We’re All Going on a Family Holiday

We’re All Going on a Family Holiday

That’s right. For the first time in two years the Hartmans have embarked on a proper family holiday. This time we all flew out together and will all be flying home together, as well as spending the entire 25 days in each other’s company. So far there have only been a few minor tiffs and we are all still alive…just. I suppose it helps that it’s not really what you’d call a normal family holiday; we’ve not trooped down to Cornwall or hopped on a plane to Spain (although we do that a lot). We have headed to the more random location of Madagascar in search of unique wildlife and trekking challenges. So far we have been pretty successful on the wildlife front and I’m sure the more intense hiking is yet to come.

Flying is my least favourite part of travelling (as anyone who has read this before will know) but I was hoping flying with Mum and Dad would make it less stressful. No budget airline for the grumpy flyer, not this time. It was Air France all they way…and what a disappointment that was. No leg room, too hot and not a lot food or Staff around. Also on a flight to Madagascar which has old animation films on its entertainment system I would really have hoped to see the film Madagascar on there but no such luck; I had to settle for the Aristocats instead. Having been up since 2:45am we spent most of the flight asleep and were obviously the slowest as we were the second last off the plane. At immigration the man checking our passports offered to give us our visa quicker but we declined as it was extra money and also I’m not quite sure how legit he was. We finally made it through after an hour of queues, stamps and baggage collection where we met our driver Christian who took us through the dark and slightly terrifying streets of the capital to our hotel. By this time it was 11pm and we were exhausted. So was the poor porter who ran up and down the stairs with our bags several times before any of us worked out which floor our rooms were on. All I wanted to do at this point was sleep but unfortunately my bag had been dropped in a puddle and my clothes were soaked so I spent half an hour finding places to hang my soggy clothes. By the time I got into bed it was almost 2am. Needless to say I sleep like a baby that first night.

We’ve been in Madagascar for 11 days now and have just arrived in the North after spending the first week and a bit exploring the West. We spent our first day in Antananarivo on a city tour with Christian. Driving round town in a 4X4 seemed a little extreme and was fairly hair raising at times- all practice for what was to come. He took us out to the suburbs so we could see the women doing their washing, which is something Mum always enjoys and then he showed us the old train station which has now been converted into a shopping centre and restaurant where the toilets are in an old railway carriage. It’s a shame that the trains no longer run as there are so many lorries on the road it would make more sense to transport those goods via the railway but then I’m not a politician so I’m assuming they have their reasons…maybe. From the station we headed up the Queen’s Palace, most of which burnt down several years ago but the views of the city are awesome. We had a really good guide who told us lots of stories about the site. I would not want to be a Grandfather to a boy in Madagascar; apparently as a sign of acceptance they have to eat the foreskin of the new child after it is circumcised. Sorry for the graphic detail but we had just had lunch when we heard this story. We also visited the King’s House which you have to walk in right foot first as a sign of respect and leave backwards as you are not allowed to turn your back on the king- clumsy Hannah struggled with this but nothing broken or bruised so far so we’re all good. This King had 12 wives, 11 of which he housed on the 11 hills surrounding the city and kept his favourite with him at the palace. What a busy man he must have been!

The next day was when our trip really started and although it was a great week with Christian and we saw a lot I do feel like we spent an awful lot of time in the car. This is probably due to the fact Madagascar is the 4th largest island in the world so the distances between places are pretty massive combined with the fact the roads aren’t great and there are lots of lorries. On the first day we broke up the journey to Andasibe with a visit to a reptile sanctuary where we saw loads of chameleons and I wore a centipede as a bracelet. It was great. That afternoon we arrived at the rainforests of Andasibe which was where our wildlife spotting started. On our night walk we were lucky enough to spot not only wild chameleons and tree frogs but also Pygmy Mouse Lemurs (Dad and I mistook their eyes for fire flies) and Wooly Lemurs swinging through the trees. We did have to leg it down the road to seem the Pygmy Mouse Lemur but it was worth it.

Lemurs are the main reason I came on this trip: I love watching them when we got to the zoo and they are even more hilarious in their natural habitat. The biggest species of lemur in Madagascar is called the Indri Indri which actually translates from Malagasy as “over there”. Apparently the French scientist which discovered it misunderstood his local guide and thought he was being told he scientific name when actually he was just pointing out where the animal was. This species of lemur is endemic to Madagascar and can only be seen by visiting the island as they aren’t able to live anywhere else. We were lucky to be in the company of another great guide called Everest who had been working the forests for 15 years so knew their habitat and routes well. They are so loud when they shout to each other I now understand why in the film they are constantly shown to be having a party- that’s what it sounds like. We had a really good morning walking through the forest, sometimes at breakneck speed when Everest was onto something. Not only did we see the Indri Indri but also the Common Brown and the Golden Sifaka. They are such funny animals and watching them jump is amazing! Watching the other tourists try to get photos is also hilarious and I was glad we had Everest as he often took us away from the crowds.

The afternoons was also lemur orientated although we had a visit to another reptile sanctuary first where we saw a large number of chubby crocodiles, some more geckos and a fossa. I was also made to go in a cage with some birds which was not an enjoyable experience at all. I HATE birds. Thankfully the visit to lemur island drove the birds clear out of my mind, although my parents and I did have a slight moral dilemma before we visited. We are not really into the whole getting up close and personal with wildlife; I flipped when it was suggested we go and visit the Tiger Temple when I was out in Chang Mai, however these Lemurs aren’t naturally aggressive animals. From the looks of them they have just got used to the presence of people and like the extra bananas but when they’ve had enough they head off to the forest for a nap. Pretty nice set up really. They are so light when they jump on you but they do take you rather by surprise. They also seemed to take a liking to Mum although one got a bit over excited and pooped on her which Dad and I found hilarious but she wasn’t as impressed.

The 2 days that followed our exciting adventures in the forest were a lot less eventful. We spent 2 days driving from Andasibe to Antsirabe and then on to Morondava. The scenery varies a lot as you drive through and the red soil does make it look like you are on another planet. The noise and the smells as you drive through the villages also keeps things interesting but being in a car for so many hours does take its toll. Luckily in Andiraisbe there was shopping to distract and in Morondava there was a beach to stroll along. Still it was a nice break the morning we left Morondava early and visited the Avenue of the Boababs. These are very odd trees which I think are also endemic to here and once covered most of the country but the forests have largely been destroyed due to deforestation for farming. They’re pretty impressive to see and at that time of day there weren’t a lot of people around.

Our next stop was Kirindy Forest on the hunt for more lemurs and the elusive fossa, although he turned out to be not so elusive. We’d been there less than 10 minutes when I turned round in the middle of where we were saying and said “oh look there’s a fossa’. He later reappeared looking for scraps from the kitchen and showed rather a lot of interest in the chicken coop. As it was around 10 when we went for our first walk the lemurs weren’t very active as they are sensible animals and don’t wast their energy running around in the heat. Despite the fact they were sleeping we still saw several species including a different brown to the one we’d seen in Andasibe and a White Sifaka. That evening we went out for another night walk and saw several more lemurs including the Grey Mouse lemur and the Red Tailed Sportive. We seem to have shaken our bad luck we had wildlife searching in Canada (fingers crossed and so may it continue).

Kirindy Forest was a great respite from the long drive but we only had one night there before we moved on again. This time our journey was made slightly more interesting by the presence of two ferry crossings we had to make as well as the fact I had a rather dodgy stomach which always makes long drives with no toilet stops that little bit more interesting. But lets focus on the ferries for now. I call them ferries because that is what they refer to them as but they are nothing like the ferries we have at home (of course). They consist of two long boats, each equipped with a tractor engine and covered in planks of wood which can carry up to 5 4x4s at one time. Unfortunately for those of us who arrived early they like to fill up the ferries before they leave so we had to hang around for a while to wait for a few more cars to show up. On both occasions when we were waiting for the ferries I made some new friends- being blonde, tall and female in most countries draws attention to you and here the kids seem to like me. At the first ferry it was a group of the most adorable boys we have met so far; they each kissed my had to say hello and asked for my water bottle which they shared out between them. There was a tiny one who was being looked after by his brother and it was so sweet it made my heart melt. The kids at the second ferry were slightly more daring in what they asked for; pretty much everything from our plastic water bottle to Dad’s watch. In the end they settled for play time where I spun them round in the air by their wrists. They seemed to enjoy it but I was knackered and rather dizzy by the time it came for us to get on the ferry. I often marvel at how much heavier kids are than they look!

