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In preparation for the coming onslaught of survival training I mistakenly attended the wrong fitness class. Having been sure that I was in for some gentle Pilates it was rather a shock when the Techno Latin dance tracks started up and ‘booties’ (not to mention boobies) where being shaken all over the place. There is something rather disturbing about the enthusiasm with which some of the jiggling and gyrating was performed – particularly by the over 70’s – but you have to hand it to them – they were much better at it than me! It turns out that I had accidentally wandered into the Zumba class of horror. The only difference between this class and an actual nightmare was that I was fully dressed rather than totally naked – although given the level of jiggle I am not sure that it made an awful lot of difference.

Well, having survived that – nothing could phase me now. In fact I was rather well prepared for this year’s excursion into the woods Ray Meer’s Style. Forewarned is forearmed so having had previous experience of this sort of expedition I was looking forward to yet another weekend of no sleep, ‘Lord of the Flies’ children, and Desk Bound Daddies, pretending to be Backwoodsmen, embarrassingly attempting to impress their sons. Any improvement on this expectation would be counted as a win.

So it was with resignation, rather than trepidation, that I allowed myself to be loaded onto a bus and sent far away from civilisation – back to basics –into the wilds of Oxfordshire.  In fact so inured was I, to this no-frills life, that the sight of a depressed looking individual, trailing the ‘bog spade’, on their reluctant journey to commune with nature, raised in me only the wry smile of the seasoned sufferer.

Actually this crowd of comrades were of a rather different stamp from the previous victims – this lot had ‘form’ (in fact they included some great mates and some who were destined to become so). The tales of suffering told by the pioneers had meant that this group were rather self-selecting. We all knew what we were about, so we listened to the tales of derring-do by the boy in charge of our motley crew with tolerance and patience – for about 5 minutes.

Rarely has a human being managed to alienate and irritate a crowd more thoroughly and speedily. Through the subsequent hours and days we passed through the stages of irritation, outrage and disbelief on a never-ending loop. And my goodness did this shouty NCO bring out the worst in the grownups! The children just raised their eyebrows and carried-on-regardless but it was the adults who found emulating their sang-froid verging on impossible.

Not giving addicts their fix is a dangerous game. Adults on rising, after not-enough-sleep and too-much-whisky, need caffeine not mackerel. Not since the unfortunate incident across the water has there been a Tea based mutiny but it was a close run thing in those woods. By withholding the necessary boiling water, and using it for washing up, Our Little Hitler was running a serious risk of lynching. So when he took it upon himself to demonstrate Cover and Camouflage–otherwise known as hide and seek – by secreting himself under the wood pile it was only the knowledge that, it was definitely witnessed, and would certainly be regarded as ‘with intent’, that prevented various of our number from dropping large lumps of tree on top. We contented ourselves with liberally scattering pine needles and any poison ivy we could find to help with the hiding and ensuring that all the children went to look in other, much further away, places for a good hour – what a lovely hour that was!

There was something about this individual that invited rebellion.

Uh Oh!

We all found our own small protests: For some it was the illicit dash to the fish and chip shop when supposed to be gutting and smoking our own catch; For others a mad dash for the tea when the Camp Commandant wasn’t looking; but for me and another desperate mummy – we channelled our inner schoolgirl, heading out-of-bounds with contraband glasses of wine, for a naughty cigarette (I haven’t smoked in 14 years). Being caught and marched back into camp only added to the experience in our eyes as we collapsed in a gibbering, giggling heap behind a bush to attempt to regain our dignity and poise before having to encounter any of our children. Not grownup yet it would seem.

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