All posts by innerteenager

Blog update, and a fortnight in London …

Some time in the last three weeks, this web address was taken over by scammers. Since my last post on here at the end of January, I’d been focussing on digging the remaining brambles out of the garden, and on planning a kitchen renovation (first ever! Exciting but time consuming). Plus the cat sitting which is the subject of the post itself. And the blog fell by the wayside a little bit. In mid March, I started updating, but then there was a problem with a kitchen supplier, and it went by the wayside again. So when I was ready to finally update, it was too late, it had been taken over, and I’ve been working on it for the last four days, on and off. I should have paid more attention to what I wrote here. And I can tell that the links still don’t work properly. More work needed on that.

That leads me to the final update: thank you to the membership on here, for actively supporting me behind the scenes, it’s meant a great deal to me.

On with the blog post.

I’ve just finished up a fortnight’s catsitting gig in London right now, for a set of relatives gone travelling. It’s been interesting from a preparedness viewpoint, particularly being in London with the Brexit countdown reaching it’s final days (maybe).

Food and Water Preps

Everything was very quiet when I arrived (and was the entire time) so the normal preps took precedence. If there was a water main problem, I’m sure bowsers would be set up pretty soon by the local council, but I don’t know the area, I have no proof I’m staying here, and I don’t have my normal range of containers to hold any water I would be able to collect.

Water was first, therefore. I filled a 5 litre pan with water, first thing: after all, a broken water main isn’t exactly unknown in London, and as well as me, I have two shy rescue cats to consider.

Food is tricky: I can’t bring or buy the stocks I usually have at home, life doesn’t work that way. But within a day, I had enough dried foods – sachets of microwave rice, tins of potatoes, baked beans and butter beans, cheese, nuts, dried fruit, and a few kilos of frozen veg – to last a fortnight. All the kind of things I eat anyway, though I’ve been slower in getting my usual sauces and condiments – pesto, tomato puree, soy sauce and honey.

Shelter As Prepping

Shelter is 90% sorted, of course, I’m staying in the flat where the cats were re-homed. There are vulnerabilities, however:

  • A new routine for where you keep the house keys is tricky to set up. You can’t keep them in the door! If there’s a house fire, you need them right away, you can’t take the time to search for them without risking your life. In the end, I decided to keep them, my own house keys, and my train ticket home, in the partially-zipped inner pocket of the fleece that I kept right by my bed.
  • Because the immediate area was so quiet, I don’t think I was in trouble here if there was any sudden rioting, whether about Brexit or about something else. There’s a shopping centre and library two roads over, at a typically busy London junction, with a high street crossing it – I’m sure that’s a much more likely location. I might well get overspill here, and I’d stay alert, but I’m as sure as I can be, that there wouldn’t be any trouble (though see below).
  • Severe weather plus power cut? I haven’t brought a camping stove with me, not even my little hexi stove, which folds down to a ridiculously tiny size. That’s something to think about. But as to what I’d do for today, if this happened: I’d get me and the cats into one room, and one room only. I’d get their food, their fresh litter, the litter trays, the bin for the used stuff, and lots of plastic bags. I’d get water in here, in as many containers as I could find. I’d get all the store cupboard food in here, and I’d scout out the local supermarket to see if I felt okay about going in to buy more. I’d bring in all the duvets and blankets I could find, of course, and my own pack, so I had access to it. It wouldn’t be as liveable as my own place, but I think it would be liveable. There are a lot of candles scattered around the flat, and I have a couple of slimline torches, the sort that run off one AA battery. And my trusty wind up radio.
  • Security. Obviously, I’m not going to parade somebody else’s security all over the web, even though it’s anonymous. But the quality and number of the locks on the doors and windows are good. There’s a metal fence at the boundary of the property that reaches head height. And the flat I’m staying in is on the first floor, not the ground floor. It’s pretty good, as far as these things go.

Financial issues

I’m really thinking of things like a cyber attack on a bank, or the railways or shops. I have food to last me (and the cats), I have plenty of cash I brought with me – again, not as much as I have at home, but that’s a calculated risk – my return ticket home is already paid for and printed, it should be fine. What I haven’t done is bring a lot of change with me: it’s so heavy, it just wasn’t a high enough priority. If there’s problems, I’ll use the notes and be damned.

Leaving the city

But what if there was the sort of trouble that meant I had to leave? I have options: I could take the cats to a local shelter set up by the council, maybe, and tough it out there till my relatives got home from their trip and I could buzz off home? If it was near to the time of their return, I could take my chances and buzz off home anyway, they’ve said to me already that in emergencies I could leave the cats alone, if well set up, for 36 hours or so. And they have local friends who might still be able to step in in an emergency.

I have contacts in London too: a friend who lives only walking distance away from the flat. She’s in the emergency services, however, as well as local government, and I’m sure she’d be out in the thick of whatever it was, helping out.

I also have two other nephews who now live in London: but they both have wives and babies, very young babies, and I’m really not planning to dump myself on them, unless it was something as minimal as “please fill up my water bottle with fresh water before I do the next bit of the trip home”. And I certainly wouldn’t want to impose two problematic cats on them.

My preferred option, in reality, would be to stay in the flat as long as possible, in the hope that things would get sorted out, or that at least my relatives would get home and take care of their own cats. In that scenario, I’d be getting a train back to my own town. In the very worst case scenario, I’d be walking back; I might have to walk the whole way, or there might be buses laid on to get people out, or a relative who lives near my own home might be able to come and fetch me from wherever I’d temporarily landed up. Scouting out the necessary route back, until it joins up with a “bug home” route I’ve already established, is important. And in any of those situations, a good mobile phone and a fully charged power bank would be godsends. I happen to have just bought a power bank, from Anker!

Really, all of this is just a simple thought experiment. There’s an ethical issue underlying some of the above, however. What if I abandon these cats, that have been entrusted to my care? What if they die because of that? What if the situation is resolved just after I abandon them and they still suffer because I didn’t tough it out for them? What would that do to my family relationships in the future, for example? It’s not useful to go through those issues and their permutations here, because that’s totally about the personalities of the people involved, but they’re certainly the kinds of things that need mulling over, to be fully prepared.

