Back Woods Skills


One more post about YOYO, and then I might start talking about this term…

One of the sessions I attended at the YOYO weekend was Back Woods Skills.  Not Backwards Skills, as some people (I think deliberately) mis-heard it.

It was amazing.

The leader was very enthusiastic, and knowledgeable. The enthusiasm was contagious. I didn’t speak to a single person who didn’t enjoy that session.


Amazing what a power drill and some imagination can do, isn’t it?

The leader, Fiona, runs a forest school for 0-5 year olds, and works with all levels of Girlguiding.  She told stories about getting 2 year olds to use power drills!  She takes children out and teaches them about nature in a way that makes them want to learn.

What did we do?

First we had a little chat about how to get children risk assessing their own environment.  We talked about danger in the forest – the canopy, the shrub layer, field layer, and ground, and how each layer has it’s own problems and rewards.

We talked about tools that might be useful – power drills, saws, knives of various types, cooking equipment, cotton wool (yes, really), potato peelers, and so on.

We laid fires and lit them without using any matches at all.  That one-match trick is for cheaters, apparently.

Seriously, we used a flint and steel, and the cotton wool ball, which burns really well if you open it up a little. No matches needed.  I love steels – they work even if they get wet, and once you’ve got the knack it’s really easy.  And you’ll never get to the end of the box and realise you don’t have any more.

Of course, once we’d lit the fires we had to use them for something, so we made dampers and s’mores.



That’s where the potato peelers came in – to peel the sticks to cook the food.  Did you know, if you peel a stick, the inside is sterile?  And the potato peelers mean the girls can whittle their own stick in (relative) safety.

Here’s another thing – why have we never thought to add things to our damper mix?  My Brownies love making dampers.  It’s just bread mix, so it’s really easy.  In the past we’ve provided jam and chocolate spread to put on them.  But Fiona suggested wrapping the bread in cheese strings, or adding garlic or sun-dried tomatoes to the mix.  A revelation!

We also, and this was very exciting, made pencils.

First, we collected some soft wood – in this case willow.  Place it in a tin with some holes in, and put the whole thing on the fire.  The bigger the tin, the longer it takes.  The quality street tin in the picture took about 30-35 minutes.  You can tell it’s ready when the smoke changes colour.


A word of warning.  Don’t use a paint tin (for what I hope is obvious reasons).  And burn your tin before doing this with children, to get the chemicals used to make the pretty picture off the outside.

Once we’d made our charcoal, we needed another piece of wood.  This time a stick with a pithy middle, like elder.  Carve out the centre – if you do a large pencil you can use a tent peg to do the carving, but I did mine with a smaller stick.  Stick the charcoal down the centre of your other stick, and voila!  One pencil, ready for use.


I thoroughly enjoyed the session, and I would encourage everyone to try it at home!  Don’t be put off by not knowing much – just take the girls somewhere, give them a couple of ideas to get them going, and see what they come up with.

Tented Foxes


Wait, that’s not right.  I mean Tented Foxlease.


This post is a review of the tented village at Foxlease.

You might recall that I went to YOYO last weekend.  Koala, Polar Bear and I stayed in the tented village.  We’d chosen to stay there mostly because we hadn’t before – so we could claim that it was a recce in case we ever wanted to take the Brownies.

We were quite impressed.

IMG_6458.JPGThere are five tents, all identical.  Each one has a raised wooden floor, an indoor portion and a veranda/porch thing which we thought would be very good for taking off boots and storing muddy items.  They’re made of proper heavy canvas, with an inner and an outer.


Because they’re off the floor, they’re quite warm to sleep in.  We had six adults in ours, and it wasn’t too squashed.  I would happily put eight Brownies in one, with all their luggage.

The floor was hard, being wood rather than mud, so I would recommend blow-up mats, rather than those little foam things.  I had a thermarest and was perfectly comfortable.

The only problem with the floor was that the floorboards don’t quite fit together, meaning that younger children would probably lose things between them.  Indeed, we found a packet of loom bands!

What else is there?  There is a cooking shelter with an altar fire, and a picnic bench under an event shelter.  Not huge – definitely not large enough to feed everyone who was staying there if it rained, but enough for a drinks station in the shade if it’s sunny.


The toilets are a little walk away, over by the swimming pool.  If I was going with children I would definitely take a toilet tent for night use.  The up side was that the bushes along the path to the toilets were lined with blackberries.   Fewer blackberries at the end of the weekend than the start!

In the same field, enclosed by fences, there is also a small wood.  There’s a little campfire circle (perfect for marshmallows, dampers, or a private sing-song), and plenty of space for denning.  I’d be surprised if nobody has ever slept outside in that wood.



All in all, I’m definitely planning on taking Brownies at some point – but given how popular Foxlease is I’m expecting it to be at least 2016 before I can get there!

