Maintenance: physical and digital

Where you live is just the beginning.

It’s just what we have to do to look after our homes, isn’t it?” Or maybe your landlord does it, and you don’t have to plan for it? Getting the boiler serviced, bleeding the radiators, a new rug when the tatty old one in the kitchen gets stained?

Mortar cut away and renewed

No, it’s not just that stuff – there’s a genuine prepping element to a lot of maintenance.

There are two types of maintenance that have been consuming me this month. The first is physical: ever since I moved to this house, I’ve been repairing the bodges of an unskilled DIY-er, and it’s a painful process. But there’s a step on from this type of work, to structural elements: for me, it’s mostly been the pointing, of all things. Two years ago, the pointing failed on the most exposed wall of my house, in the middle of a wet winter. The house became damp, no matter how often I had the heating on, and mould started to grow. A cardboard box of papers underneath the stairs was ruined. And the plaster on the internal side of the exposed wall became cracked and blown. Some of it swelled and fell off, it was horrible.

Getting it repaired the next year was difficult, because the holes were so big bees had lodged in there, and the builders told me lots of stories about how insects would eventually chew through the internal wall, on the other side of the cavity, and come through into the house. A beekeeper had to be brought in to sort out the bee nests. Plus a plasterer for the internal wall – it took a whole summer to bring it all back up to scratch.

So this year, noticing that another wall was also showing signs of advanced age, I had no hesitation in booking the same builder to do the same thing – and my wall is once again immaculate. This time, no bees ejected from their homes, no failed plaster, just a solid wall that’s going to last another 30 years.

That’s what preparedness is, in this context – noticing something that needs doing, and doing it before it starts to create other problems.

There’s another form of maintenance too, for preppers, which is the art of keeping your preps up to date. Mostly, people talk about this when they’re talking about rotating food stocks, so that we eat the oldest tins or packets first, to stop them going out-of-date. And that’s important, and I do it too, but the information we take with us is also important, the information we grab when we’re evacuated because of a sinkhole, a newly discovered unexploded bomb, a house fire, a flood, whatever it is – all sorts of events can mean that we have to grab our bug-out bags and head for a hotel, a friend or relative’s house, or even a community centre.

Amd I bet your bug out bag has some relevant stuff in it, yes? Warm clothing, some snacks, hygiene equipment, extra water. And like me, I bet you have a notebook or something with a listing of the addresses of relatives and friends, with the security details of your email account, your financial accounts – current account, savings account, credit card(s), savings accounts for the kids, your premium bond holder number, the privatisation shares you never sold, the pension schemes you belong to, the mortgage details, the insurance company, your passport – all sorts of things in there, yes?

I have news for you, news that you know, but the cumulative effect can really smack you over the head when you can least cope with it. Things change: that’s my news:

  • relatives and friends move house, or change telephone numbers. They may even fade from your life altogether. Are you sure you’ve listed all the changes?
  • emails and passwords change. Sometimes a firm gets hacked and asks you to change your password. Do you make a note of the new one?
  • even financial information changes: my bank changed the account number of my current account! I opened a Regular Saver, an ISA matured, I closed a credit card. One company changed it’s name, and two of them changed the name of the product I’d purchased ten years ago.
  • when my circumstances changed, I was able to get cheaper insurance by shopping around – that’s a really important change to make sure you keep updated, as a fire or a flood will likely destroy your paperwork, of course.

I’ve always tried to keep up to date with all changes, but in the last year the pace of change has accelerated tremendously, and my little notebook has become quite a large notebook, thanks to layers of Tippex and self adhesive labels that I can write on.

So I made a change in the format: I wrote out a Word document, with addresses, phone numbers, opening times, passwords, everything I could think of that would help me in some unknowable local disaster that would leave me sitting in a B&B trying to reconstruct my life in the immediate aftermath. I printed it out, and put it in a waterproof map case that was well fit for purpose. Then I copied the document to a little flash drive, and also to a compact disc, and erased it from my computer, for safety’s sake: so much sensitive information in one place is asking for trouble, unless a lot of care is taken with it. One hack of my computer, and all my sensitive information would have been compromised.

Please check out the information you’d be relying on in this scenario: the phone numbers and addresses of the people you love, who want to know that you’re safe, as well as all the financial necessaries. You might be surprised at what you’ve left out.

Preparedness Fiction

It turns out that Halloween is A Thing.

When I finally started to research this, which was supposed to be a significant part of the blog (it’s in the blog name, after all) I really had to remember something that’s completely basic about fiction. Which is that most fiction is about much more intense, much more exaggerated versions of events than are found in everyday life.

This exaggeration for effect is true of any fiction: for instance, nowhere in East London is as mad and crazy as Albert Square in EastEnders, but it keeps millions of people gripped every week. Prepper fiction isn’t nearly as far out as it might be, in this respect: instead of Spanish ‘flu, for instance, we get a flu with a death rate that’s much worse. Instead of a proxy war in the Middle East, we get an EMP that takes out the Western world.

Think of the fiction that you know of, that refers to preparedness: it’s almost always about the end of the world, whether it’s classics like Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven, or Last Light by Alex Scarrow, both of which I really like. A few people are prepared, and the rest are reacting on the fly, and if they think on their feet, they can often manage. Amongst all the death and destruction, of course.

So the preparedness that’s on view in most fiction isn’t anything like how most people, in the UK anyway, prepare for the various issues that are on their radar: flooding, unemployment. And if you keep that in mind, then some of the novels that are around can be a lot of fun, and I’ve recently come across a few comedies.

