Tag Archives: survival skills

Travelling in extreme weather

The best strategy is to stay in. Check forecasts with a reputable source if the news predicts difficult conditions. Consider whether your journey is really necessary. If you’re travelling to an event, contact the organisers and make sure it’s going ahead. Do you need to go out for supplies, or could you last out on stores? Can you arrange a video call instead of a visit?

It’s not always possible to avoid having to travel. You may already be a long way from home. Using a credit card responsibly allows you spare borrowing capacity. It might be better to book into a hotel for the night and continue your journey in daylight. The extreme weather event may have passed over by then.

The metrological services can predict storms with some accuracy these days, but they can move faster, or be more violent, than expected. If you’re driving in high winds, try to use main roads, where there is less chance of falling branches. Look out for side gusts, especially on exposed parts of the road. Your vehicle can be blown off course, other traffic may be pushed into your path, or debris may fly across the road. Take care when overtaking, keep both hands on the wheel and concentrate at all times. You are not safe.

Storms are often accompanied by heavy rain. A wet road surface is slippery. Stay a good distance behind the car in front, and reduce your speed. Investing in good tyres with a deep tread helps protect you from aquaplaning. You shouldn’t attempt to drive through flood water. Even if it looks shallow, you can’t see what’s under the surface.

Hail can fall with such violence that it could break your side or rear car windows, which are not as strong as the windscreen. Try to pull over during a severe hailstorm, if it’s safe to do so.

Fog can descend rapidly and unexpectedly. It’s hard to gauge your speed when the sides of the road are obscured, so check your speedometer regularly. You should be driving slowly, and once more leaving yourself a lot of room. Keep headlights dipped, or they will just reflect off the fog bank. Only use your fog lights when you’re having difficulty seeing the tail lights of a vehicle in front of you. Turn them off when visibility improves, as they are a distraction to other drivers.

In winter, both storms and fog can be accompanied by ice or snow. These create very dangerous driving conditions. If you are caught out at night with a long way to go, you should definitely consider heading for a hotel or service area. A car park with facilities is going to be more comfortable than being trapped in a snowdrift.

snow on main road in Glastonbury March 2018

Freezing weather may cause patches of black ice, and snow can quickly turn to ice on a road surface. Be very careful when using your brakes in such conditions. Stay alert for potential hazards so that you can reduce speed carefully. Sudden braking may cause you to skid. The advice here is to steer gently into a skid – if the rear of your car is moving to the right, steer to the right. Braking hard will make things worse.

A thick layer of frozen rain on a window
A thick layer of frozen rain on a window

Pedestrians can face many dangers as well. Apart from the hazards posed by drivers losing control of their vehicles, you are more vulnerable to wind-blown debris when on foot. Keep away from the sheltered side of high walls and trees where possible. If they fall, it will be in this direction.

You are unlikely to be out on foot while the storm is raging, but once the rain has stopped you might venture to walk the dog or go to the shops. Don’t try to walk through flood water, especially if it’s moving. Remember one cubic metre of water weighs a ton – as much as a small car – so a hand’s depth can easily sweep you off your feet and carry you into the nearby river.

Go slowly on ice, and concentrate, to avoid falls. Don’t turn your head to talk to companions, and stop walking if you need to consult your phone. Using a back-pack for shopping keeps your hands free for better balance. If you’re walking in a remote or rural area during freezing conditions, it’s a good idea to let someone know where you are going. Remember to tell them when you get back, or reach your destination.

 

‘Recipes for Resilience – common sense cooking for the 21st century’ contains lots of advice about keeping a good food store.  Forget the sacks of rice which you’ll never manage to eat and keep a box handy of the things you actually use!

Then make a cake, load up a film and sit out the bad weather!

 

 

 

 

 

Making waxed cloth – a craft interlude

Here at Resilience Central, we decided to take a break from researching improvised face-masks and try out a craft recipe.   Squares of cloth impregnated with beeswax are a useful alternative to clingfilm, so we set about making some.

Before you try this at home, make sure you have examined the item as sold in shops or craft markets.  This will give you an idea of what it should look like.

You will need

  • some light cotton cloth, about thin tea-towel grade
  • beeswax
  • An electric iron which will be dedicated to wax-based crafts from now on
  • An old towel
  • greaseproof paper

You have to grate the beeswax, but a good rinse with boiling water should clean up the grater.

