July 30 2009
Lucy Morrell is less than thrilled when her boss announces that she and her colleagues at Benson & Greville Private Equity are to be sent on an “adventure weekend” in the Brecon Beacons. The purpose of this, her boss explains, is “to improve leadership and communication skills” and to boost teamwork “while fostering the spirit of healthy competition”.
Claudia Clench, Lucy’s overly ambitious underling – who needs no encouragement when it comes to competitiveness – manages to do a passable impression of delight. “I’m in!” she declares, as if they had any choice in the matter.
The weekend, they are informed, will be run by Military Motivation, an outfit made up of former Royal Marines. It will comprise climbing, abseiling, gorge-walking and a 25km hill hike. A Google search of “gorge-walking” reveals that it involves “wading through icy water, traversing rock walls, climbing waterfalls and crawling along narrow ledges”. It sounds as appealing as a holiday in Helmand Province.
“It says here that they also do a course in survival skills,” notes Lucy’s colleague Jeff Lumb. “And something called ‘Escape and Evasion’. Now that could be useful.”
The 16 B&G employees travel to Brecon by minibus on the Friday evening. Lucy is not pleased to find that she has swapped her 400-thread-count Porthault linen sheets for a sleeping bag and basic dormitory-style accommodation – especially when she finds herself sharing with Claudia. Needless to say, her whippet-thin rival bags the top bunk.
The next morning, after a pep talk by a charismatic former Marine called Dave, they climb back into the minibus and are driven to a sheer rock face where they are divided into pairs. Annoyingly, Lucy, dressed in baggy old tracksuit bottoms, finds herself paired up with Claudia, who looks irritatingly sleek in high-tech outdoor kit and proper climbing shoes.
Dave says that they are to take it in turns to climb the rock face, before explaining the intricacies of carabenas (climbing clips to Lucy) and a belay device, which controls the length of the safety rope and makes it possible to hold the fall should your climbing partner slip. “Get this wrong,” says Dave, “and one of you could die.” Lucy is sure she spots an evil glint in Claudia’s eye.
Claudia volunteers to go first and climbs up the craggy wall with the ease and speed of a tree snake. “Look how Claudia manages to propel herself upwards on the narrowest of toe holds,” says Dave, while her colleagues look on with grudging awe. “If that isn’t a metaphor for her career, I don’t know what is,” mutters Jeff.
Claudia is also first in the queue for abseiling, while Lucy and Jeff linger, pale-faced, at the back. “OK, has everyone abseiled?” asks Dave, and Lucy thinks she’s going to get away with not doing it until Claudia looks at her and says, “Come on, Lucy, nothing to be scared of!”
But the climbing is nothing in comparison to the rigours of the gorge walk. Fully clothed, they follow an instructor clad in a thick wetsuit, up an icy river, and then climb up the side of a waterfall. Claudia is the first to shimmy up the slippery rocks and, on Dave’s command, throw herself into the water below. “Come on in, the water’s lovely!” she cries, while her colleagues shiver on a rocky ledge and Jeff wonders drily about the health-and-safety ramifications.
The following day, they set out at a fast-marching pace for the 25km hill hike, led by four marines in camouflage trousers (one of whom is carrying a fold-up stretcher and full first-aid kit in his backpack). Finally, Jeff and Lucy come into their own, marching up and down the arduous peaks at a steady pace. Meanwhile, their pushy colleague, marching only on carrot sticks – she refused the sandwiches in the packed lunch as she doesn’t do carbs – struggles to keep up.
“Ha! Now we see who’s got staying power,” says Jeff as Claudia limps along at the back, complaining about a dodgy ankle and leaning heavily on Dave’s arm. Back at work, Lucy finds that 48 hours of terrifying activity has done nothing to improve relations with her go-getting colleague. But the weekend does have one unexpected benefit: never has she been so happy to return to her desk on Monday morning.