Posted on August 26, 2005.

International Camp was awesome. Martin did a swell job recommending me and TPJ to do it. I enjoyed it a great deal. TPJ and I were charged with running the computer room, as mentioned above. However, although the hardware for broadband arrived, the line that we were trying to use with it failed to be correctly activated - indeed, until we told them, they didn't realise that the line we had couldn't be used. They have been running two phone lines on one physical cable, which has been fine up until now, when they wanted to use ADSL. BT assured us that they were sending an engineer to sort out the line, and that it would be done by the second Monday. No dice. In the end, we never got broadband which is terribly disappointing for all parties concerned - we had to settle for dialup. But not a 56k connection. Oh no - because we were running two phone lines on one cable, the dialup connection was only capable of 28k/sec. This was then divided between two computers. I heard the phrase "This internet is shit", or a variety thereof in more languages than I care to count. However, this did work to my advantage, as everyone was extremely willing to talk while they were waiting (the eternity it took) for their websites to load. I met lots of new people this way.

I find it extremely difficult to put into words just what it was about International Camp that makes it so enjoyable. There was always something going on and everyone was very sociable. I didn't stay every night, but managed to stay for most nights with a special theme party, which I thoroughly enjoyed. One of the most enjoyable nights was the night of the Green Party. When the disco finished, we (me, Deepak, TPJ, Ben, Ted and L) went to sit in the Night Café - a quiet room (in theory) where food was served and there were comfy chairs and sofas for people to sit on. We were then told that outside, Max would be putting on a fire poi show. I had done the poi workshop earlier that day with Deepak and Ted where we made our own poi (though not ones to set alight). Essentially, poi are weights on the ends of string (we used tennis balls) that you twirl around you - when you get good, you set them on fire. Max is really good and seeing balls of fire circle her at 1 o’clock in the morning was stunning. Of course, she had a friend who could do one better - three flaming balls on each string, who promptly show us how it's done. Max had a go but didn't do anything quite as ambitious as she had with single balls of fire. Both of them managed to hit themselves with the poi, but as neither were made of paraffin, there wasn't a problem.

We then had the most excellent idea to go down to the beach with Ben's campervan for audio accompaniment. Some other people joined us, and some left to go sleep, but most people paid us a visit (including John - someone we met at camp, who could probably not be described as svelte - with a worryingly small amount of clothing). We were also joined by Rachel and her boyfriend, who are both instructors at International Camp and they proceeded to tell us how to play a drinking game (take a mouthful of drink, spin 20 times, swallow, try to walk, fail) which caused much merriment. They also told us about the photo luminescent algae in the Mersea water and, just as they said, we managed to see some. These, when disturbed by a breaking wave or similar (like a stone plopping next to them) glow and the effect is truly startling. Points in the sea light up and waver slightly. Ben even caught one; they look far more magical in the sea - they're just gooey blobs up close.

I also remembered a notice in the canteen (which most other people had seemed to miss) stating that the Perseid meteor shower was peaking that night. We stared up at the slowly clearing sky for a little while and then ruminated on the idea of getting some ground sheets from somewhere so that we could lie on them and look at the sky much more easily. True to form, Ben rummaged in the van for a minute and produced two groundsheets, which we placed on the ground and lay on. Shortly after, with the sky still clearing and a few shooting stars spotted, we were getting uncomfortable and commented jokingly how mattresses would be useful. Minutes later, Ben had obtained two large mattress/cushion objects to lie on. It was astonishing, and greatly enhanced our viewing experience which was fantastic. I reckon that collectively we saw one every couple of minutes (though Enzo - a Dutch guy who is too good at activities like poi or diablo - seemed to have the uncanny ability to look in exactly the wrong direction every time). We even saw some who's trails persisted for several seconds after they were gone. I wished at that point that I had taken my digital camera and a tripod - with a 30 second exposure time, I'm sure I could have got some brilliant photos.

We kept watching for shooting stars until we couldn't see the stars any more due to the rising of the sun. Ted and Ben realised that they were supposed to be serving food in the morning, so the party sort of petered out - Ben and Enzo slept in the van, I fetched my sleeping bag and slept in that, and Ted and L slept on a matress using Ted's coat as a duvet. It was a really enjoyable night for all concerned, and I don't think it was really paralleled - for me at least - for the rest of International.

At International Camp, everyone is assigned a village prior to arrival and this defines where you sleep and your team-mates for all the inter-village competition. This takes the form of a multitude of events - a Krypton Factor competition, Sports, 'Silly' Sports (like sack race, skipping race, egg and spoon race and so on), a quiz, and a Swimming Gala to name a few - and was hotly contested through the two weeks by all concerned. Everyone took part and both Martin and I were part of our village's (Radio Ga Ga's) rounders team, and we made it to the final where we were destined to play the Rocky Horrors' team - which included Ben, Ted and L. Unfortunately, the one day of bad weather we had coincided with the final, so the titles were left undecided; I feel compelled to admit that they did beat us in the game we played in the round-robin stage, but it was our first game and their second, so I'd like to think that we hadn't warmed up.

