The President is Missing

The President is Missing – A Novel by Bill Clinton and James Patterson

Apologies for Morecambe photobombing the photo. Also apologies for tissues. Am as close to death’s door as a cold can take you.

I think it may be helpful to sing the tune to Mission Impossible in your head while you read my review. Actually, feel free to sing it out loud if you want to – so long as you are not in public toilets or a doctor’s waiting room or something. Also – this review is borderline spoilery – you have been warned.

“Dum, dum, dum, dum-dum, dum dum, dum, dum, dum dum dum, dum dum dum dum – digulee, digulee, digulee – DUM DUM!”

The President is acting weird! He’s about to be impeached for acting weird! Nobody knows why he’s acting weird. Obviously, it’s because the whole of America is in DANGER!

“Dum, dum, dum, dum-dum, dum dum, dum, dum, dum dum dum, dum dum dum dum – digulee, digulee, digulee – DUM DUM!”

He knows about a terrible thing that will happen. Only he knows. Well only him and a few trusted aides. These aides are totally loyal and trustworthy – apart from one who is a JUDAS!

“Dum, dum, dum, dum-dum, dum dum, dum, dum, dum dum dum, dum dum dum dum – digulee, digulee, digulee – DUM DUM!”

So the President has to go it alone. He has to disappear. He can trust no-one. What can he do? Fortunately he has his physical beauty to sustain him. He is ex military – a hero and a leader, a sportsman and he is a grieving widower. He dyes his beard. He is in disguise. He retreats to a handy one hundred million acre estate with full Secret Service cover. He is not quite as alone as we were led to believe. Hurrah!

“Dum, dum, dum, dum-dum, dum dum, dum, dum, dum dum dum, dum dum dum dum – digulee, digulee, digulee – DUM DUM!”

He is persued by a beautiful and mysterious assasin. She blows people’s brains out whilst listening to classical music and somewhere across the world a fundamentalist terrorist with cold eyes and warm prostitutes is planning the downfall of Capitalist America.

“Dum, dum, dum, dum-dum, dum dum, dum, dum, dum dum dum, dum dum dum dum – digulee, digulee, digulee – DUM DUM!”

So what terrible thing is planned for America? (It’s a bit complicated and, to be honest, not riveting but it is indeed a terrible thing) Who will turn out to be the traitor? (Actually – it’s exactly who it usually turns out to be if you follow my Midsomer Murders rules of the game). The clock is literally ticking. Will the President and his handily placed gang of computer scientists manage to save America and see that the bad guys get what’s coming to them? What do you think?

“Dum, dum, dum, dum-dum, dum dum, dum, dum, dum dum dum, dum dum dum dum – digulee, digulee, digulee – DUM DUM!”

Look – it does exactly as you expect. I read it in two sittings and had a flippin good time. Knock yourselves out.

Free Solo

Hello. Can I just get my apology in nice and early? I have a cold. I hardly ever get colds and when I do I become ratty and unreasonable so probably best to take anything you are about to read with a pinch of salt – especially if I am moaning.

I have done very little this week apart from blow my nose and complain. Yesterday I went on a Christian writers’ day in Bath. I thought it might be interesting but I don’t think that it was meant for me. Most of the people there had already had had books published with varying degrees of success by the sound of it. Anyway, everyone seemed very nice but my nose felt like it was about to explode and I didn’t really feel like “networking” so, during lunch, I went round Bath. I do like Bath. And I didn’t spend any money – well not so’s you’d notice. I actually did need those earrings.

We also made ourselves watch “Leaving Neverland”. This was the account by two men about the sexual assaults they say they suffered from Michael Jackson when they were children. In the end, I suppose, it is only their word and Mr Jackson is not here to defend himself. However, their stories did ring true and I think most of us used to wonder about all the children that were around him. It was a hard watch – both men described in explicit detail what had happened to them – but necessary I think. For me, there were questions around their mothers’ involvement. I just think that if a fully grown man had asked me to let my small son sleep in his bed for a week, I am pretty certain what the answer would be – no matter how good he was in The Jackson Five. It was properly shocking. When it had finished, you felt like you had been introduced to something truly wicked.

