I’ve just come back from what used to be the family home, a trip to work on probate issues. It’s almost a seven hour journey each way, and on a trip like that there’s a fine balance between taking normal prepper-type precautions and weighing yourself down with kit that you’ll never need.
I took the train both ways this time, though sometimes I do it by car. So, as well as taking the things I need normally to flourish – toothpaste and dental floss, changes of clothing including a good fleece and a waterproof, my kindle, all that sort of thing, what do I take with me?
my keyring has some gizmos on: seatbelt cutter, a little 1” spyderco knife, a sturdy metallic whistle, an extremely sturdy, fierce-looking bottle opener in the shape of a shark, that has several uses. I have a link below to a spyderco knife – bigger than mine, but recognisably the same line.
snacks. As well as my own food (intolerances of all sorts make this the best option) I carry snacks – usually oatcakes and dried fruit.
an all-metal pen, and a handy size anti-perspirant bottle sit ready for use, right by my antibacterial handgel.
a torch. I have a tiny 3” long thing, absolutely wonderful.
matches. Just because.
as much water as I’m comfortable carrying, usually only a litre, in two bottles.
extra cash, as much as I can stash away, in several different places.
there’s a tiny first aid kit, plasters, ibuprofen blah blah, nothing special. I confess, I do also put some water purification tabs in there when I’m travelling long distances.
toilet paper! It doesn’t need the end of the world for a UK train to run out of toilet paper.
a windup radio.
For the last two, in particular, I have to thank Jenny Sutherland, one of the female protagonists in Last Light, Alex Scarrow’s brilliant book. Hundreds of thousands of us are en route to or from somewhere every day, and chaos, even temporary chaos, doesn’t wait for us to get safely where we’re going. Prepping gives us all a helping hand in those situations.
These are links to the most common sorts of kit that can genuinely increase your ability to survive and prosper, whatever gets thrown at you. There’s also quite a lot of fun to be had with these: not just the reading, but the whittling with the knife, the fiddling about with the radio to listen to unusual channels, and playing endlessly with the torch.
For the return journey, my brother drove a van full of the stuff I went up there to sort and fetch – family papers and photos I’m taking care of, a patchwork quilt, my duvet, a couple of dining room chairs, some vintage glassware. He was also carrying my trolley case, and before the journey I was a bit concerned about not having my (very basic) preps with me on a seven hour which includes crossing London. But the above list of absolute essentials is so little, I could actually carry them in a day rucksack, and let the trolley case be used for boxes of the more fragile things. That was a win-win.
I know plenty of people online who’d be horrified at how short the above list is – and yes, there are some scenarios where, if I only had what was on this list, I’d be in trouble. But if prepping is also about attitude and thoughtfulness, then I’m good. I’ve taken calculated risks all my life, and they always work out, always – in the sense that if the bad thing happens, I can cope well enough with what I’ve got on hand, and adjust my actions and plans accordingly.
That’s real-world prepping, not end-of-the-world fiction. That sounds like it clashes with Last Light, which is end of the world fiction, after all. But Last Light is pretty real-world psychologically, all the better for it, and that’s what matters in this instance. In every instance, come to that!
There was actually quite a lot of fun involved in my recent trip to Ypres, as well as some solemn moments In Memoriam. That’s the atmosphere even at the Menin Gate ceremony itself – the local people who work so tirelessly don’t put on a faux long face, even as they line up with their wreaths, they’re chatting quietly and chuckling quietly with one another. There is a point made before the ceremony begins that there’s to be no applause, during or after, and that seems appropriate. We applaud more readily than we used to – but applause would feel misplaced, it’s true.
Ypres has found something else in its history, to help people have a bit of fun. It started off pretty gloomy – throwing live cats from a tall tower, which happened all over Europe in the Middle Ages, I’m afraid – but its become a carnival devoted to cats instead. This is the brochure of the latest carnival:
It has made me think about attitudes to prepping, and to being a prepper. It’s a serious business, after all – we’re trying to ensure the safety of our loved ones – but people can lose their way in prepping, and become far, far too intense about it all. Most preppers know this, and that’s why they talk about zombies; they know perfectly well that there aren’t any zombies, or anything else, waiting around the corner, and that the fears can be overstated, and talking about the zombies is just a way to have a bit of fun with it all, sort of keeping a sense of proportion.
People with dependent children are likely to be the ones who feel this ambiguity most deeply: they want to protect their children and help them be self sufficient, but they also want to give them a carefree childhood too. So preppers with children will nearly always pay great attention to fun and entertainment, and they’ll stock up on things that can provide that – cartoons, books, packs of cards, board games, colouring books and all sorts of toys that you can only see nowadays in an artisan toy shop made of sustainably produced wood.
Adults need to remember about the sense of fun. And although I don’t have kids, I do have a sense of humour. Really, I do.
Below, for instance, is my Every Day Carry torch … yes it is, that penguin. It’s a child’s torch, obviously, but for an EDC torch, it’s perfectly adequate. Its got LED lights, and the little sticky out thing on the side, that looks like the penguin’s wing, is actually a hand crank! I smile every time I see it, and that makes it worthwhile to me. And yes, I took it to Ypres.
