Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Ray Mears, survival expert


Ray Mears, 43, runs the Woodlore School of Wilderness Bushcraft. His TV series include Tracks and Extreme Survival. The Wild Food DVD and book are out this month, when he also begins his In Front of and Behind the Lens tour



At Downside Lodge, in Purley, Surrey, I remember dropping an encyclopaedia and accidentally tearing out a page as I grabbed at it. I can still see that page: it was on "Our ancestors and how they lived". It was a very good school, with that old-fashioned, Thirties feel.

I then moved down the road to the prep-school part of Downside. This was nothing to do with the well-known Catholic boarding school of that name; this was a day school, which I think was a good thing. The mischief – no, adventures – you get up to outside school are very important. I grew up on the North Downs, and used to track foxes and stay outside overnight. Kingsley Hopkins, who taught judo, was a mentor and the most important influence on me; he had been taught by the man who brought judo to Britain. Judo is a very special martial art, a great leveller that basically teaches you how to fall over. It's like chess but it's physical so you can let off steam.

I enjoyed Downside – although I didn't enjoy Latin, a waste of time and the way it was taught was a nonsense, going round the class conjugating Latin verbs. And geography was taught poorly: notes were dictated to you. I wouldn't dream of using that method on my bushcraft courses, which I have been doing for 25 years. It puts people off. You have to enthuse, and make it relevant, as our science teacher, who had worked in the chemical industry, did. The maths teacher taught geometry by teaching navigation, which is a vital skill in my life. If I couldn't navigate on canoe trips and in jungles, I'd never get home from the back of beyond.

From Downside I went to Reigate Grammar, which was very good. I had a great French teacher, and, later, having travelled in French-speaking Africa, where you are arrested on a daily basis, my French improved dramatically! He also taught Russian, and I even took a few lessons in Mandarin.

Having done really well at chemistry, I dropped it – a great shame. It was taught badly by a teacher who had written the most boring textbook ever. Biology was taught well and has always interested me. I was lucky: I had an interest in nature and had started to teach myself about trees and plants – but not what was on the syllabus. Later, the teacher said, "If only I'd known," and I said, "You never asked".

I'm single-minded and have no trouble teaching myself; normal lessons were often an impediment. (I'm still learning: there isn't a day when I don't learn something.) I took an interest in photography in my teens, and in my early twenties I taught myself to be a professional photographer: the camera became my diary.

Some of my best teachers have been native Canadians, Australian Aborigines, Kalahari bushmen: people who have been living the original life and using traditional skills. It is a great sadness that four of them, all from different continents, have recently died. They were "first contacts", that is, from communities that had never met white people.

I did English A-level: I cannot stand Jane Austen but loved Chaucer and Shakespeare. Maths with statistics was a disaster, and I don't think I got it. I did get business studies, which had nothing of any use to me. I didn't go to university because at the time there was nothing I wanted to study. Today, there would be ethno-botany, for example.

When I was working in the Operation Raleigh office, a Chinese man came in hoping to sell paintings on silk. I managed to say a few words in Mandarin but then he held up a piece of paper on which he had written "Deaf and Dumb". I've never bothered with Mandarin since.

(www.raymears.com)

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam