Follow that goat

I think that maps are overrated. For one thing they can be misleading and often give a false sense of security. I’ve had maps which I have followed religiously and yet still found myself miles off route. And this has nothing to do with my map reading, but is entirely due to careless map drawing. So, yesterday on a little trek through the Troodos foothills, I was skeptical about the accuracy of the maps posted at the start of the trail.

After a shaky start when two of our band of three thought the right direction was on the opposite side of the road, we admitted our error and paced off down the tarmac to the correct path a few hundred yards in the other direction. Point of clarification: I didn’t have my glasses with me, so took myself off map reading duty for the day.

Error 1 seemed to occur when we turned right up hill on a promising track that eventually came to a dead end. But we ploughed on. I was convinced the track had just become overgrown and it would magically appear through the steep undergrowth. A lot of sheep tracks later and we were half way up a steep hillside, with no way to go but up and no path in sight. After a rather hairy and what seemed like bramble and rock filled route, we spotted the track we had been seeking half a valley away. Luckily it wasn’t long before we stumbled on our original path which had wound its way up the hillside sensibly. We let out a cheer for paths and thought how good they were. Even when it was hard going, two of us were saying gratefully, “well, at least it’s a path.” We didn’t know what lay ahead!

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A little while later at the top of a lot more hills, lunch was a sumptuous affair and there was even a bench to sit on with a panoramic view and a shack with a window (in case it was raining!). From our viewpoint we heard the tinkle of bells and in the distance what looked like a herd of sheep, running along a grassy ridge parallel to ours. That we decided would be our route back. There was a problem however, because there was no direct path connecting us. The map was consulted and it was decided we would follow a riverbed down a valley which, quite simply, would connect us with the path we were seeking and our ‘shortcut’ back.

The herd of white sheep, who turned out to be a species of giant goat, suddenly appeared ahead of us on the path. Veering off Kamikaze-like into the sheer hillside either side as soon as they spotted us. We wondered later which route they had taken and I thought it was a shame they hadn’t hung around a bit for us to take directions. But I’m afraid goats are like that…very hasty!

We headed off optimistically across some medium height undergrowth following our leader. The goats had made it somehow, so how difficult could it be? Ten minutes later he was beating back the Mediterranean jungle with his feet (where are walking sticks when you need them?). The trees and bushes were getting larger and more dense and there was no path in sight.

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Spring in Cyprus means the snakes are just waking up from their long winter sleep. So I did a bit of calling out to let them know we were coming, “Snakes! calling all snakes!” Because we didn’t want to step on their heads or anything. The mention of the ‘snake’ word added the extra adrenalin needed to pick up speed and find the path ahead as quickly as possible. So no matter how many fallen trees trunks had to be clambered over or under, there was no turning back.

The result of all this trekking through undergrowth was that my carefully epilated legs now offered a good base for a game of noughts and crosses with the pattern of scratches left from brambles. Eventually we found a dried up riverbed heading down an overgrown valley which we stumbled our way down. Between the sliding bed of rocks, the bramble strewn hillside and hidden holes and ditches, it was amazing we made it out at all. When we did eventually find a path, someone made a tentative suggestion about going in search of another path on the other side of the valley. But having found our way back no one was keen to return to the ‘jungle’ – let’s not push our luck, miraculously we had survived without twisted limbs or snakebites, despite our best efforts.

Along the track we discussed which route the goats might have taken and we noticed signs of them on the ground with hoof marks and other smellier offerings visible to the discerning tracker. They had definitely passed this way.

Next time I think taking a goat with us could be a lot more useful than a map!

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back to school?

On Friday night I am going ‘back to school’… that doesn’t mean travelling back to Folkestone Technical High School – but I am off to a fancy dress event of that name. However, it does concern me. I have my uniform ready and wonder if I will be transformed back to the slightly wayward 15-year-old that still lurks in my past, once I put it on.

Testing out the outfit it was worrying how easy it was to know exactly how it should all look – something cross between St Trinian’s and Grange Hill – with a fairly short skirt, white shirt with sleeves rolled up, tie loose at the neck, because my top button must be undone. And in that simple sentence I would have already broken three school rules! Don’t get me started with the holes in my fishnet tights or the height of my heels. I also won’t go into the consequences I faced for breaking those very rules at Folkestone Tech.

What is it about school uniforms – no matter what they stipulate, students have a solemn duty to flout them? I remember our terrible school cap. It was brown corduroy. Infact, I still haven’t got over my dislike of brown, since that was mainly the colour I was forced to wear for five years – and that included brown socks, brown skirt, brown jumper/cardigan and would you believe it… brown knickers (yes they did check – it was an all girls school!). The ‘pièce de résistance’ was the hat. The brown corduroy cap, so hated it was reserved for pupils in the first two years (years 7&8 in new money). For the first few months I wore it happily like many of my fellow classmates – well ‘happily’ might not be the right word. Let’s say dutifully. Then the second year came. I was far too cool to be caught wearing my cap on the mile long walk from the bus stop to school. I ducked out of view from prefects, ready to balance it on my head if we saw one passing – or even a teacher who had very unreasonably decided to walk to school. Tired of this pretence I told my friend I was going to ‘lose’ the cap – kind of deliberately. The 13-year-old theory being – if I had no cap, I couldn’t be forced to put it on. In the school car park I spotted a light blue car by a tree and placed the hat strategically underneath one of the wheels. That’s it – sorted. I no longer have a cap and therefore can’t wear it.

The next day I sauntered into school capless. And the reply to the lurking prefects was, “Sorry, I’ve lost my cap.” First lesson was maths with the gentle Mr Honey. This friendly old chap beamed at us as we walked in and after setting us some problems on the board and a truly delightful lesson – as delightful as a maths lesson can be – he called me to his desk at the end, as the rest of the class filtered out on the sound of the bell.

Oh dear, I thought, what trouble am I in now?
“Rachel,” he said, “Have you lost your cap?”
I nodded sadly, “Yes, Mr Honey, I lost it yesterday. Think I must have dropped it on the way to school.”
He beamed and dropped my crumpled cap onto the desk. “I found this by my car – your name label was inside.”

Thanks mum, for sewing name tags in all my clothes! I picked up the cap and smiled sweetly, thinking, next time I will tear out the flipping name tag!

Anyway, tomorrow night there will be no cap – unless I can find a suitable alternative. But I don’t think I can vouch for my behaviour once I slip into a school uniform again.

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