How to tell if the AK47 pointed in your face is loaded

Location My ever-confused house, now doubling as military training centre | Mood Nervous tension bordering on hysteria | Date 5 April 2006
Author (full name): 
Franny Armstrong
My ever-confused house, now doubling as military training centre
Nervous tension bordering on hysteria
"Airway! Breathing! Circulation! Airway! Breathing! Circulation!"
Sore arm from jabs yesterday
5 April 2006
Current crisis: 
Which particular lie to put on immigration form at Lagos airport


After various friends and family calmly and touchingly and repeatedly asked me not to go to Nigeria, I thought the least I could do to take their concerns seriously was a Hostile Environments training course.

The next thing I know there's a fully fledged SAS man in my front room explaining how to shoot our way out of fake checkpoints, how not to be the first hostage picked for execution (be the "grey person" who the kidnappers don't remember), how to drive our armoured personnel vehicle over suspicious civilians, when to stop and help an injured local person (never - even if you ran them over), where to hide during a shootout (behind the engine of a car, bullets only set the petrol alight in movies) and how to tell if the AK47 pointed in your face is loaded or not. After a couple of hours in this vein, we had to explain that we are dramatically more low-budget than his usual clients: rather than flak jackets, armed security agents and stand-by helicopters, we're more of the out-of-date bandages and one mobile phone between two.

As we couldn't afford the course on our own, we'd rounded up a few more indie filmmaker types, one of whom turned out to be an ace funk piano player. So we freaked out our SAS man even more by having 10-minute jamming sessions on the drums and piano in-between first aid lessons. First aid lessons which Lizzie was worryingly bad at, given that she'll be the one (not) saving me.

Very useful to learn the concept of a Flap Sheet (or Try Not To Flap Sheet, as it was soon re-christened). A piece of paper with all the emergency contacts, hospitals, funeral requests, what-have-you. My dad was nominated as key contact - to be texted everyday at 9pm - but after two days trying unsuccessfully to ask him - from London - by phone, mobile, text and email, decided he probably wasn't the man for the job. So my sister kindly volunteered to take over and managed not to bat too many eyelids when she read the part about her "mobilising the military" if we're not heard of for 36 hours.

Lizzie filmed bits of the day for the Making Of Crude documentary. She asked Mr SAS to sum up how to keep safe filming in Nigeria and he said: "Don't go".