Friday, 25 November 2016

Ray Mears

I've been watching Ray Mears' TV series for many years, and always admired his commitment to immersing himself in the societies that he visits, who live in the environments within which he practices his "bushcraft".
On Thursday this week, I went to Ely Cathedral to see him speaking at an event organised by the wonderful Topping Books of Ely.
I sat in the south transept, where I sit for school services, and had a good view as Ray talked through a range of themes, including some details on his new book, which is shown opposite.
As Ray was talking, I was making lots of notes. What I've added below is based on those notes, so they are not to be taken as verbatim what Ray said, although sometimes they were....

- Ray was clear on the value of reading, and in particular talked about his chance encounter with a book called "The Forest People" by Colin Turnbull, describing his travels to the Mbuti pygmies in the Belgian Congo
- he talked about attending a seminar on planning an expedition to the rainforest at the Royal Geographical Society at the age of 15 and "the door of possibility opened"
- he described how, if you are willing to learn, you need to find the best person to teach you, and shared stories of some of the people who taught him, particularly relating to mycologists...
- he said that he was more interested in the uses of things sometimes than the things themselves
- he described his school, which had time for people, and where students were encouraged to read, in particular the training he had in Judo as a mental discipline
- he described photography as his diary
- his book describes travels in the Northern Boreal Forest, the largest land biome, which contains a third of the world's trees
- he talked about Lars Fält, who he'd worked with, who trained the Swedes for their National Service - buschcraft went beyond survival skills
- what makes us human is that we can make fire
- he described what to do when meeting a bear (don't look it in the eyes apparently)
- an important one this: Ray was asked what he was planning to do next, and he said that he wasn't ready to talk about it because he was still learning it, and when you're learning something new it takes some time before you want to talk about it... a message for us in schools perhaps?
- he was asked about Outdoor education, and said that he felt some people were given the role of leaders too early, before they had enough experience - when going outside, there was a constant risk assessment being done, and experience allows you to foresee potential problems before they happen - this maturity enables you to adapt to new circumstances...
- Britain is his favourite place in the world, for the variety of landscapes in such a small area
- He talked about the Northern peoples having "kinship with the land" (the importance of place)
- Advice on what to take on expeditions: pack what you think you need and throw out anything you come back with having not used, and slowly narrow down to the things you really need - and in terms of luxury, the best luxury of all is travelling light...

It was good to see that several staff, but more importantly some of our King's Ely Geographers attended the talk.
Ray ended the night by signing copies of his book - there was a very long queue of people waiting to see him.
I would definitely recommend that if Ray is talking in your area that you go along and see him.

He said a whole lot more that I haven't mentioned...

And finally, towards the end of his talk, Ray talked about the "interconnectedness" of the world, particularly as nature doesn't recognise geo-political boundaries...

"I do think of myself as a global citizen"...

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