Monthly Archives: December 2014

Marathon Challenge 2014

Back in November, I helped at an incident hike run by my old university Scout and Guide Club.

For those interested in incident hikes, I highly recommend Marathon.  I am of course biased, and I’ve never been to any other incident hikes (oh, apart from the Malvern Challenge, now I come to think of it), but every year it’s well-run and well-attended.  It’s open to Scouting and Guiding teams aged 14+, including adults.  Essentially, teams are given grid references for 26 checkpoints (hence the name “Marathon”) and have 9 hours to visit as many as they wish, to win as many points as they can.

It’s a bit strategic: if a team doesn’t plan to visit all the checkpoints (which would usually mean walking about 25-30 miles), they have to decide whether to go for ones that are closer to HQ but worth fewer points, or ones that are further away and worth more points.  There are also four manned checkpoints, where they can do an activity to win more points, scored for teamwork as well as completion of the challenge.

It takes a lot of volunteers to run an event like this: helpers are needed to brief and debrief the teams at HQ, monitor the radios, keep track of scores, man the checkpoints, drive minibuses and cars, and cook dinner for everyone.  I didn’t realise it when I was a student, but seeing it now, it really is a huge achievement for students who you might expect not to have the time, resources or experience to run a complex large-scale event.  (Gratuitous plug: they run another hike in spring for 10-14-year-olds.)  Having co-ordinated it myself a few years ago, I know all too well how much they rely on alumni (aka “fogies”) coming back to help and pass on the dubious benefit of their wisdom (and their cars), so I try to go back as much as I can.

This year I was based on a checkpoint, along with a couple of other fogies whom I already knew, and an amicable first year whom I hope we didn’t frighten too much.  Our task was to set ourselves up in the designated place, wait for teams, and offer them water refills, hot drinks, and the chance to do a challenge.  When there were no teams (i.e. most of the day: on average we got a couple of teams every hour) we sat, chatted, cooked on a stove, and generally entertained ourselves.  I always find it very peaceful to spend the day resting in the outdoors and knowing you don’t need to be doing anything else.  When I was a student, I really appreciated it as a calm interlude in the middle of an intense term, and a chance to break out of the city bubble into the “real world” and see some of the local countryside.

We were lucky to have dry, relatively mild weather.  We were given a tent, but decided not to put it up, since we weren’t likely to need shelter and it would just be a pain to take down at the end of the day when we were tired.

The challenge at our checkpoint was “sheep herding”.  Everyone in the team was blindfold, except for one member who had to guide them through a course using only a whistle.  As fast as possible.


We set up the course with ropes tied round trees – it included a hairpin bend, a slalom around logs, and a tight passage between some bushes.  When it got dark, we put glowsticks on the ropes to help the sheepdogs.


It was interesting to see the different teams’ techniques.  They tended to either work out a complex signalling system (“one whistle blast for left, two for right, three for stop, four for duck…”) or go for a simple “follow the sound” approach.  Both approaches worked well for some teams and less well for others.  I winced at times, when the sheepdog herded his or her teammates into the logs, through branches, or into a complete U-turn!


Altogether it was a most enjoyable day – everything seemed to run smoothly as usual, with no disasters for helpers or teams, which as I recall is the main objective.



Dickensian evening 2014

A few days after the Guides made those candy cane reindeer, we sold them – and lots of other things – in aid of the district at our town’s Dickensian evening.


What do you mean, your town doesn’t have one?  It’s one of the highlights of the year in mine.  On the first Friday in December, the shops and churches and museum stay open late and serve mince pies and mulled wine, and the market place is filled with charity stalls, carol singers, morris dancers, brass bands, donkeys and reindeer, little fairground rides, snow machines, food vans, people selling flashing toys, competitions, and more.  And everyone is encouraged to wear Victorian costume.

This year was particularly impressive because the town has lots of snazzy new Christmas lights, bought with help from winning a “best town centre” award.

I arrived as soon as I could after work – having had some strange looks getting on the bus in my long skirt and shawl – and found other Leaders and Young Leaders from my district putting the finishing touches to our stall (under our Active Kids vouchers gazebo, again – best purchase ever).

