Friday, 18 March 2011

Waking nightmares.

Some already know I write tales of terror for fun and profit (for those who don't, a free sample download is available here). There is only one thing more fun than scaring the crap out of people, and that is being paid for it.

There are many being paid for it these days, and many more who are terrified for no other obvious reason than that they like to be terrified. Even when a perceived threat is proven beyond all doubt to be no threat at all, still they are scared. I don't know when 'terrified' became the default human response to everything, but it has.

There was a Muslim woman on a plane. On a plane, mind, not trying to get on. She was on it, so she had already been through the security that is so scared of everything that they actually believe you can hijack a plane with a pair of tweezers or a steel comb. "Fly this plane to Cuba or the stewardess gets a centre parting and one thin eyebrow. Don't mess with me, I have ginger hair dye too. Ha! It was only 99ml so you couldn't stop me."

This Muslim woman was speaking on her phone. You know, those phones we have to switch off because phoning home while the plane is in flight will make its wings drop off. We can have those, but no tweezers. Anyway, the plane was ready to leave so she finished her conversation and turned off her phone.

One of the flight crew overheard her and thought she said 'It's a go'. She claims she said 'I've got to go' but what she said doesn't really matter. The plane was halted, she was taken off and went through security once again, this time on the premise that she was intending to spontaneously combust in mid-air.

So far, no big deal. The air crew were just being cautious, the woman was inconvenienced but was proven to be no threat at all. So she reboarded and all was well, right?

TSA agents patted down her headscarf but soon recognised their mistake and did not even inspect her handbag or cellphone. But they refused to let her back on the plane because the crew was 'uncomfortable' with her presence, she was told.

She had just been checked twice as hard as every other passenger and crew member on that flight. She was demonstrably the safest person on the entire plane. Yet the crew were still scared of her!

Okay, the crew had suspicions and were correct to check. They checked. She was no threat. But the initial suspicion stood anyway! It's not a case of 'guilty until proven innocent' but of 'guilty even when proven innocent'.

If this continues I can make a fortune selling a book with 'Boo!' on every page. It'll scare these people every time they read it. If it's in a really big font on the last page they'll probably make a film of it.

Here in the UK, Dick Turpin has been resurrected to find that modern stagecoaches travel a bit faster than he's used to. Oh, and his single-shot pistol is now an airgun, but it's so astoundingly powerful that it can smash a train window.

I still have an air rifle. I don't know if it still works, it hasn't been out of its case for about ten years. I'm not even sure if I still have any pellets for it. One thing I am sure of, it wouldn't do much more than chip toughened glass unless you held the barrel right to the glass. The best way to break a window with it would be to use the butt end. From a distance, no chance.

Eight packed Central line trains were targeted in the attack last night. One driver warned his passengers to get away from the windows, telling them: "There has been someone shooting at the trains with an air rifle."

Shouldn't the driver be driving?

Police believe most of the damage was caused by youths throwing stones but they are investigating reports that an air rifle was also used.

I think the police deduction is more likely to be the correct one here. Hold a stone in one hand and a .22 pellet in the other. No matter what airgun you have, it's not going to impart as much force to that little pellet as you can to a stone with a good throw. The funny thing is, nobody seems interested in the stones.

Accountant Kevin Jones, 32, who was on one of the trains, told today how the driver had alerted his passengers and added: "It was crazy, scary. What kind of psycho would shoot at passengers on a train?

With an air rifle? Firing at toughened glass from a distance? The kind of psycho whose heart really isn't in it, or a trainee psycho, or one who just can't quite get the hang of the whole psycho thing, or maybe one who was stupid enough to write 'Psycho' in the occupation box on the shotgun licence application form. In other words, the kind of psycho you laugh at rather than cower from. Personally I'd be far more concerned about the stone-throwing ones.

There is an interesting angle to this whole story, however...

The attacked happened at about 6pm between Stratford and Leyton, an area known for line vandalism.

