When the going gets tough, the tough keep on going. Just
Tuesday, 21 June - possibly the wettest day in the wettest June since records began. And, unfortunately, Day 1 of my Duke of Edinburgh group's practice expedition! A week earlier, one of the students had asked if they still had to go if it was raining. "Of course," I had replied. "This is Scotland, you can't let rain put you off." If only wiser counsel had been available.
Basically, it poured from start to finish. Torrential does not begin to describe it. Completing our circuitous route, we arrived back in Aberfoyle a sorry, bedraggled group. Pity seized my heart and I told the students that rather than walking the last 40 minutes to the campsite, I would drive the minibus. Not only that, in order to spare them the perceived indignity of having to use a trowel to toilet in the woods, I would allow them to visit Aberfoyle's fine public conveniences (apparently they spent most of the 30 minutes trying to dry themselves with the hot-air dispensers).
Appeasement seldom works, however. One group returned to the bus somewhat emboldened and announced: "We think we should go home!"
"We will," I replied. Cheers. "Tomorrow," I concluded - the opposite of cheers.
Ten minutes later, we were at the site and pitching our tents. The rain abated for a short period, only to be replaced by the biggest swarm of midges I have ever seen. In a rather unpleasant role reversal, we found ourselves eating them alive each time we opened our mouths to speak. When we got round to cooking, it was impossible to keep the little creatures from dropping onto our freshly heated pasta so I told the students to eat quickly! I have to confess to being stumped when questioned by our two vegetarians as to whether or not midges constituted a form of meat.
Perhaps the only saving grace was that there was no mobile phone reception so the pupils couldn't get a message to the outside world seeking immediate rescue.
After dinner, I sent the students into the woods to seek out dry wood - a fairly forlorn endeavour. Having been a Boy Scout in my youth, however, I had come prepared and, while alone, I retrieved from my rucksack a packet of firelighters. On their return they were amazed to see a bright flame flickering away in the stone circle hearth.
It certainly lightened the evening a little. I tried to engage them in learning "Ging, gang, goolie" but they seemed content enough to spend a few hours trying to dry out - even laughing when my fellow teacher managed to briefly set herself on fire.
We returned home the following day a weary group. The headteacher awarded all involved with praise cards proclaiming, "Endeavour in the Face of Adversity" - a maxim we may all have need of next term.
Until then - enjoy the break. Larry Flanagan, Education convener of the EIS.