Were there any prepping fails? As a matter of fact, yes, two of which happened when I got home:

  • I was so focussed on prepping, I forgot to do the normal things. Like, pack a comb. And I have long hair, so that was a mistake …
  • When I got back home, I did well in getting unpacked and everything put away. By about 6pm, I was ready to put the heat on and sit down. Except I couldn’t, because the battery that runs the wireless thermostat had run down. I had to find a new one so that the heating would even start up. That was an eye opener, and something I’ve been meaning to fix for a long time, having a regimen of battery charging. More on that another time.
  • my cash stash was still in my fleece when I washed it! Luckily, the security pocket is so small, the notes didn’t get tumbled about, and just came out a bit damp. A couple of days draped over a radiator sorted that.

In the meantime, life goes on. As well as ordinary days out, I’ve had some interesting trips of a prepping nature – a city farm based in disused tube tunnels, an exhibition about how to grow more food within the city, checking out a crafting superstore and even emergency water sources. The latter was totally an excuse to walk along the banks of a well-kept river, and very pleasant it was too. The weather showed me it could throw a fit sometimes too, as dustbin lids were being blown down the street. As I say, life goes on.

Brexit. Again.

There’s only one topic for anyone who identifies as being into preparedness in the UK right now: Brexit, unfortunately. I’m completely sick of the political shenanigans from politicians of every hue, and I think it’s pretty much insane to trust a word that any of them says.

The only thing we absolutely know is that today is 31st January, and we’re supposed to leave the EU on 29th March, and that’s really not very long. Currently, the Conservatives seem to be waivering about asking for an extension: who knows if they’ll get it together to ask, who knows what the EU will say, refusing/ accepting/ making a counter-offer. 29th March really isn’t very far away: eight weeks tomorrow, in fact. Jeez, that’s really not long, and as some people have been pointing out, it’s right in the “hungry gap” – the percentage of our food that we import will be at it’s highest. The first of the harvests is yet to come through, and the weather might be very bad, it might even be a cold spell like the one we currently have. Though it could be a balmy early spring, who knows?

And that’s the point. We don’t know – about the weather, about whether the politicians can get their acts together, about whether the businesses and government departments who say they’re stockpiling are doing it, about whether those stockpiles will be enough.

Preppers traditionally take stock of low probability-high impact events. But Brexit, we absolutely know that it’s coming, just like winter in Westeros.   We don’t know what the impact will be, not really: I suspect it won’t be quite as bad as has been touted, but that might be my own normalcy bias. I also suspect – well, I know to be an absolute truth – that I can’t completely trust any organisation out there, to put my interests first. Government departments, private companies, even charities: the latter, especially, mean well, but they only have so many resources, so many volunteers or workers.

So I have to look out for my own needs, and just like a parent on an aircraft that’s having an emergency, I put my own needs first and then look out for what I can do for others. I certainly don’t want to get caught up in panic buying, or rioting either come to that.

And it’s the staples we need to look after, of course, perfectly ordinary, really: food, water, and shelter, which includes not only a safe place to live, but also fuel to heat it. I’m assuming that you’ve long ago made the decision to “keep a good pantry”, to have what we’re now calling a stockpile, apparently. As a prepper, surely you keep a good amount on hand? Even preppers are limited by their storage availability, of course.

So rather than saying, “this is what you should be storing”, I’m saying, these are the issues that you probably want to consider before you finish up on your Brexit preps:

– if you’re only just started prepping, and you just have a couple of weeks’ food and water on hand, consider getting more, because the potential lorry gridlock we’re hearing about might well last quite a bit longer than that.

– if you normally store for six months or so, do you want to increase that? Ask yourself why, what do you consider might happen?

– if space is an issue, dried food might be a big part of your way forward, it’s much denser. It needs more preparation, thats true, so it probably shouldn’t be the only sort of food you store.

– are you growing anything edible in your garden? If not, I strongly recommend you do. People are short of time, yes, but there’s always something that can be done.

– there may be interruptions to the power supply, partly because 6% of our electricity comes directly from the EU via big seabed interconnectors. But as mygridgb says (and it’s a very transparent site, check out the About page), even the energy we generate in this country relies on imports: “nearly every form of electricity generator in the UK relies on some form of import; the majority of our fossil fuels is imported; nuclear fuel is imported; much of our solar panels are manufactured abroad etc”.

Given this situation, short term and long term, how will you cope for heating and cooking? There are many potential sources, all of which have their advantages and disadvantages: butane, petrol, gas, solid fuel, gel, kelley kettles and rocket stoves can all contribute, but whichever you pick, you absolutely have to practice beforehand and know what you’re doing.

I suspect that for a lot of people, the statements above will be self evident. I hope it’s all a fuss about nothing, and a compromise of some sort will be found, but I really can’t imagine what it might be.

Anyway, to end, I thought I’d just make a few notes about the extra things I’m doing, that aren’t covered in “stock up on food, water and fuel”:

– rationalising the supplies I already have. My first aid stocks, my dried peas and beans and lentils, I’ve kept a fair inventory, but they’ve definitely become disorganised, so I’ve organised things to fit well in their spaces, and more accessibly too. I’d let a few gaps in the stocks develop, and those are now filled.

– organising information. I have a nice slim bookcase, 3 shelves high, stacked with books on first aid, food preservation, gardening, home maintenance, security, all sorts of things. I also have literally hundreds of prepping books stored on my kindle account: how to sharpen hand tools, types of wood and the best way to use them for fires for heating, leatherwork, hunting rabbits, map reading, sharpening garden shears, all sorts of specialised little books. Far too many to have as physical copies, so I’ve not only got my little kindle, I’ve got the kindle app on my laptop, with plenty of space for even the most niche books, like lockpicking, and opening lift doors. I love books like that.

