Home TFNS STSC FTSF BI BO About the Author Maps Recipes Weapon Files Other Files Other Writings Links

Other writings

David Crossley has had over 100 articles and short stories published, covering a wide variety of business, military, survival, and general interest topics. These are just a few examples.

Pandemic Freefall

A short story

By

David E Crossley

 1

No effing electricity again and it’s a bloody cold and wet January morning! Doesn’t help that those morons rioting kept me awake half the night. I see next door’s car is burnt out, poor sods, and I can still smell the tear gas. Some of those bangs sounded like rifle shots though. The police are responding harder every day.

Right, what’s for breakfast? Half a tin of sausage and beans left; best not think too much about what sort of meat might be in the sausage, or what the bones it was blasted off with high pressure hoses once held up.

Stop it!

Got some powdered egg. I wonder if I’ll ever see a real egg again. I’ve got ration coupons but nobody has had any for weeks. I need to get friendly with Drez at the corner shop. I bet the wily bugger sells them all under the counter.

If I take the label off the bean tin, I can heat it up in a pan of water on the camping stove, and then use some of the hot water for a brew and the rest to make up some egg. Save gas and water. If I leave the label on the tin, the paper might even give the ‘coffee’ some flavour. You’re a bloody cynic, Dan, what are you?

I’m talking to myself again. At least I’m not doing it out loud now.

“I miss you, Jen!”

Stop crying, you prat. There’s nothing you could do about it, and they say they’re going to plant grass over the mass graves and put up a memorial with all the names they know of the people who are buried there. Maybe, one day. What about the ones whose names they don’t know? Not my problem.

Putting her body out on the pavement wrapped in bin bags was hard though. At least they came in an open truck, not a bin lorry like they’re using in some places. Bastards should have handled her with more respect, though. I know there were at least twenty on the street that morning but they should have more respect than that.

I better get a move on; don’t want to be late for voluntary service. Voluntary? Yeah, volunteer or you don’t get any ration tokens. Still, there’s no paid work about and they give us soup and bread at midday. Wonder what we’ll be doing today. Cleaning up after the riots, again, probably.

‘These are dark times but if we all pull together then the future is bright!’ That’s what the PM said. Maybe, if they ever get the lights back on!

Usual crowd then, but where’s Ben? Gemma’s missing too. Neither of them was feeling too good yesterday. They could just have something else to do but they’ve both got family. Not like them to miss out on the rations. Could they be … no, better not to ask, nor think about it. If they’re here again then they are, if not, well, that’s why none of us get too involved with one another. You never know if or when you won’t see them again.  

Ah, here comes George, the boss man. What’s that he’s carrying? Boxes of masks and gloves. Oh, I don’t like that. That means we’re going somewhere iffy. Let’s see what he has to say.

Shit! The tower blocks. Body removal. That’ll mean coppers, because what’s left of the gangs, or even anybody else who lives there, won’t like it. They’ll want rid of the bodies but not us going into the flats. If there’s scrounge fodder they’ll want it for themselves and they know we’ll get whatever pickings we can carry, at least what the coppers don’t grab before we do.

After we’re gone there’s bound to be loads of trade goods the renters can have to take down the market though. The cops will fill their bags but we can only womble what we can hide under our clothes, otherwise they’ll have it off us as soon as we get outside. Still, anything’s better than nothing, especially if I’ve got to lug stinking corpses to earn it. It’s the kids that get to me; easy to carry but just so wrong they’ve gone without knowing anything much good.

Suck it up, Dan. Not your fault. It’s what is now.

Strange. There were a couple of youths outside when we arrived but they wandered off to one of the other blocks. A few twitching blinds and a couple of faces at the windows higher up in this tower but no reaction to us being here. I expected half a mob trying to block the doors. The body truck is here now but from the looks of this place we’re going to need more than that. Where’s the police then? If we’re going to do this let’s get on with it.

OK. All here now. Not as many of them as I thought there’d be but I reckon they didn’t expect it to be this quiet either. Two teams of 3, working on opposite sides of the block. They’re going to start at the bottom, knock the doors, and if no answer break it in, check the place out and then – after they’ve cleared out anything they want before they let any of us in to see them doing it of course – send us in to take out the bodies while they move on to the next one. Not bad, gives us a chance to look for anything they might have missed or ignored. They’re probably not as desperate as some of us are.

Been here 3 hours now. Up to the 6th floor. This place is a huge morgue. Even the police are looking fazed. Six floors and only 2 flats with anybody still alive in them, and the woman in one of those doesn’t look like she has long left. The body truck has already been away to empty its load once. I’m knackered and either the owners hid it well or there’s hardly anything in any of them worth taking. Most stuff used up and nothing most could buy or trade for to replace it I suppose. I’ve found some cough sweets, a few tea bags that look like they’ve already been used and dried a couple of times, and 3 batteries out of a radio that worked when I tried it, so they have some power left in them. These poor sods were worse off than anyone in my area. More of us still alive there too. Maybe we’ve been more careful, or just luckier.

Well the cops must have found something interesting in that next flat across the corridor. Ours have gone in there with them without looking in this one. Maybe I’ll check it out before they come back. Looks like mum on the settee. Been there a long time too. Damn but she’s swollen. What’s through here?  Bedroom. Teenage lad on the bed. Not dead as long as his mum. Anything in the wardrobe?

Hmm what’s this in the poly bag? Let’s have a sniff. Oh, you naughty boy! Into the herb were you? Lots of it too. This will buy me some real food. Under my shirt it goes. Now, what’s this?

Jesus!

What do I do with this? Call the cops? It’s loaded too. Almost a full mag. I never expected this. He must have thought he was a gangster. Maybe he was. Could be worth a fortune, but if I get caught with it they’ll string me up for sure. But I can’t give this up. There’s somebody coming! Stuff it under my belt inside my shirt. It won’t show with this jacket over it. Loose now I’ve lost so much weight. Copper. He can see I’m trembling. Tell him it’s all the bodies. This one was just the same age as my brother. Get a grip, he says. Just get them out to the truck, we’ve 6 more floors to do before we finish. And he’s gone. The bag on his back was stuffed full. God knows what they found in that other flat.

Here comes my body buddy. He carried 2 babies to the truck, both from the last flat we did. My lucky day. Let’s hope it stays that way and I don’t drop this out of my waistband. If I do I’m done for. Maybe I can find somewhere to hide it and come back for it. Oh Lord, just let me get through this day. Please!  

Gemma wiped away her tears and stroked her daughter’s hair. The child was asleep now; the cough mixture Gemma had given her worked. As it happened, the girl who was supposed to be babysitting the 2 year old this morning hadn’t turned up but Gemma couldn’t have gone out anyway, she wasn’t well enough and the girl would have run as soon as she saw that the one she had to care for was also ill. Ill, but not yet as bad as her mother. The blood on the tissue Gemma coughed into said it all; she had the disease.

She had thought she was safe, that she’d had a mild form and got over it, but it must have been just a cold or another bug rather than the pandemic one. Now, forty-eight hours the reporter on the radio said. From first serious symptoms to death averaged 48 hours, and she would hardly be able to move around, let alone look after a youngster, for the last half of that. Considering how she had suffered over the previous night, she didn’t have long to go. Then she would be one of the ten to twenty percent that were expected to die in this pandemic. Figures. Statistics. She and her beautiful baby would be just 2 of them. She couldn’t leave Susie alone to go through that.

Gently she pulled up the pillow Susie was lying on, then turned her darling’s face into it and softly pressed with both hands. After a few seconds the child stirred and shuffled slightly but then soon fell still. Gemma hugged her tighter for a while, until she was sure it was done, then reached out for the bottle of sleeping pills on the bedside table next to her. They’d cost her almost all her food ration coupons but that didn’t matter now. At least the dealer was a proper pharmacist, or had been before the shop was looted and then burned, so the drugs should be good. She swallowed them in 4 handfuls, each washed down with a good gulp of vodka, then finished the glass of spirit as fast as she could drink it.

Sliding down on the bed with her daughter cuddled in her arms, Gemma closed her eyes and wept again, while she waited for the pills to do their job.

Well, I got away with it. And I can’t help it, I’m chuffed! Hiding the pistol in the next flat we cleared, when I went in back to get something to wrap a body in, worked, so I didn’t have to worry all the rest of the day in case I dropped it. OK, so I couldn’t help fretting that somebody else might find it, even though I couldn’t see anybody wanting to turn back the bedding I put it under, not in the state that was in. I had to put the piece in a carrier bag so even I’d be able to bear to handle it later.

Pretending I needed a pee and using the toilet in there as we made our way out so I could get it back worked too. Luckily there weren’t any bodies in the last place they opened, so we didn’t have anything to carry out, otherwise I’d have to have used it as an excuse to go back in, and that wouldn’t have been easy. There was a small mob outside, from the other blocks, starting to shout their mouths off as we left. 

Still, I didn’t need to go back and they made George and the coppers glad to get away in a hurry so that was OK. Hopefully we won’t be going back too soon. If all that lot came from the other 2 blocks there were more survivors in there than the one we cleared. I wonder why that one was so bad. Even in the one we did there were more alive in the upper flats than the lower levels though. Strange.

Yeah, so I’m bigging myself up, a bit, why not? So, I got lucky. That’s about the only luck I’ve had since where I worked closed down. Rest of the finds were pretty meagre: a few more batteries, a couple of lighters, and half a box of candles. Whatever, it’s all useful anyway, even though the power is back on, for now.

But with all the shortages, no money coming in, transport iffy due to no fuel imports and people everywhere off sick, or pretending to be, you have to be glad of whatever you can get, whether you find it, buy it or trade for it. Dinner from the Sally Army was good today. A burger as well as soup. They’re a nice bunch. There’s millions of us in the same boat. There were people trying to sell all sorts of stuff alongside some roads as we drove back tonight. Some folks in cars stopping to buy too. Jammy ones that get fuel rations, or had some hidden away before things got bad.

Now, what am I going to do with this piece and the bag of grass? I think I’ll keep the gun, for now anyway. Who knows how things will go if everything gets worse than the medics and politicians keep promising? The hash is for trade. I’ve never used it and I’m not going to start now. I know a couple of people who do though, one pair on this street and they’re still in work so they might go for it for cash. I need to find out what a reasonable price would be first. Might treat myself to a wee drop of scotch if they buy, if I can find that at a reasonable price too, or maybe get a part exchange deal. Which definitely means not from Drez. He’s obviously got good contacts and it’s convenient having his shop so close but damn he pushes it with some of his prices.  

