You do not need to know how many times I got lost on the way down to the West Country. Getting lost in Kent was a bad move, but I blamed the Czech van driver who cut in as the Golf Police slipped off left.
Seemed like the whole world had packed their cases and caravans and were heading west. Stone Henge is always a good indicator of not being lost, the map matched the road and the moor was in the right place. A place time forgot. Wedged between the moorland and the sky. I smuggled my suitcase, teddy and pillow passed all the Big Fellas with their rucksacks – bergens which are nearly as big as me…… I tried to pick one up. Failed.
The accommodation is good. My room mates great. There was a bed short. We draw straws. I am sure it will be fine sleeping in a cupboard in the kitchen.
We split into teams and brief and debrief. And then the kids arrive and its life in the fast lane. They don’t take any prisoners or buy into alibis. We are a team. The Scream Team. The team climbs the wall and the team abseils. Except for me.
“You just crack on. I’ll look after the stuff”.
I think I have hidden my demons and dragons about height quite well. They just think I am always this colour. I wear the harness and stay on the ground.
The kids clamboured onto the crates and swung on the ropes. One reached out to touch the trees and the sky.
“Up. Up” said the child. “Down down” said the coach.
The crate stacking was a challenge too far. I don’t do unstable structures, even with a harness. What goes up has to come down. Somehow. So I stayed on the ground. Again. Until a child called my bluff.
“Face your fears” he said and pushed me towards the zip wire. The instructor knew all about ropes and knots and carabiners. Locking. Non locking, clipped and unclipped.
“Trust me” he said. I did not look at the wire running between the trees. Above the ground.
One of the children knew all about death.
“You might crash and die” she said.
I tried to breathe. And looked at the knots. There was something missing. I knew the instructor had not used the blue carabiner. Blue for the ocean and blue for luck.
“What about the blue carabiner?”
“You’ll be fine” he said.
You don’t want to know about the journey down the zip wire. Facing fears without the blue carabiner and wondering whether the kid had second sight.
“How was that?” said the instructor. Big girls don’t cry. I lived and the neck will be fine soon.
The horse riding was cool. There were a few ponies spare. Not every child wished to be on top of a munching machine wearing iron shoes.
“You will die if you fall off” said one of the kids. I smiled. On the outside.
“Thanks kid”. I tried to work out how much the horse weighed and how quickly we could make friends. A Connamara. 15.3 hands. Forward on the bit. But no one mentioned about the corners.
“I have some apples in my bag” I whispered. “Organic”.
“Just you to go” said the Team Leader. I didn’t mention I had ridden as a child. Mad gallops across wind swept beaches and moors. This would be cool. A walk in the park. But indoor schools are not open moorland or endless beaches without margins. Just the sky and the sea. Grass, heather and gorse. But not corners.
“OK lets circle on the right rein and go from A to H” said the riding Instructor. The horse knew about the bashed knuckles and the whip lash. It knew only one side of the reins worked. I couldn’t find H. Or A. We cut corners and the circle was not the right circumference.
“Let’s try that again” said the riding instructor. “More left rein and right leg”. You don’t argue with riding instructors.
I hid the pain and whispered to the horse.
“Don’t let me down horse” I said softly. “Or you don’t get the organic apples in my rucksack”. He didnt want the apples. We cut the corners again. Cantered and lived to tell the tale. We went out into the forest as the rain hammered down on the galvins.
“Lucky you didn’t die” said the kid when we got back.
The Waking Nights played with the puppets and made giraffes and a sheep called Eric. They ate the chocolate and patrolled the courtyard, when the stars were pinpricks in the black sky and the lake was silent and still. And during the day they slept and chased children in their dreams.
The Scrap Books went well. One of the coaches is a bit of a Damien Hirst crossed with Warhol. I copy his stuff when every one has gone to bed. Pritt sticks, glitter and glue.
The day by the lake was brilliant. The sun shone and it was my fault about the canoe and the knuckles. I heard the command.
“Mind your fingers” said the Instructor. But I was watching the clouds.By the time the words had reached my brain, the pain kicked in. It could have been worse. All the kids went back with ten fingers and thumbs.
“Your hand will fall off and you will die” said the kid.
“You ok?” said the instructor.
He didn’t know about the dimpled ball and the golf grip. Left hand. Index finger and the match against the police in two weeks time.
“Fine” I said. “Fine”.
I wasn’t given the team walkie talkie to hold. Not after last year. I was holding it and had to make a choice. Child. Camera or walkie talkie… It seemed to fall in slow motion. Hit the water and disappeared with barely a ripple. We called the search off before nightfall and hypothermia.
I did have a look as I trailed the canoe knuckles in the water, but it remained in its cool resting place.
We go round the lakes on bikes. Except there is a bike short. I carry the water and push the other bikes. Its ok. Its cool. No one knows I have waited a year to ride the bikes around the lake.
“You ok?” said the instructor. I remember the rules. Its all about the kids. Not the bikes.
“Fine. Just fine”.
Archery was good fun. Little Red got a bull’s eye for the team.
“Again. Again” said the child with the red hair and big smile. Another arrow and red to match her hair.
There was pressure on my arrows. But there were complications. South paw. Right eye dominant. Bruised knuckles and whip lash.
“Try right handed” said the instructor. I couldn’t get the arrow in the slot. I closed my eyes and counted to ten. Repeated the mantra.
