Ray Mears talks about the old-fashioned education he received at his prep school: “We were encouraged to read, and to take an interest in, and understand, all the things around us. We learned to be patriotic; we were taught to be loyal and self-sacrificing as well. It was a traditional way of teaching, almost Edwardian in its outlook, but that was all good – well, all except for Latin, which I detested.”
He goes on to say, “The ability to read is so very important in life although, sadly, there’s not enough emphasis placed on that today. I despair sometimes at the poor grammar that I hear around me these days. Youngsters don’t read anymore but the fault doesn’t lie with them, it lies with their parents, with society at large and even the schools to some extent – or perhaps it’s the fact that we haven’t given the teachers the tools they need to be able to teach and maintain discipline in the classroom. I mean, if you have a classroom with no discipline, to me that’s a form of child abuse. It’s that serious – children simply must have the opportunity to learn. They need clearly defined and enforced rules at school so they can learn the pathway from which they can step out into the world.”
“The schooling I had was very formal and old-fashioned; we were taught to write nicely with a fountain pen – you got into trouble if you used a Biro. We were treated as individuals, whereas today’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ education seems to be more about how to pass exams rather than understanding the topics. It’s a very different approach – I was taught to take an interest in life, the world and everything around it, and I feel blessed for that experience.”
He goes on, “She [my mother] says I was always confident in my abilities when I was younger; perhaps that confidence was misplaced, but what I was doing never felt dangerous to me. It’s said that the past is a foreign country – they do things differently there – and it’s so true. Looking back, England was a foreign country compared to today: the population density wasn’t anything like it is now, and it felt like a safer place.”
Talking about his own personal apprenticeship and self-sought education, Ray Mears says, “Again, I learned an invaluable lesson from that because it taught me never to bullshit, and it’s something I carry with me to this day – if you don’t know something, say you don’t know it. I feel very strongly about that and I’ve built Woodlore up on that basis. If anyone who works for me bullshits, they won’t be there long. If you don’t know, say so – then go and find out. Do otherwise and you lose all credibility.”
These are quotes from Ray Mears’ recent autobiography, ‘My Outdoor Life’.
Sadly, it doesn’t seem to fit in with what we hear or read in the news nowadays. It would seem that the power-elite want to dumb down British society, and I cannot understand why. To me it’s a form of vandalism, and as if they hated the average Briton.
The BBC website recently stated, “About 80,000 foreigners moved to the country last year. A quarter of Switzerland’s population of 8 million are now foreigners. In the end, the vote reflected unease that Switzerland was in danger of losing its identity.”
It can be said that this is what has been happening in the UK during the last 30 years or so. There are now over 15 million foreigners living in the UK and they are often referred to as “plastic Brits”, i.e. British on paper only. What it means to be British is being re-defined and many native Britons believe that their way of life is being irrevocably changed for the worse.
Many believe that these changes are due to the pervasive influence of Cultural Marxism.
Cultural Marxism refers to a school or offshoot of Marxism that conceives of culture as central to the legitimation of oppression, in addition to the economic factors that Karl Marx emphasized. An outgrowth of Western Marxism (especially from Antonio Gramsci and the Frankfurt School) and finding popularity in the 1960s as cultural studies, cultural Marxism argues that what appear as traditional cultural phenomena intrinsic to Western society, for instance the drive for individual acquisition associated with capitalism, nationalism, the nuclear family, gender roles, race and other forms of cultural identity; are historically recent developments that help to justify and maintain hierarchy. Cultural Marxists use Marxist methods (historical research, the identification of economic interest, the study of the mutually conditioning relations between parts of a social order) to try to understand the complexity of power in contemporary society and to make it possible to criticise what, cultural Marxists propose, appears natural but is in fact ideological.
To me, Ray Mears has always appeared very respectful of the native peoples and traditions of the countries he visits. However, his description of the people during his early trip to Africa surprised me:
“Travelling in Africa is nothing like travelling in a place that’s ‘safe’, such as Australia or Europe. And this part of Africa most definitely wasn’t safe – people were saying to us, ‘Your lives are in danger – you should leave here.’ That really didn’t instil confidence in us.
“We had one worrying moment on the journey when, at a stop for provisions, a local guy tried to buy his way onto the boat…he tried to play the crowd against us. He was getting them increasingly agitated and the crowd seemed to multiply exponentially; there was a real air of menace and things felt like they could turn ugly any minute. We were balancing on a knife edge.
“There were many occasions when there were difficulties. We frequently found people trying to break into the vehicle – both when we were outside it, and sometimes inside. Sometimes things unravelled very quickly, and it got down to us having to beat them off physically with sticks. I always made sure that I had an escalating level of force available – from my fists, through to sticks and ultimately, a very sharp and fearsome-looking machete. We did a good job of looking after Ffyona, although in an environment like that, unless we were walking alongside her at all times, armed with a gun, we could never entirely guarantee her safety. There was one occasion when I was a matter of yards behind her and someone punched her in the face because they wanted to steal her sunglasses. It was that desperate. You couldn’t drop your guard at all, not for a second.
“Nobody tells you the truth before you get to Africa – all I’d heard before I got there was the good stuff: the good scenery, the pared down existence…I didn’t know anything about the aggression we’d find, the sheer bloody-mindedness, the violence.