Films and TV are on the agenda too, of course: films are much more likely to be about unprepared people struggling to survive, probably because that’s more dramatic, in Hollywood terms. 2012, starring John Cusack comes to mind. The Day After Tomorrow as well. I can’t even think of any preppers in mainstream films, not preppers as I’d consider them, in any case. Unfortunately, preppers in TV are much more likely to fall into the cliché of “Doomsday Prepper”: I’ve watched a few clips on youtube, but the presentation is so offputting, it’s not a good watch.

There are very few exceptions: I remember Blackout, the Channel 4 production of a couple of years ago, and Threads, broadcast in 1984 (though prepping wouldn’t exactly have helped in that situation, to be fair).

Prepping can be usefully displayed in fiction, but it’s mostly in the background, or a question of attitude: Pride And Prejuice And Zombies and The Hunger Games, for instance, The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver, and John Christopher’s books. It takes front and centre stage in many of John Wyndham’s books, and Larry Niven’s too, as well as more modern books like the Arisen series and Emberverse.

I want to start posting reviews of films, books and authors, and I’ve been having a lot of fun offline reading and watching new ones and re-reading and re-watching old favourites. More is coming! Real Soon Now!

As I was posting this, right at Halloween, I remembered that we love being scared, Halloween is about that – even historically. It was about getting the demons and the devil out of the way so that 1st November could truly be All Saints Day, which is what it originally was. And being scared, and overcoming the fear, is what prepping fiction is all about too. An honourable tradition, and it fits very well.

If you have any recommendations, feel free to post them in the Comments, and I’ll have a look-see.

Enjoy your Halloween!

Acid Attack

REPORT, REMOVE, RINSE: the three actions that will help

I never expected to write about acid attacks – attacks on one or two individuals in the street by one or more criminals. Then the NHS issued guidance on first aid after such attacks, and on the treatment they can subsequently offer. The numbers are tiny – even last year, 2016, there were less than 500 attacks in the UK, demographic unknown, but many of them would have been, in the phrase which has now sadly become useful, life changing.

And then, on the August Bank Holiday Sunday, a chemical mist drifted onto a Sussex beach from the Channel, which left 150 people affected. A few miles further to the west, the mist would have drifted onto Brighton beach, where thousands would have been affected, including many small children and babies.

Unbelievably, it’s still not definitively known what caused this mist: such dense pollution from France seems unlikely, toxic algal blooms would be clearly visible after analysis. Chlorine gas has been discounted, though as a lay person I don’t know why, as the symptoms sound similar, and “conspiracies” have been discounted too: I don’t know what conspiracy theories there were, but yes, it’s obvious by now that there was no concerted attack. However, if it’s not known what caused it, who’s to say that it wasn’t an experiment to learn about the possibilities for attack in the future? I don’t think that’s true, but I’m wary of dismissing anything when the cause is unknown.

There are satellite photos showing a plume coming from a ship in roughly the right place, and this Daily Mail article is actually pretty well-researched and sourced about the possible causes. And it sounds like they’re saying it came from a shipwreck already on the seabed, that collapsed and let off this chemical.

The link between these two types of incident is the treatment: water, and plenty of it, it’s as simple as that.

So, what’s to be done? The NHS have issued specific guidelines, and The Crime Prevention Website has even more detail, via St John’s Ambulance.

Amalgamating the two, my list is at the bottom of this post, after the list of preps.

List of preps

This is still an incredibly unlikely thing to deal with, in today’s society, but it’s useful to know, because first aid for any type of incident is with items that are very accessible, and very cheap:

  • water to sluice the chemicals away.
  • medical gloves for protection.
  • scissors to cut away clothes
  • “non fluffy” pads (muslin? cotton?) possibly, to protect an uninjured eye.
  • plastic bags to contain contaminated items.
A drinking fountain, like this one at Chelsea Embankment in London, could help you save someone’s sight.

If there was a large event, remember that there are multiple sources of water. Don’t imagine that you can carry enough to deal with an event of any size. It’s recommended that the affected area be doused with water for 20 minutes, and no one will be carrying enough water to help with one person, let alone multiple casualties.

So, have a think what you might do, and these are my ideas:

  • people living locally, and local businesses too, will be eager to help.
  • a garden centre or a garden open to tourists will often have taps in the grounds to aid with watering.
  • there are still drinking fountains around that will have a plentiful supply of clean water. Again, locals will know where the drinking fountains are.
  • Sea water seems to helpful too (unless it’s been contaminated by the chemical agent, as may have happened in Sussex over Bank Holiday weekend). Two young British women were attacked with car battery acid in Zanzibar in 2013, and one of them was dunked in the sea by locals, which seems to have been of great help. It’s also clear from these attacks that dirty water makes the original injuries worse.


Actions to deal with acid attacks


Act as quickly as possible to minimise damage to the eyes, skin and surrounding tissues. Burns caused by acid, alkaline or caustic chemicals can be very damaging.

Call 999 to summon urgent professional medical assistance

Make sure the area around the person is safe (e.g. from puddles of acid) and take measures, such as wearing gloves, so you don’t come into contact with the chemical

If the burns are particularly bad continue to check that the victim is breathing and is responsive throughout the first aid procedure

The main way to combat the effects of acid is to dose the victim with water as soon as possible for up to 20 minutes. Continuous rinsing is the best thing you can do. Don’t use a wet cloth, that won’t drain the acid away well enough.

Try to make sure the water can run off from the affected area without pooling on the skin and potentially spreading the chemical to a wider area.

