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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when they’re talking about rotating food stocks, so that we eat the oldest tins or packets first, to stop them going out-of-date.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!

The Christmas Tree Wall Hanging

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

The main picture is of a little wall hanging I have, made for me by a lady in her 80s. Its intricate and beautifully detailed, and a lovely thing to have, but its also a useful reminder about prepping in terms of the community at large.

The second picture is a detail of the reverse, to show how she engineered a really simple way of making a little “rail” to support the picture as a whole, and to provide a lengthy attachment that could be used with a hook. I love this: she used two thin knitting needles, and sewed them into the fabric of the hanging, you can just see the painstaking hand-stitching.  This is what any good prepper does: minimal work to adapt the resources at hand, so the job gets done with a minimum of fuss.

Most elderly people are women, but some are men, of course they are, and the generation currently in their eighties were the last generation in the UK – currently, at least – to be conscripted. Those gents sunning themselves in the beer garden or taking a little walk in the park, they may well have skills that you really, really didn’t expect to find. Don’t underestimate them, any of them, male or female.

Because of our ageing population, older people make up an increasingly large part of our numbers. And quite a few of them are pretty healthy, even in their 80s. This wall hanging is a reminder that even though they don’t have the physical strength or stamina of younger people, many of them still have skills and knowledge and dexterity, and will be willing to help in all sorts of ways in emergencies.

Those emergencies might be ordinary, everyday emergencies today – passing on messages, feeding the dog, being in the house to take in a delivery, watering the plants, collecting the post, that sort of thing.

But if times got really hard, for instance if the economy collapsed and local communities had to become more self reliant or go under, they might be called upon to do all sorts of other things. Here are just a few:

– providing space – to store goods, to grow young plants of various sizes, or even to have people bunk with them for a while, if need be.

– babysitting/watching the children.

– teaching.

– monitoring radios.

– monitoring solar battery chargers.

– cooking.

– darning and mending.

– information on local people and resources.

There’s a bit of a philosophical point as well: what kind of society do you want your kids to grow up in?  How would you want to be treated if you or your kids are ill, or get an injury, or you manage to survive what life throws at you and you just get old?    We’re all looking after each other, in the long term.

Health, wealth and happiness to us all.