A week of activities

Published January 22, 2010

A conversation about skiing over on Sidepodcast got me thinking. I have only ever tried skiing once, on a dry ski slope and it was during a school trip. My school had this Activity Week thing, where you forked over a lot of money to go on nice trips abroad, and if you couldn’t afford to do that, you stayed in school and did something like chess club for a week. It was supposed to expand your horizons and give you a nice, team-building, life-skills-growing break from the stress of studying. You only did it when you weren’t in an exam year, and to be honest, it was more stressful than any paper could have been.

Anyway, this particular year, I forget whether it was that we couldn’t afford the overseas trip, or I just didn’t want to go, but I found myself waving goodbye to my friends and staring down the barrel of a week doing various activities in and around Dorset. Thankfully, one friend had joined me in this option, although I think she was a lot keener than I was.

Here are a few of the things we got up to, and by the end, I think you will understand why, when the week was over, I never left the house again.


A lot of my classmates weren’t too keen on the idea of going down into a cave, in the dark. Claustrophobia set in before we’d even got going, and a couple of people sat it out. I wasn’t too concerned, we had flash lights on our heads to combat the dark, and we’d be in one long line of students, following an expert. Plus, I’d been to Wookey Hole Caves, how different could it be?

Of course, the answer is very. We started out in a nice big cave, which got gradually smaller and smaller until we were kneeling, and crawling along. Then there was a bit of rock that seemed to transition one pathway to another, and you had to manoeuvre round it. It wasn’t a big gap, and it was awkward. The line of people got backed up as one by one, kids made their way through, and then it was my turn.

I got stuck. It’s not that I couldn’t fit through, but I bent my knee at a funny angle and couldn’t move forwards or backwards. I quietly asked for a bit of help, and the message got passed forward. Behind me, they were getting restless, and who can blame them? It’s alright being in a damp, dark cave when you know you’re moving towards the exit. When you’re just standing there in the dark, unable to move in either direction, you start to remember all those films you watch where the battery gradually goes out on your torch and in many years time someone comes and finds only a bony skeleton to prove you were ever there. I may have started crying.

Naturally, there wasn’t even the slightest chance of this. The instructor from the front squeezed his way back down the line and talked me through bending my leg the correct way. I was embarrassed, and crying, which was even more embarrassing, and I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. Which in a way, it already had.

Once we were out in the fresh air, helmet torches still working, and no pile of bones to mark the occasion, I had a bit of a sit down and a drink and began to wonder what my friends were up to in Barcelona, or some other such desirous place. As a bonus, though, a boy I particularly fancied came over to ask if I was okay. He barely waited to hear the answer, but it pretty much made up for all that had gone before.

Pony Trekking

The New Forest isn’t actually in Dorset, but it’s not that much of a stretch to head on over and hop on some ponies. It wasn’t a great day for me when they brought out the most enormous pony for me to ride on. It was big and grey with hooves the size of dinner plates, and after sitting on it for about five minutes, my legs were already protesting.

We started clip clopping our way out, and the instructor was trying to explain the concept of trotting, and how you should move with the pony and once you get into a rhythm, it’s not so bad. My friend, well, she was a horse rider anyway, so she was off and away up the front, galloping around and generally showing us all how very rubbish we were. She was allowed to disappear ahead with one of the instructors, whilst the rest of us clopped around.

I was really just trying to hold on. The pony was so big, it rolled from one side to the other as it walked and I was pretty sure I was getting seasick. And then! My pony started wondering off into this thick patch of bushes, and the instructor shouted to me that it was going to relieve itself and I needed to stand up while it did so. Oh brilliant, my pony, the enormous gargantuan grey thing was providing a spectacle for everyone to see. That’s just what I needed.

Thankfully, the rest of the day was uneventful. We trotted back to the yard, and I dismounted in the most graceful way someone can who can’t even see the ground from the lofty heights of the giant pony.

Another “success”, I think you’ll agree.

Dry Slope Skiing

Ah, now this was an event that didn’t go too badly. We headed over to the slope at Matchams, and selected our skis and boots, and made sure we had long sleeves and gloves. Initially, we were only allowed on the baby slope at the base of the main incline, as we learnt about the mechanics of forward motion with two planks of wood strapped to your feet.

I was relatively good at it, I didn’t fall over. When they made us go backwards, I couldn’t keep my balance and ended up reaching forward, running my gloves all the way down the slope. Thankfully they didn’t fall off or I wouldn’t have any skin left. I was also concerned they would catch fire from the friction, but any crisis was avoided.

We were soon promoted to the main slope. The climb isn’t fun, is it? It’s all very well coming down at a rate of knots, but you have to get up and climb all the way back to the top again.

I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the process of skiing, but for the first time, I avoided any major embarrassment and was almost happy.


We skiied in the morning and headed to the karting track just up the road for the afternoon. Everyone clamboured out the minibus and immediately started reaching for helmets and race suits. By the time I got there, nothing that was left would fit.

An adult went off to try and find some misshapen garment for me to wear, but by that time I was having none of it. I declared I had a headache and went to sit on the bus.

There were other much more normal things on the schedule, including swimming and bowling, and a trip to the beach. We’d originally been supposed to go paragliding or some such crazy idea, but thankfully the British weather put pay to that. Some of the kids did have a go on a banana boat though, which was very amusing to watch.

I don’t know if there is a coincidence in the fact that these days I don’t like horses, wouldn’t want to go skiing, would rather not get in a kart and probably wouldn’t set foot in a pothole unless you paid me.

Who says that school doesn’t teach you anything?

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