We had a block of about 500 grams and used two-thirds of it.  We made two large cloths and four small ones from this, as follows….

Grating the beeswax
Grating the beeswax

We were working on the kitchen counter, but with a bit more thought we’d have found a large sheet of wood, or a table instead.  Lay down the old towel, which will also belong in the wax box now – don’t try to wash it in a machine!

On top of this goes a large sheet of greaseproof paper.  We were lucky enough to have catering size, but you can use smaller gauge and overlap the sheets.  The layer of paper has to be larger than the cloth.  The cloth to be waxed goes on next, and is sprinkled with the grated wax.

showing how much wax to use on one of the small cloths
Sprinkling the wax

After some trial and error, we found this amount worked for us.  Cover the cloth with another piece of greaseproof paper.  Set your iron quite high, on the linen setting, and on no account use steam.  Iron over the top paper.  You’ll soon see the wax melting underneath; push it all over the cloth with the iron.

ironing the waxed cloth
Ironing the waxed cloth

Observe how the greaseproof paper goes transparent.  You can see where the wax is going.  While ensuring a good seal, try not to lose too much over the edge of the cloth, as it’s very difficult to retrieve from the paper afterwards.

When you’re sure all the cloth is covered with as even a layer of wax as you can achieve, give the top paper a quick warm up with the iron and peel it off.  Pick up the waxed cloth and hold it up by the corners until it cools down a bit, then drape it over a rack or the top of a door.

The faster you separate the cloth and papers, the easier it will be.  If you let the wax cool down, the paper may tear, which is a pity as you can reuse it for this purpose until it does.

finished waxed cloth hanging over the door
Finished waxed cloth hanging over the door

So that’s how we made waxed cloth.

You have to wipe it clean after use, not wash it.  If the cloths begin to get a bit crumpled and cracked, get out the wax box again and re-iron them as explained above.  You probably won’t need to add any more wax, just melt what’s already there and spread it around some more.

 

Remember to get your fortnight’s worth of tinned and dried food in!  That’ll see you through a quarantine.  There’s a list and lots of other useful advice in ‘Recipes for Resilience – common sense cooking for the 21st century’

 

 

Quarantine

“To separate and restrict the movements of well persons who may have been exposed to a communicable disease, to see if they become ill”

Quarantined people were often allowed to remain in their homes. It’s a long time since there was a need for this to be taken seriously. The last time this procedure was used in Britain was during the flu epidemic of 1918. More recently, in 1972, during a smallpox outbreak in Yugoslavia, their government had to impose martial law to enforce a rigorous quarantine, in association with the World Health Organisation.

The word ‘quarantine’ comes from the Italian ‘quaranta giorni’ meaning 40 days. While the Black Death raged in Europe, incoming ships had to stand off from coastal cities for this period before they were allowed to land people or cargo. After 37 days, one is either dead of the plague, or free of infection. Quarantine periods for other diseases, such as cholera, were shorter.

‘Isolation’ is a more serious form of quarantine. It involves the separation of people who are actually ill from the rest of the population, usually in a facility with medical staff. Historically, it was mainly applied to lepers, hence these facilities were often termed ‘lazarets’. It’s also used where people can’t be trusted to obey the rules of self-quarantine, as in the famous case of ‘Typhoid Mary’.

An entire community can be isolated by a ‘cordon sanitaire’. The village of Eyam, in Derbyshire, saved their neighbours from the plague in 1665 using this strategy. The reverse can be applied, where a community isolates themselves from potentially infectious people. This is called ‘protective sequestration’.

These tactics were often used in Britain. Villages traded and communicated with each other through ‘wheat stones’. At a convenient halfway point, goods were placed on a large stone, or slab, to be collected. Often, there was a cup-shaped depression in the slab, filled with vinegar, to disinfect money. Place names, such as the ‘Slab House Inn’ near Wells still recall these practices.

 

The Resilience Handbook has advice about emergency isolation in your own home.  At least if you are in quarantine, you can expect mains services to continue.  Other emergencies can be even more challenging.  

Keep a distance of two meters from people who bring you supplies.  If you don’t have a face mask, a scarf over your nose and mouth will protect them from germs if you cough or sneeze.  A bottle of vinegar, or some other disinfectant, is essential and a large stash of pound coins might come in handy!

