Roped into a learning curve

1st July 2005 at 01:00
Continuing professional development can happen in the most unexpected places. For me, it occurred most recently in Wiston, South Lanarkshire, an uncomfortably large number of metres above ground level.

It was the weekend of the 3rd Carluke Scouts parent and child camp. In truth, I hadn't really wanted to go. I'd had a month at work when things were somewhat hectic, and previous weekends had been eroded by cognitive acceleration conferences and sundry holy things. A couple of days away, when my time would largely be under the control of others, didn't appeal.

One thing I really enjoy about being seconded is that your days might be as full as they would be in school, but at least you've had some sort of role in cramming the stuff into available timeslots. Anyway, not wishing to let the wean down, I packed my old kitbag and smiled, sort of.

I could probably have stood aside from myself and appreciated that I would undoubtedly enjoy the camp had it not been for one further factor. John, the scout leader, announced that he had booked a high-rope activity for Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning. See me? See heights? Cannae thole them.

An evening stroll round the camp-site revealed the true horror. It was in the shape of a giant set of rugby posts. There was a diagonal log to climb up, then another to walk across. A few metres of ascent led to a tightrope with a few vertical ropes dangling down to assist the traverse. It was all topped off by a final climb to a celebratory cowbell. I knew I could bottle it if I wanted to. I'd always given activities like that the body-swerve in the past. I never abseiled or went up a climbing wall, always opting for a hard slog through the heather instead.

When the time came, I put on the surgical appliance-like safety harness like most of the other happy campers. The instructor asked for a volunteer to go first. I stepped forward, wanting to get it over with. A safety rope was clipped to the truss and pulled tight, leading to an uncomfortable but reassuring sensation around the nadgers. Up and along I went, wobbling, muttering to myself and, above all, not looking down.

Ringing that cowbell may turn out to be a highlight of my year. When I reached the ground, I had a big, stupid grin on my face. There is a type of in-service course that puts forward the glib phrase: "If you think you can, you can." I don't like that. Some people have genuine physical and mental limitations. I much prefer: "You can do more than you think you can."

Especially with the aid of a crash helmet and safety rope.

Gregor Steele was eaten alive by midges.

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