This long drive from Kirindy had been for the sole purpose of visiting Bemaraha Nataional Park and the Tsingy which is a very odd but cool rock formation. There are two circuits which you can do to visit the Tsingy: the Grande or the Petit. As I was with Mum, who suffers from vertigo and the Grande Tsingy involves lots of sheer drops we opted for the Petit. At first I was a bit put out because I wanted to satisfy my inner adrenaline junkie which has been in hibernation for a while but it was actually a really good day. We started off on a canoe trip down the river to visit some caves. We had a local guide with us for this called Gilbert who was genuinely amazing! He hadn’t gone to school until he was 11 because he was looking after his Dad’s zebu (cattle) but one day he drank the fermented juice of a palm tree and got drunk so his parents sent him to school. He is now a guide for the National Park, a keen bird watcher, speaks 5 languages with the goal of speaking 10 by the time he dies and is obviously very politically active within his local community. He’s 25. Man did I feel like an under achiever. Gilbert was also a great story teller and told us all about how his ancestors used to use the caves.

From the canoe we headed into the Petit Tsingy where Gilbert had more stories about how he used to play in the rocks when he was a kid so knows them like the back of his hand. It came as no surprise when he told us he was the leader in all the games. There we several tight squeezes to get through the rocks and a fair few ladders to navigate but the view points overlooking this weird natural phenomena were worth it. Although I was sad we didn’t get to do the Grande I was happy we’d had Gilbert as our guide, especially after the stories he told us about marriage and death when we had our water break. Marriage seems to involve a lot of talking, money and the exchange of cows and by Malagasy standards I should be married now but only just.

Thankfully we’d had a day of walking and the hotel we were staying in did massages so by the time we got back in the car the next day I was less stiff than I had been. Christian told us we weren’t really in a rush as we had plenty of time to get back to the boabab trees before sunset. All seemed normal but then it was as though someone had taken over Christian’s mind and replace him with Lewis Hamilton. I know we were in a 4×4 but the speed he was going along some of the roads, which are more aptly described as dirt tracks, was completely ridiculous. He was the same driving through one of the small towns and I was so sure we were going to kill a dog and mildly concerned he might actually hit a person. It wasn’t until the evening he explained there is competition between the local drivers and drivers like him who come from the capital because the local drivers feel as though they are stealing their business. So basically we nearly killed a poor old man over petty rivalry and dust. Men.

We did arrive safely at the Avenue of Boababs which was a lot busier this time as everyone was arriving for sunset. The highlight of the evening was watching an intense football game between some of boys which was rudely interrupted by a bunch of tourists waking straight through the middle- grand prize to anyone who can guess their nationality. We were rooting for one of the kids to kick a ball in their direction but luckily for the clueless tourists these kids were a lot better at football than most of the England team. The sunset itself was pretty special, although nothing like a Namibian sunset. Still it was a beautiful setting and a great chance to see such an iconic snapshot of the island. Plus it meant we got to be out of the car which was always a bonus.

That night was our last night with Christian and so he finally had dinner with us. The conversation didn’t exactly flow because we don’t speak Malagasy or French which are his main languages but it was nice to have a chat to him and spend a bit of time with him before he left. He left at 6am because he had a long drive back to Tana which was going to take him 2 days. We had a later start and a suspiciously relaxing morning for a transfer day. It wasn’t until we were sat at reception waiting for our transfer that we realised something was a little wrong. One by one the other couples and their guides were disappearing off to their airport transfers but when we asked where ours was as it was 1pm we were told we hadn’t got one booked. Panic did start to set in slightly as we’d been told a few horror stories about internal flights in Madagascar and as we didn’t have a guide we were relying on our EXTREMELY limited knowledge of French to get us through any issues that might arise at the airport. Of course Dad started to kick off and even Mum got a bit stroppy as the time was ticking by and still nothing seemed to be happening. After what felt like and hour but was actually only about 15 minutes a ‘taxi’ pulled up and we arrived at the airport with plenty of time- we weren’t even the last people to check in. Our ‘taxi driver’ then walked through the airport pulling on a high via vest and proceeded to help load luggage onto the plane. This is Africa.

Our travels in the West have been fun but now we are in the North, a little more off the beaten track and ready to see what other wildlife and adventures await.

TOP TIP FOR THE FIRST WEEK OF MADAGASCAR: Take Imodium. Take control. (Other brands are of course available)


It’s More Than Just The Sunshine

It’s More Than Just The Sunshine

And just like that camp came to an end. The last three weeks, since the end of World Games were tough and I still feel like I’m trying to catch up on sleep. Add in the fact a lot of the kids left it was hard to keep the energy levels up and it was clear the kids were getting tired too as the amount of temper tantrums over small issues increased. Still, I would give anything to be back dealing with those temper tantrums, enjoying the laughs, treasuring the days off instead of shedding a quiet tear at all the people I’ve left behind. Think I’m being dramatic? Find the poor woman I sat next to on my flight home and ask her about the snivelling, crying wreck she had to sit next to for the first couple of hours of the flight. Yeah that was me.

Since the World Games the main thing on my mind was sleep. Unfortunately camp life slows down for nobody and work carried on as normal. However, one day my body fully refused to function and I had to spend the day in bed because I was physically ill due to exhaustion. I also accidentally slept through an alarm, which meant I was late to meet a group of 19 Mexican boys and their counsellors who I was supposed to be paddling over to the Overnight Site for dinner. Thankfully dinner was taking a while to set up so our late arrival didn’t cause too many problems. It did take several years off my life as it wasn’t the most relaxing trip ever and I lost my voice from shouting. The Overnight Site has restorative properties though and seems to calm even the most hyper active of children.

Camp has been rolling along in its usual whirlwind fashion with day to day activities seeming to roll into one. We FINALLY caught another fish, albeit a small one but at least it proved to the kids I wasn’t lying when I said there was fish in the lake. The vegetable patch was coming along really well. Toby and I snagged a strawberry which the kids hadn’t spotted and it was delicious. It turns out that if you move away from the docks and head out onto the lake early, I don’t know say about 6:30 in the morning, there are quite a few fish to be had. Browny had planned to take a few of his boys out one Sunday morning and asked if I would like to come along. If you asked me a couple of years ago if I would willingly to give up a lie in to go and sit on a barge with a bunch of teenage boys and attempt to catch a fish I would have laughed in your face, rolled over and gone back to sleep. Now it seems the whole fishing thing has got to me and we had a really lovely morning out on the lake with no one else around. It’s easy to forget when all the kids are there just how peaceful camp can be- it’s own little bubble. The whole morning was made more enjoyable by the fact the boys did actually catch something and Browny caught his FIRST fish of the season which was the ultimate success. I even managed to stay awake for the rest of the day but then it was a Sunday and the massive breakfast buffet probably helped.

Another early morning treat occurred just before camp finished. It has become a tradition over the past few years for Multi to organise what they call the ‘Sunrise Cabin’. This is pretty much what is says on the tin; those who want to wake up at 5:30am, head down to the wind fire pit to roast marshmallows and watch the sun rise. This year the weather wasn’t great as it was a bit cloudy but sometimes I think clouds add to the beauty of it. My favourite moment of the morning was when I first arrived at the meeting point and my little Everett turned round and his sleepy eyes widened and he ran over to me for a hug. It’s moments like that which make me love camp; I may be strict with them and make them eat their veggies but it’s good to know they love me really. As the sun was rising I sat with some of my favourite people, snuggled under a blanket and then proceeded to do some very creaky yoga. Jane and I then fell sound asleep curled up in the chairs outside the office before heading into the dining hall where we spent the next 3 hours having several rounds of breakfast. I swear every Sunday my will power is tested and I fail every time.

We managed to fit in a couple of Overnights in the last few days before my departure and it made me a little sad we hadn’t managed more over the summer, but unfortunately the weather just hasn’t played ball this year. So much rain! My last overnight there was thunder and lightening but we bluffed it out and the weather held in the end. We took the youngest girl cabin again and as expected there were a few teething issues especially where bugs were concerned. I don’t know whether I was a weird kid but I don’t remember ever being especially afraid of spiders but by the sounds coming from the tents you’d think Aragog was in there with these kids (giant spider in Harry Potter). I think my threat that if they didn’t stop screaming I would put the spider in one of their pillows worked a little too well…I sometimes forget 8 year olds can’t understand when you’re joking. Still, the spiders were removed and the screaming stopped so it wasn’t all bad. Dinner was pretty successful as well; they were delighted we weren’t eating burgers and hot dogs. I’d spent the afternoon collecting all the ingredients for pita pizzas and they went down a treat. As the sun went down on my last Overnight I felt another twinge of regret that I was leaving early, but then I woke up the next morning after spending the night sleeping on a rock and was grateful that in a few days I’d be back in my big double bed.