“They’d [the local people] get very drunk and then the beer would run out. Come the evening, all you would hear was the sound of children crying because the drunken fathers had come home and beaten their children. I met missionaries who couldn’t stand it. Nobody tells you these things; nobody mentions the bad stuff, the things you have to do.
“There was one very dark period that lasted about three weeks where we were quite literally attacked every single day. People were either attacking Ffyona or they were trying to get into the vehicle and attacking that.
Ray Mears then mentions that a local person tried to rape his ex girl-friend, Ffyona, and goes on to say:
“Yet again, Africa had humbled us and shocked us in turns. Yet again, violence and aggression had come from nowhere. To me, each attack, each incident highlighted just how much bigger Ffyona’s task was than just the miles she had to walk to cross Africa. It was an expedition fraught with danger.
Nowadays in the UK multiculturalism seems to be official policy even though the British people weren’t consulted about it, and there are many organisations catering to minorities and implementing equality and diversity. However, Ray Mears seems to have his own take on things in the UK when referring to the Duke of Edinburgh’s scheme:
“All the people I’ve given awards to stand out because they are all amazing. Even if it were possible, I think it’s dangerous to single out people for any reason, because inevitably there are certain organisations that will look for somebody who’s come from the most appalling and disadvantaged circumstances. As far as I’m concerned, their achievement is no less and no greater than that of someone from another part of society. Anybody who achieves a Bronze, Silver of Gold Award achieves it, and that’s it. To my mind they are all amazing.
“As far as the monarchy is concerned, I do understand where the republicans are coming from, but I think they have departed from the path of wisdom because that part of our heritage isn’t something that, if you change your mind, you can recreate. The overall cost of the Royal Family is miniscule compared to how much is gained; it’s unquantifiable. You could see from the mood of the people during London 2012 that as a nation we are quite clearly massively pro-Royal, and I think that it’s a measure of our democracy that we are prepared to listen to voices of dissent and give them space.
“Reading this back, I can see there are some common traits that all the wonderful people I’ve met share, but the ones that stand out for me are fortitude, selflessness and understatedness – these are the qualities I like in people. I’ve recognized another trait too that’s common to all those I’ve met who have done amazing things: stoicism. They don’t moan about the everyday hassle of mosquitoes or cold or whatever – there are bigger things occupying their minds; they have a strong burning inside them.
Towards the end of his autobiography, Ray Mears says, “I’ve no problem with survival training – it’s very important and has its place, but it’s only a part of bushcraft. I wanted to introduce people to this much larger subject and take it away from people who want to wield big knives, the Rambo-types, and make it healthy and wholesome, which it is. I really do believe that I’ve done what I set out to do. I think it’s a very good way to introduce people to nature because it’s not just about remembering the proper names for flora and fauna. Nature has practical values and when plants and animals become your friends and allies you want to cherish them, you want to take care of these things, and I’ve spent a lifetime learning how to do that.
“Never in the furthest reaches of my imagination did I ever dream my life would follow the path it has. I never set out to make bushcraft my career, and neither did I have any great desire or plan to have a twenty-year career in television, but that’s just the way things have panned out. It has felt at times like I am a passenger on a train; I’m loving the journey but I’m not at the controls, so I just go where the engines take me. It’s never felt like work; how can it when I’ve spent my life doing something I love? It’s been a lifelong exploration of a subject that fascinated and inspired me, even as a child, and the best part of all is that I’ve been able to share some of the knowledge I’ve acquired with a wide audience through my books, courses, lectures and television documentaries.
In the chapter “Going Solo”, nearing the end of his autobiography My Outdoor Life, Ray Mears mentions an old army saying, “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.” He goes on to say, “It is now that the real benefit of preparation pays off. With all concerns accounted for, life is greatly simplified with distractions removed, the mind starts to empty further with every passing hour. By an empty mind, I don’t mean any loss of intelligence; with the trivia and worries of day-to-day life forgotten, there is in its place an increased awareness of the external stimuli of the environment. Consider if you will that your brain is a computer, running many applications simultaneously; now it need only run one application so all of its capacity is liberated to concentrate on the present. In short, you become more open to things – more alert, more intuitive and more observant of minutiae.”
Ray Mears’ appreciation of being one with nature and emptying the mind remind me of a video of him teaching someone to light a fire without matches. He said he could often tell beforehand whether the person would be able to succeed or not, and I then thought he’d make a good zen teacher. In another video, when standing quietly by a lake in Sweden, he said that it was a spiritual experience.
I myself have been on many zen retreats in the UK and have also spent two years living in zen monasteries in northern California, and I can only say that it’s a shame that I didn’t meet someone with Ray Mears’ calibre instead of the sometimes arrogant and dogmatic zen “masters” I encountered.
Later on in the same chapter, Ray Mears says, “It isn’t all plain sailing; it’s easy to injure yourself when shifting heavy loads over slippery rocks. But what is there to do but get on with it? There is no one to complain to but yourself, and self-pity has no place here. Now one learns the true meaning of the stoic Indian. In time, and with enough experience, stoicism becomes a tool you can employ to deal with hardships. Out of this stoic persona is born the equanimity of the master bushman. Like a rock in the rapids you become a place of stability from which others can gain strength.”
Finally, also in the chapter Going Solo, when encountering a pair of bald eagles he says, “One of them calls back to me. I smile, give a wave, and as they settle back on their original course, so too do I. In that moment I can see nature; I feel it intuitively and I understand what cannot be written. That is when I know my journey is complete.”