If not already removed you should remove contaminated clothing and jewellery whilst dousing the injury with water. Be careful removing it: don’t pull it off so that the most badly-contaminated side is next to the person’s skin (the ordinary over-the-head action). Cut it off if at all possible. Don’t touch or spread the chemical, which could cause further injuries to the victim, or to yourself.

Don’t try to remove anything that’s stuck to the burnt skin as this could cause more damage.

Do not rub or wipe the skin as this may spread contamination. And only use water.

There is no point searching for an antidote. Trying to neutralise burns with alkalis should not be attempted unless properly trained. Focus on flooding the injury with water

If the acid is in the person’s eyes hold them under gently running water for at least 10 minutes irrigating the inside and outside of the eyelids. Don’t let the person touch their eyes as they may have acid on their hands and don’t try to remove contact lenses. Make sure the now contaminated flushing water does not splash an uninjured eye. Clean, non-fluffy gauze pads over injured eyes after thorough cleaning is also advised. Do not forcibly remove contact lenses.

Health advice sites warn against using a hard spray of water on affected areas as this could lead to more damage and so ensure that the flood of water is gentle and is continued up to the times advised above

If the chemical is in powder form, or dry, it can be brushed off the skin, using clothing or something disposable. Don’t use your bare hands. Be careful not to breathe in the powder.

Later On

Stay on the phone until the ambulance arrives and follow any other advice given by the 999 call handler to avoid further injury.

If possible, find out what chemical caused the burn and tell the healthcare professionals, this information could help them.

Treatment in hospital will also be based on using water to wash off whatever the substance is. The burn will be cleaned and appropriately covered, and the victim will be given pain relief and possibly a tetanus jab – obviously, the people on the Sussex coast weren’t given tetanus jabs, but everything else applied.


Coping with extreme hot weather


Remember it won’t last a long time, as these things go, even with the climate change now upon us.  A few days.  Maybe ten days … then it will lessen.

Keep going, enjoy what you can! Below, I list lots of ways you can help you and your family to do exactly that.

Protection from the sun, by the way, is another post.


The house
There are two schools of thought on having the windows open on the sunny side. Open or shut? I suggest both curtains and windows should be shut on the sunny side, until the sun moves. And keep every window open that isn’t exposed to the sun, to cool the house and set up a good through draft.

People are unanimous about the importance of creating a through draft, by opening windows on opposite sides of the house. Make sure none of the doors in between are closed, or swing shut, by wedging them. For some people, especially in ground floor flats or bungalows, open windows can create noise problems, or even security problems. Locking double glazed windows open can help a fraction, but not much, unfortunately. If you’ve needed to keep the windows almost entirely shut for noise or security reasons, and wake up early because of that, then maybe use that time to open up whatever windows you can – problems are less likely early in the day, and you might be able to get some better quality sleep then.

I’ve seen home made burglar alarms recommended in this situation – a string of empty drinks cans across the window, or groups of spoons, things like that, but the point is that by the time something like that gets set off, the burglar will already be inside, and I’m not a fan of allowing that to happen. I’d rather take more precautions against letting a burglar break in in the first place. Each to their own.

Curtains should be light-coloured, to help reflect the light and heat.

Consider running your washing machine in the evening and hang up your wet laundry near an open window – it will help with cooling by evaporation. Wetting down cheap curtains or a lightweight fabric hung on a door or a curtain rail, will do the same thing.

Run a wet mop over the tiled floors in the house, cools the rooms nicely while it evaporates! Cooling by evaporation is incredibly important in all this.

It’s been said that opening a loft hatch at night helps the hot air rise into the roof void and helps keep the bedrooms a bit cooler. I actually disagree with this, certainly in my circumstances, but it might work for some people.

If you normally sleep upstairs, but have a spare bedroom downstairs, use that, as heat rises.

If you can hang something outside your window so the sun does not shine directly on the glass it really helps. Shade blinds, like shops used to have, might become a thing!

Trees, shrubs or even a pond, near the house will help regulate your micro-climate, but be aware of other issues like providing a breeding ground for mosquitoes, or letting a tree get too big which might then fall on the house in a storm. Although none of that may be under your control, of course.

I’m hearing about “solar vinyl” for windows, which is different from privacy films. I need to do more research on that, but I’ll follow up soon.

Eating and drinking

Fill empty bottles with water and keep them in the fridge to use on its 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.



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 shaded outdoors.

Put a bowl of ice cubes in their cages, works especially well for rabbits.

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, 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! It would certainly do well enough for a very sudden hot spell.

The human body.

For immediate relief:

  • wetwipes in the freezer.
  • hold your wrists under cold running water
  • soak a flannel with cold water, use it as a cold compress for your face and your head.
  • have a cool bath or shower.
  • if you’re 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.


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.

Carry a parasol or umbrella to use as a sunshade.


Electric fans

They can seem very loud at night, but they can help you sleep much more soundly.

Put a bowl of ice in front of any fan you use, it will help a bit.

Switch the fan on with dry hands…..

As climate change accelerates, would you buy a ceiling fan?


Most of us need to be out and about sometimes – if that’s about errands to banks and shops etc, try to get it done as early as possible.

Gardening and watering plants is similar to the above but not identical: do it early, or do it late.

Ease back on anything that’s not crucial – lots of cleaning can be delayed, for instance! Just do as little as possible and take as much time as possible to enjoy the good weather.

Move as slowly as possible. And stick up a few postcards of the Arctic or Alaska or something, photos of ice and icebergs – that helps psychologically, believe it or not.

If your work/life schedule allows, then go continental – enjoy a light siesta…sleep through an hour of the worst heat!

