This day 99 years ago the Titanic sank into the Atlantic Ocean, taking 1,517 lives with it. I grew up ten miles from the Titanic’s last port of call – Cobh in County Cork, Ireland – and the sad tale of the ship was familiar to me from a young age. My Dad told me it.
And just down the road off the coast of Kinsale is the wreck of the RMS Lusitania, an ocean liner torpedoed by a German U-boat in May 1915. She sank in eighteen minutes, killing 1,198 of the 1,959 people aboard. In fact, there are over 65 known shipwrecks off Cork, which is even more horrifying when you realise the county is only eighty kilometres wide, almost all of which my father was only too delighted to share the terrifying details of.
So growing up with a father with a penchant for horror stories, as far as we were concerned, ships sank. A lot. The more “unsinkable” the better the odds they would be on the ocean floor by sundown. When my family’s first ever experience with rough weather at sea happened we were understandably nervous.
We were on a huge car ferry from Cork to France and a force nine gale had sprung up out of nowhere. The wind howled around the boat and the ship listed erratically from side to side, making walking around almost impossible. My father had been in the Navy and read several books on the wrecks. You would think he would have consoled his two children, one of whom needed to be seasick, with cheerful thoughts on how maritime law had been updated from the cautionary tale of the Titanic to provide enough lifeboats for everyone and how hardly any large passenger boats sank these days.
Oh no. My Dad saw a chance to regale a captive audience with tales of terror, and he went for it. They wouldn’t be able to send out the lifeboats, we’d be on our own. Our own lifeboats would capsize in the swells. And there was no point sticking on a lifejackets – if the boat sank, he explained, the wake of it would pull us down and we’d drown. Even if we avoided that, we’d get hypothermia. And possibly sharks. EVIL sharks.
The result? Two terrified and traumatized children, one of whom needed to be seasick. My Dad’s work here was done.
My father’s love of expanding on harmless situations by listing the worst available outcome may be where I get both my worry-wart tendencies and my interest in worst-case scenarios and what happens when things go wrong. And specifically, how to survive it. To understand how people behave in a crisis is the first step, according to many books, in getting through that crisis. In the absence of clear instructions and peer action, people freeze. They don’t take advantage of what is called the “Golden Time”, the brief period where you can still affect what happens next.
To that end, I can only recommend the Worst-case Scenario series. Thick enough to use as a weapon and handily indexed for those moments when speed is of the essence, they provide a humorous but helpful guide to getting through disasters, perfect for the worry-wart in your family or for shutting up the disaster master when they are hauling you down Pessimism Alley. Need to deal with a sinking ship, elephant stampede, mine collapse or a nuclear attack? Here’s your guide.
And, as an added tip, if my father starts telling you stories, you can hit him with it.