…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World
A few weeks ago I heard of the term “preppers”. Preppers are people who actively prepare for emergencies, including possible disruptions in social or political order, on scales from local to international. Some go as far as acquiring emergency medical and self-defence training, most stockpile food and water, or even prepare to become self-sufficient. Some build “survival retreats” or underground shelters that may help them survive a catastrophe, such as the end of the world as we know it.
While I was new to the term I realised that I am a Prepper.
As a child I loved building dens – there was something instinctive about this, something primal – I was lucky that my parents afforded me this freedom, although I stretched the boundaries of this. Some of these dens were in trees, some were underground. For some I made fires for warmth and cooking, and sometimes my friends/brothers/sister and I would secretly hoard food to support our imaginary life in these places.
When I started high school I cycled there and back each day. Cycling involves a level of preparation – in addition to remembering my books, homework and lunch, as every other student should, I also had to take things like bike locks, lights and waterproofs for the winter ride home, and some essential tools should by bike suffer a puncture or other mishap. “Be prepared” is the great Scout Moto, and even though I never trained as a scout this is a moto that my mum has acknowledged that I ascribe to.
Being a Prepper, therefore, is about thinking ahead. When going on a longer-than-normal car journey I will prep. my car – I will check the oil and water and tyres too. I will plan the journey, ensuring I have directions and a map. Not everyone does this I realise.
Prepping is about being self-sufficient.
To have plans or a journey thwarted due to something minor, like a puncture, feels embarrassing to me. To phone someone up to ask for their help is not something I like to do – I’m often the one to be phoned up (which isn’t always a good thing). If something does go wrong then my brain switches to “how can I fix this” mode – Prepping is about planning for that eventuality so that you have some simple means of getting out of a tricky situation.
When I moved into my own house over a year ago I almost immediately stock-piled/hoarded some food. I’d always had it in mind that I would do this. Partly I did this because, while I do drive, my main mode of transport is my bicycle and I prefer to only shop for weekly essentials – anything that will last for weeks (or months) without spoiling I buy in bulk on a rare occasion that I’m using my car. This includes canned foods and dry foods such as pasta, porridge oats, rice and long life milk (UHT).
I have joked about this with my brother and showed him my cupboard of wares – while it’s a serious thing in a sense, I don’t take myself too seriously. The problem I feel is that I’m seen as the go-to guy in our family and therefore, should Armageddon hit then my family will know they can come to me for food when they run out after a couple of days, rather than them following my example before hand.
I also remember a scene from The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon Cooper reveals his “Pre-packed Disaster Evacuation Bag, recommended by the Department of Homeland Security… and Sarah Connor.” He is a Prepper; there is also a scene where he wakes Leonard to take part in a “Disaster Preparedness Drill” – I’ll put the links for these at the end of this post (no skipping ahead now.) I guess prepping can be considered to be a geeky thing.
When I heard about the term Preppers I also heard about a silly situation (fellow) Preppers were getting themselves into – some long-term Preppers were finding that their stock pile of food was going out of date. To me such Preppers had got it all wrong – or rather, in their preparation for some future event that hadn’t happened yet, they hadn’t prepared for it not to have happened yet! I don’t stock pile food and then shut it away, I keep a stock of food that I use regularly, and having worked in a supermarket in the past I know to rotate my stock; FIFO (first in, first out), therefore my food wont go out of date.
Over the weekend though, something happened that I hadn’t prepared for.
A rat had found its way into my kitchen and while it hadn’t yet managed to gnaw its way into a food cupboard (through want of trying) – my food was safe (except for a couple of bananas that had been left out – I had assumed a mouse at this point). What I didn’t expect to happen though was for me to enter my kitchen on Sunday morning to the sound of hissing water – the rat had chewed into the main plastic water pipe – thinking there was a way out round there.
My first response was to put the plug in the bath and run the water, and fill the kettle and a saucepan. I then went outside and turned off the water. I was then left without running water… for a few days.
Prior to this incident I had thought about stock-piling water, but my mindset was about maybe saving myself money on my water bill. I thought about collecting rain water to be used to flush my toilet, but the issue I ran into was that the cost of a water tank, the plumbing required, and the effort involved to install it in a practical way seemed excessive – for the amount of water I use I had determined it would take me years (if not more than a decade) to recover the costs.
Ironically, the amount of rain we’ve had recently (it has rained pretty much every day for a month) is probably what has driven the rat in – last year it just wasn’t like this. I then had to resort to collecting rain water in what buckets I had, and for extra irony I constructing a rat trap which utilised a bucket of water.
I was glad I had chosen to fill my bath with a few inches of water before I turned off the flow at the mains – the leak wasn’t drastic but certainly spraying out well – I knew could have turned the water back on briefly if I really needed to, or even visited my neighbours but the pride in me wanted to rough this one out a little.
For each of the few days I managed to keep my toilet cistern full but the first time I de-canted water from the bath using a 7 litre bucket I realised just how much a toilet requires for each flush. In fact, what’s in the cistern is actually less than is used, since the it starts refilling while it is still flushing, and mine is an old toilet – modern cisterns are more frugal/efficient and some have the option for 1s or 2s. For each of the following days I kept the cistern full with rain water.
For those who flush after each ‘number 1’, perhaps think how much you are actually relieving into your toilet, and then how much (clean, drinkable water) you are using to flush that away, even with a modern-dual-option flusher.
I drink water too, either on its own or in the form of tea or coffee and the water in the bathtub lasted for this. Water is also used for cooking and when I was cooking things with water I felt very awkward about simply tipping the used water away and instead first tipped it into things that needed rinsing, like food cans. I avoided washing up for a few days because I couldn’t justify using my small supply of drinking water in the bath for this and rain, while still very constant, wasn’t filling my buckets that quick.
When it came to washing I was without my shower. I’m not someone who showers or baths every day, and it was just
bloody typical that the rat would chew through the pipe on the morning before ‘bath night’. I usually only boil a kettle of water to wash my hair with anyway, but now I had to use a kettle and a couple of saucepans full. I even found brushing my teeth a challenge – not having the running water to rinse my toothbrush under frustrated me – and yes I did repeatedly automatically go to turn a tap on! When washing my face in the morning I felt uncomfortable again at the prospect of letting ‘hardly used’ water simply go down the drain – I was always thinking if such water could be used again for something.
When the plumber came I offered him a cup of tea/coffee and I had a kettle of water ready – but he wasn’t a drinker of such beverages. Then my tea drinking brother turned up and I made us a cuppa each… he said it tasted different and I mentioned it was full-fat milk (this makes the tea extra creamy and we usually opt for the UHT for tea), but he wasn’t convinced and I mentioned the rain water! “Fresh from the sky and straight into a bucked” I said. I’m not sure if the plumber was happy that I’d offered him such a drink, but anyway, he dully finished repairing the pipe and my brother made himself a ‘fresh’ cup of tea.
Now I have fresh running water again it has made me think of the water I use from a fresh perspective – how much a toilet cistern actually uses, to the convenience of having the stuff on-tap. And while I have struggled not to complain about how much rain we’ve had recently, I didn’t complain while I needed it to!