Remember our surreal thief called consciousness? While holed up in an abstract hiding place (called dozing) he's been busy chronologically ordering his stolen memories and so we must now be on to the important day itself: New Years Eve. Now surely we've learnt the hard earned lessons of New Year Eve's gone past? Surely by now we know our limits? With a quiet chuckle to himself the pain lurking in my head suggests otherwise.....
The day started out with reasonable decorum, a few of us went off to try out the North Face biking trail. Extra pressure to get round was applied when it turned out that the hire shop was finishing early but we set off into the mist undeterred. After a few sections of single track down hill Fiona called it a day and headed off for some more forgiving trails, while still maintaining that she was the fastest thing uphill since Jeff mistook the sound of a branch catching in his rear wheel for Chipper about to over take him. Let us be tactful and say that the jury is still out. This left Kate, Helen and myself to persevere in distinctly un-clement conditions. While the trail was brilliant, the wooden sections caused the odd back wheel (and indeed in some cases more than the back wheel) to quiver. Having hired a bike myself I was beginning to get a feeling for why people spent real money to have their own. Two thoughts came into sharp focus several times. Firstly that some sort of clips on pedals can be a family jewel saver in wet conditions; only gripping my seat with a thigh strength bolstered by the knowledge of what the alternative was saved me from critical injury. Secondly disc brakes are borderline essential in the wet. Having tested out rubber v brakes for a day I find a similarity to full suspension bikes: it is said that full suspension makes you twice the man down a hill, given that these brakes do not work when wet they make you apparently twice as brave on the downhill - so long as you can hang on that is. Being a naturally cautious fellow I like to be able to pick my moments of bravado, rather than having them thrust upon me so I eyed disc brakes with envy.
Once back at home base we had cups of tea, showered and frankly in my case power napped for a couple of hours (feeling your age Colin?) but we had soon sent Hugh out and told him not to return until he was in possession of 26 curries - a task he set to with his usual purpose. Congregating in what we liked to term in our hut 'the inferior hut' we squeezed most people round the two tables, only to be foiled by the appearance of Andy and Mia (often referred to as 'Andy's friend' - we really are a welcoming lot aren't we!). Judging by the look on Mia's face Andy had taken the comment 'be here by 7.30pm or I'll put your curry in your bed...' a little seriously and may have poked his toe down a little harder than normal (which frankly must have damaged something other than just Mia's nerves given that Andy is no slouch at the wheel even with plenty of time).
Curry quaffed we moved onto the organised entertainment for the evening...... Hugh's quiz. Understandably Mia was beginning to wonder what she had let herself in for but this was to be no ordinary quiz with elements of personal danger, embarrassment and public humiliation. Firstly teams had to be sorted and in typically methodical fashion Hugh has his beautiful assistant (me) pull names out of a bag. When Duncan was picked for a team Chipper vocally, and it must be said rather prematurely, labelled that team as certain losers. I don't think their cause was helped when Chippers name came up for them next (cue embarrassment). The teams sorted we slip-streamed tradition and moved onto the questions. Now just for the record I'd like to state that they were hard, and when I say hard they were Hugh hard. Proper tough questions. However light relief was at hand with some physical challenges. The first was to to bounce a ball in the air, and balancing a basketball, on a rounders bat (not at the same time, unlike the questions the physical challenges were at least possible to mere mortals), and special thanks must go to the front row for bearing the brunt of the danger element inherent in our fading co-ordination (cue personal danger). After a short intermission of rock hard questions we were back with the more successful physical side with an entertaining (if not classic) game of 'park the remote controlled gorilla on a car in a makeshift cardboard garage'. While most managed this either forward or backwards, Andy, always keen to push the curve, tried for sideways. While the questions continued relentlessly there seemed to be a black market forming at the back of the room, the only currency being hard facts. One final physical round awaited us. A combination of a blind fold egg and spoon race, with someone directing a hapless 'volunteer' around a course which started off with one apple, one baseball, one orange and three wire egg cups. I say 'started' with care, anonymous (I hope) saboteurs cynically degraded the course once their team had passed with flying colours, so the game ended with one apple (minus several bites), a chocolate masquerading as a baseball, orange segments and three bits of wire which might once have been designed to hold eggs. Cheats, what can you do? An extra round that had been running from the start was the photo round, organised by Kate and Jeff (whose teams did surprisingly well in this round...). One picture was confirmed by some rooting around the drying room to find the featured pair of boots while Liz demonstrated why drinking might not have been such a great idea and had some difficulty recognising the person who cheerfully greets her every morning in the mirror (cue public humiliation). While Ash's team won the quiz there was still some debate from the photo round as to just whose trousers were being featured in one shot.
