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Soup and Sanctuary

We continue to travel around, looking for safe stopping places. There are riots in some of the cities where people are breaking out of their quarantines, but the small towns are looking deserted. The larger petrol stations that are attached to supermarkets are guarded by the army, but some smaller ones in isolated villages are abandoned – it’s here we’ve been doing our raiding, and, to answer this month’s meme, living on travel sweets, crisps and twiglets when we can get them, and dandelions, nettles and berries when we can’t. Most authors of foraging manuals and wild food guides expected that they would be used by hobbyists with well-stocked larders. It’s very difficult to make anything tasty entirely from foraged food, but here’s my recipe for nettle soup, with some suggested replacements for increasingly hard-to-find ingredients.

Ash’s nettle soup

  1. Heat a little oil in a pan.
  2. Add a chopped onion and two cloves of garlic, and stir until softened.
  3. If you’re lucky enough to have potatoes, chop them up small so that they cook quickly, saving you fuel. Otherwise, stir in some flour or whatever thickening agent you’ve managed to acquire.
  4. Add the liquid slowly and bring to the boil, stirring as you go.
  5. Once the potatoes are soft, add about three handfuls of washed and roughly chopped nettles per person, and simmer for a minute or two just to ensure they’re well and truly de-stung.
  6. Use a hand-turned blender or masher to get the consistency as soup-like as possible.
  7. Season and serve.

Oil or fat. We brought plenty of cooking oil with us, but it’s getting very scarce in the places we raid. Some wild nuts and seeds are good sources, but the likelihood of finding a sufficient quantity to be able to press a decent supply is almost as slim as getting hold of a working oil press. The best bet for vegetarians is to find an abandoned cultivated rapeseed crop, while those able to hunt could make use of fatty waterfowl such as ducks and geese.
Onions and Garlic. If you can find wild onions or wild garlic (ramsons), they add a good flavour, but don’t make nearly such a solid base as cultivated varieties.
Thickening agent. With no potatoes or flour left, we add a little milk powder sometimes.  The stems of Fireweed are supposed to contain a thickening agent, but it adds a bitter flavour and, to be honest, I’m not sure how it’s supposed to be extracted.  This is the kind of thing it’s very difficult to replace without using cultivated crops.
Liquid. Most recipes suggest two cups of milk, cream or soya alternatives as well as a cup of water or stock, but unless you have access to a cow or a soya processing plant, you will probably be using water. Strain and boil it before adding it to the soup, especially if you have no water purification tablets.
Nettles. These, at least, are plentiful. Lest it needs saying, use thick rubber gloves to pick them! You can eat stalks, flowers etc., but the young top leaves before flowering are the tastiest and most nutritious part. Wash them well and try to get them from somewhere far enough from a road that they won’t be contaminated by traffic exhaust. They’ll lose their sting once immersed in boiling water.
Seasoning. I daresay there’ll come a time when we have to get to the coast and use sea water for salt, but for now we harvest salt and pepper from the hardy perennial vandalised fast food chain, which is in plentiful supply.

This soup is one of our few sources of vitamins, though at times it’s more like nettle tea than soup. After eight weeks on the road we’re sick and worn out, stick-figure cartoons of ourselves, all cheekbone and shoulder-blade. Last week, after two days exposed in a layby because Sue and I couldn’t drive for more than ten minutes before feeling dizzy, we needed a proper rest and had the most incredible urge to be inside a building again, even for a little while. And I had an idea.

While I’m sure that most people with money have barricaded themselves into their gated detached fortresses, it occurred to me that there are a reasonable number of luxury residences around the country guaranteed to be lying empty. I won’t give the exact location that we found, but it’s one of the smaller stately homes, preserved as a museum and restored to its 19th century condition, complete with period furniture and fittings. The good thing about listed buildings is that they don’t have double glazing – sash windows make for easy entry, and we guessed that if silent alarms were set off in some security centre, the staff wouldn’t be there, or would have more pressing issues to attend to. We were going to leave the museum area relatively untouched and just use the staff rooms, but it turned unseasonably cold that night, and the display rooms had fireplaces draughty enough that we reasoned they must be usable. I was afraid of our smoke being seen, but we decided, again, that nobody would really be looking. We had some charcoal left from the last garage we raided, and we collected dry wood from the grounds; then we discussed whether, under such circumstances, one should retire to the parlour or the drawing room for the evening.

