Thursday 26/03/15

I'm sure you are all aware that you can find north just by using your watch and the position of the sun. In case you need to brush up on that particular skill (or you weren't actually paying attention when someone was teaching you the first time), I'm here to give you a quick refresher. The following instructions are for the Southern Hemisphere (but I will cover the Northern Hemisphere at the end of the blog). Your watch needs to be analogue (with a minute and an hour hand); if your watch is digital, you'll have to use your imagination to approximate where the markings on your watch would be. But be forewarned, your results won't be as accurate. I once had to use a digital watch, because I had nothing else, and it was better than guessing.

First, you need to face the sun (but do not look directly at the sun because you will go blind. If you do, don't blame me). Next, point the 12 at the sun. Halfway between the 12 and the current position of the hour hand is north. If it isn't sunrise or sunset, always use the side of the watch-face with the smaller angle between 12 and the hour hand to find north. In the following examples I'm going to use specific times and sun positions to illustrate my point (I am aware there are seasonal variations, but that's getting beyond the basics).

The first example I'll use is dawn. At sunrise (which we'll assume to be 0600hrs), point the 12 at the brightest point on eastern horizon; that is approximately east. The 6 is pointing approximately west. Half way between these two points is 9, which is pointing north.

My second example is at midday (1200hrs). If you already have landmarks for east and west, finding north is easy in this situation (don't forget, the sun always rises in the east and always sets in the west), all hands and the 12 are pointing north. If you're not sure, you might want to wait for thirty minutes or so, just to make sure your reading is accurate.

My third example is at sunset (which we'll assume to be 1800hrs), point the 12 at the brightest point on the western horizon; that is approximately west. The 6 is now pointing approximately east. The 3 is pointing north.

"So? How does finding north help me?", I hear you ask. Once you know where north is, you can also pinpoint the other three directions. From there, pick a landmark that lies in the same direction you need to travel and head toward it. As you travel, regularly find north on your watch to make sure you haven't accidentally strayed from your intended route.

Ok, if you're in the Northern Hemisphere, the same instructions apply except you point the hour hand at the sun instead of the 12. Halfway between the hour hand and the 12 is north.

I've done the hard work for you, now it's your turn. Get your watch, go outside and give it a go. This is a skill you can actually use in everyday life.

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 and 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?