For the last few days of the week I have been suffering from a stiff neck and strange vision.  I put it down to sitting for too long in front of a computer screen as I have been doing little teaching and much timetabling.  My eyes have annoyed me so much that I wore glasses to school instead of contact lenses for Thursday and Friday of last week.  But the neck and the vision have been restored to normal after a far from normal weekend.

This weekend was an activity weekend down on the Strangford peninsula organised by the lovely Sharon.  As I was not part of her organising or not involved with looking after her students I could slip away and relax, apart from Saturday when they were harnessed and roped and suspended 20 meters off the ground.

On the Friday night I was dispatched to top up her food supplies for the weekend and was then off duty.  This involved relaxing in a hidden garden with a friend.  We sat on a patio around a wood fire and talked nonsense into the darkness.  Later we were joined by the canoeing instructor and swapped stories to amuse each other.  When the time came to sleep we could find no good reason to retire from the warm fire.  With the cool air and the stars out it seemed like more sense to bivvy out by the wood smoke.  In the morning the good reasons could be counted as tiny holes (and one large one) in the sleeping bags; products of spray sparks.  On reflection this was balanced by being woken at first light by the dawn chorus which was worth it.

camp fire by mundoo

I had a very leisurely breakfast before activities began.  After munching through porridge and strong coffee I put on my contact lenses and pondered.  I wondered if it was possible that I had slipped up.  I am normally very fussy about how I treat my contact lenses nearly to the point of obsessive compulsion.  But, could I have made a mistake?  On a hunch I took off my lenses, swapped them, then put them back in.  The imperceptive strangeness of my vision was gone.  For over a week I have been wearing them in the wrong eyes.

After climbing I again had some time to spare before a late high ropes and zip line session.  It was time to walk the beach and catch up on some reading.  It seems these relaxing things were what I needed to let my neck unwind, literally.

The lovely Sharon organised a classic barbecue for the evening.  But we had no barbecue.  One of the instructors told us we could steal one from a neighbouring chalet as he was sure they did not need it, the only problem was that it was seriously heavy.  A few of us began to drag it over as one of the chalet’s guests arrived into view and began to laugh.  I am unsure if it was because we were stealing it or because we could never out run her.  We began the barbecue after much sweating and sore backs.  The lovely Sharon procured some brilliant quality burgers and some charcoal, but no fire lighters or lighter fluid to get it going.  This itself was not an issue but they would have helped as the wind was picking up and the barbecue was proving impossible to light.  So I made myself a tiny little portable barbecue in a tray and took it to the chalet wall to get it going well before using it to light what we now called the ‘beast’.  I am sure people must have wondered why I was trying to set fire to the chalet wall.

After eventually getting round to eating after all the students were fed and watered I slipped away to the garden.  Again the fire was lit and again we talked nonsense into the night as sitting around a wood fire will make you do.  And as the full moon began to rise with a summer evening orange glow we thought it far too civilised and sensible to retire indoors.  So, again we bivvyed by the fire for the night.  The logic was that all the sleeping bags already had holes in them anyway.

Logic also dictates that if you are woken from a deep sleep in the middle of the night by a very angry and menacing animal growl just centimetres from your face, you should be scared.  Looking back on it is strange that I was not.  But the growling was from the dog Meg who was curled up at my head and I knew instantly as I awoke that it was her sensing something and protecting her pack.  Within seconds she was up and running around the pack in a howling frenzy as some heavy sounding creature bounded through the forest undergrowth.  Sleepily we called her and reassured her so we could get some sleep.  In the morning, with steaming cups of tea and another dawn chorus we discussed who our visitor could have been.  The options were badger or otter.  My money is on an otter as we slept only meters away from the river bank were otters have been spotted, but I think Meg believes it was a monster.

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