Knowing I didn’t have a lot of time left meant I was trying to make the most of my time with both my kids and the other staff. Saying goodbye to some of my favourite children when First Month came to an end had been tough and there were definitely tears shed but there were still plenty of kids left to worry about and the boys in the cabin kept us more than occupied. We had a couple of new boys arrive and they slotted in pretty well. One of them was so cute he cleaned the table every day without being asked and was so polite I could have cried- it was such a a relief to have one kid we didn’t have to nag all the time. On the opposite end of the scale there’s always that one kid that you have to keep your eye on at all times, especially when it comes to the boys. It was one of my last mornings down at Outdoor Rec and we’d split up the kids between fishing and fire building as usual. I was on the dock with about 6 Hawthorns (the youngest boys) and everything was going fairly smoothly. I was helping one of the boys detangle his fishing line when I heard a splash from behind me. I rolled my eyes thinking one of them had thrown their rods in again. I turned round to see, not a rod in the water but a small bobbing head. I swear my heart stopped beating and my stomach dropped out my backside. Luckily the kid in question was a fairly strong swimmer and managed to pull himself out with a little help from me and then we just sat having very wet cuddles for a few minutes. Toby came running over to see what happened but we were all fine; turns out walking backwards on the dock does tend to send you spiralling into the lake but other than being slightly in shock and very wet he was fine. He did take about 10 years off my life and it took me about half an hour to stop my hands shaking but it could have been a lot worse. By lunch time he was telling the other boys that he’d been pulled in by a giant fish so he couldn’t have been too traumatised.

Thankfully there were plenty of things going on at camp to distract me from the fact my time was coming to an end. We had another Moonlight Madness but this time it was Country themed- right up my street. It always amazes me how much can get done in a few hours and the dining hall looked awesome as always. What made it even better was that for 3 whole hours all that was played was country music, and it doesn’t get much better than that right?! I finally learnt the Cotton Eyed Joe dance (it took much longer than it should); ate cowboy hats made from Rolos, Pringles and wow butter and sang our hearts out to classic country tunes. The only bad thing about Moonlight Madness is that it’s only for the Hawthorns and Junipers so I don’t get to spend time with any of my Sequoia girls. Luckily the Sequoia play happened before I left so I got to see my little super star perform. They did the School of Rock and it was awesome- it’s made me really want to see the show in the West End as well as marvel at how talented these kids are. They had a week to rehearse and it was very near flawless.

Home time was getting closer but I still had a couple of days off to spend with the crew before it was time to leave. My second to last day off I ended up spending just with Mark- I called it our Date Day but he told me off. We could have gone with a massive group to a crazy cottage, which sounded fun but we were so tired from the week before we ended up going to his friend’s cottage. This place was absolute paradise in the middle of nowhere with a gorgeous pool and a dog, which is always a winner. We ended up having a really chilled evening drinking red wine and making s’mores (because I don’t get enough of those a camp). The next day we spent the whole day in Bracebridge consuming copious amounts of food and doing spontaneous things like getting a tattoo. Apologies to Mark for almost breaking his fingers! We had such a fun day but I knew my last day off I had to spend with my chickens. It was a nightmare to organise but it all worked out in the end and we had our final farewell at the McKnight cottage so I got to see Chelsea one last time. The next day we headed into sunny Huntsville for shopping and relaxing meal on the water. We also had a fairly long visit to the Dollar store which at the time I felt was kind of unnecessary. Being the oblivious human that I am I had no idea what the others were plotting…

My obliviousness continued into the Tuesday before I left. I was sat in the dining hall with Jane complaining my mug was missing, really wishing I could have a cup of tea, happily chatting with Nick and Jane when Jordyn turned up saying Julia was in the cooking studio and needed my help, so of course I hot footed it to the cooking studio to help my little nugget out. When I got there the whole studio had been decorated with tie dye balloons and streamers; there was chocolate and treats everywhere along with my mug and a big plate of crumpets- they know me so well. We also had princess straws which everyone knows makes everything better. Not only had they thrown me a surprise leaving party they’d also bought me some chicken themed presents. There were also cards which I refused to open because I knew they would make me cry as I came pretty close when I watched the video they’d made for me. I think it was Winnie the Pooh who said “how lucky am I to have something which makes saying goodbye so hard” and he was right. I love working with the kids at camp but it’s definitely this group of people who have made this year so special.

My last day was pretty much like any other except I kept getting random hugs of people or they would just look at me and shout “NO” in my face before walking away. The highlight of the day was definitely the evening when Bek took me wake boarding with Anna and Ellie. I’d wanted to go all summer but typically had left it to the last minute so Bek, being the angel that she is, took me as soon as she got back from her day off. I was pretty terrible to start off with and I got tired very quickly but it clicked a couple of times and that was so fun! It was an epic last night wake boarding on Duck Lake with some amazing people as the sun went down. I fell down a lot too but it was so worth it. After a hot shower I found the Hawthorn EP which was them watching Harry Potter- the cherry on top of a perfect evening. I helped out with my last bed time and said my final goodnight to all my favourite boys. So many hugs and even an “I love you Hannah” left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling. Yes they drive me insane and sometimes I want to scoop them up and plonk them in the lake but I’ve had such a great time with them this summer and I couldn’t imagine being with any other cabin.

Saying goodbye to the staff and kids is one of the hardest things about camp. Don’t get me wrong the amount of hugs I got on my last day made me feel so loved but I was also distraught at having to leave them all behind. Leaving on the day of carnival was also pretty upsetting as that was my favourite day at camp last year. Lunch time was my last meal and then it was time to leave. I was saying goodbye to a line of staff and kids trying to hold back the tears when I turned round and saw my three chickens absolutely bawling and I’m not going to lie, I lost it. I have had the best summer and much of that is due to them and the crazy, strong bond we all formed so quickly- I suppose spending 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with such incredible people will have that effect.

As if saying goodbye isn’t depressing enough it was time to head to the airport and board my flight which is my least favourite part about travelling. At least I had company for a bit this time as three of the Elder boys were catching flights back to France. Their flight left earlier than mine though and just like that I was alone, properly alone for the first time in two and a half months. It’s a very weird feeling and not one that I enjoy- again talk to that poor woman who had to sit next to me on my flight home and listen to me snivel and sob for two hours.

So I’m home (well actually I’ve been home for 3 weeks it’s just taken me a while to catch up because I’ve been trying to keep busy.) This summer at camp was genuinely the most stressful, tiring, incredible, amazing, fantastic summer I’ve had. I think it even topped last year which I didn’t think was possible. There’s something about Tamarack that gets under your skin, that feeling of home I’ve only felt in one other place. It most certainly is more than just the sunshine, which is a good thing because we didn’t have an awful lot of that this year! It’s the place, the kids and the friends that you make when you’re all thrown into this ridiculous, crazy bubble together. I miss camp and my chickens so much…but there are plenty of adventures to be had over the next 9 months before I head back to my home away from home.

TOP TIP FOR SUMMER CAMP: Just never leave. Or once you leave immediately plan your return; it’s the only way to avoid the all consuming sadness.

In My Heart I’ve Always Been Green 

In My Heart I’ve Always Been Green 

The World Games: possibly the biggest, most exhausting event in the camp calendar. It happens the third Monday of first month each year and captains get annouced to the staff the Sunday before, giving each team a week to prepare. Last year I was on team Japan and surprised myself with how into it I got. I always forget how competitive I am until I get back to camp. This year though I was in for a surprise…

Saturday night I was leaving the dining hall with my nice hot cup of tea, minding my own business when all of a sudden I was set upon by Rebecca and Marnie driving a golf cart. Rebecca coordinates the World Games so I knew it probably had something to do with that but I didn’t want to get my hopes up; I’d convinced myself there was no way I’d be chosen as captain. They kidnapped me and drove me down to Outdoor Rec where I was instructed to build a fire in the dark. I built possibly the smallest fire anyone has ever seen while Rebecca played “That’s Amore” which really confused me. My pathetic fire did light eventually which was when Rebecca excitedly informed me I’d have to build a much bigger fire than that if I wanted to win the marathon as captain of Italy. I was over the moon at being told I was captain despite being a little sad I’d moved teams. However, I already had so many ideas about how to get Italy ready to go I soon forgot I’d ever been red. Green Team for life! 

My next concern was that Sunday night was when HB1 (my cabin of boys) was meant to be going on their overnight, but I had to be at the staff meeting so wasn’t able to sleep over with them. They didn’t seem too cut up about it and when I went back over in the morning it sounded as though it had all been a bit chaotic so maybe I’d had a lucky escape, although probably less sleep. 

I don’t think I’ve ever been a very good liar so my cover story as to why I wasn’t at the overnight was pretty transparent. Still only a few people noticed I was back and no one knew I had been switched teams so that bit at least was a surprise. To announce the 8 captains to the rest of the staff the lights went out and the recording was played to the dining hall; sadly mine was super quiet so you couldn’t really hear it. Then it was time for the big reveal: onto the benches we jumped and stripped down to our team colours. The adrenaline coursing through me at that point was ridiculous and by the time it came to reading out our team lists I was shaking so much Rebecca had to hold the paper for me. I was partnered with a Erdman who has been at camp pretty much his whole life; always been on Italy and had been dreaming about becoming captain since he was ten years old. No pressure! The combination of my newness and his deep rooted history in the team was the perfect combination and definitely helped with our success on the day.

