Politics and Prepping Priorities

With the referendum vote now on the doorstep (the day after tomorrow!) it’s time to look closely at what we need to prep for on Friday.

There’s a very specific risk that might possibly manifest on Friday. Voting ends at 10pm on Thursday night, the counting will be going on overnight and the Chief Counting Officer anticipates getting the final total and result out by breakfast on Friday.

And at that point, given how close the polls are indicating this vote could be, very nearly half Scotland’s population wakes up to the bitterness of defeat. Fractionally over half the population wins and starts celebrating.

Passion has been ramping up for months and whichever side loses, there’s a potential there for frustration, rage and disappointment to spill over into civil disobedience, rioting and violence.

As far as I’m concerned, once I cast my vote that is it and I have no further interest in the arguments for and against – it’s time to shut up and buckle down to living together and making the best of whatever we’ve democratically chosen to do. Living out in the sticks here and having kept my personal opinion very definitely under the radar locally, I don’t anticipate any trouble in the village here – but Sunday was the day I dropped off my daughter in the middle of Glasgow, notoriously not the most relaxed and easy-going city in the country. As a result, I’ve spent some time today quietly plotting out potential escape routes for her to use if she has to bug out hurriedly. It’s a remote possibility, given that she’s in student accomodation and both the university and the police will be wary of disturbance (in fact rumour suggests there are already reinforcements in Scottish cities from other police forces in the UK, ready for any trouble), but between friends and family members, it should be possible to navigate her safely out and into a bolthole. She knows to call me for details if she needs them and she’ll be keeping her head down over the weekend and staying out of crowds and in amiable company.

Fingers crossed the worst doesn’t happen, of course, but that’s the basis of prepping. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. I feel a lot better knowing that if anything goes seriously amiss, I’ve got a ratline organised to get her out.

Tomorrow we’ll be topping up on animal food and milk, fill the car tanks, then we’ll be settling down to spend a nice quiet weekend keeping our noses clean. I’ll also be keeping the phone handy, since I have friends who’d appeal to me if anything kicks off in Aberdeen city.

On a more cheerful note, I now have 40 rabbits in the shed! Jezebel had another litter of 9 (or thereabouts!) on Saturday and I brought a new buck back from friends in the Borders with me on Monday – he’s only a baby but I was asked if I could put together breeding pairs of Rex and NZW for someone on the west coast so the new little fella is going along with a couple of Trudy’s kits (just weaned – I’ll get them sexed tomorrow) and one of my young NZW does. After I’ve done my civic duty and voted on Thursday morning, I’m planning on sorting out the three biggest bucks from the youngsters and weighing them – if they’re over 4lbs liveweight, they’re big enough for the freezer.

Another couple of Trudy’s kits have been requested from Orkney so once I’ve sexed them, I’ll choose which to send off. They’re a bit small to go yet but I’ll have to find a way of marking them so I can tell which is which when the time comes! Food colouring works on the white ones (a dab on the ear lasts a few days) but the black ones are a challenge.

Threats and Risks

People often diss preppers, particularly the media (it makes better headlines). We’re seen as paranoid, hoarding, paramilitary wierdos. So, let’s just have a think about this.

Everyday reasons to prep:

Winter – happens regularly, invariably brings interesting driving challenges, occasionally floods, snowdrifts, blocked roads, disruptions to supplies in shops. Winter storms often cause minor and occasionally major power-cuts, meaning thousands of people at a time have no heating, lighting or cooking facilities, sometimes for days on end.

Summer – not usually a major problem up here but heatwaves down south certainly merit a bit of thinking ahead to deal with droughts, hosepipe bans and crop damage leading to food having to be imported from elsewhere at increased cost.

At any time of the year, the UK sits in the most common track for Atlantic weather so hurricanes that slam the USA often end up as gales here a few weeks later, again bringing the risks of flooding, powercuts and driving hazards.

Some slightly less generalised reasons to prep:

At the moment, on a wider front, we have an uncertain political future, with the referendum next week determining whether Scotland remains part of the UK or becomes an independent nation, with all the challenges and difficulties new nations have to face.