Fun with YOYO


This is not a post about little plastic items on the end of a piece of string.

It is in fact a post about a lie.

YOYO was a Guiding activity weekend for Senior Section and adults, held at Foxlease Training and Activity Centre. YOYO stands for “You’re Only Young Once”.

Which is clearly a lie.

You can be young as many times as you want, as some of the adults at the event proved several times over.

But I digress.

YOYO was the most fun I’ve had in years.  What made it so good?

Was it the fact that I didn’t have to chase children around to check they were ok?  Or the fact that I could take my turn on the activities without feeling any guilt at not going last?  Perhaps.

It might also have been the fact that I love Foxlease.

Or that the organisation team did an amazing job at fitting just the right amount of stuff in – I was never bored, but never rushed either.

It could have been that the catering team were perfectly timed.  And made perfect eggy bread (both mornings!).

It might also have been that I have an exam in a week’s time and this was the perfect escape from revision.  I even managed to go a couple of hours at a time without thinking about it.

Suffice it to say, it was brilliant.  For whatever reason, I’ve not smiled so much for ages.

What did I actually do, I hear you ask?


On Friday when we arrived, before almost anything else happened, I went for an explore with Koala and Polar Bear, who were both at Foxlease for the first time.  About a minute into the walk, I saw a bright orange t-shirt sitting outside a little dome tent, and concluded that Limestone-and-Lava-Girl (aka Jem) was exactly where she said she would be.  Always fun to meet a fellow blogger, and even better when they turn out to be just as friendly in real life as they are online.

Then there was a quiz.  Pub quiz style, we started with General Knowledge, moved on to Music, and Geography, a True/False round, and the Picture round.

The best part was, they were all Guiding questions, so most of us managed to answer at least a few, if not most of them.

General Knowledge included such delights as “what year did we stop being the Guide Association?”, “what does WAGGGS stand for?”, and “who is the patron of Girlguiding?”.

Music was, I think, the best round.  It was all campfire songs!  Even marking that round was fun… although it went on a little while because we kept getting distracted.

Geography was the hardest round.  What county is Broneirion in?  And no, Wales is not a county.  What county is Netherurd House in?  At least a few of the questions were easy – a country for Pax Lodge, and a county for Foxlease!

The Picture round was all badges – some modern and some not so modern.  Did you know, there used to be a Farmer badge, and a Basket Weaver badge?

After the quiz, we mostly went to bed (although I got a little distracted on the way looking at the stars).  I was staying in the Tented Village, which I was quite impressed by.  I’ll be writing a separate post about that.


There were four activity slots on Saturday.  I did Fencing, Geocaching, Back Woods Skills, and Social Media for Pros.


Fencing was lots of fun.  I’ve done a little before, with the Brownies.  We didn’t really progress past basics with them.  This was all older girls, though, so we zipped past standing right, holding the foil, and basic thrusts and parries, and went straight in to fighting people.

And then we fought in teams of different sizes, and then we did a last person standing fight to the death, and then we all ganged up on the instructor.  Good times were had by all.

Geocaching, for those who don’t know, is like a giant treasure hunt where your only clue is some GPS coordinates.  Foxlease has a number of private geocaches on site which we were sent off to find.  We got most of the way through them and in the process had a good explore of the estate.

I was slightly disappointed that they didn’t contain much of interest – public geocaches normally contain badges and toys and little GPS trackers that wander around the world as people swap them around.  These ones contained mostly paper to sign your name on.  I added a badge to one of them, so hopefully the next person to go through will be a little more excited.


Back woods skills was so awesome it’s getting its own post later in the week.

Social Media was really interesting.  The “pro” session was for people who already had a twitter account and understood what hashtags were for.  It was about using social media to promote Girlguiding – for example, what you should and shouldn’t say on a Girlguiding account as opposed to your personal account, or what types of tweets get the most response.  We covered Facebook Pages, Hootsuite, Storify, and more.

Also, it was being run by @CazzyPie and @JenLovesLemurs, both of whom I’ve run across on Twitter before.  So that was fun!


On Sunday there was time for one last activity – the Tree Climb.  For this one I’d met the instructor before – on the bus to Foxlease.  He’d come up to us at Brockenhurst train station and started a conversation because he realised (due to us being completely inconspicuous in Guiding uniform) that we were going to the same place. Handy, since I’d not been to Foxlease by public transport before, and this way I didn’t need to worry about when to push the bell on the bus.  He also turned out to be a good laugh, which is always a bonus.

The climb itself was not overly challenging, but immense fun.  I went three times.



Alas, after that things became slightly more depressing.  A short closing ceremony, a quick lunch, and it was time to leave.  I didn’t want to go back to reality quite so soon.

Goodbye Foxlease, I’ll see you again some day soon, I hope!

