Guildford Microadventure

Nearly sunrise

I had a bonus holiday day to use as I ended up working the Queen’s funeral, which was double bonus really as the rest of the family were at school / work. For a long time now I’ve been thinking that I should do another micro-adventure so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. Luckily the weather forecast was good as well so it was on.

I kept this super simple, the only goal was to spend the night outdoors. Nothing else. Just to prove that I could still do this and remind myself what it was like. Also a vague idea that if I wanted to do this again, I should start easy.

From running around the area over the past year I had a good idea of where I would pitch camp, so I put the kids to bed and then headed out the front door at about 8pm.

Packing List:

  • Sleeping bag, rollmat, bivvy bag, fleece stuff sack for pillow
  • Tarp (with lines attached to corners already), poles, pegs and 2 extra lines
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Warm top
  • Flask of coffee for the morning (Zojirushi so good at keeping things warm)
  • Hipflask of whisky for the evening
  • Waterbottle
  • Tootbrush & paste
  • Headtorch

Packing was minimal, I’d planned it out during a Teams call in the afternoon so was very quick getting everything together. I used everything except the extra lines and the waterproof.

There was no moon, so it was really very dark walking up to the spot and I had to use the headtorch when I got into the woods as it was pitch black.

Really very dark…

After walking for about 35minutes I’d found the area where I planned to spend the night, and then quickly found a likely spot, just set back from the path with a small amount of cover from a hawthorn bush. My only real worry for the night was slugs – these had been awful when I camped on Exmoor and are a real downside to using a tarp rather than a tent. But it had been dry for a while and was quite cold so I was hopeful to escape them. Seemed like I wouldn’t be so lucky when I found a couple exactly where I was planning to sleep, but I dispatched these and the rest must have got the message.

It took me a little while to decide that I had a good spot and was actually going to do this, was quite tempted to just walk back home and get into my bed. This feeling passed though as I sat there looking out over the villages below, seeing the planes pass overhead and the car lights wandering through the dark. So I committed to setting up the camp at least as I could always take it down again if I chickened out. There were some noisy boy racers in the nearby carpark, and some bell-ringing practice going on somewhere but I didn’t see another person.

Getting the camp set up was straightforward and I could remember how to do the relevant knots (slippery taut-line hitch). Having the lines already attached to the tarp was super-convenient and I thanked the person I used to be for thinking of doing this a long time ago!

Can just about see my set up here

Finally I decided it was time to retire, as I was in danger of drinking too much whisky. So into bed and I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable the rollmat was since it was a long time since I had used it. Also the fleece stuff sack is by far the best pillow I’ve used, having tried many different inflatable options.

I slept pretty well, better than I hoped. Woke every 90 min or so I think but found a new position and was bag asleep quite easily. Heard a lot of owls, or one very talkative one and enjoyed seeing the stars. The cloudless night meant the visibility was great, but also that a lot of condensation fell on the ground. I was grateful for having put the tarp up, and for the bivvy bag being quite waterproof.

Water was forming on the inside of the bivvy bag, but it didn’t seem to be making a difference to the sleeping bag and I was super cosy in a long-sleeve wool baselayer, walking trousers, wool socks and beanie hat. I cannot say enough about my sleeping quilt from Enlightened Equipment. One of the best buys I’ve ever made. The quilt works so well inside the bivvy bag, much more comfortable and easy to get in and out, and it’s just so warm and light. Like being enveloped in your own bubble of warmth. Was difficult to get out of this in the morning.

I was up about 6, packed up by 6.20 and then home around 7, feeling great.

Really glad I did this, and surprised myself by how simple it was. Very satisfying to know that I know how to do this and can actually do it. Something special about being awake and in nature when most people aren’t, whether that’s at night or in the early morning. It certainly makes for a richer life experience than another evening on the sofa watching Netflix.

Not sure I would change anything if I did this again, maybe some better whisky, or binoculars to get a better look at the stars. Did make me think that I’d like to do the North Downs trail, wild camping on the way. Walking back home in the morning was good, but would have been even better to have been on a journey to somewhere new. But a micro-adventure is always better than a no adventure!

Burns Night Toast to the Lassies

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I was asked / told to give the toast to the lassies at my rugby club Burns night. I looked quite extensively online for tips and example toasts but nothing was that good so, in the hope that it might help someone else out here’s the toast that I gave, or at least the toast that I wrote beforehand.

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen. For those who don’t know me my name is Rob Mitchell and I play second row for the 1st XV. I also compile the statistics for the 1st XV, noting how many appearances players have made and so because I love statistics I note that this is the third Burns night I can remember attending here and since my first appearance I’ve learnt not to wear a kilt to these occasions and John Hines has learnt not to ask me in front of assembled dignitaries to prove whether I am a true Scotsman in my wearing of said kilt…

So when David Dick asked me to give the Toast to the Lassies, I said I’d think about it but wasn’t sure if I could do it… he then thanked me for agreeing to do it and here we are. I have to confess that despite being born in Glasgow and with parents living in Aberdeen I had to go and look up what was expected from the Toast to the Lassies. My hopes were immediately dashed when I realised it had nothing to do with those incredible dogs who save so many children from abandoned mine shafts every year, or the Guildford RFC backline.

