Sunday, 28 May 2017

May 2017 4/4

At last! Up far too early to loiter with intent.
school trip to marwell zoo residentialMany schools send kids on residential courses lasting a few days and I've been on the Stubbington one and I've heard about the Parents-Get-Lost one on the Isle of Wight. But a new one has joined the pack - Marwell Zoo.
I've been to this zoo a couple of times and they do have a study centre but now they've added dormitory huts and numerous activities for youths both bold and wet.
meon school residential trip to marwell zooJof had gathered together all my kit and barring the last few things we'd forgotten such as raincoat, it was all ready and I togged up and set off. Jof dragged me back and showed how much she loves me by saying have a good time and I'll miss you and don't forget to wipe your bottom and loads of other mothery blarney and I escaped the tightening noose and fled.
On the way to school we started to see other classmates dressed like me with suitcases and finger-spinners and in the assembly hall stood a bunch of parents and the Left Luggage Hall of Doom. We all trooped upstairs and the parents dispersed: that made us officially zoo animals.
The journey was by 2 coaches: even a short hop like that is challenging for energized youngsters and the teachers knew that so we stopped off half way there to run around a random field, and got to the zoo at noon for a site tour, and a lunch of sandwiches, apples, juice and chocolate bars.
marwell zoo residential school trip activity weekThis is when we found that although the campsite is next to the zoo, it is not actually in it. This was a let-down for those of us who wanted to be Ostriches, or who wanted to feed a certain someone to the tigers. In fact, we couldn't go to the zoo or Ye Olde Gifte Shoppe at all, because it is in the public domain. But now we are older, these residential camps are activity-heavy. There was a large refectory tent, and 6 Stalag Luft-style dormitory huts with a seating area outside, 3 for boys, 2 for girls and 1 for teachers. They got comfy chairs.
Activity #1: Rock Climbing Wall, with harness. Topping out at 50 feet, I got 35 feet up the wall that gets steeper and steeper the further up you go, until it goes past vertical and curves back on itself.
Activity #2: Obstacle Course. Has stepping stones, hop-jumps, and a massive tunnel. This tunnel has anti-bear defence lids at both ends and is wiggly and pitch black with minimal crawlspaces and corners and drops. It was ace. But on the jumping-wall, my legs were not long enough to reach to the 3rd level.
For dinner we had stir-fry chicken of which I approve. Then we had a 2-stage activity. First, your team got a random item and had to make an advert for it, act it out, and this would get you points - and in this case, points make money - with which you buy materials for the next stage. We got a golf ball and made an advert for an Un-Chewable Gobstopper. I was the chewer and we had people railing against sugar overload for young teeth, then a granny came on and declared she was tougher than a gobstopper and she was shot by a rifleman, I guess you had to be there. But we won the acting competition and got the most money.
marwell zoo residential school trip activity weekActivity #3: Egg Bounce. This old chestnut is known to us all. Each team protected their egg from a 30 foot drop using the materials purchased with the advertising revenue. We named our egg 'Dr Scramble' and we had so many layers of packaging, our egg-pod floated gently down and our species was saved from extinction. In fact only one egg ('Harambegg') died, when its hat became detached and it sprayed an arc of yolk everywhere. I got 8 hours' sleep.
On day 2, Ben bunked in with me because Child A snores. Breakfast was Full English and I went back for 3rd helpings, with numerous sausages. I need the energy, you know.
Activity #4: Milk Crate Stack. Again, this one is well known to us all, I've done it at the Portsmouth Water Sports Centre. Again, you're harnessed and people throw milk crates up to you and you stack them (in teams of 2) and see how high you can get, just not like Jim Morrison. I reckon we got to Level 10.