Brownies Around the World


The Big Brownie Birthday year was a good year to have Bristol’s first ever County Brownie Camp.  Everyone was enthusiastic and lots of people took part.

I (fortunately!) was not in charge of organising the camp.  Judging by the stress levels and facebook posts of the people who were, it was a mammoth task – one which they deserve great thanks for.

To accommodate all the girls that wanted to take part, the camp was in two halves – both running the same programme, and overlapping in the middle so there was a day when we were all there.  I was there for the whole thing, with different sets of children, which was interesting from a watching-the-organisation-develop point of view.

Most of the camp started off well-organised and only got better.  The bits that didn’t get better were excellent to start with… feeding that many people, for example, was an enormous operation and was very smooth.

The activities were excellently run – leaders who came with girls had to help, but I would honestly have been slightly disappointed if we were told to sit and watch.  There were a couple of teething issues with some of them, but they were quickly resolved, and were nothing that you would notice if you were eight!

There was one thing that I thought was actually better organised the first time around, and that was the wide game in the evening.  It might have been that everyone was running out of energy by that point, but the second time just seemed a little more subdued and a little less enthusiastic.

The theme of the camp was “Brownies Around the World”.

There were five sub-camps, each named after one of the five regions of WAGGGS: Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, Arab, and Western Hemisphere.  My Brownies were in the Arab sub-camp.

There were also five zones with activities to complete, one in each of the (permanent) World Centres and one in the “Adventure Zone”.

Pax Lodge was the “Science Zone”.  We made volcanoes, did CSI investigations, and played a game involving running around with rubbish to try and get it in the right bin.  Most of the girls were in favour of somebody else sorting their recycling for them after that one!  There were also some people there from Bristol Water, who used magic (or “science” as they prefer to call it) to turn sewage into sweet-smelling water.



The Craft Zone was in Our Cabaña, which anyone who has been there will realise was a good choice.  There was a craft from most of the major continents – native American dream catchers, Australian aboriganal dot painting, henna patterns from India, West Country whipping (a kind of knot-work used to make little keyring people), and the ever-popular friendship bracelets.

Our Chalet contained the Archive Zone.  The archives contain enough old uniforms for everyone to dress up, and we used the six badges attached to the uniform to split into groups for activities.  We danced around a toadstool singing rhymes about our six:

This is what we do as Elves
Think of others, not ourselves

My group decided that they weren’t going to be elves, and were going to be smurfs instead.  More accurately, one of them decided, and the others tolerantly rolled their eyes and went along with it.

This is what we do as Smurfs
Care for others and the Earth

Once we’d properly started our “meeting”, we did some of the activities that Brownies would have done in the past, looked at some old badges, and did a little quiz about Brownies.


The World Music Zone was in Sangam, and consisted of making bongo drums using flowerpots, and then playing them.

To make bongos you will need:

  • two equally sized flowerpots
  • two circles of stiff fabric
  • lots of string or ribbon
  • a hole punch

The method is left as an exercise for the reader.

The Adventure Zone was the only one that wasn’t in a “world centre” – climbing, abeseiling, low ropes and the muddy assault course wouldn’t fit in a marquee!


One of the lovely things about camp was how many people there were there.  It sometimes seemed like I saw someone I knew every five minutes.  But there were also people there that I’d never met – people who had never camped before, people who had only been running Brownies for a term, people who were actually Guide leaders, people from different areas, and people that I know the name of but didn’t know their faces.

It was a reflection in minature of the worldwide sisterhood that is Guiding, a perfect way to end the Big Brownie Birthday celebrations!


August Goal Report


Well, firstly… I’m not dead.  I mention this only because it seems to be normal for people who haven’t blogged recently to announce it.  You know, just in case you thought that these words were being written by a ghost.

It being the holidays, I found that I didn’t really have much to say.  And then we went on camp and I was too busy to blog.  I’ll do a couple of posts about the camp later in the week, because it was brilliant.

Today, though, it’s a brand new month, so it’s time to update you on how my 2014 goals are going.


Study continues.  I’ve been working hard at making sure I know the core reading backwards, forwards and upside down.  I find I’m re-reading the notes a lot more since I got a cheap tablet so I can carry them around with me.  Wish I’d done that a long time ago.

I feel I’m lacking a little on past exam questions though.  Must try harder to fit some of those in.


This month has been all about the Going Away opportunities.  The Big Brownie Birthday Finale Camp, based on the theme of Brownies Around the World, was a big hit with everyone who went.  More on that in later posts.

It covers Going Away, obviously, but also Opportunities and Awareness, due to the fact that the activities were based in the “World Centres”, which sparked a whole lot of conversations about international trip opportunities.


It also had Adventurous activities in, so that covers Challenge and Adventure.

On the other hand it only included some of the children, so I reckon it only counts half measures.