The World Games always kicks off with a super event and every year that super event is a wall sit. I had totally forgotten about this and could feel myself begin to panic- would my ankle hold? Normally it’s the male or the female captains that have to do it but due to the fact both myself and the captain of India are injured they made all the captains do it. I knew I wouldn’t be the longest but my aim was not to be first and thankfully I wasn’t. I peaced out third once my whole right leg started to cramp and I could no longer feel my toes. Japan won the first super event but as I said to my team afterwards: Italy won it last year and ended up coming 4th overall so it was still all to play for. After a brief team meeting Erdman, myself and Slogan went to plan our theme and start thinking about songs. It was a successful meeting and a necessary one because I feel it put us ahead of the game but it was also the start of my crazy late nights-well more like early mornings. We ended up going to bed a 2am and I was on the wind docks at 7:00 to go over to the Overnight Site to help out with breakfast. For the rest of the week the earliest I went to bed was 1:45 which is why I may have accidentally fallen asleep during a period but only for a couple of minutes!

It’s hard to explain the concept of world games and how important it becomes to the staff in the week leading up to it but I will try. There are 4 teams: Italy, Japan, France and India. France win a lot and Italy have the reputation of being the underdogs but this year we planned on changing that. The whole camp, including staff, is divided into these 4 teams and each team has 4 captains: a male and female staff plus a male and female CIT (2nd year Elders and oldest campers). We got so lucky with our CIT captains. They were absolute stars from beginning to end even if they did stress out a little bit, they were so sweet and pretty much lived in Brandon Hall in the week leading up to the all day. They were also very concerned for my welfare and kept telling me to go to bed early which was adorable. The issue with that was there aren’t really enough hours in the day to go to bed early in the run up to the day so while I appreciated their concern I may not have followed their advice…

7 days is all we have to prepare 2 songs; a large mural and smaller banner for the dining hall; further dining hall decorations and then block the entire team of kids from each of the units onto activities in both the morning and the afternoon. Our theme for the dining hall this year was a gelato shop. The whole concept aimed to be clean, clear and cohesive which I think we pulled it off in style. Our secret weapon was supposed to be Tina serving homemade gelato but unfortunately it melted before the judges could taste it but they still seemed pretty impressed. But I’m getting ahead of myself; the countless hours that go into the preparation of the banner and mural alone are ridiculous for something that is up for less than 24 hours. Each team has a certain number of artists (thank goodness) because my limited skills would never have been able to produce anything close to the masterpieces we ended up with. Our large mural was an Italian street scene with the window of a gelato shop. The ice creams in the window were painted different shades of green, white and red so made up the Italian flag and the logo on the top of the shop was picked out in all of our decorations. Our banner was created by an incredibly talented artist on our team who literally gave her everything to the day putting herself in the health centre because she refused to go to bed! The banner was a mix of all things Italian, still keeping with the gelato theme but combing that extra bit of sass team Italy needed to get us ready for the day: We are Prada you are Nada is my new favourite saying. 

In addition to the wall hangings we also created menus with ‘Our Story’ on them and special flavours for each of the 4 captains. The table centrepieces were ice cream cone stands with 4 ice creams made from balloons to represent these 4 flavours- they looked so cute! Hanging from the ceiling we had more ice cream cones with Italian flag ice cream made from tissue paper- these I did make as they are within my creative remit. The CIT project was to create our gelato stand where Tina would serve from and they did such a good job. It was made entirely from cardboard, painted green with a cute red and white awning finished with our ice cream logo that tied everything together. The night we set up the dining hall I was slightly concerned that it wouldn’t all come together as there were a couple of components that hadn’t worked out as well as we’d hoped. Thankfully Erdman was there every step of the way and never for once doubted us: this is why we are the dream team. 

Our second biggest task that we really wanted to get a head start on was the song. Coming from team Japan who’s song last year was absolutely shocking I knew how important it was to have a tune that everyone knew and something that was easy to sing. It also helped that most people (other than me) writing the song could actually sing so would be able to teach it properly when it came to helping the kids on the day. Each team needs two songs: a short one at lunch and a longer one which is performed in the evening when there is also the dance and the presentation of the plaque and ring. A group of us spent several evenings writing our after dinner song and it showed how much effort was put into it. So many people told us how good it was and our formation with coloured paper to make the Italy flag at the end just added to the overall wow factor. We had originally hoped to do the first song, which was to the theme of ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ as a Capella but unfortunately there wasn’t enough time. It still sounded great though and flowed easily into ‘Drops of Jupiter’ finishing off with ‘Castle on a Hill’. This was the hardest one to get but when the time came to perform in front of everyone the kids absolutely nailed it and it sounded amazing! 

The lunch time song was probably one of the highlights of my day, partly because of how into it the kids got but also because of the reaction of the other teams. They were not expecting us to get so hype! Slogan wrote the lunch song in about 10 minutes but it was awesome. We started soft and swaying with our rewritten version of ‘Free Fallin’ and then BAM hit them with ‘Humble’. The kids absolutely loved it and really raised their energy for the rest of the afternoon. I truly believe it was part of the reason we did so well in the afternoon…but I’m getting ahead of myself again.

The songs were done, the decorations were under control and the wall hangings were coming along beautifully but the biggest pan in my backside still had yet to be done…blocking. I never knew such an unoffensive word would cause me so much grief but my God it was hard work. The day of the World Games is divided into a morning of different activities followed by an afternoon marathon where the staff run between the activities, only able to leave once the kids have finished that particular event. All of the kids have to be assigned to the specific activities by the team, which is extremely difficult as it’s impossible to know every kid in camp and what their skills are. For the most part we did a pretty good job at picking the right kids for the events they were good at and only made a couple of boo boos; the biggest being assigning a poor kid to the Wake Expo when he’d never been wake boarding before. We also lost our lead in the afternoon because the kids we’d blocked on tennis couldn’t keep a rally going which was unfortunate. However, there were some events like water polo which we thought we’d thrown and ended up winning, Plus we blocked all the brainy kids on the puzzles so flew through those while the other teams struggled. This blocking takes time though and is extremely stressful especially if your system of coloured pens falls apart and you end up accidentally blocking one kid 3 times while forgetting to block another at all and then accidentally block a kid on an activity which they can’t do because they have to be at dance rehearsals. Seriously I had nightmares about it for a good 3 days!

There were a couple of times during the week where I was so tired and so fed up of everyone throwing their opinions around I full on broke down and at one point even had a panic attack. I wanted to do well for the team and the kids so badly but I was also aware I had a job to do plus a lot of the boys from my cabin were leaving so I was trying to spend as much time with them as I could. To have this questioned by other members of staff did hurt, especially to be told I wasn’t ‘decdicated’ enough as a captain as I left for my day off. I literally poured my blood, sweat and tears into that day and if I’d have given it anymore ‘d be in hospital right now. I don’t think I have ever needed a day off more and I came back feeling recharged and ready for the next few days. I wouldn’t say I fully relaxed but it was exactly what we all needed. After another minor breakdown in the car (I managed to hold it off until we’d left camp thank goodness) we headed to Julia’s cottage for a night and day spent on the lake. A tipsy run down her road for the taxi and a good singalong in Pub on the Dock followed by a sleep until 1pm was just what the doctor ordered. We spent the afternoon on the lake where I learnt that I truly am the most un-graceful person when it comes to water activities (see me paddle board) but that my balance is improving. I also learnt that when tubing with Amelia it’s the face that hurts more than the arms because I was laughing so much at her facial expressions I got face ache. The day was too short but we arrived back at camp after the speediest Walmart shop stocked up with provisions for a couple of late nights and a lot more energy and positivity than we had left with. 

Sunday was the day World Games would be broken to the rest of camp. There had been an annnoucment at dinner on the Saturday that Jenny had moved her wedding so she could get married in front of the camp and we all assumed that was the break. The wedding occurred and, as fake as it was, it was beautiful but there was still no mention of the World Games. By this point all of us captains were on edge wondering if we would every be told what was going to happen. It turned out the break committee had some incredible plans and the wedding was indeed supposed to be the break. Unfortunately, due to the terrible weather and the forecast for the next few days they hadn’t known whether the games were actually going to go ahead so the break we had, while still good, was slightly less spectactular than we’d hoped. Still, bursting through the green covering and screaming I T A L Y to the excited cheers of the whole camp was a definite highlight of my camp life. Standing in front of the kids with my fellow captains and the Italy flag wrapped round me I felt so unbelievably excited yet also nervous: some of these kids had been on Italy for years and the last thing I wanted to do was let them down. I feel like I didn’t perform my best in the second super event but we ended up coming third which for Italy is not that bad. By this point all the kids knew which teams they were in and my 3 girls were already super excited and pumped for the day. 

