I’m not a happy camper; I’m as fond of the outdoors as most houseplants. I’m a fair skinned, redhead; I can last outside on a hot day about as long as a Mars Bar. Therefore, it follows that school camp for me was the worst part of the school year.
I’m not sure who first thought that a week in a rural setting, sleeping in bunk beds, eating overcooked vegetables would help build leadership skills in teenagers. I’m yet to find research to support the theory that canoeing with your worst enemy from year nine will make you a better future member of society. I think this kind of enforced social interaction in my formative years, only served to foster in me a lifelong hatred of water-sports and anyone with blonde hair and a Spice Girls drink bottle.
Mostly, I avoided camp; mum was too worried to send me, as she thought I was too vulnerable with my allergies and accident-prone disposition. I didn’t mind not going, her overprotection teamed nicely with my general disregard for group activities and strong dislike of any kind of trek that didn’t end up at a chip shop.
However, I attended year seven camp, this camp seemed to focus on all my weaknesses, craft, problem solving and heights. For me the best bit of camp, was seeing the teachers out of the classroom. It was weird to see the teachers trade their floral dresses and sensible grey slacks for shorts and polo shirts. Seeing them in their casual attire made me feel like David Attenborough, getting a rare glimpse of them in the wild.
The camp staff greeted us and talked about the rules, khaki clad men and women with way too many keys on their belt, talked us through the importance of sticking together on hikes. Even at age twelve I wondered how people chose this as a career. Surely they would rather be in an air-conditioned office, with an easily accessible coffee machine instead of convincing teens to stop screaming, open their eyes, let go of the tree and come down from the high ropes course for a living. These tanned, enthusiastic people with their degrees in youth work still at the framers, would coax us up onto the flying fox with way too many catchphrases about seizing opportunities, and taking life by the horns that it made them sound like something from Wolf of Wallstreet.
I spotted a bottle of wine in the teachers cabin, the news spread quickly, the teachers tried to convince me what I saw was just a bottle of sparking apple juice, however even back then I knew a bottle of Minchinbury Brut when I saw one. For my crime of spreading gossip, I was made to pack my bag and stand outside in the dark and cold by myself. I was allowed to go back into the dorm, when I was willing to admit that what I saw was apple juice.
I wasn’t going to just give in, when I quoted the average price of Minchinbury and how the Brut different from the Blush Rose. The teacher knew she was done for. She sent my back inside, advising me not to be a tattletale. The next morning to assure my silence, I was made to drag my large suitcase up the steep hill to the road the camp was on instead of getting to put my bag in the bus and ride up to the exit like everyone else. Maybe it wasn’t the high ropes and the soggy vegetables that put me off camping after all.
As originally published in The Courier Mail