In the comments, there's this -

"Last time I went on the Central Line (the day before yesterday) the entire section between Leyton and Stratford was still underground, as to the best of my knowledge it always has been." - Toby Webster, Ongar, England, 17/03/2011 15:57

Same for me on Monday 14th. The tunnel mouths east of Stratford are within the station. The tunnel mouths west of Leyton are behind Westdown Road E15.
So exactly where have these incidents happened?
- Alan Griffiths, Forest Gate, LONDON. E7, 17/03/2011 18:37

I have no personal experience of this line at all. So is this a case of a train attacked by goblins and cave trolls, or are the local trainee psychos drilling tiny holes in the tunnels to poke airguns through?

Or is it just another of those 'Airgun! Aaah! Be scared of airguns for they are the tools of the Devil!' stories?

If they want my airgun for destruction they can have it. It only cost me thirty quid when I bought it, it was always inaccurate, I have long since lost all the pellets, it's probably rusted by now and since moving into town I have nowhere to use it anyway. The only reason I haven't sold it is that it's not worth the price of a decent malt whisky. By now it won't be worth the price of own-brand gutrot. In fact, wait a few more years and it will likely have rendered itself unusable.

However, banning airguns would be another step in the disarming of the population, a wonderful idea from a government who has us involved in two wars and is setting up for more. Great idea - make the entire population utterly scared of any form of weapon and then expect them to support or even fight wars. The principle extends to the military, who are not allowed to have proper weapons in case they hurt the enemy. I no longer wonder what our politicians are thinking. I wonder whether.

If they get down to taking airguns away, weapons which are going to do little more than severely annoy anyone they are fired at, then watch for the inspectors coming in to take away your kitchen knives and be ready to carve that Sunday roast with a spoon.

That assumes you survive the deadly radiation heading to the US and then Europe in the form of a huge glowing cloud with a Japanese accent. When the Americans bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nobody panicked even though there must have been far more radiation coming back over the Pacific from that. When all those test bombs go off in the USA, nobody panics because it's healthy, government-approved American radiation.

Now, like tobacco smoke, radioactive clouds do not disperse when travelling over the biggest ocean on the planet. None of it drops into the sea. No, like the bees in the old cartoons, they form an arrow shape and zoom straight for their target. The terrified.

Panic struck in America with thousands of people buying gas masks, emergency protection kits, and drugs to ward against nuclear fallout.

Take a look at how many deliberate nuclear explosions have happened right in your back yard, as opposed to the non-nuclear explosion in the Japanese reactor, thousands of miles away. There are still people working in that reactor, although their chances of coming out alive are not good. That's genuine altruism, working to save others knowing you're pretty much doomed. There's not much of that around these days.

Those selling the emergency gear include many who are exploiting the disaster in Japan for personal gain. There is a hell of a lot of that going on.

How many nuclear bombs have gone off on this planet? By 1998, the figure stood at 2053. Not reactor leaks. Actual nuclear bombs. Not one of them was Japanese. Nobody is scared of two thousand nuclear bombs but one leaking reactor and the whole world panics. Yes, it will be horrible if that reactor goes into meltdown but all that safety gear, masks and drugs and Geiger counters? You're buying them sixty years too late. The radioactive steam coming across the Pacific won't even show against the background levels in the US and Europe now.

I write scary stories. I write them as entertainment. Mine are all fiction.

So are most of the ones in the newspapers. The difference is, people believe newspapers. Unlike a work of fiction, they don't put it down and laugh it off. They really believe all those tales of terror and despair and they no longer have nightmares when they sleep.

For many, the nightmares begin when they wake up.


JuliaM said...

"One driver warned his passengers to get away from the windows..."

How? Have you seen or ridden on a Tube train? They are ALL WINDOWS!

Short of lying on the floor (if packed, unlikely) it's impossible.

JuliaM said...

Disclaimer: I used to work at Stratford, long ago, and even then, it was the sort of place where the Rottweillers went round in pairs for safety. I can't believe it's got better, despite the money thrown at it in the vanguard of the Olympics.

As far as the tunnels go, well, take a look at Leyton on Wikipedia and you'll see it is actually quite open around the station area. You wouldn't need the marksman skills of Jason Bourne to hit a tube train, though you would certainly need his equipment to do more damage. As you say, the stones are far more dangerous.

JuliaM said...

Funny anecdote - just after I worked there, a friend worked for a government office in Romford that was considering moving to Stratford, much to the displeasure of the staff, who'd heard of its reputation.

