Thing is........ would we get our old passports back?
“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible." T.E. Lawrence; Seven Pillars of Wisdom
It is an unfortunate fact that a terrorist attack in the UK is inevitable. While our security and intelligence services do good work in keeping us safe, as the provisionals used say, 'we only have to be lucky once.'
The attack may come in various shapes and forms from a random and impulsive ‘lone wolf’ attack to organised and coordinated attacks on multiple targets. Moreover, the threat is constantly evolving. We can expect constant improvisation and innovation from the terrorist in both method and design. Technical advances, miniaturisation and advances in chemical engineering among others will all eventually be reflected in the terrorists arsenal.
While the probability of being caught up in any of these incidents is remote, advice for innocents caught up in incidents, and the ensuing melee’, is sparse. Jihadists present a fractured and complex threat across the European mainland, holiday destinations and within the UK. They are committed, in many cases well trained and as evidenced in the Brussels attack, they have a good bomb-maker. The tradecraft of the Brussels attackers though was sloppy and unrefined reflecting the fact that the terror threat doesn’t come in a neat, one profile package. Here then are my thoughts on different scenarios
For individuals caught up in an incident the reason why will matter least. The instinct of survival should have primacy but that is often not the case. Most citizens take a ‘well, if it’s got my name on it…’ fatalistic approach to the prospect of a bad thing happening. They feel events are anyway beyond their control and there is little one person can do. Moreover, in the aftermath of an incident, especially one involving an IED, people are disorientated and shocked leaving many unable to grasp what has happened, far less grip their own vulnerability and seek a route to hiding or safety. This is true of trained individuals and ordinary folk. Bombs are violent, bloody and indiscriminate instruments of war. They create fear through destruction and after the short silence, mayhem ensues. There are however, steps that the ordinary decent public can take to mitigate some of the risk. In the first instance, much depends on luck. There isn’t much anyone can do if you are standing a few metres away from the seat of an explosion but let’s take things one step at a time and look at how we can employ our own situational awareness to increase our chance of survival before, during and after an incident.
Don’t Be A Victim
Taking the fatalistic approach to life may seem to fulfil what is expected of ourselves as Britons displaying a 'business as usual,' phlegmatic approach to life. Indeed, various governments play the same record after every incident, ’This will not change our way of life.’ Well, mine changed as soon as the Provisionals started bombing the Mainland back in the Seventies.. Having the right mindset is critical. Denial, ignorance and complacency are no defence against nail packed semtex packages. Acceptance of the threat is the first step in not becoming a victim. Don't live in a bubble.
Most people exercise situation awareness whether they recognise it as a valuable tool or not. Walking down a dark street at night for example will inevitably create a state of heightened sensory awareness of everything around. While we can’t replicate that same heightened state of awareness throughout the day, (it would simply be exhausting), there is a reasonable medium whereby you are alert to your surroundings. US law enforcement frequently use a system called Coopers colours to describe the five common levels of situational awareness. For ‘awareness,’ read ‘alertness.’
In condition White you are relaxed, tuned out and unaware of events around you. Unaware equals unprepared. The kind of constant vegetative state that many urban dwellers seek refuge in; hood up, plugged in to music, eyes down. People who are 100% dependent on luck for survival; people happy to become statistics, in an ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe that this is happening to me,’ way.
In condition Yellow you are relaxed but aware of what is around you. You are paying attention to activities and sounds around you. You will be in a state where you will not be completely surprised and will be taking normal precautions. You may be running ‘what if,’ scenarios in your mind and have pre planned exits in mind. (This is a dynamic process. For example, when driving down a suburban residential street you probably already say to yourself, ‘the car in front may turn right,’ or 'that child ahead may run into the road,’ and be prepared to brake. That is typical of condition Yellow action). This is the minimum mindset everyone should adopt, especially when in unfamiliar surroundings, in crowds or when with people not known to you.
