The Ballad of Brenda McGhee

Reflections; Ronnie Hughes

Life’s not all bad, dull and dreary and as you know, here at Crumble we try and occasionally elevate matters by bringing something with a cultural bent along to feed the soul and cheer the heart. With that in mind I’d like to introduce you to what I firmly believe is a classic contribution to our nations literary heritage, the joy of which will far outlive me.

 A book dropped on the doormat this week and its no ordinary book. Just once in a while, from the many hundreds of thousands of men who rotate through the Army the odd one will commit his memories and emotions to paper and in doing so capture moments in time that would otherwise be lost for ever. Former Drum Major of the 1st Bn The Royal Highland Fusiliers, Ronnie Hughes has done just that and those of us who served at the same time are grateful that he’s done so.

In his collection of poems and short stories called “Reflections,” which he collated with the help of a friends student daughter, he’s nailed an entire Battalions rich humour and sense of collective being. I can honestly say that my formative years spent with 1 RHF were the funniest I've ever experienced. There were some not so good times but those were quickly forgotten in favour of the high points and Ronnie’s book has brought a flood of memories back for me and others who are chuckling their way through it. Thanks Ronnie.

This is my favourite;

This lady is definately not Brenda McGhee and that doesn't much look much like Port Glasgow either

The Ballad of Brenda McGhee 

In the town of Port Glasgow there lived a young lass, in a flat overlooking the sea, 
That’s where I first clapped my eyes oan the sight, I hope never again for to see. 
The ugliest burd in the whole bleedin’ world, yes folks you kin take it from me, 
Meet Brenda McDonald McFadzean Coltrane, Fitzpatrick McGregor McGhee. 

To say she wis ugly, wis putting it mild, as she sat by her windae aw day, 
Gazing longingly oot as the world passed her by, in the hope that a boy came her way. 
Twa bandy legs, and a wee crooked nose, Ailsa Craig wis the size of her rump, 
Wi’ wan squinty eye, and a 52 chest, not forgetting that she had a hump. 

Poor Brenda wis lonely, of that there’s no doubt, and boyfriends a no- no it seems, 
As I looked in her eye, and she gave me a wink, not me pal, aye jist in yir dreams. 
It seems such a shame, as I toodled aff hame, leaving Brenda alone at her sill, 
There’s some ugly burds that kin capture a lad, of course there are some never will. 

One day came to pass, this ugly young lass, left her windae ti’ go make some toast, 
When in through the windae a burglar he came, and very soon wished he wis lost. 
Wee Brenda she caught him alone in her room, as he rifled the loot frae her hoose, 
This is ma chance, thought wee Brenda at last, as her boobs from her bra she let loose. 

Wee Joe the burglar looked aghast, his face wis as white as a sheet, 
Of aw the hooses he picked ti’ tan, and whit a god awful sight for ti’ meet. 
Aw Christ whit is this, the burglar enquired, I only came in for yir loot, 
That’s OK son, said wee Brenda with glee, only two weeks ti go, then yir oot. 

The fortnight flew in and wee Brenda wis glad, at long last she’d captured a boy, 
Virginity gone and two weeks of pure lust, the burglar wid make a good toy. 
It’s fair ti’ say Joe didnae see it that way, he wis knackered and right puckered oot, 
He longed for the day, he had to escape, doon the pawn wi’ the ugly hags loot. 

Some years doon the line, wee Joe doing time, in his cell he jist let his mind wander, 
That time in Port Glasgow he robbed the wrang hoose, aye, whit a major blunder. 
Still sat at her windae wis Brenda McGhee, she wis smilin’ for aw she was worth, 
There by her side was her 5-year-old pride, a wan eyed humpy backit wee dwarf. 

This tale has a moral, and, yes it is true, ugly hags can get boyfriends, aye, even you, 
Don’t sit at your windae, watch life pass you by, go make some toast, or even a pie. 
Remember wee Brenda, the ugliest burd, that’s ever been this side of Oban, 
Just make sure that when you leave your room, that your windae on life is left open. 


