I had the pleasure of attending dozens of Junior School camps, all great fun and hard work, in locations from Aviemore to Hexham. A huge amount of work went into their organisation, and I was always very grateful to all my colleagues who worked so hard before, during and after the days we spent away from home.
I will only mention the most unusual one I ever attended: the Primary 7 camp of 2001. It was scheduled, as was usual at the time, to be based in the Youth Hostel of Ambleside. However, a few weeks before we were due to travel, the whole of the Lake District was closed to visitors because of a sudden and very significant outbreak of foot and mouth disease.
We had a problem! Determined not to let the children down, I began somewhat randomly phoning hotels in Scotland with the capacity to host a very large party. I eventually persuaded Crieff Hydro to take all 208 children and 40 staff at youth hostel rates! A result!
I drove to Crieff to meet with the manager, who told me that everyone was looking forward to our visit. He’d even consulted his long-term guests, as he thought they deserved to know that the hotel would be very much busier than usual for a few days in May. He insisted that his staff would treat the children as ‘proper’ guests, which would start as soon as we arrived. He assured me his colleagues would be delighted to organise the sorting out of luggage, after it was taken off the six coaches. He would not listen to my suggestion that we would be happy to help – we were, he emphasised, guests as well and deserved to relax.
The luggage was removed from the coaches, and we all stood around a large pile of suitcases, expectantly! One man with a clipboard asked for silence from 208 excited children, all crammed in the main lobby. He read out the names of the children allocated to the first room. That was okay, until he asked them to identify their bags, so he could give them a room key. It took him a few minutes to work out that identifying four bags from 208 very similar bags, in a very crowded lobby, was not going to be straightforward, especially with the other 204 children becoming a bit restless. He moved on to the second and third rooms with similar results, not helped when one of the first group returned to say the key wasn’t working! Eventually, the poor man gave in, and asked us to organise the luggage and the keys.
Later, when we sat down for our first meal, I suggested that my colleagues would be happy to pour the juice for the children if the restaurant manager arranged for large jugs to be provided. He again said he would prefer the children to be ‘proper’ guests and told us that his waiters would serve the children from their normal small jugs. After about 10 minutes he realised that it would take the rest of the evening to get round all the children (before even thinking about refills), so once again we were asked to rescue the situation.
The week turned out to be a huge success, and I knew we had been accepted by the other guests (who must have wondered what they were in for when 250 of us arrived in six coaches) when I watched some of the children dancing with elderly residents at an afternoon tea dance! It was a great experience, although I was slightly surprised that a small number of the children seemed disappointed to be spending the week in a hotel they seemed to know very well, when they would rather have been in a youth hostel!