Stay outside (in the shade) as long as possible, it’s usually cooler: sit under a big tree, relax on your patio with your feet in a bucket of water …. be inventive!

If you need to get out for the day, bear in mind that older buildings usually have thick stone walls and high ceilings, they’re much cooler. Or any public building with air conditioning……

When you’re out and about, make sure you take some cooling tricks with you:

  • a ziplock bag of wet flannels, or just wetwipes, that have been in the freezer. If you have a cooler with you, put them in there.
  • use frozen small bottles of water or cartons of juice to keep the cooler and contents chilled, rather than freezer packs. They will thaw, in time, and at least you still have something cold to drink. Pack non frozen drinks too, of course!
  • make up a cooling mist to spray on your face, pulse points, feet. That just means decanting a few drops of peppermint essential oil and some water into a small spray bottle that you can carry around. Though make sure you close your eyes, and take your glasses off, if you’re going to do this!

Other people

Be aware of other people, and ready to help, especially children and elderly, they find it most difficult of all to adapt to excessive heat.

Offer your postman or other delivery callers a glass of chilled water.

Hot water thermostat

Turn it down! You don’t need to heat your hot water as much as usual when all you’re going to do is have a cool shower, so don’t bother with it. I’ve heard that a tepid hot water tank, without much throughput, creates a risk of Legionnaire’s Disease, and maybe if you live alone and don’t shower much, that might be true. In the UK in 2017, there have been 346 cases reported to date (185 confirmed).

But for most people, I think that turning down the thermostat is the best bet. If it really worries you, then get a big plastic jug to fill with cold water from the hot tap, and use it to water the garden or even flush the toilet. Do Your Own Research, though.

There’s plenty of ways to enjoy all sorts of weather, heat included. Hope you have fun – and if I’ve missed something off, please check in on the comments.


Vehicular terrorist attacks

A summary of the advice in this article is given at the end of the post.

This type of attack is more and more common these days, for reasons that are sadly all too obvious – vehicles are very simple to get hold of, and even one person can do a huge amount of damage. So it makes sense to take a little while to think about what you might do if you suddenly found yourself caught up in this situation.

And it would be sudden. On youtube, there’s a video taken by an innocent member of the crowd at Nice, when a man ploughed a lorry through the crowd and committed mass murder. Witnessing the oncoming carnage at such close range … horrendous.

It might sound futile to ask the question, but I think it’s worthwhile: what can we do to lessen the effects of this sort of attack, if we’re caught up in it? If you see something like that start to happen, and you can see you’re going to be caught up in whatever happens, what can you do?

There seem to be three stages: driving by; crashing; and maybe exploding the vehicle and/or the terrorists may go on to further attack people. So the basic advice must be the same: RUN, HIDE, TELL still applies. Other than that, and in order:

If you’re a commuter, or out and about for your work, is there an alternate route you can take that’s less crowded, less of a target? If not:

Listen to what’s going on around you; don’t wear earbuds in the street in likely target areas. Screams may be the first notice of an attack. If you hear them, you have a chance of reacting. That can be seen in the youtube video.

If you can, walk to face oncoming traffic – a terrorist could well start off the attack from a position in the normal traffic stream. If you’re in a high-risk area, the extra effort might be worthwhile, and if you see it happening, you have a chance of reacting.

You can alert other people! This might be as simple as screaming, and you might be so shocked that that’s the most you can do while literally running for your life. That’s okay. I’ve been trying to think of a phrase that’s short enough and clear enough to potentially be of help, rather than just a scream, and I’ve got stuck at “CAR BOMB”. It’s not a car bomb, of course. CAR ATTACK: maybe. WATCH OUT. If anyone has any ideas, please speak up in the comments.

If you’re weighed down with shopping, just drop your things, of course, so that you can run and hide more effectively. You’ll lose your shopping, but better that than your life. On that note, it would be nice to think you have a few things on you: your ID, your ticket or enough cash to get home, your car keys, your key to your living space, maybe a little bottle of water. These things should be in your pockets or in a bag that’s small enough to hang from a belt, or from your shoulder,so that you can run without being impeded. Your life might depend on running fast.

So then, it’s about running. Run into a building, as far inwards as you can, because the kind of lorries and vans that are being used can still penetrate a good way into a building if they’re purposely crashed.

If you can’t get into a building, then shelter in any kind of inlet – a fire door or an alcove, for instance. Jump on to a parapet, or even a windowsill, some of them are certainly deep enough. Will somebody inside open it for you? Can you smash a window to get inside a building? If the vehicle is driving past you, rather than directly at you, this could help.

I noticed in the pictures of the Stockholm attack earlier this year, that nearly all the street furniture was still standing, I thought it was curious. But if you’re caught out in the open, and you can’t get out of the way, being behind something is better than being out in the open. But of course it might not work, and none of this is foolproof in any case.

Don’t relax and think you’re safe, run/hide still applies. The first reports about the Stockholm attack sounded like the motorised attack was being combined with dispersed gunmen. And London Bridge was motorised attack plus several attackers, though they had knives rather than guns. When there’s more than one attacker, it’s almost inevitable it will take longer to catch them than if there was a single one.

No one in the area is safe until all the terrorists are caught, and any/all explosives defused. Police advice in Stockholm, when they believed another attacker might still be on the loose, was to move away from the central area of the city, and not to walk in groups. This bit in particular is about vehicle attacks. Don’t make yourself a target: we’ve all seen war films where a plucky platoon is being strafed and the sergeant yells “spread out”. Same principle. Don’t make yourself a target.