Historical context from Ronnie,

"Let me enlighten you as to how she found herself on the end of my pen (so to speak)  When I was growing up in the East end of Glasgow at the end of, and just after WW2, I noticed that there was a dearth of menfolk in my area, thanks to a certain wee Austrian Corporal. When the weather was fine, 'wimmen-folk' would often be seen at their window sills, leaning on a cushion or pillow. Conversations would be passed up and down the street and many even went on round corners into different streets. Now, thanks to the shortage of men (young and old) who never made it home, women just had a hard time getting themselves a laddie, and every street had a "Wee Brenda" who came up a bit short in the 'good looking' stakes, so she had 'nae' chance (until I came to her rescue with wee Joe the burglar.)  I never met the mythical Brenda, and I certainly never frequented Port Glasgow, but when I put both together, it helped my words and the poem to flow." 


Scottish Independence; The Wolves Lair

The Wolves Are Waiting

Salmond has had a fairly easy run up up until now with his mendacious and toxic mix of lies and hyperbole while unleashing the worst traits of Scots character. I can’t yet decide whether he reminds me of Haig before the Somme, lining up his citizens Army before they go over the top and into oblivion or Kinnock at Sheffield in ’92 when his victory grandstanding was actually followed by ignominious defeat. Perhaps though, Salmond’s smug triumphalism most reminds me of Napoleon………… and he may be about to meet his Waterloo.

Salmond has had everything going his own way since he was found wanting in the first televised debate. His scheduled debate this afternoon with Alistair Darling on Mumsnet though may be looked back on as an error of judgment on the part of the “Yes,” team. Just look at some of the questions already posted,

Salmond is going into the Wolves Lair and I don’t rate his chances. The questions so far are overwhelmingly sceptical. These Mum’s don’t care about waffle; years of listening to excuses from their husbands about why they haven’t “mown the grass / mended the hoover / forgot about the dinner party / forgot to pick Jonnie up / looked at their friend that way at the party / lost weight / not noticed their hair / not recorded their favourite programme / ………. and so on,” have battle hardened them to excuses and are trained now to just go straight for the jugular and rip the arms of helpless, mumbling men. 

I’d rather be anywhere on the planet than where Salmond will be at 1:45pm, and I’m not joking; the press will seize on this. Darling meanwhile should say nothing, (especially after his disastrous interview on BBC Scotland last night by Jackie Bird), but if he has to, just agree with everyone – just like the rest of us do when faced with angry women.

Oddly though, I don't seem to be able to get my own question for the debate posted

Balancing this off is of course the visit of the other party leaders to Scotland which may neutralise any damage Salmond ships today because its difficult to see any circumstance where the #westminsterschooltrip can end well. For what it’s worth, I think honest straight talking would have more value and garner more respect than sycophantic toadying to many who will not ever change their minds. My question to Cameron is, “would you indulge your young children in this way if they didn’t get what they wanted no matter the cost or how ridiculous the demands?” The “reverse engines,” on Devo Max is actually harming the “No,” campaign because voters can only see headless chickens in a flat out panic who are throwing honesty and integrity out of the window.  Their target must be the small percentage of Labour voters who have swung to “No.” The bookies meanwhile, or rather the punters, are still backing “No,” and whatever the media noise level, I wouldn’t dismiss that.

Finally, the press have reported that assets have been leaving Scotland. That’s a bit presumptuous and premature. It’s not as if everything would shut down on the 19th in the event of a “Yes,” vote, indeed it would take years to disconnect and unravel Scotland from the rest of the UK and many things simply wouldn’t change at all. Nonetheless, as I alluded to yesterday, changes in the psychology of the crowd can quickly surge and overrun accepted thinking. Watch the ATM’s. Big and widespread cash withdrawals would be illogical but watch what happens, that would scare voters.

A few interesting articles,

Paul Krugman in the NY Times doesn’t get it

John Redwood on the role of Scottish MP’s

Heffer takes offence at South African comparison and a good deal else.

Scotland’s Financial Service Industry – Reuters

International impact; Vuc Jeremic in The Times

Prof Charles Pattie with a reflective view of an unsettled future

Forecasting Scottish Migration in the context of the Referendum; University of Southampton

HMS Prince of Wales

Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier

I suppose I ought not to call it HMS given it's some way from being named and launched or whatever the conventions of our naval chums are. Anyway, I spend enough time bashing the government they ought to be congratulated when they do something good. The decision to not mothball the Prince of Wales on delivery is a welcome respite to years of grinding cuts. We'll then have two! Remarkable isn't it that Great Britain having two aircraft carriers is a cause for rejoicing?