Recipes for Resilience – common sense cooking for the 21st century‘ has more detailed advice about the fortnight’s supply of food which you might need in any emergency, but which is particularly relevant now.

May Diary 2018

The challenges of growing vegetables continue; a very brief Spring has been swiftly followed by long hot days with no rain.  The seedlings, root systems stunted by the unseasonable cold, struggle to gather water from the hard soil.

A greenhouse is becoming essential to cope with this erratic weather.  If you plan to assemble your own, read the instructions carefully and proceed slowly.  Photos of the demonstration model in the garden centre could prove useful.

Greenhouse and field may18

Watering the allotment, some miles from where I live, is a daily chore.  Mature plants are doing far better than fresh sowings, but I’m still concerned about the meagre amount of food coming up.  The Resilience Garden benefits from waste household water and a handy tap.

The role of water in cultivation is highlighted by this drought.  The kitchen gardens of old came as much from the availability of used water as from the convenience of having herbs to hand.

Early summer is a time of leisure for the resilience smallholder, of watching the plants grow and enjoying the flowers.  Many events, cancelled because of the snow, reinvented themselves.  Seedy Sunday became Seedling Sunday…

Seedling Sunday RBB May18

Somerset Day was celebrated…

Somerset Day May18

…and there was a Graffiti Day at the skateboard park.

Skateboard park may18

We went to try out the archery at Mendip Snowsports Centre, and discovered Frisbee Golf!  Although not all the baskets were this deep in woodland, my frisbee always headed for the nearest nettle patch!

Frisbee Golf at Mendip snowsports centre

The centre offers bushcraft and target shooting, as well as the artificial slopes for snow-related activities.  There’s a pleasant cafe and bar; a good place to have a day brushing up your resilience skills.

Networking is an important part of community resilience, a whole section of the Resilience Plan.  People need to exchange news after the winter season, when travel can be limited.  It’s important to be aware of dangers and opportunities in the local area and beyond.

The concept of ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ was identified before the internet was developed; we need not be dependent on technology for our world news.  Local events, with their travelling pedlars and performers, were once key information nodes, and often more fun!

The free soap nuts were a great success!
The free soap nuts were a great success at the Repair Cafe!

 

Basic Emergency Planning

Most emergencies you’re likely to encounter are simple domestic ones.  If you lock yourself out, you’ll need a locksmith. Here’s some simple precautions to take, and a few things to try first.

Sometimes things may get more serious.  Suppose you’re snowed in and can’t get to work? Take a look at this guide to your legal position – as both an employee and an employer.  Is your area at risk from flooding? What should you do?

Hebden Bridge floods

Do you know how to turn your utilities off safely? You can protect your home better if you understand these basic principles.

If your area is hit by an emergency, you will either be evacuated or isolated from one or more mains services.   There’s a whole section in the Resilience Handbook about coping with both situations, but here’s some quick tips:-

Keep a camping stove and a portable heater; if you don’t have room for the latter, some hot water bottles at least.  A large flask is also useful.  Have a store of food and water – its size depends on how much suitable space you have.

a box of emergency food supplies

In the UK, the National Health Service and the Government websites will be used for emergency announcements; you could bookmark them.  Announcements can also be made on local radio – it’s a challenge to list all the local radio stations in the UK, but Wikipedia have had a go!

If you’re evacuated, you’ll need a grab bag;  keep this ready packed and check it once every few months.  American preppers are always good for practical survival tips; here’s instructions for assembling a first aid kit.

On the subject of medicines – always take your medications and a copy of the prescription with you in an evacuation!  You may expect to be gone for only a couple of hours, but these situations have a habit of escalating; pack for at least one night away.

There are many ways you can contribute to forming a resilient society, but keeping a grab bag ready is only a small chore.  There may not be much time to escape a flood, so people who are ready to go are really helpful.  If you’ve packed some useful things to share – a deck of cards, some sweets, a spare torch – things can go much better during the long wait at the evacuation centre.

And, if there’s never an emergency….take your grab bag out on a camping adventure and see how it works for real!

 

More about Foraging

Wild garlic, or ramsoms, is growing in profusion now.  It can be used in many recipes, added to soups and stews, or washed and munched raw.wild garlic growing

Below is the young leaf of a Cuckoopint, or Arum Lily.  These often grow in the same patch as wild garlic – weed them out of your own forage area.  Pay attention to the leaf veins.  They are branched, as opposed to the garlic which has parallel veins like a grass blade.  The arrow shape becomes more pronounced as the leaves mature.

arum leaf growing

If you eat cuckoopint by accident, it will cause a burning sensation in your mouth which can last for several days.

bluebell roots and leaves

Bluebell comes out a little later, so it’s fairly easy to tell the leaves apart from wild garlic, which will be moving into the flowering stage by then.  It occupies the same woodland habitat as the garlic too.

All these leaves vanish completely in the summer, except for the cuckoopint which goes on to produce its vivid orange berry spikes.  These are also poisonous to humans.  No sign of any of these plants is visible in autumn and winter.  However, the edible bulbs of the wild garlic are still there underground.

When learning this plant series, it’s identifying these bulbs which you should concentrate on.  Without any other clues, it could be tricky; you need to avoid including cuckoopint or bluebell in your forage.

wild garlic close up bulb

arum lily bulb close up

bluebell roots

Establish specimens of each in pots and watch them grow.  Dig up some roots and study them.  Wash your hands after breaking up the cuckoopint; if you have sensitive skin, it may be worth wearing gloves.  Once you have thoroughly learned all three, you are equipped to forage for them in the woods, should you ever need wild food.

In order to protect these important plants, it is illegal to dig them up in the UK without the permission of the landowner.  Hence you should grow your own for study.

When you do, you will observe  that the tiny first-year roots of all three look much the same – an oval white bulb about the size of a match head.  Only gather the larger wild garlic bulbs which have developed the brownish root skin.

Action task 9 in the Food section of the Resilience Assessment  requires you to go on a walk to identify edible wild plants.  Look for wild garlic in local woods or under trees in parks.  Are there more plants which grow in that area, such as daffodils, which you need to be confident of identifying?

The simple questions in the Resilience Handbook encourage you to establish a layer of underpinning knowledge upon which you can build your resilient lifestyle!

April Diary 2018

The weather in the Summerlands went straight from cold and icy to cold and wet.  I planted some onions, but the peas went in the neighbour’s greenhouse to get started, and the potatoes are still chitting in the shed.  I found out that you should wait until the soil is roughly the same temperature as the potatoes before planting them.  I’m experimenting with new varieties this year, so there should be notes.

The wasabi plants thought they might die, so they flowered again; they haven’t done this since the last snow, seven years ago!  There are four pots, all cloned from the same rootstock, and they all flowered at once, even the one kept some miles away at the allotment.

wasabi flowers UK

Starting with a scrawny two-year plant from the market, over the years their leaves have become smaller, glossier and tougher.  Wasabi are awkward customers in that they like damp but cope badly with slugs; they make up for this by thriving in the cold weather.

I planted out the burdock salvaged from the resilience field.  Three plants had shared a pot over the winter, and their calorie-rich roots grew so fast that there was hardly any soil left.  I’m hoping to start a breeding colony in the woodland strip.

I’ve written about burdock in ‘Recipes for Resilience’ as it’s a good emergency food source.   The root fattens up in the first year, and is used up in the second summer to produce the large flowering stems.  This is a good time of year to harvest these roots, but only the spring leaves can be seen.

spring burdock

Compared with….

The spring leaves of poisonous foxglove

Growing both these plants in your Resilience Garden enables you to study them in detail, so you won’t dig up the wrong one – note the foxglove is kept in a pot.  Feel the leaf textures and observe the shades of green.

Practise  identifying them on a forest walk – but don’t dig up wild plants as that’s illegal in the UK unless you have the landowner’s permission and it’s not an endangered species.  Take pictures, and return later in the year to see if you were right.  It takes a couple of years’ study to really learn a plant.

The dismal, threatening weather meant the planned Magic Oxygen Literary Prize Giving was filmed for YouTube.  None of us were confident about travelling to Lyme Regis, given the weather forecast!  Although we didn’t get much snow here in the South, the rain was relentless and there was a lot of water on the roads.

Saturday itself was almost a nice day.  I worked on some of the infrastructure projects in the garden, feeling that these should have been finished weeks ago.  The plum tree is blossoming with the utmost caution; the bumblebees are about, but I haven’t seen any honey bees yet.

plum flowers 2018

Winter slinks out of the door, turning to snarl “I’ll be back!”, as Spring tiptoes tentatively in.

 

 

 

 

Some Notes on Apples

It’s starting to look like a late Spring here in a thawed, but still shocked, Somerset.  Plants are cautiously emerging, but the buds on the trees remain resolutely closed.  As their roots are still dormant,  you’ve a little time left to plant out saplings.  This should be done before late March.

Apples are such a staple food that it’s good to have a tree in your garden.  Our estate was built on an old orchard, and a few of the original trees are left.  My neighbour has one, left to grow to its full size over several decades.

You don’t necessarily want one that large.   Techniques for growing smaller trees have been developed over the centuries since the sweet Chinese apple came over the Silk Road to Europe.  Our native crabapple was bitter, but adapted to the climate.  The sciences of grafting, pruning and cross breeding were known to ancient cultures.

Today, a vigorous rootstock is grown, then the top part of this tree replaced with a branch from a ‘fruitstock’.  The resultant apple tree takes on the shape of the root variety, yet provides fruit  from the graft type.   You can buy dwarf trees, bearing your favourite apple but staying quite small.

These aren’t cheap, and will be something of a fixture; it can be several years before you get any fruit at all.  It’s worth going to a short course with an expert to learn the basics of orchard management and how to apply these to your garden.  Knowledge of this kind is a community asset, as described in the Handbook, so I went on a refresher course.

Anthony Ward, our tutor, is the keeper of the Chalice Well orchard in Glastonbury.  We were planting some trees in a new field at Brook End Farm, situated where the Levels rise into hillier ground to the east.

You can see the knobbly bit on the trunk from the graft.  If you have a pot-bound tree like this, dig your hole square so the roots can spread out easier.

The stake is driven in after the tree is planted.  Modern ties allow more movement, as the action of the wind strengthens the roots.  The grass is kept away from the trunk with a mulch; a precaution ignored with less valuable trees.  For the first few weeks, make sure the sapling neither dries out nor sits in a puddle.  Then forget about it till it needs pruning, which is a whole other story.

This is the apple tree in the Resilience Garden.  It grew from an apple core hidden in a plant pot by my daughter.  Although it produces good red eating apples, it clearly wants to be a very large tree.  It’s an example of very bad pruning;  I tried to make a ‘goblet’ shape without taking into account the shading from the fence behind.  After that, I appreciated the courses more.

The mulch to the right of the tree is the filling from a defunct futon mattress, which I’m covering with a thick layer of leaf mould.  I have access to a large pile of this; otherwise I’d use soil exported from the raised beds.  The green shoots are wild garlic; they’ll be ready to harvest soon.

Wild Garlic Pesto

2 rounded tablespoons of crushed nuts (50 grams; 2 ounces)

2 handfuls of wild garlic leaves, washed and shaken dry (100 grams; 4 ounces)

1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese – vegans can substitute yeast flakes

4 – 6 tablespoons of olive oil (100 – 150 ml; 4 – 6 fluid ounces)

a dash of lemon juice and a pinch of salt to taste

Blend everything together and serve with pasta!

I couldn’t resist adding that recipe, from ‘Recipes for Resilience‘…..wild garlic does make a lovely pesto and it has quite a short season.  I grow a lot of it under bushes and in the wild areas, as very reliable spring greens.  The nettles are coming up too – vitamins arriving at just the right time!

I’ve been asked to talk about resilience at the Earth Hour event in Chard, Somerset on the 24th March; I’ll be signing Resilience Handbooks too.   The daytime events are free, so drop in if you’re in the area!

 

May Diary 2016

Well, April was something of a disaster!  I had to cut my South West trip short as there were problems with my car – it turned out the alternator was slowly dying and communicating its distress to the steering and clutch through the wonders of modern car electronics.  At least I got my boots ordered first!

Peugot on Dartmoor
Peugot on Dartmoor

I did manage to explore the fabulous Scilly Isles, ancient haunt of pirates, for the day.  I dined on fish at the ‘Admiral Benbow’ on my return – yes, I know it’s not the real one from the book but it had to be done!  Penzance Youth Hostel was excellent, one of those with a lively sociable lounge and valuable parking space.

