BEFORE being sent off anywhere deemed to be dangerous, Economist correspondents undergo a not-especially-gruelling week of first aid and fine dining in a hotel on the Welsh borders. I had my suspicions that the course was as much to reassure our insurers as it was about safety. But I picked up two offbeat safety tips that have stuck in my mind and which I now pass on in case they might save the life of a subscriber or two.
The first concerns how not be blown up when in Kabul, and comes courtesy of an American TV journalist who was on the course with us. You do not need Kevlar, or night-vision goggles, or an armoured car to evade the Taliban, he said: your secret weapon is to have a jolly good long lie-in every morning. In Kabul, at least, suicide bombs apparently almost always go off early in the morning. Have a leisurely breakfast and, once you venture out after 11am or so, your chances of being killed are drastically reduced. The explanation given was that the bombers spend all night psyching themselves up, then say their prayers at dawn, and go off to murder. A second helping of Corn Flakes could save your life.
The second tip is useful even for those of us who don’t travel to warzones. When booking a hotel, we were told, try to get a room between the second and sixth floors. Being on at least the second floor means you’re a little further away from whatever dangers may lurk near reception: opportunist robbers won’t venture deep into the hotel, and if things get nastier—car-bombs, shootouts and so on—you’re a little further away from the action. So far, pretty obvious.
But why not go above the sixth floor—wouldn’t that be even safer? Apparently not. More likely than a bomb or a shootout is a plain old fire, in which case you will want to make a hasty exit. More storeys mean more stairs and more delay, of course. But the killer, literally, is this: if the stairs are blocked, you will need rescuing from your window by a ladder. And in many parts of the world, the sixth floor is as high as the local fire-engines can reach.