The Not-So Lost Art of Being a Kid

My family and I recently returned from a trip to Ireland.  It was the first time we had undertaken a vacation all together since I was a reckless little boy (although some members of my family would dispute that this has changed). Those carefree times were little Patrick’s glory days, filled predominately with tree climbing, various ill-advised entrepreneurial ventures (i.e. selling sand at the beach), elaborate building projects, and a major obsession of mine for many years, attempting to perform a front flip and land on my feet. You will note the choice of word: attempting. Alas, despite hours spent launching myself head-over-heels into snow banks – the process was significantly more painful in the summer months – I was never able to master the skill (except of course for that one, glorious, time when I set up a series of mattress launch pads and just barely managed it – but that didn’t really count, what can I say, I’m a purist).

Outdoor education poster boy

My mother was particularly intrigued with this unique passion of mine, perhaps because it reminded her of her own youth. Always up for a challenge, she enlisted my expertise in teaching her the lost art of being a kid. We entitled these sessions “Kid Lessons” and I was quite thrilled to have a captive audience to pass on what I did best: living carefree, finding unabashed joy in things that were mundane for adults, and above all, my accumulated wealth of knowledge in the front flip department. Sadly, my mom was also never destined to complete the front flip, despite what I recall now as a fairly impressive attempt or two during a snowy walk through the neighbourhood one evening.

At the time, I loved the attention of being able to instruct an adult in my esoteric interests and was made to feel listened to and important. When I look back now, I can better understand my mom’s desire to see the world through the eyes of a child. While I thought she wanted coaching in various acrobatic manoeuvres, what she really wanted was a bit more abstract: time with her son, a break from grown-up worries, and a reminder to enjoy the simple things.

Like how to stuff your face with beets – in style.

While in Ireland, we happened to be staying in the popular surfing town of Lahinch on the west coast. With the temperature soaring into the mid-teens, the prospect of getting in the water, much less enjoying oneself once in, seemed like a far-off possibility. But while my dad and sister discussed the various circumstances in which they would consider going for a swim (i.e. when hell freezes over), Mom and I caught each others knowing glances and I knew there was no stopping her. My mom has a particular weak spot for swimming in oceans, and, living smack in the middle of Ontario, the opportunity rarely presents itself. Shivering already in my sweater and rain jacket, I knew I was going in as well. It seems my ‘lessons’ had worked.

Not your typical beach weather

We ended up spending two afternoons together enjoying the waves, her on a body board and me surfing (well, trying to surf). Despite the ominous weather, and with the help of wetsuits, we were both pretty convinced that we were actually warmer in the water than out of it in our jackets. Those few hours were by far some of the highlights of the trip, it had been months since I had laughed so much. In a wonderful way, we were able to have another “Kid Lesson” together, both equally sharing in a sense of awe for the ocean as we forgot all about our grown-up worries.

So thanks mom for giving me a “Kid Lesson” of my own!

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All aboard the elitist train! Wait, no…

I’m writing this post from a train. ‘But Patrick,’ you say, ‘you are way too cheap to pay 4 pounds for something as frivolous as mobile internet?!’ This is very true, dear reader, however I am not paying for this internet (at least directly). While I may be quite a penny-pincher, when given the chance this afternoon to upgrade to First Class on my train down to Oxford for 15 pounds, I characteristically hummed and hawed, and then jumped at the chance.

Again, you say, ‘Patrick! That doesn’t sound like something a man who has been regularly wearing the same pair of trousers since he was 16 would do!’ And I would agree. But you see, sometimes it is just worth it. Especially if the following conditions apply:

1. You are travelling on one of the busiest days of the year, an occasion which apparently prompts public intoxication at noon.

2. The majority of the passengers in your car are in costume as vaguely retro football players, complete with headband and short shorts.

3. Said fellow passengers are screaming and quickly draining the two cases of beer they have brought with them.

And so my decision was made. Now, as I smoke a cigar and enjoy the caviar that was flown in by helicopter, I finally have the civilized chance to relax, unwind, and compulsively check Facebook and email, as if I were at home. It’s really the simple luxuries that count the most.

