Thursday 19/03/15

Remember when you were little and your mum told you to always carry a hankie? Well, like most motherly advice, she was right. After your first few years of school, you probably stopped carrying a hankie, because that was for old people and dorks.

I don't know about you, but I don't like the idea of carrying the contents on my nose in my pocket. Tissues are for blowing your nose, not your handkerchief. I learned the real purpose for carrying a hankie in my early teens when I joined the local volunteer bushfire brigade. In my experience handkerchiefs are too small, but bandanas are perfect.

A bandana has two main purposes. First; it makes an excellent pad if you have been injured and need to apply pressure to an open wound. Sure, it's not a sterile pad, but in an emergency, you'll be grateful you have it (or anything else that comes to hand). After a particularly nasty accident I used a handtowel to stem the flow of blood from an injury. If you don't have the luxury of remaining where you are after being injured, you can tie the bandana in place with one of your socks. This will allow you to maintain pressure on your wound and keep the bandana in place.

The second purpose is that it makes a great smoke filter if you are unfortunate enough to be stuck in a fire. Once you soak your bandana in water, it effectively filters out particles from the air you're breathing. If you need two hands free, you can fold your bandana in half, making a large triangle, wrap the bandana around your face, then tie the two ends behind your head (just like the bad guys in the Old West movies). Once you've been in a few bushfires, you'll never leave home without a bandana again.

Other purposes for your bandana:

  • A sunshade for your neck. If you're wearing a cap, tuck the bandana in at the back and drape it over your neck.
  • Carry bag. If you are fortunate enough to find a blackberry bush (or some other food source), you can hold the bandana by the corners, making a makeshift sling to hold the food you collect.
  • Sweat rag.
  • Cordage.
  • Pot holder.

There are a myriad of other purposes for bandanas, but these two are probably the most important.

Thursday 12/03/15

Recently on my social media account, I posted the comment "Never rely on a weapon you don't know how to use". This post was made in a community that enjoys books and movies about the zombie apocalypse. I made this statement with the intention of getting people to think beyond the mindset of "zombie apocalypse = guns, samurai swords and chainsaws". I base my writing on real life experiences and training, so this advice has real world relevance.

Many years ago (not long after finishing high school), a school friend purchased a shiny new katana from a martial arts supplies store (back when sports stores were still allowed to sell such things in Australia). Instead of going to a martial arts school learning how to use his new toy from a qualified instructor; he decided to teach himself. There are some things in this world that you can teach yourself through trial and error; but this isn't one of them. Realistically, he should have been relatively safe with the sword the way it was when he purchased it (a dull, round edge). Unfortunately, he sharpened the edge, then decided to practice with it. After sustaining a very deep, six inch long cut to his right lower leg, he paused momentarily and thought this might not have been his best idea. Instead of immediately seeking medical assistance, he decided to give it another go. Within moments, he speared the tip of his blood stained sword into his leg, near the shin bone. After a trip to the hospital for stitches, he got rid of his shiny new sword. Thanks to him, I have an excellent example for my own students, showing them what can happen if they play with swords.

I can look back at the incident now and smile, but at the time he was quite embarrassed about how foolish he had been, and I was angry at him for being so irresponsible. He was lucky to only receive the injuries he did. His injuries could easily have been a lot more serious.

It's unlikely you'll ever have to learn to use a sword, but don't be so quick to disregard my advice. In a scenario that you will be more familiar with, camping and hiking, "Never rely on a weapon you don't know how to use" becomes "Don't carry equipment you don't know how to use".

When you go camping or hiking, conventional wisdom gives us a list of things you shouldn't leave home without. These lists are usually reliable, but don't just pack these items in your backpack and forget about them. Make sure each item is in perfect working order and make sure you can use each item for its designated purpose before you leave home. Packing equipment you can't use, or equipment that is defective, just means you will be carrying dead weight (the batteries in your radio and torch are a great example).

I have been on a few camping trips with cashed-up campers who went out and splurged on expensive new toys, just prior to the trip. Unfortunately for them, the salesman recognised them as inexperienced and conned into buying a whole bunch of stuff they didn't need, or would ever use. In some cases, the equipment was usable, but way overpriced; like buying a gold-plated walking stick. Yes, the walking stick is useful, but does being gold-plated make it any more useful?

Thursday 05/03/15

I remember when I was a small child; my grandfather gave me my first lesson in foraging for food. It was a cold winter afternoon on the beach and the surf was rough, but that didn't stop the men from fishing. After an hour of no luck, my grandfather looked at them walked over to me with an old jam tin in his hand and said "I bet you we can get a decent feed before any of them even catch a fish".

I wasn't exactly sure how an old man, a small boy and a jam tin were going to achieve this, but I was keen to find out. He took me along the shoreline where the waves washed onto the sand, and told me to look out for any stones the waves washed onto the sand. The next wave left behind a stone. I pointed it out and he told me not to take my eyes off it, not even for a second. I watched it like he told me to, and to my amazement, it upended and started working its way into the wet sand, then disappeared. My grandfather stood on the exact same spot and wiggling his hips and digging his feet into the wet sand. The more sand he churned up, the deeper he went. Like magic, that rock appeared on top of the sand; only it wasn't a rock, it was a pipi. He quickly picked the pipi up and dropped it in his can. For those unfamiliar with seafood, pipis are similar to a clam and about the size of a rock oyster.

He filled the can with seawater; then we continued patrolling the shoreline. The two of us dug up many pipis in a short amount of time. When he decided we had enough pipis he drained the water from the can and refilled it with more seawater. Using rocks, dry grass and driftwood he found in the sand dunes, he built a small fire, then put the tin on the fire to boil. When the pipis were cooked, he removed the tin and drained the water. We left the pipis to cool for a few minutes, then enjoyed our meal.

By the time we finished eating and cleaned up our makeshift campsite, the weather had turned foul and the rest of the afternoon's fishing was cancelled. The men returned home cranky and empty handed. I returned home with a full belly and a valuable lesson. Not long after this I learned how to safely remove oysters from rocks.

This might not seem particularly impressive for the average adult, but my grandfather taught me at the age of eight how to safely forage for food.