In condition Orange you are more focused and may have identified a potential threat. Someone following you, for example an unruly bunch of NEDS approaching or something more sinister. If a bad thing happens in condition Orange you should be expecting it and not be surprised. You will have a definite plan of action and escape routes in mind. The driving analogy here might be driving in icy or foggy conditions when you are totally focused and ignore any distractions outside keeping the car safely on the road.
In condition Red the threat identified in Orange becomes real and triggers action, be it flight, fight or hide.
There are some points to note about these different levels of situational awareness. The first is that people cannot operate in a heightened state of alertness for prolonged periods. It is tiring and induces stress which is unhealthy. People should simply practice being in a constant state of relaxed awareness and be prepared to elevate that alertness for brief periods as required. Adopting a minimum level of awareness will anyway, lead to the avoidance of many situations that could otherwise escalate. This process is simply introducing some rigour into what will come naturally to most people anyway but usually in situations they are already familiar with such as driving, watching young toddlers play, using an ATM and even Christmas shopping. You can practice your situational awareness skills easily and at will. Examples include checking exits whenever you walk into buildings, always leaving a gap between you and the car in front when in waiting traffic, watching vehicles in your rear view mirror to see if any are taking the same turns and start people watching. Look at people and work out where they might be from, their education, distinguishing marks, what kind of mood they are in, what their life story is. Observation can be practiced and honed until it becomes intuitive. The British excel at this game. Note our obsession with shoes from which we can derive a massive amount of instinctive background information. This process of seeing, and interpreting, rather than just looking soon embeds itself into the subconscious and becomes part of one’s natural state.
Understand Your Environment
Clearly, you are more vulnerable to attack either individually or as part of a crowd in some environments than in others. Travel to many countries necessitates a heightened state of awareness as indeed a visit to a major attraction in London does when compared to a visit to a village flower show. On a micro level however alertness can often prevent a bad thing happening or increase the observer’s probability of survival if it does. Criminals and terrorists have a significant advantage because they have surprise. That advantage is magnified if the victims freeze rather than react. The bad people though will often plan and reconnoiter their attack. Suspicious activity makes the terrorist vulnerable and they are not very good at camouflaging their behaviour when either marking potential targets or in the run up to an attack. They will be edgy and their adrenaline will be pumping. This is why some take drugs before an attack to dampen the natural response of their bodies to stress. Many adopt an intense stare before an attack. Wearing unseasonal clothing, suspicious bulges under the clothes, unnatural perspiration, avoiding eye contact, mumbling and fidgeting, using hand signals with other perhaps unsighted individuals are all give away signs. A citizen identifying out of character suspicious behaviour will tend not to want to make a fuss. Make a fuss. Better to suffer the embarrassment of a false alarm than to be a quadriplegic for life.
As a young soldier I recall attending a lecture and demonstration of let’s call them ‘sneaky IED’s.’ These would be devices hidden in lamp posts, telephone boxes, gate posts, window boxes and so on. I asked the instructor, who had entertained us with some very impressive bangs, how we might know if one lamp post out of the hundreds we walked past on patrol in Belfast every day might have an IED inside it. He said, ‘the hairs on the back of your neck will stand up.’ What did he mean? Every day, in going about your normal business, your mind processes everything it sees and hears. It might be in the home, the journey to work, in the workplace or place of leisure, your brain is expecting every detail and matches it to what has gone before. It isn’t something that you consciously think about but sometimes, there might be something out of place. A person, an object or things happening in the wrong sequence and while it may not trigger a conscious thought or response you get, ‘a feeling.’ That ‘something isn’t quite right,’ feeling is the ‘hairs on the back of your neck rising.’ Don’t ever, ever ignore it. It may be something unthreatening, something completely trivial and innocent but something has changed and your mind is warning you that something is different.
Depending on the study, brain scientists tell us that our conscious mind processes 40-126 chunks of information per second. Our unconscious mind, on the other hand, is processing upwards of 12 million chunks of information per second. If you’re consciously trying to continually evaluate your environment for threats in addition to actually engaging in conversation with other people, the conscious mind just doesn’t have the bandwidth to do both well and it puts a considerable amount of stress on the mind.