Even after running from the police, siphoning petrol from cars and an intensive course in breaking and entering, the idea of crossing that red rope barrier and touching museum pieces provoked a thrill of transgression. Sarah’s laughter as she clattered copper pots and jumped onto antique beds convinced us we’d done the right thing. After all, these objects were built to last, and to combine beauty and functionality. There was something very right about putting them to good use after so long. We found that even the stove was still connected to a chimney, and we cooked our last two tins of baked beans on a Victorian range and ate them by candlelight, accompanied by blackcurrant squash in crystal wine glasses. Sarah was for stripping the rather unsettling life-size dummies that populated the place and dressing up, but Sue drew a line at this – the costumes were delicate items, and besides, it would be impractical. We might have to leave in a hurry.

In the light of the day, we explored the grounds and made an even better find than the house: a kitchen garden with a wide variety of tomatoes, courgettes, new potatoes and a surprisingly abundant number of beans, given its neglect over the past month. Fresh vegetables were a greater luxury than the embroidered bedspreads and silver cutlery, and after three days there we felt revived.  We’d just decided to stay for the foreseeable future when we saw the fires, from the window, distant but ominous, and huge. The nearby town was burning, and a quick check of the functioning local socnets confirmed that people had broken out of one of the larger quarantines, and immediately gone about breaking into the others. It wouldn’t be long before they were scouring the suburbs for food and shelter.

In principle, we should have welcomed the escapees into the house, invited them to work the gardens with us and form a community. That’s what I would have suggested doing a month ago. But we didn’t know whether they’d be infectious, starving, desperate or violent, and we didn’t wait to find out. The last time we decided to trust our neighbours, it didn’t work out well for us. We harvested what would ripen and headed North, leaving the museum to its fate.

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Posted by on July 8, 2026 in memes and quizzes

 

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Going nowhere

There are a lot of patrols out on the roads now – an attempt to round up stragglers, we think – so we’ve found somewhere we can remain relatively concealed and we’re staying put.

To amuse myself I thought I’d try out that Utopia quiz.  I suppose I can live with the result.  I read it once, and it certainly reminds me of a few people I used to know.  Well, we were right that another world was possible.  It just isn’t the one we expected.

Pastoral/Primitivist Anarchist Communism, e.g. News from Nowhere by William Morris.

Pastoral/Primitivist Anarchist Communism, e.g. News from Nowhere by William Morris.

We don’t need money, hierarchies or laws. Neither do we need structures, processes or new technology. This kind of utopia appeals to those who find conflict frightening, and prefer revolutions that have a definite end resulting in a static society with no further change or development required, ever. The harvest never fails, nobody resents anybody else’s foibles and everybody is happy in their work. Doesn’t “work is play” have a slightly Orwellian ring to it?

See the story behind this quiz at http://badinfluences.org.uk

Which Utopia are you building?

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2026 in memes and quizzes, whinging

 

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Having a strange day

Looking back, I can see the hysteria’s been building for weeks.  Riots and looting aren’t unusual at this time of year, but in the past supermarkets have been the last resort once the electronics and fashion items are gone, not the primary target.  Another borough was put under quarantine yesterday and of course everybody’s afraid it’ll be their own neighbourhood next, but it all seemed distantly hysterical until we lost Margot and Barbara.  The sight of two inexpertly slaughtered chickens on the back doorstep this morning seemed to bring it all home a little.  Of course, there’s no proving who it was, since I told the whole neighbourhood I’d be leaving my gate open, but the over-punctuated note, informing us that in the absence of council resources for pest control, the author saw fit to take steps against any “possible sources of contagion”, is something of a clue. Poor Margot and Barbara.  They were good hens, and they deserved better.

Hospital staff have been on double-time as an incentive not to leave, and under threat of a serious black mark if we don’t either make it into work or show up on a stretcher.  We’re wearing those ridiculous suits at all times now, bloody uncomfortable as they are, and everything stinks of disinfectant, even more than usual.  There’s still no definitive word on the incubation period – it seems to vary wildly.  Some are saying we have a busy few weeks ahead and then a gradual return to normality, others that it won’t be long before we’re so swamped there’s no point in even coming to the hospital. As it is, there’s very little we can do beyond palliative care.  There’s no cure, no effective treatment that does anything more than delay the inevitable.

