A Field Trip To Cornwall, With Bad Maps And A Condemned Stream

April 1974, Terry Jack’s Seasons in the Sun, Mud’s The Cat Crept In, Paper Lace’s Billy Don’t Be A  Hero, and Charlie Smith up to his waist in a ditch full of cow shit, halcyon days, we won’t ever laugh that hard again, I almost passed me fags around.

We were 17 going on 18 like Rolf the Nazi delivery boy in Sound of Music but unlike Rolf we weren’t that interested in girls not even if they were 16 going on 17, we were a gang of lads on a school Geography field trip and…

…hang on a minute, there was a bit of female interest, there was a bird who was in the same year as us, a really fit bird who shared a bedroom on the same floor as us even, but she shared it with a right minger, its just written isn’t it, all the best 17 year old birds have a right minger as their best friend, its like they know that when some lad fancies his chances and asks his mate to double date the minger they’ll just laugh and tell him to fook off.

…and Miss Cockayne,

…ah yes, Miss Cockayne, the new Geography teacher with the most gorgeous arse and a propensity for wearing tight jeans, lets pause for a while in the museum of recollections for in this drawer are all the memories of Miss Cockayne.

.

Anyway, so there we were, a dozen or so 17 year old lads let loose in Cornwall on a field trip for a week, Falmouth to be precise, the study of the Geology and Economics of an English county, total bullshit to someone like me who had only stayed on for the extra year at school so he could go on the geography field trip with his mates, and I nearly didn’t go…

“What!!!” my father had said when I broke the news, “HOW MUCH!!!”

Everything boiled down to how much with my father, the cost of the field trip was probably about £20 to include the return train fare to the other end of the country and seven nights full board in a boarding house on the harbour front in Falmouth, including all of our packed lunches, but it may as well have been £20,000.

He lent me the money.

Let me say that again, my father didn’t pay for me to go on a field trip, he lent me the money and you’d better believe that I had to pay him back from my wages as program seller at Leeds Rugby, a couple of quid every second week, he LENT me the money.

Lets just fast forward thirty or so years here, my youngest daughter at her last year in High School comes home with a piece of paper requesting my presence at a meeting in the hall that very night to discuss my daughters proposed geography field trip, “Ah yes” I reminisce “geography field trips, how I loved that geography field trip to Falmouth, the one where I had to pay for it myself” and later on that evening I’m sitting with her in the school hall watching a Powerpoint presentation on conservation projects in Africa and I’m thinking that this is all very nice and all that but when are we going to talk about his geography field trip and who do I give the £20 to ?

And then the bloke giving the presentation says something and the penny drops and I stand up and shout “YOU’RE GOING WHERE ???” and he tells me and I don’t sit down but simply scream “AFRICA? YOU’RE TAKING THEM TO AFRICA, WHATS WRONG WITH FALMOUTH YOU BLOODY IDIOT?”

£2500 that field trip was.

You don’t really need to ask whether or not she went do you ?

Did she hell-as-like, some poor kids died in Africa that year because she never arrived to dig them a well.

Anyway,

Where were we now…

Oh yes, in Falmouth, geography field trip, staying in a fairly crummy guest house and having to study the geology and economics of Cornwall every day, but there were pubs in those villages and you were pretty much left on your own to study through the day being as Sam Rice the bloke in charge of the field trip was actually rather fond of a drink himself and as long as you made sure that you didn’t walk into the same pub as he was “relaxing” in when you were supposed to be studying then you were ok, we were pissed for most of that geography field trip.

So on one of the days we gather in the dining room of the guest house just after breakfast and Sam Rice hands out duplicated maps (duplicated? A sort of pre-photocopy sort of photocopying, without any of the finesse or detail) to all of us and explains that we’re going on a little bus ride and we’re going to be dropped off in pairs at various vantage points and we’re to navigate using this badly duplicated map until we all meet up again in THIS village, and he points to a place on the only copy of the real map that he keeps in his possession at all times, and by the way lads, I’ll be in The Blue Bell “relaxing” so don’t walk into that pub ok ?

And I pair up with Dave Maud, the now sadly passed away Dave Maud, a lad with a mop of black curly hair and the temperament of a spaniel puppy playing with its favourite old slipper, you couldn’t upset Dave Maud and he couldn’t upset you to save his life, now gone…

…anyway, we’re walking through farmers fields because Sam Rice told us it was ok to walk across private land as long as you stuck to the edge of the fields so thats what we were doing and the sun was high in the sky and we were trying to find our way by turning this badly duplicated map around and around but not recognising anything on it, it didn’t even have a scale on it so we hadn’t a clue how far away the village was nor whether it was north south east or west, not that that mattered because we didn’t have a compass either – if you set a bus load load of  kids loose in the countryside like that these days they’d have you in court so fast you wouldn’t even have time to pick up a clean suit, Africa my arse.

