Science, World Schooling and, Ya Know, Stuff
After a long weekend in a castle – my “little” cousin, who, in my head, is still a rather sulky teen, but in reality is a fully grown and charming adult with an insanely lucrative job, has hired it for the weekend to treat the family – the boy and I head back to the Peak District for the fourth time in four months.
Our purpose? An Outdoor First Aid course.
Over rising four years of travel, we’ve had our fair share of mishaps. I’d say “more than our fair share”, but then I know people who are fundamentally stationary who are regulars at the local ER, lining up broken limbs like shots in a biker bar.
But it was Mongolia that really did it. There’s nothing quite like a horse riding accident in the middle of fucking nowhere, outer Mongolia, to bring home to one how much one does (or rather doesn’t) know about First Aid.
Had Zac had head or spinal injuries there was not one person in the group who would have known how to move him safely.
Or, as another “little” cousin, now mysteriously grown up and an expedition caver – I do find it discombobulating when people you remember chewing on your upper arm as infants suddenly turn into full-blown adults with proper jobs — put it over beers. “What you need is a Wilderness First Aid course. A standard first aid course will teach you stuff like never to use a tourniquet, but a Wilderness First Aid course might teach you to use one, because you’ll lose the limb but save the life.”
And so, we are off to High Peak First Aid, who train expedition leaders, inter alia, in the fine art of Outdoor (Wilderness) First Aid. They don’t normally take under-16s, but Nicola, who runs the show, has decided that between Everest Base Camp and being medevaced out of Mongolia, he’s probably got some useful experience to bring to the table.
Further, he’s not remotely enthusiastic about doing school stuff with me. If we continue this much longer, I think, he’s going to need tutors. And that would require getting organised. And that would suck.
It’s a two-day course, the first day covering the basics of workplace First Aid in an outdoor environment, and the second moving onto outdoor first aid specifics. I figure it’ll be educational for both of us, and brilliant for Zac’s science.
Science, like maths, is not a strength of mine. And, while three months in Chinese school has covered maths he wouldn’t touch until optional 16+ in the UK, I’m more than a little concerned about his science.
Frankly, it’s easy enough to cover off the UK primary curriculum and more en passant while travelling. To world school at high school level, where subjects are taught by specialists with degrees, and content becomes significantly more advanced, is very considerably more difficult.
Unless, I guess, you’re a two-parent family with one science grad and one arts grad. Or, of course, if your child isn’t interested in university, or you’re philosophically opposed to schools and what’s taught in them.
I’m not a philosophical unschooler. I did an academic degree. I wish I’d done more science. I think it’s good for kids to know stuff, even if they don’t consciously use said knowledge and associated skills in adult life, and I wish I knew more “stuff”. Further, Zac is an academically able child who wants to go to a good university.
Honestly, since China, the whole world schooling thing has become rather difficult. Zac is, obviously, still learning from what’s around him, picking up bits of Italian, acquiring history and art history and food history and ancient history, and architecture, and religion and the rest.
On many levels, he’s still learning much more than he would in school. On other levels, there are… well, gaps. Notably in science.
Further, he’s not remotely enthusiastic about doing school stuff with me. If we continue this much longer, I think, he’s going to need tutors.
And that would require getting organised. And that would suck. We’re keeping up the Chinese, and he’s doing the odd bit of writing, but I’m not at all sure either of us are committed enough to the education thing for it to work.
Here, by contrast, is a terrifyingly organised mama who’s making academic world schooling work for multiple offspring: by focused attention four hours a day, four mornings a week, plus constructive projects in the pm. It’s possibly not coincidental that she’s a professional educator and they spend long periods in one place.
By the end of the day, my brain is aching. I’ve killed one patient by failing to check their airway, while trying to stop an imaginary catastrophic bleed when what they actually have is a spinal injury. Sigh.
Back in the Peaks, some of our group, who are attending the first day as a routine First Aid qualification for the workplace, seem a little mystified by the presence of a long-haired, feral hippie child who should oh-so-obviously be in school. Others, who work with young people, find Zac’s introduction of bearsharks as an environmental hazard vaguely amusing.
And, boy, do we learn! How the heart works and why CPR and defibrillators work; why the Golden Hour is so-called; symptoms of shock; how to treat burns; how to manage bleeding; how to assess a casualty; scary stuff about sucking chest wounds and C-spine injuries. We practice using a defibrillator, and perform CPR on dummies.