London Bridge was a bit different – armed police were on the scene in minutes and a lot of people fought back against the attackers to bar them entry into a location, and the attackers were shot dead within 8 minutes. But even so, evacuations went on throughout the night, for the police to assume they’d got them all in the first few minutes would have been playing with the lives of everyone there.

What if something like this happens in the street where you live or are staying? Are you safe to remain? Are your windows, doors and locks still secure? If they are, it might be safest to stay where you are. But listen up, constantly, to what is the official advice for people in your situation: if there’s explosives nearby that are yet to be detonated, then you might well be advised to evacuate, but only via a certain route, for example.

Think about your situation. It’s obvious now that this is such an accessible form of attack, it’s going to be here for some time. How will you respond if you’re unlucky enough to be caught up?

Shortly after I drafted this, I was walking through Westminster, and took these snaps, one is by St Margaret’s Church on Parliament Square and the other is looking at the security furniture on the edge of Trafalgar Square.

Street furniture to dodge behind, at the Houses of Parliament
Street furniture security at Trafalgar Square

The long wait I had to take comparatively clear photos reminded me of how crowded and busy these environments are: it’s very hard to protect yourself in the way I’ve described, I’m afraid. But I’m sure complete avoidance isn’t the answer either, so I’ve been up to London twice since then from my quiet little town, for optional events. And millions of people all over the world have no choice in the short or medium term, of course – where we live, where we work, our route to and from work, these things take time and effort to change. In the meantime, we do what we can, and live our lives as best we can.

Stay safe.

Summary of advice

  1. Run hide tell.
  2. Change your route to a quieter, less obvious one.
  3. Listen to the ambient sounds around you, and take notice.
  4. Walk facing oncoming traffic.
  5. Scream, shout, make people notice that something’s terribly wrong.
  6. Drop your stuff so you can run more easily.
  7. Run into a building, as far away from the road as you can.
  8. If not, shelter in any inlet available.
  9. If not, shelter behind street furniture, as a last resort.
  10. Keep running. Evacuate the area. Don’t walk in groups.
  11. If your home is in the area, seek official advice about whether it’s safer to stay or go.



Rocketry, the culinary version

I was having a chat the other day with some online friends about cooking in any medium-term grid-down emergency, and it was a little sobering. I have a one-ring camping stove for short term, with several gaz canisters – but if I had no power for longer than a week, I’d end up having problems. It’s amazing how we as humans can just ignore the blindingly obvious.

I scouted about on Amazon, and found quite a few possibles, at varying prices, and in themselves they’re great, I love the look of some of them, and I’ve included my single burner gaz stove for reference.

I was just about to buy one when I remembered the rocket stove I’d three-quarters made a couple of years ago. I’d got stuck making the top – all the online instructions I’d found tended to gloss over that bit, they seemed to focus on applying the principles of the rocket stove (which are quite something to get your head around, of course) rather than the finicky bits of finishing off the whole thing.

So, I’d got a big tin, I found one of tinned veg going cheap in Poundland (a size ten tin, in US terms), and I got a second from my local chippie, on standby, in case I made a mess of things, or another local family member wants it. I wanted it insulated, to help with the secondary ignition of the wood gases and help it burn hotter, so I needed insulation: I chose vermiculite, from an ordinary B&Q. The inner surface was provided by a supermarket tin of tinned potatoes – they’re about 1lb in gross weight. The funnel for feeding the fuel in, I used an ordinary size baked bean tin (I have a lot of those!). The leftover vermiculite can be used later in gardening projects, or a second rocket stove.

Fitting all the tins together was much more difficult for me than all the youtube videos imply. I love these sorts of projects, faffing about with little stuff, but I don’t have a long history with them, so trial and error is tough. I worked on the three tins (minus the insulation) for quite a while, with my dad’s old electric drill, until they fitted together as well as I could manage.

That wasn’t very well at all, quite honestly, there were gaps here there and everywhere. So I went to Wickes, which has almost as many branches as B&Q, and bought some fire cement – I reasoned that if it can be used on fires, then it can be used on rocket stoves. I used that to seal the joints between the cans, and after letting it dry for a few days, I gradually filled up the insulating wall with the vermiculite.

That’s where what instructions I could find stopped making sense. I knew I needed exits for the air and flames that were immediately underneath whatever pan I chose to heat up. But I didn’t know how to make those vents through the thickness of the whole wall. I tried fixing on another can to the funnel, with more fire cement, then making a sort of fan on which the pan would sit, but I could tell it wouldn’t last long, and anyway there was nothing to stop the vermiculite flying away every time I turned the stove upside down to get rid of whatever ashes had accumulated. I was stuck.

And thats how it stayed for a few years, to be honest. I moved on to other things, including research, and getting my garden straighter, and then I came across this video.  Eureka!

It showed me how to use the top that had been cut off my biggest tin to create a cover for the insulation, cutting a sort of chimney in it. I made a pretty bad job of placing the hole correctly – I knew the chimney on my rocket stove was wonky, and it all just fitted together badly, there’s no two ways of saying that. To make up for it, I made an insert from the thick aluminium of a disposable barbecue tray, much heavier than a roll of aluminium foil – light enough to be cut by scissors, but still fairly heavy duty. And then I lashed everything down tight with layers of fire cement. I skimmed over the inside of the biggest tin with the cement too, because it was lined with plastic, and I didn’t want to see that catching fire.

I tried to copy the sort of crenellations at the top of the stove, that would support the pan and provide air spaces, but I didn’t have the right tools for the job, and by then I just wanted it finished, quite frankly. So I decided to compromise: I’d bought an old cast iron barbecue way back, but I’d found out its lining (which was leaking from the underside) was made of asbestos, so it was useless to me. But the grid was still good to be used, so I’ve put that on top of the stove. I’ve used the lid from a big tin of potatoes as the insert that guides the twigs into the fire and still leaves a big space underneath to create a draft, and it’s good to go!

