A gentle drizzle of summer rain fell like a blanket of sodden gauze on the meadow. Morning, a reluctant schoolboy, crept across the field. Songbirds and the hum of river insects roused the day and the two rival camps from their slumber.
I was stuck between the two, in a small, frame tent, senior patrol leader of our troop, forcing my eyes open, listening to the morning symphony, feeling my  stomach turn, my heart sink .
A member of Beaver patrol  speared himself with a can opener the day before. He required first aid, transport and two stitches. I had a bad feeling then even as the ambulance driver ribbed about being prepared for anything. Badger patrol members hacked into a living tree trunk to build a ford for the stream.
Both patrols were competing for their weekend camp competence badges. Personal pride was at stake for the two patrol leaders, newly promoted and their new patrols  formed to accommodate the troop’s burgeoning numbers.
Beaver leader Tom McCarthy was as big as he was loud. A strapping lad of thirteen years, he had been a scout two years and made up in strength and enthusiasm what he lacked in skill and patience. He led by fear and respect- no-one would call him a bully to his face – but he got things done.
Ken McCusker, of the Badgers, was a little older than McCarthy, quiet, ambitious and arrogant and a skilful scout who led by example. McCusker was competitive and impatient.
The camp was planned four weeks in advance. Both patrols had a list of tasks to perform. These included laying out and pitching a serviceable field camp with wet and dry latrines, field kitchens, fuel and supply storage and a campfire capable of providing three hot meals a day for the patrol.
Tents were to be pitched according to specifications; dry and level pitch, secure guy lines and facing downwind. Extra points would be added for organisation, initiative and teamwork.
Patrol leaders were marked on leadership skills and their ability to motivate the others and maintain a high level of morale with singsongs, entertainment and games.
I considered myself an old hand at camping. Though younger than the other two by almost a year, I became the youngest patrol leader at eleven and then the first senior patrol leader in the troop.
Along the way I collected a colourful array of proficiency badges that included advanced knotting, first aid and backwoodsmanship. The latter was an arduous weekend camp alone where I built a secure, dry bivouac with available materials and cooked a three course meal for two without the use of pots. Bear Grylls, move over.
Basic foodstuffs were supplied along with a knife, a fork and a box of matches. I made a salad of wild rocket and sorrel to start and followed that with a potato baked in hot embers and stuffed with bacon and egg. A tin of baked beans was heated on a flat rock in the campfire.
Dessert was a dough bread made of egg, flour and water and cooked on a spit like a kebab then filled with wild blackberries. An ambitious attempt to boil tea over an open flame in a brown paper bag met with mixed results – the bag sprung a leak when the water was lukewarm but I quickly transferred the contents to the empty bean tin.
Outdoors was heaven for me. Outdoors was an infinite playground for the imagination.
My wake time reveries were disturbed by a commotion from the Badger camp, 150 metres south east or to the left of my encampment, a natural hollow in the lea of the meadow’s prow. Beaver patrol was camped  straight ahead, south west of my own position.
“I’m not ready for this,” I groaned, crawling out of my sleeping bag, kicking  stockinged feet into my boots and grabbing a shirt and jacket with one hand as the other untied the tent flaps. The yelps and screams that rent the morning calm were replaced by running feet and shouting, angry voices. The camp, in the distance, was engulfed in a thick fug of damp campfire smoke. I walked down the hill to inspect the commotion.
As the morning breeze thinned the fog, three figures stood out at the centre of the action, beside what remained of the Badger patrol’s camp centrepiece, a canopied kitchen and service area with a prep counter and a charcoal grill and spit. It was a Ken McCusker special; effective, economical, social, industrious and ingenious.
A black faced McCusker was berating his two subordinates, assistant patrol leader, Jimmy Woo, who was in charge of the previous night’s camp watch and Johnny Norris, camp cook. Globules of mucous and saliva were spitting from McCusker’s mouth and showering the heads of the other two.
His bluster halted with the clatter and clang of  two tin cans I banged.
All three turned to look at me. “Look at what that bastard McCarthy and his crew have done to my camp…”, McCusker began, as I surveyed the damage, “I’ll fuckin’ ki…”.
“You’ll do nothing, Was anyone injured?”
“No, but we were luc…”
“What happened?” I asked this last question of Norris, ignoring McCusker’s rant.
Norris was quiet and slow but deliberate. He looked cowed and the shouting wasn’t helping.
“I lit the fire and built it up and then I put the big pot of water on to heat for the breakfast,” he said, choking back a tear, “then the whole thing got drenched in water and there was steam and sparks and boiling water.”
“They rigged up a canopy of water in a manure bag and hung it under the roof of the awning we built over the main stove,” McCusker took it up, “and when the fire heated up the air under the canopy got hotter, the plastic melted and the water put the fire out.”
“How did they get in without anyone hearing them?” I asked Jimmy Woo, a Taiwanese Chinese who spoke very little English but was invaluable for rigging McCusker’s mad schemes. Jimmy explained how he laid out a network of tripwires around the entire perimeter of their camp, backed by a corner of the stream .
“So they came across the stream,” I concluded. “If it was the Badgers,” I remarked smirking, pointing behind them to the makeshift camp flagpole, “at least they have a sense of humour.”
A roll of toilet paper replaced the Badger patrol banner leaving a clear message to McCusker his camp was a shithole and the Beavers had just flushed all over them.
A strange look came over McCusker. He bent his head and began to shake and sob. Then he stood bolt upright. He spat out a shuddering scream of outrage before sprinting off in the direction of the Beaver camp at the far side of the field.
Pearse and Jimmy Woo gave chase while Norris went back to directing the clean up. The entire camp, Woo told him, would have to be moved. McCusker, a handy sprinter on the school team, had a good start on us. I felt my gorge rise in a wave of nausea. I knew what was coming. I never wanted to be prepared for this.
As we crested the hill we could see McCusker launch himself into the heart of the Beaver camp. I saw McCusker struggle with McCarthy before the bigger boy fell onto his knees and pitched forward into the camp’s kindling pile. I got to McCusker just as two members of the Beaver patrol grappled McCusker to the ground.
Members of both patrols gathered in the Beaver camp. The younger boys were crying. Some of the older boys were arguing. One of their leaders lay wounded. The other had lost his reason.
I prised the weapon from McCusker’s hand. The stricken McCarthy, stabbed with a camp fork ploughed and raked across his back, coughed, convulsed and spluttered. Then he stopped. He was dead.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s