Scotland still being just part of Britain I went to the BBC site which describes the Toast to the Lassies as “the humorous highlight of any Burns Night”. I’m not sure who wrote that but no pressure I suppose… at least not if you’ve spent the rest of this evening sitting on Rory Andrews’s table.

The BBC goes on to say that this toast “is designed to praise the role of women in the world today. This should be done by selective quotation from Burns’s work and should build towards a positive note.” I don’t know if that means I should start on a negative note or something. However one important point that the BBC does not mention is that in preparation the speaker should spend 80min running round a muddy field getting his head kicked in, followed by 4 hours of aggressive drinking, but we can all read between the lines here.

Here at Guildford we are lucky to be able to count on the involvement of many women, from the players in the mighty Gazelles, to coaches, physios, administrators, volunteers, bar and catering staff and supporters. Not to mention those partners of players who put up with weekend disruption as Saturdays (or Sundays) are spent playing and then the rest of the weekend involves their partner lying around in pain and asking for back rubs. I’m glad and proud to be part of a club which has such an active involvement from the other 50% of the population.

So on to Robert Burns. He was a big fan of women but however not such a big fan of responsibility, commitment or the withdrawal method and is thought to have fathered somewhere between 12 and 16 children with at least 4 women before he died at the age of 37. For a fan of statistics such as myself the implications of that are pretty mind-boggling. Assuming that there were no twins, that’s 1 child every year since the age of 20.

I’ve never really read much Robert Burns but I started looking through his work to prepare some of those selective quotations that the BBC recommends and was struck by how alive a lot of those poems and songs felt. You can really get a sense of the person behind the writing and the 16 children by 4 women in 20 years seems less outlandish. I am no Burns scholar but reading some of this stuff and picturing the man behind it, it seemed like there were three types of writing that Burns did.

First up are those poems where Burns is delighting in his conquests and showing what a lad he is. This one is thought to be inspired by Elisabeth Paton, a servant girl who worked in the Burns household:

My girl she’s airy, she’s buxom and gay,
Her breath is as sweet as the blossoms in May;
A touch of her lips it ravishes quite.
She’s always good natur’d, good humor’d, and free;
She dances, she glances, she smiles with a glee;
Her eyes are the lightenings of joy and delight:
Her slender neck, her handsome waist,
Her hair well buckl’d, her stays well lac’d,
Her taper white leg with an et, and a, c,
For her a, b, e, d, and her c, u, n, t,
And Oh! For the joys of a long winter night!!!

The second type of verse has a long lineage and was all too easy for a rugby player to recognise. No doubt many here are familiar with the story of the man who used to have a retail job in Chicago but lost it due to many misunderstandings with female customers and the items they came into the store looking for. Or the joys of being a Rifle Ranger, or the bear that I know that you don’t know, and so on and so on. If you were in the vicinity of the A3 between Gosport and here this evening it’s possible you may have heard some of these stories set to music…

It’s impossible to read something like Coming through the Rye (chorus:

O gin a body meet a body,
Comin’ throu the rye:
Gin a body fuck a body,
Need a body cry.)

Or the fantastically crude “Nine Inch will please a lady”:

`Come rede me, dame, come tell me, dame,
`My dame come tell me truly,
`What length o’ graith, when weel ca’d hame,
`Will sair a woman duly?’

The carlin clew her wanton tail,
Her wanton tail sae ready
I learn’d a sang in Annandale,
Nine inch will please a lady.

and not imagine Robert Burns and his mates getting pretty severely boozed before launching into drunken renditions of these and several others.

Now the BBC says that this toast should build towards a positive note so after reciting some of Burns’s cruder work (John Hines might be wishing that he’d asked me to prove my Scots heritage instead now…) I’d like to look at the final category of Burns’s work, those poems which go furthest to explain the multitude of women he was involved with. It is easy to imagine the average standard of wooing from farmers in 18th Century Ayrshire and then the success that someone would have with verses like these from “O Saw ye Bonie Lesley”.

To see her is to love her,
And love but her for ever;
For Nature made her what she is
And never made anither.

Thou art a queen, fair Lesley,
Thy subjects we, before thee:
Thou art divine, fair Lesley,
The hearts o’ men adore thee.

So to conclude, would you please be upstanding and I’d like to finish with some final words from Burns as we toast to the lassies:

Old Nature swears, the lovely dears
Her noblest work she classes, O:
Her prentice hand she tried on man,
And then she made the lassies, O.