It’s not smooth, it’s not pretty, but it is securely functional. And all it cost me was a tenth of a bag of vermiculite, plus a little tub of fire cement. In using them, I gained a ton of skills and experience. I think it’s a win-win, and I’ve become quite proud of it.

Dangerous animals in the UK: Part Two.

So, I’m finally publishing Part Two of the blog about staying safe from animals. All of it applies during a country walk on a Sunday just as much as it applies during some emergency that forces you to try to walk home under your own steam.

Badgers, although their jaws and claws look fearsome, are very, very rarely a problem. They’ve been hunted for hundreds of years, so they’re wary, but if you come across one, or one comes across you when you’re taking a breather, they’ll just avoid you. The only badgers that are a problem are ones that have been raised with humans, so losing their fear and becoming less likely to react with avoidance, or badgers that have been injured or feel trapped: they may well become aggressive, as any animal would.

Deer: in the USA, more than a hundred people are killed every year – but that’s when people accidentally run into deer on the road, and are killed in the resulting crash, sadly. Direct attacks – as with any animal, I’d say not to get between a deer and it’s calf, but there’s something else to consider with deer: rutting season. And there’s an interesting little article about the Royal Parks, from October 2011, which is bang on the rutting season, apparently. I’ve also checked a few American sites, and here’s the advice:

  • don’t be there in the rutting season!
  • move away when you see deer, before there’s any chance of entanglement. Retreat before it becomes necessary.
  • if you have no choice but to be there at that time, and you get chased, climb a tree. Staying still, curling up on the ground, those tactics are useless when faced with a rutting stag.
  • and here’s a scary piece of advice from “if you’re attacked by a stag, try to protect your head and face. If possible, grab the antlers or front legs”. Needless to say, that’s the least attractive option. And given how big stags can be, it sounds almost as likely to be lethal as being gored. The link is to a resource list about dangers rather than the specific one quoted.
Vipera berus by Benny Trapp, Wikimedia Commons

Snakes are feared by many, many people. I have my own share of fears, but snakes don’t worry me at all, I’m much more likely to go “aaaahhh” then “eewwww”. The only one in the UK to be at all worrisome is the adder, as most people know, and it seems to be really difficult to get bitten by one, quite frankly. I’ve seen one in the wild, while I was walking on Dartmoor, and it was sunbathing on a rock as I walked by. Very nice encounter.

Unusually, the NHS has a page on snakebites, with plenty of links. There’s a lot on that page, as well as walking websites, but these are the basics:

  • don’t rush or panic, that will increase your rate of circulation and let the venom cause more cell damage.
  • rest as much as possible, for 4 or 5 days.
  • get to a doctor as soon as you reasonably can. Treatment is usually anti-histamines, to control the swellings, and antibiotics for secondary infections. Anti-venom is rarely prescribed because the side effects are usually worse.
  • try to identify what bit you – take a photo on your camera or your phone. Remember the shape, size and colour.
  • remove jewellery and watches from the bitten limb, in case it swells quickly.

There’s an interesting blog from a veterinarian practice in Warwickshire, about animals getting snakebites, which hadn’t occurred to me: but if you’re taking your dog into “snake country”, then of course it could happen.

And if you’re with someone who’s been bitten (this is from the NHS) here’s a list of what not to do:

  • don’t try to suck the venom out of the bite like they do in films.
  • don’t cut the bite area to make it bleed.
  • don’t rub anything into the wound, or apply ice or heat.
  • don’t use a tourniquet.
  • don’t try to catch or kill the snake.

My personal experience of being chased by animals is restricted to heifers, goats and geese. Very lively experiences:

  • the heifers, I was running up a slope near a tourist town, to get a better view of the whole area to take a quick photo, when I surprised them, they were just over the top of the slope so I hadn’t seen them previously. My fault. They startled and ran at me. I turned tail and ran for the stile I’d just used. No problem, fortunately, except that I was breathless with laughter.
  • the goats. Same sort of thing. I used an old gate, thinking I was still on a public footpath. I wasn’t, and the two goats sitting peaceably in their little field charged me. I didn’t have time to use the gate, they were too quick, so I jumped over the low fence just by the gate. My fault.
  • the geese, that really wasn’t my fault. I was visiting a friend who lived on a very rural farm, where the geese had free reign in the farmyard, and they didn’t know my face or my smell, and they ran at me, squawking and flapping. My friend stepped in, and they subsided immediately, didn’t bother me again.

If any rural prepper is thinking of having guard animals that also have other uses, I’d seriously recommend goats and geese.

So that’s it. In the UK, danger from animals isn’t about bears, or wild boar, or mountain cats – it’s often some of the most familiar animals we have, and the rest of the problems are from small animals or insects (those are another post, this is quite long enough). Any animal should be treated with respect: even domestic cats can bite and cause damage. Try moving a sleeping cat from your bed waking up a sleeping cat while you’re moving it from the centre of your bed when you want to go to sleep (yes, this is something else I have experience with) and see how charming and friendly it isn’t.

A few things to think about.

A Death In The Family

No matter how much you prepare, a death in the family is rough. My mum died in December – that’s the reason for the long gap between posts – and one of the ways I’ve coped is thinking about all the preparedness issues that have come up.