Well, you learn all the time. If what I was told is right I should be calling this stuff Skunk, because it’s made from flower heads, and the dealers are selling it at about two hundred quid for 25grams because ‘there’s a shortage’. Yeah, right, they mean they’re holding it back to push up the price. Doesn’t matter though, if that’s what it sells for then I know I can cut that a bit to make it easier to get rid of it.

Aye but there’s nearly half a kilo in that bag I found, so I’ll have to be careful; bit at a time and pretending that’s all I’ve got. Or maybe those 2 down the road would take it all, then I’m done with it and it’s their problem. What’s best? A bit of weed isn’t something at the top of the police’s list at the minute but I still don’t want to get them looking at me.

Bloody hell though, I’m rich!  That’s more than Clarks gave me when they bought my car and I thought I’d done well at that. God, I miss that car but it had to go, I couldn’t get a fuel ration anyway.

Does this make me a dealer? I don’t like the feel of that. I won’t be tempting anybody that doesn’t already use it and it might be a one-off but am I just making excuses? Ah, man up, Dan! You didn’t decide to do this, it fell in your lap and you don’t have any choice, you need the cash or you’re going to starve one of these days if things get worse.

Now, how do I get into casual conversation with my buyers? Maybe make a joke about it and see if they bite. Yeah, most people along here know me and that I’m out of work, I’ll look online, if I can still get on, and find out the names of the ones I don’t know so I can use that when I talk to them. Then I’ll go along the whole street after those who are still working get home and ask if anybody has any odd jobs they need doing; gardening, DIY, windows, whatever. Offer to take payment in kind if they don’t have cash. Might be dangerous trying that at number 34, I can guess what she’s likely to offer in return. I can’t say I’m really good friends with any of them but at least we speak when we pass on the street or are in Drez’s at the same time. That should avoid it looking like I’ve gone straight to the couple at 42.  

Well that was easier than I thought. I’ve been offered some small jobs for a few quid and an old couple that haven’t any spare money offered dinner on Sunday in exchange for moving some furniture, which I did there and then. I should have tried this before. Exactly the result I expected at 34 but I got out of that easily enough by telling her it was too soon after I’ve lost Jen. Nice that she was sympathetic rather than insulted.

Then I got to 42 and the sod answered the door smoking a joint! I asked about work, and then after he’d said he didn’t have anything that needed doing, I frowned and sniffed and said, ‘You can still get that stuff then? I didn’t think there’d be any about now.’ He said you sometimes get lucky but it is getting harder and lots more expensive and asked if I used it. I told him I didn’t but a couple of the people I volunteer with talk about it.

Let me make sure I remember this, because I can hardly believe it. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘if you hear that any of them have a source and they want to make some cash let me know and I’ll make sure you get seen right for the contact.’ After I got over the shock, I asked how much he’d want and, playing it dumb, what sort of money we were talking about. ‘As much as they can get and we’ll pay the going rate.’ He said. ‘Any we can’t use we can always pass on.’

I was stunned. So open about it. Maybe he was already high. Then his missus appeared. She was smoking too, wearing a big smile and just about wearing a skinny dressing gown, but only just. Younger and even hotter than No. 34 too. So, I told them to give me a couple of days and I’d see what I could do. Then she blew me a kiss as I turned to go. I reckon having something to smoke isn’t the only way he’s going to get lucky tonight.

Anyway, tomorrow is Friday. I’ll go with the volunteers as usual. Keep things normal. Then back to 42 late on Saturday afternoon. Take half the stuff in a tool box so that it looks like I’m going to do some DIY for them. Tell them that if they want it I can get the same again. Hopefully, by Sunday night the deal will be done and I can relax a bit. I know they work at a club in town, maybe this is normal for them but I’ve got to admit, I’m crapping myself. I’ll be glad when it’s all over. Cash or no cash, I don’t want to do this again; I’d sooner stick to DIY and moving furniture.

Now that was quite an end to the week. On Friday I guess George was going easy on us after our clearing the tower block this week so it was general clearing up stuff but at the end of the day I got my ration coupons for the week’s work. Saturday morning, I went to the food bank, handed in some of the coupons and was given boxes of tins and packets, plus 2 loaves and a slab of butter. Then I made good on a couple of the jobs I’d been offered and put a bit of cash in my pocket. Was given sarnies and a cuppa at the house where I was working over lunch time.  Saturday evening was the time I was looking forward to, yet dreading as well.

I’d called Tom at 42 on Friday to say I’d have something for him and he asked how much and said he’d have the money for me. When I turned up with my tool box he smiled and invited me in. Offered me a drink of what turned out to be really good single malt – flash git. He asked if what I’d brought was in the box and I pushed it across to him. He opened it, took out the packet, sniffed it, smiled, pinched off a bit and tasted it then weighed it in his hand and said that felt right. Then he handed me an envelope full of cash. Trying to look cool and not show my hands were shaking, I flicked through it to make sure it was cash, not folded paper then dropped it in the tool box. He grinned and asked if I wasn’t going to count it so I asked him if I needed to. Then he laughed and reached out for my glass to fetch another drink.

I complimented him on the whisky and he walked over to the cabinet, pulled a bottle from the cupboard and handed it to me. ‘As thanks for arranging this,’ he said. Then I told him I could have the same again for him next day if he wanted it. He raised his eyebrows and said definitely, bring it on and could there be more. I lied so well, told him I really didn’t know, I didn’t think the guy who sent it was big time, and he wasn’t well when he gave it to me, but I’d ask when I next saw him. Then, to change the subject, I asked if his wife wasn’t in tonight and he said no, she – Elsbeth I now found out was her name – was working, but it might be her I’d see the next day when he was at the club.

On Sunday I had dinner with the old couple whose furniture I had rearranged, sorted out a sticking window for them and stayed to chat for a while, mainly to pass some time and distract me from the second delivery that evening. When I arrived, again with tool box in hand, Elsbeth invited me in. She was dressed in a casual jump suit but unlike Tom she was all business. She held out her hand for the bag of Skunk, smelled it, then weighed it on the kitchen scales. She took a pinch but instead of chewing it she rolled it, lit it and smelled the smoke before putting it between her lips and inhaling deeply. Apparently satisfied, she put it down in an ashtray, went to the bureau and took out an envelope which she handed to me and asked me to check. I did, nodded that it was as agreed and she said good, and to contact them if there was more available, then showed me out.

In some ways it was a massive anti-climax. I had more money available to me than I’d had for a long time, plus a bottle of very fine whisky that I hadn’t had to buy. The drugs were gone from my home and I hadn’t been arrested, mugged, or had an attempt made to seduce me, which was a bit of a disappointment, nor had to shoot anyone, which wasn't. Not that I’d taken the gun with me, that was now well hidden and secure, and I’d had no intention of shooting anyone even if they had tried to rip me off, but the thought had been there. When I got home I poured myself a drink of the malt and sat down to review the week just past. As the alcohol seeped into my system and I thought through the good things that had happened I finally started to relax.

If I’d known what was soon to come, I might have felt very differently.

 

2

News on the radio this morning really got me thinking. Toyota, Jaguar/Land Rover and BAE are all shutting factories. Tesco and Asda are closing some out-of-town superstores and Metro outlets. A big name frozen foods retailer is going bust due to poor sales and loss of stock from repeated long power cuts, which aren’t going to be helped because a nuclear power station is being shut down because of safety and security concerns caused by staff absence. Some of the supermarkets have to withdraw and recall a brand of tinned meat after a load of people who bought it came down with food poisoning. I must check I haven't got any of that.

Bank of England are raising interest levels 1.5% because of fast rising inflation, and the chancellor is putting up some taxes to counter increased demands and falling tax revenue. CBI is complaining that it will make things even worse for struggling companies. Stock markets everywhere are falling but oil prices and gold and silver are zooming.

A big protest demonstration in London got out of hand and turned into rioting and looting because there weren’t enough police to control it and the fire service are calling for help from surrounding areas because they were stopped from reaching the fire that was started and is spreading fast. They said the rioters were burning cars to block roads and pelting the fire engines with bricks and anything else they could chuck at them. Bensons Beauty won the National – run at an odd date this year for various reasons apparently, which isn’t a problem to me but it does show there are at least some horses not yet being tinned as beef. 

I went to Drez’s to buy a few bits but half his shelves were empty. Told me some people were panic buying and when he went to the cash and carry there was a notice on the doors saying they were shut today but hoped to be open tomorrow. He did have a box of six eggs though, at two quid per egg! I bought them anyway, and some biscuits and dried milk. I didn’t want to buy too much there or he might wonder where I got the money to afford his prices.

Then I went to join the volunteers. There were a bunch of us gathered and Ben was back. Still no sign of Gemma though. We waited around for over an hour but George never showed up so a couple of guys went to the office in the Jobcentre but came back and said it was shut. First time that has happened but we’ll try again tomorrow. No work so I went and did some shopping in town. A lot of them don’t have much more choice than Drez but I filled a couple of bags with basics. I couldn’t have done that without the extra cash, prices are going daft.

As I reached the street, a gang of four girls mugged a woman as she came out of a shop down the road. A couple of them gave her a thumping while the other two ran off with her shopping. Not a copper in sight and nobody on the street tried to help except one other woman who shouted at the girls but backed off when the two who had been giving the beating headed for her. I was too far away to help but I’m not sure I could have anyway; they’d probably have nicked my shopping as well. A few other people started shouting at them then and they legged it.

Then I went home to get more money and this afternoon I headed into town again. This time I went to Blacks. Bought the last two cans of gas they had for my little camping stove but they had some for a different model so I bought them as well and a stove they fit. There were some folding solid fuel burners and blocks on the shelf too. I haven’t used those before but I took a couple. I reckon the more variety of burners I’ve got the more likely I am to be able to find fuel to go with one or another. Looking about I found some dried backpackers’ foods and a water purifier thing, so I added those to the pile, plus a battery or wind-up lamp. After that news broadcast this morning I’d sooner have stuff I might need than cash that might not buy nearly as much tomorrow. And even though I don’t like the idea, if things keep going the way they are, I might be glad I found that gun.