But, if you give the mind the tools it needs to unconsciously identify and rank dangers and threats it can work in the background while your conscious mind is fully engaged with people around you.
If a bad thing happens and you are caught up in a terrorist attack the first and obvious thing to do is dart to the nearest cover and quickly ascertain where the threat lies. You must determine where the terrorist or terrorists are less you run blindly into the danger, or killing zone. Gunfire in built up areas for example is notorious for being difficult to pinpoint because of the echoing around buildings.
If the attack is a live shooter or shooters do not panic or give up. You have a good chance of escape to safety if you keep your head. Knowledge dispels fear. Here is the knowledge.
In most cases active shooters are not well trained and as explained earlier, will be 'pumped up,' with adrenaline flowing and very possibly, under some kind of intoxication. Most casualties are shot at close range. Our aim is obviously to increase that range. Using the acronym MDACC which represents, Motion, Distance, Angle, Cover & Concealment we have all we need to exponentially increase our survival rate. Forget everything you have seen in movies. It is very difficult to hit a moving target, even for trained soldiers and law enforcement professionals. The average target presented to soldiers in Northern Ireland was a moving target with a 3 second exposure. Very few such targets were hit.
Most tactical shootings happen at distances of less than seven meters. Few people can consistently hit a stationary target beyond 25 meters with a handgun, much less a moving target. Most people can put 25 meters between themselves and an attacker in just a few seconds, so motion and distance improve a target's chances of escape. Think and move. If in doubt, seek sanctuary, secure it and protect yourself as best you are able. Then, prepare to fight.
The angle at which a target runs away is also important because shooting a target that is moving straight away is easier than shooting a target running away at an angle, since the second scenario would require the shooter to swing the barrel of the weapon and lead the target, a difficult task even for an experienced marksman. Both require practice, even with a rifle or shotgun. If the target can run at an angle behind objects like trees, cars, office furniture or walls that obstruct the shooter's view of the target (concealment) or stop bullets (cover), that is even more effective. Think and run.
It is important to distinguish between concealment and cover. Items that provide concealment, such as a bush or tree leaves, can hide a target from the shooter's line of vision but will not protect them from bullets the way a substantial tree trunk will. Likewise, in an office setting, a typical drywall-construction interior wall can provide concealment but not cover, meaning a shooter will still be able to fire through the walls and door. Similarly, a car door or the boot doesn't afford the same protection as does the bonnet with the engine block inside. Still, if the shooter cannot see his or her target, they will be firing blindly rather than aiming their weapon, reducing the probability of hitting a target.
In any case, those hiding inside a room should attempt to find some sort of additional cover, such as a filing cabinet or heavy desk. It is always better to find cover than concealment, but even partial cover, something that will only deflect or fragment the projectiles, is preferable to no cover at all.
Let's not mince our words here; bombs are a bastard. When a device is detonated all hell breaks loose. If you are in line of sight of the device then you are at risk from the shockwave, fragments and debris. Distance is the best defence. The blast from even a small device will be magnified inside a building. There will be a shockwave which will damage everything in its path, (including your internal organs), fire, heat, noise and steel and glass fragments travelling at high velocity. If you are some distance from the explosion and are not medically trained leave the area immediately helping the infirm or children as you are able. Do not loiter to take photographs, make telephone calls or seek comfort from strangers. Avoid obvious meeting points such as squares and precincts and avoid crowds. There may be secondary devices planted at such locations.
If you are closer to the blast, and survive, switch on. It is easier said than done given you may suddenly be deaf and shaken beyond any previous experience. Live shooters may be on the loose. Seek cover if you are able and remember, you are at risk from falling shards of glass from buildings for a long time after the explosion.