Beyond the UK, there are tensions and economic sanctions in play between the US/EU and Russia at the moment, over the Ukraine. India and Pakistan are being hit by severe monsoon flooding, West Africa is in the grip of an uncontained (uncontainable? WHO seems nervous!) Ebola virus pandemic that’s still spreading into new countries and increasing its impact on affected countries at an unprecedented, exponential rate. The Middle East is in an even worse state of uproar than usual, thanks to renewed Israel/Palastinian tensions and the Islamic State’s brutal violence. Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano is erupting – beautiful, but potentially could bring weather disruption to northern Europe for a few years if she stages a major caldera eruption as well as the current fissure eruption. The sun has recently released a fairly sizeable flare and coronal mass ejection that is expected to impact the Earth over the weekend, causing geomagnetic storms.

To break down the threats from the above list – economic sanctions could lead to increased fuel prices (gas shortages in Europe due to Russia shutting the taps), India/Pakistan may need to appeal for international aid (taxes possibly affected to pay for said aid), Ebola is devastating the economies of West Africa due to lost harvests and closed borders, requiring assistance in the form of medical supplies, food and medical personnel/facilities from the UK military (and many other countries) and there’s always the risk of it jumping out of Africa and spreading into other countries of the world. The Middle Eastern situation raises the chance of terrorist attacks in the UK. Bardarbunga may cause hard winters and crop failures, leading to increased food prices and possible food shortages. Solar flares interfere with radio transmissions, disrupt sat-nav signals and can cause problems for aircraft – a big enough flare could cause problems on the ground, as Canada discovered in 1989 when a geomagnetic storm knocked out the electrical grid across Quebec in just 90 seconds.

And behind, below and above it all, there’s global climate change, which over the course of my lifetime and my daughter’s lifetime, will change what we can eat, where we can live and what we can do in massive, fundamental ways.

When you actually think about things like this, then the insanity doesn’t lie in having a few things tucked away ‘in case’, it’s in thinking you don’t need to have that buffer against the world’s risks at all.

If there’s one thing that we’ve seen over the past few years, it’s that you can’t rely on your government to look after you when things get tough. They haven’t the ability. I read the rules for the gun club yesterday (they came in the post) and they started out by stressing that responsibility for safety lies with the individual. It’s primarily my job to keep me safe – and after that, to keep every other member safe too.

Taking responsibility for my own safety, and that of my family, is the fundamental bottom line of prepping. Preppers are the sane, responsible ones. We all hope never to have to use our preps – but when the roads are icy, having winter tyres helps keep us out of the ditch, and when jobs are lost, a stash of tins in the cupboard keeps the family from hunger while we find a new job. If Bardarbunga goes bardarboom, having dustmasks, goggles, covered waterbutts and a filter fine enough to clean ash from our drinking water could help ensure our continued health.

One of the frequent responses from the unprepped to the prepped when the subject comes up is ‘oh, I’ll just come over to yours if things get bad!’

Don’t. I’ve prepped for me and mine. I haven’t prepped for my neighbours, nor the rest of the village. Why should I? I’ve taken responsibility for me and mine…. it’s up to each of us to do that, not try and freeload on a few responsible people because we can’t be bothered. A second’s thought makes it abundantly clear that the supplies carefully laid in to look after continued survival for 3 people for a month will last only 2 weeks if 3 more turn up, and only 1 week if another 6 again arrive on the doorstep. There’s 700 people in my village – I couldn’t even give them all a single square meal, and then we all starve together. Far less useful than a chocolate teapot, which apparently can hold together for all of 2 minutes while the tea brews.

So…. are we paranoid hoarders or are non-preppers complacent and irresponsible?

PS – ‘paramilitary’? Doesn’t fit with the ‘grey man’ philosophy of prepping. Paramilitary is obvious and obvious is dumb, it just tells the freeloaders where to go when things get tough. Smart preppers stay under the radar, hard to spot.

Ruminations on Food Security

Today I did my usual zip through the BBC news on the web and noted an unusually high number of stories relating to food security:

Green revolution meeting considers Africa’s food future

Ministers back Food Crime Unit recommendation

Africa’s farmers face ‘failed seasons’ risks

Also in there were a couple of other thought-provoking stories:

Policing report: Victims ‘asked to investigate crime themselves’

Calais migrants foiled as they try to storm ferry

Now, quite a lot of this is probably mere co-incidence but there’s a certain amount to ponder there.

In reverse order, then –

Illegal immigration – it’s estimated that the UK currently hosts something between 470k and 850k illegal immigrants. If they’re holding down jobs, they’re not likely to be paying taxes, so they’re also draining our resources for healthcare, rubbish disposal, etc. If they’re not holding down jobs they must be supporting themselves via, shall we say, unofficial means – either black market jobs or crime. Which means policing costs, of course.

And what the dickens do you do with their kids? They’re born here, probably not registered, won’t be vaccinated, educated, etc, etc…. are they entitled to UK citizenship because they were born here? Or could you deport them to a country that they’ve never been to before? That’s a nasty can of worms.

Ok – moving on…. the nature of the Rule of Law. We do have this expectation in the UK that, generally speaking, give or take the odd punch-up and pub brawl here and there, that if you report a crime, it’s dealt with. If the police aren’t doing it but are telling us to do their jobs, why are we paying them at all? The right and ability to defend ourselves, as enshrined in US law, has been taken away from the ordinary UK citizen on the grounds that the police are there to protect us.

Only, manifestly, they ain’t there and they’re not defending us.

Now, there’s a big difference between being told the local nick can’t afford to send a chap round for every tea-leaf who picks a pocket and full-scale lawlessness, clearly, but this looks like the thin end of a wedge to me. And I’ll bet any respectable citizen who ends up having to defend themselves because the police weren’t there when push came to shove will get the proverbial book thrown at them, too. Guilty until proven innocent, when it comes to self-defence!

And then there’s food security. This is always a big talking point amongst preppers, though most I’ve discussed it with are thinking small-scale ‘how do I fight the zombies off my larder’ type scenarios. This is a much bigger problem, though, and one that fuels quite a bit of the drive for home-production in our household. If you can’t trust the stuff in the packet/tin/bottle/carton to be what it says, then why are you eating it? And what are you going to eat instead? It’s not a question of ‘oh, I don’t eat horse!’ I’ll eat horse. (I’ll eat anything, if I’m hungry enough!) I just don’t want to find I’ve eaten horse stuffed full of drugs that will adversely affect me, when I thought I was getting organic grass-fed beef – and this principle applies across the board. I want to know what I’m eating and what’s in it.

There are other considerations with black-market and illegal food imports, too. The devastating Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001, which decimated UK livestock and drove farmers out of business or even to suicide, was traced back to illegal meat imports. What next? Ebola-laced bushmeat smuggled into the country? More Foot and Mouth? Bird or Swine Flu? Heaven help us if Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea virus gets a grip on the UK’s pig farms – it’s wiped out 10% of the US pig herd this year alone.

Food security in Africa could impact on us, too. Apart from the inevitable charity appeals if famine strikes, hungry people don’t sit still to starve – they move. And they often move to a place perceived as being tolerant, welcoming, awash with benefits and jobs, with lots of family already there….. yep, here.

(A word about charity appeals…. I’ve nothing against them per se, but I do have problems with charities appealing for money to buy food to give to starving people. Back in the first years of the Ethiopian famine, for example, everyone was (rightly) horrified at the pitiful state of Ethiopian people on TV, rushed to hand over money, and food was handed out to prevent people starving to death. Result? Ethiopian population has soared while charities have continued to feed the starving masses. The situation is now worse than it was because there isn’t a hope in hell that the land available can feed the population adequately. If you’re a farmer and you haven’t enough grazing for your livestock, you don’t fix the situation by putting more livestock on the same area of land and relying on the neighbours to give you free hay.)

Which brings us back to the desperate illegal immigrants in Calais trying to storm the cross-channel ferries. This time it was a couple of hundred and they were stopped. What do you do if it’s all 1,300 of them? Or more, if Africa’s harvests drop and more Africans start migrating out of misery’s way?

Food Security is more than putting a padlock on the larder door. It’s about trying to reduce your reliance on other countries, on other people, on unreliable sources, and we should be thinking not just of our own, but of other people’s, too. Nowhere is so remote that the hungry hordes won’t find you, eventually, and nobody has the ability to fight off all the starving masses when they find you.

Though I will admit, the thought of that 6-mile natural moat called the Pentland Firth certainly does make Orkney look attractive as a place to move to!

Holidays…. The Aftermath

Taking a week off to go relax in the Orkneys was a great idea. The weather was fantastic (teeshirt weather! Hardly any wind! Glorious blue skies! It ain’t always so nice up there…) and we all had a lovely time, explored new places, marvelled at the ingenious and industrious lives our Neolithic and Bronze Age ancestors must have led to leave such monuments behind (the Rings of Brodgar and Stenness, Skara Brae, the Broch of Gurness, Maes Howe, the Tombs of the Eagles and of the Otters) and, incidentally, took good note of the very wide range of natural resources available.

I may have an unusual family, I’ll admit, but we’d hardly been there ten minutes before my mother was exclaiming at the various wild plants that could be foraged from the roadsides. My sister and brother-in-law had had a couple of days up there ahead of our arrival and had pinned down what times the local seal checked out the salmon tanks just off ‘our’ beach, and we all put our heads together identifying wild plants we hadn’t met before.

Anyway, the holiday was great, we all relaxed and enjoyed ourselves, breathed lots of fresh sea air, admired craftwork, bought souvenirs and went beach-combing together.

When we got back, however, my first stop was out in the rabbit shed to check out the babies. The lights didn’t work.

In itself, not a problem. I walked over to the boiler shed at the end of the line of four sheds (rabbits in no.3) and flipped the circuit breaker back to ‘on’ again. Hey presto, lights.

Unfortunately, the lights and power in the shed are all controlled by that one circuit breaker so the freezers had been off, too. I lifted the lid, poked a flabby, soft package of venison and confirmed that it was a home disaster.

Two freezers, all defrosted. All my lovely home-slaughtered bunny meat, the dog food, the skins waiting for tanning, all the veg from the allotment we’d frozen, meat, eggs….. we had to throw the whole lot out. Sunday, the day after we’d come home, we spent mostly binning stuff, or throwing it on the compost and, with the skins, hurriedly mixing up an alum-and-salt solution and submerging them in the hope of salvaging something.

It’s just as well we have one freezer on the house electrical circuits and also dry and pickle produce, or it could have been even worse! It’s a blow, yes, but it’s not a major calamity.

Some sleuthing, texts to my daughter (she’d gone down to London on the Friday morning) and chatting to neighbours established that the village had had a brown-out on Tuesday morning. That’s enough to flip the trip in the shed – for some reason it seems unusually sensitive to power fluctuations, even though the house circuits just shrug them off. Michelle, being young and lacking life-experience, noted the lights were off but didn’t think about the freezers or go check the trip switch (or even email/text me and say anything about it!) Oh well – now she has the life-experience for the next time it happens….

We also had to pick up the dogs from kennels, the other car from the park-and-ride where Michelle had left it when she flew to London, Michelle herself coming back from London, muck out the bunnies and the chickens, work through the collected mail…. Sunday was a loooong day.

Monday we did a walk-round in the garden, I went and looked after someone’s dogs (they’ve gone on holiday) and the secretary of the gun club phoned to tell me my application to join had been approved and please could I send my subs to him! This is great news as I’d started to wonder what had happened – do I have a secret police record I know nothing of? Had they lost my application? Had my referees told them I was unfit to be trusted with a firecracker? Anyway, this is a big step forward in the quest towards gaining a firearms certificate, as I can now attend the club and my sponsor will provide some instruction and intros to others. In about 6 months time I will, hopefully, be applying for my FAC and can then buy a rifle of my own to practice with instead of being reliant on good-natured people at the range loaning me theirs for a few shots here and there!

[For those outside the UK – when I say ‘secret police record’ I don’t mean a record with the secret police, I mean a secret record with the ordinary police. As far as I know, we haven’t fallen so far as secret police – and the way British civil servants leave data and computers all over commuter trains, I don’t think they could keep secret records if they tried!]

Tuesday we managed to get back to the allotment and started fighting the weeds off again. We did bring home 3.75kg of courgettes (some big enough to call marrows!), a pound of carrots, a day’s food for the rabbits, some strawberries, a meal’s worth of calebrese (the last of this year’s crop) and nearly 5kg of cabbages. So, when we got home, we made 4lbs of beet relish (the beetroot in the garden have turned into cannonballs instead of golfballs!), I’ve started a saurkraut culture, we brined 3lbs of marrows and some of the cabbage for more chutney and pickled cabbage, and feasted on home-grown produce again. I boiled up the carrots and mashed them, they’re the first item back in the freezer, the first step back to re-establishing our food stocks.

In the evening I also pulled the rabbit skins out of the tanning mixture and peeled the inner membrane off the skins, then refreshed the pickle and dumped them back in again. There may be a little fur-slip but on the whole I’m cautiously encouraged I might be able to salvage something of them.

Today has been another allotment and cooking day, with about 6lbs of marrow chutney cooling on the side at the moment and another couple of pounds of mashed carrots chilling in the fridge ready to freeze. We’ve pulled up the last of the peas and composted them, pulled up the calabrese plants and fed them to the chickens, and the rabbits are all comatose in their cages surrounded by weeds and greens. We almost feel caught-up again!

I’m going to put another page up in the next few days with all the recipes on it for future reference.