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.
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.
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.
As I’ve done with other big topics, I intend to write about this in several parts. This part is an introduction and the rest is about what to do to safeguard against flood effects – good solid prepper activities, which will make recovery from any flooding go more smoothly.
Coastal flooding on the scale of the 1953 disaster, when over 300 people died, isn’t currently as high up the UK government’s disaster scale as it used to be, because of all the money that’s been thrown at sea defences since then. Pockets of land still suffer from coastal erosion, and for the people affected it’s life-changing; plus one or two storms each year are bad enough to damage sea walls, causing flooding and endangering life, but it’s not currently as severe as inland flooding. It may become so once again later on in this century, because of sea level rises, but as of this moment, it’s inland flooding that needs our attention.
Inland flooding happens more often nowadays on a yearly basis, and it’s now started to happen repeatedly within each year, often in the same places. This year, 2016, saw people in north west England flooded half a dozen times, and the year before, parts of Somerset had been flooded for weeks at a time. The National Risk Register details the consequences of inland flooding:
casualties and fatalities
damage to property and infrastructure
loss and/or interruption of supply of essential goods and services
Consultation for a review of national flood resilience has just finished (on 4th March) though heaven knows when it will actually be published. In the meantime, there’s a central government page on the .gov.uk website for the 2015-2016 floods, which is more immediately helpful. Though my guess is that if you’re one of the people who have been affected, that page won’t look that great, and I must say, the government flood pages, whether they’re warnings, advice or active help, are a complete mess. There’s no one listing of all the useful pages that I can find, not at all. I can find them all, eventually, but I had a real sense of being on a merry-go-round.
Summary of the points below
check if you’re at risk.
sign up for flood alerts if so.
if you’re especially vulnerable, check beforehand if you can evacuate to somewhere safer close by.
nothing is 100% perfect: you may have to accept that the water will get in.
put everything as high up as possible: the next floor, the tops of the cabinets, tables, furniture on bricks if nothing else.
phone numbers and references of utilities, aid agencies, insurance company, financial affairs, friends and relatives should be kept with you.
deploy any flood defences you have: sandbags, floodboards etc.
garden: move any large/loose items or weigh them down.
move animals to safety, or prepare to evacuate them too.
move your car out of the flood risk area, but make sure you can still access it for evacuation.
make sure your flood kit is up to date: torch, warm and waterproof clothes and footwear, water, food, medication, rubber gloves, basic entertainment.
Although it’s not really near any particular danger points, the little streams that run through it have the potential to cause local havoc. That dark blue colour means there’s a 1 in 30 chance of flooding in any one year, that’s worth knowing.
There’s also a map showing current river levels: there are up to three information or gauging points in Bicester, where river data is collected, and this one shows that at the time of writing (10 March for this section) it’s in some danger of flooding, though it’s far from the worst it’s ever been. There’s also a link for danger from surface water flooding, and that one made it look like poor old Bicester was in danger of drowning.
So that’s the first thing: check whether your particular location is in any danger, both long term and right now, and checking the “gauging stations” close to you to see exactly how dangerous the current situation is. You could also sign up for flood alerts (like the maps, a link to the signup page is on the “Winter Flooding 2015” page). For people in danger zones, the flood alerts are free; I suspect others have to pay.
If you’re especially vulnerable – you live in a park home, or a ground floor flat, or a bungalow, or you or someone who lives with you is disabled or even bedridden, you have fewer options than most of us, and you’re unlikely to be able to ride out any flood in your own place safely. So you have to be prepared to evacuate, whether that means getting in your own car and driving out, or heading to a neighbour – maybe to a flat on a higher floor, or to the clubhouse if you’re in a park home, but something, somewhere. I strongly urge you, if you’re in this situation, to talk with your neighbours and see if a mutual aid exchange can be established. You can evacuate to them, maybe you can water their plants and draw their curtains when they go away?
The last thing to remember is that nothing you do is 100% perfect: even if you’ve done everything, and the three feet of water flowing past your home isn’t getting in, you may need to open your doors yourself, to let it in. Unfortunately, this is so that the pressure of the flood doesn’t collapse your walls – better to have to gut the inside of your house than have it collapse altogether.
If whatever defences you do have are overwhelmed, what would help you inside your property? I’ll write about defence products another time, but putting everything as high up as possible is a good basic precaution. Start with things that are low down, near to the floor, that are absorbent: wooden furniture, equipment or decorations – chairs, tables, and so on. I have a semi-abstract wooden sculpture of a cat that I’d hate to lose to a flood, it sits on the floor like a real cat would. Plenty of useful things aren’t particularly valuable but would be thrown out if they were contaminated by floodwater (remember it’s likely to have raw sewage in it): the wheels of a trolley, a wheelbarrow, or a bike, anything with moving parts like a hand whisk in a drawer. Plants and dishes … put everything up high, as far up as you can, on top of the kitchen cabinets is probably the highest – the floor above is best of all, of course.
There’s a two page pdf document that could be helpful. The listing of phone numbers – gas, electric, insurer, local council etc – is something that was amongst the first precautions I took when I first started prepping, and I’d hope anyone who’s been prepping longer than six months or so already has that bit sorted.
That document also has a list of specific actions which are really useful in case your defences are overwhelmed, as mentioned above:
move furniture and electrical items to safety
put flood boards, polythene and sandbags in place
make a list now of what you can move away from the risk
turn off electricity, water and gas supplies
roll up carpets and rugs
unless you have time to remove them, hang curtains over their rods
move sentimental items to safety
put important documents in polythene bags and move to safety.move your car out of the flood risk area
move any large or loose items or weigh them down
move animals to safety, or make sure you can take them with you when you yourself evacuate.
Inform your family or friends that you may need to leave your home
Get your flood kit together and include a torch, warm and waterproof clothing, water, food, medication, toys for children and pets, rubber gloves and wellingtons.
Other subjects I’ll be covering later include:
travelling/moving in a flood
flood defence products pre-installed in your property
afterwards: your health, your garden, your future.
Amazon has a huge amount of equipment that’s really useful in terms of preparedness, whether you’re preparing for the end of the world, or a three day interruption of the electricity supply. Plenty of my own preps come from Amazon: maps, first aid dressings, an old fashioned gardening book, batteries, a few plants, you name it. It’s incredibly useful to be able to go to one website: just like a supermarket or a department store …
Kindle books too: after all, I’ve published a kindle book myself. And you don’t have to have an actual kindle reader: there’s kindle software that you can download onto your existing computer, and take advantage of the free books, fact and fiction alike.
Earlier this year, I published a book on Amazon’s Kindle, called Getting Home In An Emergency, about how to “bug home”, as it’s called in preparedness circles. It’s about being able to get home under your own steam if there’s a severe problem that interrupts public transport while you’re out at work, or just out for a day somewhere a good distance away from your own town.
In this section of my website, I want to publish updates for that book as I find them – new online map sources, for instance, to help plan a route in advance,
And I want to let people know about other books I’ll be writing too. And I want to let people know about the preparedness goods you can buy on Amazon, there are many more than you’d expect, of a surprising variety too.