After all the excitement, the past week has been fairly quiet. For me that is; not so much for the rest of the world according to the radio news.

The Health Department has come out with some figures. They reckon that in the UK and on most continents, about 80% of the population is or will be catching the disease and for 14% of those it is proving fatal. They think this outbreak will run for six or seven months and over that time, with our population now, we will have around 8 million deaths. Eight million! It seems to be affecting everybody; babies, pensioners, but fit working age people like my Jen too. It hard targets anyone that is particularly susceptible, like those with reduced immunity, asthma or heart disease but it seems to be able to kill almost anybody. It’s causing collateral damage as well. Because of manufacturing and supply problems, some people with other conditions aren’t getting their medication, and staff problems and other things have meant for some waiting for operations the wait has been too long so they’ve died too. Me, I’ve had what felt like a bad cold. Weird, I’m grateful I haven’t had it but I sort of feel guilty, even though it isn’t my fault they suffered and I haven’t so much.

They’ve introduced a ban on big public gatherings like football matches and music festivals, closed cinemas and discos, put a limit on the numbers that can be allowed into pubs and restaurants, museums and such, at any one time. Some nurseries and schools are shutting, mainly because of the number of staff and kids off sick.

What else? The forces are taking over guarding all of the places that have usually been covered by the police, including, airports, power stations, government buildings including Downing Street, and the rest. They're going to be backing up the police on other duties. They say the soldiers will accompany a police officer, the police will be in charge and the soldiers will only be armed where the police are, but not all the armed coppers are happy even about that. There have been reports of them training together for riot control duties though.

Fifty three of our 600 MPs have now died and the government say that, under the current circumstances, it won’t be practical to arrange and run by-elections for a while, so constituents will temporarily be represented by a Member from an adjoining area. Where they can that will be one from the same party as the one who died but that might not always be possible. With so many others sick or skiving, they’re even discussing making some constitutional changes and forming a full coalition until everything settles down and they have time to reorganise and hold a general election. There's lots of debate about what the ‘constitutional changes’ might consist of and some pretty wild theories floating about.

As a fuel saving measure we now have a speed limit of 60 mph for cars and 50 mph for trucks even on motorways. They’ve also put out a warning to people who drive electric cars to be aware that, due to potential power cuts and reduced maintenance of facilities, they might face delays or problems finding working recharging points. Oh, and for the same reasons, almost everybody but essential services is now on a four-day working week. That includes us volunteers, George told us. He showed up on the Tuesday, had been missing because he had been detailed to check on volunteers who were missing. Most of them were sick or looking after family who were but he brought us the bad news about Gemma and her little one.

We’re still going to get our ration coupons if we turn up. I feel a bit guilty about that, considering my stroke of luck, but I can’t afford not to take them. After those first few jobs there hasn’t been anything on offer on the street. I haven’t seen much of Tom and Elsbeth, though they still seem to be working and going off in their hybrid BMW each day. Why or where they get a fuel ration I wouldn’t like to guess. Dennis, the old guy at the house where they gave me dinner for moving the furniture, has died. I’ve been dropping in to see his missus whenever I can, do some errands and the shopping for her, try to put in a few little extras when I do, but she mainly seems to want the company so I stay a while to chat. She’s still grieving hard of course, it’s only been a few days, but lonely after they were together so long.

I sort of know how she feels. Jen and I were only together for 2 years but I was so miserable the other day – Oh God, but I’m sorry Jen! - I went to see if Annie, at No.34, ‘had any jobs she needed doing’. Talk about feeling guilty about other things! I’m still sneering at myself in the mirror, but I really needed some close physical contact with somebody. It got to a lot more than that, of course, but Annie seemed genuinely grateful. She puts on the act but I don’t think she likes being on her own either, especially with everything that is happening.

So, I got up late this morning, missed the news and trogged along the street to Drez’s, only to find he has shut up shop. Sign on the door window, ‘Sorry no stock Closed until further notice’. Then I walked to the bus stop, to be confronted by a long queue. A woman at the back of the line told me somebody at the front said they’d been there nearly an hour and not seen any buses at all. I didn’t see the point of waiting so I started walking to town, with the idea that if one came along before I’d gone too far I could always get a lift at the next stop. As it was I reached the centre without anything passing me.

Walking up the pedestrian zone felt like a scene from a weird film. More than half the shops had their shutters down and no lights on. Even the two fast food places and a pound shop were closed. The charity shops seemed to have a few customers, mainly looking through clothes or books rather than any of the ornaments, though one man came out with a bag full of balls of wool. Both the banks were shut and there were notices on the ATMs that they were out of use. There were 3 small groups of youths hanging about, trying to look casual while eyeing up anyone leaving a shop, including one group directly opposite the bakers, which was open. I went in and was tempted by some of the produce but decided not to take the risk. Instead I ordered a couple of sausage rolls, sat at a small table in the shop to eat them in full view of the thugs across the street then left, threw the bag into the waste bin outside and walked away with nothing in my hands.

On a whim, I turned up the main road, where I knew I’d find the club that Tom and Elsbeth run. It doesn’t open until early evening but from the posters by the door it seems as though it is still going strong. I’ve never been in but when I passed a few weeks ago I couldn’t help but notice the two rather large bouncers by the doors, which looking at now seem more like castle gates. Not the first place any of those little gangs on the street would test their strengths on, I decided but my first and only hash pals are obviously still in business.

As I headed for home I passed a small paper shop and tobacconist. The light was on and the main door open but the metal grid was shut and a young man was sitting on a chair behind it. Just outside there was a huge announcement, ‘President Dead. Dollar Crashes.’ After staring at it twice I asked, ‘What’s this?’ He grinned at me and told me all the details were in the paper, did I want to buy? I obviously wasn’t going to get any information without paying so I reached through the grid and handed him the three pounds he asked for, for which he gave me my A4 sized newspaper consisting of four pages. I declined the offer of ‘cigarettes, papers, anything else?’ and moved on, reading as I went.

Sure enough, despite the best efforts of the most professional and well-equipped doctors in the world, the President of the United States contracted the pandemic virus and died within 3 days of doing so.  The government had tried to withhold the story until they were ready to release it but inevitably it leaked and the markets responded with negativity and speed that had even the experts in awe. A massive flotilla of emergency measures was being implemented but the shock wave was already rolling around the world. Parliament stopped the London stock exchange from opening and some other time zones were doing the same or closing theirs but those that were already open had immediately started to reflect the US fall. I’m no finance expert and I really had no idea where this would go but one thing I was sure of, it wasn’t going to be good.      

That evening I learnt why the banks and ATMs in the town centre were closed, and that the banks seemed to have had some advance notice of what was happening. The news presenter announced that a temporary ‘bank holiday’ had been imposed and that banks, ATMs and all online banking would be suspended for the next 3 days, or until suitable measures to secure the system could be decided. The stock exchange and online dealing were going to stay closed too. They also warned that there might be disruption to payment of direct debits and standing orders, that these would be made as soon as the systems were fully back online but that customers should then check essential bills had been paid or contact the intended recipients to make other arrangements. Then the radio went dead.

I turned the dial and eventually found a couple of local stations that were playing pop music but when I went back there was still nothing on the one where I had been getting the news so I switched it off to save the batteries. A couple of hours later I tried again and found out that a bunch of protestors had broken into the studios and tried to take over to broadcast their complaints and demands. One of the station’s techies cut the power to the transmitter but not the studio, so they thought they were sending out their message but nobody heard it. Police, security and soldiers eventually arrested them but not before they had done some damage and given the news reporter a black eye.

This morning there is an extended news programme with interviews and reports from all over the country. During the reports, at one point they switched scene to outside a hospital where they have tents set up to take some patients. The reporter also said that for the first time near the entrance she saw big notices pointing to a triage point, where they are assessing the incoming patients and sending them to various places according to their condition and prognosis. A nurse she interviewed said the hospitals had been applying triage for quite a while, they had to because of the numbers coming in, but they had kept it a bit more discrete. Now there are just too many to worry about that.

For the disease, they are repeating the warning not to call or go to a GP, or especially to A&E, unless a condition is immediately life threatening but to use one of four special numbers, any of which will connect to an advice line. They are also saying to expect long waiting times to get through due to volume of calls and that there is now often a delay of over four hours before despatch of an ambulance, though it can be considerably more, especially in rural areas.

But despite the pandemic, the main thing they are concentrating on today is that people are being told to stay indoors unless they have urgent reasons to go out and particularly to avoid town centres. There are mobs outside all the banks hammering on the doors, throwing stones through the windows and trying to break into the bank or cash machines. Police and troops are being deployed and in the big cities riot squads are in action. Many of the protests have turned into looting of nearby shops, with some of it being for essentials like food and medicines but others taking all sorts of rubbish like electrical items. One reporter watched as a woman ran off with a standard lamp and another with a microwave, which she dropped and broke when somebody else tried to grab it off her, so she just headed back to the shop she’d stolen it from to look for another one.

All the major supermarkets and many other shops are shut because they can’t take card payments and customers can’t get cash but some have already been hit by looters. Small shops out of town, bars and restaurants are opening but with signs on the door that they will only take cash and, those that can, have someone at the door to only let in customers who can show the money. A lot are also warning that they can’t draw change so they are either rounding up purchases, or in some cases individual prices, to the nearest pound or whatever the value of the smallest banknote the customer has. The reporter noted that none of them actually mentioned rounding any prices down.

One good bit of news; I got a call from George to say that because of the riots the volunteers aren’t to gather until we are told to, but the food bank is going to be open and they have plenty of rations because of big donations of fresh and near expiry goods from the supermarkets, who aren’t going to be able to sell them. He said to go to the back door and knock, though, because they were shutting down at the front to avoid the risk of anyone without coupons trying to help themselves. He recommended that if I want anything ready cooked then to go to the Sally Army because they are opening food kitchens after also benefitting from extra donations.

I still have some cash and I’m OK for most things so I’m not going near anywhere that might be a target for the mobs. Even so, I think I’ll go to the food bank to use up the rest of my coupons. We might get extra if they’re flush with stuff, in which case I’ll pass on some to Peggy, Dennis’s wife and, maybe, I’ll try to swallow my pride and guilt and see if Annie needs anything.