I’d been keeping most of this to myself, trying not to cause panic, but people aren’t stupid – especially not my family.  This morning, the car wouldn’t start, and Sarah said she couldn’t fix it, and of course there are no buses or taxis.  I was already late by the time she’d admitted to sabotage.  She said she’d fix it when I promised not to go into work again.  Sue swore that she wasn’t in on it, but she supported the move.  And I thought, if we’re not going into work, and the chickens are dead, what are we sitting around here for?  We’ve decided to get out of the city.  We spent the rest of the day packing the caravan full of food, fuel and hardware, and we’ll set out at first light tomorrow, while the roads are clear.  I suppose it doesn’t really matter where we go as long as it’s away from centres of population, but we’re heading for the lakes where Sue’s cousin has a field we can camp in.  We haven’t been able to get through to her yet, but I’m sure she won’t mind.  She’ll call us paranoid lunatics, but she won’t mind.  We’re in danger of coming up against road blocks, and we may have to take some circuitous routes, but we have everything we need to spend a night or two on the road if it turns out to be necessary.  At least it gets us out of this poisonous neighbourhood, and it feels strangely like packing for a holiday.  I can’t help being a little excited.

As to Mei’s meme, I am clearly a humble potato, a solid, reliable sort that flourishes underground.  Not impressive at first glance, but adaptable and full of slow-burning energy.

 

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So much for community spirit

There’s a Disaster Manifesto meme going around – how would I save the world from Blood Flu?  To be honest, even if I did have the authority to force communities to organise together, they’d only be torn apart by arrogant, paranoid self-promoters, terrified of losing face by deferring to others but equally reluctant to take any actual responsibility for anything.  They prefer to repeat that the police will take care of us, the supermarkets will feed us, the authorities have it all under control.  Well, the authorities certainly have it under control in Australia, and just ask my friend Elaine how well that’s turned out.  And things have actually got better for ordinary people in most of the Chinese provinces where the government’s lost control.  And the US West Coast is so well under control we can’t even get figures on the numbers dead.

The Community Disaster Response Collective is finished.  We (well, I) got into a bit of an altercation with the Neighbourhood Watch committee, who felt they should have been put in charge from the beginning.  They’ve decided we’re treading on their toes, and they’ll deal with issues of security should the need arise, and threatened to report us under the Terror and Radicalism Act.   Sarah was all for defying them, but I gave in and dissolved the group.  Those poor kids spending three years in jail for occupying a Tesco Metro could tell you why.  Jane Morrison actually called that an armed robbery!  Robbery because they distributed a few bags of rice and tinned tomatoes, and armed because they “had metal sticks in their banners”.  Even the courts didn’t go so far as to try and stick armed robbery on them – they didn’t hurt or threaten anybody, so they did them under ‘Conspiracy of Silence’ when those arrested refused to identify those who got away.  I’m still haunted by that CCTV footage – some of the ones being battered, tasered and dragged from that shop were younger than Sarah.

Sarah finally forgave my reluctance when I reminded her that I was at the “Storm in a Kettle” in ’15, protesting the passing of the bill that led to the TRA.  I have good reasons for not wanting to get on the wrong side of that act.  She doesn’t really remember the aftermath of that day – two police dead, and 54 protesters, and many more still in jail despite the lack of evidence.  I didn’t really want to bring it up again – it’s not a day I like to remember – but these things must be remembered, I suppose.  She dredged up a recollection of Sue worrying because I hadn’t come home, and of being told I’d been in an accident, and not to jump on me when I came in.  She’s angry, now, that we lied to her.  I said, “You were only six, what were we supposed to tell you?”  She said we should have told her the truth, and if she didn’t understand then she would have understood later.  I see a lot of my parents in Sarah, and I’m not sure whether it makes me happy or terrified.

Anyhow, since we’re all too aware of how easy it would be to present the CDRC as a “Group unaffiliated to a registered electoral party, whose aims, actions or literature promote illegal activities or incite public disorder”, we elected to disband.  The Neighbourhood Watch say it only worries people to go around asking if they want help.  “We take care of our own” is the response – but who are our own?  Judy at no. 17 was happy enough to be part of the CDRC when we first called round, but when the Morrisons told her it was radicals and asylum seekers looking for handouts, she came asking for her money back.