– setting up the garden. My garden has some good edible perennials in, including herbs, but its not what you’d call full, and over the last couple of years, a fair number of perennial weeds, like bramble and couch grass, have made their way in, while I’ve been up north on family business. Now I’m back full time, I’m working on clearing the weeds away for good, as well as setting up some house plants that are beneficial – chili, aloe vera, things like that – and that all stands me in good stead too.

– working on the garden has given me opportunities to chat more to the neighbours, about their thoughts, the sort of pantry they keep, and the neighbourhood in general. Anything that solidifies local bonds is good.

And that’s the idea, to be in good stead. It’s not only about having enough food and water: it’s also about having them before a panic sets in earlier than the event itself, for instance.

Stay warm. Stay safe.

 

 

Community

Having fun togetherChristmas and the New Year are times of celebration and fun in our society, mostly at any rate, and whether or not you’re religious, there’s a lot of fun to be had. In relation to prepping, it’s a good time to think about community, and what that means. Does that mean the people in your street? Is it local people who share some of your aims? Is it a set of people all over the UK, all over the world, even? Of course, community is all of these things.

And we all need communities, whether they’re in person or online. Humans are social animals, we gather together to share, in good times and in bad. “It takes a village to raise a child”, is one way of saying this. “The Blitz spirit” is another, possibly. And local voluntary organisations are another way still of finding a community with which to share.

An example that I’ve found recently, in my own town, is a Christmas Tree Festival: dozens of decorated christmas trees all casually laid out in a central building. They happen to be in a church, but they could be anywhere. Little groups of people came together to make them – primary school classes, pensioners’ groups, local firms, local voluntary groups, faith organisations, sports groups, all sorts. And the total effect was stunning, accompanied by live organ music, in a very dramatic arena.

So, what does that represent? Community, that’s what. The groups that decorated the trees. The group that coordinated the festival. The skills that were learned or practised to make the decorations. The way it was advertised all over the county. All the people who went to see it (and often they met with people they knew in other contexts – again, building community).

One person, one family, they can’t do everything, the first biggish emergency will prove that to you. One family that’s always alone can’t even thrive, not really – that social need will always come to the fore, sooner or later, whether it’s for the fun of a midwinter festival, or surviving another Beast From The East. The need for more skills and strength than one family can possibly possess will also come to the fore, at some point. And building community before you actually, desperately need it is one of the best preparations for the future you could ever make.

Air ambulance

The enjoyable part of all this is contained in that Christmas Tree Festival, and it really was purely for fun, of course. You can see from the main photo how wonderful it looks, 80 or so Christmas trees of all sorts of different colours, all crammed in to a single building. It was splendiferous. But the skills and co-operation are real, and they could very easily be adapted directly in time of need, when prepping might be a matter of life and death. Notice that the local Air Ambulance is represented.

All those skills, and all those contacts and organisations could be used during floods, power cuts, storms, snow, and terrorist attacks too. And of course they’re used constantly in everyday life too, for smaller day to day events, whether they’re positive or negative (having a picnic together, or sharing lifts in a car when there’s a transport problem).

Give and take is essential in the long term, and most people prefer it that way. There are always some exceptions, whether they’re people who don’t like to accept help or people who expect to be helped no matter what the inconvenience to others. That doesn’t really build community, of course, it just makes other people wary of helping someone like that. At the very least, it’s good to learn who those people are before you absolutely have to know. In very bad times, hard decisions would have to be made about people like that. We’re not there now, and maybe we won’t ever be, but it’s got to be good to understand the situation.

So, you can sow the seeds for that this winter, with little things. It’s not the right time of year now to send Christmas cards, of course, but maybe you send New Year cards, or thank you notes. Maybe you stop to chat with a neighbour when you’ve only ever said hello before. Maybe you shovel someone’s path clear.

Maybe you volunteer for work that’s needed locally. Litter picking, park maintenance, even library worker. Anything that fits in with the way you think about prepping. Less litter is good for your kids and the local wildlife, discouraging other potential litter droppers. A park is good for your kids and for you: they can run around, you can loll about and you might find or help plant some edible perennials in there. Libraries literally are founts of knowledge – some of that knowledge could be related to prepping in some way.

And tonight is New Year’s Eve, when many of us will peak the evening by singing Auld Lang Syne – remembering old acquaintances, old friends. Singing about how important it is to respect your links to your friends, your community. And making toasts to the future.

I make a toast now, to you all: to your health and happiness. See you on the other side.

 

Brexit and Preparedness

It’s been the only big new topic in the UK for months, unfortunately – though at least it’s got a lot of new people talking about being prepared. If you’re one of them, welcome! Don’t get scared, get ready.

The crunch date is 29th March 2019 just four months away.

I had a look at the official information online from the UK and the EC, it’s all about No Deal, or persuading us to Go For The Deal – and if I’d read even a one paragraph summary of it in the body of a blog post, I’d be running away screaming. So I’ve put it at the bottom, in blue italics, to ignore it more easily; I wanted people to be able to see it if they felt the need, though.

And that sums it up, really: their wordiness, mistakes, miscommunications, mindless optimism is unworthy of all of us. I absolutely do not trust these people to supply my food, my medicines, my fuel and my equipment around the turning point at the end of March next year. I won’t get into the politics of it, as that’s even more of a nightmare in my opinion, I just want to focus on the strategies for ordinary citizens to cope with this mess.

What to do? What do we do? A lot of the answer is bog-standard preparedness. Food, water, fuel. Plus cash, and documents, which are also bog-standard in their own way.

Food

Stock up! We import 40% of our food, and think about what happens when there’s a strike that lasts longer than a few days: fresh food gets a bit short, and/or goes up in price. I can see wobbles in the supply chain easily lasting a couple of weeks, and food that comes from outside the EU will also be affected – think of the queues of container lorries in Kent that we see when French port workers go on strike – everything is affected, from everywhere. All food can be expected to be in short supply sometimes, and to be more expensive in general. We don’t have time to grow anything except microgreens, sprouting shoots and maybe winter veg like kale … so stock up! What should you stock up on? Use the old prepper proverb: eat what you store, store what you eat.