If you are wounded it's not game over. The body will not give up and cease functioning but the mind is likely to. Escape out of the line of fire is doable if you want it to be. As with every survival situation, the will to survive is everything. Most people do freeze and go into shock which allows the shooter the opportunity to let loose with a close range killer shot. When shot apply an improvised pressure bandage using anything to hand to both the entry and exit wound if there is one which won't always be in line with the entry wound. If you are shot and get to a hospital alive you will probably live, such is the excellence of trauma care these days.
Advice from British law enforcement backs off from fighting the terrorist. Not so in America, as we might expect, where they promulgate the Run, Hide, Fight approach. I favour this. Be under no illusion, if you are cornered and your life is in danger, as a last resort only sudden maximum violence on or at your attacker using any improvised weapons to hand will keep you alive.
- RUN and escape, if possible.
- If safe to do so, use an accessible path.
- Help others escape, if possible, but evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow.
- Leave your belongings behind.
- Warn and prevent individuals from entering an area where the active shooter may be.
- Keep your hands visible.
- HIDE, if escape is not possible.
- If you are in an office, stay there and lock or barricade the door.
- If you are in a hallway, get into a room and secure the door.
- Close, cover, and move away from windows.
- Your hiding place should be out of the shooter's view and provide protection if shots are fired in your direction.
- Remain quiet with all sources of noise silenced.
- FIGHT as an absolute last resort, and only when your life is in imminent danger. DO NOT seek out the shooter.
- Attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the active shooter.
- Act as aggressively as possible against him/her.
- Be prepared to cause severe or lethal injury to the shooter.
- Throw items and improvise weapons.
- Commit to your actions.
Don't expect too much from law enforcement officers arriving on the scene. If caught up in the initial incident they themselves will have adrenaline pumping and may also be shocked. Be wary of first response directions issued under pressure by disorientated officers which may also send you into harms way. When armed officers arrive do exactly what they say. Make no sudden movements and do not approach them in haste or you might get an unwelcome response. They will be extremely keyed up. Mistakes can happen. Avoid shouting, gesturing and pointing and keep your hands where they can be seen. You may be roughly treated by first responding officers. Their priority is to neutralise the threat. They may push you down for your own safety or may treat you as a suspect until otherwise proven. Suck it up and do as you are told. Also, paramedics and doctors arriving will seek out the badly injured first. If they don't come to you think of it as good news. Wait your turn if wounded and rely on self help. They will get to you. After reaching a place of safety identify yourself to the police as a witness. If waiting try to recall the sequence of events and take notes in as much detail as you can remember where possible.
No one except the terrorist wants us to swap a normal way of life for paranoia and fear. That however, does not preclude accepting and understanding that risk exists and some simple steps to elevate our personal situational awareness can help mitigate that risk. Adopting the right mindset which is appropriate to your environment and being ready and able to elevate your preparedness and then react vigorously if a situation develops will all contribute to enhanced survivability. Finally, bloody minded determination and aggression will see you through the darkness should you be embroiled in an incident. Do not ever, give up. That's the point when the bastards have won.
Finally, if it is all too dramatic for you and you had rather not bother my departing advice is move to Glasgow. They've got it taped up there.
Time perhaps for our native buskers and street musicians to up their game, this guy from Chile rips it. Bravo, senor bien jugado!
25 years ago today.......... and it feels like it has passed in a heartbeat. Apart from the unfortunate incident when I almost carelessly lost her as a result of a particularly nasty ectopic pregnancy early on, there has not been a day that has passed when that girl hasn't made me smile. I'm a very lucky, happy and grateful man.
Fiji was pretty cool too.............
Aussie HK 7's fan takes a nap. The bars open very early in the South Stand...
So, it's the 2nd of April and I've crossed the finishing line having lost 3 stones in weight in 3 months with my DIY alcohol, dairy, red meat, caffeine free diet. If I can do it, anyone can. There genuinely is no magic involved, just self discipline and bloody mindedness.