The quiz over and some more traditional Explorer games rolled up and joined the party. A lack of a sturdy table made the climbing game tricky with Andy and I firmly establishing that trying it with chairs really is as stupid as it sounds. A cornflake packet appeared from no-where and after a few rounds some facts were established: some of us aren't as flexible as we remember being, this isn't a game for dignified people, Ash is a lucky man and no one was going to win in a hurry so impatience stopped play.
The 'human ferret combat game' is as odd as the name suggests. I doubt if you'll guess it so I'd best explain. Picture the end of a room fitted out with box seats against the wall in a square horse shoe shape. Now, all that space underneath the seat would be a shame to waste so some clever carpenter build hatches to access this storage space, but he was clearly not realising the full potential of an enclosed tunnel complete with viewing windows. With just enough room for one to crawl through we had all the elements we needed, now all we needed was a competition to spice things up. One possibility is to put someone in one end and time how long it takes to crawl round to the other end, fastest wins. An adequate game, but not a patch on putting someone in at both ends at the same time, letting them fight it out in the middle, first out the other end wins. Being virgins at this sport Andy and I took first swing and I soon found myself in the very worrying position of being wedged head to foot alongside Andy in an enclosed space. Given his normal fetish for rolling around with men this was great cause for alarm, alarm promoted to borderline panic when I felt teeth sinking into my arse......thank the lord I wasn't facing the other way. The deadlock lasted a while longer but soon some skin was sacrificed in favour of getting out. Next up was relative veteran Chipper and Jeff. Experience won the day with Chipper demonstrating that getting alongside before fighting was way to late and the more pro-active neck compression technique was much more successful with Jeff being pushed out of the hole he came from for only the second time in his life.
With all this to occupy us midnight was fast creeping up un-noticed. What hadn't escaped some of us was that Lake Windermere was a very short stroll away. Swimming: what had seemed like a potentially fatal idea earlier in the day was fast becoming perfectly acceptable, to some of us anyway. Trying to round up the troops was still hard going with plenty of portions of reticence being handed around, but finally Andy summed it up 'bugger it, let's go'. On cue Chipper, Fiona, Andy, Mia and myself led the charge to lakeside and we could almost hear the collective sign 'bugger it, we'll have to go' behind us. On the way to the lake we had to pass the site bar, packed with other merry makers who seemed quite bemused to see, at 2 minutes to midnight, a pack of twenty or so running for the lake. With caution firmly flapping in the wind we stripped down and with an admirable lack of hesitation ran into the water. If I'm being generous I'd say it was refreshing. New year was marked by the fireworks on the hill, two strokes, a head dip and a run back out the water. Hugh had the foresight to bring a towel, which we all used while he was splashing around. I only had the foresight to bring a survival blanket, seriously considering a premptive strike and putting it on on the way into the water but it didn't seem like the time to live up to my 'Colin no risk' reputation. With this memory revived I feel a certain amount of relief that my sodden pants in the morning wasn't a cause for more alarm.
Suitably freshened from our dip we cast our collective gaze around for some more entertainment and a tree house behind our hut didn't escape our attention. In the rush to get back and changed I'm sure I'm not the only one to have spent a few minutes wondering around the forest in dis-belief that 25 people could disappear so quickly but soon we spotted a gaggle at the bottom of a tree. Leading up to a tree house was a ladder, which had a plank covering the rungs for the first eight feet but we soon demonstrated that this was an inadequate deterrent for determined climbers such as our selves. While those at the top poured scorn, and in some cases something else entirely, on the crowd below who couldn't manage the scramble Chipper pulled out of his jacket a mere litre of Vodka to be passed around, much to the pleasure of pain. Once it became clear that our jeers were being aimed an increasingly diminishing number of bored party go-ers we descended and returned to the hut for some rounds of champagne.
With the party firmly into it's tail end there was time left for a couple more episodes. Having found a bag of neglected party poppers we had sufficient hands to let them off all at once. Very tame we realised, but much more fun if we find someone who had already gone to bed and aim at them we reasoned. Shortly after Chipper assures us that from his entirely random person selection process Duncans name came up. Bursting into his room with all the grace that drunks can muster we let off a barrage to wake the dead, but not Jeff apparently who rolled over and continued snoring. With that out of our system we settled down for one last game - the dice game. This was quite short, and talking of short that's exactly the type of straw Andy got as he took the brunt of the drinking penalties. With Andy caving in and declaring himself out of the game we realised we'd need a new victim. Looking round the table there were plenty of targets. As we all realised that we'd have to include our self in that category a collective decision was made to finally call it a new year.