It’s really not looking good is it?
I remember all the talk of Saddam’s 45-minute weapons back in 2002 in the run-up to the Iraq war. We all believed it, and it turned out to be a load of old nonsense. But this time, the talk of similarly-dispositioned dictator Kim Jong-un having a big old pile of rockets and nuclear weapons does seem to have more than an element of truth to it. Mainly because, well, a 6.3-magnitude earthquake registered on 3 September and a rocket fired over Japan on 29 August does rather suggest that they do definitely have some nuclear weapons and some tasty rockets with which to fire them at their sworn enemies.
Naturally, as the gods of fate would have it, North Korea has obtained these funky new toys at the same time as America, in its infinite wisdom, decided to elect Donald Trump as their leader, a man who seemingly has as much capacity for level-headed, patient thought as he does for choosing tasteful interior design. Thus, we find ourselves at this historical juncture observing two equally ego-driven, impulsive men, armed to the teeth with enormously destructive weapons, ramping up the rhetoric with every outburst.
In fact, we’ve suddenly reached the point where Kim Jong-un actually looks like the adult in this fight; witness his excellent use of the word ‘dotard’ to describe his opponent, displaying a vocabulary that far outstrips that of Trump. Meanwhile, Trump used Twitter - the true domain of the written-at-speed-and-repented-at-leisure outburst - to literally threaten to kill the North Korean Foreign Minister.
Much like the language of the internet, it feels like the whole thing has reached the point where there is nowhere left to go: one false move, one insult that goes too far and we could be playing nuclear tennis across the Pacific. We are on the verge of World War III and we’re probably all going to die.
Up until this point, I’ve left it to the professionals to make sure the planet doesn’t blow itself up. I’ve got more important things to do like get the washing done and write about WhatsApp groups. But, frankly - and I’m not going to mince my words here - I’m going to be really annoyed if I get blown up by a nuclear bomb before I’ve had the chance to fix my shed. So the other day I thought “Frig it, if no one else is going to sort this nonsense out, then I’m going to bally well have to do it myself”.
But how to start?
People have been banging on about ‘diplomacy’ and ‘establishing a dialogue’. And I immediately thought back to Bob Hoskins’ legendary turn for BT. What was it he always used to say?
It’s good to talk Bob. The low-key sexism is probably a bit less good. But still, the principle stands.
But who should I talk to first? Well, that was a simple question: we’re never left in any doubt about the thoughts of Trump, with his incessant tweeting and announcing of government policy at 3am after a load of beers in the 19th hole, so - I think - I pretty much know his position already. But what about North Korea? They’re always being denounced as a ‘rogue nation’ with a ‘despot’ for a leader, but what if they’re just like that kid at school who everyone assumed was a big idiot, but that was just because he was shy and because no one talked to him, he become a bit defensive, and that defensiveness was misinterpreted as aggression? After all, deep down, everyone wants to be loved, don’t they? Maybe they just needed a bit of a Dave-hug and they’d break down tearfully, grateful that someone had finally made the effort to be nice to them.
Yes, I needed to talk to the North Koreans. And this seemingly difficult task was made substantially less onerous when I discovered that not only did they have an embassy in London, but that it was just a normal house in leafy Ealing. Yes, you read that right. Not for North Korea a big, plush, ostentatious, permanently-guarded, gold-lined embassy in Mayfair like all the others: the biggest pariah state’s official UK embassy is just a detached house located at 73 Gunnersbury Avenue. I could get there on the Tube. It’s in Zone 3: that’s only £3.30 to sort out world peace. That doesn’t like much to pay, does it? £3.30, a shoulder to cry on, and a bit of the old Dave charm. Easy peasy.
However, I wasn’t taking this lightly. No, no. £3.30, a shoulder to cry on, and a bit of the old Dave charm wasn’t going to be enough to seal the deal here. I wasn’t that naive.
No, I was going to need some biscuits too.
Perfect. Because the road to peace can often be a rocky one.
And, just in case the ambassador was out when I got there, I would need a card to leave for him with my contact details in and a warm message.
I headed to the local card shop and saw just the thing.
Was it Ambassador His Excellency Mr Choe Il’s birthday any time soon? Well, I had no idea. But at some point it would be, and even if wasn’t soon, I was sure he’d have a little chuckle at the thoughtful card and message I had left him.
Oh, one other present I made for the North Koreans: a CD of big power ballads. You can’t be angry if you’re listening to love songs can you?
I left off ‘Eternal Flame’ (could be triggering).
Off I popped to the Tube and headed west on the Piccadilly Line, alighting at Acton Town.
It was at this point I realised that ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ was used for Armageddon. Hmmm. Let’s hope they haven’t seen it. They ban most Western stuff in North Korea don’t they? We’re probably safe.
A quick 10-minute stroll and I was there, ready to succeed where other diplomats had failed.