The rest of the evening was spent competing in unit events followed by the infamous arm hang in the dining hall which involves a male and female from every unit in each team. My only regret of the games is not volunteering myself to be the female representative for Italy; not that I think I stood a chance against Japan but I still wish I’d given it a shot. The kids’ energy was flagging by the time the last people went and it didn’t help that we’d only won once. Still, I was determined not to let them be downhearted and sent them to bed with the promise that tomorrow it was all to play for. The night was not over for the staff or the CITs, not by a long shot. It was dining hall decoration time and there was a lot to do. I wanted to tables moved so it it looked like were actually in a restaurant; the murals had to be hung; the tables decorated; a ‘gondala’ procured (we used a canoe) and the ice cream cones all needed hanging. We had to make some minor tweaks to our decoration ideas and only a few staff stayed on the bitter end to see it completed but both myself and Erdman were so happy with the final result. Each team pulled out all the stops this year and everyone’s decorations were so different I would have hated to judge it. Obviously I’m biased but I do believe as an overall concept and theme Italy smashed it.


4 hours after I hit the hay I was up, showered, dressed head to toe in green and ready with all the other captains to go and wake up the camp for the day. That’s another fun part of being a captain: you get to run round a unit, banging on the cabins and shouting to wake up all the kids. Team talks were needed outside the dining hall because the energy and the feeling I got off the kids after the night before was low and I was not having that. I told them I didn’t care what had happened in past years, this was 2017, Italy’s come back year and it was ready for the taking. I feel like it did sink in as for the rest of the day we were loud and proud. I feel as though we had a really successful morning and although we did lose a few events there were plenty that we came second in and a few that we absolutely flew through to victory. When standings were annouced after lunch we were sure we had moved up to 3rd but sadly we were still in 4th. The kids were amazing though and did not let this get them down. 

The afternoon is the marathon. A relay of events where the staff run and the kids participate in the activities trying to get their team to the fire first. It was an absolute rollercoaster of emotions from start to finish. We started strong and on some events totally annihilated the completion. On others we arrived first but struggled so ended up leaving last only to catch up and overtake on the next event. This year our blocking seemed to have worked out fairly well for the majority of events and the kids were blocked on activities they both enjoyed and were good at which makes their day more fun and the team as a whole more successful. I spent the afternoon cycling around like a crazy woman trying to get to as many activities as possible to support as many of the kids as I could. However, as the afternoon wore on my stomach started to tie itself into knots and the old sick feeling of butterflies returned which signalled only one thing: ice and fire was drawing near. 

Building the fire for Japan last year was horrendous and not a feeling I wanted to repeat. This year not only did I want to do well for Italy but I wanted to redeem myself. Myself, Andy and 2 CITs were ready and waiting for when Italy arrived FIRST at the fire. IT was slightly different this year though as before we could start building our fire we had to melt a t-shirt and put it on. I melted with my body heat and Andy ripped which worked well although I think France just caught us up. They had a slightly longer time penalty than us though so in the end it worked out fairly even once we’d each got a t-shirt on one member of the team. As soon as our three minutes of penalties were up I legged it into the forest but they hadn’t passed the memo onto me about changing (for the third time) which direction we were allowed to run in so my first pile was confiscated. It really didn’t make that much difference though as they boys were great at bringing back loads of stuff and Andy and I built. With all my heart I wanted to burn that rope faster than France but unfotunately it wasn’t meant to be. If we’d have lit our fire perhaps a minute earlier we might have made it but still 2nd place in the marathon for a team who were certain they’d be dead last was amazing. The kids were over the moon and finally, truly started to believe they stood a chance which is all I wanted. Plus I redeemed my reputation as a fire builder thanks to the help of the boys so it was win win all round. 

India arrived shortly after we’d burnt through the rope got their fire going in about 30 seconds (they have a killer fire builder on their team). By this point most of the other teams had left by Japan had only just arrived and so a few of us stayed with the team to cheer on their fire builders. It was an amazing moment to see them all pull together and get their fire going even though they didn’t have to. I was so proud of some of my team for staying behind to cheer them on as well, as I felt this showed true sportsmanship which is what the day is supposed to be about. 

After the fire it was straight to dinner which I spent with the captains putting forward names of kids and staff who should win MVP for each unit. I think it was testament to the amazing day Italy had that the majority of the kids who were voted for as MVPs were from team Italy. It was also a proud moment being sat outside and listening to our CIT captains get the kids going. They were cheering as loud as all the others now and we’d moved to third going into the evening, which meant they were all very excited and ready to learn the last song. By the time we left the bandstand it was sounding epic and we all had a good feeling that it was going to be a great end to the day. We were wrong. It wasn’t a great end to the day, it was an AMAZING end to the day. The song was incredible; the dance was epic and our plaque and ring were absolutely stunning. I thought I might actually explode with pride at how well everyone had done. Whatever happened now I knew we’d all done the best we could.

We left the theatre in the dark, instructed to arrange ourselves into a specific order on the soccer field in front of 4 structures. My stomach was doing summersaults again and there was a small part of me that thought I might actually throw up. The captains were called forward where we were given a torch to light a rope which would set fire to a beacon if you were the winner. None of them were lighting that well so we still didn’t know who’d won. We rejoined our team and waited anxiously for them to light the correct beacon. Slowly it dawned on us that France had won for a third year in a row; even though the fireworks were red, whit and green so we thought for a second it was us. They did however, annouce that Japan and Italy had tied for second place and I swear I think team Italy were shouting louder than France. I said later on in the night that I don’t think I could have been prouder and someone asked ‘What if you’d won’. In all honesty I don’t think I would have been prouder if we’d won. The goal for the day was to make these kids believe in themselves and stop thinking that just because they were on Italy that automatically meant they’d come last. The fact that kids were still coming up to me 2 days later saying how well we did and expressing their hope that next year we might actually win just shows how much changed in a day. No we may not have won but I’ll take 4th to 2nd any day! 

The excitement was over, the trophy presented and the adrenaline was slowly wearing off. All that was left for staff was to head back to the dining hall to take down all the decorations that had been so carefully crafted over the past week were torn down and thrown away. The dining hall always looks so sad and empty once all the decorations are down- to be fair most of ours had fallen down/ popped throughout the day but the drain of colour after all that hard work is slightly depressing. What a day it had been though. I was physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted; my ankle was in absolute agony and I could barely speak because of all the shouting but I wouldn’t have changed it for a single second. I never thought being made a captain would mean so much but seeing all the kids and how much the day meant to them plus working side by side with Erdman and the CITs was such an amazing experience it will definelty stay with me for a long time. Not for a second did I believe I would become so emotionally infested in what in reality is just a campwide event, but the amount of effort and emotion that everyone contributes makes it so much more than that. I’ve never been prouder of a group of people and I really hope I did tea Italy proud. Now it’s time to catch up on all those lost hours of sleep but I have one final thing to say: I T A L Y Italy is flying high! 

TOP TIP FOR THE ALL DAY: Say goodbye to sleep and hello to an emotional rollercoaster of epic proportions. 

Outdoor Get Recked 

Outdoor Get Recked 

What a whirlwind these past few weeks have been. The kids have been here less than a month, some have already left and another group leave on Thursday. I’m exhausted but the fact time has actually flow indicates just how much fun I’ve been having.

The day the kids arrived was wet and windy but that didn’t stop us making it an epic welcome. There was singing and dancing in the dining hall; cheering and screaming as the buses pulled in and absolute chaos helping multiple small boys attempt to relocate their hockey sticks. I have been assigned to HB1, the youngest boys in camp, and it has been both the most rewarding yet stressful time. For the first 2 weeks there were 16 boisterous boys in that cabin each with their own individual quirks. While making them be quiet during announcements and getting them to settle down when it’s time for bed makes me want to rip my hair out and question why anyone would ever want children, there are so many more moments where the things they come out with make me cry with laughter or feel such a sense of pride, I find it hard to imagine ever being mad at them. I spent most of my first day hanging out with the boys and trying to get to know them as we weren’t running activities. Lunch was an interesting affair as there was an ENORMOUS puddle round the clock tower outside the dining hall and these boys decided it would be a great idea to play in/around it. I turned my back for 5 minutes to catch up with some of my girls from last year and the boys were all drenched from head to toe. I also got soaked in the process of attempting to get them out and 3 of them had to go back to the cabin to change before lunch. This set the tone for the next 2 weeks! 