Water

Well, we definitely have our own water, don’t we! Except our water supply companies also need water purification chemicals, and electricity to run the pumps and other parts of the system. The chemicals, and the energy, may need to be imported – I don’t know about the chemicals, I’m afraid, though I’m pretty sure we don’t produce our own. But I know we import some energy and this is the UK government’s optimistic little piece of “this is what we need to do”. 

If you never have before, now is the time to stock up on at least a few days emergency supply of water, plus some purification tablets and a filter, if possible. A week would be better. Any problems may simply be about boiling the water that arrives in your pipes, but spending a few pounds on some water bottles, and maybe some wet wipes, will certainly give you peace of mind and flexibility.

Fuel

As I mentioned above, we import fuel. This is the Ofgem description of one of the ways we do it and I notice that the link to Northern Ireland is included in that. Hmmm. In any case, notice that those links are all about the EC. What if we had a snowy April? And the new regulatory systems weren’t able to cope? Do you have easy access to alternate heating? Lighting? How will you heat your food, and your water?

Equipment

Anything that comes to us from abroad, anything at all. Even if it comes from outside the EU, like China, it may come via a third party inside the EU, and it may simply be caught up in the generalised queuing and delays that are almost bound to develop. A sewing machine. Kids’ toys. Shoes. Car parts. All and any of it could be caught up in a snarled-up system.

Cash

We’re starting to get used to banking systems crashing occasionally, and the people who get affected always need cash, because it’s the only thing that isn’t gummed up by a computer crash. Imagine if that kind of crash was nationwide, affecting everyone? How long would it take to get things going again? I strongly recommend everyone to have available as much cash as you can, as safely as you can. Remember there are thieves, too, who find cash nice and easy.

And another element of this: if you know you need to pay a bill in the first half of April, try to pay it before the end of March – if the banking systems get constipated, you might get accidentally overdrawn, you might get a penalty fine, you might have a red mark on your file, who knows.

Documents

Make sure you have at least a couple of sets of documents of anything you need: insurance, pensions, travel tickets (even if you’re not travelling abroad). Any of the systems that use this information might get clunky, overwhelmed by the new inputs, so you need to be able to prove that what you’re saying is true. A paper copy, and at least one electronic copy, is preferable. Two is better, of course!

Northern Ireland is in a special situation with all this, because of it’s land border with an EC state, the Republic of Ireland. The physical reality on the ground has always been that it’s a pretty porous border, and over the years shopping over the border has become very common. I’d bet a lot of money that that will continue, but how much administrative interference there’ll be is anybody’s guess.

The absolute worst I’m expecting to happen is the sort of disruption we experience when there’s a big strike, and that’s liveable with, of course. Though if you’re the one who has to boil your water, or miss out on a holiday, or spend the night in a queue of cars, or be unable to buy your monthly season train ticket, then it will feel really bad, I expect. If your preps enable you not to fall foul of these sorts of Brexit-caused problems, then that would be a good thing. Go for it.

 

OFFICIAL “INFORMATION”:   FEEL FREE TO IGNORE

This is the list of the UK government’s guidance papers in case of a no-deal Brexit. Nearly all of them are about how businesses can prepare: but of course, businesses provide to the public – food, travel, equipment – so a lot of it is directly relevant to all of us. The plan, however, seems to have been to make it as awkward or as boring as possible to get the information. To get to a page that gives any kind of information at all is a three-step process, and the first 8 short paragraphs are identical in each paper. Not exactly consumer friendly.

And that’s an important point: in spite of one of the Aviation papers saying that air passengers should know this information, none of it is really geared to individuals, it’s all about businesses.

This shameful website is a government propaganda machine all on it’s own. Obviously, it’s primarily meant to be read on mobiles – on a laptop, I warn you, it looks like it’s meant for five year olds, but I suppose that’s how most new websites are. I had a little look at the Brexit Blog, which is so far a few responses to newspaper articles. That’s fair enough, but the one I managed to look at is just at the level of “they said this, and it’s not true”. And as for the “40 reasons to back the Brexit deal”. Omigod, I’ve never read such a simplistic official summary of such a complex historic situation.

The EU itself has a slightly more informative introductory page: although the link to the European Medicines Agency, for example, was broken, at least I could then find a press update, dated October, about what’s going on.

The Irish government actually has a pretty good list of papers. This is the main link and this, for example, is the link to the paper about international recognition of professional qualifications, which is something that really is of importance to a lot of people, including members of my own family.

 

 

 

Bonfire time

First burn in the new incinerator

We’re right in the middle of the time of year when bonfires are most used – by me too – so they seemed a good topic, especially as I remember very clearly how tentative I was when I first started burning some of my garden waste. Wood ash is great spread over the garden, of course, that’s why we burn it – to look after your soil is common sense as a prepper. And in doing that, you’re using something of value that would otherwise be wasted. Win-win.

Before you start

Are there any local bye-laws about when you can get one going, or allotment regulations if that’s where you’re siting it?

Will you inconvenience any neighbours? Ash all over a set of washing will not make you popular.

Is your bonfire material dry enough? Has it been raining heavily in the last few days? Stacking your branches upright, as opposed to letting them lay on the ground, will help, but if they’re soaking wet, it still won’t be an easy bonfire to get going.

Is your bonfire material old enough? Using prunings that are only a couple of days old just isn’t good enough to get a good fire going, they need some ageing, just like wood for a stove. Wood that’s comparatively dry means the fire will be less smoky, and will burn more efficiently

Don’t leave your bonfire material stacked in place, under any circumstances. Wildlife, especially hedgehogs, will creep in and use it as shelter. You do need to stack your material, of course – just burn it in a different spot, that’s all.

Not everything is suitable for burning, even if it’s natural wood: cherry laurel leaves have an appreciable percentage of cyanide. The thicker branches should be fine, but the leaves, in any big concentration, are not.

