My D of E Experience

A couple of days after Prince Philip died, I received an email from the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award asking me to contribute any memories I had of completing the award to an online forum.

Thinking back, the expeditions immediately stood out to me as the most memorable part of my D of E experience.

For those who don’t know, the D of E is an award created by Prince Philip and is designed to help young people develop skills that will benefit them in their adult life.

As part of completing each level of the award (Bronze, Silver and Gold), participants are required to go on an expedition.

This expedition takes the form of a multi-day hike and is designed to help participants develop resilience and self-reliance by taking them out of their comfort zone.

During the day, you walk through the countryside in a group of 4-6 people, carrying your cooking and sleeping equipment with you, and, at night, you set up your tents and camp.

Now, this may sound like quite a fun experience; an opportunity to make new friends and immerse yourself in nature. And it could well be if it weren’t for the fact that the majority of D of E expeditions are conducted in some of the wettest, most windswept locations in the UK, such as the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands.

Camping in the Lake District is less about roasting marshmallows under the stars and more about trying desperately to get your tiny stove to light under a massive pissing rain cloud.

As a result of the weather, you tend to spend the majority of your time on a D of E expedition in a state of perpetual dampness.

It is virtually impossible to keep all your stuff dry.

Even if you don’t have the misfortune of full-on falling into a river, the rain find will most likely find a way of seeping into your backpack, even if you’ve triple lined it with bin bags.  

Setting up a tent in the rain without getting the inner lining wet is also extremely tricky.

If it happens to be windy as well, the canvas will flap about all over the place, sometimes attempting to fly away from you, sometimes blowing directly into you and smothering you whilst you walk around like some soggy tent zombie trying to free yourself.

Of course, trying to build a tent in freezing cold sideways rain is far from ideal. However, pointing this out to your expedition supervisor is basically an exercise in futility.

If you do happen to complain about the situation to a teacher, they will most likely look down at you from the warmth of their heated minibus and say something along the lines of:

After this, they will probably leave you to your own devices, saying that they’re going to get an ‘early night’ which, for those uninitiated with the D of E, is teacher code for ‘going down the pub’.

Because of the high levels of rain, the ground that you walk on during a D of E expedition tends to be quite soggy and uneven.

Occasionally, you get the luxury of walking along a well-defined path but more often you end up having to navigate open fields, rocky hillsides and full-on bogs.

In addition, to this you are also carrying a heavy backpack with all your stuff in which really messes with your centre of gravity.

I discovered this on my very first Bronze practice expedition when my group were walking across a boggy field.

Around a quarter of the way across the field, I put my foot down, assuming that the ground below it was solid, only to feel my leg suddenly sink into a concealed pool of muddy water.

I pitched forward and landed face first in the bog.

Under normal circumstances, I would have been able to get back up again quite easily.

However, because I had all my belongings for the weekend strapped to my back, I found myself pinned down with my cheek pressed into the bog, unable to move.

In a dubious display of D of E team-working spirit, the rest of my group laughed hysterically at me for at least a minute before helping me up.

The fact that the majority of D of E expeditions are based in the British countryside also means that participants tend to come face to face with some of the UK’s most dangerous animals, including sheep, horses, midges and, the most fearsome of all, cows.  

Before starting my D of E, I was not particularly afraid of cows. However, before starting our Bronze expedition, we were all given a lecture on the dangers of cows by a gruff CCF man who was supervising our trip.

At this point, some of the boys burst into laughter. Meanwhile, I was sat a few metres away, imagining a cow moving in for the kill whilst the Jaws music played ominously in the background.

Two days later, I encountered some cows in the flesh. They were standing in a field that my group needed to walk across to stay on route. We decided to walk around the edge of the field in order to keep distance between us and the cows.

Initially, this tactic worked quite well. The cows barely noticed our presence until one of the straps on my backpack became snagged on a tree branch.

I reached around and tugged at the strap in order to release it. When it came loose, the tree branch snapped backwards loudly, drawing the attention of the cow closest to me in my direction.

I turned around the cow’s gaze met mine.

I’m not sure if my life flashed before my eyes but, if it did, I was too scared to notice.

There I was, participating in an award that was supposed to help me develop skills that would set me up for the rest of my life and now it seemed the rest of my life was going to be non-existent because I was going to get sat on by a cow.

The last thing I was going to see before I died was a cow’s arse.

Needless to say, I panicked. I tried to throw myself over the stone wall that lined the field but the weight of the bag on my back meant that I did not get as much height as I had originally intended.

As a result, I ended up doing some weird chest bump with the wall before falling backwards onto my backpack. After spending a few moments waving my limbs about like some sort of upended tortoise, I managed to roll over and get back on my feet.  

