Even at my advancing age I am still learning new things. And what is great is that as I pass some of these things on to Little Boots, I am being taught things in return – this weekend the difference between tundra and taiga was explained to me – I had some idea, but it was I confess a bit muddled.
Of course children become their parents’ teachers from an early age, in for example such fundamental knowledge as the joy to be found in simple things and the delight that the world presents to eyes that are unjaded. But there’s another stage where information that you have passed on comes back to you with bells on.
Here’s an example. Whilst camping together LB took charge of lighting the fire. Using a ferro-rod and scraper with a piece of cotton wool as tinder it was fairly simple to get a light, but since we’d camped out in an epic thunderstorm getting the fire to “catch” was proving difficult. So I explained a little cheat. By taking a ball of cotton wool and smearing it with Vaseline, a firelighter is created that burns longer and hotter than the wool alone. This quickly did the trick and as we watched the flames take hold I explained that if Vaseline wasn’t available in an emergency you could mash lip salve, or even lipstick into cotton wool to to get the same result.
This came back to me when Little Boots conveyed this information to my OH with the added suggestion that in a survival situation where you didn’t have cotton wool you could collect sheep’s wool from barbed wire fences. This was a great idea and innovation. Whether it would work I don’t know and we will have to test it, which seeing’s that LB loves to pick scraps of wool off of wire fences when we are out wombling, shouldn’t be hard.
So what have I myself learned lately? Well lots of things, most of them not worth knowing, but there are two that will be of use when are out wombling and having adventures.
The first is that in order to make as quiet as sound as possible when whispering do so only after completely exhaling. This does work, though I think maybe only marginally. The difference is probably more marked if you are short of breath from running or something. This tip I picked up from Dead Centre by Ed Kugler, which is the autobiography of a Viet-era US marine sniper.
The second tip comes from another book, but one that is several worlds away from the aforementioned biography. Wanderings With The Woodman by Hugh Brandon-Cox. It’s a romanticised ramble through an English countryside that’s long gone, if it ever existed at all. The tip here is how to estimate the height of a tree – it goes thus – Stand with your back o the tree. Walk away from the tree, stopping from time to time to bend over and look through your open legs back at the tree. When you get to the point at which you can just see the top twigs from between your legs, mark that point by pushing a stick into the ground. The distance from tree to stick is the height of the tree. Of course you need to know the length of your foot or your stride in order to measure this distance. This seems like a simple method and I was prepared to accept in on trust until I read a couple more things later in the book. Firstly that pike go to sea to spawn and at that time estuaries are full of them. Whilst I admit the pike is not a fish I know much about I am very sceptical of that idea. The second thing is something I do know quite a lot about – wood and fire. The author quite rightly says that Ash is one of the best fuels and also, quite rightly that it will burn when green (that is freshly cut). But he says this is because it is so dry. This is not correct. Whilst it is not as wet when cut, as say sycamore, it is not especially dry. No, the reason Ash will burn when freshly cut is because is that it contains oil, it is after all a relative of the olive. So I am therefore a bit doubtful of the veracity of the tree height method.
That said, having found out a little about the author I won’t discount it entirely.
I think a field test is called for.