. It was pranged twice, most memorably as we left Gordano Services on the M5 in 1996. We were on our way to Cornwall and were waiting at the exit roundabout from the services car park. A coach behind us, also waiting, obviously decided that we were about to move off (probably watching the traffic on the roundabout rather than watching us), and promptly ran into the back of us.
I was shocked.
I’d never been rear-ended before, either when moving or, as in this case, at a standstill. It was clearly the coach driver’s fault so we did the usual swapping of details and then tried to figure out what to do. There was a nice crease in the middle of the back end and the boot wouldn’t shut properly. We managed to get the boot tied down and decided to continue to our destination, St Ives Holiday Village.
After unloading the car we backed it up against a hedge as it seemed to be the only way to stop someone opening the boot! The next day we found a garage in Hayle who were able to do a “good enough” repair on the boot lock and the bodywork. Until recently I had a photo of the damaged boot but have again lost or culled it.
After the holiday the insurance company sent an assessor and decided the car was a write-off, simply because the repairs would cost more than the resale value. They sent us a cheque for £900 but also said we could keep the car, which was perfectly driveable. This slightly odd written-off-but-not-scrapped state of affairs went on for another few months before we decided to retire the 12-year-old Sierra before it got too troublesome.
Do you have any Sierra memories? Clearly Peter Kay did, in this 2009 clip…
MY second “gorgeous” photo, like my first one, was taken on a trip with my wife. In 2004, in honour of our 20th wedding anniversary, we entered the exciting world of cruise holidays and sailed round the Med from Barcelona. We weren’t sure we’d enjoy cruising; after all, you’re just stuck on a boring boat and everyone’s really old, right? Well, no, as it turns out. At least, we didn’t find it boring, and, yes, there are some old folks but so what? Suffice to say we were hooked and have since repeated the exercise, sometimes at prices no higher than staying in a decent hotel.
But enough of the marketing. Bring on the photo!
Once again I think you’ll agree this is top-class photography. The colour, contrast and composition are simply compelling. I’m particularly proud of how the eye is drawn to the floodlight at top right. OK, maybe not. But it does prove we were on a ship, in a port.
The port in question is Naples, Italy. The large, old building at centre left is called Castel Nuovo, a.k.a. The New Castle (not to be confused with Newcastle, which, delightful though I’m sure it is, isn’t renowned as a cruise destination as far as I know). We actually didn’t see much of the town, having chosen an excursion to see the ruins of Pompeii. The ruins were fascinating – and hot. Very hot. Not because nearby Mt Vesuvius was erupting (which would have been extremely inconvenient and possibly made us late getting back to the ship) but simply ‘cos this was August in Italy. Those baking hot Mediterranean excursions always made us glad to get back to an air-conditioned ship.
Naples was the final port of call on the 7-day holiday. Earlier we’d had stops in Marseille and Villefranche (Nice) in France, as well as Pisa and Rome in Italy. These are places we’d never have ventured to otherwise, and we were blown away by the whole experience. Drifting gently out of port as the waiter brought us dinner was magical.
While we were busy being amazed by our floating hotel, we were surprised to discover that more seasoned cruisers were easily displeased. As we ate lunch just outside Rome, we overheard other passengers berating various aspects of the holiday that would just never have occurred to us. We concluded that experiencing luxury can lead to taking things for granted and make you intolerant of imperfection. On returning home, we decided we’d have to go on further cruises to see if we too would succumb to this cynicism.
I’m pleased to report that so far we’ve largely resisted, although things can go wrong and wind you up a bit. Becoming ill on your holiday, for example, kinda spoils things, and ships can be a nightmare for spreading bugs. Then again, I once got sick in a hotel which was distinctly land-locked and never moved once. And as my wife has been frustrated to discover more than once, ships are prone to closing the swimming pool for no obvious reason. I know; it’s intolerable.
Back in 2004, while we baked in the Med, our kids attended a youth church conference. It was a camping event, always a risky proposition in the UK even in high summer. That particular year the heavens opened both spiritually and meteorologically, the campsite being seriously flooded. It was all a bit traumatic, but it was their trauma – without those pesky parents – and they didn’t seem too phased by it all. There were tales of heroic tent rescues, puddles deeper than your wellies and angels being seen in the trees. All in all, much as I love to hear of God at work, I was glad to have had our week rather than theirs. They did, however, demand that we take them on a cruise. After saving up for a few years we did just that – and they, too, were hooked.
So that first sea adventure has a lot to answer for in our family. I did take some decent pictures but this one of a ship’s floodlight with a bit of Naples in the background serves just as well to bring it all back.