My husband and children convince me into a camping trip once a year on average and I suffer through it, not necessarily in silence, because I know how much they enjoy it.
But to me it is an absurd way to spend a weekend. Why would you leave your perfectly comfortable home, complete with soft duvet, springy mattress and flushing toilet, to load up the car with more kit than you would need for a two-week European vacation and drive to a remote part of the countryside to sleep in a field with a few hundred random strangers while foregoing all nods to hygiene for fear of either falling over in the portaloo or catching something unspeakable from the public shower block?
A few weeks ago, our annual trip rolled around and I was hoping that the weather would be so inclement that we could cancel a few days before. Alas, no. The day was glorious and spirits were high. My organisational task was catering the food for the three families that were going, so I did the required shopping trip to buy mini boxes of cereal, ready-made salads and as much steak and burgers as our mini bbq could hold. Other Half’s job was to check the camping gear hadn’t been eaten by mice or squirrels since it was stashed in the garage after last year’s trip and to pack the car.
So far, so good: the cooler box of food and beverages was in; there wasn’t a centimetre of breathing space left in the car; Geoffrey the bulldog had been dispatched to the Dog Hotel for the weekend. We were off – and on schedule! We had chosen a campsite close to West Wittering in the optimistic hope of a bit of beach fun, so all manner of activities had been planned, from cricket on the beach to body-boarding in the non-existent waves.
About half an hour from our destination, OH realised he hadn’t packed the bag containing the beach activities. Ok, not a disaster; we can still have fun building sandcastles and paddling in the water. We carried on for another ten minutes before I asked if he had packed the folding chairs. Apparently not. As if on cue, we passed a caravan shop and did a quick handbrake turn into the car park. He disappeared inside and came out ten minutes later with four new chairs, only to ask if I had packed the bag with all of the picnic stuff in – you know, plates, cups, cutlery, kettle. I reminded him that he had had One Job. He disappeared back into the caravan shop to buy the rest of the essentials that were apparently still sitting in our garage, while I cast an eye behind me and wondered what the hell was actually packed, considering there was no room left in the boot.
Twenty minutes later we were back on the road and a few hundred pounds lighter. The memory of the caravan salesman waving us goodbye while wiping the tears of mirth from his eyes stayed with me for the rest of our journey.
Thankfully, night #1 was fairly uneventful once we had erected the tent (in record time for us, probably because we were both now gasping for some sort of alcoholic beverage to numb the pain of how much this little trip had cost us) and found the loo block (walk past the “organic loos” with your sleeve covering your nose to the portaloos at the end of the road). The bbq was lit, the burgers were sizzling and the kids were laughing and having a great time.
That night, we collapsed onto our newly inflated air mattress and hoped for a good sleep. It was absolutely freezing and I had so many layers of clothes on inside my sleeping bag that turning over or moving in the slightest proved incredibly difficult. I spent the night stuck on my back like an overstuffed worm. All I could hear was whispers from other tents, cows mooing and the traffic rushing past on the road beyond the field. At 6am, with the sun streaming in, I gave up and struggled out of the bag to find OH lying on the hard floor after a puncture in his mattress overnight had caused it to deflate completely.
Day #2 and the weather was promising for our trip to the beach. Sunny, not exactly warm, but the wetsuits would come in handy. We packed up our lunchtime picnic, secured the tents and headed off. The beach was busy, but we found a spot and settled in. Then the wind picked up. Within ten minutes, everything was covered in sand and the temperature had dropped substantially. I looked over at my friend in the chair next to mine and she was wearing two hoodies and a woolly hat – that kind of cold. The kids were ok with it, snug and warm in their wetsuits; the mothers less so. The flasks of tea and coffee came out, as did the picnic lunch, and we sat with our backs to the sea, facing the car park, to shelter from the sand blasting our faces.
And we stubbornly refused to move. We were going to spend the day on the beach if it killed us. However, when three of the children in our group were crying from sand stinging their eyes and a crunchy sandwich held no more appeal, we had to admit defeat and return to the campsite.
Instead, we opted for a game of rounders in the field. It started well. We took turns, the children were gracious in accepting parental advice on how to pitch and no car windows were broken. Then other children from other tents started to join in, the group got bigger, the requests to bat and moaning about not having a go reached fever pitch, strange kids started arguing about the rules and we suddenly realised that we had become the childcare providers for all those other adults sitting in their deckchairs, raising a beer to us in thanks. The game went on for hours. Only once we couldn’t see the ball in the dark were we able to call an end to the “fun”.
While we waited for the steaks to cook, one of the dads in our group decided to check the weather as a precaution. Cue the weather alerts for a storm overnight. The discussion began, as we fought to cut through our steak with plastic knives, occasionally spitting out soggy bits of paper plate, as to whether we were going to stick it out. The general consensus was that we would stay – how much worse could it get?
A lot. The weather overnight can easily be described as torrential. The wind howled, the rain pounded into the thin fabric of our tent, lightening flashed and I found myself getting up every hour to check we hadn’t blown away. My husband, on the other hand, apparently had the best night’s sleep ing ages, now that he was on the mattress without a puncture, and woke the next morning looking fresh and alert. I thought he would come to physical harm when he emerged later than the rest of us, saying chirpily to our friends how much sleep he had had, while they were in the process of cleaning up vomit from the inside of their tent after one of their children had had an explosive dose of motion sickness through the night.
With that, we packed up our bags, took down the battered tent and tried to cover the scorch marks in the grass from our enthusiastic bbq. It was over for another year and I waved in delight and relief at the caravan shop as we passed on our way home.
Next year, I may suggest that someone sticks small pins in my eyes rather than go camping again. However, on the plus side, we have more than enough kit these days and will never run out of chairs, unless we forget to pack them again.