MDF, and painted and/or treated wood, of course, are not suitable for burning, not least because they’ll add toxins to your soil when you spread the ash.

Stack of wood ready for burning

Incinerator

For me, the tipping point came when I realised I didn’t want to build a bonfire directly on the ground, because of the potential for damage to my few-and-far-between worms – and any other healthy insects and bacteria scattered around, come to that. Several friends have assured me that worms go deep, in the cold and if they sense a bonfire’s heat, but for me, it made sense to have an incinerator, to do away with the problem altogether. It also does away with the problem of where to site it: in my tiny little 35 foot garden, with wood stacked here, there and everywnere waiting for me to get my bonfire act together, it just got too difficult.

Bonfire structure

So I used an incinerator. I have a bed in the bottom of scrunched up paper – plain brown parcel paper, paper bags, newspaper, things like that. No colour pages, nothing shiny – the additives are toxic in soil.

On the bed of paper,. I lay, or more accurately dump, twigs – as many handfuls as seem right at the time, one of my biggest discoveries is that this really isn’t a science, it’s an art form. On top of that, a personal choice: I have woollen rugs, and I have long hair, and the leavings from both of those things go on top of the twiglets. You’d be surprised how that builds up, and they act as the initial tinder, for the flames to first catch.

On top of that – there are small twiglets – not the snack! But instead, very thin twigs, quite small, just scattered over the bottom layers.

And filling up about half of the remainder, I lodge slightly bigger twigs, almost small branches, but I put those in vertically – these are starting to be the real fuel of the real bonfire, not just the starter elements.

Standing by, for when the flames are going well, are much bigger branches. I don’t bother sawing them ready, I just have them put by and when I want to use them, and hold them and stand on them to break them into the kind of size I want for the incinerator.

Of course, big branches like this could be used inside a multi-fuel stove indoors, and even in an emergency, it might feel good to gather around a bonfire. We do it every 5th November, after all.

Not using an incinerator?

And most people don’t, after all.   It’s especially important to watch over the burn, and see that when it spreads, you rake it back in to a pile, maybe with a rake or a garden fork.

You’ll almost certainly burn more than I’m able to burn in my incinerator, so the cool-down period will be correspondingly longer. If you can handle the ashes with your bare hands, then it’s fine to move them.

Accelerant

Now we get to it!   You need this, especially I confess, at first I used shop-bought firelighters. I’d bought them about a thousand years ago, and decided I might as well use them as keep them. Once they were gone, I experimented with dunking a few twigs in vaseline, and then with squirting hand gel onto a few. The vaseline seems to work, I have a lot and I don’t use it for anything else, so that’s what I use now, if I need it at all.

The light itself, I just use matches – no lighters, no flints, no batteries or bow drills. I have all of those things, but I have matches too, and they’re my go-to choice. It can take a while to catch, but when it does, it’s a steady job to keep it fed.

While a bonfire is alight

You keep an eye on it, first and foremost. Partly for safety – local animals, both tame and domestic, should be kept safe from it. If half burnt branches fall or pop out of it, you need to rake them back in. If sparks fly and ignite something they shouldn’t, you need to put out unwanted flames. You certainly don’t want your crops going up in smoke.

With such a small incinerator as I have, the bonfire needs constant feeding – I don’t have a huge monster of a firepit that means I put tree stumps on there to gradually burn down. Once I’ve worked on getting it going, I want to do as much as I can in one go. And it always amazes me how much I can burn before it gets full, and how small is the amount of ash.

If you’ve taken a break, and the fire has almost died down, it’s very simple – you put some of the smaller twigs on, even more twists of newspaper. There are no rules – a bonfire is just a way to get this material into a state that can be used in the garden.

Dying down

Let it die, basically – let it take its time to use every scrap of material that can be burned, and then let it cool down in it’s own time. It doesn’t matter if it’s rained on, just let it happen. Even for my little incinerator, this usually takes a whole day. I don’t distribute the ash into the garden after each bonfire. I “stack” it in a corner, along with crushed, roasted eggshells and the contents of used teabags. This lets it age slightly, which I think is a good thing, and also lets me dose a good-sized portion of the garden in one go.

And one more thing

A countrywoman for whom I have massive respect told me a great way to use a bonfire that’s lit on the ground: burning off handles of old tools, handles that are full of woodworm and can’t be saved. It needs a little delicacy, to learn to put the handle into the edge of the fire, and not the tool itself, so the metal tempering isn’t harmed.

Bonfires.  You have to love them.  I absolutely do.

Cyber Security

Cats don’t care about your online safety

The first thing to be said is that all of this is incredibly basic to anyone who’s really knowledgeable, but it’s still new and unknown to a lot of people. I’m not an expert, not at all, but I do most, though not all of this stuff – I don’t use a Password Manager, for example, my own (probably quite arbitrary) gut reaction is that I’d just be giving another hostage to fortune. I think I could describe myself as a committed lay person! I hope it helps.

Software and Apps

Install the latest updates and software, of browsers, operating systems and display software – they nearly always contain security upgrades and fixes.

Firewall and anti-virus software

If there’s an out-and-out attack, you need these, badly. Make sure you have them. Check out their comparative benefits at a site you trust already; for me, thats one of the big ones, or a consumer finance website like moneysavingexpert, which has the added bonus of showing you how to get what you want as cheaply as possible.

The National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre (at the Action Fraud link below) offers free cybercrime protection named Quad9 and DMARC. I haven’t independently researched these yet, but that sounds a great offer.

Passwords

Use a strong, secure password, notably for your email accounts. They can be used to gain access to all sorts of other accounts, including financial accounts.

Don’t use the same password for different accounts: that way, if one account does get hacked, the criminal won’t get access to your other accounts. GetSafeOnline recommends using three random words to create a strong password. Numbers and symbols can still be integrated into that, of course, for example SixBeaches18lorries** On another site, you might use SevenBooms47lychees((. Those are the same initials and processes, but almost completely different even so.