If you go to Cornwall in the summer, don’t take a car!  My landscape reading skills tell me that the narrow rocky peninsula is not kind to vehicles.  You can get a whole day’s travel on the buses for the price of an hour’s parking.  If there’s enough of you to fill a car, check parking on Google Streetview, look for reviews.  It’s more of an adventure to go on public transport!

Adventure was the theme at Falmouth Marine Museum.  Sailing out into the unfriendly Atlantic in a wooden ship, with no engines to steer you away from the jagged rocks lining this coast – no wonder so many pubs are furnished with the spoils of shipwreck!  There was a Viking exhibition featured too, a fascinating insight into the everyday lives of these fearsome reavers.

The deck of a seagoing Viking ship and an explanantion of the reverse osmosis method used for drinking water in Malta
The deck of a seagoing Viking ship and an explanation of the reverse osmosis method used for drinking water in Malta

I had to limp home and forego my visit to Tintagel and the nearby town of Boscastle.  The flooding there in 2004 inspired the ‘Strategic National Framework on Community Resilience’ which was an important influence on the Resilience Handbook.  Bringing resilience into play, I renavigated my course to the Bristol Survival School weekend camp to go by bus.

My goal was to learn to use a fire drill, as featured on ‘The Island’.  I achieved that, but also learned that anyone who’s good enough to get a fire going with this method in under ten minutes – and there were a few! – wears a flint and steel around their neck.  Fire drilling doesn’t seem to be the preferred method, and it is very difficult.

I continued my work on identifying burdock in its first year stage, which is when the large tasty roots form.  I’ve nearly nailed down the differences with the poisonous foxglove.  Please don’t go digging up wild plants though, except with the informed permission of the landowner.  Use your Resilience Garden space – even if it’s only patio pots – to cultivate your own forage plants.  You only need to get to know them, maybe try a few…

making fire drill

Above, the instructor is carving out a fire drill set from raw wood.  Below, an ember has been lit from the powdered wood created by the drilling process, and has been transferred to a piece of bark.  At this stage you use ’ember extenders’ to nurse it into a larger coal.  This is placed in a hank of dried grass and blown into flame, narrowly missing your eyebrows.

firedrill ember 20160423_200120

The Methane Saga

The Methane Saga

or

The Production of Methane Gas Described in the British Style of Finnish Epic Poetry

I was listening to a recording of the Kalevala, the Finnish epic poem, while crocheting. These tales were created to be spoken or sung, and I was struck by the way they harmonised with repetitive creative tasks.  One is busy but relaxed; it can be dull without listening to something entertaining.  Hence the popularity of knitting circles.

Imagine an extended family in a snow bound yurt dwelling.  After months together, interesting subjects for conversation may be limited.  How to amuse oneself while making socks or whittling knife handles?

“Tell us a story, Grandparent” comes the call.  Arthritic hands are no longer nimble enough to join in the tasks, but a fireside place is welcome.  And so it begins….

Tales created to be spoken communicate in different ways to those designed for the written word.  If you weren’t paying attention, you can’t turn the page back.  Listening to the Kalevala, I found that momentary focus on my work meant I lost a few lines, but not the gist of the plot.  Even if I had missed some crucial words, important concepts are repeated several times, key events padded out with description.

The ‘Hiawatha’ rhythm in which English translations of these poems are recited seems to bear little relation to the singing of the original.  There’s a sample of this on Wikipedia.  My musings on the ancient origins of epic poems may be mere fiction.

However, author Lewis Dartnell has speculated at length in ‘The Knowledge – How to Rebuild our World from Scratch’ on how we can preserve important scientific discoveries in the event of global catastrophe.  This style of telling seems well adapted to embed this information.  It falls into memory as if it were designed to, and the redundancy guards against attrition.

In the post-apocalyptic landscape, you can bet people will have to knit socks, possibly in a yurtish sort of dwelling. So I wrote the ‘ The Production of Methane Gas Described in the British Style of Finnish Epic Poetry ‘. It’s very long, a good sock’s worth to a fast knitter, so it’s on its own page. I’ll be checking the technical details with the biochar people, but as the epic points out ‘ And with care prevent explosion’!

The Resilience Handbook will be out soon!!

You can place advance orders here