Top 10 - Things You Didn’t Know You Had Missed

An embarrassing number of the general orienteering public have been doing silly things in the woods for a very long time. For those who weren’t there in the 60s and 70s, or who have now forgotten, here is my list of orienteering things that are no more. (Reproduced from Pacemaker 98, May 2006. The article also appeared in CompassSport in June 2008.)

1 - The Definite Article

Control features used to come in two sorts: the ones that were shown on the map and the ones that weren’t. This produced a pragmatic method of differentiating between the two. Control features that were shown on the map were described using the definite article (the re-entrant) and those that were not shown on the map were described using the indefinite article (a re-entrant). I must admit that this concept disappeared so long ago that even I have never come across it, other than in re-runs of very early events. At CHIG’s 1991 25th Anniversary Event when they restaged their first event at Epping Forest I had the delight of looking for control 6 on 'A hawthorn 10 yards north of a ditch in the ride' followed by control 7 on 'The north-west end of the gravel pit'.

2 - DIY Results

Many readers will be unaware that there was a time when computers did not exist. Timing at events was left to a variety of special printing clocks, wrist watches, stop watches, kitchen clocks and presumably egg timers and sun dials if we go back far enough. But this did not stop you being able to see everybody else’s result on the day. The trick was the DIY results system. You were handed a slip of paper as you finished with your finish time on. You then filled in the rest of the details, calculated your time and proudly stapled your results slip to the washing line. Or you threw your slip away in disgust, refusing to display your ineptitude in public, and hoping that the finish team might lose your control card and thus omit you from the printed results as well. Or calculate your time incorrectly. Or spell your name wrong so that no-one recognised you. As I write this it strikes me that I have left raffle tickets out of my top ten. Every control card used to have a raffle ticket stapled to it at the finish, and the number was later correlated with the finish time for that number written on a separate list of times. Then you had to check punching manually as well. Oh unhappy days spent doing this sort of thing in the falling snow.

3 - Colourless O-Kit

In the dark ages there was an unwritten rule (or possibly even a written rule: I’m not sure) that you should make every effort to blend into the forest and remain invisible. There was certainly an absolute (but again possibly unwritten) ban on red, to avoid looking like a control. Thus O-kit was inevitably dark brown, dark green, dark blue and even dark black. You still see the odd O-top that has survived from this era, with an SN brown and green top being an example that I recall seeing recently. It’s not that this faded disaster has suffered after 100 washes: it started out that colour. This all came to an abrupt end in the early eighties when SHUOC turned out in force wearing white, yellow and black. Nowadays nearly every club has moved to something a bit more colourful, with Australian club Big Foot perhaps being the most extreme with their fluorescent pink number. Whilst I have made a guest appearance running for Big Foot, it was in the more toned-down blue and yellow of HH.

4 - Transpaseal and Chinagraph Pencils

Don’t ask me why, but some people used to trim all extraneous detail from their blank map (legend, title, bits of map they guessed they weren’t going to visit) and then covered the map in transpaseal. They then used a chinagraph pencil to copy down the course from the master map. True experts always seemed to use one inch pencils, presumably to save the weight of carrying the extra few inches of pencil round the course for the second master maps.  Transpaseal also served a second purpose and was the “professional” way to cover cardboard control cards to protect them from the rain. Tyvek gradually did away with cardboard before electronic punching did away with Tyvek, so the jumbo roll of transpaseal no longer takes up a corner of my O-bag every Sunday.

5 - Brown Paper Bags

The most important job at relay events used to be allocated to the biggest group of under-10s you could find. Their job was to run around the field picking up the brown paper bags that maps were wrapped in before being ripped off and discarded by runners as they started. Bits of brown paper inevitably ended up strewn across the field, but it was not the environmental impact that seems to have put an end to the brown paper bag. Rather it was the fact that by smoothing out the bag and holding it up to the light it was frequently possible to see the map and most of your course through it. A famous photograph in CompassSport shows most of the Men’s Elite teams at the JK doing just this before the start of the first leg. The obvious solution was to fold the map within the bag, but it was then equally obvious that the bag was redundant and we ended up with the now-standard folded map with a few pieces of tape to stop you looking inside.

6 - Master Maps

Copying your course from a master map was a standard part of all but the biggest events for many years. With practice you could save seconds if not minutes here, although you had to live with the ever-present threat of copying a control in the wrong place, or leaving it out entirely. Even this was not always disastrous, since some surreptitious hanging around at key points on the course often let you follow someone to the control you had marked incorrectly, or you could systematically visit all the similar features close to where you thought it should be. As if master maps weren’t bad enough there were frequently second master maps as well. This required you to transport a writing implement around the course at least as far as half way. The super-organised had special short pens with safety pins taped to them. You could then pin your pen to your O top and be reasonably certain you’d still have it when needed. I took the slightly lower tech approach of stuffing it down my sock. Another high-tech tip was to use a different colour for the second master map to make it easier to work out which control you should be going to.

7 - Regional Championships

These used to be the big events that everybody went to. The Southern, Midland, Northern and Scottish Championships used to be the biggest thing going after the British and the JK. This all changed with the move to National Events in 1985, which were meant to provide equivalent levels of competition but in greater quantities. We are now nearly back where we started, since the number of National Events each year has dropped from the original plans. One of my best individual results remains a second place in M15 in the 1979 Southern Championships (which were actually held in 1980 because of Foot and Mouth: something that we thought we had got rid of but returned all too recently).

8 - Black and White OS Maps

Before five colour maps came four colour maps, before four colour maps came three colour maps, and before three colour maps came black and white maps. The OS 1:25,000 map with 25 foot contours (that’s 7.62 metres, which was normally approximated as 7.5 metres when used as a base map for later “real” orienteering maps) was the state of the art when orienteering started in this country. If you were lucky there might be a few corrections added, but often you were on your own. It is frequently alleged that people used to stop at a critical point on their course to draw on features they could see on a distant hillside for use later in the course. I certainly got shown how to use coloured pencils to highlight the map before you started (streams in blue for example).

9 - Toilet Tents

Civilisation has made few greater advances than the Portaloo, at least when considered from an orienteering viewpoint. Toilet tents were the dinosaurs in the evolutionary pathway that produced the Portaloo. Enough said.

10 - John Bull Printing Sets

Hand overprinting of courses used to involve hours spent sticking little rubber circles, triangles, lines and numbers to a sticky pad, covering it all with red ink and then trying to produce legible courses on maps that were never quite cut square. Use of these sets was a true art, and no matter how many spare maps you thought you had there always came a point where you had to pick the 10 least bad overprints for use on the day.