Activity #5: Wayfaring. This is essentially orienteering, your team gets a map with points marked on it: each point on the ground has a letter hidden from easy view, you collect the letters, unscramble the magic word, and win. I was a total Map-Guru and on some of the positions, I found the letter nailed to the back of a tree or similar when others had walked right past. The magic word was rifle-range. Then lunch.
marwell zoo residential school trip activity weekActivity #6: Raft Building. OK, so most of us have done this too. You have rope, logs and barrels and you lash them together and row off into the sunset with laughter and gay abandon. I wore my water-shoes, trunks, tracksuit bottoms and 2 T-shirts. Everything got soaked and that's when I had the only shower of the week, mmm. But please notice the epic weather in the verdant and countrified surroundings of this entire residential course. A nice change from summer in the city, back of my neck getting dirty gritty.
After supper (chicken goujons) we had film night - Despicable Me.
Day 3 did include breakfast, but I only went back for seconds.
Activity #7: Archery, another former favourite. I scored a bullseye from 5 metres.
marwell zoo residential school trip activity weekActivity #8: Quad Biking. Well, I've driven trundly safety cars at Butlins but never anything like this! It was amazing with giant helmets with sticky-out bits at the front and a big D-shaped course with wiggly bits and a long straight. Owen seems to be perfectly designed for quad-biking and took the corners like a boss. I opened her up on the long straight and gave it full throttle: ok, so you only get up to 15 mph but it feels like you're in a Spitfire.
Activity #9: Zipline. This one is a detached part of the aerial adventure and you climb 10 metres up a tree and zip 25 metres over a lake. It does go really fast, and you get 2 goes. Funny thing we noticed, the lake had 2 crocodiles in it. One of them is called One-eyed Steve after he lost a fight with the other one.
Activity #10: Aerial Adventure. Similar to but smaller than the one at Centre Parcs, you have a variety of obstacles including the suspended planks. The planks hang in mid-air at different levels and have ropes through each corner. So getting from one to the other isn't always easy. Average competitor 'Child B' could get across in 3 minutes. I took up the super-retro-challenge and went across backwards in 1 minute, for which I got a prize - an extra chocolate bar at dinner.
Later, after sausages and mash, we had a campfire and sang songs such as 'Eat the banana' and 'The balls on the bus go round and round'.
Day 4 was sadly truncated by having to go home. But first we had the Full English breakfast again and I had 3rd helpings, you've got to take opportunities when they arise.
marwell zoo residential school trip activity weekActivity #11: Rifle Shooting. OK, so it was only air rifles, but this isn't the 1970s any more. I scored 8 rounds through the bullseye and will get my cardboard target back later.
Activity #12: Gladiators. Straight away we thought we'd be standing in a sandy ring poking each other with rubber spears to the music from Star Trek but no, this is a climbing game. You have to ascend the various levels and go over the suspended tyres and sit on the upper log, all whilst securely harnessed. I could not get past the spinning tyres. Child C fell off the top bit and swung around, held up by his harness, which squished his ribcage and he vomited copiously from a great height, most fun to see.
And after a hearty meal for the condemned kids, we all got back on the coaches and came home. My first priority was a shower, then straight back to Youtube which I had missed terribly. I had lost my voice (but gained a hoarse) because of all the shouting.
All in all, the school trip to Marwell Zoo activity was totally bodacious and epic. Of course, we are of that special intermediate age so there was lots of bandying about of rude phraseology. We could hear each other through the prefabricated tent/chalets and once Child D heard a particularly funny joke and laughed so much there was fluid leakage. So he needed new trousers and bedsheets and everyone laughed at him, which may not have helped. But you get that sort of thing.
Chasing Ghosts (and Swans)
christchurch harbourBack in 1957, when Jof was a kid, her parents used to take annual holidays in a little seaside resort called Mudeford, pronounced Meoo-deford by us and Muddiford by everybody else. This former fishing village sits at the mouth of Christchurch Harbour and is pretty and isolated and has coastal pine trees and marram grass on the dunes and views to the Isle of Wight.
But that was in 1957, and Jof fancied trying to rediscover the hotel they used to stay at, called the Avonmouth Hotel then, but since renamed. A lot can change in that time.
