Tag Archives: fun

Bonfire time

First burn in the new incinerator

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

Before you start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stack of wood ready for burning

Incinerator

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

Bonfire structure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not using an incinerator?

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

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

Accelerant

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

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

While a bonfire is alight

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

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

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

Dying down

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

And one more thing

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

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

Skills Practice

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

So, what to do?

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

Skills practice with nunchucks, radio and garden twine.

Knots

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

Radio

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

Nunchuck practice

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

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

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

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

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

Preparedness on holiday

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

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

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

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

  • a good quality jacket.

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

  • sunscreen and sunglasses too.

  • whistle and signalling mirror.

  • windup radio, compass.

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

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

  • screwdriver for glasses and sunglasses.

  • first aid kit and water purification tabs.

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

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

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

Lifejackets
Ship’s tender cum lifeboat

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

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

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

Dangerous waters

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

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

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!

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.

 

Pets

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

Walk the dogs first thing in the morning then after the sun goes down in the evening Make sure they have access to 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?

 

Activities
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.

 

Dangers on the beach

Real life issues came calling on me in late spring and early summer, some good (weddings!) and some bad (illness and a few unnameable emergencies). So there was no blogging, but I was still taking pictures, and bearing in mind my determination to post a series about flooding, I thought I’d put up these pictures, taken during the storm that killed my garden fence.

Public Sea Safety Information
Public Sea Safety Information
Be Happy And Safe
Be Happy And Safe

The media love stories about sharks in British waters (though here’s a more realistic piece from the Beeb last year) but my pictures to the left show the real dangers: people getting swept off their feet by a large wave and not being able to get back in control, swimmers not realising how dangerous the water temperature and currents can be, people jumping off the piers and either hitting their heads or just not having the strength to swim back to shore. Even on sunny days. And sadly, people jumping in to try to save their dogs: usually, the dogs manage to swim back, and the people drown.

All of that is made worse by drunkenness – Brighton is one of the ultimate party towns, of course – and ignorance of the local conditions in particular, and the power of the sea in general. Some of those who die are children, whose parents/guardians let them walk right at the water’s edge during a storm, because they genuinely don’t understand how unpredictable the sea can be. And at Brighton, the shape of the beach causes huge problems, the shingle shelves very steeply in a few places: you can see it in the picture in this second BBC report.

Brighton and Hove Council have got a good section on their website about sea safety, including videos and video transcripts and a link to RNLI information. The text includes the weaver fish, which I’d heard of, but didn’t know how to treat. I do now!

Such avoidable deaths … please make sure you and yours are safe near the water, wherever you are, and that you know about any local hazards.

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The trip to Ypres, a sense of humour and my Every Day Carry

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:

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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.

My lovely penguin torch
My lovely penguin torch

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 …

My lovely penguin torch
My lovely penguin torch

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.