And then we go out into the cold, damp, muddy woods to practice real-life scenarios, working in groups. Because, to state the blindingly obvious, it’s rather easier to keep someone warm if they’ve had an accident in the office than to keep someone warm if they’re lying in the mud in a chilly British winter, hours from help.
By the end of the day, my brain is aching. I’ve killed one patient by failing to check their airway, while trying to stop an imaginary catastrophic bleed when the fundamental problem is they, umm, can’t breathe because they’re unconscious in a bad position. Sigh.
Zac and I retreat to a quiet, country pub for proper fish and chips and a debrief. We go through our notes and consolidate what we’ve learned. That’s a tonne of bloody science, right there! Physiology, anatomy, you name it… LOADS more than he’d learn in school! World schooling rocks! Especially when it’s someone else doing it (thanks, Nicola!).
Someone has to explain to me that the reason he’s screaming while I’m bandaging him is that I’m strapping the wrong part of his arm. I think I may lack the caring gene.
Day 2 is tougher on some levels, easier on others. We’re separated into groups – Nicola places me and Zac in different groups to… well, to keep me out of his face and leave him space to be himself, although she puts it a little more diplomatically than that – and head out into the slippery, slidy woodland.
We take it in turns to act as casualties and to treat casualties. The acting part is most excellent fun. I have to appear confused, with a broken ankle, limping, sit down on a log and then pass out. I’m very pleased with my fall off the log.
Treating casualties? Well, we do terribly well at keeping one chap warm with body heat. But we’ve sadly failed to miss the fact that he’s diabetic, due to not searching his pockets well enough. Another one bites the dust. Bugger.
The less said about my map-reading, I feel, the better.
Our final exercise is to rescue a chap from a tree, on a steep and slippery slope, where he’s fallen, under time pressure because bandits enter the ravine at sunset, which isn’t far away. It’s surprisingly difficult, even with four of us and a tarpaulin, to get him down the slope with both him and us in one piece, and Nicola has to explain to me that the reason he’s screaming while I’m bandaging him is that I’m strapping the wrong part of his arm. I think I may lack the caring gene.
By the end, though, we’re not only qualified Outdoor First Aiders but, I figure optimistically, fully equipped for our planned adventure down the Blue Nile.
Push comes to shove, after months in Europe plus chowing our way through Eataly, I seem to be mysteriously short of cash. It’s probably, I figure, time I put my head down for a bit somewhere you don’t spend twenty bloody quid every time you go out to eat, and made some money.
First, though, a little stop in Dahab. We love Dahab. We have friends there. I have diving withdrawal. And, after months in Europe plus chowing our way through Eataly, I seem to be mysteriously short of cash.
It’s probably, I figure, time I put my head down for a bit somewhere you don’t spend twenty bloody quid every time you go out to eat, and made some money. Particularly given there are no ATMs or credit cards in Sudan, and, I’d imagine, buggerall internet as well.
Heyho. We make our farewells to friends and family. And, as I stumble drunkenly from Dalston Superstore to collect Zac and our packs from Caro and Freddo’s house – no point in going to bed before a 5.30am flight with a 2-hour checkin, right? — I’m super-excited about seeing Ethiopia.
Zac is less so. “You know, whenever I think about Africa, I just think about stomach bugs. What’s Ethiopia GOT, anyway?”
“Loadza sshtuff,” I slur. “Oh my god! I’ve lossht our ticketsssh!”
“You’re drunk,” my spawn says, accusingly, as I fumble, squinting, through my bag, wondering whether that third bottle of red in Dalston Superstore was REALLY a good idea, though I guess at least it enabled me to sleep on the train to the airport. “You’re drunk, and you’re obnoxious.”
He has a point. “I’m not sure about Ethiopia,” he adds. “I think I wanna hang out in Dahab.”
“I’VE LOSSSHHHHT OUR TICKETSSSSHHHH,” I wail. “They’re NEVER going to let usssh on the plane. And zhey’ll charge us HUNDREDS OF EUROS FOR NOT HAVING ZHEM. It COSSHTSSSHHH SHHHOOOO MUDGE MONEY, SHOOO MUDGE MONEY! YOU DON’T UNDERSSHSTAND!”
Not only do the EasyJet crew let us on the plane, never a given with a blood-alcohol level like mine, but they don’t charge us for the lost boarding passes. I can only imagine they feel sorry for poor Zac, trailing behind me in a puddle of tween embarrassment.
Egypt, here we come! (Via Geneva, cos I’m cheap.)