Here it is: just a normal seven-bedroom detached (OK, that’s not particularly normal for London but you know what I mean) suburban house which was once - check this for a fact - once owned by Carry On actor Sid James. See that flagpole on the left? That sometimes has the North Korean flag on. But not today.
I walked up to the front to be met by a wall and gate. I rang a bell located on the wall a couple of times but there was nothing doing.
“Hmmm, at least I’ll get to eat all of these rocky road mini bites myself,” I thought, before another inner thought told that inner thought, “Stop it, there are more important things at stake than eating admittedly delicious bitesize snacks: people are relying on you to save the world”.
My second inner thought was right, I needed to concentrate.
It was then that I noticed a car in the front yard (full disclosure: the two pics above were taken afterwards). And there was a guy sitting in it.
The car started to move, and the front gates silently slid open. This was my chance.
The car moved through the open gate and a window wound down. I trotted over to the car to make my case.
“Hello, I’m a writer and I’m trying to sort out the whole nuclear thing that’s going on at the moment, and I just wanted to get you guys’ side of the story, because it seems to me that you deserve a fair hearing. We never really read your point of view in the papers so I was wondering if I might be able to chat to someone at the embassy? I have biscuits. Look - rocky roads! M&S ones! The good ones! I didn’t even buy another bucket to take advantage of the two for £4 deal so these were the full £2.59!”
“I am the embassy,” came the reply, like a slightly less exciting Heisenberg.
“Ah OK. Well could I chat to you for a few minutes? I’m sure this won’t take too long.”
“It’s not possible,” he replied.
Before pausing and adding: “But you can send us an email.”
I had won his trust.
I duly noted down the email address (a Yahoo! one, in case you were wondering) before asking, “And your name is…?”
With that he wound up his window and headed off.
I would send an email as soon as I could, but the nice ambassador clearly had other things to be getting on with. Perhaps they were running low on milk. Hey, diplomacy can take years sometimes, so if I could wrap this thing up in a week then that would be pretty good going.
Now alone, I thought I may as well have a quick look around the place (given the security cameras present on the outside of the building, they were presumably doing the same to me). There in the back garden, as rumoured, was a basketball hoop; presumably a nod to their Supreme Leader’s favourite sport.
Not much else to see, truth be told, but, hey, I was in leafy Ealing on a nice afternoon so I thought I may as well try and find some locals and get their take on what it was like to live next to the UK home of a rogue nation - and maybe they could help me out with what I was going to say in my forthcoming power meeting with the North Korean bigwigs. Maybe they could shine a light on how I was going to reconcile these two warring factions?
First up was Shirin (pictured below), who lived just down the road. “It’s like Iran, isn’t it, they say that it’s their right to have nuclear weapons, just like any other country, for self-defence, but when you’ve got a dictatorship you don’t know what their next move might be… I stop talking about it, I almost stop thinking about it, because who’s going to listen to me? Avoiding it is easier.
“There must be a deeper story behind their relationships. What, these guys just woke up and decided to go to war with each other? There’s something else. It’s like Syria, everyone was buddy-buddy, Assad, Khamenei, Gaddafi and then suddenly they’re the bad guys… I’m not saying they’re not. What went wrong with their relationships? Why is the spotlight suddenly on North Korea? We’re left out of all the small details.”
Interesting. A deeper story to their relationship. My role as mediator could potentially be a crucial one.
I spot a couple of ladies across the road and head over to talk.
One, who would prefer not to give her name, is very decisive in her opinion: “North Korea? I would suggest that if the North Korean fella and Trump sit together and have a cup of coffee and work out what either of them wants [that would sort it]. I think just to talk, see what either of them wants and then maybe then they can alright, you can have this and I’ll have can have that - sit round the table instead of arguing like little boys.”
Meanwhile Tina, who is doing a spot of gardening, explains: “They’re [the North Koreans] normally quite friendly. I always say hello to them because in the morning they go running.
“[However] they never let you have a conversation - but the guy who left one year ago [Thae Yong-ho, who defected from the embassy in July 2016, and has since been described by the regime as ‘human scum’ and accused of embezzling state funds, leaking state secrets, accepting bribes and raping a child], he had a lot of conversation with the people in the club - the tennis club [which is a few streets away from the embassy] - he used to go there. He was very friendly with them.
“The guy in North Korea, he is a very young boy. He has no education and no experience… I think someone should train him to be a person - he’s a boy. He plays games like a little boy, and that game can be very dangerous for everybody, you know. They both [Trump and Jong-un] need to grow up; they play games.”
Wise words. I walk on with them rattling around my brain until I reach the following sign, just down the road on the same side as the embassy.
Interesting. I never knew there was a cricket club round here. And, furthermore, the path seems to lead round the back of the embassy.