Given all the other news this week, mostly bad, I'm surprised that few commentators appear to have grasped the significance of the decision. At a stroke it sends a powerful and resolute message to our allies, "oh, so you are serious," and will keep us at the geopolitical top table. Nor will it be unnoticed by our enemies and it is an overdue shot in the arm to the Navy who for too long, have been the poor relation. Their morale has suffered somewhat with relentless reductions in scale and capability in the past two decades and this news ought to encourage more experienced men to stay on given their potential career paths just broadened.

don't worry son, the Royal Navy's out there to look after Christmas

I know there are other considerations, such as aircraft which we haven't yet sorted out but for the moment, we should take what's on offer. Clearly, the Navy are in the ascendant and I would think too, so are the Royal Marines. I'm not the only one who thinks its good news. There is a statistic that rolls around out there that says 90%+ of all Christmas presents under the tree come by sea. Little boys and girls can sleep safe then; the Royal Navy is there to protect Christmas for all children.....


Scottish Independence; Ahmm wee word, Mr Cameron....

The kind of backfire that Mr Cameron is currently experiancing

When I mentioned in my last post that PPE at Balliol hadn't prepared the policy wonks and advisor's in Westminster for the General Custer, "Where the fxck did all those "Yes" votes come from?" moment I had little idea that I would be so quickly validated by the pointy headed clowns.

We discover today that messrs Cameron, Clegg and Milliband are sufficiently in melt down mode that they've binned Prime Minister's questions tomorrow and are all off to the North "to listen." 

“There is a lot that divides us – but there’s one thing on which we agree passionately: the United Kingdom is better together. That’s why all of us are agreed the right place for us to be tomorrow is in Scotland, not at Prime Minister’s Questions in Westminster. We want to be listening and talking to voters about the huge choice they face. Our message to the Scottish people will be simple: ‘We want you to stay.’”

Crumble's interpretation of that statement is, "oh bloody fxck, fxck, fxck bloody fxck. I'm not going down as the one with his name above this fxcking fiasco.......... book the fxcking tickets - I do humble better than anyone else, I'll go and beg."

Wee word Mr Cameron, and even I down here can figure this out. The 'word on the streets' is why only offer 'extra powers' now?

The Yes campaign are being very quick to point out that that was one of Salmond's original requests for the ballot paper.  He wanted 2 questions on it - 

1. Should Scotland have more devolved powers? - The 'Devo-Max' option.
2. Should Scotland be an independent country?

Cameron was emphatic that there would only be one question - a straightforward IN/OUT - YES/NO question and no more powers would be devolved whatsoever!

It's backfired a wee bitty hasn't it?

We love our neighbours

From a friend in the Highlands,

"It's still close - but I'd put the Yes voters in front of the No's for now. The people just don't seem to trust (with reason in many cases) anything Westminster says anymore which is why there has been such a big swing in the polls..... To be perfectly honest, even I am wavering a bit now too! ..... I don't believe what Westminster are saying anymore either, so it's going to be interesting to see what this 'package' of new powers consists of. All 3 Westminster parties have their OWN agendas and ideas on what they should be and leaving it to the last minute to cobble 'something' together that they ALL agree on, certainly doesn't fill me with confidence....."

New Powers to Scotland

I remain of the view that the last thing Salmond wants is full independence; the Devo Max thing will do just fine. In fact, no one is probably flapping more than he is at present at the prospect of actually having to get a spreadsheet to add up that can't and won't ever do so and it wouldn't surprise me if he was paying for Cam's tickets. Whilst though, we are all hoping for restoration of level headedness when Scots voters peer over the abyss in a Quebec moment, the Westminster team may well be playing this wrong at the crucial moment. Fighting Celtic emotion and passion with repressed English emotion and passion will not help. The loss will just be bigger. I understand they have to take action and be seen to be taking action but they must rely on presenting mature arguments and logic and leave the Scots to make their own minds up on that basis.

A reflection of the level of panic, and stupidity of 13 year old advisor's, is the decision to fly the saltire over Downing Street from today until the referendum. However well intentioned, it's just a very visible sign of the wheels coming off and won't go down to well elsewhere in the Kingdom where people feel they're just rubbing along as best they can. 