Once lunch is over the dreaded swim test is always the main part of the first day. I know from experience how traumatic this is as I completely lost it during mine this year so I try to stick with the kids who I sense will find it most difficult. Most of the boys in HB1 absolutely smashed it and were in and out as quick as possible so they didn’t get cold. Unfortunately, one boy was not feeling the ice cold water and no amount of persuasion from myself or one of his counsellors seemed to work. We got his brother involved and another member of staff but the more people who were around the more he closed off, so I attempted a different tactic. Tommy (his counsellor) and I totally backed off and watched from a distance while he came to his decision alone. Unfortunately a few other members of staff didn’t seem to be aware of what we were trying to do so pounced on him again. He did nearly end up going in but it was all too much for him and the poor kid was freezing so we decided the wait for another day. However, this kid now associates me with that day and really, really doesn’t like me. But hey you win some you lose some. 

The first 2 weeks of camp were crazy busy and there were so many kids it was hard to find time to breathe. I think I sat down for about 30 seconds each meal time and any spare time not spent with my boys I was hanging out with some of my girls from last year who are now first year Sequioas so super old and cool. Thankfully not too cool to want to spend time with me which is very sweet. The rest of the time I’m down at Outdoor Rec attempting to make the kids understand there’s a lot more to our activity than fishing and fire building. We have been partially successful, although not as much as I’d have hoped. Still it takes more than a summer to change a perception and I’m hopeful that the changes we’ve made this year could snowball into something more over the next few years. Our biggest achievement has been the vegetable patch which I have been discussing with my Dad for the past couple of months before camp and am so happy we got planted. The initial planting of the seeds was a tad chaotic and if we do it again next year will be more structured. Still, the fact we have 2 canoes with fruit and vegetables growing is awesome. The kids got into it more than they let on as well because they still come down and ask to water the plants and check on how they’re doing. 

Our Super Sunday ideas have been more successful than I expected too. The paint decorating was great fun and some of the masterpieces created were truly spectacular. The kids got pretty messy and I had to hose one of them down but its Outdoor Rec so it’s all part of the fun. By far our most successful Super Sunday has and will always be raft building. The constructions the kids come up with and create in such a small amount of time is always so impressive. Some of them disintegrate immediately upon impact with water but a small number of them actually make it out onto the lake. I’m always slightly nervous watching 6 tiny Hawthorns float out on the lake with nothing but foam, logs and twine supporting them but then I remember they weigh nothing and 7 year old children have no fear. Some of the rafts they built this year were extremely impressive and actually made it out to the target without collapsing- they are certainly more creative than me! 

The main issue for our team this year has once again been the organisation of overnights. Part of Outdoor Rec’s remit is that we are supposed to organise and facilitate camping trips to the site on the other side of the lake. They are always great fun once we’re there but getting there takes time, coordination and more time. We tried to recitify a number of the issues with them this year by coming up with a schedule before camp started. Unfortunately, this schedule fell apart pretty quickly and as a result, I feel has caused some problems within the team and with the kids. A number of cabins were told they were going on overnights because they were as part of the original schedule but this then had to changed because events were moved that they couldn’t miss. We’re also paddling over this year which is great because it means we have two more staff to help out but also causes problems because we have to fit in timings around another activity that works to a different timetable. As a result we have so far only managed to take 4 cabins on full overnights and 2 more just for dinner. Despite the stress the kids we have taken seem to have enjoyed themselves and there’s been some truly stunning sunsets I’d hate to have missed. In my opinion there really is no better place in camp than the overnight site: the beautiful sunsets; endless s’mores; early nights for the kids and a real sense of peace. In the stress of organising them I sometimes forget how peaceful it is over there but it really is a special place to be even if the only thing we ever seem to eat are burgers! 

Special programmes and camp wide events also make overnights tricky because we don’t want the kids to feel like they’re missing out on anything. The timings of these events are pretty fluid so even when we try to plan around them we still have to change at the last minute. The one thing I refused to miss this year though was the Hawthorn play, mainly because I’d promised too many of my boys who were in it that I would be there and also because Peter Pan is my absolute favourite. Sometimes the lack of respect shown by the rest of the camp at camp wide events makes me really angry, expecially at something like the Hawthorn play. They are small and quiet but so adorable and the fact people can’t be quiet for the hour the show lasts is a little bit ridiculous. Still, the play itself was absolutely adorable and definitely worth the rath of a certain person for missing the overnight. The talent show was another camp wide event where people struggled to sit still and stay quiet- I do understand as the theatre is an absolute sweat box when everyone is crammed in there- but you can tell a good act when 90% of the audience stops talking. This is what happened when my favourite child got up to perform a song from Hamilton. Not only does she have the voice of an angel but she also signed the whole song too. It was so powerful I almost cried. 

With everything going on at camp, from activities, to Super Sundays, helping out with bed time and hanging out with the kids during rest hour I have found I’ve cherished my days off this year more than ever. Just getting out of camp for a few hours and doing something that doesn’t involve worrying about the safety of someone else is a dream. My first day off I went exploring with Bek and Amelia. We had a glorious night in Bracebridge town involving a refreshing bottle of wine and karaoke in a empty bar followed by the obligatory breakfast trip to Nick’s family diner. From there we drove to Port Stanley to play in the waterfalls. The water was a lot higher than we expected so we ended up just relaxing on the rocks. From there we headed to Huntsville for dinner at Pub on the Dock in the sunshine and topped off the day with ice cream. It was the perfect day off and much needed as little did I know it was the most rest I was going to get for a while…

TOP TIP FOR THE FIRST TWO WEEKS OF CAMP: Say goodbye to sleep and hello to a sugar gut. Chocolate is the only thing that keeps you going. 

The Chaos and the Calm 

The Chaos and the Calm 

I feel like the title of James Bay’s album totally sums up the last three weeks of camp. There have been moments of silence where all you can hear around camp is the birds singing followed immediately by days where there are 300 children running around and you have no idea whether you are coming or going.

3 weeks of school groups have been conquered and Spring Crew has officially come to an end. It’s sad because it feels like the end of an era but also exciting as summer is really beginning. It has been pretty crazy over the past few weeks as there have been so many kids coming and going it’s hard to keep up. For 24 hours I was spending my time with the kids from Yorkhill and getting on really well with most of them (most being the operative word) then bam! Charles Gordon and John McRae kids turn up and it’s bye Yorkhill kids and hello Charles Gordon. I have to admit I wasn’t particularly sad to be saying goodbye to Yorkhill. Most of the boys were great; one of the kids was so cute when I gave him extra Pokemon points and made me remember that I don’t hate all 13 year old children. On the other hand there were 2 girls who made me realise why I’m not such a fan of that age group, especially girls. They referred to me as ‘the British Staff who hated them’ because I yelled at them on the fishing docks: apoliogies but they nearly took one of the boy’s eyes out with a hook. After that I was glad to move over to the other school even if I had heard interesting things about their reputation…

John McRae were supposed to be a boisterous school with potentially ‘difficult’ children but this was so false. I had them all afternoon the day they arrived and they were hands down my favourite kids of all the school groups we’ve had so far. The first two groups were all boys and apparently they’d been told they were the “problem group”. First of all why would you tell a bunch of kids that in the first place?! And secondly they were not a problem at all: yes they had a lot of energy but if it was channelled in the right way they were great. I think it helped that they were all obsessed with my accent so every time I spoke they all shut up. Plus this week we have s’mores making facilities and there is no better way to bribe children than with marshmallows. There is also nothing I like more than smelling like a camp fire and being covered in ash. Teaching kids to build fires is so much fun and it always makes me laugh that no matter how many times you emphasise the importance of small twigs there are always kids who bring back a tree the first time they go off looking for wood and then expect you to light their fire straight away…size isn’t everything boys. 

What I was most excited about with this particular bunch of kids was that it was the first time I have ever slept in a cabin with them and it will probably be the last. Not that I didn’t enjoy being shouted at to turn my head torch off at 11:30 because apparently it’s not an appropriate time to update my travel journal. I equally enjoyed being woken up at 5:30am, especially as they’d all been complaining that 8:00 was too early. But hey that’s all part of the fun and the conversations they had at that time of day were hilarious. It also meant I didn’t have to feel guilty about getting up to go for a run. Unfortunately that would be my last run for a while as not only did I sacrifice my sleep for the enjoyment of these children I also sacrificed my right ankle. I played my first game of ‘Capture the Counsellor’ but instead of hiding I decided to be a runner, thinking it would be safer than attempting to hide up a tree. Unfortunately I forgot about the tree roots and ended up rolling my ankle and hobbling back to the dining hall. I was then carried to the camp fire for a sing along because I physically could not put weight on it. The next morning I was limping pretty badly, which made running sessions pretty interesting. Thankfully my first and only attempt at running a low ropes session was with the Harbourfront crew. This is a group of staff from their camp in Toronto who come here for training so I didn’t have to walk around a lot and they were sympathetic to my plight. 

