The Omega Man Blog
On 12 May 2013, I entered a Cold War bunker and was sealed in there, alone for five days – in total isolation from the outside world.
|Day 3 (Read Blog)
|Day 3 (Emergency Broadcast)
|Saying Goodbye to Shirley
Date: May 2013
The Challenge: 5 days sealed in a Cold War bunker alone and with no other human contact. The only link to the outside world is a single video blog uploaded once a day.
I am sitting in here in the room where I will spend a great deal of time over the next week. It’s a functionalalmost Stalinist room which was used for small conferences and briefings. It’s about 5 metres by 5 metres and heavily populated with those old-fashioned wooden chairs you used to find in schools.
I think I’m suffering from ‘bunker shock’. It’s that moment when I first realise that everyone has left and that I am alone in a huge underground complex which is barely lit. It’s that moment when I hear the silence and the silence in this bunker is audible. It’s the dull, electronic hum of the long fluorescent tube lighting.
It’s 17.30 and I’ve been in the bunker for less than two hours. I sat watching the clock in my room for a few minutes before I realised it wasn’t working. It’s stuck on 07.30. I haven’t unpacked yet but the size of the challenge ahead is beginning to dawn on me. It’s something I don’t think I would have realised unless I’d experienced it first hand. It’s that feeling of oppression once the thick steel doors shut and lock. A feeling akin to claustrophobia although I neither suffer from this condition nor think anyone would with hundreds of square feet of space to move around in.
My thoughts as I sit in my silent barrack room is centre on how the hell I’m going to organise myself to get through almost six days of this degree of isolation. I organised my schedule such that I shouldn’t see another living soul over the course of this week. I came in here with clever ploys to role-play being isolated in a bunker, for example, after a nuclear blast. Sitting here, I realise I don’t really need to do that much role-play. I think the challenge will be real enough without me imagineering zombies or radiation-singed hordes.
I will be making my camp shortly. I am setting up in a defensible corner of the room and then barricading the door when I sleep which will be in about ten hours. I’m got a four seasons army sleeping bag and an inflatable mattress. I’ve learn before the peril of sleeping on a hard floor. And what about barricading the door I hear you ask? Well, I think you’d do the same in my situation. If someone or something comes through that door I want to make bloody sure I have some time to react.
I can see one of my biggest challenges will be to avoid a creeping malaise which I already feel after being here for only a few hours alone. I don’t know if it’s my imagination but my energy levels feel like they’ve been sapped about 20% just being here underground. The challenge ahead will, I think, be tackled by a combination of German Army style scheduling, a vigorous routine of physical activity and steel re-enforced nerves. After checking my kit bag, I don’t seem to have packed any of these items. However, I do have a jumbo pack of chewy sweets, a couple of books and countless pot noodles. Come on apocalypse! I’m ready for ya.
Just had a few tries at video blogging. I was hoping I’d sound like Richard Burton but instead it’s a mix of Mr Bean and John Major – what I wouldn’t give for a few magic pills that would make me look and sound a bit more George Clooney and a bit less George Formby. Still, that’s the peril of video blogging. I also realised I’m going to have to make this content interesting. I tried a few practice sessions and watching them back almost made me fall asleep so some work to be done here I think. I also found that I have something of a ‘startled rabbit in the headlights’ look about me which I’m sure would be of interest to horror movie producers. I just need that big break. Maybe I can throw in a few cheeky gags to liven things up. One thing is for certain, there won’t be any ukulele playing. That really would be selling out to commercialism.
I completed and uploaded my first video blog a few hours ago. I was happy with the result. I kept it to about 4 minutes and I think it introduced people to the environment I currently find myself in. I am typing this is the common room next to the canteen. It’s the most non-military room in the bunker and feels more ‘safe’ than the others at the moment. I’ve made good use of the canteen to make soup and helped myself to a few snacks. I won’t go hungry on this trip.
Tiredness is really kicking in, despite completing a workout and being loaded with caffeine. It’s 02.00 hours now and I need to last until at least 05.00 hours to really get myself onto a night time schedule. I think it’s going to be a long few hours through tonight.
I haven’t done much exploring today. It’s been enough just to get in here and establish myself. Tomorrow I will venture further a field and explore more of the bunker.