Aye Pods

Aye Pods

David Cameron has been on holiday every three months since he became Prime Minister and only on one of those has he been to Scotland, (Jura). Not withstanding my own views about that kind of idleness perhaps the time to show an interest was in August or perhaps at Easter. He and his parliamentary colleagues are in fact in danger of making a bad thing worse. That's it, if in doubt throw more kerosene on the fire Mr Cameron, pass the bucket.

Scottish Independence; What About The Jocks?

Mostly, I wouldn't recommend an argument with these lads, (2 SCOTS)

Nine days to go and half of the country think they're Nelson Mandela running around shouting "Cry Freedom," while the people supposed to be running the country and demonstrating clear leadership are running around in a flap with their pants on their heads. PPE from Balliol didn't prepare any of the policy wonks and advisors for this. (Good piece by Chris Deerin here btw).

Anyone who thinks this is just about Scottish Independence is somewhat missing the point. The same dissatisfaction that drives English voters to UKIP is herding wavering voters to the "Yes" camp in Scotland. That is, a screaming sense of dislocation and disenfranchisement, stretching to utter abandonment in some areas, from the political process. Some of this is just very basic. How difficult is it to empty the bins on a weekly basis? (Thank you for nothing Mr Pickles). How difficult is it to regulate travel costs so people can travel to and from work without surrendering half of their after tax income? How difficult is it to plug in the country to fast broadband to bring all our communities into the 21st century? How difficult is to provide sufficient local educational and health infrastructure for the immigrants that the national government allow through? How difficult is it to articulate a vision that offers at least the potential for a better life if not for oneself then at least for ones children? Actually, how difficult is it to listen? 

I digress. Nine days to go and the "Yes," campaign rolls on with much noise but little substance. Enjoy the ride, it won't last long. Let's just pick out one knarly, wee small issue but one which is of interest to many of us Mr Salmond.

It's obvious that many people are unlikely to change their minds and agree in the nine days that remain before voting. That's fair enough.

Royal Regiment of Scotland

But, if the "Yes" camp win the world is going to change for Scotland and change for the Armed Forces. The SNP say they will retain 3 out of the 4 Scottish regular infantry battalions, two reserve battalions, and the incremental company, (not including the Scots Guards, RSDG, 45 Cdo or 19 Fd Regt RA).

In the SNP's Independence White Paper, they contend that "the units of the Scottish Army will carry on the names, identities, and traditions of Scotland’s regiments, including those lost in the defence reorganisation of 2006." (The lads from Plockton will love to hear that). Lot to squeeze in there, especially as the "All Arms Brigade," of three units with supporting arms is described as "infantry/marines."

If you win Mr Salmond, who would you chop and what would you say to the Jocks who might be given a choice of moving to England to join an English regiment or being made redundant?

Still, one consequence of the inevitable economic darkness which will befall Scotland is that the recruiting problem for the British Army will be solved in a heartbeat yet it will have lost part of it's soul without the Royal Regiment of Scotland. 


Scottish Independence; Escape Velocity?

The weekend polls were unsurprising and made dismal reading for unionists. The problem besetting the “No,” campaign now is the nagging concern that they’ve allowed the “Yes camp,” to seize the initiative, set the agenda into the final phase and have allowed them to gain significant momentum. As the “Yes,” block gain more “don’t knows,” and turn previously set “No,” voters have they in fact reached escape velocity? That is, have we just witnessed a Berlin Wall moment this weekend when passion and emotion overtake logic and reason when the end simply becomes inevitable?  I see a growing number of “ah, fxck it, lets give it a go,” type of one liners on social networks and the hope now, that voters adopt a pragmatic and reasonable stance with a high turnout of “No,” voters looks at this point at least, doubtful.

English Scots For Yes.............. I have no words

Within Scotland the “Yes,” camp consists of a pretty broad church of constituencies. Surely the oddest must be this collection of loons, English Scots for Yes. I initially though they must be a bunch of ultra conservatives campaigning for a yes vote to rid parliament of 43 Scottish Labour MP’s but no, they seem to be fully paid up members of the Turkey’s for Christmas Club. Be careful what you wish for. On the other side of the nonsense wing are characters like Bruce Ogilvie of Siol nan Gaidheal.


