I guess I hit a lucky strike on my first week of NCS. Rather than the ‘mandatory’ feeling of anxiety, loneliness and a slight niggling panic that so many first time NCS’ers feel, I arrived with 3 of my closest friends, so I felt confident.
I lugged my overly-packed suitcase filled with screwed up shirts, pants and countless socks over the slightly slippery tiles; awkwardly bungling a worn out backpack over my shoulder also filled to the brim with clothes and MORE socks, whilst laughing at stupid ‘guy stuff’ with my friends. I’m sure their packing arrangements were the same as mine, shirts violently crammed into a tiny case. Who cares, though? After all, all our clothes were sure to get creased, dirty, wet and ruined. That’s part of the fun, right?!
After a slightly giddy registration and a loosely packed gathering in a lecture hall, we arranged ourselves into teams. The team names are based on young entrepreneurs; luckily I was placed in the best team – Team Ward. Here, we gathered, half in anticipation and half in curiosity, in a small room to ‘bond with our team and leader’.
If you ask me, it was cheesy, but a good cheesy. It felt natural and forced at the same time. I don’t know if that’s down to my own outgoing nature and I’m the only one who felt that, but I guess it was right for our group. We talked through the typical rules; “girls don’t go in guys dorms”, “try not to argue”, “involve everyone”, blah blah. We knew that (luckily, I guess you could say, our group is pretty darn mature in that department).
From boarding the coach for our 6+ hour journey to the beautiful Scotland, we bonded like buzzing atoms. We gelled instantly.
All our personalities are polar opposites in our strong 14-man-group (Including ‘Mr. Happy’, but we’ll talk about him later!) From the stylish and reasonably serious Josh to the morbidly funny Isaac, from the dopey and clumsy Polly to the quiet and calming Leah, we all had our strengths to put forth to our group. Best of all, our group leader led us to our own mini victories. ‘Cat’, our leader, is the ideal mixture of authority and playfulness, hence being counted as one of the group.
Anyway, the coach ride was a thrill. This was our first chance to bond together as a group; sharing stupid and cringey jokes (what’s red, hard and bad for your teeth? A brick. Haha. No?) Relaying awkward stories about ourselves, solving riddles and just generally chatting. The six hours flew by, with a greatly appreciated service station stop half way, where I got to stretch my feet and fashion my wonderful bear slippers (which were surprisingly ridiculous but comfortable)
Then, we started our first of many ridiculous trends. Long. Thin. Trees. Now, you may be confused what this means. Basically, maybe out of sheer tiredness or maybe out of sheer stupidity, Josh murmured “even the trees are different in Scotland. They’re long and thin.” Thus started our obsession of long, thin tree spotting. Cheers for that, Josh.
Upon arrival at the outdoor activity centre, we were placed into dorms with a mixture of different people from the whole of the ‘wave’ from NCS, with the goal of emphasizing the whole ‘mixing with new people is good, guys!” attitude NCS is known for. Initially, we were given, to put it bluntly, crap dorms. I didn’t really care, after all, some people don’t even have beds to sleep on at night, but some people didn’t like the arrangement. Luckily for many, we swapped with the girls (unlucky for them) and ended up with the refurbished, spacious dorms. Nothing too exciting to say about these, other than the memory foam mattress which felt surprisingly heavenly after a 7 hour hike, and the massive shower on offer.
Then we were given our ‘activity leaders’, the ones we were to carry out activities with (I guess that’s in the name, right?) Anyway, after this, we got down to the important stuff. Food! I couldn’t fault the food on offer at our designated centre; homemade soup, beautiful half full-English breakfasts (like a full English, minus most of the vegetable stuff) and the confusing hot drinks machine (Do you pick ‘Cup Chocolate’ or ‘Chocolate’?)
After a short night’s sleep, having to awaken at 6:30am for a tactical shower (guys stink after a while, thanks puberty) we set out for Team Wards first activity – rock climbing. All was good; a breath-taking scenery to climb in, a funny instructor, and a challenging course, yet I still refused to climb (I’m a wimp when it comes to heights. Here’s where people laugh at the fact I’m 6 foot 4 and I’m still somehow scared) Despite this, everyone gave it a go and enjoyed it, with some deciding to show off and do it with their eyes closed!