After a long and very good nights sleep, I woke up to realise I was still under hundreds of feet of concrete and in the bunker. It’s a cliché but everything really does seem better in the morning. I awoke, tidied my sleeping area and packed my kit. I have got into the habit of carrying everything I need for the day to the canteen and common room areas of the complex as they are more comfortable and more homely. It’s not that I’m afraid to venture back down into the bowels of the bunker during the day but it does feel a bit like when people spend the ‘day at the beach’ when on holiday. I pack up my pc and books and carry everything one floor up to the common room.
I loved the book ‘I am Legend’ though I felt the film didn’t quite live up to my expectations. However, there are small details in the movie which I have realised are actually very acute survival observations. For example, when preparing my breakfast this morning, I flicked on a pre-recorded news broadcast from the BBC, just to have some background noise. There are two pertinent points here. Firstly, the recording could have been from anytime, it was just hearing people speaking and having their words drown out the humming silence. Secondly, before coming here I didn’t fully realise the impact of being cut off. Having the news broadcast run, even if I’m not listening to it, made me feel as if I’m part of something. Taking that second point to the extreme, it made me feel as if I was still a connected part of the species and one wonders how the truth of really being the last human would impact on the mentality of any survivor. I’m lucky. I have a target date for release - an end date.
My energy levels are still what I consider below normal, despite a good rest last night. This may be due to switching onto a different time schedule. I can’t believe that the lack of natural light would have an impact that quickly.
My plans today include an intensive workout which should blow any cobwebs away and further exploration of the bunker. I have a key to the armoury so I want to check that out and maybe complete my video blog from another room.
On the subject of video blogs, I realised I have been worrying about the potential impact or lack of, of posting my video blogs. My fear is that no one would be interested. The web abounds with content now and my short posts will surely just disappear under a mound of other content. So, I think I need to re-confirm exactly why I’m doing this. Why I am spending a week of my holiday sealed in an underground bunker? Why I am facing what I’ve come realise is a significant personal challenge? I hope one of the answers is to make me a better writer. I want to capture the thoughts and feelings of being trapped underground. But, I also have the feeling this whole exercise is going to teach me something about myself. I certainly needed to draw on some inner fortitude yesterday on day one.
Completed an hour long workout this morning and just shot a book review video down in one of the basement rooms. I also visited the armoury which is an Aladdin’s cave of fire arms. I chose the AK-47 without a second thought and locked the room again. I’m going to keep it for this week. If any weapon symbolises struggle around the world then it’s this assault rifle.
I haven’t been able to get into fiction writing yet. I think the challenge is that to write fiction you need to disappear completely into the text and in such an environment I just haven’t been able to do that. I’m fine writing my blog and the video blogging looks like it is going to keep me busy but I just don’t feel like I can escape into writing. Writing apocalyptic fiction takes you into a fantasy world much like any other fiction. However, for apocalyptic stories, it seems to be much easier to write from a position of comfort. In an oppressive nuclear bunker, sealed off from the world and alone, I cannot even begin to write ‘end of the world’ stories; at least, not yet.
I find myself relying on music more and more, always preferring to have something on in the background. Thinking back again to the ‘I am Legend’ film, I remember smirking when he put Bob Marley on. Now, I get an insight into why this is exactly what a survivor would do. Just to keep in touch with humanity - to hear a voice and drown out the electric silence.
I completed a general sweep of the bunker. The AK-47 weighs a fair few pounds but I’m trying to keep it with me at all times. I took a few book cover shots around the place.
Day Two is passing more quickly than Day One. My day is built around my schedule and I may complete another half-hour workout later this afternoon. One thing I can already say with some certainty is that if you don’t have an organised plan, scheduled meal times and real structure, you could easily lose track of things. You’d end up eating when you are hungry, washing when you felt like it and lounging around. Maybe that’s just the sort of person I am. I feel I need routine and a structure. I have my written up and I’m sticking to it.
Day Two ends shortly. It’s 05.30 and I’ve just eaten dinner. I completed my second video blog this afternoon in one take and have posted it.
I am sitting here in the common room listening to more music. Any sound is better than no sound here. I can only imagine what it would be like to be in silence for months on end. I would prefer to listen to re-runs of the news from a decade ago than be in silence.
First cold shower – well, as much of a shower as you can have from a small sink. I drenched myself in freezing water then rubbed down like my life depended on it. It felt good to get clean and it’s late enough now for me to retreat to my sealed room and lock down for the night.
