Monthly Archives: April 2015

Ypres and its lessons for prepping

I’ve just come back from a trip to Belgium, honouring the family dead of the First World War. It’s now one hundred years since the Second Battle of Ypres, where gas was used for the first time, and it was both sobering and enlightening to be there for that memorial.

The Military Graves

They make you think, these graves. Sometimes there are thousands of them together, and sometimes there are just a dozen or so, in a little area that was once farmland.

Some of the gravestones really tell you what it was like, what horrors those soldiers faced: look at the two photos immediately below, for instance. There are three graves in a row of soldiers “believed to be buried in this cemetery”. And two soldiers in one grave (there were many such graves); we thought these were soldiers whose bodies could not be disentangled enough to be sure.

Please click on the pictures to read the inscriptions.



Sometimes there’s a solitary grave within a small cemetery: a single Chinese labourer is here, for instance. Others must have died too, but he alone is buried in this particular little military cemetery. Was it the Spanish flu, since he died in 1919? It doesn’t say, but somebody had taken the trouble to find an appropriate Chinese saying and hopefully inscribe his name in Chinese script, inscribe it and translate it. And he’s looked after still: there are fresh poppies on that grave.


Calamity had come upon all these people, fresh-faced 16 year olds, and older men in their forties alike. For me, as a prepper of a few years’ standing, how does that connect to prepping? Does it connect at all?

I think it does. There are plenty of things to prepare against: unemployment, a death in the family, an illness, floods, pandemic, many things. But some things, you have no protection against: if your country is invaded, whatever happens, life is changed forever: you enlist, you’re called up, you’re a refugee, your home is destroyed, your livelihood gone, family members killed, your community dispersed, maybe your currency collapses. And sadly, in much of Africa and Asia, these things are present day realities, but one hundred years ago, seventy years ago and indeed twenty five years ago, these things were happenings in Europe, right on our doorstep.

Some things can’t be prepared for, or at least, can’t be prepared for enough so that they don’t affect us: today, we’d add economic collapse, large terrorist incidents, space weather, or climate change. There’s only so much we can do, and that makes it doubly important to make sure that, just like everyone else, we live our lives to the full for the time we have on this earth. We take care of the planet and its people, especially as it’s still the only home we have, and we pass it on to those who follow, in the best shape we can.

So, completely ignoring the politics and complex reasons behind the First World War, and thinking solely of what the individual men experienced, here’s another photo to finish on. This is the sculpture and the inscription at the apex of the Menin Gate.


Pandemic Avoidance, Part Two

There’s been a big gap between Part One and Part Two, my apologies – publishing my very first kindle book took up lots more time than I thought it would. I’m very happy with how things went, and I can see ways to improve on the experience, so that’s good too.

So, on to the reason for the post, infection avoidance – probably during a pandemic, but maybe during annual flu season too.

Public Toilets

I mentioned in Part One about not using public toilets if at all possible – but sometimes it isn’t possible. When I go to see family, for instance, the journey is almost 7 hours, door-to-door, and one Christmas when the connections were very bad, it was 12 hours. If you’re like me, you need to use the toilet during a journey of that length! I don’t drink water “on the hour every hour” as used to be recommended, but I certainly drink enough to avoid dehydration headaches.

I don’t use a train toilet unless I’m absolutely desperate: I’d rather use the ones in train stations, even though you have to pay a mint. Toilets on trains are notoriously dirty, and notoriously wet underfoot, and you can get banged into the walls – which are probably also dirty – by the motion of the train.

When it comes to a row of toilets in public centres, recent research has shown that fewer people use the toilets or urinals that are right by the door – they’re instinctively avoided. A straw poll of my friends confirmed this. Which means that the ones nearest the door get less use, but hopefully still get cleaned as often, so they’re less dirty. Result!

I’ve seen an American recommendation to flush a public toilet before you use it, as well as after. I don’t quite get the logic of this, because if its clean, it’s already been flushed. If in doubt, however, yes, flushing it before you use it can mean that splash caused by peeing from a great height (sorry!) at least happens with clean water. Then flush afterwards so that the next member of the public has a clean (ish) toilet to use.

There’s also “faecal florescence” to consider! The flush of a toilet catapults microscopic water particles high into the air, at least as high as your face. It sounds true to me, but I’ve also seen a Mythbusters TV programme that experimented as only they can, and exploded it definitively as a myth. Still, no harm in getting out of the cubicle as quickly as possible after flushing, just in case …

Toilet seats. You need your toilet seat to be dry, if you’re going to sit on it. For a good portion of the time, most women “hover” – which exercises the thigh muscles, if nothing else. But sometimes you need to sit down, if you’re going to pass a bowel motion, for example: then you have to get the seat dry. There may be very little (or no) toilet paper available, so I’d recommend you carry your own: squeeze some hand gel onto it, and there you are. Many women I speak to do this even now.