We had a tombola, and were selling candy cane reindeer, “sweet bombs” (little wrapped packages of assorted sweets), homemade jam and ginger wine, homemade decorations and Christmassy biscuits, flashing head boppers (left over from the BIG GIG) and a few other odds and ends that kind people had donated.

Dickensian Evening 2014 (1)

The tombola did so well that all the prizes were all gone before the end of the evening.  The candy cane reindeer were popular, too, and we sold most of the 200 we had.  The other things sold reasonably, except the flashing boppers.  We still have lots of them left, and I’m not sure what we’re going to do with them…if we still have them in summer, we could give them to the girls at county camp.  In the meantime, let me know if you’d like any!

We had a good number of helpers through the evening, including a few Guides from both units.  I especially appreciated the Brownie Leader who turned up later in the evening with a flask of hot chocolate and paper cups.  It was very cold, I hadn’t had any dinner and was starting to feel a bit wobbly, and it was a lifesaver!  A lot of Guides past and present visited the stall – always nice that they come back and see us and still think kindly of Girlguiding after they’ve left.

Dickensian Evening 2014 (6)In other good news, we won the “best-dressed stallholders” competition, which means we’ll get our fee back.  I think what tipped it was our bonnets, made by some of our leaders from plant pots covered in fabric, ribbons and lace.

Christmas party

The Guides and their Leaders have made it to the end of term, and the end of 2014!

For our last meeting, we had a Christmas party.  I didn’t take any photos because I was running the games, but I can assure you that, in the dress code of red, green, white, or generally festive, we all looked pretty dapper.

Most of the evening was spent playing silly games.  The Guides sat in teams and had to nominate one person from their team to do each challenge – and everyone had to do at least one.  They were:

  • put a cut-up Christmas card picture together
  • transfer as many cotton wool balls as possible from a bowl in the middle back to their tables, using Vaseline on their nose (or elbow, for those with sensitive faces)
  • count out loud as high as they could in one minute, saying “one reindeer, two reindeer, three reindeer” etc.
  • flap a cardboard cut-out reindeer along the floor as far as possible in one minute
  • shake all the cotton wool balls out of a tissue box tied to their waist as fast as possible
  • be the first person to fill a pair of tights with bean bags/juggling balls/soft toys, put it on their head, run to the middle and ring a bell
  • wrap a present as nicely as possible in a fixed time

(Several of these are adapted from my fairy tale games last week.)

Our New Young Leader and two of the older Guides were a huge help – they did all the scoring and announced the results.  Meanwhile, the other Leaders took part in a few of the games, then one set up a projector and screen while the others set out the food that the Guides had brought.  About 20 mintues before the end of the meeting, we finished the games and started on the nibbles.  While they were eating and mingling, we played a slide show of photos of all (well, most) of the things the Guides have done this year.  I had fun and pride putting it together.  Looking back, we’ve packed a lot in – I had to limit it to 15 minutes of highlights!

When it was over, all that remained was to wish everyone a happy Christmas, say goodnight, tuck into the leftovers with the Leaders, restore order to the hall (not a quick job – there were crumbs and bits of cotton wool everywhere!), and make a rough plan for the first meeting of next term.

Much as I’ve enjoyed this term at Guides, I’m looking forward to a five-week break.  That’s longer than we had in the summer, because of the timing of camp.  Plenty of time to recharge my batteries and enjoy my Queen’s Guide exploration.

Division leaders’ sleepover…and they all lived happily ever after

I recently went to a division night away for adults and Young Leaders.  Our Division Commissioner (who is also my Unit Leader), wanted us to get to know each other, have fun and pick up some new ideas to use in our units.  We stayed at a local hostel, so it was easy for people to come and go if they couldn’t stay the whole time, and were there from Saturday lunchtime to Sunday lunchtime so it didn’t take up the entire weekend.

Great view from the grounds.

Unit Leader enlisted people from our district to help run the weekend, and in a glorious mini-rerun of summer camp, Co-Activity Leader and I ran most of the activities.  We decided (I can’t remember how, but it was late on the last night of camp) on a fairytale theme, hence the snazzy decorations.

Great inside, too.