I woke up earlier today but just sat reading for a bit to ensure I keep on schedule - breakfast at 06.00 hrs then an hour organising kit and patrolling before my workout. An interesting observation I have noted is how easy it is to lose track of time here in the bunker. I have a network of watches and clocks to monitor and I find myself constantly checking them to confirm what time of ‘day’ it is. For example, there are CCTV monitors checking the approaches to the bunker outside so I can watch snippets of the outside world. I can see that it’s day and I know roughly what time it is but it really could be any day. I’ve only been in a few days and I could easily get confused whether it was Tuesday or Wednesday etc.
I have all the electricity I need here in the bunker. Life without it here would quickly descend to a medieval existence of burning torches and cooking fires. With the lights off here, the entire place in plunged into darkness. Not the shadowy darkness you often find in the forest surrounding this bunker but real pitch blackness. I have no constraints on how much power I use and as such most of the rooms I occupy are fully lit. I have found it a comfort and support to walk into illuminated rooms rather than dark or shadowy areas. I suppose it’s human nature to seek illumination, I just always took it for granted until now.
I will be filming my video blog later in the infirmary. It should be an interesting shoot. I have some reading and several other book trailers to do as well. The days seem to be passing quickly enough but I have a feeling that by the time Friday comes I will be ready to leave.
Patrol completed, perimeter check completed and workout completed. I’ve prepared some material for the third video blog and I’m about to take a coffee break and watch a DVD. Without live television, I can see how vital a decent film library would be if you were stuck down here for months. I’d written about it in the Official Zombie Handbook UK. It was something I’d read about in other survival books. And now, I know why it’s so important. It’s the ability to step outside the stillness and quiet of the bunker, into another world, if only for an hour or so. I’ve got books with me, many of which I intended to read. I imagined pleasurable hours lost in some of the great fiction I’ve got here. However, I’ve read very little since I’ve been here. I think it’s the silence that makes it more uncomfortable when you are trying to read. This surprised me as I always thought I preferred total silence when I read, for example, I’ve never been one to listen to the radio or music as I read. But here in the confines of the bunker, I find it nigh on impossible to really get into a book.
My video blog for the day has been completed and uploaded. I hope these broadcasts are of interest to people. They are only short, mostly less than 4 minutes. Most of my thoughts are recorded here in the written blog. I am shortly going to start preparing lunch. Meals become important affairs when days could so easily slip into inactivity. The selection and preparation becomes almost as significant as the actual food. Sitting down and eating is like a pin in my day. It stops drifting into disordered habits like snacking when you want. It’s not about being a disciplinarian. It’s about keeping to a schedule which I believe, in the long term, would keep you sane. I’m only here for 5 days. If you were here for months, possibly more, you would need this discipline to avoid a steady decline in self, fitness and survival attitude.
Day three was cut short by a power cut. I was up in the canteen when suddenly all of the lights went out. (Note Added Much Later - I realise the irony seeing as I only wrote about this in the entry before but this was not a planned ‘stunt’ or ‘test’ – I later found out it was a genuine power cut for the region!) Within seconds, the emergency lights flickered into life but I needed to make some decisions. I packed up my day kit, the things I normally transfer to the common room for the day. I then sheepishly made my way downstairs to my sleeping quarters. It was about three hours until I was due to sleep anyway so I decided to call it a day and get an early night.
The bunker is certainly different when cast in the dim, yellowy light of the emergency system but what really tested my fortitude were the various bells and warnings. At first, I feared that they would make it hard for me to sleep but I managed to rig the few closest to me so they were quieter than the others.
I had no idea if the power would come back on. All I could do for the moment was to bed down and get some sleep. You’d think I’d struggle to sleep after the shock of the power failure but in fact, I managed to do a quick extra video blog which looked like something out of the Blair Witch Project, then got straight to sleep.
It has been tough for days on end down here in the bunker. I love the outdoors and not being able to see the sky or get fresh air has certainly impacted on my energy levels which I think are still lower than normal despite physical exercise. I have doubtless grown more comfortable moving around the bunker and have been strict on keeping to my schedule. However, even though I have had some success as a writer, I still find it almost impossible to capture the dull bleakness of being trapped below ground. If I feel like that after four days, imagine how it would be after four weeks or even four months. Add to that, the knowledge that the world outside is either dying of plague or burning under a nuclear attack, then the pressure of maintaining order in a location like this would be a formidable challenge.