So, what’s the rest of my Every Day Carry? Having just published my kindle book last month, Getting Home In An Emergency (shameless plug), what did I do on this journey to Belgium? What if there’d been an emergency of some sort? Well, we were in a car, so we brought more than if we were travelling by train or plane:
food! Carbohydrates, and protein that wouldn’t go off – dried fruit, nuts and seeds, peanut butter, energy bars, rice cakes, oat cakes, a few tins of potatoes and sweetcorn, cheese sandwiches, that sort of thing. Between the two of us, we had a week’s worth!
several bottles of water, and shelf stable fruit purees.
satnav. In everyday terms, it makes travel to unfamiliar places so easy. And it takes you on some surprisingly small roads – at one stage, we were on a single track road, and we had to use the passing places because of the farm vehicles, that was good to see.
two atlases, in case the satnav went down, and we could see our route roughly at any time.
lots of layers of clothes, as the forecast was hot, plus wet weather gear in case the forecast was wrong.
we both had first aid kits with us.
a few extras of my own as well – chlorine tablets, a couple of torches, a roll of toilet paper.
my travel partner isn’t a prepper as such, though they also like to be prepared, but I also had my own regular every day keyring carry, shown in the photo below (I’ve taken the items off the keyring, so they can be seen more clearly).
Did we use any of this? We used most of it to some degree, actually, which pleased me.
It was natural enough in most cases – if you’re taking Eurotunnel, its sensible to use the time in the car to have a car-based picnic, especially if you’re just on a short trip, so that once you’re at Calais you can speed off to wherever you’re going, and thats what we did. We did check the satnav by looking at the atlas, as we had a sequence of destinations in mind.
We also locked the doors while we were still on the train on the outward journey. We saw at least a dozen would-be immigrants running across the motorway almost directly in front of us; there had been a real struggle a few days previously, and we were very watchful for carjackers, though luckily we didn’t get caught in any traffic queues, so we never had to slow down.
But the funniest use of preps had to be on our return journey: we bought the makings of our fresh sandwiches at a little supermarket, and one ingredient was ready-sliced cheese. Not something I’d use normally, but on a trip, why not? Opening the pack, though – that was a different story, my scissors were safely packed away in my trolley case.
Answer: my seatbelt cutter! It was smooth, it was safe, it was quick. Sorted! And my non-prepper travel partner found out about a cheap, lightweight safety device that could save lives in an accident. I think I made a convert.
So what’s in that picture?
It’s very sparse, my everyday keyring carry, because I work from home – for me, most of the time, being “away from home” means being 12 minutes walk away at maximum, in the centre of the little town where I live nowadays. That’s near enough to pop back and forth without needing supplies, so I don’t carry supplies. The only reason I carry these things every day is that they’re on my keyring, and I’m not taking them on and off all the time, there’s no harm in carrying them all the time, so I do.
My Seat Belt Cutter (centre left at the bottom)
I used to have a pink one, but it was plastic, and it broke. This one is all business, and has several other little holes and edges that do all sorts of other things. It’s made of stainless steel, and it looks absolutely wicked, but there’s no malicious intent behind it – it’s a seatbelt cutter! And it’s lasted longer than my pink plastic one, and that’s what matters. It also contains an “oxygen tank opener, 1/4″ wrench, bottle opener, flathead screwdriver, lanyard hole and keyring”. I use the keyring hole, obviously, and I’ve now used the seatbelt cutting blade to open a pack of cheese slices, but that’s it.
My whistle (bottom right)
This is the other genuine prepping attachment – if you’re caught up in a terrorist attack, or you’re in a car accident and the car you’re in is now invisible from the road, you can draw the attention of the rescuers, as long as you’ve got breath to blow the whistle. I genuinely think this is important.
My little knife, UK legal (top left)
This “knife” has a blade about half an inch long. It too would have opened my pack of ready-sliced cheese. You’d be able to sharpen a pencil with it, as my dad used to do. You could cut a shoelace if you need to tie on an improvised bandage. That’s about it.
A handcuff key (top right)
Now, this isn’t really a prep for me. Although I have seen it discussed on forums, I actually dug this out from existing supplies, namely a set of thumbcuffs bought at an alternative-type gift shop on the south coast. It’s very lightweight, and I think it’s quite funny to have it on my keyring. There. I’ve said it. There’s that sense of humour thing again …
Here’s my penguin torch too …
I have two other torches. One on a headband, as that’s recommended if you’re doing something in the dark that requires two hands, like rummaging for a piece of equipment during a power cut, or even changing a car wheel. My second is a hefty thing that commands respect, as well as a bright light.
The thing is, we’re human beings, we need humour to stay sane and to keep a sense of proportion. If there were a huge disaster, and I gave my penguin torch to someone to help them get home, for instance, maybe it would raise a smile for them. Why not? In the meantime, it raises a smile for me. That’s good.