A few weeks ago I was reading an article about 'Health and Safety' in British schools and how teachers can't even have a school outing to a museum without filling in a ton of forms to cover their ass.
Which got me thinking back to my days at school in the 80s. The school had this tradition for boys in their first or second year, which was one of the big things among the pupils, and, in a way, separated the 'men' from the 'boys'. It also created a mass of rumors fed from the older boys to the new starters about the horrors we would face.
For two days that year we had to... go camping with the teachers.
Which would scare you a lot more if you understood that most of the teachers had done at least a couple of compulsory years in the military, some had fought in WWII, and others in the jungles of Malaysia (heck, one part-time teacher in his 90s had fought in WWI). Only the youngest had avoided military service altogether and grown up as liberal wimps... and, well, no-one had much fear of them.
So at nine in the morning we were lined up outside the school with the teachers. A motley collection of eleven/twelve year old boys with backpacks and flasks of tea and sandwiches made by our mothers; surprisingly, every boy I knew actually had a mother who considered raising their kids more important than working in 'human resources' at Widgets, Inc.
The teachers gave out maps and compasses, showed us where the school was and where the wood we would be camping in was, and told us they'd see us there in the evening. And they meant it; if we'd had a helicopter the direct route would have been about twelve miles, but any real-world route was more like fifteen to twenty. And we had to get there ourselves.
Oh, and we weren't allowed to cheat, call up our parents and get a lift out there, we had to walk.
Now, just imagine that; about forty boys in groups of two/three/four, many of them not yet in their teens, tramping around the country with maps and compasses, not a cell-phone among them, no-one to look after them, just trying to find a spot on the map.
Oh, did I mention the clouds? The rain started not long after we left in a group of three, and continued on and off during the day. We had lunch late because found a barn in the middle of nowhere that we could stop in to at least get our wet coats and sweaters off for a bit while we ate and drank. But by the time we actually reached the camp-site we were soaked.
Now, all of us arrived safely; not one was kidnapped by the hordes of pedophiles who apparently scour the countryside looking for young boys who are out of sight of an adult for more than ten seconds. The teachers, of course, were smart and had driven up in the school mini-bus with all the tents and other heavy equipment.
Of course that meant that after walking the best part of twenty miles we now had to put up a tent to sleep in, and then cook our supper, over gas camping stoves that could have burnt down the entire forest in those days before 'Health and Safety'. Then we went to bed, where the 'hard men' smoked cigarettes in their sleeping bags so the smoke wouldn't get out where the patrolling teachers would smell it; they didn't want to get pulled out of the tent by their ear and paraded in front of the other boys as a law-breaker the next day.
At midnight the teachers woke us all up. Well, the few who'd actually got to sleep and hadn't been discussing girls or smoking cigarettes or telling each other scary stories, anyway. They then led us away into the woods in the dark, and every few minutes they'd let one boy go, telling him to find his own way back to the camp; by some strange coincidence all the boys they particularly disliked were let go at the end of especially wet and muddy tracks where they were sure to slip over a few times before they got back.
Again, despite being on our own in the dark in a wood which, if today's newspapers are to be believed, was probably filled with hundreds of pedophiles, we all got back safely. To be honest, only the stupidest of boys could have failed to find the camp eventually; the smart ones had been looking out for landmarks we recognised to lead us there, but anyone who hadn't could just walk in a straight line to the edge of the wood and then follow it around until they reached the track we'd walked on to the camp site in the evening.
The next day we had various games, then got to ride back in the mini-bus.
Now, no-one was forced to go on that trip; anyone could have asked their parents to excuse them, though they'd have been considered a terminal wuss by every other boy for the rest of their years in the school. Similarly, no parents had to allow their kids to go, but every boy I knew actually had, you know, a _father_, who actually lived with his mother, and would have considered him a terminal wuss if he hadn't gone. Even if the mother didn't, he realised that it was precisely the kind of character-building exercise that young boys need, where we'd beaten the fear that previous generations had built up in us and proven we were far more capable than most adults would have given us credit for.
Today, of course, there's a pedophile behind every lamp-post, you can't change a light bulb without making a Health and Safety report first, and the country is infested with single mothers who'd never let their son go out walking twenty miles on his own with just a map and compass to guide him. I do wonder whether the school still runs it, but I can't see it myself; odds are they get bussed to the woods, teachers put up the tents and they get a worry-free night of smoking in their sleeping bags.
But, hey, kids have to be kept safe away from anything that might harm them, right?