My friend Orville cannot understand why I do not like orienteering. It's because, I tell him, I never got the map-reading gene when I was born.
"But you ought to like it," he berated me. "You spend a lot of your time watching sport on telly and talking about sport and thinking about sport."
"What's that got to do with it?" I said.
"Well, they call it the 'thought sport.'"
Yes I know that. But to call it a sport draws a long bow.
As I understand orienteering, it consists of an eclectic bunch of people running around bushland, using maps and compasses to find various checkpoints, in just about any weather. Sounds very silly to me. Unthoughtful even.
"Well, the Scandinavians are big on it," Orville said.
"Bully for them," I said. "The Scandinavians don't have Tasmanian Tiger snakes lurking under every log. Besides, the Finnish are also big on beating each other with birch branches while stark naked in saunas — what does that say about them?"
Orville and I had this conversation because I returned the other day from an orienteering session in Canberra.
It was not my idea. My eight-year-old son Jack decided to take up the sport at his school and they like the parents to follow their kids around the course to keep an eye on them.
They say you don't actually have to do orienteering yourself, but I have come to the conclusion this is a trick.
Of course I have to do it.
For a start, they change the venue each week and give you the map co-ordinates to find it.
As I said, I missed out on the map-reading gene normally given to males.
This does not mean that I also got a Y chromosome when I was born. The evidence for that is clear: I also did not get the cooking and ironing genes.
But it does mean I have no sense of direction.
People laugh at women for turning maps upside down so they correlate with north, south, east and west. Well, I do that too. Invariably though I give up and just drive round and round and round until I find where I want to go. (Hey, more proof I'm a ridgy-didge bloke: I never, ever stop and ask someone for directions).
Luckily, my wife drove Jack and I to orienteering the other day.
Unluckily, she left as there to go do the shopping.
Even more unluckily, I had to follow Jack around the course alone.
Jack took off like a hare.
In no time at all, he was out of sight and I was there alone in the wilderness.
Oh, I did have a map but that proved to be utterly useless to me. A decent map would have shown me all the positions of dangerous reptiles in the area. But no, all this map showed was squiggly lines and the occasional landmark. I nearly threw it away in frustration but decided not to. I thought it might come in handy for lighting a campfire in case I couldn't find my way back to civilisation.
After the first two check points I decided to take a short-cut away from the track in the direction I thought I should be going.
For one of the first times in my life, this hunch was correct. When I finally rejoined the beaten track I found myself 200 metres ahead of Jack who was actually about four checkpoints ahead of me.
"How did you get in front of me?" he gasped in amazement when he caught up.
I puffed out my chest and said: "Didn't you see that flash go past you, Jack?"
Orville was horrified when I told him about this.
"That was a lie," he said. "Just like your line about Tasmanian Tiger snakes lurking under every log. There are no have Tasmanian Tiger snakes in Canberra."
"Maybe not," I conceded. "But you can't be too careful. I did see a kangaroo and joey in the bushes and I am pretty sure they were killer kangaroos."
In summary, it was a nerve-wracking outing for me.
"You might learn to love it," Orville suggested.
I doubt it. I might even see if my wife wants to swap roles next week.
Um, did I mention though that I also missed out on the shopping gene?
©May 18, 2005 John Martin. All Rights Reserved
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