I have been camping for about 30 years. Off and on. I still don’t get it.
I don’t get the bit where you put the tent up and I don’t get the bit where you take the tent down. I’m not known for my spatial awareness. Having an overall plan of part C inserting into part D means nothing to me. I can’t see ahead to what shape it should be. And I cannot for the life of me put the whole thing back in a bag that’s looks like it could fit a small child but not acres of plastic and nylon. I can’t do it.
And the bit in between? I don’t get that either. For a naturally untidy person sleeping in a tent is fraught with disaster. The husband places the camping mattresses alongside each other, rolls out a couple of sleeping bags. Stows the camping bag along the bottom of the window. Wonderful. Until I find my swimsuit, only pair of white knickers to go under pale shorts or hairbrush is lost in the bottom of the bag and I have to remove every item to find it. Do I put everything back again as neatly as the husband packed it? Do I @!!**.
My first camping trip was in the early eighties, with my first boyfriend. We borrowed a mate’s tent and headed to Snowdonia. On arriving we found that the tent was missing a fly sheet. The only thing between us and Welsh drizzle was a thin, almost see-through, sheet of nylon. I remember it was light blue in colour. And I remember being woken in the morning by wet drops of moisture landing on my forehead like the infamous torture. There were midges everywhere and my legs below the knees were colder than the rest of me. Did I mention that the zip had broken too? And that we were camped on a hillside. The reason my legs were cold was that they were exposed to the elements, sticking ungainly out of, what I would loosely call, the door.
Those heady days were supplemented by camping at various rock festivals. Enduring the tin hut and trough toilet in temperatures that brought forth disgusting smells of human waste and flies in their plenty. I find it hard to sleep under canvas. With round-the-clock strains of guitars and screaming vocals I was up all night. And not in a good way. I was not rock ‘n’ roll.
I recall a camping trip to Scotland, an overcrowded site on the west coast. The chap in the next tent had purchased a set of bag pipes. He started his practice religiously at seven o’clock every morning. I tremble to think of it. The haunted and strangled sounds echoed through my head awash with vodka from the night before. Medicinal – how else could I fall asleep in those circumstances? Like the princess and the pea I could feel every lump and bump, no matter the quality of the mattress. I’m not suggesting I am royalty or anything but maybe, way back…
Then I met the love of my life. He adored me, made me laugh but more importantly, he hated camping. Hurrah! He’d had a particular savage introduction when sent out from cadet school with a large raincoat and a rusty bean can, in the pouring rain, undercover of darkness. His mission; to spend the night without drowning or dying of exposure. And once the first grey light of dawn swept the horizon, make his way back to boarding school. If this had happened at my comprehensive the teachers would have been struck off.
We set up home in London which is as far from camping as it could be. There are brick houses covering every available space. No room for tents and no bloody need. Fast forward five years and we’d moved to Australia. The land of wide open spaces. Took me nearly a decade to get used to those. But worse, the husband had fallen in love with those spaces. He stood with his arms held wide, trying to sweep the landscape into his embrace. While I sat cowering in the car.
He hung around outdoor outlets and it wasn’t long before he started coming home with thermal socks and stout walking shoes. Tupperware containers and camping stoves. He bought a huge esky, sleeping bags which could cope with plummeting temperatures. And one day a perfectly wrapped piece of canvas, wrapped neatly in a bag and a bunch of tent pegs in a miniature bag of the same material. I knew that the time had come, the gnawing inevitability swept over me.
Fraser Island – camping on the beach, unable to sleep because of howling dingoes, the roar of shark infested waters and brumbies galloping across the sand. Hervey Bay – where bats kept me awake and shat all over the roof of the tent. The stoned ‘artist’ who crawled through a hedge behind our camp in Byron Bay, clutching the handle of a guitar (just the handle), claiming he was Jesus. Seven months pregnant, sitting on a bucket after a dodgy curry. The screeching of wild possums coming closer and closer, in the small hours. A low point for me. And the time we took my poor sister to Wiseman’s Ferry in a cold October. She nearly froze and refused to take her clothes off to go to bed. That was her first and last camping experience.
Things have improved since those days. The husband is very much an accessory man. Wooden cupboards for the camp kitchen, large and small plug-in fridges, an assortment of beds and mattresses to enable his princess to get a good nights sleep. He loves to camp in the wilderness with nothing but nature to commune with. Me, I like to camp near a small town where I can explore the local wineries, ice cream shops and vintage boutiques.
Son No.1 takes after his mother and son No.2 after his dad. While the husband and son No.2 are putting up frames and throwing over whatever it is that turns a flat pack into a temporary home, son No.1 and me can be found sitting in the car, hissing under our breath. “I hate camping”. Last time we stayed at a gated campsite in Byron Bay (I couldn’t risk ‘Jesus’ turning up again). The husband asked me to look after the key to the gate and the amenities block. I’m not sure what happened but I’d lost it in 20 minutes.
There is a time between serving up food in the dark and crawling into a damp sleeping bag where I wax lyrical over the virtues of camping. In front of a roaring campfire and sipping champagne, all is well with the world. But at six in the morning having been woken by kookaburras (almost as loud as bagpipes), bursting for the toilet and with a throat gasping for tea I’m at my most royal, although not my most attractive.
And now that season is upon us. What joy! But perhaps this is the year when it will finally take. The year I look good in shorts and start the morning with a yodel. The year I won’t cry in the showers after two nights under canvas. It’s worth a try.