We waved a fond farewell to those kids who were quickly replaced by the 160 kids from Winona. They were my first school group last year but there was a lot more of them this year and I really struggled. Getting a conversation going with them felt like trying to get blood out of a stone. Although a couple of the groups who came down to fire building were great; one of the girls spent 25 minutes trying to light a fire using only a magnifying glass (the sun made an appearance for about 10 minutes). She actually did get a flame going which would have caught if the wind hadn’t got to it first and I was so impressed. The highlight of their stay was the incredible game of Quidditch- I embraced my inner Lee Jordan and commentated both games purely for my own enjoyment. I think I may have had more fun than the kids but when it comes to Harry Potter I really don’t care. 

The last week of school groups felt weird and disjointed because so many new staff members have arrived and I only had 3 sessions of fishing with them on their first day and that was it. I sat with them at a couple of meals and found them so much easier to get on with than the last lot. Even the girls which for me is actually unheard of- I swear I like children I just don’t deal well with 13 year old girls and all the hormones. I also had a 15 minute conversation with one of the boys about how to pronounce certain words. He was highly offended at the way I say banana and the fact I call it banana skin rather than banana peel, apparently that’s a horrendous thing to say over here. Everyday is a school day. 

For the rest of the week we were back on maintenance, which was good especially as there wasn’t a lot left to do. I was back on the painting team which is always entertaining, especially when it involves me going up a ladder. I’m pretty clumsy at the best of times so propped against a wall holding a long roller trying to reach the highest spots on the dining hall is a sight to behold. We also made the hockey palladium look respectable and had some time to do some activity specific planning. We’ve had a large amount of stuff donated to Outdoor Rec from a camp in Michigan which closed down. As an activity we probably came off best; I am especially excited about all the new cooking equipment and the massive telescope. It looks quite complex but hopefully the rain will stop eventually and I’ll have to time to play with it. Toby and I went for a visit to the overnight site to see what needed to be done- there is so much water it’s actually ridiculous. The thunder box was still there so I think we’re going to burn that as there’s no way the kids (or anyone else for that matter) will want to sit on a rotting wooden box that’s been sitting out all winter. It’s still a pretty special spot; I can’t wait for the first sunset. 

The most exciting part of maintenance for me was getting to go fishing. I’ve never had the chance to go before as I spend most of my time helping the kids or detangling their fishing line. The boys have been going a lot throughout maintenance so I decided I would crash the party and try my hand. I showed them up big time it was so great! Less than 5 minutes after dipping my rod in the water I had caught my first ever fish. I’ve never seen Nick and Andy move so fast from one side of the dock to the other. It was brilliant! I was successful a second time shortly afterwards and then I called it a day as I was being eaten a live by bugs. I’ve always loved the expression on the kids faces when they’ve caught fish but now I’ve done it myself I truly understand the excitement. 
There have been a lot of changes over the past week and I’m not sure how I feel about it. We had one last night out just the Spring Crew which was obviously spectacular. We may have overwhelmed the restaurant slightly with our numbers but it all worked out for the best as we ended up in Kelly’s again. I won’t say how much I had to drink but the fact I got up and did karaoke 3 times should give some indication. Thankfully the next day I was reunited with my one true love: pancakes and bacon in Nick’s Diner. This place is one of my favourite things about coming back to Bracebridge. It’s a proper family run diner and although it feels like the waitresses hate us (I would if that number of people showed up expecting a table without a booking) they always recognise us. A milkshake and pancakes is the perfect cure for a night on the town. 

This last week there has been an even bigger influx of people with the arrival of head staff. Not a lot changes for us as we are still painting and scraping. It is always a bit weird though because Spring Crew is so tight and then we’re just split off from everyone. It’s all very strange and not something any of us really enjoy as far as I can tell. However, it did feel less divided this year, possibly because I knew more people and because there were more people not on head staff training. Change is scary but we’re not here to rake pine needles and paint cabins (as fun as that has been). We are here for the kids and the time of their arrival is getting closer. The summer is almost upon us…I just wish the weather knew that! 

TOP TIP FOR SCHOOL GROUPS: Watch out for those tree roots. They come out of nowhere! 

Rake, Eat, Paint, Repeat

Rake, Eat, Paint, Repeat

It’s amazing how you can be away from somewhere for 6 months but as soon as you’re back it feels like you’ve never been away. That’s exactly how I felt driving through the gates at Tamarack. It was hugs all round in the car park of Downsview station and getting to know the newbies while catching up with old faces on the drive up to camp is always fun. Then of course there is the obligatory stop off at Tim Horton’s which I had been saving myself for. Nothing beats that first tast of a maple dip doughnut and an iced cap after so long. This is why Canada makes me fat! 

The first couple of days at camp are always a readjustment although this time I knew more of what to expect and fell into the rhythm of things so much faster than last year. We had a morning of health and safety training (yes it was as fun as it sounds) and an afternoon of ropes and climb training. This was a lot more interesting, however the bugs were ridiculous and I have never been more thankful to Andy G for lending me his bug suit. Learning how to belay is pretty cool but also mildly terrifying when you know that you are responsible for the safety of the person at the other end of their rope climbing up a verticals wall. No one got hurt on my watch though and I managed to have a go at the climbing wall and the flying squirrel so I’m already doing better than last year. 

The next day school groups arrived and I’m not going to lie I was bricking it a little bit. I learnt how to fish during Spring Crew last summer and I haven’t done it since. I was also without my right hand man of Toby as he hadn’t arrived at camp yet. Despite my nerves as soon as I opened my mouth it all came flooding back to me and within 10 minutes of the first session I felt like I had been untangling fishing line my whole life. I had one of the newbies Jane helping me out for the first afternoon which was great because she was in the position that I was in last year but I think caught on even quicker than I did. By the end of the first session she was ripping worms in half and removing the fish from the line. Luckily fish love the rain because it pretty much didn’t stop the entire time the kids were here. Great for fishing and we caught loads of fish but not so good for fire building…

Thinking on my feet I decided to go with a fail safe activity that I used to do with the kids last summer: build a rock a home and test it against the elements. The only issue was these were grade 8 kids, so 13 years old and too cool for school whereas the kids I’ve done this activity with in the past have normally been around 10. I had my first group before lunch and they were great. They got so into it which was extremely helpful as I was running the group on my own. Unfortunately the next two groups didn’t take to it quite as well and I had a hard time getting them going. Thankfully I had Nick join me for the last group because they were really hard work and I was grateful to head back over to the docks for my favourite kids from Wedgewood. They were younger and the kids who’d I’d been sitting with at meal times and going to EPs. I absolutely loved them as they were all hilarious, especially Sarah who I bonded with over our mutual love of cheese. 

I felt so much more comfortable with the kids this time and despite my ridiculously bad cold, got involved with them as much as I could. I always forget how competitive I am until I come to camp and that side really came out in an epic game of Human Xs and Os. This is a truly spectacular game and the kids got really into it. My team started off on the back foot but came from behind to absolutely smash the other team and go onto to an even greater victory over the next team. By the time the game finished I was exhausted and had totally lost my voice along with another kid on my team. The next day we spent signing to each other and running groups alone was an interesting experience with no voice…

Having survived school groups and handled it much more successfully than last time we were ready for the weekend. Friday night went from a quiet drink in Boston Pizza with a few card games to tequila shots and a night out in the Bracbeidge “club.” It was hilarious and much needed adult time after a few days with the kids. Saturday we eventually surfaced, collected the cars from town and headed to Huntsville to stay at Nick and Julia’s cottage for the weekend. We were supposed to be helping put the dock in the water but we spent most of the afternoon watching the boys do the hard work in the cold lake water while we ate snacks, listened to music and played with their gorgeous dog Chelsea. 

Once the boys were done with their manual labour and had showered to warm up, out came more food and copious amounts of alcohol. I’m not even joking when I say I’m pretty sure we were drinking for about 10 hours straight and drank the whole house dry. I ended up going out on Huntsville town with Julia, Jane and Jordyn. It isn’t that different to a night out in Bracebridge except the place we went to is on the river so is really pretty. We also made friends with our awesome taxi driver who took us into town and brought us home. She was an absolute legend and put up with us talking absolute crap like a trooper.

We ended up going to bed at around 5am and for some weird reason I was up at 9 but we were rewarded by the most amazing breakfast. Pancakes, bacon, crumpets and peanut butter were among the offerings and I’m not even going to try to pretend I didn’t try a bit of everything. I think I just need to accept that Canada makes me fat because the food is so good! Shout out to Nick and Julia’s parents for all the food they provided over the weekend because my God it was incredible! 

