This Side of the Pond – June 26

By Sarah Pridgeon

When I was little, I always had a plan. At some point during my first few years of existence, somebody must have mentioned that it’s best to know what to do should a fire break out in your home. Apparently, I took that to mean that I should have an escape route for every eventuality. And because I was young and ill-informed, some of those eventualities were rather more likely than others.

Unfortunately, it has come to my attention that my plans are neither as comprehensive as I thought nor as useful as they once were. With this being the second year in a row during which a tornado has threatened to pull me out of Kansas, it would appear that it’s time for a rethink.

A fire plan is still, of course, a good idea. These days it’s as simple as heading for the door that’s furthest from the flames while carrying the dog under one arm. Back in the day, my strategies were more elaborate.

My first fire plan involved climbing through my bedroom window on the upper story, clambering across the roof of the porch and then shimmying down the drainpipe. I wasn’t sure if I ought to give the last leg a go just to check that I could manage it, but eventually decided that I wasn’t going to feel brave enough until I really needed to do it.

I figured that, if all else failed, I could fling myself into the waiting arms of my father, who I reasoned would definitely be waiting for me in the front yard. It at no point occurred to me that he would be frantically searching the top floor for his missing daughter.

My tsunami plan is less necessary, in either of the countries I call home. The need to prepare for a giant wave was all that I took away from childhood viewings of the old Godzilla movies, during which there is always at least one incident of ocean-based peril.

Not really understanding that tsunamis are powerful events, my plan for this was simple: find a lamp post, cling to it and wait for the wave to pass. I even practiced holding my breath until I could do so for approximately one minute. It’s just as well that tsunamis are rare events in Europe, to be honest.

My plan for lions and tigers, just like my tsunami preparations, was born of childhood ignorance. At the age of five, nobody had thought to tell me that oversized African predators don’t tend to be wandering around the suburbs of southern England, because it simply didn’t occur to them that this was a fact in need of sharing.

I’d never even seen a lion, so I’m not sure where my concerns came from, but they quickly developed into a crippling fear of playing in the back yard alone. If forced to spend time in the sunshine, because apparently it’s “good for you,” I would position myself in direct view of the gate that led to the street in front of our house.

Despite there being a sprawling heath at the end of the garden that was home to all manner of wildlife, I was presumably convinced that a tiger would arrive on the bus. When this inevitably came to pass, my plan was to flee for the summer house, where I would screech for help until my father arrived (which wouldn’t take long because he would again be waiting for me in the front yard).

You can imagine my delight at moving to a country where having a lion plan is useful – for once, I can claim to have come prepared for something. I have, however, found it necessary to include some adaptations.

For one thing, my father isn’t in the front yard as far as I know and, for another, I’ve come to realize that he’d be about as handy in a mountain lion situation as I would. There is also the slight hitch that I no longer have access to a summer house.

Instead, my plan is as follows: never go anywhere without at least two dogs or a fierce husband and carry a stick as a last resort. If possible during the twilight hours, never leave the safety of a vehicle.

My thunderstorm plan is also still relevant and requires no changes at all. I have a friend back home who was struck by lightning while walking on the moors; she woke up a little later at the bottom of a hill, perfectly healthy and clasping the still-smoking handle of her umbrella.

My plan is therefore to always carry an umbrella during lightning events and wear gumboots to absorb the shock. Just like they did for my friend, these preparations should turn a deadly event into a brief and pleasant nap.

I have also introduced some new plans to my list, having discovered more hazards to be terrified of. With help from my new family, I have prepared myself for snowstorms: grab a fluffy blanket, stock up on DVDs and make sure you have plenty of potato chips.

My plan for a blackout is about the same except that, for this situation, we have purchased a card game that can be seen in near-darkness to keep us entertained when the television turns off. I will be using the cat as a hot water bottle, though I don’t expect her to be happy about it.

As for tornadoes? Well, I learned my lesson last year, when my poor dad-in-law was forced to sidestep my request to take a shower before we headed for shelter. I now know that it’s important to watch the skies for hints of green and to always be squeaky clean during tornado season.

My final plan has thus far not been necessary in any of the cities I’ve called home. Thanks to my recurring childhood nightmares about an angry tyrannosaurus rex, I could never quite shake the feeling that, eventually, a dinosaur would decide it wanted to eat me. Thanks to Steven Spielberg, I then learned that velociraptors could scupper my well-crafted dinosaur arrangements by opening the door to my closet.

Lying in bed one night with the window open, at least 30 feet above the ground, a niggle scratched at the back of my head that velociraptors can jump pretty high. The more I thought about it, the more I came to believe that leaving the window open was really just asking for trouble.

I am perfectly aware that the dinosaurs are extinct, and that they weren’t keen on cities even when they were alive, but I still closed that window – better to be safe than sorry. I was in my 20s at the time.

Common sense might dictate that it’s probably time to let go of my dinosaur plan and focus on real and present problems, but I think I’ll hold on to it for the time being. After all, I now know that everything here from weather patterns to wildlife is bigger and scarier than in England.

It’s therefore safe to assume that, if a prehistoric chicken is going to attack me anywhere in the world, it’s probably going to be in Wyoming.