The food bank was being quite generous today and I was lucky enough to get a lift back in the van that was going to pick up even more supplies from a supermarket. I was glad about that; their place is quite out of the way in an otherwise unused building on the edge of an industrial estate. There were no protesters between here and there but there were quite a few characters hanging about near places there was a bit of cover. Places where perhaps they could have dragged anybody unlucky enough for them to choose as a possible target, including me if I was carrying a load of bags. One of them was talking to a mate who was supposed to be hiding in the bushes and who quickly pulled back when he spotted me. Noted, and I’d have tried a different route back if I’d had to walk but something I’ll watch for again in the future.

I put most of my stuff away when I got home then dropped some teabags and a few other bits in a bag and went to call on Peggy. There was no answer when I knocked so I looked through her front window to see if I could see her. There were no lights on because the power went off while I was out but from what I could see the place looked a mess and that definitely isn’t right for her. I went round to the back door to try there. There was no need to knock because it had obviously been kicked in. I shouted but got no response so I pushed the door open, picked up a brick that was holding down a plant pot and carefully went inside.

Peggy was lying on the floor in the doorway between the kitchen and her living room. Her hair and the side of her face were covered in dried blood and her eyes were still open but she wasn’t moving at all. The house had been wrecked; every cupboard was open, drawers had been pulled out and tipped, even the waste bin had been turned over and the bag emptied. I shouted again and waited in case there was any sound of movement but there was nothing so I cautiously made my way over to Peggy and knelt down to feel her face. Absolutely cold. She must have been dead for quite a while.  

Now I was seriously pissed off! An old lady, on her own since Dennis died, with there being little chance of her having anything much worth nicking, and not able to put up anything of a fight, but the bastard who broke in had to go and kill her. I took a deep breath, then reached into my pocket for my mobile phone. No signal. I looked around and spotted a landline phone on the floor but even though the cable was still attached to the wall socket and I tapped the connections on the receiver a few times there was no dial tone.

Shaking my head, I went back outside, chucked the brick into the corner, and then headed for the street. Annie was in front her house shaking out a rug and must have been able to see I was upset because she dropped it through the door then walked towards me asking what was wrong. I told her what I’d found and asked if her phone was working so we could call the police but she had no signal either and her house phone was as dead as Peggy’s.

As we stood talking and were joined by her next-door neighbour, a police van drove down the street so I stepped out and flagged it down. Very cautious, the soldier in the passenger seat wound down the window a couple of inches and asked, ‘What?’ I told him about Peggy and the copper who was driving got out and came around the front of the van. He asked me a couple of questions, noted Peggy’s name and address and my details, then went to have a look. When he came back he confirmed that he had checked and she was dead, said he’d call it in and someone should come to investigate but that it might not be for quite a while, and that nobody should go back into the house but they might want to ask me more questions. Then the soldier wound down the window and shouted that they had a call-out so he ran back to the van and they zoomed off with lights and horn blaring.

Given his lack of any real interest, I didn’t have any expectation of the place quickly being surrounded by a forensics team and sure enough even after several days we hadn’t seen anybody so I went back in anyway, spread a blanket over Peggy’s body and pulled the door shut as well as I could, then left her to rest.

After the police van left, Annie asked me if I wanted to join her for a cuppa and to talk about it. I said I had things I had to do but that I’d see her later, gave her arm a gentle squeeze and kissed her on the cheek, got a pleased smile from her and a wry one from her neighbour, then went home.

Back in my house, even though it was only just after midday, I poured myself a drink, then sat down to think. Our street of semi-detached houses was neither what anyone would call posh nor a bad neighbourhood. Most houses are two bedrooms, and we have small back gardens with a bottom fence that separates it from the garden of the house in the next street. There’s a very small area at the front, just a few feet before the pavement. No room for parking on the property, just park on the street. There was generally very little crime because, with the exception of Tom and Elsbeth’s place which they refurbished to look rather flash, most houses didn’t seem like anyone would find anything much of value in them. Next door, not the house connected to mine but the other side, whose car was burnt out, was very unlucky; we aren’t a target or on a route for rioters, they were on the run from the police, came down our way and firebombed the car as a blockage or distraction.

My house is probably more secure than most but I can’t take any credit for that. Jen was burgled twice in six years in places she lived before she moved in with me, so she was a bit paranoid about it. We had the glass panelled front and back doors replaced with really solid wooden ones in strong frames and with good locks and bolts. There is triple glazing on all windows, which is strong but also great for heat and noise insulation, with locks on those that open, and leading strips on the front windows, partly for decoration. We also have alarms that cover the doors and windows. They're battery operated and admittedly they came from B&Q and I fitted them myself but they do seem to work OK. 

All that seems to be fine but I couldn’t help it, I went and fetched the gun from where I had hidden it under a loose floorboard in a cupboard under the stairs. I took it out of the polybag and unwrapped the oiled cloth in which I’d covered it. I dropped out the magazine, worked the action, and sat looking at it and turning it over in my hands. From now on, whenever I was in the house, it was going to be somewhere I could have quick and easy access to it. Feeling a bit self-conscious, despite being on my own, I replaced the magazine then pushed the pistol under my belt behind my back, and as a back-up went to the cupboard from which it had come, took my hammer out of the toolbox and transferred it to a drawer in the hall. Then I moved to the kitchen, selected a few knives from the block and put them in places around the house where they weren’t obvious but I could grab one if needed.  

I’m no Stallone or Schwarzenegger but my dad was a soldier for a few years and was into boxing and he taught me a thing or two before he died. I have no fantasies about holding off a mob single handed but if anybody tries with me what they did to Peggy I’m going to make it a damn site harder and it’s going to cost them. If the police want to make something of it then I’ll say the gun or knife was the burglar’s and I managed to get it off them but had to use it to stop them from killing me.

It's evening now and I've spent the past few hours with Annie. She asked if I would stay the night because what happened to Peggy has made her scared to be on her own. It was fairly obvious she wanted more than company though so I invited her back to my place where I explained she would be more secure, and here she is. I didn't bother to mention some of the arrangements I made at home for that extra security.

I cooked us a simple meal using some of the stuff I got from the food bank this morning and then we listened to the radio for a while. The Deputy Finance Minister came on and told us that the investigations made during the bank closures have revealed some serious shortcomings and malpractice by some of the banks. As a result, it is almost certain that several will close unless they can be taken over by others. The government does not intend bail out any bank that has to close and that is not taken over, so return of any deposits over the amount covered by the FSCS will depend on the findings of the liquidator. A list of the affected banks will be released in due course.

However, the scale of the problem will result in the government having to make an adjustment to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. While the amount covered will remain at £85,000 the new system will mean that only £50,000 of that will be paid in cash and the remaining £35,000 will be refunded in the form of government bonds, which will not be redeemable until 5 years after the date of issue. In addition, to fund this scheme in the current financial crisis, the treasury is going to impose a tax of 7.5% on any savings over £85,000 in any of the banks that do remain solvent. This tax will be imposed with immediate effect.

Banks and online banking are to remain in suspension for another week but from Monday of next week, ATMs will again be open. Depositors in banks not under liquidation will be able to withdraw up to a maximum of £100 per day but only debit cards may be used. Debit cards will also be opened for electronic payments for any purchases made in person, but not online, up to a value of £100 per day. Credit card accounts will remain on hold until further notice.

Annie and I both shrugged at the stuff about savings over the described limits because neither of us is nearly at the point where they would affect us. The restriction on debit card payments doesn't make much difference to me either because I haven't anything in an account to spend but Annie was pleased because she is almost out of cash. The only thing now would be to find somewhere she could spend it, considering the number of shops that have been trashed and looted. Well, we can think about that tomorrow. The way she’s looking at me, she has other things on her mind for now.  

This morning, Annie’s mind was on something else again. Over a breakfast of tea and toast with peanut butter (thank you, food bank!), she looked at me quizzically and asked, ‘Dan, what did you do for a job?’ My answer that she should know, wasn’t it obvious that I was a professional sex worker, was met with a snort that I should have found insulting but generously accepted as a joke, so I admitted that I was basically a plasterer but had also done painting and decorating until the guy who owned the firm for which I worked had died very early in the pandemic and it turned out he was great at his job but not at business and the firm was not just broke but badly in debt.

In the months since then I had been searching hard for a new job but the disease had thrown everything out: the usual ways to search hardly worked, many firms were going out of business, nobody was offering contracts and for any jobs that did come up in any field there were so many people available with the skills required that your chance was as much down to luck as ability. So, I had thrown in with the volunteers and accepted the food coupons and Salvation Army meals while I waited for any benefits to start paying, the admin for which didn’t seem to be working either, and kept on trying for whatever chances I saw. Then I tried the DIY and general skills stuff, at which I wasn’t bad, along our street but that quickly dried up and the only good thing was that I had got to know her. I didn’t think it would help to tell her I’d also done rather well in my brief career as a drug dealer.

In return, I asked her the same question, and got the reply that she was a glamour model and actress, so I tried the same snort she used but didn’t do it nearly as well. Then I found out that really, she’d been a software technician until she married her boss but that after he died, of a heart attack, long before the pandemic, he had left her a good insurance policy that paid off the mortgage with some left over and a pension that was enough for her fairly modest needs. She had once looked at getting back into work, mainly from boredom, but the software and programming had moved on so fast that everything was far too different.

She asked about my mortgage and I told her that I still owed on it but while I’d been making decent money I’d overpaid each month, which gave me the option of not paying for a few months, though the extra was now nearly used up. ‘So,’ she said, ‘everything is going downhill. The economy is in a dive, the streets are full of rioters, the shops are nearly empty, we are probably going to end up in another 1930s style depression or worse, and if you don’t get any work or money soon the bank is likely to foreclose on your loan and evict you. What are you planning to do next?’ I blinked, twice, and stared at her. The truth was, she was way ahead of me and I had never imagined that it would get that bad or what I would do if it did.

 

3

I couldn’t get into my account to see what the current situation was but I guessed that if, when the bank opened again, I paid in a few hundred from the drugs money then that would cover the mortgage payment for the next month. Even if there was no payment after that, I should have at least a couple of months until they came to evict me, maybe more considering the current confusion, except that if my bank was one of those that was badly hit, it might not open and that could speed up the foreclosure. Still, I had some time.