There is some mitigation for weight lost in that time. First, I was pretty lardy to begin with so shedding the early pounds was a breeze. It gets progressively difficult. Second, I smoke which as an appetite suppressant gives me a stick to lean on. I leaned on that stick a lot. Kicking the fags will be more difficult when I eventually decide to face up to that demon again. A New York psychotherapist I once met, (socially), who specialised in dependancies, told me that nicotine was more addictive on a try-once basis than is crack cocaine. I'm not going to explore that option, nor am I making excuses for smoking. I just readily admit that it is unquestionably easier if one smokes. Third, I find the socially light early months of the year easier to endure and its less onerous keeping a low profile. The exception is anything associated with rugby but I cracked that so all things are possible. We all have our own little mountains to climb.
For anyone who may be contemplating a weight reduction plan, here then is a list of useful points to note:
- If you want to lose weight, eat less. It is that simple. We've all become accustomed to larger portions and regular meals of growing minimum size in our lifetimes. You have to recalibrate your body and its expectations of what is coming. Begin with a day of fasting to kick start that retuning. If you can't deal with the concept of less food then give up now, tick the 'loser,' box, get fat and die ugly.
- Drink water and herbal tea. Bin all other drinks; every one of them adds to the problem. If you go spartan your body will adjust. Trying to get through this with, 'just one wee red wine as a reward,' is a route to failure and high blood pressure
- Routine is good. Some people use diet plans, commercial or otherwise, because the routine gives them discipline. Personally, I think the whole weight loss industry is a racket and I don't listen to any of them but I accept that they work for some people. On the other hand, the industrialised food industry, which exists to fatten you up like a foie gras goose, is a whole lot more manipulative and powerful. Listen to your body, it tells you all you need to know.
- Don't keep your aim a secret. I've told the world because support and encouragement helps, it really does. When a friend says, 'you're looking better, you've lost weight,' it's worth its weight in gold and at least another week of kale, beetroot, pineapple, spinach and the rest of it.
- Buy a decent set of digital bathroom scales. I don't want to sound too obsessive about this but if you find yourself stuck on the same weight for a week it begins to matter very much whether you are closer to a positive big figure change rather than unchanged as it may appear on basic scales.
- Buy a juicer. It will cost around £100 but it is a very useful bit of kit. The downside is they consume industrial quantities of fridge contents but they pack a world of nutrition into a simple drink. I start the day with one and it keeps me going through to lunch with maybe a mid morning apple to see me through.
- You may wish to take some vitamin supplements. I do on a just in case basis but I'm not sure they do much other than reassure me I won't go blind because I'm not taking enough iron on board or such like. My favourites incidentally are turmeric and cinnamon to which I attribute the glowing 3.67 cholesterol reading when last checked. It doesn't matter if they didn't help, at 3.67 I have bragging rights.
- Bin bread and with it everything that you either spread on it or slap in between it. Half of the stuff produced these days has added sugar and salt and while people go to great lengths to find excuses for bread just don't go there. I didn't say it was easy.
- Cardio exercise is overrated. You need to do an enormous amount to properly lose weight. An amount which is beyond most mortals, especially if they are overweight. You must obviously do some to keep the metabolism ticking over. I find short high intensity bursts are better than long duration efforts. Lifting weights though is a must to keep the body focused on fat not muscle burning. If you have no access to a weight machine or weights then there are plenty of improvised weights for strength training all around you at home and in the garden; the internet is full of ideas.
- Get used to the idea that there are no cheap options here. Eating healthily is expensive. Fresh fruit and veg becomes expensive because the amount of it that you eat ramps up. Fish? Don't get me started. What was a staple food when most of us were young now really makes a noticeable difference to the grocery bill. There are relatively cheap options though. My regular Wednesday smoked mackerel and 3 Bean salad lunch has become a midweek highlight. On balance, with the saving on wine and other activities everything evens out and there is a suppressed pleasure in being forced to buy new clothes or pressing suits that haven't seen daylight for ten years back into service.