Toilet floors. Well, they’re often wet, aren’t they? Is it a leaking cistern, a leaking toilet, or urine from someone who missed the toilet or urinal? I think you need to assume the worst – even if you can see a cistern leak, it doesn’t mean there isn’t another leak, from the dirty water in the toilet, that you can’t see yet. So, at the very least, don’t put your bags down on the floor – hang them up somewhere, or hang them round your neck for that matter. Letting your clothes puddle on the floor isn’t a good idea, and nor is walking in there in bare feet in the summer!

Wash your hands! And if you have to leave the cubicle before you can do that, then touch your own stuff, like bag handles, as little as possible. If you have to touch the exit door of the toilets after you’ve washed your hands, then use a piece of the toilet paper you’ve brought with you to do it, and throw it away afterwards.

Sometimes there are still toilets that are revolting enough that they don’t have water in the basin taps, let alone toilet paper: in that situation, I recommend you vigorously rub your hands together, and then apply antibacterial hand gel and rub vigorously again. I carry my hand gel in a separate little pocket, where I can get at it without touching anything else I’m carrying.


Now, this had to be completely a matter of research – on the web, and with the various men in my life, who stammered through some awkward explanations, because I’m female, you see, and no matter how post-feminist enlightenment has changed the world, women still tend not to use men’s urinals….

Men’s Health magazine reported in 2013 on a Brigham Young University study about men’s use of urinals … astonishing, what universities will study! But this one turns out to have a lot of practical applications, all aimed (sorry!) at keeping the stream of urine intact, to avoid splashback and spreading ordinary bacteria. In a pandemic, obviously, there’s a chance of much worse being spread too, the pandemic virus. It sounds like the students cooked up some sort of artificial bladder to release “urine” at an average rate, filming from all sorts of angles all the while, to test out how much spray was caused, and by what methods. And to avoid “splash crowns”, especially from toilets rather than urinals (where the stream of pee is longer) this is what they found:

– stand close, so your stream of pee doesn’t break up into droplets (because droplets splatter more easily than a steady stream) but not so close that you touch the urinal with any part of your body.

– aim is crucial, as I think most guys already know. But as far as not picking up or passing on infections, aim towards the sides of the urinal at a downward slant; they draw the excellent analogy of keeping the head of foam on your beer to a minimum – you pour it down the side of your glass, not straight in.

– boys who aren’t quite tall enough to use a normal-size urinal should be encouraged to sit on a toilet, or use a footstool to be at the urinal – please don’t make a macho thing out of it!

Check out the Men’s Health Infographic at their site – it genuinely summarises a lot of information very simply!

I wonder if the blokes reading this have any tips? Care to share?

Hygiene At Home

For me, hygiene at home starts when I get home: washing my hands, and if there’s an infection issue, salt water gargling and rinsing my eyes, then drying thoroughly. Outer clothes and shoes, anything I’ve touched while I’m out, and anything that I’ve brought in from outside (such as groceries, new clothes, books, dvds, anything really) sit in my porch for a little while while I think about what needs to be done. Does this sound excessive? I bought a thin, summer weight dressing gown as a gift recently – but I don’t know who’d touched it in the shop that day, or whether they’d just wiped their nose, or a child had coughed on it as they’d walked by.

What to do with used tissues? If someone in your home is streaming with cold or ordinary flu or pandemic flu, I advise putting the tissues into a plastic bag straight away, not just leaving them in an open bin, or worse still putting them on the floor temporarily. Use a small plastic bag, tie it up and throw them away – two, three times a day if necessary. Get the germs out of your house, especially if we’re talking about a life threatening pandemic. I’ve no idea if someone recovering from a case of flu can reinfect themselves from their own tissues, and I have no intention of being the guinea pig! I advise that you think as highly of yourselves too.

If there’s a life threatening pandemic on, and you live in an area that’s at all densely populated, something to consider is when you ventilate your house, for your sake and the sake of your neighbours. You should give your home an airing during times when there are as few people as possible around – so that you pass your germs on as little as possible, and pick up as few germs as possible. You need oxygen more than you need to avoid germs!

There are other elements to hygiene at home, of course, mostly concerned with avoiding food poisoning, so I won’t cover those here.

I think that’s it for now. I do want to write about our immune system, and when we should and shouldn’t help it along – but once again, this is long enough, so I’ll do a Part Three after a while. Not right away though, I’m having fun learning about other things – computers, solar power and bug out bags, to name just a few. But if anyone has any tips on pandemic avoidance, please share in the comments below – it’s one of the most helpful things any of us can do.