Claire Black: Make the most of the great outdoors

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SO THE last thing I heard was that Barack Obama’s administration had approved Royal Dutch Shell’s plans to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean.

Did I get that wrong? (I didn’t – I’m being sarcastic.) But never mind impending global catastrophe and irrevocable damage to a unique geographical area – Barack Obama is in Alaska with Bear Grylls and he’s taken a selfie!

Oh lighten up, you may say. After all, it’s not everyday that the leader of the free world (do you think that’s what we’ll have to call Donald Trump if he gets elected?) heads off into the wilds with a public schoolboy with a penchant for drinking his own pee.

I watch Grylls’ telly programmes. I like them. I loved seeing Ben Stiller’s face as he was shown the barnacles he’d be eating for dinner. And Kate Winslet’s no-nonsense approach to getting into freezing water – “Oh get on with it!” as she splashed past Grylls, footering about in the shallows. And nothing will erase from my memory the image of Stephen Fry sliding down a rocky hill on his backside, his trousers in tatters, his face like a burst tomato.

But what I’ve never understood is why they have to go to such lengths. In my experience if you want to take yourself to the very edge of your capacity to survive you just have to walk up a steep hill. OK, I will rephrase: for me to be taken to the very limit of my will to live I only need to walk up a steep hill. Every step tests me. As my muscles burn so my staying power wanes. “I don’t think I can make it,” I said with only the slightest touch of melodrama about 500 metres from the top the last time we climbed a small hill in Sutherland. “And anyway, the view is lovely from here.” The harrumphing is just part of it. I do get there. Or I have up until now. And it is worth it. And that’s partly because on the way up I really do believe I might not make it.

I don’t feel like this when I’m on undulating ground, just when it is relentlessly upwards. And I don’t feel like this when faced with tasks that would make others buckle. Torrential rain? Getting creative with a soaked and drooping awning has given me some of my happiest moments. Slugs in the cool box? Step aside, I can deal with those. Ticks all over the inner skin of the tent? Aren’t we lucky that my Swiss Army knife has tweezers on it. I lost count at 73. Nothing to do but whittle a stick? Be still my beating heart.

From the selfie that Obama took (the one with his finger over one corner) it looks like he had a blast with Grylls. I’m glad. Being in the outdoors feeds our soul. And it tests us. I don’t need to eat a soup made of dead mouse and urine (poor Michelle Rodriguez) to know that.

Hope at last for parents

I SOMETIMES wonder if studies into parenting might just as well be labelled “Whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it wrong and your children are bearing the brunt of your ineptitude”. Parents are an easy target. We are under-slept and over-stretched, haven’t had a decent night out in years and when we do make it out for some fun, we spend the next morning swallowing ibuprofen and turning the volume down on the The Octonauts. We have no disposable income, our relationships are hanging by a thread and we never know if we’re getting any of it right. But the latest study has given me hope. Carried out by researchers at University College London, it suggests that parents who exert too much control over their children aren’t doing them any favours. Tracking people born in the 1940s to today, it found that those whose parents encouraged dependency, were unwilling to let their children make their own decisions or intruded on their privacy were likely to have low scores in surveys of happiness and general wellbeing throughout their lives. The children of parents who were caring and responsive tend to be happier. It made me feel so much better about the fact that my two-year-old regularly shuts his bedroom door to read his books, frequently chooses what channel we watch (CBeebies) and often dismisses whatever has just been cooked for him with: “No, tank you. All finished.” All seems to be going as it should be.

Desperate times

HOW can I write anything about Aylan Kurdi that is even remotely adequate? I can’t. And that’s not the point; to say nothing of an event that is overwhelming is understandable but, in this instance, not acceptable. Just as to do nothing in the face of a situation in Europe that is unwieldy and complex isn’t acceptable. I don’t often cry when I look at a photograph. But I cried when I looked at that boy lying dead in the surf. His brother and mother also drowned. Bleeding heart liberal? Part of the compassion lobby? Fine by me. I don’t know what the word is to describe those advising that we develop a thick skin and a hardened heart towards such human desperation, but I want no part of it. #refugeeswelcome «