One of the first things I would do was find somewhere to which I could discretely move and store any of my stuff that I wouldn’t want the bailiffs to take. Furniture and most electrical goods they could have but my computer, some personal items, and things like most of my clothes and the consumables that were going to become very expensive or hard to find, plus the tools I would need if I did find any sort of work, they would all have to be out and somewhere safe. Fortunately, I had Annie there, her mortgage was paid off, she had plenty of room in her house, and when I explained my thinking and asked if I could leave those things with her the immediate answer, accompanied by a big grin, was, ‘Only if you move yourself in as well, after they evict you. I’m sure I can think of some way you can reimburse me for the storage’.  I can probably live with that!  

So, if Annie is right about the coming depression life is going to get hard, I’m going to lose my house and most of the stuff for which I’ve worked for years, but I’m not going to lose everything, I’m not going to be sleeping on the streets, and there are going to be other benefits too. Breathe, Dan, and count your blessings. Millions of people will be worse off.

We then talked about other things to come. Annie said that as soon as the ATMs opened or she could use her debit card she was going to spend her £100 per day on whatever she could that we would need or that we might be able to trade. She asked if I had any cash so I told her that I had some we could use and explained about my plan to use some for the mortgage to give me more time before eviction but that if I was going to move in with her there was no point in putting it off for a month, so we could use all my money if we needed to. I would continue to live in my house most of the time, and particularly towards the end, so that the bailiffs wouldn’t be looking for any of my possessions anywhere else. If I was asked about anything in particular I’d tell them I’d had to sell/trade my stuff for food.

We were starting to make a plan. There were lots of other things we’d need to consider and prepare for, but at least we were making a start.

On Wednesday morning I got a call from George to say that the volunteers were needed for some clearing up in the town centre. The call took me by surprise because the mobile phone network had been down for 2 days and so had the electric for most of it. Fortunately, my phone still had some power in the battery but I'd need to charge it when I next got a chance. Annie had stayed at my house for a couple of days but went home to check on things there while I headed into town, partly because I wanted to earn any food coupons that were going and partly from curiosity of what things were like in the centre.

When I reached the town, it was very quiet but there had been lots of damage. Unexpectedly, there was a policeman and a soldier patrolling down the street. Even more unexpectedly, both were armed. There were no youths or other suspicious characters hanging about. Very few stores were open. A couple of the charity shops, a newsagent and the bakers were, but one of the charity shops had its window boarded up.

I had a few minutes to spare so I took a look inside to see what they had for sale. Most was the usual variety but I did notice some tools, blankets, what looked like home-made scented candles and soap, and a couple of other items that were among the things Annie and I had discussed as potentially useful trade goods for when the situation deteriorated even further. I also looked in the baker’s window and was immediately struck by the fact that the prices were at least twice what they had been when I was last there and the meat pasties and sausage rolls were three times their previous price. Whatever Annie and I spent our money on, it was going to buy a lot less than we might have expected.

Only 4 of the volunteers had turned out but we spent the day clearing up broken glass, burnt tyres and other rubbish. The following two days we were taken to other locations but for much the same sort of work. In every case, the streets were almost empty but there was an armed police/military team on patrol. On Friday we finished early but despite only having worked half the week were given a full set of ration coupons. Less welcome was George’s comment that he didn’t know when we would next get a call because resources were getting short for transporting us to places we were needed. If we attended the jobcentre and signed in each Wednesday, we should get issued with a chit for the food bank but to be aware that they had a constantly growing number of customers but fewer donations and some of what we were given might be army rations.

On the Saturday morning, Annie and I went together to collect my ration allocation. There were fewer thugs loitering on the route and none of them tried to bother us. If they had they would have come up against Annie’s home-made chilli spray and I was carrying a heavy handled walking stick. What she didn’t know about was the pistol tucked into an inside pocket of my parka.

In the afternoon we walked into town with some of my cash to start building our trade stash. What we found in addition to the regular shops was an improvised market of half a dozen tables featuring a variety of goods, all either second-hand or made by the stall holder. We bought some jam from one and gloves and hats from another, where the seller was the man I remembered seeing after he bought a bag of balls of wool.  Prices were higher than we would ever have expected from similar stalls before the pandemic but cheaper than even the charity shops would have charged. We guessed it was just a sample of what was to come.

There’s an alarm screeching downstairs! Gun in my hand now, worked the slide, ready. Annie is staring open mouthed. Finger to my lips warning her to be quiet. Heading out of the bedroom to the top of the stairs. Alarm hasn’t put them off, there’s movement in the kitchen.

Moving down the stairs now. Gun held out in front of me, in both hands, like they do in the movies. I just hope I look scary. Would probably have been better if I’d put on some pants. Too late now.

There’s at least two of them. Alarm stopped. I can hear them talking. I can see the kitchen door now but I can’t see them yet. No, wait, one coming out. He’s seen me. Stopped dead, staring. Gun is aimed at him. What? He’s smiling! Coming towards me. There’s his mate, just behind him. Front one has a crowbar in his hand. Were these the ones who bashed Peggy over the head? I should tell him to stop. Can’t speak. What’s happening? He’s talking to me. Calm. Reaching out for the gun. I should shoot. Why aren’t I shooting? I’m trembling!

What? What happened? He’s falling down. His mate is running out. Oh God! Oh GOD! OH GOD! I did it. I shot him! Right in the chest. He’s down. Panting, looking at his hands. Blood. He’s looking at me. Confused. Falling back. Blinking. Still now. Not moving. What’s that smell? Mess under him. Damn, he just shit himself. I think he’s dead. Lots of people seem to do that when they go. One of the things we had to deal with on the bodies we cleared.

Jesus, I’m shaking. My legs are going. Got to sit down. Arms around me. Annie’s hugging me. She’s talking to me but I can’t hear her words. My ears are ringing from the noise of the shot. I can’t breathe. I think I’m going to pass out. She’s hugging me tighter. I’m panting now. That’s easier. Can breathe again.

Getting angry now! Sneering at the body. That pair of bastards broke into my house. They were robbing us. Could have hurt me and Annie. Bastards! Reaching to Annie’s hands, giving them a squeeze. Got to get up and see how they broke in, make sure the other one is gone. Make us safe. At least the alarm worked.


Where am I? How long have I been sitting here? I’ve got a cup of tea in front of me but it’s cold. Annie is smiling at me. ‘Welcome back. Are you with me now?’ I nodded. ‘Do you remember what happened?’ She asked. I nodded again. After I had checked the other one had gone we had discussed what to do with the body. Annie suggested wrapping him in bin bags, putting on a label with a fake name, date of birth and cause of death as Flu. So we got dressed and then that’s what we did and put it outside an empty house just down the street. It was still only half past 2 in the morning so it was unlikely anyone would see us and the collection lorry still comes around every couple of days, even though there have only been two more deaths we know of in this area. They’ll probably never even open the bags.

Then I fixed the window back in place as well as I could – they hadn’t broken it, they’d taken the whole damn thing out of the frame – while Annie cleared up the mess from the body. Just as well one of the things we bought was plenty of bleach.

‘And do you remember what happened after we’d cleared up and I made a cuppa?’ she asked, smiling in a rather different way. Oh, I remembered that alright! She had given me a hug and I’d gone bonkers. ‘My caveman, Dan! You’re usually so gentle and careful to look after my needs, several times, before thinking about yourself, but this time; On the table, Ug woman, lie down, open legs, bonk! I swear, if you’d had a club in your hand rather than between your legs you’d have whopped me on the head first!’

I swallowed hard. Looked down and apologised. ‘Oh, I wasn’t objecting, you just took me by surprise, but then when you sat down to recover, you disappeared. I don’t know where you went in your head but you’ve been completely out of it for almost an hour. You cried at one time; no weeping, not a sound, but tears running down your cheeks. Then just blank again. You were rocking back and forwards at one time too, not hard, but you were moving.  I was starting to think of fetching Mary, the nurse from 54, to look at you. What were you thinking about? The robber?’

I shook my head. In truth I found it hard to explain, because I didn’t have a clue. I remembered sitting down to drink the tea and after that it was a complete blank. I had no memory of even being there. Then a thought came to me, ‘Where’s the gun?’ I asked. She told me she had put it in a drawer but she knew nothing about them so she had been careful but it was however I left it when I put it down. Then she asked where I’d got it and commented that she hadn’t even known I had one. So I told her about where I found it, but for some reason I’m not sure of I still didn’t mention the drugs. She showed me the drawer it was in and I unloaded it and made it safe then put it away again. When I first saw it in the drawer I wasn’t sure I wanted to pick it up but once I did, there was no guilt, just a feeling of reassurance.

By the next afternoon the body was gone and even a fortnight later we’d had no Armed Response Unit kicking in the door, nor the same from any friends or family of the guy I’d shot, so I reckoned we were probably in the clear. There had been a spate of break-ins along the street, especially at any house that didn’t show any sign of being occupied or that was otherwise vulnerable, so we moved into Annie’s house and I’d worked at upgrading the security as much as possible, including transferring all the alarms I’d had set up in my place. If the raiders wanted anything from mine then they were only getting what the bank would steal later so sod it.

Which was going to happen, because it had been announced that my bank was one of those that was going under. All loans, including mortgages were being sold on to other banks but the bank itself was closing down. Whoever bought the debts would contact the debtor to make arrangements for payment. However, the interest rates were mirroring inflation and going up like a rocket. There was no guarantee that the debt buyer would offer the same rates as on the original contract, nor demands from the government that they must do so under the prevailing financial conditions. The move looked like it would extend the time before they came to evict me but otherwise I didn’t much care any longer. It was going to happen and my chances of having any income that would let me pay the mortgage before it did were about zero. I’d gone through everything in the house to identify any pieces that we might be able to sell or trade but the bailiffs, or thieves, would get the rest.

The announcements said that anyone who had a current account would have to open one with another bank and provide the details to their old one within 28 days, which would then transfer standing order and direct debit details to the new account. The same applied to savings accounts but all that was guaranteed to be transferred was the £50,000, plus the £35,000 in government bonds covered by FSCS. Savers with more than that could lose all the rest because they were near the bottom of the list of those who would get anything the liquidator decided was there to be shared among those who were due it. That wouldn’t affect me and at the moment I couldn’t work up a lot of sympathy for anybody with more than eighty-five grand in the bank. If inflation continued the way it was then even that wouldn’t be worth much before long.