The cow watched all of this nonchalantly and then, obviously deciding that I was too much of an idiot to be a threat, it went back to chewing grass whilst I hurried to catch up with the rest of the group.

That night I lay wide-eyed in my tent, hyper-alert to every noise that sounded outside the tent, convinced Cowzilla was out on the prowl.

Contrary to expectations, coming face to face with a cow was not the scariest experience I endured on my D of E award.

Instead, this award goes to an incident involving a bit of dodgy map reading and an encounter with Mountain Rescue. But that’s a story for another time… (and by ‘another time’, I mean whenever I get round to writing a post about it).

I’m not sure exactly what I was supposed to take away from my Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. I think Prince Philip intended for young people to develop as people by taking part in them and, if developing a lifelong phobia of cows counts as character growth, I guess it’s mission accomplished.

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I Wish That Anything In Life Could Excite Me As Much As Squirrels Excite My Dogs.

Autumn is an exciting time of year for my dogs, mostly because there is a significant increase in the number of squirrels running around in the park.

When my dogs encounter a squirrel, they experience a level of excitement beyond that which humans can cognitively process.

I could win the lottery, be offered a free luxury round-the-world cruise and discover the secret to eternal youth, all within the space of a single hour, and still not come close to scraping the surface of the excitement that my dogs experience when they see a squirrel.

Upon seeing a squirrel, my dogs become so excited that they are no longer completely in control of their bodies.

All they can do is run around, barking manically, their movements and actions controlled by the all-consuming power of their base instincts.

At this time of year, the squirrels are collecting food in preparation for winter which means that they spend a lot of time running around on the ground.

This puts them in direct visual range of my dogs.

Normally, my dogs can barely cope with the presence of one squirrel.

Seeing multiple squirrels sends their brains into overdrive and their squirrel radars switch to high alert.

This means that pretty much everything in the park has the potential to be a squirrel.

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The Dog – A Loyal, Faithful, Devoted Companion That Will Almost Definitely Ditch You To Chase a Squirrel or Dive Head First Into a Bog.

Just over a year ago, I wrote a post about my dog, Jessie.

Since then my parents have decided to acquire another dog.

When I say ‘decided to acquire’, I mean that I pressured them until their willpower broke.

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My family’s second dog is called Bailey.

Like Jessie, Bailey is a Labradoodle which means that, genetically, he is a mix of Labrador  and a Poodle but, physically, he looks like he is the descendant of a large teddy bear and Rowlf from The Muppets.

Bailey is 18 months old which means that he is now the size of an adult dog but still has all the raw enthusiasm of a puppy.

As a result, he carries himself with the grace and sophistication of a bulldozer being operated by a person who is not very graceful and sophisticated.

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Bailey’s main ambition in life is to catch a squirrel.

Unfortunately, his current technique of barking loudly and running directly at the squirrel in the hope that it will not see him coming has produced a success rate of 0%.

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In addition, his chances of catching a squirrel are not improved by the fact that sometimes the ‘squirrels’ he chases are not actually squirrels and are instead just generic small moving objects that happen to have strayed into his visual range.

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In fact, Bailey’s general lack of bodily coordination means that he often finds it difficult to catch anything at all, including inanimate objects, as his absurd levels of enthusiasm often significantly impair the accuracy of his attempts.

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Aside from squirrel chasing, Bailey’s other hobbies include pulling on the lead and howling.

When out on a walk, Bailey operates under the delusion that he is a member of a professional dog sled team but, since he is the only one on the team, he has to pull extra hard to compensate.

When inside the house, Bailey enjoys testing both the dexterity of his vocal chords and limits of my sanity by engaging in regular bouts of howling.

The howl is a noise that was designed to allow wolves to communicate over long distances.

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However, unlike wolves, most dogs no longer inhabit vast expanses of wilderness.

When this powerful form of communication is released within the confines of an enclosed residential space, it becomes amplified by the walls, creating what can only be described as a greenhouse effect of concentrated, ear-splitting sound.

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Dogs are well-known for their loyalty, a trait that has been documented in many films and books.

However, I think that there is a difference between the loyalty displayed by iconic dogs such as Lassie and Bailey’s tendency to cling to you with the adhesive qualities of a solid PVA glue.

Bailey tries his upmost to ensure that he is included in the majority of my daily activities.

EATING:

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WORKING:

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SLEEPING:

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Because of their loyalty, dogs are commonly referred to as man’s best friend, a title which they have held for hundreds of years.

You would presume that such a long-lasting relationship would be founded on a strong connection, a cross-species link, operating outside of verbal communication, that enables us to understand each other.

However, since we have had Bailey, I have begun to doubt the dog’s ability to understand humans at all.

This is because Bailey has an ongoing tendency to misinterpret the pretty much all of things that I say to him.

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