Monday, 13 February 2006

Ditch Monkeys don't like rain.

Lots happened at the weekend; I had a good idea, figured out how to save the world from global warming and invented a time machine! It’s amazing just how productive one becomes without a television.

The good idea came, as they often do, over a cup of tea in Blackwells book shop on Broad St Oxford. I can’t claim that the idea was entirely mine as it was inspired by the book I was reading at the time; “Ray Mears Essential Bushcraft”. Just flicking through it I discovered my self learning things and having several of those, “that’s so obvious why didn’t I think of that” moments. For instance, one end of a stick, the other being poked into the ground, can be used to store a boot upside down and thus dry in the rain. Two such sticks ensures dry boots in the morning. A splendid idea, I have not in the two nights since reading this actually stuck two sticks in the ground but I have made a note to myself to do so when I have got up on both mornings. On flicking through the book some more I discovered that it is possible to sleep out in cold weather without a sleeping bag. The idea is to build a lean-to shelter to protect yourself from the elements and make a bed out of branches to lift your self off the cold ground. Then a fire is lit in front of the lean-to fire, no ordinary fire mind this fire is made to be the length of the shelter thus keeping the inhabitant warm all night long. Building such a fire is simple enough, it just requires a few long logs all piled up facing the same way and a little bit of encouragement to make it spread. Being a little fed up of being cold at night I decided to give it a go.

My situation was slightly different from the one I had read about, I had a sleeping bag but no shelter other than the tarp. I did consider building a shelter but it was nearly dark when I got home and I really couldn’t be bothered. So I built a fire, cooked some Chilli; well I say Chilli but I was missing cumin, chilli powder, tomatoes and kidney beans I had meant to cook Chilli but a series of misadventures in Oxford conspired against this. I find that my most successful creations in the kitchen have come from necessity; situations in which there is nothing to hand but a few odd ingredients that when combined create a gastronomic delight. Saturday night was not one of these occasions. Having eaten the gloopy twig infested concoction I set about stretching the fire out so as it would warm me through out the night. I figured there was no need to burn very much wood as it was not that cold so I made the fire about three foot long and left it to spread itself out further along the logs as the night progressed.

It was wonderful basking in the heat of the fire, nicer even that the sauna at the gym and it was so relaxing that I went to bed at about 7 (this ditch living is not all rock and roll you know). I fell straight to sleep and it was about 3am before I woke due to being cold so I rolled closer to the fire. I say closer to the fire, I think perhaps if I were to say I rolled on to the fire this might give a slightly more accurate description of what happened, at least that’s the impression the state of my sleeping bag revealed to me in the morning. Anyway I didn’t catch fire, maybe because I put the remains of the fire out by rolling onto it or quite probably because it started to rain, it absolutely heaved down and I was not lying under the tarp, no I was lying on the fire. I didn’t realise I was getting wet until the water started to seep through the hood of my sleeping bag and by this time the hood was completely wet through. Having woken and being rather unimpressed I rolled under the shelter of the tarp, or rather I rolled to where I thought the tarp would be, only to wake up later and wetter. By this point it was getting light and the rain was still bucketing down so I decided to get up. Getting up wasn’t great, everything was wet and I was feeling a bit miserable. Pretty much everything was wet through, sleeping bag, clothes, me, rucksack. I guess that will teach me for getting sloppy, it’s just that it has rained so little recently I kind of take it for granted that it will not.

The big challenge for the day was to get everything dry, for some reason I did not feel particularly inspired by the idea of getting into a wet sleeping bag at the end of the day. I was cold and shivering and did toy with the idea of getting on the bus and going to the laundrette in Oxford, but that would be defeatist; “what would Ray Mears” do I thought to myself. “Not be wet in the first place” came the reply. The obvious thing to do first was to re-light the fire so I checked to see if there was any warmth left in the charred ends of last nights logs, there wasn’t. Everything was soaking wet, at this point I began to seriously regret allowing myself to get so lazy, a while back I would have at all times enough kindling stored away in a waterproof bag to light a fire. Now I had nothing. I did have some paper and decide to cheat and use this to light a fire with, I really could not be bothered to mess about with starting a fire using only a spark. A lighter would have to do. My lighter was broken and I had no matches, this meant that I would have to break into my waterproof survival tin and use the waterproof matches I had in there. Not ideal to have to break into my reserves but at least I had some reserves.

My survival tin had been waterproofed with insulation tape it was quite a job unpeeling it with numb fingers, eventually I managed and was surprised to find the insides completely damp. This wasn’t great but at least the matches were proper waterproof ones, or at least they had been once, now they had turned to mush. No choice for it then, times to light the fire from a spark. This took some time as you can probably imagine, the situation was not ideal. In the end I resorted to using the last of the petrol to get the thing going. I’m not very happy about having to do so and I know if I had put my mind to it and persevered I could have lit the fire without resorting to this. It took about half an hour or so before the fire was going sufficiently well to stop belching out thick smoke and when it did I tied a length of cord between two trees so that it run close to but not over the fire, I then hung the tarp out over the cord so that the length by the fire was sheltered and then I hung my sleeping bag up to dry. It was dark before everything dried out and all day long it rained. The irony of it was not lost on me, on Friday night as I lay in bed with cracking lips and a massive thirst I fell asleep wishing for a tap or some, any, source of water.

This morning I was pleased to discover I was dry when I woke up, and even more pleased to realise that the Owl now comes and hoots away at the same time my alarm is set for, it seems an age since the last time that happened. I have given up on catching the 6.45 bus, preferring instead to catch the 7.10 unless it is a particularly busy day at work. So today when I walked to work, there was a smattering of bird song and enough light to see well by, I t drank deep draughts of this light, heady and happy. Like the sweet taste of water to parched lips, the light penetrated my very soul and lifted my spirits and I understood, or at least began to, the importance of the sun to ancient civilisations. Subjectively at least I understand why the sun was worshipped as a god.

1 comment:

kitty said...

I'm concerned that the boot-drying device sounds awfully similar to an earwig trap. But presumably the creepy crawlies don't bother you, or you wouldn't be doing this...

Karen