The pandemic was continuing. Numbers becoming infected seemed to be steady but the percentage of those for whom it was fatal had risen due to the Health Service being totally overwhelmed. Time to get an ambulance was prolonged but even if one was sent there was nowhere with available beds or staff to which they could take you. Even if they had found a place there was a massive shortage of medication of all types. Controls on tests of new drugs had been reduced to allow more to be tried out but most were proving ineffective or even making conditions worse.

Absenteeism from work was estimated at over 60% due to sickness, people looking after family who were sick, or avoiding contact with others as much as possible. Some firms had introduced work-from-home wherever possible but that wasn’t practical for line workers in factories, warehouses, shops or so many other places. Which didn’t alter the fact that availability of raw materials, production, transport and sales were all down to almost, or in some cases below, sustainable levels. The banks weren’t the only sector with raging business failure. Unemployment was going to be huge, tax income was falling as fast and with the same problems existing across most countries the government was struggling desperately to come up with any way they were going to deal with it.

One night we were woken by an argument going on out in the street. Without thinking, the first thing I did before going to the window to see what was happening was to pick up the gun, cock it and apply the safety catch. Then I approached carefully and looked out from the side of the window. ‘How do you know how to do all that?’ Annie asked. Which meant I had to admit it was purely down to watching far too many action movies and YouTube videos and I didn’t know how realistic any of it was but at least the gun stuff seemed to work. I’d never actually handled a real one until I found this!

Two near neighbours were facing off against a young man from much further along the street, who I’d occasionally seen and did recognise but to whom I didn’t think I’d ever spoken. Some others were starting to come out to watch what was going on. From what I could make out, the neighbours had heard a noise in Dennis and

Peggy’s house which was connected to theirs and had caught the lad in front of them coming out of there. They were really annoyed because the police had never come to investigate and Peggy’s body was still in the house. We should have put it out long ago so that she could be buried but were put off by the police warning to leave things as they were.

The would-be burglar was protesting that he had no food, no money, and that Dennis and Peggy didn’t need anything that was left in the house so he had to see if there was something in there that he could use. Someone else in the gathered group was now shouting that he should sign on and go to the food bank like anyone else instead of robbing the dead and that next he’d be going for other elderly folk who were still alive. We should be looking after one another not preying on people from the same street.

He shouted back that they were already getting robbed by real burglars and squatters had moved into a couple of the empty houses, so why shouldn’t he get in before they did and he wasn’t doing anybody any harm. His next response, that he had already been to the food bank but all his ration was already gone, was more a whine than a shout but it didn’t do him any favours. He was accused of simply being greedy and lazy and that he wasn’t getting away with this. The neighbour who had first confronted him turned to the others and shouted that the police wouldn’t come even if they called them so they had to deal with thugs and thieves, like this one, themselves. Then it started getting physical.

It began with several of the men, and then women too, lashing out at him. He very quickly fell and curled on the floor where the punches changed to kicks. The nurse from No. 54 came running down the road and began pulling people away and shouting at them to stop, that it was enough. Eventually they took heed and, after a final couple of nasty kicks from one who had joined in late in the fight, they pulled back. Mary bent to examine the lad, rolled him over and with tears rolling down her cheeks stood up and shouted, ‘Well done, you stupid bunch of arseholes! He’s dead. You’ve killed him, and for what? He didn’t even find anything in the house. I hope the police lock you all up and throw away the key. I know who you all are!’

A couple of the women covered their mouths in shock. Some of the men at least frowned. Others simply sneered at the body and turned away. Gradually all left. Mary pulled out her phone, desperately tried pushing buttons but eventually threw it across the road in frustration. She pulled the body to the side of the pavement, straightened it as well as she could, then picked up the lad’s cap from where it had fallen in the road and placed it over his face, before making her way home, shaking her head and still crying. Annie and I sat down on the bed. Neither of us knew what to say. We had seen bad things, had them happen to us, but this was somehow different. This was our neighbours, some of them we would have thought of as good neighbours, involved in deadly violence against one of their own. Things were changing fast and not for the better.

The following morning, I was getting ready to walk into town, to see if I could find any of a couple of items we had decided we could use, or anything else that might be useful. Annie’s garden was as small as mine and consisted of a grass lawn with a few bushes and flowers around it but, although neither of us were proper gardeners, we’d decided that if I could find any seeds then, when the weather improved and we weren’t waking up to frost covered windows, we would try to grow something that we could eat if we needed to. As we talked, she also remembered some wine making kit her husband had tried that was now in the loft, so if we could get any ingredients maybe we could give that a go too. I fetched the stuff down and there were a couple of how-to books with the demijohns and filters, one on using kits and one on making from scratch so I read up on what we would need and added those to my list.

It all delayed my departure by a couple of hours and I did wonder if that was deliberate because Annie was scared of being on her own. Sure enough, as I was putting my coat back on, she asked if I was taking the gun. I told her that I was but she asked if I would show her how to use it and then leave it with her. She admitted she was nervous of being in the house alone and although she wasn’t sure she would be able to shoot someone at least she could fire it and hopefully scare them off. The route into town wasn’t one where I had identified any great risks that I wouldn’t be able to spot well in advance and I had been worried about carrying or using the gun in the open in case it brought the cops down on me, so I agreed, showed her the basics, and then she put it in a drawer and I set off.

I had to pass the body of the guy who had been killed the previous night and as I did I saw Mary come out of her house ahead of me and walk off in the opposite direction. She was dressed for the weather, had a small pack on her back and was pulling a suitcase on wheels. I guessed she was leaving without any intention of coming back to this street and its murderous occupants and I couldn’t really blame her. It would be a major loss though; she was good at her job and with the state of the health service it had been reassuring to know we had a medical professional so close if we needed her.

In town, things had changed. Most of the shops were still shut, there was a policeman and a soldier standing at the top watching the street, but the precinct now looked more like a car boot sale, with nearly a dozen tables on either side though each with much less stuff than they would have had if they were selling from the back of their cars. Even so, the stalls had a variety of things for sale. One had wine and beer making gear. There were no ingredients and we had the demijohns and a bucket but I did buy a couple of air locks and a hydrometer. From the box of books at another stall I found a first aid manual, apparently an old edition but I decided it had to be better than nothing, and two books on basic gardening. There were a few other bits and pieces, all at prices I would have laughed at as ridiculously high a few months ago but that didn’t seem so odd now.

Near the end was a stall with some well used garden tools. They’d be a heavy carry back but if we were going to try to resurrect The Good Life we would need them, so I bought a spade and fork, and a trowel too. Besides which, it occurred to me that if anyone wanted to give me any trouble on my way home then a garden fork might act as an effective dissuader. I asked about seeds and the lady selling said they were hard to find now but, and she glanced towards the copper then leaned forward to whisper, did I know that if there was anything, and she meant anything, that I needed, the people who ran the club on the next street could get it, at a price.

So now I knew where Tom and Elsbeth had disappeared to and that they were still in business, even if it was in a slightly different line to their previous one. The only problem was that I didn’t know if I would be able to afford them; the cash I had got from them was almost gone and so were most of Annie’s savings. Still, it might be useful to make contact again, just in case. 

For now, however, I would just go home. If I was going to pay a visit to my former customers then I wouldn’t give the best impression if I turned up in the deliberately rather shabby clothes I wore to blend in and look like I wasn’t worth mugging, carrying a battered carrier bag of second-hand books and an old garden spade. I’d review with Annie our list of probable needs and what we might not be able to get elsewhere and what we could afford to pay for them, and then head for the club specifically for the purpose, if we decided we wanted to go that route.

When I got back, the first thing that faced me was chasing off crows that were feasting on the body by the pavement. They’d thrown off his cap, taken his eyes and started on his lips. Feeling somewhat sickened, I made my way towards the front door, intending to bring out a heavy rug or something to lay over him but then diverted to fetch one from Peggy’s house that I knew was laid under the table in the kitchen. Maybe I was wrong but it seemed somehow appropriate.

That done I was approaching Annie’s house when I stopped in my tracks. What I’d completely forgotten to do before leaving was arrange any way of letting her know that if I knocked at or simply opened the door, it was me. I hadn’t been so worried before but now she might have a gun in her hand and not wait to see who it was before she pulled the trigger. The cell phone system had been down for several days in our area, though I’d heard it was intermittent elsewhere, so I wasn’t even carrying my mobile. Such a simple damn thing but I’d completely forgotten it might be necessary.

Eventually I decided that the best I could do was knock, stand off to the side of the door protected by the wall and if she asked who was there tell her it was me and say something that would prove it. That worked, and I simply told her that I hadn’t been able to get any seed but did get some garden tools and books, figuring that no-one else could know that was what I’d been shopping for. When she opened the door, she wasn’t holding the gun but she did throw herself at me in the longest, tightest hug I could ever have imagined. After we had both calmed down a bit and I’d shown her what I had bought then told her about the town, what things were like and what Tom and Elsbeth were up to, we switched on the radio to see what the PM had to tell us today.

We now have a National Government, a grand coalition of all available MPs from all parties. The PM has visited the palace and this has received Royal Assent from King Charles. When the pandemic runs down and things return to a reasonable state of normality, it is intended that a general election will be held but a date for that cannot yet be set. Parliament is no long sitting in Westminster. All business, including cabinet meetings and general voting, is now being conducted by video conferencing and email on a government-only, high-security system set up by GCHQ technicians. The general Internet and email systems still exist but access is regularly broken due to power cuts and system failures at a wide range of levels. Anyone who wants to contact their MP is advised to do so by landline telephone because surface mail is also badly affected and MP’s constituency offices and surgeries are suspended until further notice.

The government recognises that all services, including registration for and payment of unemployment benefit, so desperately needed by a growing number of people, and many bank run processes, have also been disrupted. Plans are therefore being made to replace the unemployment payments with the long discussed universal wage. This will be set at a level just below the rate at which income tax is payable, a level that will be adjusted to take into account inflation. A ban on any evictions from public or private accommodation due to non-payment of rent or mortgages is also to be introduced and will apply until further notice. Although mortgage completion dates may have to be extended, missed payments will not have to be paid by an increase in monthly rates. However, savers should be aware that some banks may have to undertake a Bail-In process, involving use of depositors’ funds to meet these requirements.

