Monday, 29 August 2011

August Bank Holiday

Yep, that's today - which means that summer is nearly over. Not that we have had much summer this year. I think the best weather was actually over Easter! I did feel sorry for my grandson last week. He was at his first Cub camp and we had rain at least every other day. I just hope he enjoyed himself.

It made me think of some of the camps I have been on. I was never a Cub but I joined the Scouts and for many years, as a boy and then as a leader, I spent a week under canvas every August. The first was a camp in Somerset. I was a member of a Scout troop in Gillingham, Kent. We travelled to Somerset by train, presumably carrying our personal gear although it is possible that that had been sent on ahead with the tents and other equipment. One could do that sort of thing in those days! One of my clearest memories of that week is of a conversation with one of the hands on the farm where we were camping. He had such a broad accent it was all we could do to understand him!

I know it is said that one looks back at the past through rose-tinted spectacles and thinking of some of those past camps proves the point. It must have rained sometimes - but I can't actually recall one single occasion! There are plenty of things I do remember, though - many of the memories being of things we would never be allowed to do today on Elf 'n' Safety grounds. Like the raft we built one summer. We must have taken oil drums and an old bicycle with us because the drums were used as floats and the cycle was adapted to power some sort of paddle.

Then there were the canoes. I had a few of the older Scouts come to the HQ on a second evening each week to build a canoe. This was a kit which provided a wooden framework over which one had to stretch canvas. We finally got it finished and the boys were so proud of their work as, one summer evening, we carried the canoe down to the beach - just a few hundred yards from our HQ - to launch it. That was when we discovered the keel had a slight bend in it. Given an even stroke of the paddles on both sides, the canoe would slowly describe a circle. To keep going in a straight line required a stronger pull on one side than the other. That year I took the troop to the Forest of Dean where I had found a camp site right on the bank of the River Wye. We took our canoe along with others I had borrowed, but you can guess which was the one the boys most wanted to use even with a kink in the keel!

That was quite a camp. The boys were in their patrols and the patrols took it in turns to do something different each day. One patrol would be rock-climbing while another was on the river in the canoes. A third patrol would be out of camp on a hike while the fourth was duty in camp, preparing meals and generally mucking about.

I prided myself that I could dream up pretty good wide games - the sort of game, usually involving escape and evasion, that would take place across a wide area. This camp included one of my failures. Round the camp fire one evening, I told the boys about a newspaper I had found lining a draw or something at work. It was a hundred years old and an article recounted the story of a ghost which appeared once every hundred years in the woods on the other side of the river. The legend was that the ghost could be laid to rest by a group of people encircling it with joined hands. Coincidentally, the ghost was due to appear that very night. Later, we woke the boys and told them to get up and dressed for a ghost hunt. We sent them along the river bank to a footbridge about a quarter of a mile downstream. After they had left one of the scouters paddled across the river in a canoe and took up position in the woods, draped in a sheet. Unfortunately, either the leader or the boys failed to find the right place as they didn't meet each other and the whole scheme flopped. Some years later, I met one of those scouts who reminded me of this failed wide game. At least he had a good memory to look back on - and it gave us both a laugh.

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