The parties at International Camp were fantastic. Starting at nine, finishing at 1 AM at the earliest with the Night Café open if they did each night, with four of them having themes - the Green Party already mentioned, the Barbie and Action Man party (with the subtheme of cross-dressing), a Bugsy Malone party and a Grease party. The Barbie night was great fun for all concerned and it's embarrassing to admit that I don't know which I enjoyed more: the cross dressing party or Bugsy Malone. From the former, there is a cracking photo of Ben and TPJ which will hopefully be on the Camp DVD, which Deepak has ordered and I intend to copy for everyone else concerned. However, I felt like a total legend for Bugsy Malone, as I had obtained a three-piece suit for it; unfortunately, without a trilby, I looked as if I was off for a funeral. It also cooked me inside the party, but was worth it, especially as in the end, I didn't spend a lot of time inside, for a couple of reasons. The first was that the DJ was abysmal (we had the Macarena repeated three times, at one point), and secondly word reached us that a coalition of people from the other villages had stolen everything from our village's marquee and hidden it somewhere - of course, this required investigation. Martin and I were told where it was if we promised not to tell anyone, so we went off to explore and investigate, and sure enough it was there. Annoyingly, this prevented me saying goodbye to someone who was leaving early the next morning, because they had left to sleep by the time I returned. At this point, Martin was feeling a bit hungry, so he went off with TPJ to steal some bread and cheese from the kitchen's which was consumed by the group of about eight of us sitting outside the sports hut and while there was a close shave when Paul (the guy who runs International) came to talk to us, it was well hidden (ish) and he wasn't really in the mood to care.

Similarly, the activities were very entertaining. The first day we had teambuilding within the villages which involved a number of games designed to get to know the people you're playing them with. The best of these by far was the Plumber's Nightmare - a big tube with holes in it, and a ball in the bottom. By covering the holes with your fingers, you're supposed to get the ball out as a team. This works fine until Matt - one of our village leaders/helper people - who is filling the tube takes the bucket of water and throws it over everyone. It was a nice day, but a touch early in the morning for getting soaked, so most of the team pulled away really quickly, leaving the few of us who stayed wet, and steadily getting wetter as the holes they had been covering spouted water. Nonetheless, it certainly bonded us, if only by giving us a common enemy.

A few days later, the workshops started, with a multitude of choices for us to make. I chose Poi, as mentioned, though I abandoned TPJ in the computer room where he had to run a workshop for those who had signed up for it with no internet connection. I didn’t envy that job, but I paid for my absence later when I came in at 8AM to set up laptops for some person from the council who wanted them when both TPJ and I had spent the previous night at home. I also ran the second computing workshop in penance, so I couldn’t go to the Poi workshop where they practised looking suave with them. Both Deepak and Ted were, last I talked to them, planning to take their sets to Reading, so watch out! Unfortunately, I also missed out on the water sports which were, apparently, fantastic – admittedly, missing one session was my fault, and was simply because I couldn’t be bothered (I was exhausted from the parties the previous two nights; to give you a sense of scale of the exhaustion, I didn’t get up until 8:00. Me. Had a lie in.) The other sessions I couldn’t really avoid missing; one didn’t involve my village (we did art things) and the other I was taking my theory test (passed). At least it’ll give me something to look forward to next year.

Everyone is desperate to go back next year; I wasn’t present on the final morning, because I was recovering in order to go to V (though Deepak stayed that final night), so I didn’t really get a chance to talk to Paul about next year. On the train down to V, however, we met up with Ben, Nes and TPJ – who said that Paul had mentioned both TPJ and I being on the Planning Team next year. This would be brilliant, because everyone else (apart from Martin) spent this year on the Service Team, and you can only do one year on the Service Team. Those who did a good job who they want back are therefore being upgraded to the Planning Team; apart from anything, this suggests that Tom and I wouldn’t be supposed to be in the computer room the whole time. And that would be a marvellous achievement – while I enjoyed being in the computer room and talking to the people who came in, I’d much rather be outside having fun with everyone else. The only tiny problem is that this might remove the exclusive access that Tom and I had to the fridge in our room, which greatly enhanced our experience – I stored food for me in it, and Ben stored Gin and Tonic which was consumed during the dismal Bugsy Malone party while we were dressed for it.

I thought I’d have to leave it there, with my future regarding International Camp hanging on something that TPJ thought he heard Paul say in passing. However, as a family, we decided to go crabbing in Mersea – and we ran into Paul who was also crabbing with his little children. Naturally, we talked about International and Paul said how he was looking forward to the review meeting (where everyone who helped meets up again sometime in October to catch up and talk about International. It’s merely an aside that it’s going to be held at a theme park. Honest) and then in turn how he’d see me at the Planning Meeting next year prior to International Camp. So it certainly looks promising for next year, which is awesome. I really enjoyed meeting lots of new people, and I’ll be keeping in contact with one of them at the very least.