Apart from spending a week in a field, I think I’ve done ok with this one during August.  Certainly nobody has complained about feeling neglected (apart from Una, but she does that every day, no matter how much attention you pay her).


I had a good run this month, with extra practice put in to help out people who were competing in the taikai (which I couldn’t go to because of camp).  So, lots of kempo!  Not sure I progressed with actually learning my techniques, but I’ve had a lot of fun.


I was lagging a little due to my study habits, but I took a stand last weekend and did some reading.  Does it count as cheating if I read books aimed at 8 year-olds?  I’m putting it down as research into how children’s minds work.  Honest.

I even managed to finish reading La Adventuoj de Alico en Mirlando, which has been dragging on since February because it was such hard work.

So now I’m on 31 books read in the year, a mere 3 behind schedule.

I’m currently reading The Story of the Girl Guides, by Rose Kerr, which I found in a box of books the last time we did a clear out at Brownies.  It’s an interesting read, I’ll probably review it on the blog at some point.


As discussed, not dead.  Not blogging either…

Regular service should resume soon on that front.

Bathroom ceilings as a metaphor for life


This may seem like a somewhat ridiculous thing to say, but bear with me.

Life is like a bathroom ceiling.

Most of the time, it’s just there.  It sits around, mostly unobserved (nobody ever looks up!), white and bland.  Boring.

Then one day a leak starts in the flat above you.  It may not even be visible at first, just dripping away inside the walls.

Maybe the ceiling gets a little damp.  But nobody ever looks up, so you don’t notice until it starts dripping.

By then it’s far too late.

The leak proves hard to track down.  It’s not come from the flat immediately above you, but the one above that.  It’s been dribbling down in the stairwell.  Nobody noticed it, but it’s been there for months.

The water damage is too great, and before you know it, half your ceiling is on the floor and your bathroom is flooded.*

Sometimes, our lives are like that.  We take them for granted, never look at them.

But there’s that niggling little thing at the back of our brains.  Maybe it’s a neighbour who vacuums at odd hours.  Maybe a co-worker who takes advantage of your good nature and piles on the work.  Maybe your children are ungrateful.

It all adds up until suddenly, boom!  Nervous breakdown.

The sad thing is, bathroom ceilings (any ceilings, really) aren’t bland and boring at all.  Take a look at yours the next time you go.  See the little imperfections in the paster and paint work.  Are there patterns or textures in the paint?  Look at where the ceiling meets the walls.  What kind of joint is it?  Is there an interesting fitting around the light?

Not my bathroom ceiling.

Not my bathroom ceiling.

And when you’re done with that, take a good look at your life, too.


* Mostly true.  I had a fun weekend.

July Goal Update


Work: As we know, I have one exam remaining to qualify.  I’ve spent the last three weeks reading through the course notes to remind myself of the overview, and I’m starting to focus on the bits that seem less familiar.

I’ve also been to an “Exam Counselling” session, which was pretty useful.  They went through my exam script and prepared a report which explained where I was losing out on marks, what I could do better, and so on.  I’ve been working on the ideas they gave me.

Guiding: We went Bell Boating, which was fun.  Good teamwork required to get the boat moving.  And we had an end of term party for each unit – one of which went better than the other!

And I finished sewing my backlog of badges on!

And I finished sewing my backlog of badges on!

On Wednesday I had a social meal/planning meeting with the leaders from one of my units.  We’ve been together for a long time now – over ten years.  Not only that, but we’re all on the Division team, too.  So we see quite a lot of each other – but we don’t spend nearly enough time socialising.  It was good to just talk, with no children begging for attention or ultra-urgent admin things to do.

Plus, it’s the holidays, so I actually had a whole week off from Guiding activities!

Family: That week I had off from Guiding?  I spent it all with my husband.  Well, most of it.  We went for a long walk, spent time just sitting and relaxing together, tried out a new Indian restaurant near our house, and went hunting for a house to buy.

The restaurant was yummy – perfect portion size, friendly staff and proper southern Indian food, and they had Gulab Jamun!

We had an offer accepted on a flat.  Now commences the paperwork and surveys and solicitors and all that jazz.  I’m not 100% sure that trying to buy a flat at the same time as studying for my last exam is a great idea, but that’s what I’m doing.

Kempo: I spent a weekend in Wales doing shakujo training, which was awesome.  Aside from that, I’ve been going through techniques to make sure I’m happy with them – I’m about halfway through the syllabus for the grade that I am.  When I’ve finished that I’ll move on to the techniques I’m currently trying to learn.


This was not as dramatic as the picture makes it seem.

Reading: I’m catching up, I think.  I’m only 6 books behind schedule now, at 23 books read this year.

Blogging: I’ve missed a couple, but I’m hanging in there.  It’s the holidays, so I’m talking less about Brownies and more about the rest of my life.  How is everyone finding that?