But what’s that I hear? There’s a baby starting to cry in this car…and oh no…it seems some of my fellow posh passengers also appear to be intoxicated and rather loud. I exchange eye-rolling glances with my fellow sober bourgeoisie (it’s hard with all the champagne bottles everywhere) and make my best judgemental shushing noises (I’ve honed this skill with plenty of time in the library), but to no avail. I mean really, how much does a man have to pay to enjoy some peace and quiet on his upgraded Student Discount Off-Peak Supersaver Fare?

And so I snubbed my nose, put away my New Yorker magazine, and ventured into the on-board shop to see what complimentary treats awaited consuming for such VIPs as myself. Presented with a bruised apple and a sheepish apology, I returned to my seat, all illusions of decadent first class train travel now thoroughly quashed.

The only thing "First Class" was the seat cover

But my brush with the upper class was far from over. One of my weekend activities was to attend the 158th Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race on the River Thames in London, a spectacle not unfamiliar with charges of snobbery. Indeed, the event was replete with couples picnicking on checkered tablecloths featuring cheese platters, fine cutlery and elegant wine, academic-jock types in their college blazers and crested ties, and of course, highly overpriced concession food (£6.50 for some meat on a bun).

The first half of the storied rowing race was unremarkable, but excitement soon came –  one might say with a splash – when a self-professed protestor interrupted the neck and neck race by swimming directly in front of the Oxford boat, you can read about it here. Apparently, this man was protesting “elitism.” Fair enough, I suppose, when for many people the words ‘Oxford’ or ‘Cambridge’ are essentially synonymous with the striking class differences in British society. But what you quickly realise (once you have sobered up from the port at formal hall dinners…) is that while these top universities may indeed be symbols of elitism in society, they are nevertheless peopled by kind, interesting, fun, hard-working men and women, a great portion of whom are not from particularly privileged upbringings.

If we give this ‘protestor’ the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is attempting to work towards creating a more equal society, spoiling the race for a group of hardworking student-athletes is certainly not helping matters, rather, it can help to entrench the view that people are one-dimensional stereotypes. Ruining a free, open to the public, amateur sporting event to protest a perceived symbol of an ambiguous term in a remarkably uncreative (and dangerous) manner seems a little bit ridiculous to me. But maybe I’m biased now, us First Class train passengers stick together.

A month in 7 pictures (and 2 videos)

The unfortunate irony about a blog focused on adventures and travel is that the more these things occur, the less time I have to write about them! So, since it has been a busy month for adventuring (resulting in a quiet month for writing) here is a brief selection of some of the things I have been up to:

Finding romantic caves on Arthur’s Seat 

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First World Problems: Travel Complaints

Travelling, whether to an exotic once-in-a-lifetime destination, or simply as part of a routine commute, often exposes us to uncertainty, adventure, and terrible, disgusting bathrooms.

Luckily for me, (and most certainly for you, the reader) my post today contains no sordid tales of toilet trauma. Rather, it takes a look at the ubiquitous “travel horror story” (providing easy party anecdotes since, um, Noah?).

And then we totally got stuck on top of a mountain! Did I mention the rotting corpses?!

Photo:Wikimedia Commons

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“Will there be beer?” The meaning of wilderness in a crowded world

Photo: Dave Craig

A common question I’m asked is “why did you leave Canada for Scotland to study outdoor education?” Fair enough. Canada certainly has a well-deserved reputation for natural beauty and wild spaces. Not to mention it’s big.

Oh hi there, United Kingdom, I didn’t notice you there. Yeah that’s cool, you can just chill in Hudson’s Bay.       

This question, though, exposes some interesting assumptions we tend to make regarding the outdoors and wilderness. Before coming to Scotland, I didn’t realise how important my own concept of ‘wilderness’ was to my enjoyment of the outdoors. I very much took for granted the fact that there were relatively wild spaces nearby (even in Southern Ontario) and that to the north, there was essentially very little else but wilderness. Continue reading

Compasses and Crampons: What Not to Wear in the Lake District.

What’s the best way to spend a weekend after a long, tiring week? For Mitch and I, the answer this Saturday was getting up at 5:50am to catch a train to the Lake District for a little hillwalking.

FUN!

After a McDonald’s Breakfast of Champions, and an unexpected 2km slog uphill to our hostel, we were soon happily ascending the path to Red Tarn, a stunning lake situated at the base of Helvellyn, England’s third highest peak. After seeing the silhouettes of climbers along the Striding Edge leading to the top of the 950 metre mountain, we decided that a little bit of scrambling was definitely in order.   Continue reading