We also watched Free Solo. This was a film about climbing. However, it’s not just any old climbing – although that’s bad enough. Climbing Free Solo means climbing alone and without ropes. As far as I can see, you don’t retire from climbing free solo you seem to keep climbing until you fall off and die. At one point, the climber was asked by his distraught girlfriend why he carried on doing this. He replied something like “Most people are interested in prolonging the length of their lives – I have no interest in doing that – it is more about doing something that I love – even with all the risks.”

It’s not as if I would consider hanging off a mountain with or without ropes and, to be honest, I don’t think anyone wants to hear a human being sobbing that loudly, I just thought about weighing up how we live our lives against “risk”.

How much do we back off from, not try, let fear hold us back from because we are afraid – not that we will bounce down a 500 foot mountain in a highly undignified way – but that we will fail, or look stupid. Life is short and old age has taught me that it goes really fast. It is easy to just trundle along keeping life and people at arm’s length just to be on the safe side. It is, I think, important to find what you are supposed to do and be and then do it and be it.

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. PS 90

Four Gifts

Four Gifts by April Yamasaki

I decided to read this book after reading a blog from Sarah Bessy. She had a plan to read a list of books from people from a different ethnic group from herself and, because most days I rarely have an original thought in my head, I thought that I might do that too. I could have missed it of course but I don’t think the writer’s ethnic group made any difference to this book at all. She is a Canadian Pastor and Professor and apart from finding out that 43% of Canadians don’t take their full alloted annual leave (What is wrong with you?) I don’t think there is anything specifically that was not applicable to everyone.

The book is about self-care. The author and some of the people who have endorsed the book seem to have made the assumption that this is a controversial subject for a Christian. I think I am way ahead of them on that. I think, in these times, when Christians are dropping like flies from overwork and undercare (Is that a word?) looking after yourself is essential. At one point she says that this is a book that will give you permission to take care of yourself. It is obviously written for someone less self-centred than me.

The book is divided into four sections. It looks at

The Heart – overall well being, The Soul – our spiritual well being, The Mind – our mental well being and Strength – our physical well being.

Among the subjects covered are personal boundaries including saying “no”, self discipline, taking a personal sabbath, dealing with social media, sacred pauses and diet and excercise.

I’ll be frank with you (just had a weird flashback to two lads in my secondary school whose favourite joke was “You be Frank and I’ll be Ernest.” It made them laugh like drains. No wonder all the girls in that class sprinted home every evening to make sure we didn’t miss Shang-A-Lang) Anyway, as I said, to be completely frank, there is nothing in this book that I haven’t seen before. Sometimes it’s like when your specialist subject on Mastermind is “The Flamin’ Obvious” (at one point she does tell you that sleep is important) However, it is a very lovely, gracious and gentle book – intelligently laid out and argued with lots of useful advice. Possibly the best way to read this is with a notebook and pen and use it as a study book to work through some thoughts about looking after yourself. I think it is not just to be read but to be used as something to look at areas of your life that may need your attention.

Lent

Oh dear. I wish this was one of those blogs where I could entertain you with tales of popping off to Monaco for the weekend or spending the week on a juice fast to cleanse both body and soul and lose half a stone. Unfortunately though, I have been at work all week and the only place we had time to pop to was a new “The Range”. However, on popping in, I remembered how much I hate The Range – there is nothing there that you can’t get anywhere else – and usually cheaper – and so we popped straight back out again.

The only dietary advice I can share is from the very personable young girl on the Aldi checkout. On examining my purchase of chicken sausages she told me that she had recently done a month long sausage and boiled egg only diet. She had gone down a dress size so it had certainly worked but when she had had to come off the diet, partly because of difficulties in the toilet department, she had gone straight back to her previous size and she didn’t know what to do now. I felt I was letting her down because I couldn’t think of anything to help her and I was also trying to get Aged Parent away from the till before my fish fingers defrosted. Any talk of toilet department is seen by AP as an invitation to share at length about her own issues in that area and we would have never left.

I apologise for the lack of inspirational content.

I had been reading a Bible Study this week. I don’t know about anyone else but I do struggle with doing a study properly i.e. read a bit of Bible and then see what study has to say about it. I do have a tendency to read ahead if it is interesting. Anyway Beth Moore said this

The words “Well Done” are on the tip of Jesus’ tongue. I think he can hardly wait to say them. He’s not manipulative. He’s not moody. He tells us what he wants and he tells us how he’ll respond. He never departs from his word.

