To Hel and Back :: Edit your Template To Hel and Back: October 2001

Thursday, October 25, 2001

A walk on the wild side

Bambi remained motionless as the flies buzzed lazily around him. His left hamstring was cut and his right leg was neatly tucked into the incision so he could dangle securely from the tree, the blood draining into a sticky pool underneath him.

This isn’t a barbaric hunting tale – this is “How to be a Wilderness Goddess, as taught by the RAF, and I’m simply preparing Saturday night’s dinner.

On a day when my primal urges were obviously strong, I made a rash decision to take up the latest fundraising challenge from The Royal National Institute for the Blind.

Their Survivor Weekend entailed two days in the woods of an RAF training camp, armed with little more than a Swiss army knife and a group of men in camouflage.

This was how I found myself contemplating sticking my hand into Bambi to tear his skin away from his stomach lining and to get into the “good stuff”.

It’s amazing that after only seven hours of food deprivation and fresh air you can easily look at a freshly ripped-open pheasant and see a KFC Fillet burger. So when the food preparation demonstration was over, I was in the midst of the throng, feeling up a rabbit for its potential to feed our group. This is probably a good thing as there was only one other girl interested in making the cast of Watership Down into a stew. Without us, our group – the largest with 8 people - would have gone without. We also hacked off a bit of demo-Bambi for good measure when no-one was looking, we were hungry girls.

Now I am the first person to cry “bunny”, ”fiver”, “thumper”, or “pipkin” when spotting a rabbit driving through the country at twilight. But after naming my catch and gently stroking his paw, there was nothing stopping me from making little incisions to begin skinning and gutting my meal. My Swiss army knife had previously been limited to cutting the odd baguette on a French holiday – now it was performing delicate surgery (don’t cut the gut, it spoils the taste of the meat) and the little pointed blades which I’d never deduced a use for were now proving perfect for popping out the eyes (an excellent source of water).

But the weekend was more than about cutting up animals. Completely devoid of any luxuries bar our clothes and a sleeping bag, we were forced to be creative and inventive (discarded rusty cans to cook in, hard wood sticks shaped into spoons). We were shown how to build shelters and fashioned our own from branches and ferns.

We were taught first aid, and practised scooping vomit from unconscious victims before tying each other up in bandages and slings. We caught water several different ways; my favourite was walking in your socks across dewy grass and then wringing out the moisture.

There were fire building lessons (pull out the cotton on a tampon, the fluff catches sparks easily); berry identification (sadly we didn’t have time to make elderberry wine); and tips on the many uses of urine (it encourages condensation in sunken water traps, melts snow and cures cold sores to name a few).

One of the important elements of survival is group dynamics and we discussed and demonstrated the importance of negotiation and decision-making and how hunger, dehydration, fatigue and panic can affect your ability to reason.

My favourite recommendation for when a strong individual makes unarguably wrong decisions to the detriment of a group, get rid of them by boiling the curly tip of a fern frond into their food which gives them almost immediate diarrhoea for 24 hours and allows the group to regain control.

The 30 people that undertook the weekend raised some £7,000 for the RNIB. All this money goes to Northwood School for blind children suffering an additional disability. Unlike many other charity fundraisers, RNIB keep things simple and cost effective. Companies contribute their goods and services to the charity so that only a small registration is necessary to cover their costs.

Please note: No animals suffered in the writing of this story. This is because suffering is cruel and neither the RNIB, the RAF or the author condones the suffering of animals. Secondly, the smell and sounds of animals suffering attract bigger animals making you prey. And thirdly and most importantly, the more an animal suffers, the more adrenaline is released and adrenaline makes the meat taste bad – even if you do make a stew out of it.