Don’t use anything that you would ever mention on social media: a child or partner’s name, a pet, a place of birth, favourite holiday, or a sports team. Keep it random but memorable for you, and you alone.

Where available, always use two-step authentication on your accounts. It adds an extra layer of insurance.

Safeguarding your data

Back up your computer regularly. It’s useful to store data in the cloud, but what would happen to your data if that firm was hacked? I store hobby data in the cloud, items that are important to me, but have no security implications at all. Backups should be safe too. An interesting point from CyberAware: make sure the external hard drive you use isn’t permanently connected to your device, either physically or over a local network connection.

I back up to an external hard drive regularly, kept in a fireproof “briefcase” type safe, which is stored somewhere safe (against burglars, against the house catching fire). If I have a particularly important set of documents and don’t have time to do a full backup, I’ll back up to a flash drive, stored in the same way. A set of flash drives is held in my bag ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Your device

Use a password to open and enter your computer or smartphone. Even if you do lose it, your data is then more safe. Can it also be encrypted? Check it out.

Use a surge protector – they’ve dropped in price tremendously in the last five years, and they’re well worth it. Many preppers think an EMP is inevitable – think how much more likely a too-near bolt of lightning is! It really is as simple as an extra plug at the mains.

Tape over the camera lens on the computer, the one that faces you. You don’t know if your computer might fall victim to a remote control hack, and then potentially anything you do in front of your computer screen is viewable to the hackers. Protection is as simple as a strong piece of tape that can easily be pulled back if you want to skype or facetime.

Catching fire

A very focussed news item from Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue tells its own story: basically, don’t leave your laptop while its charging, and don’t leave it by combustible material (such as books!), don’t overload your sockets. Believe it or not, there’s a guide about not overloading sockets.

News to me, but I’m definitely using that in future.

Emails

Books have been written about malignant emails: just don’t open anything that you don’t already know or expect. If you’re not sure, hover over the Sender column – it should show the real email address of the sender, which can be quite an eye-opener.

Drive-by phone thefts

Whether you’re speaking with friends, or consulting Google Maps, it’s likely you’ll have your phone out at some stage when you’re on the street. I do myself. The only thing I can think of to do is to watch the local environment and to stand well away from the road, turned away from it, in fact.  If you have suspicions, don’t get your phone out!  Or go somewhere quieter, and safer.

Authorised Push Payments

Which, the consumer organisation, made a “super complaint” to the Payment Systems Regulator. This is the history of it, and the response.  

The techniques used by criminals have become extremely sophisticated, mostly based on intercepting legitimate communications between the individual and their bank, or conveyance, or savings organisation, and diverting payments, with the agreement of the victim – which is what currently lets the banks say it’s our own fault, when it’s often a criminal either inside the bank or attacking the bank’s communications systems. Official websites aren’t yet covering the steps that individuals can take to guard against this – which says to me that it’s understood that it’s not individuals who are primarily responsible. But there are some things we can do, even so.  I found these paragraphs at a private company’s website, at this link, and well done to Pettyson, a regional estate agent, for such clear, concise wording:

What you can do to protect yourself from APP fraud

Proactively protecting yourself from this kind of fraud can be difficult, as hackers can strike at any time. However, changing passwords frequently and using long and complicated alphanumeric strings – including upper and lower case letters along with special characters – is a good place to start, but these can be a pain to use. To help with this, password managers such as LastPass are highly recommended.

While frequently changing your email account’s password may scupper some scammers, others may still get through, so the best line of defence will always be your common sense. If anything at all seems fishy, be suspicious. In fact, be suspicious even if all seems well! You simply cannot be too careful.

Give the company asking for payment a ring to see if the request is legit. Dig out old paper records or search Google for the company in question to find their contact details – do not under any circumstances use the contact details listed in the email, as these are likely to be those of the hacker, not the genuine company.

If you are requested to make a significant payment (even if it is one you are expecting) via email, making a small payment first and then checking that the recipient is who it is supposed to be before transferring the rest can help protect your money. While it may be more inconvenient to make two payments instead of one, it’s a small price to pay if you want to keep your finances safe and avoid joining the tens of thousands of people who have already been adversely affected by APP fraud.

Finally, if you own a business that could potentially be targeted with APP fraud, make it a matter of course to call the beneficiary of payments over a set amount. Also, agree a ‘safe word’ with your accounts department and insist they call you before making any payment over a certain figure, it could save you thousands. Similarly, alarm bells should ring if you are ever asked to make a payment to alternative bank account to a regular beneficiary or supplier. Be on your guard…it’s a real threat.

Those are the main points I want to cover right now, but I’m absolutely sure there’s dozens and dozens of other points to be made – if anyone wants to share what they know or what they’ve found, please feel free. It will help us all.  In the meantime, some useful websites:

UK Police: Action Fraud

UK government: Cyberaware

UK public/private sector partnership: Get Safe Online

UK charity furthering the work of the Electrical Safety Council: Electrical Safety First

Skills Practice

I was run off my feet in July and August – up and down the length of the country, twice, for eight days at a time, to help with the DIY at my late mother’s house, before selling it. It was good to spend that amount of time with my closest relatives (who were doing the same thing) but it did mean that once I got back home, I wanted to chill out, and any remaining focus I had, had to be on my own garden, to stop it going completely wild. It still isn’t under control, but I can see how it might be. More than a week’s catsitting in London recently added to the sense of rush, as did the reality that there’s a lot of other weeks coming up soon when my time isn’t my own – all good things in their own right, but they all mean I can’t work on my own preps even the little amount that I have managed to do.

So, what to do?

Well, stopping the garden turning back to wilderness is still priority when I’m at home. And when I’m away, skills practice. With kit that I own, but don’t currently have the expertise to use. My bad for letting myself get into that situation, but all this time away from my own house has meant practising is suddenly a desirable activity.

Skills practice with nunchucks, radio and garden twine.

