Tag Archives: getting home

EDC: travelling in the UK

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 compass.

  • 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!

Escaping railway stations

This post comes from having too much time on my hands at railway stations over the last year. And from my regular travelling companion, who isn’t a prepper, suggesting that when we meet up at a London railway terminus, we should do it outside the main station, to avoid bomb blast and falling glass. That didn’t come from me, this time: safety from terrorism in particular is definitely becoming more mainstream.

A regional station

Last summer, for instance, I was changing trains at a station named Three Bridges, which I pass through every month or so. That day, my train was cancelled so I had an unplanned half hour to spend there. I didn’t feel like settling down with my book, and instead I had a walk round, thinking about preparedness. I use this station regularly, to visit a local shopping centre, I have friends and relatives who live nearby, and I pass through it other times too, including going to and from London, so it was actually a good use of the time.

What really got me thinking was, what if I was trapped on the station platforms by a big accident or a terrorist incident of some sort, maybe in the forecourt? Trains would be stopped in such a situation, I think, because the rail line runs right by the forecourt. The forecourt is busy in itself, an ‘A’ road runs right past, there are industrial areas nearby, and the rail line itself is very, very active, one of the busiest in the country. So, as I had a whole half hour to spend, I walked up and down the platforms at the edges of the site, and had a look how I’d get out.

Any kind of expedient exit from the platforms themselves would have to be on the opposite side of the station from the forecourt, i.e. to the east, as the deadly-in-this-scenario forecourt is on the western side of the rails – and there at least two chances of escape to the east.

At one place, there’s a gap underneath the platform, and if the trains were stopped you could quickly scramble through and get out to a small road. And they surely would be stopped if, say, there was a fire on the forecourt right next to the bridge carrying the railway lines. The wriggle gap is only two or three feet high, but it’s enough. I went to the next platform over so I could take a photo of the gap (I was really into the exercise by this time!).

The gap underneath the eastern platform at Three Bridges Railway Station

Further down the platform, even further away from that dangerous forecourt of my scenario, there’s a long metal fence thats maybe six feet high. But right by it are a series of seats, and poles supporting railway signage. Some of them even have a handy roof on the other side of the fence as a nice little handhold. Once over the fence, you’d be in a local car park, about thirty feet from a secondary main road, and since you’re far away from the business end of the station, you have successfully removed yourself from the most dangerous part of the event.

Platform furniture as an escape route

You’d be on foot, then, of course, but at least you have options again.

On the western side of the station, it’s much more difficult to investigate, which is paradoxical because that’s the site of the much bigger public car park; but possibly because of that, and because of building works, there are serious amounts of fencing and locked gates blocking the way. I didn’t have time to investigate from the westernmost platform either. That’s a job for another time.

St Pancras International

I used St Pancras very recently when going to see the Harry Potter exhibition at the British Museum. Preparedness is not my whole life, I’m happy to say. But the wait for the train was almost as long as it had been at Three Bridges last summer, so I did the same sort of thing. Where would I go, in a terrorist attack, or a fire?

You could hide behind one of those big pillars, and hope that terrorists wouldn’t come further down the platform (unlikely).

A railway platform at St Pancras International, with doors and potential hiding places

You could run down the tracks (you’re very visible, and there’d probably still be trains running at that stage of the emergency).  But maybe better to do that than get shot, or suffer smoke inhalation.

Or you could run through the emergency exit door. I was pretty circumspect about taking this photo, I didn’t want to start off an alarm myself, but it’s clear that there’s a way out in an emergency, as long as it’s not blocked or something. Another exit sign is just visible through the glass of the door, but I can’t tell anything else about it.

Emergency exit doors at St Pancras platform

This sort of exercise should hopefully be carried out in relation to any place you pass through or travel to, especially if you travel there regularly. Although of course it can be argued it’s all the more important to do this when you’re not familiar with the place, and you haven’t been there before. Remember this: things happen when you least expect them, in places which you thought would probably be fairly safe and predictable. Using a spare half hour for a thought experiment in preparedness is a useful thing to do, in itself, and because it keeps you alert to your opportunities. And they’re not just your opportunities either. In a real life emergency, maybe your demonstration of a way out from the blocked platforms could have defused tension, given anxious people something to do, or even saved lives – you can’t really know, but it’s a real possibility. When you prep in this way, you benefit yourself and other people too.

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.

 

New kindle book “Getting Home In An Emergency”

The author: me!  Seriously …  And its free for three promotional days, from Saturday 28th March, this Saturday.  Hopefully, that’s enough notice for those of you who’d like to read it.

I started to write it simply because it was a subject that really interested me, and that was very relevant to me: if there was a wide-scale problem that stopped all public transport and impacted private transport too, how would I get home?  I live in a fairly small town, and when I go out, I’m almost bound to be leaving it, unless I’m just popping out to the bank or something.  And its a perfectly normal thing for me to go to London for the day, which is about an hour’s journey for me.

You’ll see many preppers, and even more survivalists, talking about “bugging out”.  Since I don’t have brilliant health, any bug-out that I do is likely to be to the nearest hotel, or to my sister’s house.  But bugging home, that’s another matter – being able to get home in safety from wherever I am, no matter what craziness is going on around me.

The book isn’t an instruction manual so much as a talk-through of the ideas and issues that you’d need to get your head around if this kind of event were to happen.  It focusses on London because so many people either work there or visit there, but the ideas can be applied nationally.

I’d appreciate it if you’d leave a review after you’ve read it – positive, if you possibly can, ha!   I hope to be writing other books, including a fictional story about a slow economic collapse,  and I’ll let people on here know about that too.

Thanks for reading!