“Its all about the kids”. But there were other words swirling around. Words burnt onto my hard drive. Analysis and visualisation. Execution and looking up to the sky. The theory was similar to the dimpled ball. Stance. Stand square to the target. Line up the shoulders with the feet. A bow and arrow wasn’t so different from a three wood. I looked at the target and imagined the arrow hitting the gold dead centre. Straightened the left arm, drew back the bow, right elbow pointing to the sky, stopped breathing and released. It hit the red.
“Good shot” said the instructor.
He had only known me for a few days. He didn’t know about the ‘do or die’ the ‘never, ever, ever give up’. Big Rich could have told him. The Sheriff knew and so did Sid. Red was not gold. This was more than just about the kids. This was four years of wanting a gold on the cv. I looked up to the sky. It was blue and a bird of prey hovered overhead. A few cumulonimbus were forming in the west. There was still enough sky to patch a pair of sailor’s trousers. I could do this. I went through the same procedure again. The next arrow headed towards the field with the grazing pony who didn’t do corners. I swore under my breath. I would not be beaten by a kid.
“That arrow might hit you in the eye and then you will be dead” said the other kid. I zoned out and placed the arrow on the bow.
“You can do this” said the instructor.
I zoned in again and visualized the gold. The feet were square and the shoulders lined up. I imagined the tee shot on the tree clad fifth. I could do this. I looked down the arrow and all I saw was gold. Or another long year of waiting.
I drew back the bow and took it past the right cheek bone. The arrow sliced through the air. It was an arrow with the accuracy of an Agincourt bowman, born to fire arrows for King and country. It was an arrow that could have been fired by Robin or Maid Marion in Sherwood forest. The Connamara continued munching on the grass and the bird of prey swooped in for the kill.
“Looking good” said the instructor.
It hit the gold dead centre. Four years of wanting and waiting. Gold. Gold. Gold. I forgot about the knuckles and the neck.
“Not bad eh” I said to the Bull’s eye kid as we high fived with the good hand.
“You still might die” said the other kid.
The food is good and The Chef is great. We get to chat over the breakfasts. A dimpled ball chaser. Plays off 13 with a Taylor made driver. 9.5degrees. Regular shaft. He has invited me to play his course on his day off. One of the best links courses in the country. I couldn’t say no and he does give me extra lasagne. So I might be home a day or so later.
And then I have a meeting with a rope and fear. I get tied to more ropes and carabiners and leave the ground. One of the ropes is blue.The Instructor knows his stuff and his ropes. I know about reef knots and round turn and two half hitches. But I also know everyone has off days and this is a different ball game from taking the seven iron instead of the eight. Or missing a a fairway. This was me on a rope. I hang on and try to breathe. The lyrics from The Killers drift through my subconscious. ‘When there’s nowhere else to run. ..if you can’t hold on, if you cant hold on’. And I hold on so tight, the circulation stops in the good hand.
“You’ll be fine” said the instructor. “Pull the cord when you are ready”. The cord is green. Not blue. Its late and the instructor wants his tea and cake. And all that stands between him and his cake is me, on a rope and an unpulled cord.
I look at the blue rope and not the ground. There is no death talking kid. It’s my choice. Between me and the instructor. And the blue rope. And so I let go.
“You did it” said the instructor.
“I did it” I whispered. And knew I had faced my demons and my fears. Climbed my mountain and was free.
And I tried to work out a way of getting the blue carabiner in my rucksack. To bring me luck for days when things don’t always go right.
And then its the last day. The bags are packed and posters taken down. The children go home and the swings are silent. No more lapping the lake on bikes or building shelters in the forest. No falling crates or screams on the big swing. No dancing disco queens. No more Team Stumpy dressed as Superman or spooning weetabix on the breakfast run. No more swimming pool and bedtime stories. No more challenges, conquered fears and a little voice which said:
“I did it”.
No early mornings and late nights. No Iggle Piggle, Makka Pakka or Upsy Daisy. Towers. Towers. Towers. Thomas the Tank or Toy Story. Zip wires. Canoes and ringing the bell at the top of the tower. Puppets or pool. Just silence, red eyes and meteorites. Iron shod horses munching in the field and instructors checking their carabiners and ropes. Just memories. Bruises, bikes and smiles. And the knowledge that one day a radio station will play Poker Face. And grown men will listen to Rosie’s Song and wipe a tear away. And in between the smiles and the bruises, we learn it is all about the kids and not the bull’s eyes. Little children in a place where time forgot, and the instructors who gave them wings to fly.
On our last afternoon, we get to go canoeing. It’s quiet out on the lake. Just the instructors with unbrushed hair, demonstrating skills and chewing straw.
I keep my fingers inside the canoe. The bird of prey hovers and the swings are still silent beyond the tree line. We practice turns and straight lines. Corrections mid stroke and good technique.
“Anyone want to capsize?” said the instructor without the straw. And this is my moment. No ropes and no fear and a chance to look for the long lost walkie talkie. It means the galvins will take a big hit. But I go for it. Raise the paddle and tilt the canoe to port. The water is cold and clear. There is no fear and no walkie talkie.
“How was that?” said the instructor. The galvins glisten and I make it back to the canoe.
“Good” I said. “Its good”.
And the red eyes for the kids are washed by the cool water of the lake.