We approached at speed using a hand-drawn map which got us to the car park in 1 hour 10 minutes, no detours, and 1 entire compilation CD of "Dyno-Saurs of Rock" which Jof kept telling us to turn down and I kept secretly turning back up again until she stopped wittering from the back seat of the car where I usually send her.
wooden boat christchurch harbourAfter some excellent climbing in the coastal pine trees, and having paid for 4 hours' parking, we wandered off in search of the long-lost Hotel of Yesteryear and quite soon, she found it and we looped round the back to make sure. That's when Bud said ooo look, it's the River Mude after which the village was named, let's get a closer look, and I stepped heavily in a patch of newly laid concrete which was clearly marked by a large yellow traffic cone, inserted a deep, full footprint in a permanent position for future generations to admire, and we invoked the great Monty Python, and went Run Away, Run Away.
mudeford beach to christchurch ferryBack on Mudeford Quay, we saw that it contains Gifte Shoppes, fisherman's equipment stores, a sailing club, Lifeboat station, pub and lots of tourist stuff, including millions of people crabbing (they get bigger crabs in Dorset) and a ferry. This ferry is marked on the map as going to Hengistbury Head (a sandy outcrop about 50 yards away) and Christchurch Central, with Priory, Church and an actual town.
So after a fortifying ice cream, we got the ferry (departs every 12 minutes) for only £3.70 the lot and it was quick and good, 10/10 for them. But that was it. It only went 56 yards to Hengistbury Head, and you had to get the fancy wooden luxury cruiser to Christchurch for £20 return.
pub lunch by ducking stool lane christchurchSo we did that, and we saw swans and ducks and outdoor centres and expensive beachfront houses and buoys shaped like top hats and it was all rather good. In Christchurch we crossed the Quomp or the Quim or the Quagga or the Quorn which is apparently the greensward open space with swingpark and headed into the bustling metropolis, finding a bank for monetary purposes and The George Inn which gave us scampi and chips and squid and beer and toilet facilities.
river avon christchurchThis is an old town so just down narrow medieval lanes from the pub is the old 14th century ducking stool lovingly recreated in 1986. It was most tranquil with the ducks and the weeping willows, but the description sign makes it clear that back then, the town magistrates could punish mouthy, gobby women and horrendous screaming fishwives who didn't know their place for being 'Scolds', gosh how things have changed, now brassy wenches get on TV.
christchurch castle ruinsAcross the road is a Norman castle, now totally ruined. OK, so the keep mound remains with a few walls but the grounds are nice with access to the church through peaceful gardens where a wedding was going on, nice work if you can get it. We walked through a lime-tree tunnel and came out by the Quay.
In Quomp/Qwerty/Quandary Fields is a decent swingpark with good-looking added splashpark, both very well attended. They tried to get me to cool off in the life-giving waters, but I was having none of it because all our swimming-type kit was back in the car.
christchurch priory tree tunnelBut we'd already walked past a boat-hiring place and I had my eye on the motorboats. So Bud conned us into only having 30 minutes (£20) instead of the hour we should have taken (£30) saying we didn't want to miss the ferry back.
We were allocated a blue 5-seater motorboat and the engine just wouldn't start, even when Bud pulled the cord and made it go chumf chumf. But then there was an orange one next to it and orange is my favourite colour and that one started. The rules were to keep to the right, only go upstream to the 100 foot chimney, and come back. As soon as we were out in the main channel, Bud and I swapped places and I drove the whole way.
christchurch harbour boat hireYou go upstream past lots of fancy houses with yachts and motor boats and verandahs and yuccas and weeping willows and it does rather make you want to live by the sea. The boat was programmed to chunter along at 4 knots and the steering was slow to react so you Tokyo-drifted along like a car on an oily skidpan and I got used to it rapidly and the boring old adults just had to sit there while I bossed it totally.