One of the team managers, no doubt with an eye to getting a commendation for forward thinking, decided to take his team on an awayday to show them how safe it was.

Sadly, he was leading his team through the dreadfully shabby shopping mall at the exact same moment a gang of armed robbers decided to do the bank (or post office, can't quite remember). Cue police action, mall lockdown, the works.


PT Barnum said...

Throwing stuff at trains seems to be a hobby in some parts of the country. When I commuted long distance every week, I lost count of the number of times a missile thudded onto a carriage roof, or the train had to be stopped so that a deliberately placed object, intended to derail a train, could be removed from the track.

I can also testify to the effects of a half brick on a train carriage window while travelling at some speed- explosive noise, large hole, glass crumbs and a strong wind ripping through everything. Followed by the train stopping (which struck me as making us more of a target) and the forced evac of that carriage before continuing the journey.

Strange idea of sport some folk have.

Anonymous said...

Wonder how much of post WW2 cancer is linked to fall out from the test bombs? The early ones were air bursts.

will said...

Fear equals control. Whether its toy guns, real guns, power stations, Muslim people, tobacco or CO2 the sheeple can be cowed into surrendering ever more freedoms.
There's usually money to be made from fear too and it is almost always false. If the costs of the need to 'do something' could not be externalised then all the pacifists, nationalists, puritans and environmentalists would soon become a lot more realistic and leave the rest of us alone.
The state needs fear and the fearful need the state

Anonymous said...

A bog-standard airgun made to British spec tops out at 12 foot-pounds muzzle energy by law, though a lot of the Chinese imports can be a few percent either side of that. You can push up the output of spring-powered airguns with a bigger spring, some thought as to piston head design, tweaking the transfer port shape and even introducing light oil into the cylinder to induce dieselling. Doing any of these will transform a perfectly good airgun into a bucking, kicking monster that can't hit a barn door at ten paces and is still way, way below the muzzle energy of a home-made matchlock hand-cannon (even assuming medieval-grade powder is used).

People do try this, with the aforementioned results, but more often the sort of tweaking done on a spring airgun is to take a high-energy rated gun and reduce the output power to make the gun better-mannered, less recoiling and better to use in, say, hunting field target competitions or similar (high-end pneumatics are banned from such competitions, to give everyone a fairer chance; it ain't fair it I turn up with £2500 of Steyr rifle and Zeiss scope to compete against Joe Ordinary with his Hatsan springer and Tasco scope).

If you fire an airgun at a toughened glass window, the pellet will flatten and bounce off. If you're standing foresquare in front of the glass, you'll get the pellet back in your face, although with no great force (the same happens if you miss the hole in a bell target; the pellet bounces straight back at you). Airguns won't break train windows, or shouldn't; it ought to take quite hefty stones to do that.

If you want something to be worried about, worry about slings, slingshots and catapults. A decently well-made sling and slingstone can fly over 100 metres, and retain a lot of energy at the end of that flight, plus a string-only sling can be made out of common or garden string in five minutes or so. What're you going to do, ban string or something?

This is clearly another example of the modern Righteous mental illness whereby an object is confused with an action. Guns aren't dangerous, knives aren't dangerous either, but madmen wielding either with intent to cause harm ARE dangerous, and deserve punishment if they commit crimes. If not, leave 'em be.

Maturecheese said...

Dr Dan Holdsworth

I whole heartedly agree with your last paragraph and just wish that the Government would.

I was arrested and cautioned after 4 hours in custody for having a small 'lockable' utility knife on my keyring whilst on the way to Tesco in my car. As a 47 year old with no interest in knifing anybody, living in an area where that sort of thing is rare, I was appalled by my treatment. I can assure you it has done nothing to improve my opinion of the Police or the Lawmakers.

Excellent article again LI, the Psycho bit had me laughing.

Ed P said...