The amount I ate did put me into a bit of a food coma, though that was nothing an iced cap from Tims and a bit of retail therapy couldn’t cure. My will power when it comes to shopping for Muskoka clothing is almost as bad as it when it comes to food so of course I treated myself to pair of shorts. Everyone was pretty tired and most of the group headed straight back to camp but us four girls headed up to the Lions Lookout. The views over the lake were absolutely stunning, especially as the sun had finally graced us with its presence. It was the perfect place for some deep and meanigfuls and just made me remember why I love coming back here as much as I do. 

There really aren’t views like this anywhere else in the world. I think we could have stayed up there for a long time but the grumbling stomachs brought us down and led us to Wabora. This little hidden gem of a sushi restaurant in Bracebridge was so incredible I can’t actually believe I was here all last year and never ventured there! Definitely making up for that this year. 

Monday morning rolled around and with it a week of maintenance making sure the camp is spic and span ready for school groups and the main camp. I had a day of painting with Jordyn where we both got slightly high on the paint fumes until Glen brought us some masks. I then had a couple of days helping out with the cleaning. These were pretty chilled as there really wasn’t that much left to do although some of the bathrooms which the boys from the last school group had been using were pretty grim- thankfully they managed to get it in the toilets this time. Yeah we had a poo on the floor incident… the joys of working with kids! When I wasn’t painting or cleaning I was out helping raking. Or more accurately picking up the piles of stuff that had previously been raked, throwing it onto the back of the truck and dumping it in the junk yard. The trips to dump were always fun as it involved lying on a nice comfy pile of pine needles and leaves but it did unfortunately mean I found pine needles in places pine needles really shouldn’t be! 

We had a couple of adventures during the evenings as our maintenance days tend to finish around 4:30. When I say we I mean the girls because the boys found a TV and Xbox so have been boring and antisocial playing Fifa competitions ever since. Tuesday night we found our inner wilderness explorers and went on an adventure to Bulk Barn and then the waterfalls in Bracebridge. 4 hungry girls should not be let lose in Bulk Barn unsupervised. Between us I think we spent about $40 on chocolate.

Our adventures took us along the river, through a no entry sign and round behind the falls where we skillfully ruined a romantic moment between a couple…Oops. We spent some time on the river until Jane got a bit overexcited and nearly fell in so we decided to call it a night on the adventuring and head back to camp for eating. Settled in the cube with mountains of chocolate and Grease turned out to be the best decision we’ve had since we’ve been here. It was glorious! 

Thursday was a special half day as the boys had planned to play golf. Originally we were joining them, then we weren’t because it was too wet but eventually it turned out we were allowed to go and follow them on golf carts. We had a fantastic afternoon listening to music, eating snacks and drinking ‘responsible’ amounts of beer while the boys played their very serious game of golf. We managed to turn the boys’ game into our own drinking game and it was absolutely hilarious watching them as some of them are a little out of practice…not that I could have done any better but golf has never really appealed to me. Crazy golf any day but real golf is a long slow game. Lucky for us there was plenty of beer to go around even if the woman running the shop was reluctant to sell it to us. ​

The weekend was a lot quieter than last week as there were only 5 of us on camp. Friday night once again went from quiet to crazy in less than a minute and we ended up going to bed at around 3am after consuming ridiculous amounts of cookies and peanut butter along with an entire wheel of Brie. What better way to spend a Friday night?! Saturday started strong with a full English breakfast and continued to get better as the sun finally came out. I was so proud of myself as I actually went for a run (and did exercise on Sunday too-win!) and then spent the afternoon napping on the docks with Jordyn. We popped into town for some real wifi although when confronted with what was going on in the real world I wished we could have stayed in the camp bubble. Stay strong London. It’s going to take a lot more than that to break us. 

Sunday was staff BBQ day. The plan was to leave at half 3 but unforeseen circumstances delayed our departure. Keys locked inside the car is never very helpful but who needs keys when you have a Keehan- yes he broke into the car. We only arrived at the BBQ half an hour late and there were a lot of people there, most of whom were first year staff and had no interest in talking to me anyway. Reunited with the old crew and the lovely Julia Ferris made my afternoon as did the brownie bites. I caught up with a few people and met a couple of newbies but the whole experience was a little weird and overwhelming so I was quite glad we only stayed a couple of hours. I drove home with Andy Bell to keep him company as we were bringing more people up to camp and he had all the bags. Of course there was another stop of at Tims on the way- it’s actually illegal to go to camp without doing one. We had the camp car which was mildly terrifying as the lights aren’t the brightest and the windscreen is cracked…but we made it safe and sound thanks to Andy’s driving skills which is all that matters really. 

This week is going to be busy and as we’re all grown ups you’d think we’d have had an early night to prepare for the onslaught on children. Who am I kidding. We all stayed up until midnight and the boys had a massive nerf gun battle. Thankfully the groups today aren’t too huge so the lack of sleep isn’t causing too many problems. It’s also stopped raining which is always a bonus especially as I am about to go and build my first fire of the year. Bring on the s’mores! 

TOP TIP FOR SPRING CREW: Never go to bulk barn on an empty stomach. 

Toronto Team Ups 

Toronto Team Ups 

I am back. Toronto take three and there were three things I wanted to do: the CN tower edge walk; visit Toronto islands and watch a Raptors basketball game. The CN tower edge walk is $225 which is way out of my budget, the islands are closed due to flooding and the Raptors just got knocked out, so there goes my amazing plans. Luckily I had a couple of friends lined up that I was planning to see so at least I wasn’t totally stranded for 3 days. 

After a solid breakfast in the hostel bar on my first morning, I headed out to the Eaton Centre to find myself a padloack as I’d unfortunately locked myself out of the one that I brought with me. I was quite impressed with how much I remembered and only went the wrong way a couple of times on my way to Dundas Sqaure. On my way back to the hostel I made the obligatory stop at Nathan Philips Square and had the necessary photo in front of the Toronto sign- it has to be done. 

I spent the rest of the afternoon catching up with my friend who I’d met in Banff last Autumn. We headed back to Dundas Square and spent a couple of hours drinking beer, eating burgers and catching up on the last 6 months. It turned out to be a more expensive afternoon than I had bargained for but it was so good to hear about what he’d been up to a reminisce about our times in Banff. We had a wander down to the harbour to enjoy the late arrival of the sunshine before he had to go and catch his bus and I went back to the hostel. I tried to make myself stay awake again but for some reason jet lag is killing me this time…
The next morning I checked out and hit the extremely windy streets of Toronto. Well I say morning, it was closer to afternoon by the time I actually left the hostel. I headed across town to wander around Kensington Market to see if anything had changed since my last visit- not much had. It’s still full of hipsters and stoners and expensive coffee shops. Heading back through China Town I went back down to the harbour for a boat tour of the islands. They are very much flooded so you cant get off the boat but it was a something different and the view back across the water to the city were incredible. The only problem was that by the time the tour was over I was so cold I couldn’t actually feel my fingers and I was shivering like I’d been for a week long trip to the South Pole. I hobbled back to the hostel on my poor blistered feet treating myself to the most expensive hot chocolate but at least it was warm! 

The next part of my journey should have been fairly simple: I knew where I had to go and I had been there before. The first part of the journey went fairly smoothly considering there was a signal failure but once I reached Finch station I accidentally got on the wrong bus and started going in the wrong direction. When I got back to Finch station after swapping buses, I just reached the right bus and it drove off. And I thought Canadians were supposed to be kind and understanding! Anyway I eventually got on the right bus and took out about 4 people with my suitcase exiting the bus, this time at the right stop. But I was here! Finally! It has been so good catching up with another friend from camp. The weather has been pretty bad so there’s not been much to do but a few days to relax before the craziness that is camp is never a bad thing. We hit a very tame house party on Saturday night and ended up at Wimpy’s at 1am eating sweet potato poutine. Man I’ve missed this stuff! The rest of Sunday was spent watching trashy films and hiding from the rain hammering outside. We did venture out in search of food and I had my first experience of ramen and it nearly blew my brain out. Seriously I was coughing, crying and sweating like nobody’s business. Still it was really good and warmed me right up. From there the boys introduced me to these buns shaped like fish filled with red beans or custard. I had a custard filled bun and it sure hit my sweat spot. 

But today is the day. At 2:45 I will be heading back to camp and I am so excited! Even though my friend and I have spent the morning trying to shake off this weird sickness and I still feel pretty crap I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone. This year I am only staying until the middle of August so I can just go for it for 11 weeks and worry about the exhaustion and damage to my body once I’m home. A lot of the people I met last year aren’t coming back which is a shame but there’s a solid crew of people I do know and I’m sure the newbies will be sweet. So I’m ready, prepared and full of new ideas for another crazy summer. Stay tuned for the ridiculous antics that are all a part of camp life!

TOP TIP FOR TOROTO: When venturing out on the harbour take all your winter warmers. It gets bloody cold!