And it made me jump, I think because I had not really been thinking this way about God and me for a while. I think sometimes we can lose sight of truth because

a) That has not been our experience – either for a while or maybe never

b) We get used to reading things again and again and they do not feel as powerful.

I remember many years ago reading “The Father Heart of God” by Floyd McClung. The book details God’s thoughts towards us as affectionate, positive and warm. The argument being that this is a natural by-product of the grace we live under.

I read the book and found it, not difficult but unbelievable. Having had little experience of positive fatherhood which I was not going to see until I watched HOH with our children and also attending a church where people were made very aware of their need of grace – but less so of God’s goodness and our position as people receiving grace. I felt that I needed to concentrate very heavily on the “undeserving” part of grace sometimes to the detriment of the loved and secure bit.

So when I read about the God who searches me out (The Parable of the Lost Coin) or the God who promised to never leave, it took a bit of getting hold of I can tell you. But, the more I accepted this. the better it felt. I lost a lot of hang ups and felt more and more secure and, sometimes, almost felt that I had got it.

Yet time passes and things happen. Some of these things are big things and some of them not so much. Prayers don’t always seem to be answered and I am not always the person that I thought I would be by this time in my life. And I lose sight of the truth. I lose sight of the unchanging nature of God and his thoughts towards me. It was startling to read this and how God feels about me, which is a shame I think because I am obviously missing out on peace and security that I am meant to have.

So, although I don’t really do Lent I thought this year I might have a go at a sort of reverse one where it is all about me. (I know, I know – almost diametrically opposed to the spirit of Lent but there you are) I am going to seek out old Bible verses and books that have helped me when I was young in the olden days. I am going to look at things that preachers have said in the past – even those who now are full of facelifts and working through problems of their own in many cases or even actually dead and I am going to see what comes out of that. If some things are truthful and don’t change then they are worth revisiting again no? Feel free to be as self-centred about Lent as I am going to be. I am hoping that unselfish, Lent-like actions will come out of this but if not, I still think it is worth it.

Have a good week

Educated

Educated by Tara Westover

If you have knickers- prepare for them to be gripped. There were times reading this when I realised that I was holding my breath because I was so tense. It’s not knicker gripping in a Lee Child sort of a way, when the last line of each chapter reads something like “and all was quiet and calm right up until the moment that his head blew off” or “as he drove into the night he realised that the banging noise he could hear was coming from the boot of his own car.” (Not that I don’t love a Lee Child moment – I’m not a Philistine)

This book, however, is not like that. It’s a memoir, set in the 1980s-90s. Tara was born to a survivalist Mormon family in Idaho. However, this is not really about the Mormon faith – her family are far more under the influence of their father than they are their faith. He is the head of the family in every aspect, holding sway over them with terrifying stories of families like theirs being terrorised and killed by the FBI or by quoting Scripture which reinforces his world view. A women who answers back is a whore, schools are not to be attended because they are run by “the enemy” and ambition is to be discouraged because the end is coming and all energy must be poured into being ready.

But Tara is different. She is a female but she is clever and the outside world is calling her. I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that she ends up at Cambridge University because it is on the back of the book but her journey there is so powerful and difficult, I found this book very hard to leave until it was finished.

I’ll be honest with you, when people talk about a book being well written, I’m not sure what they mean. I’m not sure I’m clever enough to be able to deconstruct a book and say what makes it a cut above other things that I read. I think though that this is a great book. She is walking a heartbreaking tightrope all the way through where she knows she needs to leave but how far does she have to leave her family behind to find her life? They don’t help, her mother is impossible to read and veers between obsessive obedience to her husband and urging Tara to get away. She has a dangerously unhinged and violent brother and has to be careful not to upset him.

Sometimes you despair of her (“Just go!”) and sometimes I had a little uncomfortable bell ringing in the back of my head that recognised her childhood in a fundementalist church where leaders were never to be challenged and women were second class citizens. My life was nothing like hers of course but I did understand how hard even ties that are bad for you are sometimes hard to break.

I lost HOH for an entire afternoon while he was finishing this which I completely understand. It’s a grown up book and it’s also highly recommended.