Later, we set off for canoeing. As me and my close friend Kyle were chosen as Project Managers for the day, our first duty was to organise the team into partners – pitching the weaker ‘canoers’ with the stronger ones. We did well, except our intentional placement of Polly and Matthew together, in the hopes one would drag the other into the water, or at least drive each other mad! We aptly named this the ‘Party Boat’, wherein the party came when Polly face planted the water at the mini break ‘island’, where an effortless mumble of “oops, oh well” could be heard from her.
This was also great team bonding, especially the part where we ate in a graveyard and used a ‘tomb grave’ as a designated changing room. Good call, Cat!
Our second day was, well, different. We knew we had the big hike ahead of us, but we never anticipated how exhausting it would be. With a hiking pack filled to the brim with water, clothing, as many warm jackets as we could get, and countless of those gorgeous caramel Tunnock’s biscuits everyone seemed to love, we set off for the hills. The Scottish call them hills, but for us city dwelling teens, they may as well have been Everest.
The first hour was cheerful and happy, with team morale at an all-time high.
The second hour dawned on us a bit, having only reached the base of our first mountain-hill in that space of time.
The third hour was when we realised our doom. Our little city legs couldn’t handle the stupid mountain-hills of Scotland. Despite the breath-taking beauty of the area surrounding us, these death-trap mountain thingies were killing us.
By the seventh hour, we were quite literally dragging ourselves into the campsite we were to spend the night in, with only the monotone “Well done guys. Team morale” uttered occasionally by Isaac, followed by a very slow and slightly depressing double clap by him to keep us going.
We needed a lie down, a long, hearty rest with a warm dinner and a lush drink. Instead we got the ‘delightful’ tents that ended up dripping with condensation, the MRE’s given to us to somehow boil for dinner (If I had signal, I would have called my mom to drive all the way up and cook for me. I don’t know how to cook spaghetti, and I only know how to spell it because of the wondrous auto-correct ever so kindly helping me right now) and the painstaking task of setting up our ‘beds’ for the night.
All hope was not lost though, as spirits were swiftly lifted when Team Ward established a ball game we called ‘Extreme Piggy in the Middle’, where a number of people in the middle of a large circle try to get the ball as it is launched over their heads. This was great, until me and Kyle stepped in, and left our mark as the “scary rugby guys”, who would rugby tackle anyone who had the ball (sorry Lorna, Josh, Abi and the countless others I may have tackled!) All of a sudden, literally everyone was playing (all 40+ of us at the camp-site). I’d say our creation of this game was our proudest moment, and also one of our strongest team mixing ideas. Who needs silly Team Leader games!
After a luxurious and delightfully warm night of camping (read that with extreme sarcasm) we headed back to the centre to wash and relax for a bit.
Our final day was over in a flash, it seemed. We woke to a hideous alarm that Josh thought would be funny to set (because the sound of chains dragging across the floor and an ear-piercing eagle screech would liven me up in the morning) and set off for breakfast.
After our lovely-as-ever meal, we started on our team building activities; The Spider Web being designed to humiliate us by having to be carried through tiny holes in the ‘pencil position’ without touching the edges, The Pipe infuriating those of us who decided to go down the muddy, wet and cold ditch to block holes in a pipe to collect a rubber duck and The Wall proving no challenge as we all scaled it in about one minute (even Mr. Happy)
Oh, let me tell you about Mr. Happy! Mr. Happy is the alter ego of Isaac, one of our team members who described himself as, and I quote, “the depressing one” Mr. Happy is a cardboard box with arms cut out for Isaac to go into when he is feeling particularly ‘de-motivated’. The only downside to Mr. Happy is the lack of eye holes, and the slightly patronising but somehow charming face drawn upon him. We count Mr. Happy as one of the team, because who wouldn’t treat an inanimate cardboard box with a face drawn upon it as a valid person?! We took him to bed, we gave him a hat, and we fed him. I hope he feels happy.
Anyway, to get back on topic, our first week of NCS has been extremely joyous. I’ve met some absolutely incredible people, and I’ve made some genuine lifelong friends. I’d more than recommend it, and I’d also recommend NCS ‘graduates’ to, in the future, become Team Leaders to continue this amazing legacy.
It has been an unforgettable adventure so far, so here’s to week two!
P.S – thanks to Matthew and Abigail for passing their strong scouse accents on to me, my family think I’m a right pleb.
Benjamin John Wareing