With an ageing population, and health services stretched tighter and tighter, more of us will be facing these issues. And personally, I think that life expectancy will fall, because the NHS resources that my family had just won’t be there – medicines, nurses, doctors, carers, porters, equipment, all sorts of things. That’s not “the end of the world” – that’s just about our tightening economic situation.

Go Bag
I live hundreds of miles away from where my mum lived, so I needed a Go Bag, not only for that final goodbye, but for nursing duties shared with my brother and sister over the previous weeks. Yes, it was ready, I could have walked out of the house five minutes after I got a phone call. But I had a library book to return that couldn’t be extended, I had three online bills to pay, I had to water the houseplants … ridiculous things. So I did the everyday things instead of starting what turned out to be the final six hour journey at 3pm. Wrong decision – I didn’t get to see her to say goodbye, though I know she was unconscious by then in any case. Go Bags are only part of the story.

Some medicines weren’t supplied to us in sufficient quantities, and some were oversupplied. A bottle of Over The Counter medicine that lasted 36 hours, and a bottle of morphine that lasted 10 days? Mad. To get more of the medicines that were needed, it helped to have a written record:

  • what was prescribed?
  • what quantity?
  • who wrote the prescription?

The latter was unexpectedly important: it might have been from the last visit to a consultant, or a regular GP visit, or a regular visit from a nurse, or an emergency visit from the district nursing clinic. If you don’t know, everything can be delayed, and while the individuals were fantastic, the systems they were struggling with were … Dickensian, let’s say.

Afterwards, they can be returned to a pharmacist for safe disposal – or ordinary things like paracetemol can be kept, of course. If in doubt, though, take it to a pharmacist. Or give it to a charity that sends these things where they’re desperately needed.

Keep A Diary

Leads on from the above, really. You need to know who it was that came to the house two days ago, and how to get in touch with them again, and exactly what they said. And you won’t remember, when so much is going on. Who offered the use of a walker? Do those two medicines counteract one another? Who do we talk to about getting night sitters? Social Services need to get involved?

Ask Questions

Every medical and personal care practitioner we spoke to understood that this unique time is unique in different ways for everyone, and every family, and every terminally-ill person, has different needs and will make different choices. My brother had two great catch-all questions at the end of each meeting: “Is there anything else you think we need to do? Is there anything else you think we should know?”. It helped a lot.

What really matters?

Life becomes very focussed at the end of terminal illness. The things that mattered to our family were pain relief and cleanliness. Both these things were easily sorted in this case, thank heavens, and “personal care” is a vastly underrated service. Yes, families could do it. But very few patients want their own adult children to perform these services, and that’s where personal carers step in, full of practicality and kindness.


You can’t arrange the timing of a death, of course, but we were “lucky” for a December death in that we were able to have the funeral before Christmas. Some families who suffered a bereavement only a few days after us had to wait until after the New Year, because of a backlog at the crematoria, of all things. If you think you might ever be in this situation, remember that you can only book a funeral once you’ve registered the death: thats absolutely the first thing to do, once signed off by a medical practitioner.

Other things still carry on happening

Agonising and surreal, but true. Between my mother’s death and her funeral, the members of the immediate family had a house sale, a house purchase, and an offer for another house accepted. It was weird. But those things still had to be paid attention to. It helps to have people with whom you can share the responsibility – community is crucial, especially at times like this! None of the sales and purchases were mine, so I was the one who dealt with the Order of Service, and also with getting together groups of photos to be used at the celebration after the commital. The others could focus, for a short time, on all the legal business that was necessary.

Tell Us Once
This is a government scheme, and gives you a few shortcuts so that you don’t have to phone quite as many government departments as you otherwise would. It’s not complete though, so make sure that you cover the exceptions. The Registrar should give you details.  Details are included in the government link above.

Executors’ ID papers
My mum’s will was lodged with a solicitor, and named all three of us as Executors, so that any of us could do whatever needed to be done. The solicitor she chose should spend a considerable amount of time in purgatory. That’s as polite as I can be about that firm. They wanted photo ID and two proofs of residence from each executor, nine pieces of paper in all. Between recent house moves, changes in status, changes in utility companies and geographical distance in the case of me and my sister, it was a nightmare that delayed us for over a week.

The solicitors were initially very fuzzy about what they wanted, and refused to speak to us directly. At first, they didn’t even give us an exact list of what they wanted. They made assumptions about what services we wanted and didn’t want, and in general made many more demands on us than had been the case a few years ago when my brother in law died and we needed to obtain his will, in the same situation. I won’t easily forgive them the strain they caused us. It was horrendous.

As I was writing this, I found a solicitor who does exactly what I thought should be done, what’s common sense to me: they explain the process online, and have a series of forms to be downloaded, printed off and used as circumstances demand. I really wish we’d had a solicitor like this.  The Law Society and Citizens Advice can also be helpful.

Texting And Letter Writing
Texting was incredibly valuable – it saved our throats from having to repeat the same information over and over again, and we had no web connection at my mother’s house, for various reasons. We wrote quite a few letters, too, by hand, which seemed very odd. During the previous month, we’d written to everybody we could think of that would want to know, so we had a ready made set of addresses and phone numbers to use.  And perhaps you’ll still be able to talk to the terminally-ill person you’re caring for about what they would like to happen, and who they would like to attend.

Gifts on the day of the funeral
There were a few people we wanted to gift things to, and the celebration after the funeral seemed the best time: we’d been able to talk it through, and all the people we wanted were there. It worked really well, and created some lovely memories for the end of that day. We’d ordered extra copies of the Order of Service so that people who couldn’t manage to come could at least have that.

