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Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Since September 11, 2001, we have lived in a climate of fear and after the Madrid attacks that fear has only increased. We are all now constantly on our guard, everyone we see is a potential terrorist and whenever we are in a crowded public place, we are at risk. So they say.

I've noticed an increase in people’s unease myself, especially on the tube in the last week or so. People are more aware of possibly unattended baggage and normally reserved Londoners are not hesitating in piping up with "whose bag is this" at the sight of a duffel bag sitting on the floor. This is not a bad thing.

The best one I witnessed was a young "chav" couple arguing with a elderly church-going black woman over some bags of supermarket shopping left on a tube train a couple of weeks ago. The elderly woman wanted to pull the emergency lever on the train, and tried to find a station manager on the platform of each stop to alert them to these potentially dangerous groceries. The chavs were not having any of this and prevented her from getting near the emergency lever. Like most stations, there was no tube staff at any of the stations, so that was not a concern to the chavs. Basically, the chavs saw several bags of free food and loo paper, nothing was going to stand between them and their swag, not possible terror or a civic minded Christian. A freebie is a freebie. I found it all enjoyable street theatre, well, tube theatre.

I've used the term "chav" in the above paragraph as it is the current word for a certain sub-culture dominant in British society today. Rather than try to illustrate or explain further, I would like to direct your attention an excellent and amusing link, which covers the topic far better than I could. It's called chavscum.co.uk and it has been around for a few months. It's been featured in a couple of newspapers as well. I don't judge, I just observe and I hope you find it as funny as I have. If you don't, well, perhaps you are a chav yourself, if not, maybe you are just too PC.

It was only a matter of time before fear was translated into an industry. In the same way people started buying gas-masks in the wake of 9/11, it was only a matter of time before some company tried to package and market fear. That day is today, I caught this story on the BBC News website. The company, Survival Box has good some very cool kit for surviving a terrorist attack. They have small kits for the commuter, to save your ass if your are caught on the tube when the shit hits the fan, right up to an armageddon Xmas hamper, which contains food, water and supplies to keep two people alive for a fortnight. This firm has to have one of the cleverest marketing ideas to come out of this new climate of fear. Fast-food survival, it's like a doomsday happy-meal! If you want to make through to see what "hell on earth" looks like, these products are certainly for you, but what if you don't want to survive?

What if whatever attack comes is so bad that life itself is just not worth living? This is the possibility that is the most difficult to ponder, but let's go with a worst case scenario. The bad guys sail up the River Thames in a small boat with a medium sized nuclear device. This could happen, it is not that far-fetched. This boat makes it up as far as the Houses of Parliament and is detonated between Westminster and Lambeth bridges. In an instant most of central London is devastated, I am guessing a few square miles around the epicenter is completely flattened. Think of the damage in concentric circles radiating from this new, improved ground zero. Outside of the inner circle, where everything is dust, you would have amazing destruction, fires, people burned alive. A few miles after that, you would see half-destroyed buildings, more fires, people partially burned and blinded by the blast.

At 10-15 miles from the centre, where I am, where you might be, the shock waves and heat would still be felt, but to what effect, I can only speculate. I'm sure my windows would be gone, in my home and my car, car alarms would be going off as well, all of them. People would be flooding the streets, it would be a scene of total chaos. If I was unlucky enough to be gazing south when it exploded, I could very well be blinded myself, hearing loss would be possible. If I could find a battery-powered radio, what emergency information could they possibly give me that could be of any help? How would I be evacuated, and where would I be taken?

The electricity and running water would be off, any food in my fridge wouldn't last beyond twelve hours, maybe twenty-four? I wouldn't be able to contact any of my loved ones, not Mrs Hippy or my younger brother. I wouldn't know if they were alive or dead.

What if I was at one of my new jobs when the big one hit? If I were at the first one, I would be about as far away from the blast as I am at home, so I would survive. I would expect this facility would have a disaster plan, probably one formulated during the cold war and hopefully updated after events of the last few years. I would probably make it, but then what? Fuck knows, but it would not be fun.

And what about my other job? I think I honestly would prefer to be there if a nuke went off in central London. That's the location of that office as well, so my death would be quick and instantaneous. Wouldn't you choose the easy way out? I always will!

Everyone in a position of authority keeps saying that it is only a matter of time before London is a terrorist’s target, that it is only a matter of time. Thinking about it, considering what could happen is only normal. Facing fear and the unknown is a big part of life, but you can't let it rule you. You could step off a kerb and get hit by a bus tomorrow, or so they say, there's risk in everything you do. You could slip the shower and crack your skull open, anything can happen. Don't let it stop you from living your life.

Maybe I should just order the commuter pack from that website, it couldn't hurt to be just a little bit prepared.

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