A kind observer might think him an eccentric cove but actually, he’s just a rabid racist of National Front type extremism who will inevitably end up behind bars one day. I remember there used to be a few clowns like him running around in the seventies dressed in what they thought Jacobite s wore and spent their time being angry and chopping down telegraph poles. The independence consortium consists of left wingers, right wingers, nationalists, naturalists, greens, immigrants, special interest parties, bored people, mischievous people, anti English people, anti government people, anti establishment people, passionate people, rich people……………… and all the rest. I’ve even heard of “no” voters who intend to vote yes because they want the relocation package to the south from their employers.

Thing is, once Motherwell Man has cast his deciding swing vote, what next? The experience in Estonia was that everyone wanted independence, they got it and then produced a fragmented political landscape consisting of many, many parties. Salmond has promised so much to so many but has not managed any expectations. In the transition phase Scotland will need a strong government acting with a fair but firm hand to navigate its way through the decoupling process. There is no indication that such leadership yet exists and there will be a danger of squabbling and division sinking the boat before it makes it out of the harbour. The SNP’s default position of “blame Westminster,” for anything they get wrong simply won’t cut it on a go forward basis and any “yes,” voter who sees some utopian vision where all Scots act as one is simply being disingenuous as to the reality of how Scots see fellow Scots across geographical, cultural, demographic and social divides.

The entire exercise will have a negative impact on the UK during and after any transition. The hard facts however, are that England, Wales and Northern Ireland are likely to emerge more or less economically intact after a prolonged period of restructuring. It will though, probably take Scotland a generation to reengineer its economy and there are likely to be some early hits to tax revenue and business morale with some companies moving out or reducing investment. Voters who are influenced by a need to teach Westminster / England / anyone-not-voting-yes may wish to ponder that.

Certainly, if I lived in Scotland and had a mortgage I’d be sprinting to lock in a fixed rate.

But, this is becoming less about the detail and more about the psychology of the crowd. Certainly, there are some pretty important aspects to a restructuring such as pension liabilities that at the moment, are dismissed with a catchphrase and wave of the hand but when the hard reality hits individuals they may wonder what happened to the Utopia they were promised. There will though, be no way back. “Yes” voters are buying a one way ticket which is why Devo Max is so attractive since they get the best of both worlds without the liabilities. That outcome is perhaps the least fair to the individual English tax payer which is why a “No,” vote ought to present the greatest satisfaction to any fervent nationalist.

The Wee Blue Book

GBP; Smell the coffee time

GBP; Smell the coffee time

Fourteen days to go and with the latest poll reporting a difference between the two sides of just six points, a frission of nervousness is flowing through capital markets and excitement is gathering across the media in expectation that they may be on the verge of the biggest story of their careers. Alas, no sign of life from Westminster but then we’re used to that. The “don’t knows,” are swinging to “Yes,” at a two to one ratio. Most observers attribute the change to Darling’s poor showing in the last debate when he had no answer to Salmond’s aggressive debating tactic of painting Scottish Labour as quasi Tories, (although Guido squarely blames the Gordon Brown effect!).

This is serious

This is serious

There may be an another reason however that is driving the don’t knows, and many previous unionists, into the yes camp. 

The Wee Blue Book

The Wee Blue Book

Hardly anyone has heard of it in the South but in Scotland, “The Wee Blue Book,” has been dropping through letter boxes for weeks with many households receiving, and continuing to receive multiple copies. Written by Stuart Campbell of the Wings Over Scotland cybernat blog, (who oddly lives in Somerset), it is turning heads and changing minds. You may not yet be familiar with Wings Over Scotland but it is a very successful site and is read daily by most if not all political journalists and interested politico’s.

Up until very recently many individuals were genuinely undecided but friends tell me that since this book started dropping on the doormat many have changed from “No” to “Yes” and its self-evident where the “don’t know’s” are heading. It’s a slick, well written production and having read it, its easy to see how many find it convincing. The scary thing is, people across the political and social spectrum appear believe it verbatim. The “No,” team do not yet have an appropriate, equal or original response. All of which is fascinating to reflect on across multiple levels given the recent debate on indoctrination and radicalisation in English towns. 