So, why bother?. Everyone has their own trigger point, a moment of realisation when resolve strengthens, a point when they say 'enough is enough.' I had a few, all within a few days. First, I saw some wandering wilderbeast in the supermarket hovering around the iced buns on discount. When I found myself being drawn toward the fresh baked bread smell that had attracted them I thought, oh my God, I'm turning into one of them. Second, an old friend quietly said to me, 'you need to shed some beef, just do it.' Third, I tried on the morning coat I had made for my wedding. I could barely get it across my shoulders never mind fasten at the front. My aim since then has been to fit into that morning coat by the time we get to the anniversary date in a fortnight. This is one year when I won't forget my anniversary. While I can fit into it now, I really need to shed a few more pounds to be comfortable. Another two weeks then and I'll be as near as damn it back to my 1991 weight. Finally, I just wanted to prove to myself that I could. I have.
Now... how do I keep it off..........?
Time now to acknowledge my epic stag dinner from 25 years ago. My the time flies. Held at the RA Mess at Woolwich it was just a wonderful evening and probably my favourite bit of all the wedding proceedings. The stag weekend to Jersey was pretty good too but not many of us can remember much about that. It did though, have the redeeming feature of the constabulary being called out only once as a result of a person reported seen hanging upside down outside a third floor hotel window while being precariously held by the ankles from a fourth floor hotel window. I also seem to remember the deep sea fishing trip being aborted after an hour, due to chronic sea sickness being suffered by eleven of the twelve participants following an over enthusiastic flanking assault on Jersey nightlife the previous evening. The clay pigeon shooting, golf and black tie dinner at a restaurant found at the last minute, (we looked a bit stupid walking into the place we had first booked which was a sort of Berni Inn all-you-can-eat for a tenner sort of gaff), has mostly passed into the dusty recesses of memory in a blur.
Back to Woolwich and the outstanding dinner. Looking at the rather poor photograph above I'm pleased to report that most of the attendees are still around and in good heart with only three sad exceptions. Busty, the legendary Hall Porter who regaled all with the fine history of the Mess, 'the longest facade in Europe and a light aircraft has landed and taken off from the square outside,' and his famous rebuttals of enquiring young ladies on the telephone, 'well Madam, there are of course great demands on the young gentleman's time,' is no longer with us. The redoubtable and larger than life Bill Thornton-Smith passed away some years ago, cruelly snatched after battling MS for a prolonged period. Bill, as orthodox an Englishman as has been born, became an unlikely champion of marijuana for medical purposes, 'helps the muscle pain old boy.' If Bill thought it helped then I'm a supporter too. Another mad-as-a-box-of-frogs character prematurely lost to us was Peter Campbell. They don't make them like Peter Campbell any more. Peter used to go on walking holidays to the Pakistan Afghan border long before it was fashionable for the rest of the British Army to muck around in those parts. He was a great countryman; his room always had the slightly off-putting smell of stale pipe smoke and over ripe trout which he occasionally forgot to remove from his Barbour poacher's pocket on return to the Mess. Dear friends both; I miss them.
Thankfully, the evening went well. The RA Band were in superb form; just how good was that Post Horn Gallop? We were fortunate to secure them for a stag dinner. Wine flowed, tall tales were spun and apart from the comedian I hired to speak after dinner who suffered from the fatal flaw of not being at all funny, (there was no need to hire him anyway with the bunch of comedians I have for friends), it was trouble and dancing girl free. There were no reported casualties. Well none if we don't include Mr S who was pinged by the Met for being over the limit at four the following afternoon.
Just one of life's great memories. Here then, for anyone feeling nostalgic or just for the interested observer, is a clip of the Post Horn Gallop performed by a group called the London Brass Ensemble, (not present at my stag night), but looking at the way those trumpeters play I think they are a dead cert for being ex Gunners. In fact, having checked, one of them is definitely an ex Gunner. Anyway, you'll get the idea.... Happy days all.
It's time.............. oh bugger.
Some Hours Later.....