It is hoped that these measures should prevent the increase in homelessness that was feared by so many. Until the organisation of payment of the new universal wage can be organised and put into place, local government agencies will liaise with charities to increase the number and placement of free food facilities including soup kitchens and food banks.

To help meet the costs of these measures, a new tax system is to be introduced that will incorporate National Insurance with Income Tax but temporarily increase rates at all levels above the lowest. However, VAT rates on some basic products will be reduced, though fuel duty will be increased. Public employees will be paid but purchase of all new equipment by all departments other than NHS is to be suspended and budgets will be reduced accordingly. Because of the International nature of the emergency and its effects on almost all countries, All UK overseas aid payments will be stopped but, under UN supervision, International Monetary Systems of debt and debt repayment are also to be re-evaluated in order to prevent the otherwise inevitable defaults. Any troops not involved in operational duties overseas will be recalled and will be redeployed within the UK to serve in a wide variety of security and emergency support measures in line with their specialised training.

A lot of that went straight over my head but at least it sounded like the government was trying to do something positive. How well it would all work out, we would have to wait and see.

To be continued

 

STREETCRAFT

This  example is clipped from the introductory chapter David wrote in 2012 for the Ludlow Survival Group publication Streetcraft - A Ludlow Survival Group Guide to Urban Survival Preparedness and Response which has been compiled, edited and largely written by David. Streetcraft is unfortunately no longer in print due to the closure of the LSG website and discussion group.

 

Introduction

 The majority of people in the UK, and most other countries, live and/or work in cities or towns. Even those who live in rural areas tend to visit towns for shopping or socialising. It is inevitable, therefore, that if a disaster happens that is where most people will be. If you are reading this then you probably consider that you might be among them!

 Streetcraft is a term I have adopted for Urban Survival for much the same reasons as Bushcraft has become popular as an alternative to Survivalism. It isn't unique, I have found references elsewhere for various ideas of what the term represents, but for us while the concept is similar to Bushcraft, Streetcraft differs in context. In both we look at alternative ways of doing things and might often adopt or adapt those used by our ancestors, which in some cases are still used in less technologically developed societies, but in Streetcraft we will not ignore modern technology if it might still be available to us in extreme circumstances.

 LSG is primarily a preparedness group, rather than concentrating on either bushcraft or other purely reactive techniques, and in Streetcraft, instead of looking to the wilderness and its features and creatures, we look at ways we can both prepare and adapt the resources found in the urban environment to provide for the basics of life. So we consider what you can store at home as well as what you might put in a bug out bag, and instead of starting a fire with a fire bow and plant fibres we are more likely to consider how to do so using a mobile phone or car battery and the contents of a First Aid At Work first aid box. Instead of discussing how to protect yourself from snakes we are more likely to talk about how to keep either burglars or looters or floodwater out of your home and in Streetcraft we will do that in relation to the urban dwellings. This will, I hope, make the things we consider in this series of articles more relevant to the majority of readers, most of whom we expect will, like most of the population of our planet, live, work, or shop in a city or town.


War, terrorism, riots and arson, earthquake, tsunami, hurricane, tornado, flood, bush or forest fire, avalanche, industrial disaster; any of these and more can bring devastation and misery to an urban setting. Buildings collapse and are swept away, power and communications fail, fires burst out and spread rapidly, communities are buried or drowned or contaminated. And what is left? Broken buildings that could collapse at any time; rubble, glass, and torn-metal strewn streets; spilled chemicals; radioactive waste; raw sewage; rotting bodies; live power cables; leaking gas and fuel; deep water; dangerous wild and domestic animals; foul weather; no transport or routes it could use; no communications; no help for days at least; and people, some desperate to escape, some desperate for help, some desperate to grab anything that might help them to survive, some eager to take advantage of the opportunity to help themselves to anything they fancy regardless of the hurt they cause others in the process, and a tiny minority who have survived and have prepared to continue doing so.

 This is the scenario in which you could find yourself.

You could be lucky. You could be at home, outside the area of worst devastation, without power or clean water or communications, possibly cut off by damaged or flooded roads, but otherwise unhurt and with everything around you intact, yet still facing some definite challenges. Or you could be in the middle of it all. We will consider both scenarios, and what you can do to help yourself in either case.

And in either case the key to survival is preparedness, mental and physical.

The basics of Streetcraft are the same as the requirements for survival anywhere: shelter, warmth, water, food, and protection – physical and medical. You might also need to communicate, signal, or navigate to aid your survival. What differs of course is what you might have and how you would provide for your needs in the 2 urban scenarios we are considering. For the sake of clarity, we will divide the 2 scenarios into different sections – Streetcraft at Home, and Streetcraft on the Move. In ‘At Home you are looking at ways to continue or adapt your normal way of life, in On the Move we are discussing raw survival.

 Because this guide is intended for people in the UK, we will consider the resources most likely to be available to you in the UK and the conditions here, accepting that in summer some areas get short of water and in others winter brings lots of snow, but we are in neither the arctic nor a desert. If you live elsewhere and can have other things with you that might provide additional help, consider them a bonus, if you face more extreme conditions you will want to extend many of the preparations we will cover.

In this introduction I will cover the basic concepts and then our members will contribute the benefit of their study and experience in ways of providing for each of the needs in each of the scenarios. Some of the requirements and methods used might well be similar to those of other environments e.g. rural homesteads or wilderness bug outs, but the resources available and therefore the appropriate techniques will differ. For example while you might opt to improvise a shelter from branches and leaf debris in the wilderness, you are more likely to use materials from wrecked buildings or vehicles in a city. Your sources and concerns for water and fire and food and health will also differ.  

So, how can you survive a disaster in the urban environment? Read on!   

***

Streetcraft at Home

 In preparing to survive at home you need to consider all the things you require to be totally self-sufficient for at least 2 weeks, but you might want to extend that for a considerably longer period. How long? Some people believe 3 months is a minimum; others go for 6 months or even 2 years! It depends on whether you believe that likely scenarios will be quickly resolved by a return to governmental control and restoration of services, or anticipate the need to provide for you and yours for the rest of your lives. In the latter case, 2 years gives you a reasonable time to establish yourself in ways to provide ongoing supplies, though for that you would be better in a rural setting.

 What do you have to include for total self-sufficiency? Consider that for your chosen time period there will be no outside source of:

Electricity – for heating, cooling, light, cooking, heating water, communication i.e. TV, radio, computer, telephone, or for charging batteries, or entertainment

Gas – where you use that for any of the above instead of electricity 

Water – for drinking, washing or toilet flushing

Food, medicines including regular prescriptions, cleaning materials, toilet paper, toothpaste or other items you would routinely buy from the shops

Transport or fuel

Emergency services i.e. doctor or ambulance, police, fire service, plumber, glazier, gasman, etc

Rubbish removal

Sewerage disposal

Undertaker or funeral services

 Make a careful review of all the services and utilities you now use and what you use them for and then consider the alternatives. You might decide to change your normal source of supply for something more sustainable e.g. could you install better insulation and use an open fire instead of central heating, or a multi-fuel stove instead of electric? Could you use a bike instead of your car? Could you buy or build a compost bin for food waste, burn much of your hard waste, feed some food scraps to the birds, move to fresh and unwrapped foods instead of pre-packaged, so that you rely less on council rubbish removal or recycling services? Could you change from lawns and flower borders to vegetable plots and a rabbit hutch? Would a solar powered security light outside your house serve as well as your current mains power one? Or you might opt for more temporary solutions such as a portable gas stove and heater; long life tinned and packaged foods; a stock of batteries, etc.

 Or you might combine the 2 approaches, having disposable resources to get you through disruptions of short duration with as little inconvenience as possible, or to lessen the shock and give you time to adapt if the emergency goes on for longer, and renewable options for the even longer term. It mainly depends on how and how long you want to prepare for, and your own circumstances e.g. whether you live in a suburban semi-detached house or a 9th floor one bedroom flat.

I suggest that even if you only prepare for relatively short-term emergencies that you consider the possibility of shortages preceding them, or that they might go on for longer than you expect. So, for example, it makes sense to me to have a solar or dynamo rechargeable lamp and radio rather than one that runs on disposable batteries, or at least use rechargeable batteries and a solar charger for them rather than disposable batteries. You can apply similar principles to your other preparations and such alternatives might even save you money in the long run.

 But some needs are less simple than providing battery back-ups to replace mains power or tinned foods to replace fresh. If you can no longer rely on being able to call a glazier or plumber to repair damage to your home you will need tools, materials, reference books and some skills to be able to do at least a temporary job yourself. If there are rioters and looters on the rampage and you cannot call the police you need to be prepared to reinforce your home so that it protects you, and to fight fire or flood or violence if necessary.

 Some situations make evacuation a necessity for the majority of people, particularly the unprepared, but not all are so immediate. The other urban threat is one where there is no mass evacuation but the situation does put the majority of people in need. The ‘slow fall’ typically produces a varied range of hazards which differ from those posed by, for example, a hurricane, flood, or terrorist strike . Then your problem is one of staying low profile and not letting others realise you are better off than they are. Many people consider this scenario to be the most likely of all and that makes it so important that we will examine it in detail in a section of its own.

***

Streetcraft on the Move

 In this section we are really getting into down and dirty Streetcraft. Here we are considering what you can do to survive if you have to Bug Out, or you are stranded at work, or when you are away from home and the world immediately surrounding you has literally fallen apart. You have crawled out of the rubble, and your car and perhaps your Get Home Bag are buried under a few thousand tons of collapsed building. You have got the tatters of what you are wearing, what you have got in your pockets and whatever you can use from what is left around you.

 In this situation your needs might be short term but they are urgent and cover all the basics: shelter, warmth, water, food, protection – physical and medical, communications, signals, and navigation, in this environment. Brush shelters and bough beds are for mountain men; trout is out – but you might find some goldfish; and the hyenas here walk on 2 legs rather than 4 but are just as dangerous as their counterparts in the wild. The streets might not be recognisable but they are now even meaner.

 You have to survive until you can get out and make your way home, or to some other place of safety.

 

 

Get Real!

by

David E Crossley

This article was written in 1999 for the website of the Wild Ranger outdoor activities school, now defunct.