The “Book,” as it has become known, obviously covers just about every argument raised in pub debates in the last ten years and predictably, an independent Scotland wins every time. It even mentions the World Cup! No one would expect anything else from mischievous, or malevolent, political operators who have produced this cleverly, or craftily, written piece of propaganda.

I wouldn’t underestimate the impact this thing is having. At the minimum, interested unionists should read it cover to cover. At some point the penny must drop, we’re within a whisker of losing the most important political campaign in 300 years and we didn’t really show up for the bout. 

After the divorce the family might continue to squabble

Another aspect of the campaign which is manifesting itself on a broader basis is the increasingly spiteful and sinister edge to the Nationalists campaign such as was endured last week by the Better Together campaigner, Labour MP Jim Murphy on his “100 Towns, 100 Days,” campaign. Mr Murphy is genuinely to be admired for his commitment and passion. Unfortunately, an underlying nastiness is emerging further afield in villages and towns with rumours and scaremongering becoming more apparent. Everyone would earnestly hope that the debate, voting and counting process will be conducted properly and that both the eventual winner and loser, and their supporters, will treat the decision with dignity and respect. Scots harbour long memories. You don’t have to go far in the Highlands to discover a residual resentment borne in the collective memory from the Clearances and that resentment is aimed at the central belt every much as it is the English. A more obvious chasm exists between the Orkney and Shetland islanders and the central belt and that is likely to be one of Salmond’s first thorny problems were he to win on the 18th. But that’s another story.

The “Yes “ camp are a nose in front but that’s all. Placing a higher news and political priority on an Essex by election than a debate of national historical and international importance is not helping the perception in Scotland of how much the rest of the nation care. It needs to change, we need to engage and bloody quickly.


NATO Summit; GDP & Body Bags

Mr Putin’s apparent belligerence might quietly be welcomed in some corners of NATO, an organisation that in recent years seemed to have lost its way and its reason for being.

Calls for member states to increase defence spending to 2% or more of GDP after twenty five years of cuts are growing, especially for European nations who are perceived not to have “done their bit.” The ‘peace dividend’ has been substantial, ranging between 0.7% and 1.5% of GDP for Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada.  The largest ‘peace dividends’, however, accrued to the UK, where defence spending as a proportion of GDP fell over that twenty-five year period from 4.0% to 2.3% and the USA, where the proportion declined from 5.6% to 3.8%, (World Bank figures).  These are the NATO members where it might be most expensive to return to former levels of military outlays.  That may partly explain why they are among the more enthusiastic proponents of economic warfare.

There is though, zero appetite among our politicians to do anything but keep reaping dividends from defence cuts. For one thing, we're at completely the wrong point in the election cycle to expect anything but short term fluffy inducements and frankly, I don't see anyone out there with the moral courage to do the right thing even if they could figure it out. There is too, war fatigue in the general populations who are tired of seeing our boys come back in boxes and are embarrassed at the growing number of amputees in their local shopping centers. All in all, from the top down, everyone wants an easy life and that ultimately will cost very much more in both percentage points of GDP and body bags.

We live in an age of political and moral cowardice and no one appears to be unsettled in the slightest by it.

Raised Terror Threat; What Should I Do?

Oslo bomb, 2011

Oslo bomb, 2011

So, we’ve raised our security alert status to the blindingly obvious but with no apparent intelligence on specific threats or advice to what it means for and to individuals. Meanwhile in France, the security alert states has been raised from run to hide. There remains some way to go though, their alert states are graded Run, Hide, Capitulate, Collaborate. 

On a serious note, the threat of terrorism both from organised groups and “lone wolves,” is omnipresent in every society. I have quoted a former director of special forces several times over recent years who stated in a very matter of fact way that security forces expect an attack using WMD in a European city in the next few years. Threats are as varied as is the imagination and sophistication of the terrorist and range from “dirty bombs,” the so called “mubtakkar devices,” (typically lethal gas devices released in subways / metro’s), chemical attacks, attacks on the food chain, infrastructure attacks, assassinations, attacks on the public using bombs or individual weapons, (guns, knives etc) to kidnappings. It’s not an exclusive list of course but does give an idea of the broad scope of threat faced by our security services. It’s easy to allow fear and paranoia to take grip and lose perspective. It’s just as easy to be phlegmatic and discount all risks to zero by assuming a fatalistic view of the world. There is a middle path for the individual though and it’s all about awareness.