Well, that went oh, how can I put it? Better than anticipated. The self administered enema wasn't nearly as grim as my worst imaginative fears led me to believe and the trip to the Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth was as quick and easy as was the actual procedure.
It's a big hospital although the endoscopy department is closer in vibe to a village hospital. The staff are open and welcoming and take great care to explain and demonstrate before they do anything. In fact, I was beginning to feel right at home, right up until the point they invited me to lie down and bend my knees to my chest. Actually, I'm not going to take the mickey on this occasion in case anyone reading with a future appointment might be put off.It's pretty straight forward with a feeling of mild discomfort and the odd twinge in the stomach. The build up and thought of the procedure is very much worse than it is in practise. The team were all chatty, engaging and interested and made the whole thing feel as routine as loading the dishwasher after a good lunch. Kirsty, the rear entry Endoscope Queen, explained every twist and turn and its all there on a big screen for you to watch should one choose to. I chose to close my eyes and think of England but the team scored another double bonus point when one said, 'Do you do a lot of fitness Mr Crumble, you have the resting heartbeat of a real athlete.' More talk like that and I'll be back for a second go. As luck and good grace would have it all is well, 'pink and healthy Mr Crumble,' which I'll admit is a surprise following many years of very determined consumption of grain & grape not to mention bacon sarnies, (Best on the Planet when made with Mrs Flashbang's world famous salsa), Kettle Crisps, carcinogenic barbecued sausages and sundry other rubbish.
So, if you find the envelope on the door mat one morning don't go into a cold sweat and worry about it or ignore it - JFDI, (Just Fxcking Do It). Men morph into little boys when they go near hospitals, (I'm an Olympic level competitor at this having missed the births of all three children), but this screening is only as big a deal as you allow your imagination to make it, so don't. A good friend has just gone through two years of pretty radical treatment for bowel cancer and he was as fit as anyone his age. Don't be that guy.
A final thought. On leaving the hospital, (actually I was doing somersaults and pirouettes of joy), I passed this shop which is more in keeping with an Esso petrol station than a hospital. What in the flying fxck are the people who run these hospitals thinking when every third person walking in there is morbidly obese?
We all empathise with the people of Belgium following the murderous incident last week in Brussels for we know that it could be us next. I have zero sympathy for the Belgium government though and it's time the the UK and rest of Europe leaned on the Belgium government to straighten out their discombobulated counter terrorisim structure which puts us all at greater risk.
Belgium is broadly acknowledged to be the weak security link in Europe. Foreign intelligence agencies had warned Belgium that ISIS leaders in Syria had sent instructions to initiate the bombing of the airport and a metro station. Worse, Turkey said it deported Ibrahaim el-Bakroui, (a bombing suspect), in July 2015 and told the Belgium authorities that he was a terrorist suspect.
It is a systemic failure of Belgium law enforcement agencies that they simply don't communicate with each other. In the Turkish instance the warning was passed to the Belgium federal police but the warning was not passed to the justice ministry's state prosecution office which could have instigated criminal proceedings. The federal police meanwhile, who are responsible for counter terrorisim, is set up to fight organised crime while the security service focuses on counter intelligence work against foreign states. Sometimes, information only reaches one branch when it is passed to an external agency like our own security services who then pass it back to the relevant Belgium force. Just to throw kerosene on the fire, the country of course is divided by two languages and an arcane political system that often leaves them without functioning government and local politics which produces 19 district mayors, (each district having responsibility for law enforcement), in a capital city of 1.2 million people.
Different branches of law enforcement not talking to each other is not new and it is not unique to Belgium. We have had our issues in this regard too. When it became clear that lives were at risk because different agencies had a habit of witholding information from each other in Northern Ireland, Mrs Thatcher dispatched Sir Maurice Oldfield to the Province in 1979 to bang heads together. Security operators are by their nature naturally suspicious of motives and jealously guard their most important human sources. Some will be motivated by internal politics, fighting for budgets, influence and broader briefs. Others might seek personal or department recognition or just adopt an infantile, 'it's mine and I'm not sharing,' stance for no better reason than they got it first.
