Archive for April 20th, 2012

April 20, 2012

Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht, The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook

Silly piece I did for the Left of Cool column last week.



Earlier this week a major newspaper published for its readers an illustrated guide to how to avoid being choked from behind by a pursuer with a rope or long cloth. This sort of choking could kill you, explained the paper, or be a prelude to a rape or mugging. But the first step in fighting back, should this happen to you, was to not panic.

I’m doomed, I thought.

I’ve learnt over the years that I am no good in an emergency. I freeze at the slightest hint of danger. Any advice whose first step is “keep calm” is wasted on me. This is a terrible pity, because in other circumstances The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook would be an absolute boon.

The first Worst-Case Scenario Handbook, edited by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht, was published a little over a decade ago. Since then it has inspired an American reality TV series and a number of specialised sequels that explored the worst things that could possibly happen to you while playing golf, on holiday, at a wedding and so forth.

The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Handbook therefore is able to copllect a huge variety of life-saving techniques; from escaping a stampede of giraffes (wade into a nearby body of water or climb a tree to escape their hooves) to delivering a baby in a taxi (both regular and breech births).

The book is handily divided into sections, featuring headings such as “Social Disasters”, “Great Escapes”, “Domestic Dangers” and “Animal Encounters”. One of the great things about this is that it allows you to fully appreciate the sheer range of terrors that even a normal life could easily throw your way. Reading up on how to free one’s leg from a bear trap or to foil an abduction by aliens (do not panic – this may cause the Extraterrestrial Biological Entity to act rashly) the casual reader might easily think that this is not the book for her. Many of the worst-case scenarios provided seem as if they would only be of use to a globetrotting adventurer – certainly most of us are unlikely ever to be stranded on a desert island or to have to cross a piranha-infested river. The chances of our experiencing plane crashes are perhaps a bit higher, but it’s still highly improbable that we will find ourselves landing a plane in the absence of anyone more qualified. And yet the book moves smoothly between these and other dangers that do sound familiar – dealing with a crying baby on a flight, sleeping unobtrusively through a boring lecture, identifying bad cafeteria food and fending off pick-up artists. The tips for escaping a meeting seem impractical and might have serious career consequences, but we have all felt that particular temptation at some time or the other. And “How to Thwart an Affectionate Costumed Mascot” will resonate with anyone who has ever been pursued by a man in a bunny suit.

One of the amazing things about The Complete Worst-Case Scenario handbook is how it forces you to reconsider what may at first seem flippant, or careless advice. For every moment where you think “no, that could never matter to me”, there’s another where you’re filing the information away for fuller use.  And so I have laughed at a number of the subheadings in the book, but I’ve also filed away the section on being unobtrusive about difficulties at a wedding, applying for a job one isn’t really qualified for, and, yes, escaping quicksand.

Another great book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (mentioned frequently in Douglas Adams’ trilogy of the same name) took “Don’t Panic” for its motto. The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Handbook mostly confines its scope to the Earth, but it is a useful reminder that there’s an entire universe of disaster out there awaiting us all. Now please stay calm.