Activity trip leaves us bonded - but bushwhacked

30th July 2010 at 01:00

It's 7am and I'm face-down in a field on the top of a cliff doing push-ups. This can mean only one thing: the end of summer term and the ubiquitous trips away. I am on the Isle of Wight with our incoming lower-sixth.

I ask if they've had a good summer so far only to find that the most common activity has been sleeping. This does not bode well for a three-day activity adventure by the sea.

Words to strike terror into the heart of any teacher had been banded about: "crash helmets", "room sharing" and "abseiling". The kit list for the trip had left me in a state of anxiety, so I packed for every outdoor eventuality: wellies, walking boots and waterproofs. There had been a moment of dilemma when I read the word "swimsuit". Mine was fine for a lounger, but not kayaking. I hit the shops. The assistant insisted on high legs, plunges and bits of string until I explained where I was going and settled on a low-cut, cover-it-all-up plain old black one-piece. The list also jovially mentioned "an outfit for the disco!". Mr F reliably informed me he had packed his spandex pants and roller blades ready to boogie. That was going to outdo my sequinned tuxedo.

On the ferry I was impressed to see James reading Sherlock Holmes - in Japanese. The rest were eating their body weight in Haribo. Miss R chatted to new pupils taking drama at A-level. Explaining that the first play would be set in the North, one replied: "I can't do that Miss as I don't speak northern. Can't we do something in English?"

The first evening saw a rush to the beach. The boys sprinted into the sea in a collective rush of testosterone in the mistaken belief that just because the day had been warm, the water would be, too. Their whimpers were animal-like. On the walk back up Jan was barefoot. Advised to put on his shoes he replied: "Don't worry Miss, I've got feet like a hobbit".

After nightfall, I hoped all the fresh air and exercise would send them all to sleep in moments. Wrong. At 1am two boys were dancing in the corridor. At 6am the same two were on an early-morning walk with Mr B to prevent a recurrence the next night.

If I walked down the boys' corridor I held my breath to avoid suffocation by the intoxicating mix of body sprays, hair gels and the indescribable smell that comes only from boys in bunks.

Our last activity was the intriguingly named "3G Swing". Held in by just a fabric harness and hoisted to a sickening height, you are plunged at dizzying speed and breakneck angle to the ground and left suspended. It was a health and safety nightmare and naturally all the pupils wanted a go. So did I. Connor bravely offered to go up with me. I said: "Promise you won't pull the cord until you have counted down from three and I am ready". With a gleeful grin, he did the exact opposite.

The next thing I knew I was screaming loudly with fear and exhilaration. The pupils naturally filmed this on their phones so I expect by now to be a YouTube sensation.

The journey home: friendships had been formed, lessons in teamwork, and taking oneself outside of your normal comfort zone learnt. Connor and I were forever bonded by the 3G experience. For now they can go back to a summer of sleeping. On the horizon waits GCSE results day.

Julie Greenhough

English teacher at an independent school in London.

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