“I Thought, Because of the Hair…” — Walking Cross Country in My Formative Years

I’ll finish this series by telling you a story from aged fourteen, a most troublesome age to be, in the eyes of most. Hormones are doing their thing, and areas of life that were previously non-existent, were now the most pressing issues of the day.

You wake up to the agonising truth of the fragility of modern society, begin to question long-held institutions, and also relationships are now a thing.

If I don’t put my mind to something, then I’m not really interested in it. This means I’ve lead an intense life in some very specific areas, but a very passive one in most. In a classic example of this passivity, I got roped into doing the Duke of Edinburgh Award at age fourteen.

Most of the people I knew at school suddenly said, “Oh, we’re going to this meeting at lunch, you should come too.”

I didn’t ask what it would be about, I just went. For all I knew the freaks, geeks and cool weirdos of our school could’ve banded together to form a cult, and I’d just agreed to attend a meeting where I’d be sacrificed in the name of Alex Turner.

It wasn’t an Arctic Monkey’s themed cult, but a meeting about an award that involved a lot of walking and community volunteering. Fourteen-year-old me decided that I should be doing more of those things, and so I signed up for the long haul.

The walking portion of DofE was all anyone ever cared about. “F**k charity,” was a regular sentiment thrown out by half of the award hopefuls. You see, two types of people did DofE — Nerds who were looking to impress universities with extra curricular activities, and people who wanted to join the army.

No disrespect to anyone who, as an adult, serves their country in the armed forces (you’re much braver than I) — But the only people who wanted to be in the army at our school were absolute head-cases.

As an adult with a better understanding of mental health issues, I can point to a few people who needed some serious help, but who instead were thrown into light army drills where they were allowed to enact their bizarre sadistic fantasies.

The DofE participants were split into same-sex groups of about four, and so naturally a grouped up with some of the guys who were more my speed. None of this militaristic practice, just a leisurely walk through the country, followed by a night under the stars with plenty of jokes and music.

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We’d go on one of these weekend excursions every six weeks or so, and I really liked my first DofE group. We weren’t very good but we always made it to the campsite before it got dark, and we had a good laugh by the portable noodle cooker. (It had a proper name, but we only ever cooked noodles in it, so that’s what I’m calling it.)

I remember one time we arrived at the campsite before a group of the wannabe army kids. Their leader (he was the tallest and so I assumed) was absolutely livid. He couldn’t believe that a bunch of freaks had got to camp and erected their tent faster than him. He blamed and yelled at his own group, and I sincerely hope he has since received the professional help he needed.

As the months went by, and a couple of the kids in our group lost interest, the two remaining members of our squad thought we might have to call it a day on DofE. Then the leader (a teacher from the school) said we could stay if we found other groups to join.

Now, the only other boys groups were the army squads, who had now taken to calling themselves “The Walking Holocaust”, thanks to the tall one. Didn’t even make sense.

Some of my friends who were left doing DofE were girls, but joining them was strictly forbidden due to the fact that intimacy can only happen between people of the direct opposite sex… (that’s sarcasm, and it makes you realise how silly some of the rules growing up were).

I was also losing interest in DofE, and so I decided to ask the teacher if I could join the girls group. If he said no then I’d call it a day on my walking career, if he said yes then I’d continue goofing around with my friends in the countryside every month — A win/win thanks to my trademark passive nature.

“Sir, can I join this (all girl) group for the next walk?”

“I don’t see why not.”

“…(Upon hearing an unexpected answer) But sir, is that allowed?”

“Well it is for you.”

“…?”

“You’re gay aren’t you?”

“That’s flattering sir, but I’m not.”

“Oh, that’s a surprise. I thought, you know, because of the hair… Well let’s just say you are and then it’s all fine. Otherwise you’ll have to join The Walking Holocaust.”

“I’m a massive gay sir, and may I say you’re looking extra dashing today.”

“Get out of my office.”

He didn’t really use the name The Walking Holocaust, but you get the idea. Thanks to my constant inability as a teen to conform to a particular gendered fashion, and the stereotypes long-held by a person born in the 1960s, I managed to get into another DofE group that was full of likeminded friends.

Of course, the kicker was that I was dating one of the girls in the group at the time, so the exact arrangement the teacher was trying to avoid had actually happened.

We were terrible walkers, and we never completed a weekend walk successfully, but I had beat the flimsy rules of the system, and I think that’s what DoE was all about. (It’s not)

Although, in hindsight, I’m glad we never made it to one of the campsites, as the tall one from The Walking Holocaust would then know I was dating his ex. And given the way he berated his peers for failing to beat us to the campsite earlier in the year, I feel as though I wouldn’t have made it out alive.


Today is Friday, January 11th and please follow @drinkipediapod on Twitter, and maybe even give it a try.

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