Finance papers
I’ve been my mum’s finance person for years, including doing her filing, so it wasn’t too bad. But it had been her decision to amalgamate various savings accounts, and that saved us a huge amount of hassle. The pensioner bond and the premium bonds needed separate notifications (thank you for nothing,!) but there were only four other notifications that were needed.


We’re working on Probate at the moment; sometimes it’s not needed, but my mum’s estate is not one of those. Most companies were helpful, but some very big names, even with good staff in a Bereavement Unit, seemed appalling. The Halifax Bank, for instance, thought a helpful method of confirming the identity of Executors would be to set up a quiz with information about their credit file. I disagree! The unlucky executor was me, and I’d just changed energy supplier, and I had to guess two out of the three questions they asked me, for that reason. Utter nightmare. They also wouldn’t use my mother’s address in correspondence, they used my address instead, unlike every other organisation we’ve been in contact with.

So, this has been my life for the last few months. Part Two of my post about animals is still sitting in the wings, but that will have to wait until the next round of the probate work is completed. Life goes on. So does prepping.

Dangerous animals in the UK: Part One.

Cows, dogs, foxes, and horses, with more to come in Part Two.

The death and injury rates are tiny, of course; I just like the headline. I’ve been slowly preparing for a second edition of my book, Getting Home In An Emergency, which I’m assuming will be free to people who’ve already purchased the first edition. Plus I’m doing a lot more travelling up and down the country recently, visiting here there and everywhere. So when I saw a headline from last year in The Independent, “Cows officially the most deadly large animals in Britain”, I had to have another look. Any long journey will include rural areas, and it’s basic preparedness to be aware of the potential dangers posed by farm, domestic and wildlife.

There isn’t any advice in that Independent article, though we can take a few implications from the stats presented:

  • don’t get near a calf, and most certainly don’t get between a mother and it’s calf.
  • if you have a dog in a field containing cows, keep the dog close to you.
  • groups of people seem not to be vulnerable at all, so if you have any concerns about a particularly frisky herd, try to cross the field in a group of people.

Dogs are the next most deadly animal. Heartbreakingly, of course, it’s often babies and toddlers in the news, who are killed by a pet. To pre-empt that situation, personally, I would never, ever allow such a young child in the same room as a dog that hasn’t had extensive obedience training, and has a proven character. And even then, I’d be keeping an eagle eye out. Taking a risk with the life of a child in your care; it mustn’t be done.

In the course of our daily travels around the country, however, there are different issues. So here’s what I’ve learned:

  • don’t panic! This isn’t lifted from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but it’s very true. Not only do you need to avoid the appearance of panicking, you need to calm down your physical responses – dogs can smell our emotions, so to speak, our pheromones and hormones, plus agitation may actually trigger the dog’s aggression.
  • stay still, and keep your hands at your sides. I had personal experience of this one, in Spain: I was leaving the Cortijo where I was staying, heading onto a dusty trackway, and a local dog bounded up, barking furiously. I’m not afraid of dogs, but my companion was, so I said “No”, very loudly, just once, and shook my finger at the dog simultaneously. It stopped in it’s tracks, yes, but it also went for my finger. I pulled back at the speed of light and was unharmed, and I learned a valuable lesson that day.
  • don’t face the dog – stand sideways on, it’s less threatening. Avoid eye contact too. The dog may actually sniff you, but will still choose not to bite you.  Probably.
  • don’t run! You’re acting as a prey animal if you do that, and you can’t outrun a dog.
  • distract it, if you can and if it seems right, by giving it something to chew on. Your water bottle (have a spare in your pack!) a glove, anything. If you know you might face a dog on your route, it could even be worth carrying something like a toy, or a ball, to use in this scenario. I wouldn’t carry dog treats, as I’ve seen suggested – they’re more likely to attract dogs in the first place.

Foxes are also known to attack babies and toddlers, even when they’re sleeping in their cots upstairs, though I have come across one incident when a fox attacked a sleeping cat and then the adult cat owners who rushed to the cat’s defence. The incidents seem to have been exclusively in urban areas, so if you’re walking in the countryside, whether for pleasure or during an emergency, you’re extremely unlikely to be bothered by a fox. The RSPCA has a great page on foxes, which contains some valuable links as well as further information in a pdf at the bottom of the page, I highly recommend it.

Horses are big enough to be intimidating to people who don’t know them or understand them, but injuries caused by horses are overwhelmingly likely to be from horseriding accidents, and from other interactions started by the human. The lesson is, if you’re out walking, for leisure or during an emergency, don’t approach a horse: looking at it, trying to stroke it, trying to get up on it, and most especially getting between a horse and it’s foal. It’s a prey animal, it will run if it can, but if it feels it can’t run from you, it will attack, and it’s big enough to kill you. Additionally, stallions could be more confrontational if they feel you’re threatening their mares, and a herd, if frightened by you, could stampede and cause real damage. Weirdly, this happened in High Barnet in north west London, just last month, October 2016. There were no human injuries, fortunately, but two horses had to be put down.

I took the pictures below at an urban riding school a while back, and they show how easy it might be to get into problems. This foal is six days old, and very, very wobbly. In the second picture, she’s trotting happily after her mum, but she’s so uncertain on her feet she could easily fall behind, and a human could then easily get in between them without realising. It can happen very fast, which is why it’s best to stay on the alert when there are animals nearby.

Six day old foal with mother
Six day old foal with mother
Foal is off for a trot with mother
Foal is off for a trot with mother

The focus here is entirely on staying safe around animals.  I do think we can turn all this around to train guard animals – not just dogs, but goats and geese, maybe even swans, will give you advance warning of people on your property.   More about that in part two.