Knots

Argh! I remember how to do a reef knot from Brownies: “left over right and under, right over left and under”. Then I started reading NetKnots and AnimatedKnots and oh dear me, how unreliable a reef knot can be! But the new-to-me knots were horrifyingly difficult. Right now, I’ve only learned the sheet bend, which was recommended to me as an important one – to me, at least, it looks kind of like a reef knot, but so far its construction is very different. But at least I’ve done it, with more to follow.

Radio

I carry this gorgeous little radio everywhere, when I stay away from my own property overnight. And I’ve never got to grips with its operation, embarrassingly. It takes AAA batteries, but I decided to see if it would actually charge up using the solar cells. And it did, though it took its own sweet time about it. The torch is easy to switch to, and it works, and at the other end of the functions range is a siren, which on an ordinary day is horrendously loud. So that’s good. The rest, not so much. I know that analogue radio is going out, rapidly, but according to Ofcom there are very local services that are still available. So, it can still be useful, but I’m going to add a digital radio very soon. My phone has a radio app, of course, but having a separate radio facility is important, I think.

Nunchuck practice

I went to a self defence class, about a million years ago, held at a community hall in the next town over from me. The timing made it impossible for me to go along regularly at that stage, and I dropped out, but not before I’d bought some training nunchucks, made of foam. They’re available on Amazon nowadays. They’re quite cute, in an odd sort of way, and there are lots of free youtube videos about using them. So when the cats were off doing other things (even when they’re only made of foam, they’re hard, and you have to swing pretty fast) I gave it a go. They’re really difficult to use! But I can see that they could be very useful to gain flexibility and coordination. It reminded me of the childhood game of patting your head and rubbing your stomach, or learning to use my computer mouse with my other hand when I had an operation on my shoulder: very tricky at first, but quite a sense of accomplishment when you stop wobbling all over the place.  I felt a bit strange doing it at all, but I needed something physical to do while I was staying in the flat, and this is what I chose.

Clearing my own garden carries on in the background as I said, of course, and from all these activities, there’s a couple of things that stand out:

  • little bits, small contributions to your preparedness, make a difference, sometimes in unexpected ways.  Not only do they add up, there are loops of positive feedback that are great to experience.

  • skills and practice matter just as much as kit. If I didn’t have the kit, I couldn’t do any of the knotwork, radio listening or flexibility work; but if I didn’t do the practice, then all those objects are just objects, just extra weight and mass to carry.

There’s a cliché that’s very apt: keep on learning. And right now I’m off to tend to my dehydrator, which is also humming away in the background. Till next time.

Preparedness on holiday

I’ve been away for a fortnight, on a new-to-me type holiday: a Norwegian cruise. Jawdroppingly beautiful and I’m so, so glad I did it, but it definitely posed some preparedness-type questions for me. The main one is this: in travelling by train, plane, ship or even coach, you automatically give away some of your power to the person in charge of whatever mode of transport it is. Is it worth it to you? In my case, the answer was definitely yes: I haven’t had a holiday abroad for a while, because of illness and dodgy finances, and this felt like the healthiest way to get back abroad and start to see the world again.

Funnily enough, the questions of attitudes to safety came up when the ship was travelling down a fjord one day. Someone asked what the Norwegian attitude to danger was, and our Norwegian guide replied, “Norway is a dangerous place to live. There are avalanches, tsunami, rock falls, freezing temperatures, hurricane-force winds, and snow and ice, and until the oil boom it was also a very poor place, the poorest in Western Europe. So the Norwegian way is to live each day, not to worry, and enjoy the beauty. We’re not used to dotting the i and crossing the t.”  It was fascinating, and I found this set of danger signals, at the foot of a glacier, showing how different things are in Norway.

Norwegian dangers: avalanche, rockfall, tsunami, drowning, snow suffociation.

For me, once I’d booked the holiday, one question was what preps to take? I had to take normal holiday stuff: everyday wear (down to 3 degrees C). A few nice clothes. The bits and bobs for two weeks travel. What preps did I have room for and couldn’t do without?

  • a good quality jacket.

  • hat, scarves and gloves (double quantities in case of soaking/loss).

  • sunscreen and sunglasses too.

  • whistle and signalling mirror.

  • windup radio, compass.

  • tiny little 1” knife on my keyring as usual, and the seatbelt cutter (which is bigger, and raised a few eyebrows).

  • high quality snacks, like peanut butter and dried fruit.

  • screwdriver for glasses and sunglasses.

  • first aid kit and water purification tabs.

  • printouts of important documents: ticket, day trips I’d bought, the travel insurance. And notes of important numbers: my passport, my EHIC card, my ‘lost credit card’ and ‘lost phone’ numbers, that sort of thing.

And that was that, really. Quite a lot of that was A few things I missed out on were an alarm clock, which got pretty desperate at times – we were sailing in and out of the Norwegian mobile signal, and the phone kept resetting itself. Setting an alarm for an early morning trip became impossibly tricky, and we never got it right, just resigning ourselves to losing an hour of sleep on some days. And the other prep I missed out on was a strap to my camera: I was forever hanging it out over a two hundred feet drop, minimum, with no safety backup whatsoever. So the preps I actually took along were absolutely fine, in other words.

There was a mandatory evacuation drill for the passengers before we even set sail, which was interesting, and the crew were obviously well-versed in it all, though I found it to be distracting to be crammed into the actual muster space like sardines. Much more engaging was watching the weekly evacuation drill carried out by the crew themselves: checking the cabins were empty, safeguarding the stairs, and launching the lifeboats (which are used as ship’s tenders regularly in any case, when there’s no berth big enough to take the ship – that happens regularly in Norway, as flat space is so limited). It was obvious that some crew members were being cross-trained in lifeboat navigation, practising the slow manoeuvres that would be needed if the situation were real, and they needed to pick up people floating in the sea.