It got to the point where there were so few of us that everybody decided to just take their own share of the supplies, and I got left with what nobody else wanted.  I tried to give the remaining food to a homeless shelter, but apparently they’re only allowed to accept cash donations, so I’m currently keeping 30 tins of beans and a 10kg bag of pasta in the caravan.

What a pointless waste of time.  I think now that what I’d really do if I had the power – if I didn’t have to answer to anybody, or worry about keeping my job – I’d get my family the hell away from here and set up in a small-holding, taking care of ourselves as far away from anybody else as possible.

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2026 in memes and quizzes, planning, ranting

 

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Community cohesion – some assembly required…

Once again I find myself with a meme to answer.  What will I do to prepare for the possibility of Blood Flu coming to the UK?

Well, I’m doing all the usual – stocking up on tins and dried food, bottled water, candles, wind-up torches and handset chargers, gas for the camp stove.  I’ve even got our wood-burning fire up and running again, after a few false starts, and a store of logs in the back under a tarp. But there’s something harder to arrange that I can’t help feeling is going to be a whole lot more important, and that’s a little bit of community cohesion.  My parents lived through a revolution, and had to escape it when they saw the tide turning against the free Iran they thought they’d been fighting for.  If the community isn’t strong enough to overcome its fears, it will turn to ideologies of fear, and turn them on itself.  If there’s one thing I learned from my parents, it’s that it won’t be enough to know what I’d do if a crisis came to the UK – I need to know what the people around me will be doing.

In China, despite horrific epidemics that have devastated whole provinces, students whose own families have been affected are calmly entering into effective, well-planned, self-organised quarantines.  In the UK, on the other hand, people are turning on their neighbours at the first rumour of a nosebleed.  Panic buying becomes looting, looting becomes rioting, rioting is put down brutally and sparks more rioting, and the hospital’s full of the injured before anybody even falls sick.  There is altogether too much talk of closing borders and isolating areas and not enough coming together to plan and prepare.  And we all know that it’s because nobody really thinks it’s going to come here – Blood Flu panic is just a handy excuse to disguise any underlying grievances as a legitimate public health concern.

So rather than simply list my own measures, I’m looking at putting together a community response group to ensure that, should my neighbourhood find itself cut off, there are supplies and plans to distribute food to all who need it, and ensure communications with one another and the outside world.  I haven’t been involved in anything like this for years – I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

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Catastrophic Contingencies

This is my result for that apocalypse quiz that’s going round:

You will survive: A Cosy Catastrophe

You will survive: A Cosy Catastrophe

Well, you are fond of your creature comforts, aren’t you? And maybe a little bit too smug about the possibility of Civilisation As We Know It going down the drain.

You’re just itching to create a better world now that the pesky majority of the population’s out of your way. I’m willing to bet that with a stiff upper lip, a healthy dose of denial and an unwavering determination to recreate a British pastoral idyll that never really existed, you could survive anything from Triffids to the Death of Grass.

All you need is a nice little farming community and an appreciation of the simple things to keep your spirits up. But what will you do when the simple things get complicated?

See the story behind this quiz at http://badinfluences.org.uk

Which apocalyptic disaster will you survive?

And speaking of complications and catastrophes, we’re implementing contingencies at work in case of a Bird Flu outbreak in London. As frontline medical staff, we’ve been assured that we’ll get anti-virals, but we also know that these drugs were developed for a very different strain and we’ve no idea how effective they’ll be. We’ve got an isolation ward put aside and Type 2 biohazard suits for all staff – we’ll all look like we’re working in a nuclear power station. Hardly reassuring for the public, and not so comfortable for us, but hopefully it’ll provide some more meaningful protection than those flimsy masks they’re giving out.

On top of that, everybody has to sign up for a three hour training session over the next month, which sounds riveting and will no doubt do wonders for our other targets, not to mention patient care (nobody mentions patient care).

Oh well, I suppose when it all goes to shit, the execs will be able to hold up a document saying they made adequate preparations before retiring to their sealed quarantine facilities. The rest of us will just have to make do the best we can.

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2026 in memes and quizzes, planning, whinging

 

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