If a threat exists to a specific individual there is a world of heightened precautions and actions to be taken but in the context of the government’s general warning on Friday, I’ll keep this fairly general and it is in fact an update to a piece I did a couple of years ago.

Its perhaps surprising that apart from the Lee Rigby murder, the UK has not been hit by a terrorist strike since the tube bombings of 2005. More people face a daily threat to their peaceful existence from common criminals than they do from the terrorist. Individuals though, should nevertheless have a constantly updating contingency plan in their minds should a bad thing happen.

When disaster hits things happen very quickly. Typically, belief is suspended for a short time before panic erupts and people attempt to flee the scene. Smoke, fire and noise can disorientate and feed the frenzy. Injuries can be multiplied as a result of trampling and smoke inhalation. Power is often lost as a result of damage or cut for safety and lifts will be reserved for emergency crews. Bridges, tunnels, tubes and important transport nodes are frequently closed or just jammed. Telephone usage soars and mobile networks are often overloaded as news ripples out.

It is important to always maintain an awareness of your surroundings and to be in a mind-set which is alert to potential threats. Denial, ignorance and complacency consist of one well practised approach and indeed, our government particularly like to invoke the “blitz spirit, business as usual,”  mantra whenever a busload of citizens are blown up. Of course they have to, there is no other option for a government but there is for the individual. Personal security is a personal responsibility.

Equally, if we went about our daily business looking for a bad guy in black behind every corner we would be a nervous wreck by lunchtime. It’s important to emphasise that a relaxed state of vigilance and alertness is possible because it becomes a way of thinking that can be ratcheted up rather than a mindset one steps into when the alarms go off. Simple plans and awareness of the local environment go a long way to aiding preparedness.

Terrorist attacks incidentally are rarely spontaneous. They usually go through a distinct six stage attack cycle which includes planning and reconnaissance. Appropriate awareness of your environment can help citizens spot terrorist surveillance with things or people that are out of place, suspicious and which may represent a threat. This also represents an obvious vulnerability to the terrorist.