As everyone arrived, they made paper crowns with their names on – more fun than name badges!  Some were  basic, and others very elaborate.  Later, to encourage crown-wearing, the QMs decided that they would only serve dinner to those wearing them.

We played the helium stick game as an icebreaker, first as a race between groups and then (with bamboo canes taped together) with all 30-odd people together.

Then we cooked lunch on trangias, very ably explained and supervised by Queen’s Guide Buddy.  We stirfried vegetables and chopped-up sausages, which was very tasty but we really mustn’t fry things on borrowed trangias again.  There will be burnt bits, and they will have to be laboriously scrubbed off.  Boiling all the way from now on.  For pudding, we made fruit kebabs and melted chocolate in bowls over hot water in the smaller trangia pan.

After lunch, we had a cup of tea and split into groups rotating around three activities:

  • a game like charades with teddies, getting the teddies to act out fairy tales.
  • planting a “magic bean” (a bulb from a mixed bag of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths) in a toilet roll tube, decorating it with a little rhyme instructing them to make a wish when planting it out.
  • a game hunting in the woods for words on sticky labels, which they then stuck onto fairy tales to fill in the gaps.  I ran this game and was quite pleased with it – might write another post about it.

Hunting for wordsAfter everyone had done these, we had a lovely cream tea.  By this stage, some of our newer leaders and Young Leaders had started to notice a feeling that those with more residential experience take for granted, that they were simply drifting from one meal to the next.

Did someone mention food?  Our next activity was building and decorating gingerbread houses.  I have a friend who, for the last 10 years or so, has hosted a gingerbread evening at Christmas: she provides the house pieces and cement (melted chocolate and icing) and the rest of us bring sweets and decorations to share.  It’s a highlight of my year, and I wanted to do something similar for the Guiders.  I had an epic baking session making over thirty sets of house pieces, and for a unit meeting I think I’d just use shop-bought biscuits, but it was worth it on this occasion to see the adults enjoying themselves and getting into the construction and decoration.  I have a theory that knowing that the gingerbread was home-made made them put more effort and care into putting them together.  Whatever the psychology, don’t they look good?

Such a creative bunch. There’s even a garage and a tasty-looking rubble heap!

Gradually as everyone finished, we tidied up, gave the tables a good wipe-down, and had a bit of free time before dinner.  Which was lasagne, delicious and very savoury: just what we needed after all that sweetness.

After dinner, we did some fairytale-themed “minute to win it” challenges, with teams of Rainbow Leaders, Brownie Leaders, Guide Leaders and “Others” competing against each other.  The challenges didn’t all go as expected and my point scoring wasn’t the most accurate in the world, but they had good competitive fun (and the Guide Leaders won, of course!).

That was the end of the organised fun for the day.  We sat on comfy chairs and nattered for a bit, and one of the leaders had brought a Christmassy colouring book – a few of us enjoyed sitting there colouring!  It was nice to do this without having to think about whether the Guides/Brownies were getting to sleep ok.

Likewise, in the morning, it was lovely not to be woken by early-rising Brownies or have to get up early to get the girls up and ready.  I woke up fifteen minutes before breakfast to the smell of eggy bread.  Love the lovely QMs.

After breakfast, Co-Activity Leader and I set out crafts, and everyone dabbled for about an hour and a half.  There were pipe cleaner teddies, decorating horseshoes, cross-stitch memento badges, frog princes, and spinning wool.

Just before home time, we all sat together and said our best bits and reflections.  Another leader and I were awarded our Going Away With certificates and badges, and four Young Leaders made their Promise.  We sang two versions of the Rainbow goodbye song, Brownie Bells, and three versions of Taps.  Most people left, and a few of us cleared up and left an hour later.

There were lots of things I liked about this event.  I enjoyed meeting people whom I didn’t know before, including a very new Leader in my district.  She said that she felt very welcomed, which is a relief.  I liked that it gave the Young Leaders a chance to mix with the adults and be treated as such (the age range was 14-85!).  I know it can be strange to make the transition to having an adult relationship with women who used to be your Rainbow, Brownie and Guide Leaders, and I hope this helps them along the way.  I really liked walking around listening to everyone’s conversations.  It seemed like every time I listened, people were getting to know each other, sharing what they were doing with their units, catching up on news, signing off training books, recruiting for next summer’s camp, throwing around ideas for future events, and having a giggle.  In short, bonding, which was what Division Commissioner wanted.  Not one to put off till tomorrow what she can do today, she’s already booked us in again this time next year.

