Saturday, 10 March 2018

Everyday Carrying Items


If you have decided to keep a bag at work in case of emergencies then you will probably not be adverse to the idea of having items about your person, or in your everyday briefcase or handbag, to use when a crisis occurs.

What you carry is up to you, based on your assessment of what could conceivably happen as part of your daily commute. Please note, that I did write conceivably in the last sentence, so let's forget about EMP strikes, foreign invaders parachuting onto our shores or people turning into zombies. That said, looking at most commuters these days I often wonder how many of them are already zombies.

Some years ago I watched a television report about a train wreck on the outskirts of London. A man was interviewed who carried a hammer in his briefcase and had used it to break the windows in his carriage to get himself and others out of the train.

The interviewer was fascinated by this suited commuter with an office worker's briefcase who carried a hammer in it. The fellow then explained that a few years earlier he had been in another train crash and had found that the hammers provided in carriages to break the windows in case of an emergency were little better than children's toys, so he started carrying a real hammer that could be used to break real train windows.

Back in 2010, I was living in Putney, London, for a few months. One fine day I was having a drink in a pub - the Spotted Horse, Putney High Street, if you must know - and I fell to chatting with a woman of about my own age, so born in the mid-1950s, who had survived the 7/7 bombings. She had been on one of the underground trains, although luckily so far away from the bomb that she and the other passengers in her carriage had no idea that they had suffered a terrorist attack. The general consensus at first was that the train had been involved in a collision.

However, all the lights went out, and people had to sit in darkness for quite some time. In those days not all mobile phones had built-in torches so there was only the light provided by cigarette lighters and the odd torch that someone had.

The passengers were eventually led out of the train and as the realisation dawned on people what had happened her nervousness led to a great thirst, which she was not able to quench as the people who had got off the train earlier had grabbed all the bottled water that had been available in the nearest shop.

Since that horrible event, she had carried first a torch and then a set of lightsticks, the long, plastic tubes that have chemicals inside and when bent allow those chemicals to mix to create light. Some can last for several hours, and others are only good for about 30 minutes. She went for the latter type since they give off a very bright light that will illuminate a whole room or underground train carriage.  She concluded, rather sadly I thought, that she had used the lightsticks on several occasions.

The lessons from those two stories are that British infrastucture really is so atrocious as to be a national embarrassment and that people have to be prepared to take care of their own immediate needs. It is not an individual's fault that the infrastructure is only held together by duct tape, epoxy resin glue and a prayer, but we are responsible for our own lives. So we need to analyse our daily situation and decide what we should carry on the off chance that things will go wrong as part of the day.

Now, not everyone will feel the need to carry a hammer to break out of a wrecked train, or lightsticks to illuminate a darkened carriage, as it may be that those items are regarded by most people as excessive. However, a fully charged mobile phone, with a small power pack carried in a pocket or handbag, also fully charged, strikes me as fairly basic. That the handset should also have a built-in torch goes without saying. A reasonable amount of cash to cover times when the plastic is no good for whatever reason is also a matter of common sense to me.

Above all else, is the realisation that the state machinery is now creaking at best and that we are now as responsible for our own immediate needs as our ancestors in the years before the welfare state was created.

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