Saturday 08/10/16

Spring is here, bringing with it the customary warmer days and increase in rainfall. As we once again venture into the Great Outdoors, we must be mindful of our old friend, the leech. The very thought of them is enough to make those with weak constitutions feel a little queasy, (to the rest of us, they are just an unpleasant annoyance).

In addition to swamps and rainforests, you might even find a few lurking in your garden. Fear not; if you take the right precautions, you can reduce the impact of these nuisances.

If you are planning on going into areas where leeches are known (or suspected) to be, you should take the following precautions:

  • Apply insect repellent to all bare skin, pay particular attention to your legs.
  • Wear boots and long socks.
  • Wear long pants (and tuck them into your socks or boots).
  • Spray your long pants and boots with insect repellent.

What should you do if you find a leech?

  • If your first reaction is to squeal and do one of those weird ‘freak-out’ dances, make sure you have a friend with you. I’m sure they could do with a good laugh.
  • When your friend has finished laughing and filming your freak-out (which they will probably share on social media), ask them to sprinkle salt on the leach. This will quickly kill the parasite.
  • If you don’t have any salt (or are the sadistic type), a lit match will encourage the leech to let go. (You’d quickly let go too if someone shoved a lit match under your bum).
  • Wash the area and apply antiseptic cream.

Now that you have learned how vanquish your dreaded foe, you can bravely venture into the rainforest (or get back to that garden you have neglected all winter).

Thursday 03/09/16

As most of you know I grew up in the Australian countryside. It was a good life; one that taught me many lessons that I still refer back to as an adult. As a kid, I was taught to never leave home with empty pockets. I had to have the following three things with me at all times: a packet of matches, a pocket knife, and a 20¢ coin (back then, public phones were plentiful, and it only cost 20¢ to make a local phone call).

Matches were essential. They gave us instant access to humanity’s greatest achievement; the ability to make fire. It didn’t matter if you were camping, or needed a way to cook the fish you’d just caught, matches ensured we had easy access to fire. Through trial and error, I learned that matchboxes broke easily in pants pockets; and during the heat of the long hot summers the old-fashioned matchbooks readily absorbed sweat, making the matches damp and useless. Regrettably, this was in the days before waterproof match cases were commonly available (we didn’t consider using empty pill bottles because they were made of thin brittle plastic). Matches had to be routinely inspected for damage, and replaced as required. Winter was a blessing because jacket pockets prevented your matches from being damaged.

As the 70s gave way to the 80s many families moved from the city to the countryside in search of a healthier lifestyle for their children. Unfortunately, this brought an influx of ignorant adults who had lived their entire lives inside of the city limits. Their ignorance wasn’t restricted to how to dress and behave in the bush, it also included the assumption that boys with matches were either smokers or pyromaniacs.

The next problem was the demise of the pay phone. As the cost of local phone calls became increasingly more expensive, it became necessary to carry a pocket full of coins if you wanted to use a phone booth. Unfortunately, petty thieves found the lure of payphones laden with $1 and $2 coins too tempting to ignore. Thanks to vandalism, theft, and the introduction of mobile phones, pay phones have all but disappeared from our streets. (Without using a “Where Is” app, I couldn’t tell you the location of my nearest payphone).

And last but not least; the demonizing of the humble pocket knife. About twenty years ago the government declared that the once standard tool of, well, just about everyone, was too dangerous to be carried in public. This included the tiny bladed pocket knife my mother used to peel fruit at family picnics. Make no mistake, in modern day Australia very hefty fines await anyone who inadvertently ventures from their home with one of these tools still in their pocket.

As they say, times have changed, and we must change with them.

If I have limited pocket space and matches aren’t an option, I’ll carry a disposable lighter with me. Matches are more versatile, but a disposable lighter is better than nothing. I learned the hard way to only carry a lighter if it is in an enclosed metal case (it’s a little embarrassing when you need your lighter, but the contents of your pocket kept the trigger depressed, releasing all the gas).

Sure, everyone has a mobile phone nowadays, but that doesn’t mean you are excused from carrying a few coins in your pocket. As we all know, mobile phones can fail, and usually at the worst possible moment. So if you are lucky, you might be able to find a pay phone. If not, you might be able to give a few dollar coins to someone standing nearby to make a call for you (many people will say yes if you offer to cover the cost of the call). Another reason to carry coins is vending machines. You never know when you’ll need to buy a snack from one (especially if you are stranded late at night at some seedy truck-stop). This is when you need coins, because you don’t really want to insert a $20 note for a chocolate bar, hoping the machine will actually give you your change.

The humble pocket knife can never be completely replaced, but you can lessen the pain of its absence with a few simple substitutes. There are a few good quality keychain tools on the market, and they only cost a couple of dollars. They are a single piece of metal, about the size of a house key, that can function as: bottle opener, flat head screwdriver, mini pry bar. Not ideal, but it has no sharp edges, so at least it is legal to carry. Another essential tool is one of those tiny tin openers they provide in army ration packs (or online for about $2). You can’t appreciate how vital owning one of these is until you discover your regular tin opener is broken, or missing. Make sure you check with local law enforcement that these aren’t illegal to carry in your area.

Remember, survival isn’t just about having the gear you need, it is also about being adaptable. If you found this month’s blog post useful, please share it with your friends on your social media account. In case you aren’t aware; I don’t have a big-budget advertising juggernaut to help me share my knowledge. I rely on you to help spread the word.

Thursday 04/08/16

It’s the middle of winter and the 0° Celsius mornings aren’t as fun as they sound (especially in the gym, where every piece of equipment is made of metal). I normally have extremely short hair (a crew-cut, to be precise), but I’ve gotten a bit slack lately. As we know, a lot of body heat is lost through the top of your head (especially if your head is only covered in stubble). Winter was luring me into breaking a rule I’d made for myself many years ago.

As anyone who has been in an altercation, or has attended any sort of self-defence course can tell you, a handful of your hair can be used against you to great effect. I learned this lesson the hard way in my youth. In the late 70s and early 80s, longer hair was normal for both males and females, and I had the same hairstyle as most of the other kids in my school. That came to a screeching halt the day I was picked up from the floor by a handful of hair and dragged across the room. It’s hard to fight back when you are facedown, and the only part of your body touching the floor is the tips of your toes.

I was due for a haircut the following weekend; but instead of my usual sense of dread, I was actually looking forward to it. When I emerged from the barber’s shop I was sporting a 1 comb crew-cut (about the same length as 2-3 days’ growth on a shaven face). Unfortunately, the punk subculture was starting to take off in Australia at this time, so my new appearance was misinterpreted by quite a few people. I ignored the stares and digs of other students and teachers (and their mullets), but I made friends with some kids I otherwise wouldn’t have met.

Since that time, I have maintained a similar hairstyle, and it has served me well in both my martial arts training, and situations that would have ended badly I’d had longer hair.

Anyway, I didn’t realise how long my hair had gotten until I was washing it last week. As I scrubbed the shampoo in my hair my hand convulsed and grabbed a handful of hair. I was shocked when I realised it was long enough to hang on to. The cold weather was no longer a consideration; I cut my hair the following day.
Experience is a harsh teacher. The warmth I enjoyed from having longer hair enabled me to ignore the constant irritation of hair tickling my neck and ears. I was even willing to take extra time in the morning to make my hair look presentable after having a shower, but I couldn’t override the painful memory of being picked up by my hair and dragged across a room.

What about you; how is your hair? Is it in need of a trim? If you know someone who needs a little encouragement choosing a more practical hairstyle, please share this blog with them on your social media page.