There is much I admire in the military and in a location such as this; only military discipline seems to work. For example, I change every day into my ‘uniform’ whereas I could just as easily lounge around in jogging bottoms and an old t-shirt. Maybe I’m being too dramatic. Maybe it’s just that it is so easy for a survivor to lose track of things here. Yesterday, I had to carefully calculate when I was due to leave. I’d got that confused with the days.
I think I have finally grasped the times I’m going to have to work with to ensure that I’m not a total zombie when I get picked up on Friday morning. It’s now 03.00 Thursday morning so I’ll be getting to bed in an hour or so. I then wake up at around 16.00 hrs on Thursday. I keep in my room until 18.00 hrs then emerge for breakfast and a ‘morning’ of activity. If I can get to sleep again at around 02.00 or thereabouts, I should be back on normal time. I know I sound like I’m labouring the point but this has taken me hours to work out.
I really am looking forward to getting out of the bunker now. It’s been an amazing experience and I’ve learnt a lot about myself. It takes fortitude to survive in a place like this alone and this week has shown just how tough it would be. Of course, I’ve had none of the psychological pressure which would come for a real survivor but equally, I know that any military personnel in the bunker would have regular tasks to perform. I can easily understand way a sealed off team here would have to allocate jobs for each survivor – some task, no matter how mundane, that is going to keep them occupied for at least five hours a day. I’m aware of the irony. We spend all our time these days wishing we had more free time. Well, down here I’ve had endless hours of free time and yet have only been able to function effectively under a strict regime of activity and patrols.
I’m up much earlier than normal in an attempt to get back onto ‘world time’. As a consequence, I’ve been barricaded in my room for several hours as I wait for the bunker to go into lock down. I managed to use my portable kettle from Argos – it made one cup of coffee then broke - quite an achievement for Argos really but at least I got one cup.
Today I’ll be shooting my last video blog and posting that. I’ll only have a long evening in the bunker before I go back to bed. I will complete my normal schedule of patrols and some exercise but it’s obvious that, with my impending liberation, things have changed. I have started thinking about the world again. About work issues that haven’t crossed my mind the whole week. For these last five days I have been truly cut off from the world, not only because of my self-imposed blackout but also because my mind has been so occupied with day to day survival here.
With my final few solitary hours ahead in the bunker, I wanted to review this experience. My motivations were mixed coming down here. Firstly, being cut off from the world is something I’ve always wanted to try. Well, I achieved this and gained just a small insight into how difficult it would really be to be cut off. I have realised that I take human interaction for granted. When you are alone for extended periods any words exchanged with another human start to mean something. In my everyday life it’s non-stop contact, one becomes almost punch drunk with perspectives and opinions whilst your brain is using about 80% of its capacity to plan your response to whatever you think is coming next. In isolation, that is taken away.
Another of my objectives was to gather raw material for my writing. To be honest, I don’t know how I have fared with this. Gaining experience and insight is one thing, being able to translate it into words and fiction is quite another. I suspect the experience is lurking around there in my mind but I don’t yet know whether I’ll ever be able to access and use it. This blog may help.
Finally, I thought this whole project would support my books and website. I have no idea if this has been achieved. I haven’t actively pushed my books during any of the video blogs – that’s not what I wanted to do. I suppose the two objectives above are enough, if more people know me because of this then great. To be truthful, what started out as a clever marketing stunt & fun thing ended up as one of the greatest challenges I’ve faced in my life – that’ll teach me.
It’s 19.30 in the evening now on Thursday and I’m going to loaf around a bit before getting an ‘early’ night. I have a DVD to watch and some light exercise to do then I’ll have to think about packing up my kit. I need another shower but I’m not sure I can face another cold strip wash, not with the luxury of a hot shower just over 24 hours away.
I can’t get over that feeling that I am about to be liberated. It must have been how people felt in 1945 – that realisation that you will soon be free! Or I suppose if you’ve been in prison for a long period. I can only begin to imagine the stress that change would entail. I can’t imagine being in a place like this for say a year and then being released into the world.
I managed to get back onto normal timings quite well so felt good waking up this morning knowing that my liberation was at hand. I got up early and breakfasted as normal. I raced around the bunker snapping some last minute photos and when I was picked up, Constance shot some more.
It’s great to be back in the world but it’s going to take my brain some time to process this whole experience. I don’t know how people cope who have been away for months or even years. I’ve got a bit of quiet time this afternoon to work things through.
The Omega Man Blog was a unique experience. Not something I would rush to repeat but something I would not have missed for the world.
This is Sean T. Page from the bunker signing out.