Here then are some points to note for the individual,

  • Learn to be a people watcher. It’s actually a very interesting hobby and helps pass the time wherever you are. Learn to evaluate people from their dress, mannerisms, pace, mood, eye movements, gestures and so on. Most people, especially the British, do this subconsciously. Make it a conscious process though and you’ll surprise yourself with what you can learn about those around you.
  •  Difficult to do as a commuter but best to avoid or at the least don’t linger in congested areas, queues (especially outside high visibility targets), crowds, international hotel lobby areas and so on. If by the way, you happen to be staying in a hotel always avoid booking a ground floor room or a room at the front of the hotel but not one that is too high for fire ladders to reach.
  • If you happen to be close to a cordoned off area resulting from a bomb scare / warning then leave the area immediately. The default position these days seems to be for everyone to take out their mobile phone and start filming ready to upload their five minutes of fame to YouTube. Don’t bother; get away. If you can see the bomb, the bomb can see you. That is, if you have line of sight to a device then you are likely to be hit if it detonates. Police cordons are hardly ever large enough in these situations; (there can be barely a policeman still serving who has been at the scene of a terrorist device detonating).
  •  My instructors always used to talk about the “hairs on the back of your neck.” That is, your intuition kicking in when perhaps your subconscious notices subtle changes in the local environment or behaviour patterns. Never ignore a “sixth sense,” or premonition. One part of the brain may simply be processing something the other isn’t accepting or not catching up on. There may be nothing other worldly or spooky about it and everyone has some personal or family story to back it up the syndrome; I know I do.
  • Always have a Personal Contingency Plan. Wherever you are, in your own office, at a meeting, shopping, commuting; ask, “what if?” “What is my escape route, where will I go to, how will I communicate.
  • If out in a family group always have an emergency rendezvous point for family members. “If we get split up, meet here,” and have a back up RV in case the first is affected by the bad thing.
  •  Contact is important, especially for those outside the disaster area. Remember, mobile networks may be down but often text messages still get through as might emails.
  • When a bad thing happens people can quickly become disorientated. The shock of the event, possible injury, deafness, limited visibility can leave them wandering aimlessly not knowing what to do. Having a predetermined plan, however simple, gives the individual something to grasp and work around and in doing so shakes of denial and or shock and increases the chance of survival. An example here would be the Clapham rail disaster. Many casualties were caused not by the crash but by a passing train afterward; people were simply overcome with shock and stopped thinking.
  • Note, it may take time for emergency services to be on scene. The aftermath of a device detonating in a built up area is particularly dangerous. Not only is the survivor at risk from injuries sustained from crowds but also from falling masonry,  glass, (especially glass that does not have protective ballistic film). In fact, immediately following a detonation get under cover and stay there for at least two minutes.
  •  If inside a building avoid anything electrical and stay away from windows, mirrors, glass partitions and so on. If outside, avoid the pavements; glass will continue to fall from high rise buildings for a long time. Do not shout, unless as a last resort, you will inhale potentially damaging or lethal dust. Cover your mouth and nose with any fabric to hand rather than nothing.
  •  If caught up in a bad thing, you must constantly evaluate and maintain flexibility. Do you know which streets the fire exits in your building exit into? What is the quickest route away from your area and out of line-of-sight? Might is be safer to stay put? It wasn’t on 9/11 but the terrorist will often plant secondary devices along the most likely escape routes or the point where the emergency services are most likely to set up their command post, (Warrenpoint).
  •  Think about what you would do in an active shooter scenario or knife wielding mass murderer. Sounds like something out of an X Box game doesn’t it but it’s been an all too frequent reality in recent years for citizens from Norway, the US and China in the very recent past.
  •  After a terrorist strike you must be prepared to help yourself. The authorities will be overwhelmed with the seriously injured, containing the incident and preparing for follow up attacks. If you are lucky enough to be unharmed or walking wounded follow your escape plan and don’t stop thinking. The crowd are no more likely to flee in the direction of safety than they are into further danger. Moreover, don’t expect emergency services newly arrived on the scene to know much more than do you.
  •   If you are slightly hurt, head to the hospital furthest away that you can reach. The closest ones will be mobbed.
  • Any survival instructor will tell you that survival is all about the will to live, not skills and not kit. The pyramid above is the one my instructors constantly referred to and its applicable to any situation. There are though some obvious bits of kit that one might contemplate carrying in a briefcase, bag or keeping in a desk drawer that would be of significant help in a “situation.” The most obvious is a smoke hood, with it a high powered small torch, some paracord and cash. Most people sitting at their desks reading this would be slightly embarrassed at the thought of ordering a smoke hood, carrying a torch, and always having a spare cash clip on their person. I am too but the thing is, who else exactly is going to help you at the moment of crisis? The problem with the hood of course is not buying or carrying it but using it when you are at risk of other panicking survivors ripping it off. It’s not coincidence that most survivors from plane crashes are young males aged between 18 and 30. As with everything, individuals have to make their own plans and decisions. Most do nothing.

The terrorist threat will not evaporate if the jihadists go away. We have lived with terror threats for the last 44 years and the Islamists will simply be replaced, displaced or augmented by others. The universe of potential threats is simply too large and dispersed for it to be anything other way. As I said at the beginning, individuals are most likely to be at risk from fire or “grab and run” common criminals than they are from terrorist strikes, (the risks from street crime of course can be eased with similar street awareness and changes to dress and behaviour). A little bit of forethought, planning and awareness though can further mitigate more serious risk.

In summary,

  • Have a dynamic plan, (in the sense of constantly updating to suit your changing environment)
  •  Try and develop a sense of relaxed awareness as a way of life
  • Always ask “what if?”
  • Minimise and mitigate risk
  • Be very aware of post incident risks; eg crowds, falling debris, secondary devices

Just common sense really,

Douglas Carswell MP Defects To UKIP

Douglas Carswell defects to UKIP

The jumping ship thing is perhaps a little unfair to Carswell. He does appear to be a thinking politician of conviction and has left the Tory party citing the dependency on pollsters, lack of real change, blocking of parliamentary reform and a desire to shake up the Westminster clique. 

So, UKIP have their first member of parliament and No 10 have a real "Oh bugger," moment. You can hear the hurried conference call happening now, "No Prime Minister, we're not aware if the 'slippery bxstard' has been to Rotherham or not..."

Actually, if his actions rock the galloping and disconnected sense of righteous entitlement that pervades Westminster then its for the better. I wish the man well. Interesting times.