Recently I was asking for sponsors for a nights rough sleepout on behalf of the Royal British Legion Industrie's assistance to military veterans programme. It is estimated that about 6000 veterans have no fixed abode and many of those are forced to sleep on the streets.
Anyway, some of you contributed and this is the report of my night out in the woods with Noodle. It is warts and all and totally uncencored. Some of you may have found yourself in similar situations. You have my sympathy.
BEN'S GREAT ROUGH SLEEPOUT for RBLI.
March 17th. St Patricks Day. Full moon. Little wind. CAVOK. 4 degrees C.
Thirty six year old ex Royal Marine Landrover 90, still in full war camo paint.
Labrador 'gundog'. (Five year old mutt called Noodle).
Ancient aviator. (Nearly 83).
Large Suffolk field between two woods.
The plan is to sleep rough in the back of the truck and raise lots of money for homeless veterans.
What can possible go wrong?
Hares for a start. We are blessed in this part of the world to have hundreds of the 'blessed' things. Now the only reason Mother Nature put hares on this planet is to aggravate labrador dogs and their owners. They, the dogs, can't catch them but they can very nearly catch them. So it's a sort of a challenge that cannot be ignored thing. Lots of whistling, shouting, threatening and the use of much basic Anglo Saxon phraseology convinced Noodle that the object of the nights operations was not the catching of hares for breakfast.
Sleeping in a short wheel based Landrover does not give you much option. Well only three really. Sleep sitting up in the drivers seat with no support for your lolling head. Sleep outside on the ground in the open air or under the truck if you don't mind getting oil blasted from the many drips. Or, my option, to fit a wooden deck in the back across the wheel arches and sleep on the diagonal giving you just, and I mean just at 5' 8", enough space to lay at full length. This does involve having your head in contact with the thin metal skin of the truck and your feet doing the same at the other end. More of this later.
Supper was a packet of chocolate biscuits and a mug of tea from the flask. Giving myself a break from seemingly endless cooking, I am a carer for my wife, was part of the attraction of this little jaunt. Pudding was a juicy orange from Mr Sainsbury and it was all washed down with a large Glenmorangie which is always proceeded with a raised glass and a nod to Captain Roy 'Rocket Socks' of Air UK fame.
Peace reigned over North Suffolk and it was now dark - Well after sunset is a more correct description because the full moon was lighting up the countryside like I was in the centre of Norwich or Ipswich. More of this later too.
Time for bed was at about nine. I wanted to be up for sunrise. Calls of nature were attended to for me and Noodle and we climbed into the truck.
Now with a deck across the wheel arches you have about two foot of headroom so movement is somewhat restricted but as I was not divesting myself of any clothes or using any bedding other than a New Zealand stockdrovers coat it was not a problem. I just laid out on the garden deckchair mats that provided me with a mattress and went, very quickly, to sleep.
This sleep lasted about fifteen minutes. Noodle had gone through 'mildly interested' to 'God look at that one' to 'Christ I've got to be out there chasing that stupid hare' phase in about thirty seconds. He was now jumping up and down, remember that two foot headroom!, and barking too. This does not help ones sleep pattern. Blast that full moon...
I found an old dog towel and fashioned it into a curtain across the back window and resumed my slumbers.
I awoke again at midnight. Being of a considerable age I have a considerable aged 'old mans bladder'. That Glenmorangie after a coffee did not seem such a good idea now. Tried to convince myself that it was all in the mind but my bladder was telling me a different story.
So I sat up and banged my head for about the hundredth time and undid the back door to slide myself to the ground. Noodle had other ideas. Well he needed to get out even more urgently than I did. The hares were still there but I was, as yet, ignorant of this information. He was out, off and gone into the adjacent oilseed rape field and out of sight before my feet had found the ground.
Priorities kicked in from my training days. Don't panic. Make a plan. Have a pee...
Noodle reappeared about ten minutes later, breathless and hareless. I was also breathless and have always been hairless - the former from the shouting and whistling I had done to achiever the recall of the mutt. It is good that it was a very remote field.
We resumed our slumbering positions in the now curtained truck and I went back to sleep despite the heavy breathing from my canine companion.
This state of bliss continued to about 3am when I was struck by a feeling of great pains. I say pains, plural, because the pains were coming from both ends. My head was firmly up against the thin metal skin of the right side of the truck whilst my feet were doing the same on the left. The pain from my feet was worse and thoughts of Captain Oats of Antarctic fame came into my head. I still had my leather boots on but to no avail. They were cold with a capital C.
Well it was out of the truck time again. Curtain down, give Noodle a VERY short lecture about the dangers, to his personal well being, of chasing hares again, and I was out of the truck and stamping the circulation back into my poor feet whilst massaging my head as well. Noodle behaved impeccably on this occasion with nothing more than a wag of his tail at the still present hares, and the great gawping moon still shone down serenely from above.
This bright moonlight allowed me to realise that a deep frost had settled on everything and the truck was now covered in hoar. This explained my frozen feet and head. The skin of a Landrover is very thin.
Back in my chosen boudoir I worked to resolve the problems. Jacket off. Fleece jacket on. Replace outer jacket. Put second bobble hat on over the original and pull well down over ears. Tighten leather boot laces and form a parcel wrapping with my New Zealand stockdrovers coat and wrap my feet up and tie with binder twine. (Thought that an emergency evacuation would be interesting when your feet are tied together)! I place one layer of the deckchair mats between my feet and the wall and another behind my head. This meant that I was now laying on just one thickness of the very thin matting but beggars can't be choosers.
All of this sounds very easy but do remember the two foot headspace and the mutt still dreaming of a hare chase and me being wrapped up like the Michelin man.
Five o'clock came and I was fast asleep when the phone announced the event. The moon was nearly down now and the interior of the truck was darker. Noodle had never heard an alarm go off before but he knew exactly what to do. Chase around the truck and bark to add fun to the already hilarious situation. I couldn't find the phone. It had slipped under Noodles bed so no wonder he'd got excited - The vibrator was on too.
Anyway we, my best friend Noodle and I, watched the sun rise and disperse the fog that had also arrived. It took about two hours to melt the hard frost but we had survived.
A lukewarm can of stew for breakfast for me and Noodles usual for him plus a couple of mugs of coffee and off we went for a hareless walk.
After a superb and gargantuan all day breakfast served by my very favourite waitress at my very favourite farm café for lunch, and several more mugs of coffee, I returned home at about 4pm to resume carer duties.
Later that evening I was dozing over some pointless rubbish on the TV while Noodle dreamed of catching moonlit hares for breakfast in doggy heaven.
I raised my glass, with a nod to Roy, and thanked my lucky stars that I have so many old friends who have donated so very generously to a cause that I firmly believe worth the effort.
Thank you my friends - The fund now stands at over £2200 and is 'still counting'.
For those who have not donated - yet - visit this link. https://www.facebook.com/donate/253504463617913/
Thank you for reading,