I missed the last day of International Camp so that I could go to V with Alana. We also had the fortune to win a second pair of tickets – which I gave to Martin, who had only the week before said how he’d always wanted to go to a Festival, and Deepak (again!). And we all had a fantastic time. I enjoyed it far more than I did last year – probably through a combination of knowing and liking more of the acts. The Magic Numbers were fantastic, and I probably enjoyed them the most (to be honest, if it wasn’t for the Derby FC flag, it probably wouldn’t have been a contest. That flag really annoyed me.) though Maroon 5 came close. Ashes by Embrace live was fantastic, but I think the rest of their set suffered slightly because they had already spent their best song. There is one argument for it, which is that the crowd was really up for it; by the end, when asked if they had “one more song in them”, a lot of people were groaning that they didn’t. Still, it removed a lot of the anticipation I think they could have milked.

One artist that certainly left his best song to the end was Tony Christie, who got right into it when he eventually sang it. Amarillo was demanded by the crowd from the moment he appeared on stage and while many people disappeared when the act before finished (Idlewild), the area in front of the stage had more than filled up again when he started. The sight of fifty thousand people singing “Is This the Way to Amarillo” was sensational, and he clearly was wowed by the reception that he got – even if it was a little hesitant from most of it at the beginning.

Sensationally, V didn’t even make it into the top two highlights of the week. Those honours fell to International Camp at number two, but both being beaten to number one by Thursday – alias, Results Day. I’m no good at staying calm about results, and I always find myself thinking about the exams, and end up convincing myself that I’ve failed. This year in particular, that seemed like a feasible event, because I would have considered a fail to be anything less than As in Maths, Chemistry and Physics – my Cambridge offer. International Camp did a good job this year keeping my mind off of it – as it appeared to do for several others. Even so, by the time I got to Wednesday evening at home, the next major event was collecting results at 10 AM the next day – and there was nothing to distract me. The effect was clearly universal, with everyone on MSN talking about results, the next day in general and the possible existence of Jenkinson phone calls. I was brushing my teeth after having my evening snack of cornflakes when the phone rang, and dad answered: “Alex: it’s Mr. Jenkinson”. I swiftly emptied my mouth and took the phone: “Hi Alex, it’s Mr. Jenkinson here. I’m just phoning around a few people to see if they’re able and willing to come in at nine tomorrow to pick up their results early and to take part in a little group photo.” My first reaction was what a marvellous turn of phrase it was. Of course, I agreed and dashed back to MSN – the only person I talked to was Chris, who had also received a call. We guessed that it was good news, but in that short conversation managed to confuse each other about the time we were supposed to be in. We both got it right in the end, but it was close.

Sure enough, turning up early in the morning to receive our results, we were greeted by Mr. Jenkinson who informed us that everyone there had got five As (and that one person – James – had got seven) and handed us our results. Other than General Studies (which had a paper marked as ‘Pending’ – the mark was available from Mr. Chester, but I never collected it.), all of my marks were above 550 which I was extremely satisfied with, including Physics which was 596/600. Given that Physics is what I’m intending to do at University, that was extremely reassuring. I also got full marks on the Science Domain paper this time, as opposed to the D that I got last time. Of course, with five As, I met my Cambridge offer, and returned the slip from UCAS to Cambridge as fast as I possibly could, after checking that I had ticked the right box several times. I’m still getting used to saying “Cambridge” without being quickly followed by “touch wood”; it’s surreal that I’m actually going there for sure – as, indeed, is everyone else who got an offer from Oxbridge, which is a sensational achievement. It is beginning to seem real, however, thanks to the correspondence I’m having with Churchill College about things like the room that I’m going to be living in. To be honest, it’s pretty scary, but everyone else is in the same boat, I suppose, so I can draw a little comfort from that. I’ve also started hanging around the (pretty dead, for the moment) Churchill forums on their website just to see what’s going on. By the looks of it, I’m going to have to apply for parents soon: “Everyone will have 'parents' from the second or third years who will meet you on your first day, take you out on your first night, and look after you for the whole year!” Sounds like fun. The letter I received from them about signing up for parents was rather entertaining, in fact: “Many people are still great friends with their parents/siblings (often in extended and incestuous family groups)”.

I’ve really enjoyed the holiday so far, and I hope the last five weeks of it (so few!) are going to be just as entertaining. I’m off boating again tomorrow (hopefully) with Georgia, Jacko and one of his cousins, which should be good fun like last time. And then we’re into ‘goodbye’ parties, unfortunately. It’s easy to say ‘keep in touch’ but I’d be really surprised if we’re as successful as we’ve promised we’ll be; those going to the same university may well keep in touch, as well as people that live close to each other, but more than that may well be reduced to passing greetings in the street or pub. Still, I’d love to make the effort.