It's not the radioactive steam that's the main danger. The spent fuel rods in the (now not) cooling ponds contain many tons of complex radionucleides, all of which may yet be dispersed in a fire. It seems insane that storing spent fuel in open ponds on top of a nuclear reactor in an earthquake & tsunami zone was ever considered acceptable or safe, but I expect commercial factors were involved. The problem is how to cool these rods down again, before they meltdown - difficult when the 45 foot deep ponds have almost certainly been ruptured by the earthquake. This could easily yet become a disaster ten times worse than Chernobyl.
Oh, all the airburst nuclear tests in the 50s & 60s did produce a measureable increase in background radiation (& therefore, statistically, an increase in cancers). The worst of all this is the alpha emitters - very dangerous if ingested, which is why topping up with (good) iodine now may prevent uptake of iodine isotopes later.

Anonymous said...

Dr Dan's right. A catapult shoots a stone with about 18ft/lb of energy, more than an air-rifle. The sling (a weapon in which I happen to be proficient) was used in ancient warfare.
"A decently well-made sling and slingstone can fly over 100 metres"
Correct, and it's easy to make a good sling for a few pence-worth of string in a few minutes. Then all you need is practice, lots of it, well away from anything breakable or killable.
"Stonovolanta" and plenty of others on Youtube show a sling being made and used. is a good resource for anyone interested.

Dr Evil said...

We have a constitutional right to bear arms under the Bill of Rights 1689

Dave H. said...

Re. the 12 ft-lbs legal energy limits for airguns.

If you can serve a 60g tennis ball at 45m/s, you're delivering a projectile at about three times more than an unlicensed airgun is allowed by law.

And 45m/s isn't anything special. Venus Williams can serve them with more than twice that energy. I haven't worked it out, but I wouldn't be surprised if top male tennis players weren't delivering more like 0.22" levels of energy.

So, in the interests of public safety, can we demand that serving tennis balls must be appropriately licensed? Don't worry, it won't affect A. Murray*.

*Chauvinistic remark by what is popularly referred to as an Englishbastard.

(WV=meduckee, which is what we Morris Dancers call one another)

Anonymous said...

"Numerous injuries are reported to health institutions, worldwide, in relation to cricket ball injuries including: occular (with some players having even lost eyes), cranial (head), dental (teeth), digital (fingers and toes) and testicular."
Chalcedon - I always go armed, my little paracord sling makes an unobstrusive "monkey's fist" key-ring, and it hits harder than any cricket ball could possibly be thrown by a mortal.

Anonymous said...

"However, banning airguns would be another step in the disarming of the population"

Air guns are banned, in San Francisco, California, USA. Regular guns they introduce a gun ban every other year and it so far has been ruled unconstitutional, but they still keep trying. Starting next year, they are promising to ban male circumcision. (Yes, they are going to ban it, in San Francisco, just to demonstrate how strong unchecked government power can become.)

"How many nuclear bombs have gone off on this planet? By 1998, the figure stood at 2053."

And, when all those above ground tests were happening, at the exact same time Richard Doll was paid a huge amount of money to take everyone's attention from that source of radiation being thrown into the atmosphere and instead concentrate everyone's fear to the cigarette, eventually SHS.

I guess if the Japanese reactor spills radioactivity into the air, they will have to call ASH into action to step up the SHS fraud so nobody will think to blame the reactors for the increase in cancer that will happen.

Bucko said...

If you want to flog that air rifle, I'll give you twenty quid for it, plus postage.
Just send me an email.

Anonymous said...

Maybe some fuckers from ASh et al could volunteer to save the power plants?

After all can't be more deadly than ETS/SHS can it.

The odds must be stacked in their favour, UNLESS some of the operatives were having a fag break.

selsey.steve said...

@Ed P
You said "The spent fuel rods in the (now not) cooling ponds contain many tons of complex radio nucleides, all of which may yet be dispersed in a fire. It seems insane that storing spent fuel in open ponds on top of a nuclear reactor in an earthquake & tsunami zone was ever considered acceptable or safe, but I expect commercial factors were involved."

Sorry, you're wrong. The rods were stored on-site at the insistence of Green Groups who wanted to "stem the spread of radio-active materials". Blame the Greens for the present problems, the engineers warned of potential problems but were over-ruled.

selsey.steve said...

No air gun legally sold in the UK can cause so much as a scratch of a train window. All the damage caused to train windows is by thrown stones.
(said as an ex-BTP employee)

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