Candy cane reindeer and Christmas cards

This week at Guides we did some Christmassy crafts.  First we made candy cane reindeer.  We had a good production line going, with some Guides adding pipe cleaner antlers, others sticking on googly eyes, and others sticking on pompom noses.  (Over the years, we’ve found that double-sided sticky tape, as new as possible, works best for sticking things on.  The pompoms came from this ribbon.)

Christmas crafts (7)We made a veritable horde of reindeer – almost 200!  We’ll be selling them for 50p each at the town’s Christmas fair tonight.

When we’d exhausted the candy cane supplies, we made Christmas cards, using a packet of blank cards and trying to use up some of the fancy paper and jazzy bits in our craft box.  Queen’s Guide Buddy brought along her die cutter, which has Christmas shapes, so we cut out lots of those for the Guides to use.

We asked the girls to make one card to take home and one that we can give to a local elderly care home.  In practice, some girls made two, while others only had time to make one.  Anyway, we have a good little stash of cards to give out.

Christmas crafts (11)

Another positive from tonight were that our new Young Leader took on a more leader-y role than she has before; no criticism to her, as she hasn’t had much chance in the last several weeks – we’ve had quite a few meetings that weren’t very leader-heavy.  It’s really good that she’s keen to get involved when needed.

In other news, a whopping three of our older Guides have been selected to go on region international trips next year (as well as a Ranger/Young Leader who was selected last year but travels next year).  This is extremely exciting, but means intense fundraising times ahead!

Next week is our last meeting of term, so we’re having a Christmas party.  Huzzah!

Glowsticks, candles and torches

Last week at Guides we had a night in the dark (intentionally, not a power cut!) which we billed as “glowsticks, candles and torches night”.  Actually, we didn’t really do much with glowsticks in the end, so we have quite a lot of uncracked ones spare.  We’ll certainly find a use for them at some stage.

We played some games by torchlight: traffic lights (with leaders shining torches through red, white or green paper to indicate whether to run, walk or sit down); “hide your partner’s shoes in and get her to find them with a torch by saying ‘warmer’ or ‘colder'”; and wink murder with the Guides lighting up their faces when they were still alive, and switching their torch off when they were murdered.  It would have been a bit spooky if they’d done it in silence, but with all their nattering and giggling it wasn’t spooky at all!

Then they got into groups and made quick shadow puppet plays, and showed them to everyone else, with some leaders shining a torch through a sheet.  They came up with an impressive range of shapes, including rabbits, butterflies, dogs, llamas and crocodiles.  Most of them seemed to meet violent ends in the plays!

Finally, they toasted marshmallows and veggie-sweets over tea lights.  It was a fun, loud, fairly active evening, which was just what they needed after a couple of weeks of listening carefully about first aid.  Having got that out of out systems, we continue the balanced and varied programme with some Christmas crafts next time, huzzah!

Fairytale decor

Co-Activity Leader, who is a leader in the other Guide unit in my district and ran the activities on last summer’s camp with me, is wonderful for many reasons.  One is her ability to produce themed props and decorations at short notice.  I said “Please could you bring some fairytale decorations?”, and this happened:

WHV Court Hill weekend (8) - Copy WHV Court Hill weekend (7) WHV Court Hill weekend (6) WHV Court Hill weekend (5) WHV Court Hill weekend (4) - CopyCheck out that mirror!  That rose!  Those goblets, that beanstalk!  (I made the toadstools and another leader supplied the pumpkins.)  And I didn’t even get a photo of the bunting, or the magic cauldron, or Dick Whittington’s bundle on a stick, or the chintzy door hanging, or the wall of fairy lights.  As far as the candlesticks and fairy lights go, Co-Activity Leader proved that if you’re having a wedding, you should always buy decorations that can be re-used at guiding events.