A Bad Day on Projects
Wake up just after six. Oh no, the wind is howling through the gaps in the window frame, the rain is beating against the flimsy glass-panes. No cosy double glazing in this hostel! Pull the quilt over my head, try to go back to sleep, but can’t. This is the third day running of this stormy weather. I’m beginning to run out of low level plans, but weigh-up the options. Maybe a figure-of-eight walk round the two lochs with two groups going round in opposite directions.
Get up, put the kettle on, naturellement, and then go to the “drying” room to get my stuff. Open the door and am almost overwhelmed by the hot stinking odour of damp cagoules, overtrousers, woollen hats, gloves, boots stuffed with newspapers. I somehow retrieve my stuff, resisting the urge to gag.
Breakfast. A dreary, silent affair. The kids obviously want to be somewhere else. So do I, to tell the truth. “Do we have to go out today?” “Yes,” I reply. “Why ?“ comes back the answer, with the forensic precision of a future QC. I stumble for an answer and then say, “Because we have to. It’s good for the character.” Did I actually say that?
Send the kids off to kit up. Just one thing to do before we leave – foot inspection for the walking wounded. Two bad cases of blisters from the day before. The first one, no problem, more plasters and then a bandage. The second one, oh dear. Poor Fiona developed a massive blister along the outside of her right foot. Last night it had the size and consistency of a slug. Expert opinion amongst the staff was divided. To lance or not to lance? Perhaps it will subside during the night, we hope. But no such luck. The poor girl can hardly get her boot on. So the medical experts say: “OK we’ve got to drain it.” Preparations are made – plasters, bandages, a needle sterilised by the gas ring. And then the incision. As soon as the surface of the slug-blister is pierced, a high pressure jet of clearish liquid comes gushing forth. I will spare you the further details. Within minutes the slug is reduced to flappy skin, and, yes Fiona is smiling, even daring to peep through her fingers. We dress the wound, bind it up nice and tight, ensure that Fiona has clean socks – a rare commodity in the group on the tenth day of Projects – and after a few cautious steps she manages to walk for the rest of the day. Not sure what a professional medic would have done. Perhaps the best person to ask would be Fiona herself, who is now a doctor.
Off we go in the two minibuses, everyone hunched up, not looking out of the windows (steamed up) at the view (what view?). The smell of sweaty, damp outdoor gear is overpowering, so it is a relief to get out of the buses, even with a gale blowing. We decide to stay together as a group and not split into two – what would happen if one group got lost, I thought.
Off we trudge, a long trail of orange anoraks following the path, the folk at the back scarcely able to see those at the front. Remember we used to have 24 in each group! There’s not much chat, just squelch, squelch, squelch along the way we go. Where the two lochs meet head on, there is a substantial stone bridge, and we all manage to squeeze in underneath, beside the raging burn, but out of the direct wind and rain. We extract our lunches, mostly sodden fish-paste sandwiches and an apple, and even begin some chat, a few jokes, then folk are beginning to get cold, start shivering, so off we go, round the second half of the figure of eight, now on a broader land-rover track. Look, there’s even a break in the cloud, a glimpse of a distant hill, but it doesn’t last for long. Some kids even start singing old girl guide songs and the rest of us join in. We are like soldiers trudging up to the trenches in Ypres. Our boots are soaked, our waterproofs have given up the struggle, but there in the mist, the comforting shapes of the minibuses.
We pile in, the temperature rises, the windows fog up, and morale rises. We play a game to see who will get first dibs for the shower, and then back in the entrance hall of the hostel we peel off our sodden layers. Most of the kids just leave their waterproofs where they take them off so I have to call them back and get them to hang them up in the drying room. The duty group make a cup of tea for everyone and then get going on dinner – 10th day of Projects – corned beef hash. An hour later, everyone, showered, refreshed, is at the table, so hungry that even the corned beef tastes good. I speak to my inquisitor of the morning: Well, was that good for your character? I shrink under his withering stare!
We sit around, play cards, reminisce, hope for better weather. Yes, it was a horrible day on Projects.
But do you know, it was also a good day on Projects. We got through it and we’re smiling, even Fiona with the pink and raw remains of the slug!
I taught at Watson’s for 25 years and took part in Projects about twenty times. I realise that there are are those in the school who have a significantly higher participation rate. My summer terms were often taken up with language exchanges too (for me to Thonon, the Ile-de Ré, Pessac, Paris and Munich). Very often I would return from Projects, have a quick turn-around, and then go off on exchanges. There is a very exclusive club amongst the pupils – those who went to Harris on S3 Projects and then Paris the following year in S4 – the Harris and Paris club.
This is being written in June 2020 during lockdown, the closing off of opportunities for our young people. Let us hope that very quickly, all of our pupils will be able to make the most of the wonderful opportunities for travel and study that Watson’s has always offered.