While most countries have made great strides in advancing inter agency cohesion and communication Belgium is way behind the curve. That can not be tolerated by the rest of Europe and pressure must be brought to bear on the government of the day. With it, full assistance in training, support and technology should be on the table. I suspect such pressure would be welcomed by those on the ground tasked with rooting out the bad guys. If Belgium chooses not to update it's arcane security structure then we should slam the door firmly shut. I don't see why my family should be placed at greater risk because a bunch of feckless politicians don't have the stones to do their job.
Bemused passengers on the 05:19hrs Portsmouth Harbour to Waterloo train this morning were surprised when told by the train guard to move to the right hand side of the train between Haslemere and Guildford where the train was taken out of service due to a failure of it's Ballast Management System.
'Most passengers don't realise that our new Siemans built trains have a ballast management system which stabilises the train carriages when going round bends,' said Tony Cocking, Chief Engineer for South West Trains. 'Ships use water for ballast management but we use a low viscosity oil. A series of barrier valves failed which meant the oil was unable to flow freely from side to side requiring all passengers to sit and stand on the port side of the train to maintain stability at reduced speed until the train safely reached Guildford. All Portsmouth bound trains were halted at Woking but only for a short time.'
Another spokesman for South West Trains thanked passengers for their cooperation and apologised for any inconvenience incurred. Most passengers took the incident in their stride with Bill McDuff, a regular Haslemere commuter commenting, 'It's all a bit of a laugh really, surely it must have been an April Fool?'
A week after the Brussels atrocity and we can reflect on a number of aspects of the incident which I'll cover in the next few posts which give cause for concern.
There is a modern trend which seems to be almost hard coded in the mind of the urban dweller to reach for a smart phone and either start recording any incident that takes place in his or her vicinity or to telephone a loved one. As an immediate action following an incident both are stupid and both are selfish.
Taking photographs or footage of injured people, rather than helping them, is callous. It is also dangerous. Current popular tradecraft among Jihadists points to them detonating an IED then switching to a 'live shooter,' attack to kill the confused and disorientated civilians around them, or, they open fire then detonate. Indeed, shots were heard before the Brussels devices detonated and what was left of an AK 47 later recovered.
Survival for those in the midst of the mayhem is absolutely dependant on their will to survive and their ability to quickly gather their wits to a heightened state of situational awareness and take action. Taking pictures or telling your Mum you're OK is all a bit pointless if you are about to take a couple of 7.62mm rounds to the chest.
For the injured and dying words fail me of how they must feel when fellow travellers start snapping away. If I end up lying on the pavement in Piccadilly with my legs in bits all over another post code I'll be more than a little animated if I found myself full frame on someone's iPhone 6s. Perhaps we need a Good Samaritan or Duty to Act law which enshrine a duty of action and legal protection in doing so in law. Unfortunately, in these extreme situations such Act's would not be reasonable given many of the people reaching for their iPhones are doing so while in a state of shock and are themselves reaching out for comfort and security by the only means known to them. iPhones don't stop bullets though.
Simple actions that could immediately be taken by the Home Office would be to prevent individuals generating money from opportunistic photographs and to heavily fine news agencies that solicit, (often while events are in progress) and pay for such pictures and footage. Perhaps too it is time for the return of the Public Information Film instructing citizens of 'actions to take in the event of a terrorist incident.' The Government does a good job in calming a sense of elevated fear and keeping 'business as usual,' but the hard fact is that it is only a matter of time before the terrorist strikes again on home soil.
Most of all, those Urban Zombies who wander around town with white ears buds stuck in their ears oblivious to all around them and reach for their smart phone when a bad thing happens are likely to discover that its a fast track route to being a dead Urban Zombie.
You don't have to go to the Serengeti to see a decent sunset. Magnificent changing colours tonight over the South Downs.