Celtic Illumination, part 281, Sticks and stones.
I have to thank you all for the many questions and comments you send me, it really does make it all worthwhile. Even when someone, a member of The Illuminati I may add, calls me names but then deletes the post, it shows at least that my words do have some sort of effect. I shall not mention who it was, as I wouldn’t want to embarrass anyone, but he runs a bombing range in Saudi Arabia and was renowned for ironing his underpants while in the air force. I’ve known the fellow for almost forty years and I think it would be impossible for either of us to insult the other. The most common question you ask is how I can remember so much, well; it’s simple, certain incidents stick in the mind.
Who could ever forget an angry Welsh farmer, with shotgun, shouting at you? Even more so who could forget waking up the following morning? I suppose if I tell you about it you would understand. I was in a room with two sets of bunk beds. Both my boys were with me so it was a nice little family room. It was very small and very cold. Each of my boys had a sleeping bag and were also covered with a blanket. I had been promised the loan of a sleeping bag, which didn’t turn up, and once again I shall not mention the person’s name as I would not want to embarrass her, but it started with Linda and ended in Browne. Another one, I wonder if they are related?
Having been trained in all flavours of survival, I knew that I was relatively comfortable, as in; I was inside a building, protected from the elements. I had a bed and I had four blankets to keep me warm. I do remember waking the following morning and I was holding all four blankets by my throat and I was shivering. Now, don’t start getting pedantic, I wasn’t holding the blankets with my throat, I was holding them in my hands which were up by my throat. The only problem was that each of the blankets had slipped off and were hanging off the bed, either to the left or right, meaning that I was lying there in my, un-ironed, underpants freezing to death. My survival training took over which involved a lot of swearing and threats of violence to a person.
Once thawed and feeling relatively human again I dressed and was pleased to see that the remainder of the squadron had arrived. We looked more like a bunch of travelling gypsies as some of the staff had brought their caravans and tents were being erected. Andy’s wife Dot, a lovely lady, took over and organised everything. She had been here many times before and knew how things should be done. She based herself in the kitchen and began to organise the evening meal, which for a group of about fifty was no mean feat. We, on the other hand, were to do exciting adventurous things. More police men turned up, who were qualified canoe type people, and the squadron spent the day splashing about on a local lake. Once again there were a lot of rolled up trouser legs and funny handshakes involved if you get my drift.
It was great fun and my two boys certainly enjoyed it. James was able to get stuck in with the canoeing but still would never forgive me for tipping him upside down in the swimming pool. That evening we all returned to a fantastic hot meal, cooked by Dot who insisted that we thank her friend who had helped her prepare the meal. Dot had been on her own all day long so I found this a little strange. Dot then explained that the resident ghost had helped her. She believed that the place was indeed haunted and that the ghost was harmless, he just sort of hung around and kept her company. Now some of you may believe in ghosts and some of you may not. Some of you may think that suggestion comes in to play, but I can assure you that I did look up and across the table to see someone, or something, standing behind one of the staff members.
I didn’t recognise him, so when I glanced back to check, he was gone. Dot noticed the look on my face and asked if I had just seen him. I said that I had and she appeared to be happy now that another person had joined her ghost watch group. Andy was happy because an article I had written for the air cadet newspaper, a monthly publication, had been published. I had been asked to oversee the Duke Of Edinburgh’s award scheme for the cadets on the squadron and had written an article about my experience and thoughts on the subject. The piece was called ‘Doing the Duke’ and hopefully was funny and informative. It was nice getting something published too as it gave the old writing confidence a bit of a boost.
The following day was a walking day and Andy asked me if I would drop him and a small group off and then drive the coach back to base camp. I agreed as I was now an expert coach driver, well; as long as I was on a motorway with at least three lanes and a hard shoulder I was an expert driver. I now discovered that you can just about fit a large fifty two seater coach down a narrow Welsh lane. And even then kamikaze sheep would make sure that you stayed alert whilst driving along. It did give me a little more experience but such was the experience that I decided I should stay away from driving the coach especially along narrow Welsh lanes. The next day we were to do the old cross over route on the Glyders.
We would split into two groups, one group, led by Andy, would be dropped at Capel Curig from where they would walk up and across the Glyder range, coming down through the Devils Kitchen to Ogwen cottage. The other group, led by me, would drive the coach to, and park it at, Ogwen Cottage, then lead my group up through the Devils Kitchen on to the Glyders and descend down into Capel Curig where Andy, now driving the coach, would pick us up. All very simple and straight forward except when I arrived at Ogwen Cottage I discovered that not only was there nowhere to park, but that to access the only possible place I had spotted, where I could park the coach, I would have to turn the bloody thing around.
The A5 road in North Welsh Wales is quite a narrow road at the best of times and during the day, especially during holidays and at weekends, is quite busy. So you can imagine the commotion and tail backs as I, directed by my exuberant cadets, decided to turn the coach around on the A5. Don’t think three point turn; this was a big bus and a narrow road, think thirty point turn. I don’t think we did very well, as most of the drivers who had been involved in the tail backs, seemed to award me two points out of a possible ten as they passed. And I think most of them were Italians too as they blasted their car horns and shook two fingers at me reminding me of the eight other points I could have achieved.
I most certainly had a different attitude as I took my group onto the hill. In the old days our hands would have been jammed in our pockets, heads down and we would power our way up into the mountains. Now I found myself responsible for twenty children and Julie Andrews I most certainly was not. They were unable to stick to the paths and exploded out and into the rocks and crevasses around us. Not only did I find myself trying to keep an eye on the children but I found myself constantly checking the weather watching the clouds pass over us. It wasn’t as enjoyable as I had hoped, as I found myself far too busy keeping an eye on things, to actually enjoy the day.
The Devils Kitchen is quite an imposing place, bare rock and high leaning crags and cliffs. One cadet I shall never forget, Mike Abella, had raced ahead of the group, despite me uttering my mantra of ‘the speed of the team is that of the slowest man.’ Abella was one of those kids who were so full of life and energy he was fit to burst. As I got to the base of the Devils Kitchen, which is a huge gouge in the cliff face, I looked up to see Abella sitting on the edge of the cliff, two hundred feet above me, swinging his legs and singing his heart out. It was wonderful to see such enjoyment but terrifying to think that if he slipped I might have to revert to my old job, of putting bits of bodies into plastic bags.
Thankfully by the time I had dragged myself to the top of the cliff all the cadets and my two boys were still alive. We bumbled off and met Andy and his group up by the Cantilever, on top of the Glyders, and I gave him the coach keys. As we began our descent I found myself wishing, once again, that I had kept my mouth shut, for I had explained to the Cadets what the quickest way was to get off a mountain. Of course my method was mainly to be used in winter and on snow, but the cadets decided that grass was just as good as snow and I could do nothing more than watch twenty cadets bringing out their survival bags and sliding off the mountain, proving once again that the coefficient of friction between grass and a plastic bag is indeed zero. But I suppose what made the whole thing worthwhile, the angry armed farmers, shivering in my shreddies, kamikaze sheep and even the ghost in the dining room, was meeting my two boy’s running back up the mountain, smiles plastered from ear to ear, to have another go. Who needs theme parks; give me a mountain and a plastic bag any day.