Ever wondered what it might be like to be in a REAL survival situation? Forget cinema fantasies, we are talking about the sort of situation YOU might find yourself in on what you expected to be a pleasant weekend’s walking with just the sort of kit most people might carry for that situation. Read on to see how it might happen, how it might feel and what you could do to help yourself, if you had taken the trouble to learn a few elementary techniques in advance .

This wasn’t the plan!

If it wasn’t for the pain in your broken ankle you would laugh! This was supposed to be a time to rest your mind and recharge your stress batteries. Now it looks as if you are going to have to do some thinking, and you better think hard and fast!

So where did it all go wrong and what are you going to do now? You had been looking forward to this walk for quite a while. The main holiday season is over and it isn’t a bank holiday weekend. You have 4 days off to get out into the wilds to enjoy some peace and freedom. You have chosen a route that will get you away from the main footpaths and let you explore some features of particular interest to you. The route is challenging, that is part of the reason few people come this way, but this wasn’t supposed to be an endurance test and you planned to stay at B & Bs rather than camping.

You took sensible precautions before setting off. You left details of your itinerary and route with a responsible friend, but they don’t expect to hear from you until you call at the end of your break, to say that you are back and will see them the next day. You are carrying your day pack including

the usual essentials but no mobile ‘phone. It would be wasted weight since you know you cannot get a signal in this remote area anyway.

The holiday started well. You got off the local bus and headed out into a dull but dry day. After 8 miles of steady walking you sat by a stream overlooking a wooded valley and heather covered slopes, poured good coffee from your flask and smiled contentedly. With a drizzle starting and a cold breeze blown up, your kit packed away and 7 more miles to go, you shouldered your pack, looked to the next hill and put your best foot forward. Straight into a moss covered hole, trapping your foot and throwing you off balance!

If the loud crack that followed hadn’t told you that you had broken a bone, the pain searing up your leg, nausea and sudden cold flash down your face and neck would have!

Time to Get Real!

Now you have finished cursing and thumping the ground with your fist, you look around you. Suddenly the peaceful, deserted hills you enjoyed and the drizzle and wind you would have cheerfully ignored seem very different. Time to get real!

There is no way you are going to hop another 7 miles, or even 6 to the nearest road. Your ankle isn’t bleeding but it hurts like hell, is swelling fast and will have no strength. Your injury isn’t life threatening, but if you don’t take action your situation might be.

There is little constructive you can do in the way of First Aid at this stage. Your boot is providing as much support as anything else you could apply and removing it would allow your ankle to swell to the point where you couldn’t get the boot back on securely.

Thankfully you have done some survival training. Right now you are wishing you had actually tried out more of the techniques you read about, but one of the things the reading did teach you, is that wishful thinking doesn’t get it done in a survival situation. What you need is a hard, realistic appraisal of your situation and a practical attitude to improving it. So ….

Situation: Simple fracture of the ankle. No external blood loss. Otherwise fit. Physiological shock is inevitable but controllable. Immediate help available Nil. Likelihood of rescue low for several days, thereafter good, but you might be lucky, someone with the same ideas as you might come this way. You know your current location. Weather deteriorating. Terrain open rock and heather moor where you are but sheltered valley within hobbling/crawling distance. Daylight for a few more hours. Limited amount of equipment but it includes useful, good quality items.

Your survival needs in this situation are:

 Shelter

 Warmth

 Water

 First Aid

 Rescue

Priorities: Take pain killers to lessen the shock and help you concentrate. Increase chances of getting help. Seek shelter and warmth. Rest and overcome shock. Plan future actions.

You now consider what equipment you have to help you.

Inventory

Taking stock you find you have:

 Good quality outdoors clothing and waterproofs

 Day pack

 Day-glo plastic bivvy bag

 Nylon survival blanket, red on one side silver on the other

 Nylon cord

 String

 Swiss army knife with blade, wood saw, scissors etc

 1 litre water bottle

 ½ litre stainless steel vacuum flask

 23 Water purifying tablets

 Metal cup

 Candle

 Disposable lighter

 Whistle

 Compass

 Torch

 Maps in waterproof map case

 Roll of toilet paper

 An apple, 2 Mars bars, chocolate covered Kendal mint cake, coffee and sugar

 Small binoculars

 Camera

 Notebook, pencil and pen

 Wallet with credit cards, paper money and coins

 Toilet bag with soap, razor, toothbrush and paste, comb

 Hand towel

 Spare socks and underwear

 First Aid kit

 Survival kit in a tin (probably opened once from curiosity, if ever!)

Taking Action

You shrug off your pack, find the painkillers in your first aid kit, then wash 2 down with a mouthful of water from your half full water bottle. You realise that you could follow the standard advice, get into your orange bivvy bag, eat a mars bar and wait here. Your waterproofs and fleece clothing are keeping you dry and fairly warm but you are quite exposed so it is going to get damn cold after the sun goes down. There are rocks you could shelter behind and turf you could use to build a more effective windbreak. You could gather heather and bracken to give you some insulation from the ground. Nevertheless, it could be several days before anyone finds you and there are better options available. So, you refill your water bottle from the stream beside you, drop in a purifying tablet, just to be sure, and repack your kit.

You have decided to move down the hill into the wooded valley where you will have shelter from the wind and can make a better shelter from the rain. You won’t go right to the bottom of the valley though, because cold air sinks and it may be misty and very chilly right down there, especially early in the morning. The deeper you go, the harder it will be for rescuers to find you too and you want to increase your chances by making it as easy for them as possible. So before you move you need to let anyone who comes this way know they are on the right track, that you are close by and need help.

Getting to your knees and keeping your foot off the ground to protect your ankle, you shuffle around gathering the biggest stones you can handle. You select a fairly flat piece of ground and use the stones to spell out the biggest SOS they will make, and then add an arrow pointing towards the valley. Realising that anyone seeing the signal couldn’t know it was yours or how long it had been there, you get out your notepad, write a short message detailing your situation and intentions, sign and date it, pack it in a ziplock plastic bag that held your lunchtime sandwiches, add a few flat stones in the bag then secure it under one of the larger stones, making sure it is clearly showing but unlikely to blow away.

Slowly, staying as close to the stream as you safely can, you slide, shuffle, hop and crawl your way down the hillside into the valley and the shelter of the trees.

 

In the Valley

At the edge of the trees you pause to rest. Pulling the orange plastic bivvy bag from your pack you use your pocket knife to cut a strip about an inch wide from the top of the bag and on one side slit the plastic ring it formed. Reaching as high up as you can but ensuring any branches do not overhang it, you tie the bright orange plastic strip around one of the outermost trees. Anyone looking down from your rock SOS signal should be able to see it clearly.

Out of the wind and under shelter of the mixed conifer and birch trees you stop to rest again and look around. Your ankle feels numb but throbbing. You are inordinately thirsty, the result of shock and fluid loss into your ankle, so you take a deep drink from your water bottle. The stream is close by so at least you will not be short of water. You are a few yards into the trees and just to one side is a relatively flat shelf of ground, slightly more open but below the level of the outer trees and above a steeper slope to the valley bottom. The ground is quite damp but the site is sheltered, close to water, free from danger of falling rocks, branches or trees and not far from your point of entry into the wood. This is not a bad place for a survival camp.

Surviving in comfort

Considering the state of the ground you are going to have to raise yourself from it for insulation from both cold and damp. There are two trees you can use as the supports for a shelter and near to them is one fairly large log and a couple of smaller diameter ones. The line isn’t exactly across the wind but it isn’t bad. Carefully you manoeuvre the smaller logs about 2-3 feet apart and parallel to the large log.

You then stop to sit on the log to rest for a few minutes while you finish the coffee from your flask. Pacing yourself is important at this stage. You should keep working but tackle things by easy stages and not become exhausted.

The log bed frame gives you a guide to the size and shape of your shelter. You could now wedge or tie a long branch or sapling between the trees over your bed frame and then make a lean-to from branches, or you could simply complete the bed and then get into your bivvy bag. There is still some daylight left though, and you need to use what you have to provide what you need in the least energy intensive and most efficient way possible. Your nylon cord, some string and either the survival blanket or bivvy bag will make a quick, more windproof waterproof shelter than natural materials, and with much less effort. In this case you decide to slit open the bivvy bag. Opened out it will make a bigger shelter than the blanket and its colour is more easily spotted.

After slitting the plastic along one side and the bottom edge, you wrap the plastic around a small pine cone, about 6 inches back from the long edge of the material then secure it with cord. Then you repeat this on the other side. In each front corner of the plastic you tie another pine cone. You then secure the sheet to a tree on either side using cord from the cones you first tied in. Breaking a couple of stout sticks you carve a point on their ends, cut a small notch near the other end and drive them into the ground forward of your shelter. taking your string you guy the pine cones in the front corners to your 2 home made pegs. You then finish your shelter by weighting down the back edge with large stones.

With cover over you, you then complete the bed by positioning long branches across the logs and thatch it with smaller, springy branches for comfort.

The evening is starting to draw in now but you are out of the wind, you have a waterproof shelter and wrapped in your clothes and the survival blanket you will easily survive the night. It would be comforting and warmer to have a fire though.

The combination of pain killers and concentrating on and achieving practical tasks to help yourself is taking your mind off the pain in your ankle but you know that won’t last if you stop for long, so it is better to finish your main tasks before you stop for the night.

Sweeping away the leaves and dead twigs from in front of your shelter you gather logs to form a dry base for your fire, plus a good quantity of differing thickness for fuel. Again using your knife you make two long stakes, drive them at about 45 degrees into the ground behind the firebase and support them with other pieces of wood. In front of the stakes you build a screen of damp birch logs to form a heat reflector. Using your lighter, a piece of candle, some toilet paper, twigs, sticks and the techniques you did practise, you light a fire.

Tired, in pain, but safe and satisfied that you have done what you can for now, you fill your cup with water and set it by the fire to heat while you wrap the survival blanket around you and eat one of your chocolate bars. You have shelter, warmth, and water. You have made yourself as comfortable as possible in the circumstances. You seized the initiative and overcame the temptation to panic or despair. The chances of getting much sleep are slim but you will certainly survive the night.

Tomorrow you can assess if there is anything else you can do to support your ankle, improve your shelter and signals and start writing your best seller!

You can contact David at:

Books@decrossley.co.uk