And once we'd gone under the bridge and met the 100 foot chimney stack, I did a massive handbrake turn in the river and it was epic and gosh I do somewhat like this boating lark. And I got us back to the pontoon and Bud did another handbrake turn to get us alongside which I could have probably done better and we had 45 minutes before the next ferry, did I mention we were conned.
quomps playpark christchurch dorsetSo we had coffee and saw the medieval mill and fed the swans (saw one hissing at a sausage dog that got too close - very funny) with locally produced corn and the ferry arrived early and took us back to Hengistbury Head very slowly due to an adverse wind, seeing some New Forest ponies of varying ages and girths on a tidal island.
And knowing that we still had to take the 56 yard ferry back to Mudeford Quay I agreed to at least look at the millions of beach huts and see the sea, because I don't usually get the chance, living on an island in the sea.
river avon christchurchIt was sandy. This was immediately different and we gambolled around in the dunes with their spiky grass and messed around on the beach and before long we were paddling and I was digging in the sand and getting totally wet and dirty and that is what you are supposed to do, even though the sea temperature was only 13 degrees. I rinsed off by plunging in right in front of the Needles lighthouse and Alum Bay, where I went a few years ago on the chairlift.
silhouette boy on rocksmudeford beach dorset low tideAfter a while I dressed (with added authentic Dorset sand) and retrieved an errant swan feather and we got the ferry 46 yards back to civilisation (low tide).
There we discovered that the kind but cheeky old Burghers of Christchurch Town Council had awarded us a £25 parking ticket, no doubt as the ducking ducking stool is off the byelaw statute books nowadays.
Stupid thing to mention: of the 4 different boating-craft we were on today, employment agencies phoned Bud while we were on 2 of them. I still maintain that in the event of a lottery win I want a kayak, he wants a dinghy and she wants a motor-cruiser, but then she also wants goats, alpacas, baby horses and 17 cats so you can't trust her.
And, pink in special places due to all the sunshine, we drove home taking only 1 wrong turning which enabled us to see some new and interesting corners of this green and pleasant land, including the fabled Hotel of Yesteryear that Jof saw down a side street as we left.
hengistbury head mudeford beachWe kept pace with a fifty-something chap in a bright red Lotus Elise on the motorway and the west-bound side was clogged forever as half the country went to Devon for the weekend.
needles vectis in sunshineMeanwhile we pigged on chocolate and West Country Fudge (it's exactly the same fudge box you buy in Stonehenge, St Ives and Weston super Mare, just with a postcard from Mudeford stuck on the top). I was promised all the crabbing equipment I could eat next time we return. We took it in turns to shower.
On Saturday I relaxed with Minecraft. Briefly, I attended acting school where the only other student was a 14 year-old girl who is friends with the older sister of Lucy, who is in my school class. Because there were no drama teachers available, we had a predominantly Tech lesson and played with the lights and I did a White Haze when I was supposed to do a Purple Haze, but my Super Silver Haze was all sparkly with crystals.
boy surfing on tableAnd I went back on Minecraft and Skyped with some random dude while Jof watched the FA cup final. Film Night was 'Crocodile Dundee' with some really dreadful outfits from the 1980s and lots of clever jokes that I missed because I was arguing. Showered whilst singing my Dyno-Saurs of Rox medley including excerpts from hits such as 'Stacey's Mom has we will rock you down to Gorky Park, and she's buying a stairway to the winds of change, when the wheels have ideas of their own, smooth as the groove that's making you move, taking the long way around...'
Sundays are always a battle 'twixt sofa and cake but Jof made me go out for a brisk walk, luckily rain stopped pain within 4 minutes. Meanwhile, 2 blokes were filling up a 'Man with Van'-style removals lorry with random rubbish and we noticed some dead pallets. You can't let these things go to waste so we mentioned the Scout Camp-fire and what do you know, both of these old boys were ex-Scouts and helped us carry 6 pallets and a table over the road to our garage, saves a journey to the tip and it's all in a good cause. Film night was 'Expendables 2' with guns and bombs and funnies.

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