My interest piqued, I walk down it, not expecting to see anyone. I encounter the classic white sightscreen, before spotting two lads in the distance, doing a bit of work on the ground. I should get their opinions too.
I meet two very friendly chaps named Gareth and Olly and it immediately becomes clear that I should probably be looking to add Gareth to my negotiating team, given his extensive knowledge of the situation.
“Are you worried that we’re going to get blown up?” I ask him.
“We’re a long way from the heat of the action I think, I’d be more worried if I was Japanese, they’re the people who are right in the firing line - there’s a real game of brinkmanship going on at the moment.”
“Is Trump playing it right?”
“No, he’s not playing it right at all, he’s got it completely wrong, but that doesn’t surprise me, he hasn’t got very much right! He is trying to up the rhetoric and put them under pressure and, of course, they’re feeling very defensive and threatened, which is upping their game to demonstrate their prowess and the military strength that they have. Of course, what’s really unknown is what military strength they do have - you have to remember, if you look back, there were times in the Cold War, we know now that actually the Russians, although they had a lot of missiles, they weren’t good for very much, that’s come out in the long term, and what the actual capabilities of North Korea is and its ability to strike - yes, they’ve got missile technology but how accurate is it? How good is it? We just don’t know because it’s too secretive a country.”
“Do you blame them for developing the weapons?”
“No, I just think it’s a race to the bottom is military technology. You need the threat of course, and they do exist, but I don’t think any nation state at the moment that doesn’t have the technology needs to necessarily go after it - the only thing they do need to go after it for is if they want to pursue an arms race with the world, when the main nuclear powers are, generally speaking, you’d hope, quite sensible. Perhaps, India and Pakistan have always had liabilities but they’re threatening each other and there’s always been the control, or influence, of other nations upon both of them to talk things down when it mattered.”
“If you were Trump what would you do?” I ask.
“I’d look to turn the rhetoric down a little bit… The real key is the negotiations with China - the relationship between US and China is far more important, in terms of defusing the situation, than it is between the US and North Korea, because while China is willing to support them, or not attack North Korea, if you like, then they believe they’ve got an ally there. Of course, at the moment it suits geopolitics for China to to keep supporting North Korea.”
Suddenly, it hits me. An idea.
They like to play games. They’re like little boys. They need to work on their relationship and they need to defuse the situation.
I’m at a cricket club. Cricket: the gentleman’s sport. The game where one can be competitive and strive to win but where - just as important as winning and losing, and arguably more so - one must be able to shake hands with one’s opponent at the end and enjoy a cucumber sandwich together during the tea break between innings.
Cricket. That’s what these guys need. The 1932-33 ‘bodyline’ cricketing era might have nearly started a war, but maybe the 2017 era of the game could prevent one?
I point out to Gareth that the North Korean embassy’s back garden literally borders the cricket club - would they be welcome to pop over and play with the Ealing boys?
Gareth is, as a cricketing man, duly friendly: “Explaining the laws of cricket to them might be a bit complex! I’m not sure how the Korean language translates to English. If their English is good enough, then of course, they’d be welcome to come across and have a game and come and chat with us.”
I head home and fire off my email.
I’ve made my effort to get the North Koreans onto the square, but what about the Americans? I need to get them in their whites with a stick of willow in their hand too.
I know for a fact that Donald Trump likes golf - he certainly seems to prefer it to doing any work - so cricket surely isn’t too much of a stretch for him?
My hopes are increased when I stumble upon the amazing revelation that, up until recently, former Australian batsman Damien Martyn was one of just 47 people that Trump followed on Twitter.
Furthermore, it’s a little-known fact that the very first international cricket match took place in 1844 between Canada and… the United States.
It’s in their blood! They might bang on about baseball and ‘football’, but deep down, what the Americans really love is a good cricket match.
I’ve cracked it. This is it. A game of cricket shall be arranged be arranged between North Korea and the United States, they’ll get all their aggression out on the pitch, they’ll bond over a mutual respect of the great game of cricket, a warm cup of tea and some corned beef sandwiches and then, after a long day in the field during a hazy English summer’s day, they’ll realise that this is a beautiful world we live in and that they are not so different after all; that there is more that unites us (a love of leather on willow) than divides us (squabbling over nuclear weapons).
And then we’d all sit down and debate who on earth England will pick at three for the Ashes.
At least, that was my theory.
However, as I write, dear reader, it pains me to inform you that, for truly unfathomable reasons, the North Korean embassy are yet to reply to my email.
And the American embassy could merely point me “to a number of statements by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and our State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert if you’re looking for a quote on our policy,” - and when I asked whether Donald, or anyone else at the embassy, was a cricket fan, they said: “I honestly have no idea [smileyface].”
What can I say? I tried.
I tried to bring them to the table. I tried to get them on the cricket field. And I failed.
It saddens me to inform you that nuclear war is now inevitable.
Still, the rocky roads were delicious.