Maudy and I reached the end of this field and there on the other side of the hedge were Burty and Charlie Smith, well one of us must have read the map wrong because one of us should have been at least a full mile away from the others, we’d been dropped off at one mile intervals, never to meet again until we reached the village somewhere in the distance, over there, somewhere.

“We could see you from that hill” Burty explained, so we all set off walking together, and within a few hundred yards found two more, so we all set off walking together and within the next ten minutes we’d found nearly all of our gang and Charlie Smith took the lead and confidently holding the badly duplicated map upside down he pointed to a place “over there” and we followed him.

When ten lads are all out together on a nice warm spring morning with nothing else to do but arse around until the pubs open then they tend to arse around a lot and as we all had to walk in single file because the path around the edge of the field dictated it to be so there was a lot of tripping up of the person in front, pushing, shoving, clipped earholes, shouts of “Argh you bastard” and “Just you wait…” there was jostling for position, lots of arguing about whether or not we were going in the right direction, five badly duplicated copies of the map consulted and all agreeing that they didn’t even know which way up to hold the A4 sheet of paper and at some point in the process Charlie Smith ended up at the back of the single file.

Well this just wouldn’t do, Charlie Smith was the undisputed leader, he always was, in fact in 1974 he was actually “Head Boy” of the school mainly due to the fact that we all voted for him for a laugh because he didn’t want to be head boy, so for Glorious Leader to be at the back of the crocodile chain of badly behaved youth just wasn’t on, and then he saw his chance to get past…

Just ahead was a stretch where the single file track doubled in width and as soon as we reached it Charlie Smith sprinted from the back with a gleeful shout of “Ah-ha !” as he ran past which changed within milliseconds to “Arrrrghhhhh!” as what looked like a hard baked earth path turned into a ditch full of cow shit upon which had set a very thin crust.

When I say that he didn’t stop sinking until the cow shit was up to his waist I mean that it was at least up to his waist, there would surely have been a look of sheer panic on his face until he stopped sinking for he couldn’t move at all, just keep sinking deeper and deeper the more he struggled to get out, quick-shit grabs you like quick-sand and sucks you to its depths, he stopped sinking at waist depth.

I’ve made up that last paragraph for the truth is that none of us could actually see him sink deeper and deeper in the quick-shit because we were all laughing too hard, if the quick-shit had been twenty feet deep then he’d have sunk to his shitty doom while nine of his best mates just rolled on the grass not two feet away holding their ribs and unable to draw breath for laughing so much.

I’ve not laughed that hard since, it really hurt to look at him for every time you looked at him he’d sunk a bit deeper and the panic made it all the funnier – if you remember the scene in Lawrence of Arabia where one of T.E. Lawrences arab servant boys sinks to his doom in quick-sand while crying out “Orance!” all the time and poor old Orance can’t do anything to save him, well I reckon they got that scene terribly wrong for in reality its absolutely hilarious to watch someone sink to their doom, especially in quick-shit, I’ll grant you that quick-sand might be different, its probably a bit different if you’re secretly gay and fancied the arab boy servant as well, anyway…

It stunk to high heaven as well, well it would wouldn’t it, well rotted cow shit, four foot deep, christ knows how long it had been there rotting but when we finally pulled Charlie Smith out of the ditch we all agreed that to date, in all of our seventeen years, we had never smelled anything quite so bad as the well rotted cow shit that now clung to every square inch of Charlies jeans, boots and socks.

And worse still, he lost our badly duplicated maps, well not entirely lost for we could still see them laying on top of the cow-shit-ditch but there were no volunteers to go and fag them. (Grammar school boy slang dear reader, grammar school boy slang).

We made him walk at the back, a long way back, far enough to keep the fly’s off us, and we laughed, dear god we laughed and laughed until eventually we came upon a stream, a gentle stream babbling its way through the Cornish countryside, crystal clear upon a shingle bed, the sort of stream that young maidens would visit with flagons to draw water for the day, a gentle chortling stream that artists would sit at on a fine spring morning to paint, a fine English stream in a fine English landscape until Charlie Smith sat down in its babbling depths and washed every bit of rotting cow shit off his jeans socks and boots, that stream is still marked with a skull and crossbones on better maps than ours to this very day.

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