Lifejackets

Ship’s tender cum lifeboat

The other big security measure is that each time you went off the ship, you went through a full security scan to be allowed back on, airport style security. The crew went through exactly the same procedures as well. I wasn’t expecting it, and it was a little confusing the first time – lots of “this way, over here, no not there” but the after that it ran completely smoothly.

Storm Hector affected us badly – about 30% of the itinerary was changed to avoid wave heights of ten metres, that would have lasted up to three days up there, up at the latittude of Murmansk. And it was interesting what the captain had to say about what he had to take account of, on behalf of passengers and crew: firstly safety, then comfort. And after that, it was a mix of the weather forecast updates, the local geography, the local port facilities and existing bookings, the availability of excursions and guides, and the speed of the ship in those conditions. I can’t praise him enough, really: as it was, we were in two separate storms with wave heights of three metres – I really wouldn’t have wanted to experience anything like ten times as big. Awful.

We didn’t know how big the waves we’d face were going to get, of course, so the first time this was an issue, we “secured” the cabin: everything that we could put away, including toiletries in the bathroom, we packed away. I’ve been seasick even on cross-Channel ferries in the past, and I knew from experience that I couldn’t look after my belongings if I felt that bad – I’d have just let everything crash down around me, quite frankly.  As you can see from the photo immediately below, some of the areas we went through were tricky for such a big boat: rocks all over the place, very beautiful, but potentially very dangerous, even in calm waters maybe.

Dangerous waters

In the end, it was unnecessary. As were a lot of other preps, but of course, good preparation that doesn’t go over the top means you can relax and enjoy whatever comes. Even if that includes involuntary shifting around in your bed, lulled by three metre waves.

I had a great time, saw some beautiful sights, met a lot of interesting people. I’ll definitely be doing something similar next year.

Keeping your body cool. Pets’ bodies too.

Lovely summer day, own photo

So, part two – keeping your body cool, keeping your pets cool, and keeping your food cool.

Like anything else, there are occasions that feel like emergencies, or when you simply want something to happen fast. So, for immediate relief:

  • stash wetwipes in the freezer, use as needed.

  • hold your wrists under cold running water.   Maybe use a bowl, since it’s also important to conserve water if you can.

  • soak a flannel with cold water, use it as a cold compress for your face and your head.

  • have a cool bath or shower. Even just splashing will help.

  • if you’re very short for time and severely overheated, stick your head under the cold tap!

Keep bottles of water in the fridge, or even the freezer, make some of the ones in the fridge the shop-bought fizzy ones for a treat.

Fill “hot” water bottles with water, and put them in the fridge, ready for you to take to bed.

Use loosely-plaited paracord, or even hair scrunchies, around the wrists, well-soaked to keep you cool as the water evaporates.

Have a tepid shower or strip wash before going to bed. Don’t towel yourself down. Evaporating water is key.

Know your own body, your own symptomatology – what does heat do to you in particular? Balance problems and migraines can be worse in heat, even though aches and pains can feel temporarily better.

Carry a parasol or umbrella to use as a sunshade.

Clothing and bedding

Wear loose, lightweight, light-coloured clothing, made of natural fibres, indoors and out. Cotton is best. Cover up your skin as much as possible.

Use a cotton top sheet and a light weight cotton blanket to pull on and off. Dampen the sheet with ice water, or use it before it’s dried after washing.

Don’t bother wearing underwear, if you can get away with it! If you can’t, wear cotton – it’s more absorbent. In any case, wear as little as possible on your own property.

Wear a wide brimmed hat when out and about. This protects you from sunburn, but also provides valuable shade from the heat, of course.

Footwear is crucial to comfort! Wear comfortable open flat sandals to prevent swelling feet if you have to walk anywhere.

Eating and drinking

Fill empty bottles with water and keep them in the fridge to use on their own or with a few frozen berries, a wedge of citrus or any of your favourite fruits. Make sure you have plenty of ice cubes.

Food for hot weather: salads and curries! I don’t do the curry thing myself in hot weather, but plenty of people do, and it originates in hot countries, so … more power to your elbow.

If you’re going to cook, do it in the most efficient way possible, so that you heat the house up as little as possible: cooking early in the day, using the microwave or slow cooker, using a steamer on top of a pan you’re using to cook something else, that kind of thing.

Bits of food that can be easily assembled seem to be really popular in the heat: sausages, cold meats, quiche, flan, tinned fish, cheese, hard boiled eggs, with salad or kidney beans, coleslaw and lengths of celery. Carbohydrates that can be eaten cold: potatoes, pasta, and bread and wraps of course!

Some soups are best used cold: gazpacho and ajo blanco, for example.

If you have desserts in your house: choc ices, tinned fruit, ice cream, soy sauce or evaporated milk, some yogurt, chopped bananas. Putting bananas in the freezer and turning them into smoothies is usually a hit.

Pets

Don’t forget your pets. Be aware of overheating for all species, especially furry ones.

Don’t leave dogs in cars.

Walk the dogs first thing in the morning then after the sun goes down in the evening Make sure they have access to shade if they’re outdoors.

For other pets, especially rabbits, put a bowl of ice cubes in their cages.

You might use old fashioned stoneware hot water bottles that can be picked up at car boot sales and fill them with crushed ice and cold water. They can be put in with the small pets or food animals – rabbits and guinea pigs, they lie up against them and sleep. Dogs too!

Consider cutting your dogs’ hair shorter than usual, especially the long-haired types.

Cooling coats for dogs.

I’m very doubtful about this, but the fact is that breeds of dogs meant for Scandinavia and the Arctic live in this country, and they may need help to do so, as well as new breeds of dog that are bigger, heavier and hairier than older breeds. So they may well need help too.

Looking at what’s on offer, it would be easy to simply drape a big wet cloth or chammy leather over your dog, that still makes use of evaporation! Or you could put freezer bricks in the dog bed, or even (and I’m letting my imagination run away with me here) make a little set of saddlebags for your dog so they can carry the freezer bricks around with them.  Either of those tactics would certainly do well enough for a very sudden hot spell.

Stay safe, and cool, and enjoy what you have.